Father’s Day and Christmas may be completely separate holidays – but to my family they’re very similar. While my family may take a Christmas vacation every year, we don’t celebrate Christmas. As Jewish Americans, we’ve had to accommodate the dominant cultures’ calendar – and we make it work.
Much the same, in May and June, this country celebrates two holidays that, though seemingly inclusive, actually leave some folks out: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. As an LGBT family, we choose what works best for our family around this time of the year: to celebrate both days in a way that feels inclusive, or to not celebrate them at all.
The family unit has long been one of varying forms – adult-only families, large families, single-parent households, families of varying or non-existent faith traditions, and families that define for their own families the structure that works best to support, honor, love, and strengthen the ties that bind them as a loving unit. And a new study from Australia supports the notion that regardless of the structure or make-up of the family unit, the kids really are alright, as the saying goes, revealing that the children of gay parents do equally as well or better than the children of straight parents.
The concept of fluid gender roles in a two-parent, heterosexual family, once the plot of a Michael Keaton comedy from the 1980s, has become as commonplace and accepted as the Ward and June Cleaver model in which many of our own parents were raised. As we continue to include more and more understandings of what defines a family, days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day take on new and different meaning.
So, the question facing mom-only or dad-only families is how to best celebrate these holidays, when the gendered definition of a "mother" or "father" is not present in their family? And, how do all parents help their children feel included when holidays aren’t their own. Through the years, my daughter has asked for Christmas tree, enchanted by the beauty and specter of the holiday, and we have explained to her that as Jews, we don’t celebrate Christmas, but we can appreciate its beauty and relevance for our Christian friends. And the fact that we are who we are is something to be proud of.
Much the same, Mother's Day and Father's Day could be great opportunities to celebrate and honor all parents. Children aren’t born with the expectations that they are supposed to have a mother with all the mother traits and a father with all the father traits. They are born needing love, nurturing, compassion, acceptance, safety, structure, shelter and nourishment — and they are not picky as to whether these things are provided by a man or a woman.
As parents, it will always be our job to help our kids feel good about who they are. Similarly, as a society, it should be our job to make sure that those around us, no matter their sexual orientation, or family situations also feel good about themselves, and what they practice.
The purpose of Mother’s Day and Father’s day is to honor the people who provide the care of a mother and a father no matter their gender. In the new American family, the roles have long since been interchangeable but the needs of a child will always be the same – love, support, fulfillment of needs, and teaching of life’s lessons: one of the most important being, acceptance of oneself.
(Editor's note: Dr. Kim Bergman is co-owner of the surrogacy agency Growing Generations, a psychologist and founder of Fertility Counseling Services.)