Family Blog – Mother’s Day Q&A with IMPACT Staff
Written by Shawna Davis, B.A., IMPACT staff member
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we wanted to hear from the perspective of a couple of parents here on staff. We talked to Antonia Clifford, M.S.W., and Kathryn Macapagal, Ph.D., about their experiences as mothers. They both work on projects within the IMPACT program.
Antonia (she/her) is a parent of three children. She has an 8-year-old son and 1-year-old twins. Antonia is the project director for RADAR, a project within the IMPACT program.
Could you please give me a little background about yourself and the journey to becoming a parent?
AC: I met my partner and her son when he was 1, and he’s now 8 years old. I feel honored to have known him since then and to have grown into my relationship with him, simultaneously as my partner and I were building our relationship. We also have 1-year-old twins, which is a whole new adventure.
We’re a ‘queer’ family in many senses – we’re visibly queer, interracial, and our kids have different sets of parents and grandparents – and it’s amazing. We get to build it from scratch, there are no rules!
The gendered division of labor is undone, and we have to negotiate who does what for our children and at home. People get hung up on the weirdest things like, “Won’t it be confusing calling two people ‘Mama?’”or “Who will teach him to throw a football?” Children are capable of incredible things – they grow from a tiny, toothless ball to walk and talk within two years! You don’t think they can handle two moms? We give them space to explore and understand their own gender, while respecting other people’s genders. When my son was 6, we were walking and we saw a pigeon. He said, “That’s a male pigeon.” I asked, “How do you know?” and he said, “Well he’s bigger. But if I spoke pigeon, I’d ask if he used male pronouns.”
Did you always want to be a parent? How and when did you decide?
AC: I always knew I’d raise children, and I have worked with youth and the foster care system for a long time. It wasn’t as important to me how it happened, and the universe just put my partner and her son in my life. Lesbian and bisexual women are raising children in every US state [previous blog I wrote on this topic], but our parenting has been really erased in many ways from public life. Everything is a negotiation – how should we introduce me to his teachers? Should we send him to a better school, even if that means it’s a religious school? Usually we scope people out first – are the summer program staff members homophobic? – before deciding our level of involvement. Kids are forced to go through a lot of systems and scenarios that we can’t control, from schools to healthcare to their friends’ parents. Sometimes you take the fight head-on, but sometimes standing up for your kid means letting them lead and building strong support at home. My mama taught me that.
How has being a parent changed your perspective? Since you do research on adolescent LGBTQ health, has having children affected how you approach your work?
AC: Everything in my life is affected by having children. They’ve forced me to be more patient, understanding, reflective, honest, firm, and kind. This has made me a better interviewer, researcher, co-worker, and manager – even if I’m getting less sleep than I used to. I mostly do longitudinal work, following the same large group of LGBTQ+ youth over time. Many of our participants have children, and I get to connect with them over their experiences, often different from mine, but with similar threads. I’ve seen them grow as both individuals and as parents as their children age.
What have you and your partner’s experiences been like when visiting the doctor as an LGBTQ family? Do you think your healthcare providers meet your needs or are there things they could do better?
AC: Unfortunately, I have had a bunch of bad experiences with doctors – it echoes what I hear from participants and it helps fuel the work we do. First, as an individual, my oby-gyn always assumes I’m straight and that I need birth control. Whenever my partner and I walk into a doctor’s appointment together, the doctor always says “Hi mom!” to my partner and to me says, “And who is this?” Sometimes doctors assume I’m a social worker, or their tone shifts completely once they learn we’re both parents. I’m also a White parent of Black children, meaning that my children and partner have marginalizing experiences based on their race that I don’t. There’s a very different response when my partner takes them to the doctor – they question her judgement whereas they’ll take me at my word. I went solo once and at the end, I thanked the doctor for the visit. He said, “We should be thanking you for raising these babies, you’re a saint!” My partner, who is Black, often gets the opposite reaction. With either issue, there’s a mama bear reaction inside me, where I just want to fight, raise a whole storm, and throw everything. If they treat me like that, what does that mean they think about my kids? These are people in control of my kids’ healthcare, and often I feel powerless. We’re lucky to be in Chicago where we have more choices for healthcare, and medical education is changing (but slowly). The roots of racism and homophobia run deep, but we’re in it for the long haul, so we have to stand up for our kids to receive the best care they can.
Do you have any recommended books/resources for parents?
