The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

On Selfish Parenting

I probably waste way too much time and bandwidth over the rantings of various right wing pundist regarding gay parenest. After two posts about Michael Savage’s comments, I should probably leave it alone. Those guys aren’t going to change their minds, after all, and neither are their listeners. (And they’re probably not reading this blog anyway) But just when I start to think I should let it go, I hear something that lays bare the beyond-Owellian logic that seems to underlie a lot of conservative thought.

Plus, after four years of parenting, it pisses me off to hear that the act of raising our son is not just “abuse” (according to the Michael Savages) of the world but also “pure selfishness.”

From the June 19 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:

BELLING: And what happens when the relationship ends is you have a fight literally between two mothers. Can a baby have two mothers? It’s a new concept for us. And I’m not sure it’s an especially healthy one. First of all, it demeans the entire notion of fatherhood, implying that a father is an absolute irrelevancy, a concept that has destroyed many black families, the idea that we simply don’t need to have any male role model in the life whatsoever. But more to the point, knowing the potential of what can happen when the relationship ends, and watching this particular case, I mean, there is a child here. There is a child who is going to have to decide which mother is her mother, or are they both their mothers? And the desire to have these kids is almost entirely premised on, “I want to have a baby. We want to have a baby.” Not, “Are we in the best situation to be able to raise a child?” And I think it comes down to just pure selfishness. And that’s what it’s all about.

And there’s more.

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As for the decision to award visitation rights to the woman who didn’t give birth, let’s imagine the situation did not involve a couple of gays. A guy and a woman, unmarried, the woman is artificially inseminated and has a baby. It’s not the biological child of her boyfriend. When they break up, does the boyfriend expect to have any kind of visitation rights? Well, what’s the difference? Now, those who support gay marriage would argue that’s exactly the point: It does not allow us to engage in relationships in which we can jointly be able to raise a child and have equal parental rights. Straight people have the ability to get married. If the guy wants to be able to be involved in the child’s life when they split up, well, then he should have married her in the first place. Gays don’t have the right to do that, so their argument goes.

But the larger point is, whether or not society needs to facilitate people’s desires to raise children any way they feel like raising them. If we’re going to sanction the parental rights of both people in a gay relationship, do we have to sanction the parental rights of a three-way relationship? Let’s imagine that a woman and a man have a baby. And the woman later decides to hook up with a female partner. Do they all get rights? And are we going to base every single decision on the basis of what these parents who are choosing alternative lifestyles want or are we going to start to think about what’s in the best interest of the child?

Where shall we start? First of all, I want to know if this guy has any kids. And, furthermore, does he have kids that he’s an equal partner in caring for, meaning that he does an equal share of the work of parenting? (A fair question, given his apparent preference for traditional gender roles, which has always meant that the bulk of day-to-day, hands-on child care falls to women.) I can’t find anything on his Wikipedia page or his web bio that says anything about being married or having kids. I ask because his comments leave me about as mystified as the people who claim that gay people become parents as a “political statement.”

What Mary [Cheney] said, though, that got a nod of recognition from me, was that their decision to become parents was not a political decision. It’s an accusation that gets leveled at gay and lesbian parents all the time, particularly if we’re (a) out, (b) politically outspoken about equality, and (c) visible as families. What puzzles me about that is when that accusation comes from people who have children, and who should know how much parenting — wonderful and rewarding as it may be — is. (If you’re doing it right.) If they’ve been through the same experiences I have as a parent (outside of pregnancy and delivery, in my case), what on earth makes them think anyone would make that depth of commitment for political reasons?

Maybe it’s because they assume that, since we can’t reproduce (there it is again) with same-sex partners, gay people shouldn’t want to have families. Or that we don’t really want to be parents, but are doing so as part of some political strategy. (Honestly, if our aims were totally political, it would be easier to organize a march on Washington or something. And it would take less time an energy.) When we adopted Parker, I found out later that my mom had asked my sister, “What are they thinking?!” To which my sister replied, “Um. That they want to have a family.”

