It is official. The baby son of Elton John and David Furnish will refer to his parents as “Daddy” and “Papa” respectively once he gurgles his first words. It’s certainly less confusing than the choice of lesbian couple Nic and Jules in the film The Kids are All Right: they are both “Mom” to their kids.
What kids call gay parents is a relatively new question. And although lesbians are far more likely to have children either from previous (heterosexual) relationships as well as together (using a sperm donor), gay dads are still quite rare. I ask Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, Britain’s most famous gay dad, who with his partner Tony has five children ranging in age from one to 11, how they approached the issue.
“We couldn’t make our minds up what they should call us and we decided before the first twins were born that we would be many different things,” says Drewitt-Barlow. “But the moment they were born, we became Dad and Daddy.” Another gay couple I speak to say they go by “Mommy and Mommy2”. I wonder if this seems a bit hierarchical to Mommy2?
Some names are a bit cutesy for my liking, but then same-sex couples do not have the thousands of years of precedent to follow, as straight couples do. One lesbian I know has her daughter call her by her first name, because she cannot abide the sugary labels others chose. “We know other same-sex parents that started off as one thing, but ended up as something else as the child got older,” says Drewitt-Barlow. “What sounds cute when children are young can sound silly as they grow.”
Another lesbian couple (who have now split up) each gave birth to a child, and find that their children distinguish between the birth mother and the co-parent: “My birth child calls me Mummy and my ex, Lala. My ex’s birth child calls her Mummy and me Makma.” Helen Lawson and her partner Sarah have two children. “We are Mummy Helen and Mummy Sarah, or Mum and Momma. But sometimes they just say Mum and we both answer.”
“Our kids used to get some very strange comments from other children at school when it came to Mother’s Day,” laughs Drewitt-Barlow. “On Father’s Day they each make one card for Dad and one for Daddy.” The old favourites often do win out: at last year’s Alternative Families show a seminar on what children call their parents found that Mum and Mummy and Dad and Daddy were the most popular choices, although one child was heard to call her mother “Mister Mum”.
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