October 11th is National Coming Out Day in the U. S. Instead of offering advice on coming out (ably covered by the HRC Web site), I want to flip things around and offer a few hints to people who may be unsure how to react if lesbian moms come out to them.
- Don’t assume that just because we’re lesbians, we’re completely different from other moms. We change diapers. We fix scraped knees. We worry when our teens start to drive. We comfort, we care, we discipline when necessary. We make mistakes like anyone else. We try to learn from them. Above all, we love our children.
- Don’t assume that just because we’re lesbians, we’re exactly the same as other moms. We sometimes get strange glances when we’re in public and our child calls the two of us “Mommy” and “Momma.” We have to meet with each new school and daycare to ensure they will treat our family with the same respect as others. We often went through a different, deliberate process just to have our families and ensure the legal relationship of both of us to our children. We face different financial burdens; for example, if one of us stays home to raise our children, she cannot contribute to an IRA as she could if she was a non-employed mom with a working husband.
- Don’t ask “Which of you is the real mom?” We both are. Maybe one of us bore the child in her womb. Maybe we both adopted the child. Maybe one of us donated an egg that the other one carried. It doesn’t really matter. Both of us are raising the child and committed to her or his well being. That makes us both real moms.
- Don’t ask “Who’s the father?” Maybe there is a known father whom the lesbian couple wishes to acknowledge, and maybe there isn’t. Don’t assume there has to be. (And simply donating a chromasome does not a father make.)
- Lesbian. Say the word. If there’s a need for this term in conversation, use it. (As in the legitimate question, “Do you find people around here are accepting of lesbian moms?”) Don’t euphemize with “your type of lifestyle,” “people in your circumstances,” “women like you,” or similar.
- It’s always safe to refer to a lesbian couple (especially one committed enough to have kids) as “partners.” They may prefer another term–spouses, lovers, wives, etc., and will likely tell you if they do–but “partners” won’t offend anyone. Don’t use “friends,” which trivializes the relationship.
- Don’t let any of the above keep you from inquiring “Do you mind if I ask how you created your family?” “What do you feel are the differences in being a lesbian mom?” or the like. Showing an interest in this way indicates you’re comfortable with the situation, and that’s comforting to us in turn. As with moms of any type, most of us enjoy talking about our families if the questions are asked in a respectful manner.
- Remember that no two lesbian couples are exactly alike, and may approach discussing their families in different ways. (This last point added after a comment on the original post.)