For LGBTQ+ people, the process of expanding your family can be a mix of emotions. On the one hand, it’s exciting, joyous, and filled with anticipatory tummy-butterflies. One the other hand, the path is scary and filled with a seemingly infinite number of bumps in the road. From finances to outright discrimination, the LGBTQ+ community faces extra burdens during what should be a joyous time. One of these extra burdens is managing invasive comments from others. You know the type:
- The aunt who insists that you should be a biological parent. (“A child would be lucky to have your eyes.”)
- Friends from high school who want to know why you would use a friend as a sperm donor. (“If you kid isn’t going to call him ‘dad,’ isn’t that a little unfair?”)
- The father-in-law who “just doesn’t understand” why you’d adopt children when you “have all the right parts.”
- Cousins who “couldn’t imagine” having a surrogate and living hundreds of miles away from them. (“It would just be so hard.”)
Yes, these cringe-worthy moments are typically well-intentioned. They’re brought on by people we love and followed up with a hearty “But, really, we are just so happy for you!”. But being on the receiving end of these moments can make us panicked and angry. The result is an awkward combination of flight and freeze: a giggle and a sheepish “thanks” while carefully excusing yourself to get a glass of water.
How can we confront these moments head-on when we’re already drowning in debt, balancing a ridiculous amount of appointments, and reminding our doctors and social workers of our pronouns for the hundredth time? So often, LGBTQ+ people do not have the emotional or mental capacity to do in-the-moment damage control. Because of this, we sweep boundary-setting under the rug over and over again. But, as you enter this new stage in life, setting boundaries is a skill that will become more and more important. Get started early by using the following strategies before those cringe-worthy moments crop up.
Reflect early in the process
Before beginning the process of expanding your family, take some time to think about what boundaries feel important to you. Are you willing to answer questions about your sperm or egg donor? Does it make your skin crawl when others equate biology with family? Are you okay with folks asking about your plans to build a relationship with your soon-to-be child’s birth family? Often, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community means you have faced years of uncomfortable or important questions already. So, it’s not hard to imagine the kinds of questions people might ask in the future. Take some time to think about what questions or comments you find unacceptable. Reflect on your own, but also don’t be afraid to bring a thought buddy into it, like a therapist. Think through some of these topics, so you can suss out what you do or don’t want to discuss.
If you’re partnered, make sure you’re on the same page. If you’re unsure where to start, ask other LGBTQ+ parents what boundaries they wished they had when they expanded their families. Everyone will have different lists, of course, but by talking it through with others, you have a starting point for your own reflection. (And they may bring up topics or comments that you hadn’t thought of before!)
Not all boundaries have to be the same
There might be some topics that are non-negotiables or things that are simply no one else’s business but your own. But there may be some topics that you feel comfortable talking about certain aspects of or with certain people. For example, you may be okay explaining to someone your relationship with your child’s birth parent, but not why you chose to have the sort of relationship you have. Maybe you never want to discuss who your known sperm donor is, but you’re willing to discuss why you didn’t choose an unknown donor. Maybe, you’ll be surprised to find that you have topics you are willing to be very open about.
You’ll also have different boundaries for different people, or different boundaries for different circumstances. Perhaps there are some things you’re comfortable discussing with your best LGBTQ+ friend but not your second cousin. Maybe you’re cool talking about a topic one-on-one but not at your grandparent’s birthday dinner. Over time, the topics you’re willing to discuss may ebb and flow, too. Boundaries may change and shift over time, and that’s okay!
Have a plan for setting your boundaries
Communication is key. In order for folks to respect your boundaries, they have to know what your boundaries are. There are so many ways to do this. It might not be for everyone, but it’s totally appropriate to have a sit-down with your loved ones to lay it all out. You can also send an email stating some topics you think they might be curious about, and letting them know which ones you are and aren’t happy to discuss. Or, you can leave the conversation more open-ended. Ask them what they are curious about regarding the process and then let them know which of those topics you are willing to discuss. No matter how you choose to do it, having a plan for communicating your boundaries is very important. It will allow you to be intentional, ensure you aren’t at the whim of what conversations organically arise, and will let your loved one(s) know that this is important enough to you that you carved out space for it.
It also doesn’t hurt to have resources readily available. If you parents don’t totally understand what IVF is, send them to a website to learn more. Suggest that your siblings follow LGBTQ+ parent influences on social media so they can get exposed to other LGBTQ+ families. There are so many ways for your loved one(s) to deepen their understanding that doesn’t compromise your comfort or boundaries.
Setting boundaries is difficult, regardless of the reason, relationship or circumstance. Don’t be shy about role playing the conversation with your therapist or drafting & re-drafting emails. This is important and it’s okay to be as thoughtful and intentional with your communication as possible. Also, the more you practice, the more setting these boundaries will feel organic.
Activating your allies can be essential. Ask your sibling who “gets it” to help reaffirm your boundaries with your parents. Let your best friend be the one to keep reminding the rest of the group that certain topics are off-limits. If your partner is more comfortable setting a boundary, let them lead the conversation. Raising your (soon-to-be) kiddo(s) takes a village, so you might as well get started leaning on others now!
Have your go-to phrases
Unfortunately, no matter how intentionally you set boundaries and how deeply your loved one(s) respect those boundaries, people will make mistakes. Someone will ask the wrong question at the wrong time, and it’s going to bring on that awkward flight and freeze response. Be ready for this and have some draft responses on hand. This could be as simple as “Oh, I’m not really comfortable sharing that.” Or, “That’s a little too personal for me.” Also, sometimes being vague is all the response someone needs. So, saying something like, “It’s different for every family” can be enough of an answer. You might also have to keep reminding people, so it will help to get comfortable saying things like, “Remember that article I shared on reciprocal IVF? I bet the answer to your question is in there.” Or, “This topic feels like one of those things I’m not comfortable discussing.”
Of course, you might have different responses ready for different people. If a stranger at a potluck asks you if your child will call their surrogate “mom,” you might chuckle and say, “Nope. And that’s a weird thing to ask.” But when your grandparent exclaims, “Oh, it’s a shame the baby won’t have our genes!” at dinner, a better response could be, “Family has nothing to do with biology. I’m happy to talk more about that with you after dinner.” Having different responses for different people makes sense, because your investment in the other person’s understanding varies! You might never see the stranger at the potluck again, but you and your child(ren) may be interacting with your grandparent often. So, there’s more of a need for them to get it ‘right.’
Lean on your support system
In addition to activating your allies in-the-moment, it’s essential to remember that you are not alone! There are millions of LGBTQ+ parents out there that have been in the exact situation you are in. Find them and lean on them! Peer support groups are a wonderful resource and offer space for you to engage with others in ways that are comfortable. Family Equality offers several virtual peers support groups specifically for LGBTQ+ parents. Also, social media can be a gateway to community, regardless of where you live. Seek out groups specific to LGBTQ+ folks, or specific to your path to parenthood. If you’re more of the in-person type, check out Family Equality’s list of LGBTQ+ family groups to find folks in your area.
The LGBTQ+ community has a robust legacy of community-based support and taking care of each other. Lean into this legacy and know that you are anything but alone!