Emily Rizzo

October 1998

On Grandmahood

"But he'll/she'll never make me a grandma!" How many times have I heard that cry at PFLAG meetings! And I must confess that nine years ago, when I learned my only child is gay, that thought crossed my mind as well.

It's certainly not the most important issue for parents, and for many with multiple children, it may not be an issue at all. Nevertheless, you can probably count on it coming up at some point in some form or other so I thought I'd talk about it in this column.

In our chapter meeting, such laments are handled swiftly. Toni, one of our white-haired grandmas, whips out her wallet and proudly shows off photos of her two grandsons, products of assisted insemination ("there's nothing artificial about it" she is sure to add) born to her lesbian daughter and partner. Now not all gay people have children and it's still far more common among lesbians than gay men, but it's a good reminder that these days nothing can be taken for granted. Recently the New York Times ran an article on the small but growing number of straight women who are bearing children for gay male couples.

Carol, another member of our chapter, will also speak up. She's the mother of two daughters, one straight and one gay. Neither of them has produced a grandchild and it's unlikely that either of them will. Several other parents are in her situation: these days there are no guarantees that straight children will either marry or produce offspring.

Once again, the bottom line is parental expectations for their offspring. Parents, for good or for ill, believe that they have a right to expect certain things from their children. Some of this we take for granted: whether it's cleaning your room, doing your homework, or going to a family gathering on Thanksgiving Day. There are, however, other more general expectations that we parents share: we expect that our children will grow up to be like us (only better, of course). We want them to have a good job, get married and have some children because, well, that's what we did.

Now when a child is gay, these expectations have to change and that isn't always easy for the parent. Some parents seem to make the transition nicely and simply substitute a same-sex partner for the spouse but keep the rest of the picture intact. Other parents, usually after a lot of soul-searching, make the final leap: they learn to let go of their dreams and let their children follow their own path. Ultimately, we can only dream for ourselves, not for others.

Please send any questions to emily.rizzo@nyu.edu. All e-mails will be answered confidentially.

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