This is quite a fascinating topic, not least because we managed to get enough information to fill a whole presentation from one simple question asked in our online survey (conducted in 2008):
In what way did your relationship with your family and your partner’s family change when you became a parent?
The question was open ended, so people just typed whatever they wanted into the response box. And type they did! We received amazingly rich and detailed answers to this little question.
There were 231 valid responses to this question from people who conceived at least one of their children while they were in their current or previous same-sex relationship. (There were also several hundred responses from single parents and people who had children in previous heterosexual relationships, which we will look at in more detail in the future.)
There were two main 'themes' in response to this question that really stood out. Firstly, a lot of people found that becoming a parent brought them closer to their families (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles) and secondly, a lot of people felt that becoming a parent validated their relationship in the eyes of their families – having children meant they become ‘parents’, ‘a committed couple’, a ‘family’ rather than just the gay or lesbian child of the family.
On the negative side, there were a number of people who lost relationships with their families when they had a child. Some people spoke of choosing to cease contact with their parents rather than expose their own children to their family’s rejection or homophobia. Others spoke of being disowned by their families.
I thought I’d share a selection of people’s responses as they are incredibly engaging:
"We probably talk more and see each other more often now that we have children as all my brothers and sisters have children too. My parents and my partner's parents of course love grandchildren so see them as often as they can. I don't think either of us are treated any differently than before we had children." (lesbian mother).
"My relationship with my own parents became more adult-to-adult, rather than a child-to-adult relationship. I also see them more frequently now. With my partner's family - I have become closer to her mother and brother and aunts/uncles/cousins but extremely distant from her father who has never acknowledged our daughter." (lesbian mother)
"My partner's family are born again Christians and when we got pregnant we sat them down and said 'accept who we are in a non disapproving way or bog off' not quite like that but similar - we could put up with their disapproval but I couldn't let them be with my kids – they came through like troupers and we have never looked back!" (lesbian mother)
"It was very tough at first, they were very hostile on both sides, ie, my gran and partners mum. We felt like we had to prove that we could be parents before anyone could accept. A huge amount of homophobia around the process." (lesbian mother)
"My family: I now belong to the straight club. For some reason my straight family feel that I am legitimised by having a child and suddenly feel they can be closer to me. My partners: stronger connection than usual which is very strong already." (gay father)
"Despite the length of our relationship (10+ years) I think the birth of our daughter and the realisation that she is OUR child made our relationship more permanent to our parents. I think maybe it 'normalised' us in a way to our families." (lesbian mother)
"It moved us from being 'Gay' to being 'parents' and changed our identities in their eyes. It was also a more comfortable space for us to occupy because we're less interested in being identified as 'gay' then as individuals or family." (gay father)
We plan to publish more on this topic in future papers, but feel free to contact me if you would like more details of our Rainbow Families Council conference paper.