It’s really that simple. We’re just people, after all. And some of us want to be parents just like lots of other people do, and for all the same reasons. (Unless passing on one’s genes is the primary reason for being a parent.) The hubby told me when we met that he’d always wanted a family. When I came out (something like 26 years ago now), I wanted the same thing, but assumed it wouldn’t be possible.

Again, it boggles my mind how anyone who knows how much (wonderful, rewarding) work parenting can be can think that the decision to become a parent and begin what’s really a lifelong commitment is “pure selfishness.”

Don’t get me wrong in what I’m about to say. I love my son more than I have words to express (and, as my son noted when he explained why I’m a writer, “Daddy has too many words”), and I’m happy to do everything I’ve done as a parent where he’s concerned — from getting up at 3:00 AM to make a bottle to wiping up warm baby vomit, changing poopy diapers, cleaning up diarrhea, cleaning mashed food from the walls and potty training “accidents” from the floor, kissing boo-boos, hauling my tantruming two-year-old out of a restaurant where we’d previously been enjoying a meal, etc. And I’ll be happy to do everything I’ll have to do in the future as a parent, because it’s what I signed on for when I became a parent. It’s what I wanted.

And what, actually, are anyone’s motive for wanting to be a parent? My guess is that if you get to the core of that desire, very few would answer that they became parents because they wanted to pass on their genes and propagate the species. (And I’d be creeped out by anyone who did claim that as the primary reason they became parents.) My guess is that most people would shrug their shoulders and then stammer out an answer about how it was just a deep desire they’d always had, for as long as they can remember. They just wanted to have children and become parents.

In that sense, isn’t any motive for having children and becoming parents to some degree a selfish one?

If so, then it’s of the few selfish decisions you’ll make from that point on, because — if you’re doing it right — the day-to-day process of parenting is one made of of regular acts of unselfishness. Anyone who has kids can tell you that. Whether it’s the time or money you would have spent on other pursuits, or the places you otherwise gone (vacations, etc.) every parent makes some sacrifice or another where their children are concerned. Daily, in fact. The author seems to believe that having same-sex parents will harm a child, despite studies that suggest that gay parents are at least as good as heterosexual parents.

The hubby and I could have remained DINKs, after all, and probably continued to enjoy an urban existence and a lifestyle that included spending our disposable income on more vacations, clothes, gadgets, socializing, etc. But we wanted something else, like a lot of people do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I have a great deal of respect for people who recognize their desire not to be parents and choose to remain childless. Parenting isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone who doesn’t want to be a parent.

I have a great deal of respect for people who decide early on that they don’t want children, and who thus remain childless by choice. Four years into parenting myself, I can tell you that it’s a huge amount of work. And this is coming from someone who wanted to be a parent. Even when you want it, it’s work. But if you want and welcome the experience, it’s highly rewarding work. And yes, as Yoffe points out, it’s fun. For every moment of frustration or exasperation I’ve experience at least two or three moments of joy and wonder with Parker. But if it wasn’t something I wanted in the first place, I’d probably have fewer of those happier moments.

If you ask me, there are probably a lot of people who shouldn’t be parents, but who fall into it by accident or because everyone from thier mother to the mainstream media is telling them should. And probably a good deal of those situations end up being detrimental to child and parent (and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity). So, if there are people who know in advance they they shouldn’t or don’t want to be parents, and decide to remain childless, I applaud them. The world would be a better place if more children grew up in families where they were wanted.

One thing about gay parents, especially since the beginning of the “gayby boom,” is that almost none of us “fell down drunk and got up pregnant.” Most of us became parents only after considerable thought and even more effort. Our kids come into families where they are very much wanted. (And, as the custody case referenced above shows, that holds true even if the parents’ relationship dissolves. How many heterosexual parents go through such lengths to maintain ties to their children after divorce?)

The flip side of the coin, I’ve noted before, seems to be the notion that everyone must reproduce. The legislative version of that outlook, which enforces conception by doing away with contraception, sex education, and reproductive choice would seem to lead to a lot of people becoming parents who don’t want to be parents, and thus in a lot more miserable families and children.

