The separation of any family is difficult, but this is perhaps even more true for LGBT+ families. This is because a child in a same-sex family will only have a biological connection with one of their parents. That’s normally pretty irrelevant to the child in question, but of apparent significance to society. Separation in itself need not be difficult: it is people’s reactions which make it so. People often question the relationship between a non-biological parent and their child, and a family separating seems to enflame that prejudice. They suddenly have apparent justification to see the bond between parent and child as temporary, the parenting relationship as having ceased, or as having lacked significance to begin with.
When I was fourteen, my family’s collective household was disbanded. We moved out of our single end-of-terrace house, into two separate smaller ones. Reuven and I moved between the two new houses, dividing our time equally between our two mothers. It helped that our mums had chosen to live fairly close to each other – a choice that not everybody is able to make. We adapted quickly, as children do. I joked that I was a ‘suitcase kid’, but apart from the occasional realisation on a Sunday evening that all of my school shirts were at the wrong house, I pretty much ended up with two sets of all my essentials and was quite content.
At the time, I was faced with a few surprising assumptions. On finding out that the family had formally separated, teachers and family friends would ask if I was living with Leah, or even whether I still saw Deborah. They assumed that, because Leah was my birth mother, my place was now with her.
You don’t need me to tell you that that’s not what a child of heterosexual parents would likely be asked. A child of heterosexual parents might have the question asked of them in a gendered sense – an assumption that they were living permanently with their mum and visiting their dad less regularly – but this wasn’t the same assumption being made of me; for I’m sure Reuven was asked if he was living with Deborah.
The assumption made of our family, was that the kids belonged with the woman who had carried them in their womb for nine months. Much less thought was given to the years of carrying us as babies and toddlers and young children which followed, and which was split equally between both of our mums.
The physical separation of our household meant that people who’d previously grudgingly accepted our family, could now openly question our relationships. As though fourteen years’ worth of love vanished in one day, one moving van, one mile’s distance.
That we moved into separate houses after fourteen years of my life, didn’t make Deborah any less my mother, or Leah any less Reuven’s. Leah and Deborah had conceived of our family together, imagining us up and making us reality, and then shaped that reality, by caring for us and growing us.
So naturally, the change in the relationship between Leah and Deborah did nothing to alter the relationship between me and Deb, or Reuven and Leah. Why should it?
My mums might not have been a couple anymore, or living together, but they certainly continued to co-parent us. Whenever Reuven and I moved from one house to the other Leah and Deb would have a chat about the past and upcoming week. They made sure they were always on the same page, and that Reuven and I weren’t able to play them off against each other. But more importantly, even if they hadn’t remained cordial, even if the relationship between Leah and Deborah had been acrimonious, even if they’d disputed custody of me and Reuven, even if I’d moved halfway across the world and not seen Deborah for the next five years, she would always be 100%, fully, completely, my mum.
People have been added to our family. Deborah got civilly-partnered to my step-mother Anne a good few years ago and I inherited a whole host of step-cousins. But thankfully, our family has never had reason to shrink, only to grow. As I write this I’m up in Scotland with Deborah and Anne, visiting my grandpa, and my aunts and uncles and cousins. They may not be biological relations, but they’re still family – and that’s a truth independent of any other connections. So while family separation can no doubt be difficult for a whole range of reasons, it should never invalidate a non-biological paren’t role, or affect the relationships a child has with the people they call family.