What You’re Really Saying When You Tell Me Children Deserve A Mother And A Father

The people arguing that children deserve better than being raised by my partner and me are the same people arguing that families on welfare are lazy and selfish. It’s not about children deserving the best in life. It’s about children being a commodity of which people like us are unworthy.

For months after my partner Charlie gets pregnant, I compulsively read about kids conceived through assisted reproductive technology who are opposed to donor conception, or children of same-sex parents who grow up to become crusaders against same-sex marriage. These are people who feel they were ripped off, somehow—robbed of a “normal” childhood.

They strike me as petulant, entitled, and obnoxious, but I still can’t shake the concern that maybe they’re right. I am haunted by images of my adult child coming to me and saying, “You were selfish. You put your own desire to be a parent ahead of my happiness.” And the sentence every non-biological parent fears most: “You’re not my real mom.”

Finally, I discuss this concern with my partner. “What if our baby is unhappy? What if they wish they had a normal family?”

He shrugs. “Everyone has problems. We didn’t come from perfect families, but we’re awesome.”

I know he’s right. But in the back of my mind, the question continues to gnaw at me. Is it fair to bring a child into a situation where he or she will inevitably face discrimination? Is it true that, as anti-LGBTQ zealots love to insist, “every child deserves a mother and a father”? Studies have demonstrated that children conceived via sperm donor, like our soon-to-be-baby, tend to struggle more than children raised by both their biological parents. Is it wrong to have a child anyway?

I can’t help but notice that the people making the “children deserve a mother and father” argument are also the ones most frequently arguing and voting in favor of cutting welfare and other forms of support for struggling families, suggesting that they think children deserve a Leave It To Beaver two-parent family more than, say, food. They also tend to be anti-abortion and pro-adoption in the case of unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, overlooking the fact that both relinquishing parents and adopted children tend to have lasting emotional repercussions from the event.

Why don’t the family values crusaders insist that those children deserve to be raised by their parents of origin, and work to create more robust social support systems for low-income parents and families? It’s both inconsistent and telling that the same people who are anti-same-sex-parents and anti-abortion usually oppose increased welfare benefits, free child care, and other options that would make it easier for families to stay together.

These inconsistencies demonstrate that the “what children deserve” rhetoric is not, at its heart, about what children deserve at all. It’s about what parents deserve, and who deserves to be a parent. If the “family values” crowd genuinely believed that all children deserve to be raised in an environment that minimizes the amount of hardship they face in their lives, they’d be working to ensure social and financial support for low-income families, making sure that every child has a safe place to live, enough to eat, and clothes to wear. They’re not. The people arguing that children deserve better than being raised by my partner and me are the same people arguing that families on welfare are lazy and selfish. It’s not about children deserving the best in life. It’s about children being a commodity of which people like us are unworthy.

The fact is, none of us can promise our children perfect lives, and many, if not most, children are born into situations where adversity is guaranteed. Children are born every day who will grow up facing racism or classism or both, but no reasonable person would argue that only wealthy white people should be allowed to procreate. (If someone somewhere is saying that, please do not tell me about it. Allow me to maintain my childlike sense of optimism for a little while longer.) Even for children born into financially stable, socially privileged, two-parent households, things can always go wrong. Parents can get divorced or die. Children can become injured or ill. They can also grow up to realize they are gay, or bisexual, or asexual, or transgender—all of which present difficulties, and all of which are beyond a parent’s ability to predict or prevent.

Do I want my child to get picked on? Of course not. Is there a single thing in the world I could do to prevent it, even if I weren’t queer? Hell no. Children are little monsters; they’ll always find reasons to tear each other down. There’s no way to protect my child from occasionally experiencing discomfort, persecution, isolation, and sorrow—and, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to even if I could.

Have you ever met a person who has never dealt with adversity? Neither have I, but imagine how insufferable they would be. Struggling is part of the human experience. To say that something difficult “builds character” is a cliché, but it’s also true; you become a better, stronger person each time you overcome an obstacle. I don’t want to deprive my child of opportunities to grow. I don’t want to raise a spoiled kid who has no idea how to respond to difficulty. I want to raise an engaged, passionate, empathetic human being.

What does a child deserve? Love. Care. Respect. Safety. The freedom to explore the world. Encouragement. Understanding. These are all things that can be provided by married parents, same-sex parents, single parents, adoptive parents, extended families, blended families, and any other imaginable kinship arrangement. And any person who can offer them—or at least, who is willing to work hard to come as close as they can—deserves a chance to be a parent.

Photo of the soon-to-be parents provided by the author.

Lindsay King-Miller is a queer writer who lives in Denver with her partner, an ever-growing collection of books, and a very spoiled cat. Her first book will be published by Plume in early 2016.

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