It’s likely that some of the most “selfish” parents are those who don’t want to be parents in the first place. A number of gay couples have adopted and are adopting children who’ve been abandoned by one or both of their biological parents. (In some cases, bio-dads who don’t stick around after conception. Maybe because they think “life begins at conception” but parenting begins sometime later?) Some of us are adopting children right here in this country that heterosexual parents don’t seem to want because they have special needs or are the “wrong color” (black, brown, etc.), and they prefer to head to eastern Europe or Asia instead). Maybe Belling should address that “selfish parenting,” instead of worrying about same-sex couples who are parenting children they dearly wanted, and are actively engaged in caring for and raising their children.

I’m not sure what “selfish parenting” looks like to Belling.

To me, it look likes smoking crack and then going for a drive with your kid in the car.

To me it looks like tying your kid up in the car (in 80 degree weather) so you can finish your meal in a restaurant.

To me, it looks like waiting hours to take your kid to the hospital after he shot himself in the foot.

To me it looks like strangling your baby in order to keep your boyfriend, or drowning your children when they get in the way of your having a boyfriend.

To me it looks like ignoring your spouse’s deteriorating mental health and leaving your children in her care.

To me it looks like drowning your child for insurance money.

To me it looks like selling your kid to buy a car.

To me it looks like selling your kid to a pedophile and then holding her down.

To me it looks like taking off for Mexico while your kid waits for the kidney you promised.

To me it looks like killing your baby in a 110 mph car chase to escape police.

To me it looks like soliciting your 7-year-old daughter for sex.

To me it looks like crashing a plane with your kid inside just to get back at your ex.

To me it looks like giving your children the choice of burying their 8-year-old brother, who lays dying of abuse and neglect.

To Belling, “selfish parenting” looks like getting up hours earlier than you would otherwise to feed your kid, get him dressed and see him off to school, because I’m a gay dad and that’s what I did this morning.

To Belling, “selfish parenting” looks like coming home, making dinner for your kid, reading his favorite books to him, playing flash cards with him because it helps him with his already well-developed language skills, helping him brush his teeth, reading him a bedtime story, and then singing him to sleep for 20 minutes because he keeps wanting to hear “just one more song, Daddy,” because I’m a gay dad and that’s what I did last night, and what I’ll do again tomorrow night.

To Belling, “selfish parenting, looks like spending Saturday taking your kid to swimming lessons, helping him learn how to ride his bike, taking him to the neighborhood pool, taking him blueberry picking (because he loves blueberries and you found an organic blueberry farm in the area that will let you pick your own), and then taking him to a theme park built specially for kids, and finally make to dinner at IHOP (which he calls “the pancake store”) because he loves their strawberry pancakes, because we’re gay dads and that what we’ll do this weekend.

To Belling, and people like him, the logic is pretty simple: if gay people really cared about children, we wouldn’t have any in the first place. We’d leave it to heterosexual parents because they are — including the the heterosexual parents responsible for the list above — inherently more fit to be parents than we are, because they’re heterosexual. In order to believe that, though, we’d have to believe everything that Belling and people like him believe about us; every lie they’ve been spreading about us for decades now.

But we’ll do all of those things and more, for many years to come, because we love our son, because they’re good for him, and because they make him happy. Because we want to see him grow, develop and flourish. And seeing him happy makes us happy to. So, in that sense, I guess our motives are somewhat selfish.

Belling’s logic turns on its head a line from the famous post-Stonewall gay movie Boys in the Band — which, viewed today, feels like a torturous trip back to a time when many gays were psychologically tortured and tormented by a society drenched with intolerance. Towards the end, one of the main characters says something to the effect that gay people would be better (and better off) “if we could just not hate ourselves quite so very much.”

Bellings, and people like him, seem to think that we and our children would be better (and better off) “if we could just hate ourselves a little bit more.

