To C. Everett Koop, "Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation."
I wrote previously about marriage being a part of my future as I see it. My thoughts, I notice, are now beginning to edge slowly toward the idea of having a family -- not now but later. Recently turning 31 has no doubt been instrumental in my newly emerging thought pattern. After all, it is what society has conditioned me to think: "Grow up, settle down and start a family." Isn't that what they say? Though I'm sure it is very much a part of my conditioning, it is nevertheless something that I now see much future happiness in. I don't see marriage as a prerequisite for raising children, but for me, personally, they are connected in my future as I would like it. I like the idea of the solidity of the family unit. I see much comfort in it. It is the environment that I grew up in, and it appeals to me greatly. And there is no reason in the world that I won't have the very same. Of course, there is no guarantee that I'll get it, but everybody stands equal in that respect, so I'll just continue to write on optimistically!
Going back a few years to the time when I first acknowledged my orientation and knew for sure that all matters of my heart would only ever concern the female kind, I saw my future in terms of loss: Falling in love, getting married and having children would never be my future fairy tale. The idea of a wife and a family were not possibilities for me, I thought. But I didn't understand the world back then, not at all. I thought I was in trouble. On the contrary, it's all ahead of me. I can still "grow up, settle down and start a family"! I always could. I just didn't know this earlier.
I hear of this argument that the optimum environment for raising a child is with his or her biological mother and father. No. That is one environment, perhaps the traditional or common environment. It is an environment some have been conditioned to consider "normal," to the exclusion of any other. The argument would appear to hang on some shaky assumptions. One is that simply because a man and a woman can, in theory, biologically reproduce together, a man and a woman together also make better parents. Another is that because it has been the tradition that the majority of children have grown up with their biological mother and father, this is somehow the best way, the optimum way. These are circular arguments that go around and around, without any foundation in truth. Not only is it tunnel vision, but it is offensive vision and carries with it an array of ramifications. It's not just the likes of me and my future spouse who bear the brunt of these unfavourable kinds of assertions. For one, it discounts the parental competence of same-gender couples currently raising children. Such assertions must also necessarily imply that stepmoms and stepdads are some inferior class of parent, not to mention single parents and adoptive parents.
Many people and many families are on the end of these unfavourable assertions. History has taught us time and time again that tradition is absolutely no justification for maintaining any form of discrimination. To insist on holding on to this traditional parental setup as the optimum setting, putting it on a pedestal and claiming that is superior to every other parental setup that falls outside social requirements and specifications regarding gender, sexual orientation and biological functioning, is not only unfair but absurd.
A particular difficulty I have with the view of these "traditional family" advocates is that what they advocate is tantamount to dictating and enforcing stereotyped gender roles. Labels like "girl," "boy," "woman" or "man" carry a whole host of assumptions and connotations that they take as given facts. Boy can meet girl, yes, but boy can also meet boy, and girl can meet girl, too. We are moving away from the conditioned conformity to gender roles that these traditional family advocates are themselves at the mercy of. Society, and indeed the law, is leaving this constrained thinking behind. We are looking forward, not backward.
Amongst my peers, I have the fortune of knowing a number of families. These families are headed by single parents and pairs of parents. Some of those pairs are of the same gender, and some are of different genders. Whatever the number or the gender of the parents, I see little variation in their parenting. Without a doubt, parenting means unconditional love, something I know from my own upbringing. And unconditional love means support, encouragement, care, kindness and generosity, to name but a few. Of course, the ability and the desire to love a child unconditionally has nothing to do with one's gender.
The reality of the matter is that if, some day in the future, I find myself in this ultimate, privileged role of responsibility, if I get my future as I envisage it now, someone is going to call me "Mom." It will be my duty to live up to that honorable title, as I've come to understand it, with all the love that I have in me, because that's precisely what it's all about. My role as a mom, my parental duty, will be fulfilled not by what I look like on the outside but by who I am on the inside. What matters is what my heart consists of, not what the outside of my body consists of. What matters is my parental role, not my gender role.
While matters of gender and biology may be relevant to making a child, it is parenting that makes a parent. And it is clear that parenting is only about gender to those who insist on making it about gender.
Follow Robyn Harper on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobynHarperGGR