A portrait of a modern family talking about racial issues, same sex parenthood, making dinner every night and how our children teach us to become better human beings.
Hutch Foster and Michael Shepperd met 15 years ago in New York City, where they were both pursuing an acting career. “It was love at first sight,” says Hutch, and “three days later, Michael, moved in.” Hutch had asked Michael if he intended to have children, to him a deal breaking question. They were on the same page and they have been together ever since. Sebastian, now 9, and Maxwell, 6, joined the happy family. They were both adopted through an open adoption process, where the birth mother and the adopted family know who each other are. “We thought it would be better for our children to know where they came from.” Hutch explains. “Maxwell, does have a connection with her birth mom and once in a while she asks to see her, so we arrange that, but it doesn’t seem to be any hardship not to have that presence in the house. The hardship is on me because I am the one who has to make dinner every night,” he jokes. Sebastian’s mother instead passed away. “We have a few female friends who gravitate around us. When Sebastian feels the need for a female version of mommy, he knows he can always ask us to spend time with our female friends. We call it ‘mommy time’.”
The Foster-Shepperd family is just one of the thousands same-sex couples raising children in America. According to the 2010 census, a quarter of same-sex American household are raising children, gaining ground on heterosexual couples, who parent at a rate of just under 50 percent.
ARE THE CHILDREN REALLY ALRIGHT?
You might see them taking their kids to schools, volunteering at their schools, strolling down the neighborhood and lately, most notably, on Oscar-nominated movies and prime-time tv shows. Gay families are increasingly common but their existence continues to provoke social and political outrage. Many want to know: Can kids raised in same-sex households turn out okay? Dr. Peggy Drexler, Author and Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, who for many years studied the lives of gay parents raising sons and daughters, resoundingly thinks so. “In general, gay parents tend to be more motivated, more committed, and more thoughtful parents than heterosexual couples. That's because they usually have to work very hard, and plan very far in advance, to become parents, and so rarely do so by accident,” Dr. Drexler explains. “Meanwhile, the children show few differences in achievement. They perform as well in school, at sports, and in extracurriculars as peers with heterosexual parents. At the same time, they are more self-aware, more adept at communicating their feelings, and exhibit more empathy for people different from themselves. They learn early how to negotiate the outside environment, gauge other people's motives, and assess how open they dare to be in specific situations. They are strong.”
Children with same sex parents do often face discrimination, and it's not always the easiest childhood. “Still, challenges are not defeats,” encourages Dr. Drexler, “Perhaps as a by-product of the discrimination they sometimes face, children of gay parents tend to be more sensitive to others
and to the positive and negative feelings in themselves. The boys I've worked with tend to be more thoughtful and measured in how they exert themselves in the world. And they have no greater chance of "turning gay" than the child with the straight parents next door.”
HOW TO RESPOND TO YOUR KIDS WHEN THEY ASK
Having an open dialogue in the family and making children feel that their parents are the main source of information is key for Dr. Jen Berman, celebrity psychotherapist, television and radio host. “If they have questions they should feel free to go home and ask. When children feel that some topics are taboo and they can’t openly talk about them they will turn to their peers for answers and their peers are not evolved enough to give those answers. It’s important to explain to our children that there is not such a thing as normal and not normal,” continues Dr. Berman, “There are all sorts of families: mom and dad, single moms, single dads, two dads, two moms, grandparents; children are born to accept all that is explained to them.” Hutch experiences this first-hand: “Children are so crazy accepting, to them nothing is a big deal. It’s much worse for older people to accept because they have built a life of mental infrastructures that are hard to be re-wired or removed. Do my children care that they have two dads? Not at all. Do their friends from school care that they have two dads? Not at all. Sometimes the parents do but their children are informing them more and more everyday.”
LOOKING YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR
Children tend to mirror their parents. If parents live in fear and hate of diversity, this is what the children will learn. Racism, anger and hate are taught at a very early age. “I grew up
in fear,” Michael, opens up, “If you swallow a watermelon seed it’s gonna grow and burst you open. If we were supposed to fly, we would have wings. You are going to burn in hell because you are a bad person.“ Michael reminisces of his childhood in a small town in Illinois. “In approaching parenthood, I told Hutch that I wanted to conquer my fears. I was always afraid of flying, but now whenever I fly with my kids, I show them that it can actually be fun. I refuse to teach them fear, because it turns into hate and my children don’t know hate.”
Authored by Barbara Manconi, founder of BWell Magazine