Sorry, Mark, but as you can see I’ve already got a full plate, as do most of us who are busy being the best parents we can be. Maybe you should look up some of the parents I mentioned above though. They look like they’ve already got a head start on this “selfishness” thing (not to mention hatred), but that doesn’t mean they can’t use your help.

10 Comments

  1. Y’know, his idea of a “3-way relationship” was pretty, uh, lame. I was picturing polyamory, or at the very least bigamy. You have a child with one partner, and later have a different partner? Who wants rights? Don’t straight people do that all the time when they divorce and remarry? What’s so radical or appalling about that?

    I have a friend with two husbands — only one is legally her husband, of course. She has children by both and they all live under one roof, as happily as any other family I know. This Belling guy can not even imagine she exists, that’s how narrow his vision is (and that’s fine by her — she’s never quite free of the fear that child services is going to come break up her household).

  2. Great post. You’ve nailed the heads-i-win-tails-you-lose foundation of the anti-gay parenting platform. I wish I could say that there’s more of us who aren’t like these folks than the other way but I can’t. All I can do is try to educate them every chance I get.

    Sign me,

    Straight parent who doesn’t care if a kid has two moms or two dads as long as they have parents who love them.

  3. His idea of a three way relationship was pretty lame. A friend of mine has nine mothers, because his dad was married nine times while he was growing up. My friend only keeps in touch with a few of them, but you can ask him and he’ll tell you how his dad had no family growing up, and now, thanks to his father’s inability to make a commitment, my friend actually has a very big family. If his dad had stayed married to his first wife, then my friend would still only have two parents, and all three of them would probably be miserable.

  4. A-freakin’-men.

  5. I already posted on Media Matters–this is just too strange! I always assumed Mark was gay. The last time I saw him, in about 1989, we were in a gay bar in Madison, Wisconsin. I was with his friend, now deceased, Duane Gay, who I worked with at the time.
    Not to cast stereotypes or anything, but at the time the guy had handbags falling out every time he opened his mouth. He didn’t seem to have any problem with the boys in leather or the guys looking at softcore porn magazines at the bar.
    Hmmm, my mistake I guess. Or was it?

  6. I sure know this argument, but from a little different perspective. I even got a link from Andrew Sullivan on that post, but he was approaching it from a gay perspective.

    I reposted that post in response to this lovely trollish comment, which was responding to another post.

    The subject–interracial relationships. I guess they would think y’all are doubly selfish gay and interracial.

  7. Terrance, goddammit, don’t you know that it’s gay couples who invented custody fights and poisoned straight Christian society with that depravity?

    It was fights between lesbian moms over their that motivated the police to take action against all the lesbians hedonistically listening to k.d.lang in the original Stonewall police raid in the first place.

    The sheer selfishness of gay parents just amazes me. They think that they are getting up in the morning to deal with infant explosive diarrhea, child nutrition, little league, working overtime to pay bills despite higher taxes, dealing with 4-5 times the paperwork crap that a straight couple does, worrying to death about the childrens’ welfare but it’s all really about selfish hedonism.

    It’s hedonism that gets gay parents to buy mounds of diapers. It’s hedonism that motivates the ER visits and talking with all the teachers, little league coaches. If they weren’t such pleasure-seeking bastards and bitches they would live single and childless. But no, they have to get their rocks off watching Dora the Explorer and Barney. Narcissists.

  8. This:

    And what, actually, are anyone’s motive for wanting to be a parent? My guess is that if you get to the core of that desire, very few would answer that they became parents because they wanted to pass on their genes and propagate the species. (And I’d be creeped out by anyone who did claim that as the primary reason they became parents.) My guess is that most people would shrug their shoulders and then stammer out an answer about how it was just a deep desire they’d always had, for as long as they can remember. They just wanted to have children and become parents.

    In that sense, isn’t any motive for having children and becoming parents to some degree a selfish one?

    is so true that it ought to be in the dictionary to illustrate the word truth.

    Seriously, I have worries about the people who think it would somehow be better if people *weren’t* having children because they wanted to have children.

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