Heather has Two Mommies…..and Two Daddies…er Donors…or One Donor and some other Guy

I urge everyone to read this NY Times Magazine piece, “Gay Donor or Gay Dad?” about the complicated nature of family relationships that can develop when two same-sex partners seek a donor to assist them in starting a family. Reading the whole thing is essential because it is a complicated piece about a new, complicated family structure. Here is what would be considered a picture of a successful relationship:

Mark, 48, Jean, 37, and Candi, 34, now have two children — Mark (named after his father) is Candi’s biological son, and another boy, Joseph, now 7 months old, is Jean’s biological son. For a long time Mark, who was working as a freelance information technologist and financial consultant in Minneapolis until he took the job at the museum, could arrange his schedule to suit the mothers’ needs. He spends time with the kids once a week, sometimes alone, sometimes with his long-term partner, Jeffrey, who is 36 and went to college with Candi, and sometimes with one or both mothers. The relationship among the fathers and mothers has been a surprise benefit, he said, creating a brother-sister feeling. Despite the fact that the mothers are still financially responsible for the children, Mark has put them in his will. Each birthday and Christmas, he deposits a $1,000 bond for their education. Like any good father, he said, “I want to see them do well.”

Then there is this confusing explanation of another family (I stress that the story must be read to sort it all out):

When [R.’s] daughter was 2, her nonbiological mother became impregnated with sperm donated by a gay black friend. She bore twins. A couple of years later, the mothers split up. A custody battle ensued, in which the white mother tried to gain sole custody of all three children. The judge ruled against her. The final agreement essentially assigned the three mixed-race children to the white mother roughly 60 percent of the time and to the black mother 40 percent of the time.
The current family tree is a crazy circuit board: The black woman has a new female partner. The white woman is now living with a man, and the two have had their own child. So, as R. said, between the one child that R. has with the black mother, the twins borne by the white mother with a black donor and the newest, fourth, child born to her with her new male partner, all of whom have some sort of sibling relation to one another, things can be a little confusing. “They’re quite a little petri dish of a family, as you can imagine,” R. told me.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that such confusion doesn’t occur within heterosexual relationships, but these sorts of unions as constructed and designed are–of necessity–complicated from the start. Evidence of both are found in this explanation:

Candi’s attention returned to me: “Why is this worth a story? It’s not even worth discussing. We’re just as American as our next-door neighbors. You see all these families with stepdads and stepmoms and half brothers and half sisters. What do you say about marriages that 50 percent of the time end in divorce? Why are we so threatening?” Most heterosexual parents, she said, marry, have sex “and then suddenly: ‘Whoops! We’re pregnant!’ Our families are designed. They’re conscious. They don’t just happen by happenstance. We had to sit down and say: O.K., what’s your relationship to the kid going to look like? What’s our relationship to each other going to look like? What’s this family going to look like?” She didn’t understand what the big deal was. “We want the same things that every other family wants! You know? We shop at Costco; we shop at Wal-Mart; we buy diapers. We’re just average. We’re downright boring!”

I agree that–other than their unique family structure–there is nothing that sets these folks apart from “average” people. However, I think that the baseline structure of the parent/guardian relationships that they have cobbled together, which form the foundation for the family they have “designed,” is inherently more complicated and, thus, potentially more confusing and damaging to the children who are supposed to be the most important star(s) of these family constellations.
I say “supposed to be” because much of the entanglements and complications described in the story arise from the attempts to delineate what “rights” each of the adults have in these relationships with regards to seeing and interacting with the kids. It seems that’s what’s best for the kids is less important than the type of relationship that the adults will have with those kids. That’s not really out of the ordinary: too many adults put their own feelings and desires regarding the parent/child relationship ahead of the children’s. Yet, if such misplaced prioritization is bad enough when you have a typical two-parent family, what the heck do we expect can happen when you have a 3 or 4-parent one?

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