By Mary Malia for YourTango.com.
No girl starts life thinking, “I’m going to be a lesbian mom when I grow up!” As a child, if you’re thinking about having kids, the phrase you use in your head is, “I want to be a mother!” or “I want to have children of my own someday!” As girls growing up, many of us simply embrace the images of motherhood that our culture shows us in movies, television, magazines, and within our own families and daily life. Until a few years ago, there were no lesbian mom role model images for us to embrace. That’s changed as being a lesbian mom has become decidedly cool.
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I’m not sure I ever use the phrase “I’m going to be a lesbian mom!” in my own girlhood, but as the founder of Gay Girl Dating Coach, a service designed to help lesbians conquer their dating struggles, I often work with women who have come out later in life, after being married and having children. That’s my story too. Not one of us, as a young girl, is thinking about our sexual preferences as a defining characteristic of motherhood. And neither do the children we birth, adopt or foster.
I realized I had an attraction to girls when I was around 6 or 7, but it took me many more years to understand that and find the courage to embrace that truth about myself. After 20 years of marriage and two children, I finally had to admit to myself that I was a lesbian. A vital factor in my finally coming out was being a mother and realizing I wanted my children to live their truths and know that they would be loved and accepted. I wanted them to know they would not be harshly judged for who they are or who they love. I clearly remember the day I sat down and told my husband I was leaving him because I had come to terms with being lesbian and I knew I could no longer stay married.
I was 45 at the time and I never once thought I had to change my parenting style from when I was married to when I was openly out. In the most important ways, nothing changed. The days immediately following were hard for all of us, but we made it to the other side and found new ways to live our lives. The experiences I’ve had as a mother aren’t any different than those of a woman who defines herself as straight, bi or tran. But the truth is, my parenting style changed dramatically after I came out. This happened not because I was living my life as a lesbian, but because I finally stepped away from the belief system I’d learned in church. It took a year from my coming out conversations to finally find a new way to approach my spiritual life.
At the time I came out, my son was a senior in high school, while my daughter was going into the 1st grade. What they needed as individuals was dramatically different. He needed to be learning how to be more responsible with his time, money and choices as a young 18-year-old. She was learning how to read and write, do chores, take care of her cat and get along with friends at school.
My son was so angry with me for leaving his dad and coming out that we barely spoke for two years. My daughter was busy playing hide and seek, dressing up her stuffed animals, riding her tricycle, missing her dad and trying to understand why we couldn’t just all live together anymore. She was also enjoying the fact that she often had her mom all to herself.
As their mother, my role and responsibilities didn’t change from when I was their father’s wife to when I was their lesbian mom. I wanted them to be healthy, well fed and well educated, to feel supported and loved, and to know I was always there to talk to and support them, provide guidance and correction and be a steady, loving presence in their lives.
I’ve helped my children figure out school, do homework, navigate bullies and friends. I taught them both how to cook and clean their rooms, do laundry and mow the lawn. I’ve encouraged them in their low times, cheered them on when they thought they couldn’t do something that I knew they could, and showed up for them in all the ways parents should.
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I’ve also let my kids down. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve yelled at them. I’ve been less than patient, and sometimes was too tired or too preoccupied with my own troubles to be able to listen to theirs. I’m a real person and the title of lesbian mom didn’t bestow on me any super lesbian or mom powers. It’s been humbling to raise my children.
I was humbled, for example, by the learning disabilities my son had to deal with while in school. How does a kid flunk kindergarten? Having him come home and throw himself on the floor in tears because he felt so stupid made me feel so powerless. And it happened over and over again for years. I had to struggle with my own ego and wonder if I did something during my pregnancy that caused this to happen. How could it be that my son couldn’t read? I loved reading. Reading saved my life and my son couldn’t read? I was heartbroken for me and for him.
I read to him every night at bedtime until he was 12 years old. Our favorite stories were the most gruesome stories from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. He’s a reader now; he figured it out. I’m in awe and thrilled to see that he’s conquered what was once a seemingly impossible task.
I vividly remember the day my son called to tell me he had enlisted in the Marines. It was heartbreaking to have my son join the Marines after high school because of 9/11, and hear our country had declared war on Iraq three weeks after he enlisted. I again felt powerless to help him as he struggled with wanting to commit suicide after his experiences in Iraq. Diagnosed with PTSD, and not be able to find work for almost a year, I was heartbroken all over again.
During his last year in the Marines, I got my son to promise that he wouldn’t hurt himself, and to call me first, anytime of the day and night when he was overwhelmed with wanting to end his life. My memories of those conversations are ripe with emotion and the places where I was when he would call. I vividly remember being in Montana for a consulting gig once when he called. I was driving along the Beartooth Highway on my way into Yellowstone from Billings.
It is an amazingly scenic drive that is animated with the sound of my son’s voice on the phone with me for two hours. A beautiful mountain pass, a tight corner, my finding a place to pull over where I had a cell signal. He’s complaining about his Sergeant and the base commander. He is sick of the heat of living in the desert. He wants to see green trees so badly and I’m surrounded by them on all sides where I am. I remember the weird feeling of picturing his plain, bare room on that ugly sand blasted base and then looking out to see the mountains painted in a hundred hues of green, brown and black rock against a backdrop of blue sky and cotton ball clouds.
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It wasn’t about being lesbian, it was just about being his Mom, and someone who cared deeply for his wellbeing. I was doing the only thing I could do: be present. Listen. Pray and love him.
As his time to be discharged from the Marines approached, I realized he’d need serious emotional support and a stable place to live when he got home. I bought an apartment building with the idea that he could live in one unit, my daughter and I would live in another and I’d rent the third. He lived in my third-floor apartment for 4 years. Over those four years, he struggled with finding a new path in life; he’s done it and done it well. I’m so very proud of what he’s accomplished and how he’s recreated his own life. As his mother, I prayed for him, fought for him and with him, and struggled with how much to help and how much to let him find his own way. Being lesbian wasn’t important in those years. Just being his mom and loving him was.
When it comes to my kids, I’m a mom first and a lesbian second. My heart breaks for and soars with them as I watch them navigate this crazy world we live in. The thing children want most from their parents, whether they’re lesbian, straight, gay, bi, tran or whatever, is the security of knowing they are loved deeply. What children need most are parents who show love by being present, listening deeply, teaching by example and disciplining themselves in order to effectively teach lessons and benefits of structure.
I’ve always said my children forced me to grow up in ways nothing else in life ever did. We are amazed by our children’s drive to learn and experience life, their constant emotional needs and the total lack of awareness that they have for a parent’s need for sleep, personal self care, getting to work on time, paying the bills and the myriad of other things that we as parents think are important.
My values as a mother have always been an expression of loving my children, wanting them to find their path, knowing my role is to help them learn how to succeed in a world that is full of uncertainty. The one thing they can always be certain of is my love for them and my belief that they are amazing individuals who can and should do what is in their hearts.
I know if I keep listening to them, every once in a while they will want to listen to me, their mother who just happens to be a lesbian, too.
Gay Girl Dating Coach grew out of my experience as a mother, pastor, counselor and coach. It’s an extension of my mission to be of service in the world and in particular to my community – the lesbian singles community. Discover how to approach dating with confidence and certainty. Learn how to manage the process of dating effectively and find the love of your life. Join me at www.gaygirldatingcoach.com to learn more!
This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: Lessons In Parenting From A Lesbian Mom.