Man and Mother Are Not Mutually Exclusive
One thing about parenting that has often felt awkward to me is how gendered it can be. The words mom and dad are basically applied to every parent based on their gender with little regard to what role they play in their children’s lives. These words carry a TON of connotations. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if I'm babysitting when I'm out and about with my kids. Apparently, I don't appear to be a dad when people see me interacting with my children.
Honestly, I’ve never really felt like a dad. The things that I do for my family and my kids on a daily basis don’t seem to encompass how dads are portrayed in the media or in our culture. I suppose I could set out to redefine what it means to be a dad, but there is already a word that feels more appropriate to me: mom.
When I think of a mother, I think of a powerful and feminine being. A being finely tuned to be the emotional caretaker of their family. A being who has to keep the big picture in mind while simultaneously enduring day to day struggles with their children. A being with the ability to exist in chaos and also create order when it’s needed. Calming but also commanding. Consistent but also flexible. Gentle but also powerful.
When we first got the kids, I can’t say I felt like their parent right away. Although it was a slow, delicate process, I eventually started to feel a bond with them that only a parent can feel. That was when my identity as a parent started to develop. I woke up with them in the night. Occasionally, I’d be lying in bed and get this feeling that something was wrong, so I’d quietly sneak into their room to make sure they were breathing. Slowly, but surely, the things that my love encompassed grew to include nearly every detail of their lives. I became good at managing their lives while also giving them room to be independent and grow. I also got the privilege of literally wiping their asses the majority of the time it was needed. (Thankfully, we’re out of this stage. Although, occasionally Hailey will walk into a room with her butt cheeks spread asking me to confirm if she got it all.) In time, I became the physical and emotional shepherd of my family.
This slow, intense journey has been precious to me and has brought me to a place where I don’t feel like the word dad applies to me, at least not how that word fits into my world.
One of the unique struggles that I face in being a stay-at-home-gay-parent is that I get to witness and experience the monstrosity that is mom culture. Moms can be pretty militant about how sacred it is to be a mother and many of the things that can come along with motherhood (breastfeeding, childbirth, etc…) Mothers everywhere deserve every bit of respect for the myriad of struggles they deal with in caring for and protecting their families. I don’t think any of this is necessarily bad, but I cannot tell you how often I am momsplained. The minute I talk about my struggles as a parent, some mom is sure to remind me that I did not squeeze my children out of my vagina after being in labor for countless hours. Now, I get where this is coming from, but it often feels like an effort to cast aspersions on my parenthood - like somehow the bond with my child is less sacred because the universe didn’t give them to me in the same way it gave yours to you.
I don’t feel the need to defend my parenthood, but I think some people forget that those of us who became parents in alternative ways often did so in the middle of a fucking tornado. For alternative families, the path to parenthood can often include things that can be traumatic, like abuse, court battles, violence, and fear. The bond with my children was forged in the struggle to save their lives. This struggle was long, messy, and painful. The pain I endured to claim the role as guardian of my child was not the same as yours, but it was painful nonetheless. Don't get me wrong- I love my mom friends. I've been amazed at how openly I've been welcomed into parenthood by so many wonderful people. But I think it's easy to forget that moms come in all different shapes, sizes, and dare I say... genders.
And so I’ve often struggled with the uncomfortable feeling I get when I have to say I am the children’s dad, because I feel more like their mom. Over time, I’ve mostly made peace with this internal struggle. I get that not every person will get the nuances of the dynamic in my family.
For now, my kids call me Dada and I am okay with that. I don't intend to start making everyone refer to me as mom (however hilarious that might be). But make no mistake, I may not be a woman, but I am a mom.