What’s the hardest part of being a gay dad?
It’s a question I get asked on a semi-regular basis, but I find virtually impossible to answer.
It’s not that I think the question is inappropriate. On the contrary, I believe it’s incredibly important that we’re able to discuss and understand as much as we can about modern families if we’re ever going to achieve genuine equality and empathy within the parenting community.
It’s just that, well, I don’t believe my experience is all that different than the nuclear family. Of course we didn’t carry our children. Or give birth to them. And we couldn’t breastfeed for obvious reasons, but everyone knows those things already so it hasn’t felt like a “hard” part of the experience to-date.
So what’s uniquely different or difficult about the parenting experience when you’re a member of the LGBTQI+ community?
Let’s analyse a normal day of parenting my boy-girl twins toddlers to find out.
My children wake up far too early – between 5:00 and 5:30 AM - and instantly start demanding warm milk, Play School, cuddles and/or stacks of Vegemite on toast. Then, before I can finish my cup of cold coffee, we begin the Olympic-style struggle that is getting out the damn door. We change outfits a few hundred times. We engage in a presidential debate about hairstyles. We battle about how many toys are appropriate to bring to school (the answer, in case you’re wondering, is zero). And their shoes, no matter how many times we practice, take ten times longer to put on than they ever should.
Day care drop-off, much like parenting in general, is a lot like reaching into a grab bag. Sometimes the kids happily race into the arms of their teachers like a scene from The Sound of Music, and I calmly head to work. Other times, their cries are so loud and the tantrums so strong, that I find myself crying in the car wondering if I’m permanently damaging them.
While I’m working, I’m constantly thinking about them. How are they doing? How long did they cry? What are they eating for lunch? Did they eat at all? Did I pack a change of clothes? Are they playing together or apart? Will I be late to get them up again? Then it’s time to leave work, grab the kids and it’s officially a sprint to bedtime. We attempt to tire them out, which for some reason never works. We break up fights. We cook them food they’ll never eat. And we clean the living room only to have it completely destroyed fourteen seconds later.
We bathe them, help them brush their teeth, get them dressed, read them books and tuck them into bed. Finally, we collapse onto the couch and talk about how much we love them until we pass out ourselves. Then, we wake up and do it all over again. And again and again and again.
So the short answer to the “what’s the hardest” question is this: Parenting doesn’t go easy (or hard) on you because of your sexual orientation. We’ve all signed up for an equally challenging role of keeping tiny humans alive. And being gay hasn’t made the day-to-day routine any easier or harder for us.
But the long answer is a bit more complicated. But I know, in theory, that what you’re actually asking is: What does it feel like to be different?
And to that I say, honestly, it’s other parents who make it hard.
It’s the looks from strangers. It’s the “where’s their mother” questions at the playground. It’s the random and unsolicited “but your kids are going to need a mum at some point” statements. It’s those moments, be them rare, that pull you out of the day-to-day parenting grind and remind you that you’re different. It’s those unintentionally harmful observations or questions that drag you down an anxious parenting spiral, when you should just be enjoying precious moments with your children.
That’s the hardest bit of being a gay dad.
Luckily, we can all play a part in eliminating those painful moments for future families by reminding ourselves that the world has changed and keeps changing. It’s not black and white anymore.
There are more parents in unique and modern make-ups than ever before. Instead of constantly thinking of all families including a mum and dad, remember that some parents choose to go down the path to parenthood alone. Some never get married. And yes, some people parent with a member of the same sex.
The sooner we realise that and switch up our language around parenting, the quicker we’ll achieve empathetic equality in the parenting space.
And that, my fellow parents, is a future worth fighting for.
Sean Szeps is the funniest dad in Australia. Well, at least that’s what his mum says. A podcaster (The Dad Kit! The Baby Bubble! Coping With Chaos!), a presenter and an influencer, he lives in Sydney with his husband and twin toddlers. He likes reality television, loves drag queens, and can't imagine life without sour gummies.