“You’re so lucky to be married to a woman,” many straight, cisgender women tell me. “Women just make better partners and parents! Your daughter is so lucky to have two moms!” They then usually proceed to complain about their male spouses, enumerating all the ways that these men supposedly fail at parenting and relationships.
While I agree that I’m very lucky to be married to a specific woman (whom I always refer to as the best wife in the world), and while we spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing our parenting, I always feel vaguely puzzled by these conversations. If women are so unhappy with how their men partner and parent, why don’t they do something about it? Like, you know, talk about it. Or demand better. Or even get together with women instead.
Of course I recognize that often women use complaining, especially about spouses, as a way of making connections. I’ve been part of many conversations where women have whined about their men and then turned to me and asked if I’ve experienced the same issues, only to find that the chat flounders once I admit that no, I don’t have any complaints about my wife. Some women don’t actually want to make a change; they just want to talk and relate, and a spouse makes a handy discussion point. For those situations, I’m now prepared to reply, “No, I don’t have problems with my wife, but I do have this other issue going on…” That way, we can keep talking and empathizing, even if we don’t share the same problems.
I also realize that sometimes people use the “You’re so lucky!” or “That’s so cool!” line to show me that they approve of same-sex relationships and two-mother families. I don’t actually think my life is “cool”; it’s just our everyday reality. It’s who we are and how we parent. But I appreciate that people are being overly positive rather than ranting at me about how sorry they feel for our daughter since she’s being raised by two women.
In general, however, I think that the comments people make reveal some stereotypes about the genders.
One of the biggest complaints people make is that men aren’t attentive to children’s (or women’s) needs. I’m regularly told that men can’t change diapers, comfort a crying baby, give a child medicine on a schedule, take a child to school or extracurricular activity, remember birthdays or anniversaries, support a stressed spouse, or buy appropriate presents, among other things. The word “can’t” is employed, as though this is about ability and not choice. Perhaps these women believe the men can’t and thus they don’t expect or encourage it, or perhaps in some cases the men know that women have low expectations for them and so they don’t bother to expend any effort. I’ve so often been told that women are simply better, more natural parents, and that two-mom families are therefore twice as good, as though that’s the end of the story.
Obviously, I don’t have an answer, but it is true that research shows children raised by same-sex parents, often two mothers, are doing extremely well and often have distinct advantages, such as being less prejudiced or feeling more confident. Also, of course, children raised by two mothers tend to be really, really wanted; you don’t usually get a child by accident when you’re in a same-sex relationship (though sometimes I’m tempted to tell prying people who wonder how I got pregnant that I slipped and fell on a penis). This means that in many cases, we have thought deeply about why we want children and how we plan to parent, and we may feel ready to focus on our children’s needs in a way that those who didn’t truly want kids don’t.
But I’m not convinced that this means mothers are always better than fathers or that two-mom families are always more loving and devoted than other family set-ups. I worry about our seemingly constant emphasis of this stereotype. I think there are ways we can all—men and women—improve our parenting and partnering skills.
Still, I won’t deny it—I’m lucky. And my wife and I hope our daughter is, too.