Penguins are alternative parents, right?
|Aug 9||Public post|
Photo of many penguin parents with many baby penguins, copyright 2007 by Martha de Jong-Lantink, found on Flickr Creative Commons
What Is Alternative Parenting?
Originally sent May 24, 2018
There's a movement blooming to rethink American parenting, to see it through a new lens — a lens shaped by recent economics, by queer families, by changes in women's roles at home, by new technologies like egg-freezing, and by a new generation's willingness to experiment.
Here are some "alternative parenting" things I find fascinating:
- Co-Housing With Kids -
How intentional communities include children
- Platonic Co-Parenting -
How people who are not romantically linked, or who are not biological parents, can parent together
- Polyamorous Parenting -
How people who are consensually non-monogamous raise children
- Genetic and Fertility Tech -
How advances in technology are changing the process of having kids
This is an email newsletter about those topics, plus anything else I think is relevant. This newsletter is 100% public, so please forward this to anyone you think might be interested!
Who Am I And Why Do I Care?
I'm Lydia, and the first question people ask me upon learning that I’m organizing resources around "alternative parenting" is, Why? What got me interested?
I don't have kids — yet. I want kids, and as I lay the groundwork, I've realized that I've gotta do this in an "alternative lifestyle" way.
Part of this is just a lifelong love affair with alternative lifestyles — I’ve spent most of my adult life living in co-ops, for example. I’ve also spent tons of time being poly — indeed, I spent years writing and speaking about alt sexuality under the pseudonym Clarisse Thorn. Plus, I’m fascinated by other cultures and their approach to parenting — I served in the Peace Corps, living in a small family compound in sub-Saharan Africa, with communal child-rearing in a central dirt courtyard surrounded by the parents’ huts.
And yet for years I figured that once I became a parent, I would suddenly become a “normal American.” Like I’d move to the suburbs and do the whole nuclear family thing and I guess I assumed I’d feel perfectly okay with that because, after all, how else would someone like me have children?
I took my first unwitting step towards imagining a different reality when I met my friend Greg, who was using the name “FutureBestDad.”
I met Greg after a breakup. I was engaged in a normal Millennial post-breakup activity, i.e., I was browsing the dating site OkCupid with that unique mix of heartbreak and fixed determination. And I was totally startled to come across a profile named “FutureBestDad.” His profile started with these words: “Is it hopelessly improbable to find the mother of your children on OkCupid? We’ll see, won’t we.”
In his profile, Greg went on to describe his history — which sounded just as “weird” and “alternative” as mine — and then he wrote very clearly about what he was looking for:
Message me if you're interested in alternative means of reproduction, and think we'd make a good set of parents together.
* Maybe you believe parents can be partners first, even if they are also lovers...
* Maybe you're half of a lesbian couple who don't like the idea of never meeting the donor...
* Maybe you're busy lady with a ticking clock who wants to swap some frozen gametes...
* Maybe you want to donate an egg to a good home (or act as a surrogate for one)...
* Maybe you've got great ideas around an out-of-the-box co-parenting situation...
* Partner in crime who lives next door and shares some kids and a nanny?
* Some sort of ethically non-monogamous, non-dyadic cohabitation, progressive child-rearing idea up your sleeve?
The possibilities seem endless. :)
So yeah, those were Greg’s words. Long story short, I connected with Greg, and now I have some frozen eggs in storage. Someday, I might use them or Greg might use them — the future is full with possibility. And Greg has already donated sperm to someone else, so there's alternative parenting happening for Greg already!
Point being: Greg was a very concrete example of a man from my world, who I liked and respected, with values similar to mine, who wanted children and was open to a very alternative way of doing it.
That got me thinking: What if I don’t have to do this in the way I always assumed I did? What if I can have children, just like I’ve always wanted, and do it with the same outside-the-box care and art with which I try to approach the rest of my life?
I — and many of my closest friends — do lots of things that "normal society" seems to think are impossible. I'm proud to say that people in my Bay Area scene work on social issues that many consider intractable, have built successful companies from scratch, solve heretofore impossible technical problems over breakfast — and also live in co-ops and are non-monogamous, which is arguably harder! So why wouldn’t we approach child-rearing with that same indomitable, independent spirit?
In my life, I want to integrate my full self. I want both work fulfillment and work-life balance, global life and community life, the sensual and the spiritual. But how do I square all these circles and stay in touch with my values? HOWWWW??
That’s the real trick, and that’s the question I'll explore as I develop resources around alternative parenting. I want to bring together stories and guidance for what alternative parenting looks like in modern American lives.
I recently surveyed some Bay Area friends who are interested in this topic, asking why they're curious. People wrote things like:
• “How can we remain connected not isolated in parenthood?”
• “How to explain to my family?”
• “Need help formulating my words.”
• “Share what works!”
I’ll close this with something I learned from my dear friend David Jay. DJ is a leader in the asexual community, meaning that he does not experience sexuality and desire in the way that most people are used to. And yet many asexual people still enjoy physical touch and physical intimacy, which can look different from physical relationships that are sexually driven. So if an asexual person like DJ wants to have a physical relationship with a sexual person, then it falls upon them to try and explain what that might look like.
DJ taught me a phrase for this: he calls it “holding the flashlight.” Often, the idea of having a physical relationship with an asexual person will seem mysterious to a sexual person. That space of mystery can seem like darkness, and it can be confusing and scary. So a person who's familiar with that space can guide someone else, like a light.
“Holding the flashlight” is a role that people can hold for each other while guiding them into a relationship that is taking a new and unfamiliar form.
I don’t yet know how to hold the flashlight for the people who are seeking this. However, at the risk of sounding smarmy and after-school-special, I think maybe we can start showing each other how we’re thinking about this and what we’ve already done, and figure out how to be amazing alternative parents together.
What You Can Expect From This Newsletter
This newsletter will distribute resources and tell stories related to alternative parenting. Topics will include cohousing with kids, poly parenting, platonic co-parenting, and genetic/fertility tech. Plus, I'll add other interesting things at my whim.
I've already been circulating a list of Alternative Parenting Resources among my friends. It's a collaborative Google Doc, and you can find it here. If you've got recommendations, please add them!
If you want to send me your thoughts directly, you can do that by hitting reply or leaving a comment. I'm excited to talk more about this,