Lesbian Mothers and Their Children

from Womankind (1972). All parents face challenges in raising children, but lesbian parents have their own special complications to contend with. fromWomankind November 1972

(Editors Note: All parents face challenges raising children, but lesbian parents have an additional complication to contend with-society's relentless homophobia.)

The lesbian who is also a mother faces a unique oppression in this society. Lesbians without children may, in a certain way, escape the scrutiny of society in their personal lives, simply because of the low visibility given to female homosexuality in comparison to male homosexuality. However, even this small security, and its worth is certainly minor when compared with all the other negative forces facing gay women, is withdrawn from the lesbian mother. A mother, any mother, is subject to a certain moral code demanded of her by a whole society. Mothers socialize children and therefore must be observed and controlled to a high degree, because a social system maintains itself largely through the passing on of its values to its children.

Lesbians, women who consciously choose to love other women, are a tremendous threat to male supremacy, to the nuclear family, and to most institutions of our present system. But lesbian mothers are even more of a threat because they transfer their values to at least part of the next generation. Children raised in lesbian households have a chance to experience the world differently from the children of heterosexual couples. They see women not in positions of inferiority and subservience to men, but as independent human beings. Many of them see a love relationship significantly different from the traditional sexual role stereotypes. Many have the possibility of being encouraged to, develop in freer and less limited ways than the conventional “boy” or “girl” roles.

A lesbian with four children says “In talking about being a lesbian with my children, my oldest, who’s twelve, who could verbalize it, said it was really hard for him to accept, because for twelve years he’s lived with a mother and a father. It’s not that he can’t accept it, but he said it’s something he has to get used to, because it’s really a new feeling for him. With the smaller children, they could tell the difference just being around my lover and me and having been around my husband and me. They were simply told my husband and I weren’t living together because we fought a lot, rather than any long explanation. But they can very much feel the difference in how I am when I’m with my lover.”

The very openness the above women has with her son leads to one of the main threats facing a lesbian mother - that of losing her children because of a social system that labels her behavior as “unfit” for a mother. The fear that her children may reveal something to an in-law, or to their father, thus precipitating a custody fight, is ever present. For many lesbians, the court fight comes just after they leave their husbands, or the fathers of their children. If a woman has publicly declared her wish to live with another woman, she is particularly vulnerable. But the woman who simply wants to live with other women in a commune, or apart from her husband, or without men period, is also fair game.

In California, the law states that a court cannot find a mother “unfit” on the basis of homosexuality. It must consider the best interests of the child. This almost always means that the judge will find in favor of the father, or the in-laws, because they represent the heterosexual value system and thus must be in the “best interest of the child.”

Even when a judge is forced to find in favor of the woman( takes the law at its word?) the father can appeal— this happened recently in California when a woman of her children in the first suit and in the retained their custody, but with these restrictions:

  1. The woman and her lover could never live together, or she would lose the children.
  2. Her lover may never visit her when the children are in the house.
  3. The woman may not leave her house to visit her lover when her children are at home (even if they have child care).

The punitive character of this decision is obvious. The second judge felt he was obliged to obey the letter of the law. But his conditions deprive the woman in question of any say in determining her life style, lest she lose her children.

A group of five lesbian mothers on the west coast have realized that they have a better chance of changing their lives if they act together. They say “It’s especially important for lesbian mothers and other lesbians or just single mothers to get together and really help each other, because if we don’t we’re really isolated. We have to create a community so that we can support each other in the kinds of problems that come up. A part of the revolutionary process itself is the process of including children, of being open with children, of allowing children to be viable human beings within their environment in relation to other human beings, rather than a special group to be pushed off to the side.”

parts of the above article taken from MOTHER LODE