When I first had my two children, I was looking for an online place to discuss rainbow parenting.  I found lots of great blogs by other rainbow families talking about their own experiences, and I blogged about my own, but I didn’t find anywhere that people were talking about general rainbow parenting issues.

My two are two years old in a couple of weeks and I think I have a couple of minutes of extra time in my day, so I’m going to try and create that space. I’d like to post three blogs a week: a rainbow parenting specific post on Mondays; an irregular general parenting post on Wednesdays; and a “meet a rainbow family” post on Fridays. While the Queensland same sex parenting campaign is still going, I’ll post a summary of our actions for the week on Saturday evenings.  I’ll trial it for three months to see if other glbtiq parents are keen to discuss some of these ideas.

When I was pregnant, I imagined that it would be really important to have lots of lesbian mums to hang around with during the week. Pre-children, most of my closest friends were other lesbians. Now that Pearl & Louis are here, I spend more time than I would have imagined possible just hanging out with straight people. They are other mothers whom I’ve met through playgroup, or pre-natal yoga, or the Breastfeeding Association, or just befriended at playgrounds. On the weekends we do regularly catch up with other lesbian headed families, but, simply due to compatible routines and geography, most of the women I spend time with through the week are in straight families.

We may move in different circles before the fact, but once we are parenting, rainbow parents have a lot in common with heterosexuals.  The daily grind is the same. The immediate worries are the same – are they teething? What should I do about Pearl biting Louis?  What am I going to cook for dinner? Why doesn’t my teenager talk to me anymore? I like knowing families in our local community, I like that the neighbourhood children are growing up together, and that we can problem solve, and that I can demonstrate that really, same sex families aren’t that different after all.

Except when we are. Rainbow families are deeply radical, despite – or possibly even because of – the day to day similarities. Just by our existence, our insistence that our children deserve to move through the world with the same sense of rightness as everyone else’s children, we challenge people’s perspectives on gay people in our society.

Despite disguising ourselves as ordinary people, our experience of parenting has some elemental differences.

  • A bunch of research indicates general structural differences in rainbow families: that same sex parents have a more egalitarian division of domestic tasks, and that they share childrearing more equally, that they tend to report higher levels of happiness after children, compared to straights, whose happiness goes down (some research here, for more references, go here). The children are less rigidly gender stereotyped, and have a stronger sense of social justice (Kumari-Campbell).
  • Rainbow families do not often see themselves reflected in the media. If they are, it may well be in the form of a sensationalised controversy indicating how destructive same sex families are to children and  society. While mainstream books, TV programs and movies may well represent non-Anglo people, people with disabilities, and even childless gay people, there are very few representations of same sex headed families. Those that do slip through are met with family values sponsored outrage
  • Unlike our child-free gay and lesbian friends, decisions about being out are with us every minute of every day. Every time someone asks, “And what does your husband do?”  I have to make a decision about coming out. For me, it’s not a decision any more. I feel a responsibility to my children to model pride in our family, so I am always out. I don’t want my children to feel they have to hide anything.  From what I’ve read, children of lesbians and gays feel most shame in early secondary school, so I have a few years to work it out (Here is the best reference for this assertion I can find right now, although I have read a full article somewhere).
  • Rainbow families will often have put a great deal of effort into creating a family, and that effort permanently is on display. People regularly ask me how we got pregnant, who got pregnant, whether the other one now wants to get pregnant, or whether we adopted. I appreciate people’s candour, and I’m happy to demystify, but I understand that it can get wearing. For straight families who’ve struggled and used IVF, after a few years no-one will remember or care how they got pregnant.
  • If I’m out and about with my kids and without my partner, we’re invisible to each other. You know what I’m talking about. I used to have a dog. When I was out walking my dog, other dog walkers would smile and nod, and often stop to exchange a few words. When my dog died, suddenly I was invisible as a “dog person” to other dog owners. No one stopped and smiled! When I’m out and about with Elisabeth, other lesbians can see that we’re a couple. When it’s just me and the kids, I’m merely a frowsy hassled housewife taking up too much footpath space.  We’re not a community that can recognise each other at first glance, and this can be isolating.
  • Rainbow families are often negotiating different levels of acceptance within their own families. My own extended family has been great on both sides, but according to some research (Du Chesne & Bradley), the most distressing non-recognition for non-biological mothers comes from their own family – non-bio grandmothers who won’t recognise their daughter as a mother, for example.
  • In Queensland and South Australia, the non-biological parent will not be recognised as a legal parent. Usually people are surprised to learn this. So the non-bio parent cannot (legally – in practice they often do) take the children to medical appointments, stay overnight if they are admitted to hospital, pick them up from school*, take them on aeroplanes*, sign permission forms eg for school outings and other daily stuff.

Of course, our stereotypical “mum, dad & the kids” option is but a small chunk of the myriad ways of manifesting family . Stepfamilies, single parent families, adoptive families, multiracial families and families with a member with a disability will all have their own challenges because of falling outside the norm. How “normal” is that norm, nowadays, anyway? Our particular challenge is that despite mountains of research that says we are doing okay (even better than okay), and our kids are doing okay, our right to existence continues to be challenged.

How do you think rainbow families are different? And how does that affect you?

*Non-bio parents can do these things if they have a signed letter of permission from the bio-parent.