Straight up Good Advice from Gay Parents
James Lewis is a publicist in his early 40’s, and while he didn't grow up in Los Angeles, he moved to the Golden State after graduating in 1998 to pursue a career in film PR and promotion.
“I’ve always navigated to the smaller, labor of love type of projects because I like to be surrounded by creative people who appreciate and respect each other. Kindness and mutual respect are not valued as much in the business of big movie promotion. I was raised to always try and have a positive attitude and to be respectful of others. It is not always the easiest way to behave, some people are just incapable of mutual respect and I blame that on bad parenting. I want to raise my kids to have a healthy conscience and to be compassionate,” he says.
James has a 22-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, and he’s recently welcomed fraternal twins, a boy and a girl, with his partner of 14 years. “Both my partner and I love children. My first daughter was born when I was 19 and I didn’t expect to have more [kids]. My partner is very close to his family and is the oldest of five children. Once his siblings started having children, it sparked a conversation between us that continued to evolve over about six years and we ultimately decided to move forward in June of 2011. We had a surrogate and an egg donor. We spent most of 2012 trying to get pregnant and after three failed attempts, we found ourselves starting at the beginning again. Luckily, our second surrogate and egg donor combination worked the first time and our twins were born in December of 2013.”
Here are six tips from James with not only his so-called “unconventional” perspective as a gay man, but as the parent of an adult and two small toddlers:
Make It Very Clear that Your Kids Are Loved
I had two incredibly loving and supportive parents, but my upbringing was not really traditional. I was raised Mormon in a very small farming community in Idaho. Neither of my parents went to college. My dad was drafted and served in Korea, then worked for Wonder Bread for 35 years. My mother worked in a potato processing plant for over 30 years. They worked long hours, but always tried to rest on Sundays.
Rural Idaho was not the easiest place to grow up gay and Mormon. Most everyone in our town was Mormon. The mayor of our town was also the stake president of all the Mormon congregations in our area. I started gymnastics at the age of eight and competed all through college which allowed me to travel and see that there was a lot more out there than Idaho had to offer. More importantly, I realized that there was nothing wrong with me. I just needed to get out of Idaho! I ended up going to West Point because I had the grades, and Title IX made it impossible for male gymnasts to get scholarships.
I think getting out of Idaho saved my life. West Point wasn’t the best place for a gay young man, but it was close enough to NYC for me to figure everything out. I left after two years to be close to my daughter. I finished college at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Coming out to my parents before going to West Point was tough on them, and confusing. Then to leave West Point after getting pregnant was even more confusing, but they stayed supportive through it all.
My parents always made me feel incredibly loved, and that is what I want my children to experience. No matter what obstacles they face, they are always cherished.
Don’t Overdo It on Social Media
It is sensitive territory to be critical of parenting, but I think it is necessary and ultimately a good thing that our culture has shifted and our society is more critical of parents. We post a photo about once a month on social media. Most often, it’s other family members posting photos and tagging us, which is fine with us. I think 13 or 14 is probably the age when I will begin considering some supervised online socializing.
Kids Need Boundaries, Not Censorship
Boundaries are important, but there is a fine line between obstructing individual likes and dislikes while also trying to allow them to be who they are. Every kid is different, and I plan on approaching those “freedoms” cautiously and use a system of rewards and consequences that helps to shape their awareness and respect for others. I want to listen and pay attention to who they are, while helping them understand the responsibility that comes with freedom.
I feel like some parents say no too often, too early. I’m guilty of it too, but I really try to take a step back and see where the behavior goes before jumping in to stop it. I have toddlers though, so I’m not taking car keys away yet. My older daughter lived with her mom as a child, and I was never the boundary setter in her life, so that aspect of parenting will be new for me.
Make Sure You’re Not Raising a Bully
Bullying is a huge problem, and it sucked when I was a kid. I do think we’ve made big improvements in changing the perception of bullying from a little bit can be healthy to it is NEVER healthy.
Some kids are prone to be bullies, and some kids are targets. That part of human nature is not going to change, but I believe parents are 100% responsible for making sure their kids fall into a range of acceptable behavior and develop a healthy understanding of individuality and tolerance.
Building confidence is important, but not at the expense of another’s feelings. Some kids have behavior issues, but in most cases, bullying should not be tolerated – and there must be appropriate follow through with punishment. Parents are welcome to be defensive, especially when they are not present to see the behavior, but it should be every school’s policy to reinforce a no-tolerance policy of bullying, bottom line.
Take the Time to Dote
Our kids are only two, so we still have a long road ahead. I do have a lot of friends with kids, and some of them noticed that there was a big difference with how I went about my basic routine of caring for our infant twins. Specifically, with bath time and changing diapers. I was alone most of the time with our children, and when you are taking care of twins, it really does become about getting through each day.
I always made sure my kids were safe, clean, and fed – but having twins doesn’t allow for being an overly doting parent much of the time. I would see my friends with their babies and think, WOW, it is really different having two! I, of course, wanted to be able to give as much individual attention as possible to both of them, and felt guilty all of the time. Our son required a lot more attention, and our daughter was very easy going. It seemed to always work out, but she definitely got less attention the first year.
Be Mindful of Distractions
It was MUCH easier to be a kid [when I was one]. When I wanted my parents’ attention at home, I usually got it. The amount of distractions today make us all a little crazy. We constantly have to remind ourselves to leave our phones in our pockets or in a different room when we are engaging our kids. If not, you quickly find yourself nodding and having unfocused engagements with them, and all they see is you focused on your handheld device.
Screen time has to be monitored and limited, but I will say that being able to share a video with your kids and not have them exposed to commercials is awesome. That was one part of my childhood that I’m glad my kids aren’t subjected to now. With options like Netflix, PBS Kids, Amazon Instant Video, and DVR technology, I feel like I can keep my kids away from commercials.
For the parents of babies, James recommends a book called Baby 411, and finishes by saying, “Follow your instincts and listen to your pediatrician. Everyone will have advice, say thank you and do what works for you.”
Do you have an unconventional household? How do you raise your kids in a non-traditional way? Share your stories and tips with us!
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Photo Credit: Erin PurdyTags : parenting unconventional parents LGBQT