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Lessons for Gay Dads from TV Moms

Four photos of famous TV mom

When you’ve been asked the question, “So when you two adopt, who’s going to be the mom?” as many times as Dom and I, you start to get creative. We’ve talked about the roles of parents, and I do think that a mother’s influence can be important in a child’s development. But to counter the “Every child needs a mother and a father” argument, I offer this list. Because everything gay dads need to know about mothering, they can learn from watching these famous TV moms. We did.

10. Sophia Petrillo, “Golden Girls.” No one’s life is as hard as your own, so whenever your child is complaining about something, be sure to be as depreciative and cynical as possible. Parents will always own the ability to one-up their children when it comes to deprivation stories, misery, and suffering. Gay dads, that means you too. You may not have pushed your kid out, but stock up while you can.

Tip: Our children will grow up in an age where touch technology is the norm, so feel free to reference a time when phones had cords, FaceTime was literal time spent in each other’s presence, and Angry Birds were those damned pigeons on Eighth Avenue that wouldn’t leave you alone. Take a lesson from Sophia’s playbook. “In Sicily, we didn’t have the modern conveniences you have today … we had to slaughter our own meat, prepare our own seasonings, and if the food wasn’t perfect, after cappuccino, they shot the cook!”

9. Peg Bundy, “Married … With Children.” Look, life doesn’t stop when you have children. Evidently, neither do leopard-print leggings. Peg Bundy embraced a style all her own, with a hands-off philosophy of parenting, bucking the more traditional TV-mom trend of all-hands-on, all-the-time. Peg had her own personality and didn’t allow herself to be defined by her husband.

Tip: Sometimes being a parent will require you to pick up the slack for your husband, gay dads. Peg’s approach is perfect. “Al, how am I supposed to do my job and yours? I tell ya, now I know how Hillary feels.”

8. Mrs. Garrett, “The Facts of Life.” Not technically a television mother, but as a housemother in a prestigious private school. I felt that her exclusion would be wildly inappropriate. Try to tell Jo, Natalie, Tootie or Blair that they didn’t learn how to be better people by watching the examples of one Mrs. Edna Garrett. But Mrs. Garrett also taught those young women the importance of keeping a youthful spirit alive inside of them, both through her actions and her words.

Tip: When Mrs. Garrett told Tootie, “Oh honey, your decision to stay a kid is the most adult thing you’ve ever done,” it’s a reminder to all of us that the best parents are those who can connect with their children, parents who aren’t afraid to be silly and enjoy themselves. Gay dads, Mrs. Garrett is essentially telling us all to take our kids to Disney World every year. At least, that’s what I’m telling my husband it means.

7. Doreen Larkin (Stuart’s Mom), “Mad TV.”I told you I was going to dig deep here, and for those of you who remember Stuart’s Mom from Mad TV, you’ll remember a single mother who was incredibly patient, and quick to instill morals in her….well…child.  And while her real name was Doreen Larkin, she’s best known for the lessons she taught her young child after her husband walked out on them on a Tuesday.

Tip: Have life lessons at the ready, gay dads, you never know when you’ll run into a teaching moment.  Some of Doreen’s best lessons are things we’d do well to teach our own children.

  • “Devil Dogs look like cream-filled poop.”
  • “Never put your mouth near an animal, or mama has to check your poop for worms.”
  • “When little boys whine, it’s like saying to the kidnappers, ‘Take me first!’”
  • Don’t slide down the banister or you’ll injure your goo-goo, and that’s all some men have going for them.”

6. Danny Tanner/Jesse Katsopolis/Joey Gladstone, “Full House.” Three men, three girls, and Comet. “Full House” is such a fantastic example of the ways in which alternative parenting arrangements really can work. Getting past the cookie-cutter perfect world in which the Tanners and Co. lived, you’ll find some great collaborative parenting. Uncle Jesse taught those kids that music is important, and a vital part of a child’s education. Uncle Joey taught us that father-figures can both play hockey and nail comedy. (Still holding onto that one, Uncle Joey!) If you think that men can raise children together, and teach them everything they need to know about life, well, you got it, dude.

Tip: If Danny Tanner taught us one thing, it was that clean is good; dirt is bad. But if he taught us two things, the other would be this. “How a person looks on the outside, isn’t nearly as important as who they are on the inside.”

5. Harriette Winslow, “Family Matters.” One of my favorites, no questions asked. Harriette Winslow was a mother who never took “no” for an answer. She was a principled and opinionated woman who loved her children deeply, and later expanded her own family through adoption. Harriette lost her job when she refused to fire her staff during budget cuts, standing up for those under her care, even at her own expense. She taught her children to stand up for themselves, and for the beliefs they held dear. And even though her daughter Judy disappeared from the show and her whereabouts remained unaddressed by the show, she’s still dynamite in my book.

