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Family life

Confessions: Single mom with an unconventional family

It's one thing to have an unconventional family, but another to try to explain it to others—without fearing their judgment.

1photo[2] Tara-Michelle, with her daughter, Anna.

I didn’t come into parenting in the conventional sense, nor do I parent in keeping with a traditional family structure.

I know many other parents who have an unconventional family, but I've come to realize it’s still a hot topic at the park and during daycare pick-up. I overhear same-sex couples explaining who their spouses are and where their kids come from genetically. I've witnessed three-parent families try to explain their situation to others. And just because I have a less-than-typical story it doesn’t mean I've never put my own foot in my mouth: I’ve assumed young fashionable women couldn’t possibly be moms because they didn’t physically look the part, and I once told a mother her daughter looked just like her—only to be told she’d used donor sperm and eggs to make her baby.

Read about Tara-Michelle’s journey to parenthood: Single mom, donor dad: An unconventional pregnancy story>

My situation is this: I got pregnant as a single woman in my late 20s, through a known donor. The person who donated sperm to help me conceive is a transsexual woman (meaning she was born male and now lives and identifies as a woman). I went through my pregnancy alone, along with the better part of my daughter’s first year. A man who I had been dating—who knew I was planning a pregnancy and, at the time, did not want to co-parent—got very attached to my daughter, Anna, and moved into a parental role. Although our relationship dissolved, we still continue to live as roommates and co-parent together. Despite this day-to-day arrangement, I have full custody of my child. In addition, we've had to negotiate through our very different families, the fact that he is a straight man and I am a queer woman, our different religions, our financial situations, and that we both have (or hope to have) our own separate respective romantic relationships in the future.

At kindergarten orientations or even at the grocery store, we appear to be a conventional, two-parent, heterosexual, nuclear family. Parents regularly refer to him as my husband. I don’t always correct them, depending on the situation and context. If I say too little, people default to the assumption we’re divorced, when, in fact, we were never married in the first place. Each time I mentally prepare myself to begin telling my story, I wonder about judgment, about gossip, about what the reaction will be to my face—and then what will be said behind my back.

What I love—yet struggle with—when it comes to complicated family situations, is the constant proclamations that “It works! It’s weird, but it works!” There are a couple of reasons for this.

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No one ever asks conventional families to prove that their arrangement works. There is the default assumption that if you did it “right”—meaning you have a mom, a dad and two kids—then you’re all good. And while I want only the best for every type of family out there, the reality is that relationships suffer after having kids, or people experience postpartum depression—even in the more traditional families.

My current parenting arrangement doesn’t work well. This is not to say that I think either of us are bad parents, or that my kid doesn’t have a good life. What I mean is that my parenting arrangement doesn’t work well for the two adults involved. We don’t co-habitate well, we don’t make decisions together very well, and, because of this, we’re struggling to make changes.

While I do sigh with relief when a neighbour learns about our situation and says, “That’s great that it works,” I still hope for a day where I can feel more comfortable admitting that it doesn’t actually work all the time, and having the space to talk about that without getting my back up or worrying about what others will think.

I do my best to remember that I’ve made assumptions about others myself, and I've been open to being corrected. I also do my best to remember that not everyone agrees about how (or who) should raise children—and that I should try not to take it personally.

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a preschooler. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.

This article was originally published on Jul 16, 2014

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