Josh’s response: am I a “mother” or a “father”?

Every week or so, one of us will post a new question related to parenting, gender, and being gay, and then each blog a response, not to exceed 500 words. If you’re a blogger and have something to say on the topic, we’d love for you to join the conversation. You can post your answer on your blog and then link to it in the comments of the original question post.

Here’s this week’s question:

Do you think of yourself as a “mother”? A “father”? Something in between? Why?

As a kid, I was mortified when school activities peeled us off into groups divided by gender. Being trapped in an all-male space, like the boys’ cabin at sixth-grade camp, made me feel like an alien. The boys reported things to each other rather than talked with each other. They constantly tried to impress or outdo each other. They were too physical. I didn’t know how to enter the fray.

And besides, I was attracted to some of them. That put some distance between us. I would have been more comfortable in one of the girls’ cabins.

I never felt like a typical boy; I felt queer. It’s how I feel today as a parent. I’m not a father, and I’m not exactly a mother. (I’ve written before about being a parent, not a father.)

In our home, I tend to initiate discipline more often and am quicker to lose my temper. I usually avoid roughhousing and am more likely to sit and play a game or do artwork. I worry more that Miles will hurt himself while climbing around. I get emotionally entangled in daily, parent-child dramas. I’m very physically affectionate. I multitask parenting with cooking, cleaning, and household projects.

Where do these traits and behaviors land me on the spectrum of mother to father? I think somewhere in between.

When he was a baby, I sometimes worried that I was not enough of a “mother” for Miles, that I’d later find out we had engaged in a horrible experiment. That in fact, babies need mothers and can’t appropriately bond with men. Instead of shaving every three days like usual, I shaved daily so my thick stubble wouldn’t irritate his baby-fresh skin. I went to infant massage classes so I could promote attachment and connection. I carried Miles in a sling with me wherever I went. I obviously didn’t give birth or breastfeed, which are massive experiences I’ll never know. But in every other way, I had the experience of losing my bodily autonomy and my independent self, an experience that is the historic and exclusive province of mothers not fathers.

Yet unlike at sixth-grade camp, I don’t want to be in the girls’ cabin of today, the Mommy Club. I feel like I can mother Miles but I don’t feel like a mother.

When around groups of mommies in our fairly conservative, traditional community, I grow irritated by their overly sweet voices. I’m not one of them. Once in awhile, I’ll admit that I wonder if they talk that way because they’re real moms and I’m not. But mostly I suspect they’re performing mommyness instead of just being themselves.

I long to be around other parents—not “mothers” or “fathers”who also feel like they’re somewhere in between. Fortunately, blogging seems to be connecting me with more of these regular-type folks.

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13 thoughts on “Josh’s response: am I a “mother” or a “father”?

  1. I’ve been a nanny for a long time. I’ve stood just on the outside of the mommy clubs you speak of. I would dare say that a lot of what you see is an act meant for the other mommies.

    • You write: “I obviously didn’t give birth or breastfeed, which are massive experiences I’ll never know. But in every other way, I had the experience of losing my bodily autonomy and my independent self.” This passage (indeed, this post) greatly informed what feels like a breakthrough for me regarding the acceptance of my body’s limitations, and my huge excitement at the prospect of devoting my life to the parenting of children who come to me via other women’s bodies. Your use of the term “parent” to break down the normally reductive binary of mother/father is powerful. I’m super grateful for these words.

  2. RLG – Glad I can provide some words that might speak to your experience. Sorry for not responding sooner–am just today catching up on the blogosphere after a busy week.

  3. Pingback: First Time Second Time | Lesbian Mother Answers: Are You a more of a Mother or a Father?

  4. Pingback: Gender, parenting, and being gay: recap of question 2 | Regular Midwesterners

  5. Very nice post, Josh. I feel like what you are doing as you tease out just what your role is in parenting can be useful to anyone who doesn’t feel at home in typical gender norms. Thanks for doing the big emotional and intellectual work for all of us who care about what it means to be a parent.

  6. Thanks, Stacy. I know I often frame my perspective as being that of a gay stay-at-home parent, but I also often have non-gay parents who don’t fit into the boxes in mind too.

  7. Josh, I’m so glad your Mom let me know about your blog. Nice job on this subject, and I’ve read about other’s thoughts on this as well. Miles is a very blessed child, whichever you decide. You’ve always been great with kids.

  8. Hi Mary – So nice to hear from you, especially on the blog. I have great memories of playing with/babysitting your kids. Thanks for providing some parenting training back in the day. Hope you are all doing well.

  9. It’s so funny…my (straight) parents divorced when I was 11, and I’ve always considered my mom a “parent” rather than just a mom. I send her both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day cards. It’s interesting to read these responses, and see the comparison.

    • This is fascinating to me. It reminds me of a friend of mine who is a bit older and raised two daughters as a single mom. She was also functionally a father and a mother, since she didn’t feel that she somehow lacked something essential her kids needed. I’m not at all surprised that it’s not just gay parents who experience the dissonance between socially understood categories and the lived reality at home.

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