Many of you might be aware of a New York Magazine cover story from last month entitled: “Are You a Miserable Parent?” The gist of the article was that parents are less happy than their childless peers. According to the article, study after study finds that parents are more depressed than non-parents and that children reduce marital satisfaction. The parents’ unhappiness is caused by such factors as the stress related to parents viewing their children as “projects to be perfected”; parents falling into the trap of constantly comparing themselves to other parents and thinking that they are not performing up to par; and, parents not having enough of a life outside of their kids.
While all of these factors apply to all parents – gay and straight -- thankfully for me there appear to be countervailing circumstances that boost the happiness quotient for gay parents specifically. The Rockaway Institute recently released a study that examined the experiences of 40 gay male partners who became fathers -- like Stewart and me -- via surrogacy. One of the notable findings was that having a child significantly improved the gay fathers’ self esteem. Nearly all (95 percent) said that having a child “makes me feel good about myself” and that their self-esteem had improved since being a parent. The study reported that many gay fathers become closer with their extended families due to parenthood, which further boosts their self-esteem because, previous to that, many gay men had strained family relationships due to their sexual orientation. Having kids is a common -- and communal -- experience that can bridge such familial differences.
There were other interesting findings from the Rockaway study. For example, gay fathers are more likely than heterosexual fathers to scale back their careers in order to care for their children. Also, although their reported spirituality had not changed significantly, parenthood made it more likely that they were attending religious services as a family than they had before they started one (an increase from 25 to 38 percent of respondents).
Summarizing their findings, the researchers concluded that the new fathers “felt extremely positive and proud about being parents… The narratives of the gay fathers in this study underscore how being a parent contributed to greater meaning in their lives… They derived pleasure and pride in taking care of their children, while they also received increasing validation from their families and their communities.”
The conclusion of the study makes a lot of sense. I think the sense of self esteem that gay parents feel is unmatched because many started with such low expectations. For instance, many were told when they came out that they would never be parents, or thought they could never be parents. Also, you can’t become a gay parent by accident -- you have to actively work at it, and to succeed at having a kid is a big accomplishment!
Stewart and I didn’t need a study to tell us that parenthood has positively transformed our lives. I am not going to state that I don’t have rough days taking care of Max or thinking what the hell did I do. But I will say that while we were very happy and content before Max, he has brought us such love and joy that we can no longer remotely fathom life without him.