Mom, Mama, Maddy: What Kids Being Raised By Two Women Should Call Their Parents

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Among the recently released emails from Hillary Clinton’s years in the Senate, one held particular significance for LGBT voters. Her correspondence from early 2011 revealed discomfort over a proposed change to US passport applications. Instead of “mother and father,” an anonymous source at the State Department suggested “parent one and parent two”—an attempt, albeit sterile-sounding, to include non-biological parents on an official government form.

Hillary would have none of it, stating that she “could live w [sic] letting people in nontraditional families choose another descriptor so long as we retained the presumption of mother and father.” Politically, this sends up a red flag for those of us who’ve been willing to believe Clinton’s self-proclaimed support of LGBT rights. Personally, it sent me into a bit of a tailspin over the language of parenting.

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The search for appropriate terms for same-gendered parents doesn’t end with official government forms. We celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, read endless children’s stories of Mommies and Daddies, and for most of us, grow up with an expectation to address our parents as “Mom and Dad.” This was a conundrum faced by two-mommy and two-daddy households long before Clinton’s apparent political dilemma. Do we acknowledge the biological mother as “mom” while Mom no. 2 takes on a newly invented title? Do we scrap “mom” altogether in favor of something more gender neutral? Though I’m thankful for the existing term “parent,” it would crush all my parenting fantasies to have my future offspring yell “PARENT!” when I pick them up at school. Yeah, that one’s out for me.

With no help from the Clinton campaign, and a decidedly undecided stance myself, I found myself deep in the lesbian parenting blogs far sooner than I ever thought I’d be. Between these opinionated forums, my own trivia-ready knowledge of gay TV, and some talks with mommy friends, I present to you the three basic categories of “other-mom” names:

1. The Hybrid. Mom + Dad = _______. In this equation, bio mom gets the “mom” label while second mom opts for a more masculinized version of Mom. As explained to me by a self-labeled “Maddy,” the Hybrid allows the child to differentiate between the two parents while giving a nod to the traditional “Dad” role. Fans of the Hybrid can look to Jeffrey Tambor’s character from the hit Amazon show Transparent, whose children coined “Moppa” to address their father-turned-mother.

The Hybrid is good for: MOC parents, recognizing one biological “mom.” Bad for: two feminine mothers, parents who dislike teaching new terms to everyone in their children’s lives.

2. The Two-Mom Solution. While inventing new terminology feels part and parcel with raising queer families, some two-mommy households have had enough with the new lingo. Mom and Mom will work just fine, thank you very much. After all, two women raising a kid is just that, and the rest of the world can deal. Critics of the two-mom solution often point to the confusion of yelling “Mom!” vs “Mom!” and expecting the preferred parent to show up. The L Word’s Bette and Tina thought of this too, opting to go with “Mama B and Mama T” to help clarify for baby Angelica (though, lesbihonest, parental terms were the least of the issues between these two).

The Mom² works for: self-identifying femme moms, defenders of the existing English language. Bad for: MOC parents, parents of easily confused offspring.

3. Mom and Mommy. If you’ve been with me so far, you’re probably saying to yourself, “but we already have words for two female parents!” There’s Mom, Mommy, Mama, Mother, Madre, Ma, etc. Why not choose two from the list and call it a day? Mom and Mommy teams dominate the blogosphere, singing the praises of similar-but-different parental descriptors. Personally, I can’t help but imagine Mom and Mommy as a kind of good cop/bad cop duo, anticipating many in-utero squabbles over who gets to be “Mom.”

This solution seems to work for: two-femme households, moms who want their own unique labels. Bad for: parents who, like me, associate “Ma” with depression-era parenting and “Mommy” with naturally whiney children.

These three options represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what to call two moms. Like many examples of gay couples taking on traditionally straight roles, language and ritual are suddenly up for interpretation. Two brides may choose to wear two dresses, a dress and a tux, two tuxes, or perhaps…pajamas! You can follow the straight model, make fun of it, or replace it with something completely original. Maybe that’s the beauty of this conundrum: it forces us to be creative, finding the labels and traditions that work for our particular family, rather than simply being handed a one-size-fits-all rulebook.

Yet all that creativity proves irrelevant in the eyes of the state department, the hospital, or any other establishment with official forms asking for a “mother” and a “father.” As my friend, the self-labeled “Maddy,” was once told by her son’s doctor, “We don’t have a box for you.”

What would a box for Maddy look like? Facebook offered one attempt with their now 51 distinct gender options—a few too many boxes to realistically fit on a US passport application. I say the anonymous linguist at the state department had it right all along: the incredibly dry and boring descriptors of “parent one” and “parent two” are all we need for the incredibly dry and boring process of filling out official government forms. “Parent” can satisfy the government while all the Moppas and Maddies and Mamas of the world continue living as their authentic, caring, uniquely gendered selves.

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