Gay Christians sometimes envy our straight friends. They get to have spouses and biological children. Churches talk about the beauty of marriage and parenting, while we often feel forgotten or overlooked in the pews. And then there’s the phenomenon among straight Christians, to be active friends and community members and to praise celibate relationships and the beauty of extramarital friendships… until they get married and you start seeing them less and less.
For a time, I blamed those straight friends and churches for the above state of affairs, which I considered unacceptable and contrary to the proper care and inclusion owed to gay Christians, who are given high burdens and little recognition and support. And sure, churches and straight Christians are partly responsible for this. But there’s also a reason we’re in this state.
Marriage and parenting are hard.
Struggles in chastity can be difficult for gay people. But our “slip ups” aren’t going to result in a pregnancy that becomes a lifelong responsibility. As a gay man, my erotic life is subject to much more self-determinancy in its pursuits and consequences. I won’t pretend that this makes things easy, but I think it’s important for gay Christians to recognize that life as a straight husband/wife/parent isn’t a cakewalk either.
As I’ve started spending more time around my friends with children, I’ve also realized how isolating parenting can be. Your kid could start screaming at any time, which tends to raise eyebrows at restaurants and churches and even in friends’ homes. You have to change diapers, which means that when you’re not home you have to find a safe place to set your poopy kid while you undress and redress him. And if you go to someone’s house for dinner, you’re not sure whether you’ll actually get to eat, because you’ll have to hold (and often feed) your own kid the whole time you’re there. Or you have to pay for a babysitter, which involves forking over money every time you want to socialize.
Gay Christians are right to worry that they’ll lose their straight friends as soon as they get married and have children, that those friends will withdraw from their former communities into the shells of parenting roles, and that we unmarried gay people will be forgotten. Part of the problem may lie with our married friends in failing to prioritize community and friendships.
But the problem lies with us, too, where we structure our homes and activities around the single child-free life. If Christians want to support the celibate vocations of their gay brothers and sisters, they need to continue to show up in our lives. But we also need to have spaces ready for our married friends and their changing needs. We don’t need a fight about who’s responsible for our mutual isolation. This can be an opportunity for a mutual invitation.
So I’ve asked the parents in my life for suggestions on how to make my spaces more parent-friendly. Here are some of the main ideas:
Things to have…
- A high chair. That way, when parents come over to your house for dinner parties, they can strap in their child at the table, rather than having to hold onto him/her the whole time.
- Kid-safe dishes/silverware. Also some kid-friendly snacks/food.
- A space where diapers can be changed. A towel on a bed is fine, but maybe also consider a DIY multi-use diaper changing station.
- A pack n play
- Baby wipes, burp cloths, etc
Things to do…
- Clearly express enthusiasm about kids coming. Don’t just say, “Your kids are welcome.” Say, “Can’t wait to see baby Sarah!” or “I’m making a grocery store run. Does John have any favorite snacks I can pick up for when you come over?”
- Be ok with kids being kids (fussy, tired, disruptive at times). Don’t react when the kids start screaming. If parents apologize for it, tell them, “It’s fine. Kids do that. You don’t need to apologize.”
- Ask about kid-friendly hours. Figure out when bedtime and naps are, and plan around them.
- Make spaces kid-safe. For example, follow the waist rule: keep everything that’s not baby-friendly above waist level. Or consider having one room or space that you keep kid-friendly. As you consider furniture for that room, ask of each piece: how would a kid do if she fell and hit her head on this (especially on furniture corners)?
- Play with the kids, engage them in meaningful (age appropriate) conversation.
- Attitude! Attitude! Attitude! Make it clear you want them to bring kids, not just that they’re invited! This was the most-repeated advice from the parents in my life. Even if you get or do nothing else, having a positive and enthusiastic response to kids can make all the difference.
Any other ideas?