The Prospective Queer Solo Parent
By Rebecca Plum, LM, CPM
I have always intended to be a parent. Knowing this, and knowing that I may or may not fall in love with a wonderful woman who could skillfully navigate this journey with me, I began to plan from a very young age; every decision I made about schools, careers, cities, all centered around the question of how each choice would lead me towards my goal of motherhood. Though I have yet to conceive, adopt, or in any way be an actual parent (I’m told that a cat doesn’t count), parenthood, in many ways, has been my life’s work.
When a person is in the ‘thinking’ or ‘trying’ stage of creating their family, they think about it all the time. Their child, though not yet in their arms, exists already in their daily life – in their choices, in their language, and always in their thoughts. So, in a very real way, that parent and that child are a family unit that is just, thus far, not-yet-united.
This is a powerful notion, because it invites the prospective parent to craft an intentional environment, community, and parenting self, all before the child ever sets foot into their world. This is also a revolutionary notion, as it suggests that family can exist in the theoretical, intentional plane before it ever enters the literal, physical one. This experience is the unique province, privilege and gift of those who choose parenthood consciously, with intention and love.
A person who parents on their own takes full responsibility for every choice that will ever be made on their child’s behalf. They claim every step, from choosing the method of finding or creating that child (adoption vs. fostering vs. conception, anonymous vs. known donor, and countless other choices), through every parenting choice, from vaccinations to preschools to when they can pierce their ears (or whatever else it is popular to pierce at the time).
There are thousands of questions one may ask when embarking on and preparing for this journey: How will I support my family if I am on my own? What kind of childcare will I need? Who do I know that has been through this, and what can they tell me/teach me/show me about this path? How can I plan for this life to be not just manageable, but sustainable, fulfilling and joyful?
One of the most primary answers is that of community, and of family. All the questions we face when preparing for and moving toward parenthood are made more navigable and less foreign when we draw on the wisdom of another who has walked that path before us. The challenges that can arise along the way invite us to lean on our chosen friends and families for support, transforming what might have been an isolating experience into one that deepens our relationships with those who will be taking this journey alongside us.
The term ‘family’ was originally re-claimed by queer culture some decades ago, when coming out frequently meant alienation from one’s family of origin. This concept of family, as used by the queer community, came to refer very specifically to the larger community of queer folk, as a way of identifying places and people that could offer safety and solidarity. Many of us also came to apply the term to our intimate communities of close friends who, especially when our family of origin had been less than supportive, became our true and chosen families.
As members of the queer community who choose parenthood, we take the reclamation of the term ‘family’ one step further. In defiance of all the social norms that dictate who is best qualified to parent, to commit, to love, we declare that family is what we make it. It is the community we joined when we came out, and the communities we choose as our most intimate and loving support systems, and now it is also the family of parent and child/ren, created consciously, with intention and love.
Queer families are not the only non-traditional family structures that have been gaining visibility in our culture. The solo parent (aka ‘Choice Mom’) community is a growing and vibrant one, and they are bringing visibility and support to those that have been, until recently, an isolated and misunderstood group of parents. Often dismissed as irresponsible, or disrespected by those who assume that their pregnancies were unintentional or ill-considered, solo parents are breaking increasingly visible new ground and setting a new standard for the culture of parenting in our society. As Jennifers Aniston and Lopez portray empowered solo moms on film (though in admittedly unrealistic scenarios), and our country is led by the son of a powerful and celebrated solo mother, our cultural consciousness is experiencing a dramatic shift. Add to this the movements around gay marriage and gay parenting (both of which are also becoming increasingly visible in the media), and we have an even more dramatic transition.
As each new image is added to the collective vision of what parenting can look like, our definition of family continues to evolve. There are support groups for every conceivable permutation of ‘parent’ that we creative Bay Area folk can come up with, new language to describe our chosen arrangements, and parenting blogs and listserves spring up every day offering reflection and support to others in the community.
So, while we each choose our own unique course into parenthood, this does not mean that we must actually be alone on this path. Our chosen people, the communities of friends and family that uplift and love us every day, will be our children’s families too. One of the wisest and most empowering things we can do, therefore, is to create strong, compassionate, like-minded communities that we will be well supported by and connected to by the time we are in the throes of new parenthood. Attend a support group. Check out an online forum. Post on Craigslist or the Berkeley Parents Network and meet other prospective solo parents for lunch. Make friends with others that can relate to and share our experiences, so that when we are deeply in it, we will be able to skip the explanations and get right to the real stories of our lives. As one queer solo prospective parent advises, “Get your support team in place… you will need to have friends capable of holding you without attachments, friends who can be a sounding board, or mirror to your inner process, someone to remind you to ground, be present and not get lost in the cyclical nature of trying to conceive.”
The phrase ‘It takes a village’ has been overused, but the wisdom in it remains profoundly true. Our lucky children’s fabulous aunts and uncles (and whatever other groovy names we find for them) will be sources of unlimited support, love, consolation and celebration, and they will be the greatest gift (second only to our children!) that we could give ourselves on this path.