MamaBlogger365 – Mommy Queerest by Kimberly Dark

How Many Parents Do You Have?

My son Caleb put out a quiz on his Facebook page a few years back. He set up a list of questions about his life history and esoteric quirks, and then invited friends and family to answer the questions. Who knows me best? That’s the game.

One of the questions in his quiz was “How many parents do I have?” He provided multiple-choice answers: One, Two, Five, Seven or Twelve.

I chuckled when I saw his quiz, for two reasons. Many people would get this answer wrong. And how clever and brave! He didn’t seem to mind “outing” our big queer family on Facebook. Indeed, he would have to offer explanations.

The correct answer, by the way, was seven. That’s seven according to his reckoning, not according to any kind of agreed upon family standard. He’s always felt entitled to look for connection and mentorship as he saw fit. He may not have chosen which adults came into his life – few children get to do that. But he’s always chosen who would be a parent to him. It’s quite impressive really, and I’m glad I made the cut.

The parents on the list include his dad and me. We are his biological parents and have been intimately involved with him since before his birth, so I’ll call us Parents One and Two. He also includes his father’s partner of ten years. Never mind that Parent Three was a bit reluctant, at first, to treat Caleb as his child; he warmed up, and Caleb appreciates what he offers. Parents Four and Five are my ex-partner and her new partner. The inclusion of my ex makes total sense to me. She was his every-day stepparent from the time he was four until he was ten years old. We lived together during his formative years and she was very clear that making a commitment to me meant she was making a commitment to him too. Sure, my union with her ended, but why should she dump him too? She didn’t. And when she committed to someone new, my son really liked her. He took her on as a mentor too.

Parent number Six (are you keeping up?) is our close family friend who was always around to hang out with Caleb, pick him up from school if needed and talk to him about things he might not want to share with his parents. Parent number Seven is pretty recalcitrant, really. That’s my most recent ex-girlfriend, now a friend. She met Caleb as a pre-teen and has always been a buddy, not a parent. That’s how she tells it. My son’s not having any of that though. He says she’s a parent; so she’s on the list.

It’s pretty amazing, what he’s done. And indeed, many of his friends got the wrong answer on the Facebook quiz. He explained his number of parents to them with nonchalance. At a Gay Pride celebration one year, my son wore two little buttons that read “I heart my gay dad” and “I heart my lesbian mom.” I joked that he could line more buttons down the sleeve of his shirt for all the others, but the button-makers hadn’t yet caught up to our modern queer family. In the meantime, we just keep living life like we mean it, despite the idea that only blood and marriage can make family. Only blood and marriage deserve privilege.

I was once interviewed for the creation of a dance-theatre performance on single mothers (Hips by Eveoke Dance Theatre). Choreographer Gina Angelique used excerpts from numerous interviews with a diverse group of women identified for the project. When she first contacted me about the project, I protested that I was not a single parent. Indeed, I’m one of many who love and support my son. Finally though, I went with her definition – and I understand it. I parented as an un-partnered woman through much of my son’s life. And there are still significant financial and policy barriers to childrearing for un-partnered women. The performance was wise in uncovering both the challenges and the beauties of that path, and I was pleased to be a part of it.

During the time I was pregnant, I developed the idea that every child should have at least three parents. Not only is single parenting a bad idea – parenting with two is not enough! Having at least three parents allows all of the adults the joy of child raising and allows all of them time for individual pursuits too. The heterosexual marriage model – as the privileged way to raise children – is flawed in many regards. And what madness that our social norm is to abandon un-partnered teen mothers to some kind of punishment of solitude with an infant? Those are exactly the parents who need to be inviting interested others who want to support that baby – both emotionally and financially when possible. See, the “parents” don’t all have to agree on everything in order to pledge support and love for a child. It’s okay for those who are most invested to have veto power on certain decisions, and hopefully they use it wisely. My son’s father and I made all of the big decisions on Caleb’s behalf. And we paid the big bills. Plenty of the other “parents” fed him dinner and bought him shoes and took him to the movies, however. He didn’t think twice about making himself at home in their lives.

I didn’t know how to be a parent before I did it – same as anyone else. And now that I’ve experienced the model where we offer love and support where needed and when appropriate, I wouldn’t think twice about caring for someone else’s child either. I’m not physically able to bear more children myself, but if one comes along that chooses me for the stepmother role, I’ll be happy to join his or her list. It’s a good thing I’m queer. Otherwise, the reshaping of all these big important roles might seem weirder than it really is.

Bio: Kimberly Dark is a mother, professor and an award-winning writer and performer. She is the author of five solo performance scripts and her poetry and prose appear in a number of publications. Her favorite son is a junior at UC Berkeley and she’s grateful that traveling to perform allows her to spend time with him often. Learn more about her performances and publications at www.kimberlydark.com. Sign up for Kimberly’s quarterly musings on many things.

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Photo credit: Shoe Rack by Petr Kratochvil

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