Tip: Kids getting out of hand? Husband giving you attitude? Google “Harriette Winslow side-eye” and thank me when you’re done learning the fastest way to win any and every argument. This is, essentially, not just a lesson for gay dads, but for humans everywhere.

4. Roseanne Conner, “Roseanne.” Say what you will about her crass style, loud voice, and short fuse, but Roseanne was one of the first examples of a TV mom whose life even vaguely looked like mine as a kid. Being a parent means having to sacrifice for your family, and whether it was working on a factory line, or as a waitress in a diner, Roseanne worked her ass off to provide enough to make ends meet for her kids. The lessons I learned from Roseanne were very similar to the lessons I now realize I learned from my own mom. Work might suck, but if it’s keeping your kids fed and clothed, then it’s work worth doing.

Tip: Don’t ever let your kids play one dad against the other, and don’t let your child compare you to other parents. When told by her daughter that “Cindy Clark’s mother let her babysit when she was only 9”, Roseanne’s response was simple. “Well, Cindy Clark’s mother is a drunken slut.” Roseanne, 1. Becky, 0.

3. Joyce Summers, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” Your child will develop his or her own unique interests, and will have talents that are individual, and that might not make a lot of sense to you. Joyce Summers is a fantastic mother who supported her daughter Buffy, in her quest to eradicate the forces of darkness from the world, slaying vampires and demons while her daughter fell in a love with a vampire whose soul had been restored, but later lost again. Maybe your kid will just be good at math. Support that.

Tip: It’s hard to watch your children and their friends go through rough times, but be prepared to play the supporting role when called upon. Like Joyce told Buffy, “I know you’re afraid. I know the world feels like a hard place, sometimes. But you’ve got people who love you. Your dad and I, we have all the faith in the world in you. We’ll always love you. You have got a world of strength in your heart. I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself.”

2. Clair Huxtable, “The Cosby Show.” Ah yes, gay dads, we weren’t getting through a list of the best television moms without going directly through Mrs. Huxtable. When you base a relationship on love, respect, joy, and a dynamic sense of humor, you’re going to be just fine. When you can pull all of those into your parenting ability, you’ve made it onto my list. Clair was a career woman who taught her children that you’re never owed more than you’ve earned, and she did it with sophistication and grace, in a way that revolutionized the ways in which 1980s television moms carried themselves.

Tip: As parents, you are the captains of your own ship, and you’re the people that get to define the ways in which your home functions. No one gets to tell you what role to play; those are decisions left to you and your husband. Clair’s famous feminist rant is a lesson for her kids, and for all of us as gay dads. “Let me tell you something, Elvin. You see, I am not ‘serving’ Dr. Huxtable, okay? That’s the kind of thing that goes on in a restaurant. Now I am going to bring him a cup of coffee just like he brought me a cup of coffee this morning. And that, young man, is what marriage is made of: it is give-and-take fifty-fifty. And if you don’t get it together and drop these macho attitudes, you are never gonna have anybody bringing you anything anywhere anyplace anytime EVER.”

1. Angela Bower, “Who’s The Boss?” Angela was the breadwinner, while her live-in housekeeper Tony took care of the cooking, cleaning, and day-to-day operations of the house. The role reversal suggested by the title showcased an interesting family structure, and introduced viewers to the idea that men could provide the loving, nurturing, supportive parenting values typically associated with television mothers. Honorable mention to Katherine Helmond’s Mona, who was frequently a show-stealer in her role, of course. But Angela teaches us that, while the structure of a family might look different from house to house, the love contained inside is the thing that matters most. And the most important role a parent can take is in making sure her children are happy and healthy, no matter what path is taken to get there.

Tip: Families come in different shapes and sizes and pictures, gay dads. Find what works for you, and for your children, and commit to it. And when your children get out of line, or question the ways in which you’re parenting, don’t be afraid to pull out the big guns, like when Angela told her unruly son, “Jonathan, I’m warning you. Joan Crawford is my idol.”

I’m sure I’ll get criticized for not putting Carol Brady, Marge Simpson, or Morticia Addams on my list. Folks, those are easy. I wanted to dig deeper, and paint a more accurate and honest picture of the women who’ve influenced our thoughts on parenting in one way or another. We’ve learned so much, and have gleaned invaluable information on parenting from the characters above. I’m sure parenting will be easy now. I mean, there’s that whole “find a baby” thing, but that’s its own story, for another day.

And so, ultimately, because our child will have two dads, it’ll be important for us to use the lessons we’ve learned from those who’ve come before us, albeit fictional, to best chart a course forward for our child, one that is full of love, laughter, and yes, a little Harriette Winslow side-eye.

To help find your path to fatherhood through gay surrogacy, adoption or foster care check out the Gays With Kids GWK Academy.

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