Gay and Lesbian Parenting: Finding an Opposite Gender Influence for Your Child

by Katharine Swan

Many gay and lesbian parents worry about how it will affect their child to grow up without both a mother and a father. As a result, many GLBT families make an effort to find an opposite gender influence for their child. Gender role models are easier to find than you might think – after all, you have half the population to choose from.

Opposite Gender Friends

Possible Opposite Gender Influences for Your Child

If you would like to “appoint” someone as the primary opposite gender influence for your child, there are many possibilities to choose from. Don’t select someone just because he or she is your first choice, however – it is important that your child have a good relationship with the person, as well as plenty of opportunity for one-on-one contact. The person you choose should not only be someone your child likes, but also someone who is willing to take your child under his or her wing, so to speak. Additionally, it should be someone you know well and can trust.

Find a Family Member

For some LGBT parents, a family member may be the best choice for you and your child. Since a successful opposite gender influence needs to have a good relationship with your child, assigning you or your partner’s sibling, cousin, aunt or uncle, or even a parent to this position can enhance the relationship that is already there. However, before approaching a family member, you should be reasonably sure that he or she is supportive of your relationship with your partner and your decision to become a parent.

Suggest it to a Friend

Close friends can also provide opposite gender influence for your child. However, remember that the bond between your child and this important person needs to be as strong and stable as if your friend were a member of the family, too. Your child should be able to spend ample time with this person, so it needs to be someone you trust. And finally, it needs to be someone who genuinely cares about your child – and who your child is comfortable spending time with.

Appoint a Godparent

Appointing a godparent is one way to ensure that your child has an opposite gender influence built into his or her life from the get-go. Whether you select a family member or a friend, you should make sure that it is someone who understands – and genuinely desires – this important role. After all, you are not simply naming this person your child’s godparent – you are asking him or her to be a pivotal part of your child’s life.

Participate in a Buddy Program

For gay and lesbian parents who don’t have family or friends who would make appropriate opposite gender influences for their children, there is another option: buddy programs. You have no doubt already heard of Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization that pairs interested adults with children who need healthy role models. Although organizations like these most often benefit children who come from low socio-economic, foster, and adoptive families, their services are available to children from all walks of life.

Join a Support Group

Support groups for GLBT parents and their children also offer important opportunities for finding an opposite gender influence. Although this is not quite the same as assigning one specific person with the responsibility, participating in a support group gives your child to get to know other GLBT families, including parents of both genders.

When Children Find Their Own Opposite-Gender Role Models

How important is it to provide opposite gender influence for your child? “Don’t worry too much about finding male role models – men make up about half of the population!” Andrea Engber and Leah Klungness advise single mothers. Although their book, The Complete Single Mother, is written primarily for straight mothers, their message can be modified for GLBT parents, too. Whether you are gay or lesbian, raising your child alone or with a partner, your child will encounter the opposite gender on a daily basis.

In fact, children are amazingly good at finding gender role models on their own, in teachers, coaches, activity leaders, spiritual leaders, their friends’ fathers or mothers, and even your friends when you are not paying attention! Your job as a parent is to keep tabs on who your child looks up to. Having multiple role models of the opposite gender will actually benefit both you and your child, as you can help your child learn to pick and choose which qualities to admire and which to avoid.

The Worry-Free Approach to Finding an Opposite Gender Influence

Keeping in mind children’s tendency to seek out opposite gender influences on their own, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the children of gay and lesbian parents are usually just as well adapted as those from mainstream families. Studies have shown that children growing up in GLBT households are just as sure of gender identity as other children. Children’s behavior and play demonstrates the same interpretation of gender roles, regardless of whether they are being raised by parents of both sexes or parents of the same sex.

This could, of course, reflect the fact that gay and lesbian parents are typically very conscious of the need to provide an opposite gender influence for their child. More likely, though, it means that children are able to learn about gender identity and roles from people other than a parent or an assigned substitute. Children constantly amaze us with their resilience and their capability of understanding; why, then, should it surprise us that they are capable of seeking out information on their own?

This doesn’t mean that providing an opposite gender influence is not an important thing for lesbian or gay parents to do for their children. On the contrary, a close, healthy relationship between a child and an adult is always important, whether that adult is a parent or not. However, it does mean that as GLBT parents, you needn’t lose sleep worrying that your child won’t learn about gender properly. As long as you do your best, chances are your child will too.

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