Lesbian and Gay Parenting Questions & Answers Column With Arlene Istar LevDear Ari

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Donor Dad

Posted By on September 14, 2010

Dear Ari:

This question might be a little different from the norm, but I will ask anyway. I am a straight man and my lesbian friend has just asked me to consider starting a family with her. This comes out of a lot of different things; we dated in college (before she was completely comfortable with her sexuality, I guess.) She’s been having some medical problems and the doctor suggested the hormones from a pregnancy would help clear up.

She has a great house and a good job and I will be finishing college soon and I have great job opportunities in her area. How difficult is this? Should I expect the social pressure/life pressure of this to be overwhelming? I guess I am just nervous and would love to hear some sort of good, old-fashioned ‘victory story’ that will tie everything up neatly in a Hollywood ending. Sigh!
—Jason

Dear Jason:

Well, invoking Hollywood may be an apt metaphor. Like Hollywood, situations like these can range from romantic comedies to outright horror flicks, and everything in-between. So let’s start with your friend for a second: Having a baby to “clear up some medical problems,” is not such a good idea. That may be obvious, but I didn’t see anything in your post that sounded like, “She really wants to have a child,” so I’d like to start with saying under no circumstances should you, she, or anyone, start a family unless your primary motivation is to be parent, with all that entails. Both of you must be very clear that you are ready to be parents and start a family before you embark on this adventure.

So your lesbian friend has asked you to “start a family with her.” The first thing I would do is find out exactly what that means to her. Does she want you to just start the family with her, or does she want you to be a parent? Does she want you to be a daddy or a donor? Does she want you to be an uncle or a friend? I would clarify, probably with the help of a family therapist and an attorney who are knowledgeable about queer families. If that sounds very “serious,” it is because it is serious. The effects of this decision will impact another life, a child, and the clearer you are about your roles, the easier it will be to establish a stable environment for the child. There is nothing more important to making this work for your family, then being clear about everyone’s expectations, as well as the legal ramifications in the state in which you live.

The most important thing to realize for potential parents who are not “coupled,” is the reality that you are committing to in a serious, dedicated relationship with another adult for at least the next 20+ years. It’s hard enough to remain committed with someone who you love and adore and want to roll around with in the sheets. It’s another thing to also put up with their lovers and/or potentially long-term committed partner and/ or other co-parents. Not to mention the likelihood of your meeting a woman with who you will want to partner. It might be a turn off for some women to partner with a man who is attached to a lesbian, and her family (child, spouse, etc.)

There are other questions too: what if she wants a second child? What if you want more children and she doesn’t? What if you have another child with someone else; what will the children’s relationship be with one another? It is often challenging in the beginning of family-building to think down the road to what it will be like to have half-grown children underfoot whose feet are bigger than yours. You and your friend need to think long term about what this partnership between the two of you will mean and how to establish and protect it. You also need to think about how other intimate partners will fit in with your arrangement.

Having said all of that, of course there are “happy ever after” stories. Families can be successful in many different forms. Our children really don’t care much about our sexual orientation. What they care about is the stability of their lives. Our job is to ensure a stable home for them, so they know who their parents are, and where they can come for nurturance and support. Having a lesbian for a co-parent can be a great thing (hey, it’s worked for me <smile>) but I think the issue is less about each of your sexualities, as much as being able to make a long-term commitment together for your child.