Other resources – I wrote a blog about Queering Parenting for IMPACT: How LGBTQ Parents Are Challenging Gender Norms.
In just a couple sentences, what advice (from your experience) do you have for other parents, especially for LGBTQ parents?
AC: Finding other parents is key – a number of our friends have kids, but most are heterosexual. Even if not overtly homophobic, most people still have so many heterosexist assumptions about parenting, and there are ways that marginalization sneaks in. Having at least some queer parent friends in your circle can make the difference. Plus, having a queer community where NO ONE has kids is also marginalizing. We’ve had to push for inclusion and making room for our children in queer spaces as well. It’s a battle on many fronts. But we have all the cuddles in the world to sustain us.
Kathryn (she/her) has a 16-month-old daughter named Georgia. Kathryn is a research assistant professor at the Department of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University and the Associate Director of the LGBTQ Health track of the clinical psychology predoctoral internship at Northwestern University’s McGaw Medical Center. She contributes to a variety of projects at IMPACT.
Could you give me a little background about yourself and the journey to becoming a mom? Did you always want to be a mom? How and when did you decide?
KM: As an academic who spent nearly all of my 20s in graduate school, I couldn’t see how having kids would fit in to my life. I got my first ‘real’ job at 31 and I was just starting to learn to be an adult, so how could I also have a kid? I started to change my mind a couple of years ago, when one of my best friends died of a very aggressive cancer. One would think the prospect of losing a child so young (she was 29) would turn me off from ever having kids, but instead it made me think that if I could raise a kid who was half as amazing as she was, it would be worth it even if it would make life more complicated.
What’s your daughter like, or what is she currently into doing?
KM: She is friendly, chatty, full of personality, and VERY independent. At the moment she is very into mimicking grown-ups and older kids (e.g., ‘watering’ the plants, ‘brushing’ her teeth, and wiping her hands and mouth when she’s done eating). She likes to ‘help’ me do a lot of things, like cleaning or the laundry, which ends up not being all that helpful, but it’s very cute.
Have you learned anything new about yourself?
KM: Becoming a parent is like unlocking a whole new dimension of yourself that you never knew existed. It intensifies some aspects of your personality and way of moving about life, and it softens others in ways that are unexpected. I always thought I’d be a very intense and overprotective parent, but I’m much more laid-back about things than I thought I’d be, like her eating things off the floor or getting dirty.
Since you do research on LGBTQ adolescent health, has having a child yourself affected how you approach your work? How so?
KM: I think it’s reinforced my interest in continuing my work with adolescents and young adults, especially research projects where they have a voice (like qualitative studies, in which the data are their actual words and thoughts), or work that directly affects their lives and wellbeing (like intervention or health promotion studies).
Do you have any recommended books/resources for parents?
KM: I actually try to stay away from too many parenting resources-they can be overwhelming and they often can be judgmental or shaming of parents, which I don’t like. But, of everything I’ve come across, I really like the following:
Longest Shortest Time – This podcast, which covers various topics related to parenting, is the BEST, and it’s so well done. It’s not just for people who are parents. It saved my sanity when I was at home alone with my brand new baby in the middle of the winter. It’s by a former producer of This American Life, so it’s got a similar feel. I love that this podcast also has several episodes focused on queer parenting and starting a family as a same-sex couple.
Science of Mom – This is a terrific blog (and a book) by a scientist who writes evidence-based posts about topics like vaccinations, sleep, and feeding that are accessible to general audiences. While it has the word ‘mom’ in the title, it’s really geared toward anyone who wants their parenting practices to be guided by science where possible.
And, a couple of kids’ books:
What Makes a Baby – This is a kids’ book that is inclusive of all kinds of families, regardless of the gender of the parents, their parents’ relationship, or how the baby came into their lives. Georgia is currently really into this book – I think it’s because it’s very colorful and the illustrations are great.
Worm Loves Worm – I’m slowly building a collection of kids’ books that have a feminist perspective, that promote a healthy understanding of reproduction, sexuality, and gender, and that are LGBTQ-inclusive. This book is about two worms who want to get married and their challenges and successes in doing so.
In a perfect world, what does your ideal Mother’s Day look like? How do you unwind after a long week?
KM: I’d love to sleep in, do something outside – like gardening, going to the park or for a bike ride, Georgia would be well-behaved and take a long nap, and we’d grill out on the deck and I’d make classic cocktails. Basically a typical weekend day!