While Mother’s Day may be a holiday made up by the greeting card industry, it’s here, it’s not particularly queer, and everyone is certainly used to it. Each year moms across the country are celebrated with flowers and gifts. Children are encouraged to write letters at school celebrating women who raised them, and mothers who parent children are afforded their due respect.
However, not all children have mothers in their lives. So we set out to talk to gay dads to see how they would be recognizing the holiday. It turns out that as the modern definition of family morphs, so do traditions associated with honoring it.
In San Diego, partners Bryan Heers and Liberty Bock-Heers who are raising three adopted sons were initially nervous about Mother’s Day. “It hadn’t been that long since they saw their mom in prison,” Heers said, recalling the first Mother’s Day his sons spent with their family.
“We had my mother come and stay for Mother’s Day so they could celebrate with her and have that. In school they honestly dedicate like a week to building cute little things for mom and grandma or whoever and we wanted to make sure they had an outlet to give all those cute little projects to,” Heers said, explaining that his mother loves getting gifts from Marcus, 5, Oscar, 11, and Gonzalo, who is 14.The children currently have no contact with their birth mother. Heers and Bock-Heers have determined it’s not a good idea for a variety of reasons. “Before we adopted the boys, we said we would be open to contact, but once we dived into it more…it was pretty clear it was an unhealthy relationship for them and it wasn’t that hard of a decision on our end,” Heers said.
The boys underwent counseling to help understand why they were never going to live with their mom again and to help acclimate them to their new home. Heers and Bock-Heers took attachment-parenting classes and stuck to the rules religiously.
Initially, there was a lot of testing, Heers said, explaining that middle son, Oscar, who is the most sentimental of the three, had a difficult time and often threw tantrums “saying the most horrible things he could think of.” Heers and Bock-Heers, who have been together for eight years stayed strong: “Immediately we were telling them this is your forever home we are your parents for the rest of your life. You don’t have to worry about ever where you’re going from now on.”
While the boys, who were adopted at ages 9, 7 and 5, took time adjusting to their new family, Heers said many of the challenges he and Bock-Heers now face as parents are very basic: whether the children are doing their homework or spending too much time online.
As for Mother’s Day, “I would say we were more worried about it than we needed to be,” Heers said. “Our youngest mentioned to us Mothers Day is coming up in two weeks and asked ‘is grandma coming to stay?’ Even though it’s not celebrating their birth mom, it’s still definitely an important holiday for them.”
In Seattle, Rich Kocher and Brian Roth who adopted 2-year-old Emerson at birth through Open Adoption & Family Services, will be spending the holiday with Emerson’s birth mother. She selected Kocher and Roth to parent her child and today they are all very close. “We also see her mother and father and her siblings. It almost feels like they adopted us into their family,” Kocher said.
Roth and Kocher have always celebrated Mother’s Day with Emerson and her birth mother, whom Emerson calls “Mommy.”
“We sort of do a very traditional celebration—or as you can get in this arrangement,” Kocher said. Initially, Kocher and Roth didn’t know what type of relationship they would have with Emerson’s birth mother, but everyone got along really well and they now spend significant time together. “Neither of us promised to see each other, but it just organically turned into this relationship,” Kocher said, explaining that Emerson now has an extra set of grandparents. “They are great loving people,” he said.
As for the birth mother, Kocher said she’s a college student and not Emerson’s parent in a traditional sense, “but I hope she thinks that this is her day as well. This is a way that we can appreciate her selfless act in letting us raise her daughter.”
Kocher said he hopes Emerson develops a bond with her mother that takes whatever shape the two of them decide upon. “It would be great if it could sort of be a Gilmore Girls situation,” he said, laughing.
Kocher acknowledged that his family’s situation was hardly typical. As a result, it’s often challenging to find the perfect card to give Emerson’s birth mother each year. “The card might say ‘every day you support me’ and that’s a nice thing to say, but that’s not really applicable,” Kocher said, “Out of all the cards in CVS, there’s not really a card that applies to our situation, so this year we are going to make our own card even though I am not super crafty. There’s definitely a market out there if anyone’s interested.”Another way to turn Mother’s Day into a positive experience for all parties is to do away with it all together. In one New Jersey school, the children will be celebrating Parents Day on May 25, a date between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Sean Gilligan and Joseph Adelantar are raising two-year-old Katherine in South Orange, New Jersey, and were surprised when a parent in their daughter’s class suggested creating the new holiday to honor all families. “I didn’t really expect the class to modify their Mother’s Day plans and I wasn’t really going to make an issue of it for anyone involved,” said Gilligan, who is Katherine’s primary caregiver.
“It was really touching,” Adelantar said.
Many kids are raised by grandparents, single parents, two moms or two dads and may feel left out during either holiday so Parents Day affords a perfect solution. Katherine was conceived through compassionate surrogacy and while the surrogate remains a good family friend, she is not a parental figure in any traditional way, the couple explained.
Adelantar and Gilligan said Katherine is still too young to really understand what it means to have two dads, but when she started to go to school she began noticing that the other kids had mommies. “She would just sort of say ‘oh so and so has a mommy and a daddy. Katherine has two daddies,” Gilligan said.
They didn’t want her to feel any different than other kids so Gilligan was going to come in to class had the school decided to do a traditional Mother’s Day celebration, but thankfully Parents Day was created with them in mind. To mark Mother’s Day they will give Katherine’s surrogate Miki a card, and host a brunch at their house celebrating Katherine’s grandmother, whose birthday falls around the holiday.
Gilligan, who is a psychotherapist, said he and Adelantar’s families are conservative and were worried about how everything was going to work out before Katherine was born. “There was so much negative feedback,” he said, “but once Katherine was a person, now both of our families could care less.”
Initially the families worried about what Katherine would call their surrogate, Miki, whom they befriended while working at the Gap 19 years ago. “I was like ‘let’s wait to see what happens. And about a year ago, Katherine started calling her ‘Mimi’ and Katherine knows that her name is Miki and she can say that, but she calls her ‘Mimi’ anyway and Miki is happy with that,” Gilligan said.
“We do still want to recognize moms, but you have to do what’s right for you and what’s comfortable for you and your family,” Gilligan advised. “It should be about what makes you happy as a family so that’s what we’re doing.”
Featured illustration by Simone Noronha.