Lesbian & Gay Couples: Staying Connected as We Build Our Families
There’s no denying that more and more gay men and lesbians are becoming parents. The most recent census data from 2000 indicates that at least 33 percent of lesbian households and 20 percent of gay, male households already have children. It’s likely those numbers have increased in recent years.
For many heterosexuals who want kids, the journey toward parenthood is marked by romance, sexual pleasure, and connection with your spouse. By contrast, gay and lesbian couples that want children—biological or adopted—face significant challenges, including enduring anti-gay sentiments among adoption agencies, social workers, and the high cost of medical and legal fees.
Given these hurdles, the rise in gay and lesbian families is a testament to just how strongly these couples want to be parents. Yet, hurdles take their toll. Initially, at least, gay and lesbian baby making is, primarily, decision-making. For example, how to create a family: biological children, fostering, or domestic or international adoption? More decisions follow about how to turn that vision into a reality.
How can gay and lesbian couples keep their relationships strong and connected as they navigate the stresses of creating their families? Here are a few suggestions:
- Write a vision statement. While crafting a vision statement is a popular tool in organizations, it can be equally useful as a personal device. With your partner, write a statement together that captures what inspires you to have children, and what you believe having children will bring to your lives, both individually and as a couple. Post your Vision Statement in your home, where you can revisit it regularly to help remind you of why you’re pursuing this goal.
- Acknowledge stress. If you’re feeling stressed about trying to have a family, take time to acknowledge it. Ground rule one: Back off of pointing fingers at your partner and, instead, name your stress using subjective language (e.g., I feel overwhelmed by this process; or, I’m angry this is taking so long). Ground rule two: Don’t try to fix what your spouse is feeling. Just listen to each other with compassion. Sometimes, just naming how you’re feeling diffuses stress.
- Make a list. Together, or individually, make a list of what you miss about your relationship or your life (from before you were in the throes of family-planning). Together, choose one to two items and devote time to importing them back into your relationship, or increasing their presence if they’re not as strong as you’d like them to be. You don’t have to devote a lot of time; even 15 minutes will do.
- Take a time out. Once gay and lesbian couples decide to have kids, they often hop onto the I-want-a-family-ASAP-train and don’t step off until mission accomplished, or the journey proves too difficult to sustain. It’s natural to get so focused on the endgame that you forget that life happens when pursuing goals, not just when we achieve them. Whether trying to conceive or adopt, if you, or your relationship, is feeling burnt out, consider opting out for a month (or more, if possible). If need be, interrupt your inner dialogue—What if this is the month we’d get pregnant, or find our baby to adopt?—by reminding yourself that taking a break will serve you, your relationship, and, ultimately, your family more than white-knuckling your way through another month. Use the time to focus on what you find fulfilling – individually, and as a couple.
Sometimes, sustaining relationship happiness can be challenging for gay and lesbian couples in the throes of creating a family. Yet, it’s important to try to do so, not only for the benefit of your connection with your partner, but also for your future family. Happy relationships are the keys to happy children!