Gay Parenting Through a Breakup

by Katharine Swan

Breakups are rough, but they are especially so when children are involved. For gay and lesbian couples, the difficulty of breaking up is frequently amplified by a lack of legal, social, and emotional support. The absence of laws allowing gay and lesbian marriage also translates into a shortage of laws to regulate same-sex breakups. Without these protections, all of the family members involved can suffer the consequences, including the children.

The lack of legal protection afforded gay and lesbian parents is a growing concern. Although laws are still needed to grant gay and lesbian parents the same rights as heterosexual parents, same-sex parents can gain a certain degree of security by getting second parent adoptions, signing co-parenting or custody agreements, and/or keeping other documentation outlining both parents’ rights. (For more information, please read “Second Parent Adoptions (And Other Alternatives)”.)

Family in Trouble

Another issue that presents itself during a breakup between gay or lesbian parents is the lack of social and emotional support for same-sex couples. For heterosexual couples and their children, the importance of counseling is stressed as being an integral part of helping each family member cope with the changes; however, for gay and lesbian couples, the importance of this support system is often overlooked.

The Importance of Counseling During a Breakup

During a breakup, everyone’s roles in the family go through changes – even the children’s. Whether the atmosphere at home before the breakup was avoidant, confrontational, or something in between, each family member knew his or her role. As these roles change, many family members may feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. Counseling helps all family members cope with the changes and learn to interact with each other from within their new roles in the family.

Why do my family and I need counseling?

During a breakup, many people are unwilling to seek outside help. They insist that their friends know the situation better than anyone else, and that their friends are therefore best suited for providing a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. What many people don’t stop to consider is that therapy constitutes more than those things. A therapist will also help every family member learn and explore the new family dynamics, without making the rift worse. After all, just because you and your partner are breaking up doesn’t mean the entire family should.

Why can’t I find a therapist for my family?

Finding a therapist capable and willing to counsel a same-sex family through a breakup can often seem like a tall order. Many therapists have not been trained to counsel nontraditional families, and others simply don’t feel comfortable doing so. Therefore, many gay and lesbian parents find themselves without the same resources afforded traditional families during a breakup.

All hope is not lost, though. Therapists who specialize in (or are open to) gay and lesbian clients can be found in the ads in GLBT publications, or in the directories at your local GLBT organization. Alternatively, you may be able to seek spiritual guidance from the clergy, provided you attend a church that is aware of – and supportive of – your sexual orientation.

What should I look for in a counselor?

Finding a counselor requires a different approach than finding a doctor or a dentist. Counseling is not an exact science, and as a result there are many variables between therapists, from theories and specializations to credentials and fees. Knowing the right questions to ask will help you to determine whether you want to trust a particular therapist with your family’s emotional health.

What are her/his credentials? Check the counselor’s degree, licensing, and any other credentials that are important to you, such as how long they have been practicing or what professional recognition they have received in their field.

Does s/he work with gay and lesbian couples? Aside from verifying the counselor’s credentials, this is the most important question, as a “No” will eliminate the need to ask any further questions. You should also avoid a therapist who hedges or sounds unsure of his or her answer.

Does s/he specialize in divorce therapy? Although a specialist is not a necessity, your chances of getting focused help are greater than with a general therapist.

What kind of therapy techniques does s/he use? Doing your research beforehand will ensure that you understand the differences between different theories and techniques, and that you know what you want in your therapist. For example, you should know before interviewing a counselor whether you prefer family sessions, individual sessions, or a mixture of both.

What hours is s/he available, and how often will you meet? You and your family’s busy lives require that you see a therapist whose schedule fits with yours. You may also want to ask how missed or rescheduled appointments are handled in the office, and whether the therapist or someone at the office is “on call” after hours in case of emergencies.

What are the fees? Before asking this question, you will need to have also discussed the subject of therapy with your insurance company, so that you know how much of the family’s therapy will be covered, and how much you will have to pay out-of-pocket.

The Importance of Fairness and Family

It is unfortunate that society and its laws provide so little support and regulation for the breakup of same-sex parents, but society’s slight makes it even more important that both partners in a breakup are fair to each other. When same sex couples cannot agree on the terms of a breakup, whole families often get dragged through the courts system, and everyone – but especially the children – suffers for it.

Taking the family to therapy can often be the first step on the path to a fair agreement. A counselor can help you and your partner put aside the anger and emotion, enabling you to discuss the necessary issues. Therapy can also help each member of the family adjust to the necessary changes to the family dynamics. It is important to remember that it is only you and your partner who are breaking up – despite your differences in your romantic relationship, you still have a parenting relationship with each other and with your children. Above all, you are still a family.

Information published on The Rainbow Babies website is not a substitute for proper medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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