The Rocket City is full of families of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Our site has written about how it takes a village to raise kids before, and the families featured today are no exception.
Studies estimate that between 1 and 9 million children in the United States have at least one parent who is lesbian or gay, and this number is growing, partly due because options for same-sex parents are increasing. This week, in the wake of a historic Supreme Court decision as well as a record-breaking Rocket City Pride event, Rocket City Mom interviewed a local gay and lesbian couple and asked them to share their stories about becoming parents.
What they say might surprise you!
Renai and Christie
How did becoming a parent change you?
“Being a parent has honestly been the greatest experience of my life. My parenting adventure began when I entered into a relationship with a wonderful woman that already had a daughter. I was 23 when I excitedly became a step-parent to an angry and confused 12 year-old girl. It wasn’t always perfect and there were many challenges. I didn’t always agree with the decisions that either of her biological parents made regarding my daughter, and yes she was my daughter from day one! Being a step-parent was not a decision I made lightly. I knew that my daughter and her mother were a package deal. Was it what I expected? Absolutely not! Was it better then I expected? Well, parts of it have been. Being a parent changed my life. My daughter has taught me patience for sure – raising a teenager is like trying to nail jello to a wall. My daughter, now 22 and active duty Air Force, continues to change my life. She has grown into a strong, respectful, intelligent, independent woman who stands up for herself and what she believes in. I only hope that I had a big part in the awesome woman she has become and I am excited to be a part of what she will accomplish in the future.
[sws_pullquote_right]In the end, a child needs as many people to be involved with them and love them as possible. Realize what a gift your children are and that there are people around you that would do almost anything to have that same gift. Love them, respect them, and teach them to love and respect others. [/sws_pullquote_right] I don’t like being asked questions like “don’t you wish you had children of your own?” or hearing statements like “but she isn’t really your daughter. You’re just a step parent.” Genetics never mattered to me. She was my daughter from Day 1. No second thoughts. Do I wish I had more children of my own? Yes and no. If adoption were easier for GLBT parents my partner and I would likely adopt. Would those children be any more “mine” then my daughter?”
What, if any, do you think are the major differences between same-sex parents, and other parents?
“I don’t know that there are major differences. One parent takes on more domestic responsibilities and one parent takes on more financial responsibilities. Those roles switch as needed just like any other family. Family dynamics ebb and flow, its just how things are. How is that different from any other couple?”
What advice would you have for other local same-sex parents or would-be parents?
“Don’t limit you children to only being around same sex couples or straight couples. Teach your children to respect all family types. In the end, a child needs as many people to be involved with them and love them as possible. Realize what a gift your children are and that there are people around you that would do almost anything to have that same gift. Love them, respect them, and teach them to love and respect others.”
Mark & Jeremy
EDITOR’S NOTE: We asked Mark some of the same questions, and his & Jeremy’s story came spilling out. It’s a different story, and one we think is told best in his own words, narrative-style.
“My parenting process started as a teenager. I have always wanted to be blessed with children. I have a nurturing spirit and I wanted to share that with my children. I knew I would never get married being a gay man. Growing up in the 80’s, being gay was not something most folks wanted to talk about or even accept. I grew up in a very small, southern, religious community. Homosexuality was frowned upon and especially gay men with children. Times have changed and so has my hometown. It is very refreshing to see the progression over the years.
Over the years I have looked at many options for parenting from fostering, adoption and a surrogate. I was never really at a place in my life where I felt ready to raise a child. I knew I would be a great dad but never felt emotionally ready for the large task at hand. In 2008 God blessed me with a wonderful partner and best friend, Jeremy. Right from the beginning of our relationship we started talking about being fathers. He wanted children just as much as I did. After about a year or so into our relationship we started looking at different parenting options available to us. Come to find out that in the State of Alabama parenting options for same sex couples are pretty much zero. Alabama has many laws on the books which deny same sex couples the right to adopt, parental rights, guardianship, etc.
