The Challenges of Becoming a Gay Dad
The number of gay male couples that want to have children or already have children is on the rise in Australia.
Since the legalisation of gay marriage in Australia in 2017, same-sex relationships have finally received the recognition they have always deserved. And the good news is same-sex parenting is becoming more socially accepted and therefore increasingly possible.
It’s hard to quantify how many people are LGBTQIA and what exactly constitutes a family, but of 33,714 same-sex couples counted in the 2011 Australian census, 12% (just over 4,000) couples had dependent children living in their household.
That means over 6,300 children are living in gay households. (These statistics don’t count LGBTQIA people in different-gender relationships, and therefore don’t provide an entire picture of the possibilities of LGBTQIA families.)
Research is showing that children of gay parents are just as happy and well-adjusted as kids with heterosexual parents. A recent Australian study showed that out of a sample of 500 children with same-gender parents, they did just as well on measures of child health and wellbeing as those with heterosexual parents.
Families with stable, loving relationships produce well-adjusted children, regardless of the gender of the parents. However, experiencing stigma and discrimination from others can have a detrimental effect on the emotional health of the entire family.
If you’re a man in a same-sex relationship and you’re looking at your options for childrearing, what do you need to know?
There are a number of both practical and psychological concerns when you’re a gay man looking to start a family.
Current challenges for new gay dads
While most same-sex families experience precisely the same hurdles as different-sex families, there are some challenges unique to the queer experience.
- How are you going to have a baby? There are some different options for gay male couples, but some are more challenging than others. If you want to use a surrogate and have money exchange hands, you would have to go to another country, since that is illegal in Australia. Legal surrogacy is possible in Australia, but it’s challenging with a lot of legal hoops to jump through. Fostering by same-sex couples might be easier since it is encouraged by many foster agencies. Adoption is also an option, but it has very long waiting periods and is not yet very common in Australia among same-sex couples. Other options can include co-parenting with another same-sex couple or opposite-sex couple. You’re going to have to weigh the pros and cons of your options to decide how you’re going to create your family.
- You may feel a lack of social support services. Unfortunately, there are not many social services for gay dads in Australia yet. For example, some mothers’ groups don’t allow men to join, and this can be alienating and leave you without practical childrearing help.
- You may feel a sense of isolation. Sadly, this is very common for many gay dads. Since you might not know any other gay parents who have been or are going through what you’re experiencing, this can be disheartening and lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- You may feel marginalized. Because you’re a minority among a minority, this means it’s even harder to find other gay dads like yourself. Only 3% of gay men in relationships have children, so you’re unlikely to find resources just for you.
- You may lack family acceptance. As much as Australian society is progressing slowly with the acceptance of same-sex relationships and families, we still have a long way to go. If your parents and other family members don’t support your sexual orientation or your decision to start a family of your own, you may find yourself without an emotional support system to aid you in rough times. And without the practical help, you may need to raise a family and stay healthy (like grandparents babysitting), this can create added stress.
- You may feel that you have to contend with traditional gender roles. In traditional, heterosexual families, the father tends to be the breadwinner/authoritarian and the mother is the homemaker/nurturer. However, gay families don’t have these preconceived notions about who does what, and therefore child-rearing takes constant negotiation. You may feel pressure to reproduce these roles, but it’s an opportunity to create a family free of heteronormative ideas about relationships. The study mentioned above found that this lack of gender stereotyping actually increased familial harmony and wellbeing.
Issues that can arise when you become a gay dad
Gay male dads experience many of the same issues that straight couples have, mainly stemming from the problem of the baby taking up much of the couple’s time—resulting in stress and sleep deprivation.
- A change in relationship dynamics. It’s hard to predict what effects the addition of a child will have on you and your partner, but it’s almost sure that you will encounter some new differences in the way you relate to each other. Additional stresses can cause increased conflict and emotional stress.
- A decrease in libido or frequency of sex. The stress of raising a child and the lack of alone time may lead to a dip in your sex life, leading to feelings of estrangement from your partner and problems with intimacy.
- A lack of one-on-one adult time like date nights. It’s important to make sure that you have time to enjoy adults-only pleasures like dinner dates and movies to boost your relationship with your partner and keep things going strong as you raise a child. Investing in a babysitter is a smart investment for your relationship.
Tips for new gay dads
When you and your partner are prepared for changes once you become dads, the better off your family will be in the long run.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re about to become gay dads:
- Be prepared for a lot of changes in the relationship. It’s impossible to know in advance how having a child will affect your relationship so prepare for any possibility. Make sure your relationship is strong enough to weather these changes.
- Find support in your new life. Make sure you join a gay dads group in your local area or city, like Rainbow Families in Sydney or Gay Dads Australia.
- Surround yourself with supportive family and friends. Establish an emotional and practical support system that consists of your most accepting and helpful family and friends.
- Have a budget for a babysitter. Even though you’re new parents, you also need to have date nights and alone time with your partner. Adult time together will help you keep your relationship healthy, for the sake of yourself and your children.
- Focus on good communication. Take the time to sit down and communicate with each other to avoid misunderstandings and reduce conflict. It’s important to be a great role model for your children, but it’s also essential for your relationship to be the best you can be at interpersonal skills.
- Take turns with childcare to give your partner a break. For example, book a spa treatment for your spouse while you take your child to the park. Raising a child should involve an equal commitment from both partners, so make sure that one person isn’t doing all the work.
If you’re a new dad and you’re struggling with communication in your relationship, consider relationship therapy to help you navigate the changes in your relationship and to strengthen your emotional and sexual connection. Relationship therapy with a gay-informed therapist can be an excellent investment in the future of your family.