Mo (mofic) wrote,

Gay Parenting 101: Don't Children Need Opposite Sex Role Models?

An acquaintance of mine is the proud parent of an adorable baby boy whom she and her wife adopted. They are starting to get people asking them whether they're worried about their son lacking a male role model. There are lots of ways to answer that question.

One can point out that children of lesbians and gay men have been shown in study after study to do just as well psychologically as children of heterosexual parents. A good summary of the research on the topic is available from the American Psychological Association. The 88-page booklet on the topic, "Lesbian and Gay Parenting," can be downloaded at The summary of findings says:

   "Results of research to date suggest that children of lesbian and 
        gay parents have positive relationships with peers and that their
        relationships with adults of both sexes are also satisfactory. 
        The picture of lesbian mothers' children that emerges is one of general
        engagement in social life with peers, with fathers, with grandparents,
        and with mothers' adult friends-both male and female, both heterosexual
        and homosexual. Fears about children of lesbians and gay men being 
        sexually abused by adults, ostracized by peers, or isolated in single-sex
        lesbian or gay communities have received no support from the results of
        existing research."

If you want to just look at an annotated bibliography of research studies, it's at

A second way to answer the question - and one I find a lot of lesbians go for - is to eschew references to research and just explain that our children know lots of men even though they don't have fathers. Lesbian couples with sons are not generally raising them in a women-only commune and without access to the outside world. Our kids know men because there are men among our relatives and friends and among their teachers and coaches and pediatricians and neighbors. If male role modeling is important, it's not hard to find men to do the modeling.

I tended to answer a third way. If someone asked me if I was worried about my son lacking male role models, I answered honestly that I was not. I don't believe in fostering a male role, so I don't feel a need for male role models. I want to raise my children without the constraints of gender roles. I want them to feel free to model themselves on various people - male and female - and not limit themselves to the expected behavior of one gender. So, male role models were not something I worried about.

I did - and still do - think role modeling is important, though, in a variety of ways unrelated to gender. Two hobbies ago I used to write and publish essays on lesbian and gay parenting. One of them was on the whole role model issue. A lot has changed in my family and in the world since 1994, but I stand by every word I said in the essay behind the cut.

Getting by With a Little Help
by Dale Rosenberg

I have always firmly believed that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Villages being in short supply here in New York City, we have come to rely on our friends and family. My partner, Stacy, and I are fortunate that in many ways we have complementary interests and skills. Between us, we are able to share with our children both the interests and pursuits we have in common, and the ones where we differ. Still, we know there is a whole universe of possibilities out there, and we cannot instruct, model, and participate in all of our children's interests and experiences. Some times you need a little help.

In discussions with other lesbian and gay parents, I have found that the focus of getting more adults involved in our children's lives seems to be on opposite sex role models, a subject which leaves me cold. The argument for opposite sex role models usually goes something like this: Two women raising a son, or two men raising a daughter, are lacking the ability to offer that elusive quality of maleness or femaleness that children look for in a parent, and they therefore need to provide someone as a role model, so that their children will grow up comfortable with their adult sex roles. Although I certainly agree that it is important that kids know and love people of both sexes, I feel that that contact is just as important for my daughter as for my son, and that it is part of a general need to expose kids to different kinds of people. I don't think my son needs a male role model, because I do not believe in fostering a male role. Where we look for help is in other areas. Our kids need a dance role model, an acting-goofy-and-playing-silly-games role model, a football role model, some many-different-ways-to-make-a-living role models. Luckily, we have been able to find these and more in our family and friendship circle.

My friend Sarah is a dancer. Well, during the day she is a Bank Examiner, but she has a passion for dance. Trained at the School of American Ballet, and having once seriously considered a career in dance, Sarah now looks on it as her major avocation. She takes several dance classes every week, hobnobs with assorted balletomanes, and has been known to see four Swan Lakes in one week. She is thrilled that my kids have loved to dance since they could barely walk, and has taken as her task fostering and encouraging that love. Sarah and my son, Doran, have developed a special relationship, in part due to this shared interest. When we were looking for pre-school dance classes for Doran, Sarah helped us with setting criteria for our search. We found a class which Doran loves, but also found that the rest of the class consisted of little girls in leotards. "What do we dress him in?" I asked Sarah, and she immediately called up the School of American Ballet to find out what the well-dressed five-year-old male dancer should wear. Last year, she took Doran to see his first ballet - the Nutcracker. They got dressed up for their evening together, and off they went to the ballet. They had a grand time, topped off with ice cream at Rumpelmayer's.

"That's ridiculous", I told her. "$6.00 for a scoop of ice cream and he won't even finish it. Come home and we can have ice cream here."

"It's part of the experience", she insisted. Well, the whole evening was a lovely experience, and he was dancing bits from the Nutcracker for weeks afterwards. Sarah's planning what their next ballet should be, talking about getting Doran to go to S.A.B. when he's older, and trying to get us to agree that Kendra, our two-year-old daughter, needs to get into the act.

Then there's my brother Joel. Joel is successfully pursuing his boyhood dream of making a living by writing science fiction novels. He lives far away, but is a figure in my kids' lives through telephone calls, letters and occasional visits. As Doran has become more and more interested in writing, it has been so helpful to him to love and be loved by a real live writer. Last summer, Joel came to New York for a brief visit, and after hellos and hugs, the first thing Doran said to him was, "I've been writing a few books myself, Uncle Joel". A long discussion of technique, inspiration, and publishing ensued. Through knowing Joel, Doran is growing up seeing working as a writer as just as achievable and open an option as any other career.

Our friend Velma comes from Texas. She is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. Velma watches football with an intensity that is just this side of mania. She was appalled to realize that our children are being raised in a football-deprived household, and was determined to rectify this major hole in our parenting technique. Our kids now have their own Dallas Cowboys clothing, Doran has learned the names of key players and a lot more than I know about how the game is played, and we have all learned to rejoice when the Cowboys win and mourn at the infrequent times they lose. Velma feels more secure that our children will grow up with the well-being and fortitude that only football provides.

Chuck and David are friends of ours and honorary uncles to our kids. They have both been intimately involved in our children's lives since Doran was born. David and Chuck offer our children a lot: love, a fascination with their growing and developing natures, and a certain child-like sense of humor. No one can make Doran and Kendra laugh like Uncle Chuck and Uncle David. They tell goofy stories, contrive silly and elaborate practical jokes, and consider April Fool's Day a major event of the year. Their ability to appreciate and produce pre-school and toddler humor is a source of wonder to me, and a source of delight to my children. I feel blessed that they are part of our extended family.

The great advantage to having other adults take a major role in our children's lives is that it blesses us all. Children benefit greatly from having a close, loving relationship with an adult not their parent who thinks they are really special. The lives of adults without children are greatly enriched by having a loving and formative bond with a child or children. And as anyone who has been both a parent and an uncle or aunt knows, adults with children gain a different kind of satisfaction from the pride and joy associated with loving a child for whom you have no day-to-day responsibilities. Yes, it takes a whole village to raise a child. And isn't that a wonderful thing for everyone involved?

First published in Kids' Talk, December 1994

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