[sws_pullquote_right] Since adoption I have changed as spouse, friend, and father… We enjoy seeing the world in a different light, especially through the eyes of a child. [/sws_pullquote_right] We started our adoption process in 2010 through State DHR. We attended all the meetings and sessions just like any other couple and were selected to attend the 12 week parental classes required by the State. We were the only same-sex couple in our class. It was very uncomfortable for one couple in the class, but as they got to know us they came to the realization we were just like everyone else looking to adopt and raise a child in a loving home. We were interested in adopting an older child with some form of disability – most of these children are last to get adopted or in some cases age out of the system.
After the classes the waiting game began. Months and months had passed by with no word from DHR. One day I received an email from a friend whom we attend church with stating she has a friend who has an adoption agency here in Alabama. We knew that adoption agency fees were very expense depending upon the agency. She said no this is a different type of situation. We received the information and called the agency about a possible match and adoption. The agency gave me all the information (as much as they would release at the time) and a picture which just completely took our hearts. The process began and months later we are proud parents of a now eight-year-old daughter.
Parenting is a true eye opening experience for both Jeremy and I. We are loving every minute of it. Being a parent of an eight-year-old changes many aspects of your life. Having a special needs daughter requires all of our time. She is a very functioning special needs child but requires special attention to certain details in her daily life. Since adoption I have changed as spouse, friend and father. All for the better of course. We enjoy seeing the world in a different light, especially through the eyes of a child. She offers us unconditional love 24/7 which is one of the world’s greatest feelings and blessings. The biggest challenge we have both had to face is raising a daughter. The personality of a girl is much different than a boy. We have had to learn how to comb long hair, braid hair, hair bows, shoes coordination, dress selection, etc. It is an exhausting process!
We see our family responsibilities like any other family. We try and split our responsibilities equally so one does not get burned out on a certain activity. We both work full time so time management is a key part of our daily routine. As an example, during the school year Jeremy takes her to school and I pick her up in the afternoon. We follow a pretty ridged schedule with her because of her ADHD and learning disabilities. I am an early riser so I mainly get her ready for the day. Jeremy does a lot of homework with her while I prepare dinner. We are pretty much the typical family with the exception that we are a same sex couple raising a daughter.
There are many resources on parenting out there in the world. Our best resource has been speaking with other parents and especially parents of adoptive children. Adoptive parents have given us the greatest insight to certain situations and hurdles with adoptive children. We have also come to rely on our mothers for guidance and advice over the years. We want to be shining examples to our daughter that fathers can be mothers also. Jeremy and I do not have father figures in our lives so we want to give her the best stability possible.
When we first adopted and especially started the adoption process we were asked many questions about how we were going to raise our children. We never really understood that question – we always assumed we would raise them like any other family. We don’t have a question that is off-limits when asked by other parents. We are here to be educated on parenting skills and we also want to educate others about same-sex parenting skills. We believe we were given this blessing to help others understand and others to prosper in their adoption journey.
We do not see any major differences between same-sex parents and other parents these days. The only difference is our gender as parents. We still have good days and bad days with our daughter. We have an obstacle that heterosexual parents don’t have to deal with and that is we get the looks and the stares whenever our daughter calls us by name especially in public settings. We are called Daddy Jay and Daddy Mark. She is very happy and proud to tell anyone that she has two daddies. Some people instantly judge us because two males are raising a daughter. It does not bother either of us.
We have lots of advice for other same-sex parents or would-be parents in the area. Our first advice would be to stay strong and stay the course. Your adoption journey will have bumps but at the end the reward is greater than anything else in world. Secondly, support each other no matter what the process throws at you. Thirdly, Huntsville/Madison County is a wonderful place to raise children. We have been overwhelmed with support and love from every angle throughout our journey.
There are thousands our children in this world that need our love and support. Our adoption process has been the best thrill ride of our lives. We would do it all over again whenever we are given the chance.”
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Rocket City Mom is a website about raising children in and around Huntsville, Alabama. Started in late 2010 by a local mom and newcomer to Huntsville, Rocket City Mom has grown into a thriving community of local parents and now boasts a staff of four, thirteen regular contributors, and tens of thousands of Tennessee Valley readers making it the #1 Parenting Resource in North Alabama.