GLBT Families and the Pressure to Be Perfect

We’re excited to bring this guest post by Cindy Rizzo, Director
of Grantmaking Programs for the Arcus

The battle for GLBT family recognition and full legal rights is
being waged not just in courts and state legislatures. It is being
waged on a daily basis in the media, in PTA meetings and in daycare
centers throughout the country. These are the places where it has
become important to assert, in the words of The Who, that “the
kids are alright.” But beneath the magazine cover stories with
glossy photos of smiling parents and beautiful children, and
unspoken in conversations about grade-point averages and athletic
or artistic talent, lies a growing worry that our deep, dark
secrets—our kid might be a bed wetter or on ADHD meds or coming
home red-eyed from smoking pot—could get out to the straight
world. We fear that as soon as any of these secrets becomes widely
known, somebody will say, “See, I knew this kind of thing would
happen if they had children.”

So instead we keep up appearances and tell the world that we do a
better job of raising kids because we worked so hard to have them
in the first place. Parents become public relations agents armed
with study data and anecdotes of children attending elite colleges
or doing important community service work. As if parenting
weren’t hard enough, we have this “image thing” to contend
with as well.

A parallel effort is going on in the fight for marriage equality,
where couples are forever talking about how long they’ve been
together, how loving and secure their relationships are, and how
they have persevered and worked hard to maintain their connection.
No one mentions divorce, couples therapy, the dreaded “lesbian
bed death” or infidelity. And there is not one word about
domestic violence.

This pressure to be perfect places an enormous strain on our
families and can prevent us from seeking important mental health,
substance abuse or other services that could address the very
problems we feel constrained from discussing. It leaves service
providers unaware of the need to put certain programs in place. And
it can prevent us from reaching out to friends and family for

Lately I’ve taken on a new crusade: to assert that GLBT parents
are merely equal—no better and no worse than heterosexual
parents. We have kids at Harvard and we have kids who dropped out
of high school. We have the toddler who shares and the toddler who
bites without provocation. We provide a loving, nurturing
environment, and yes, some of us don’t. The equality argument
leaves room for an admission of vulnerability and says to our
families, “You are no worse off than anyone else, so go get the
help you need to make it through the rough spots.” The
alternative—suffering in silence—is really no way to raise

Cindy Rizzo is the parent of two sons, ages 20 and 15. One
attends a very good college and the other is studying Chinese. Both
are on ADHD meds, one has been brought home by the police twice and
one is not involved in any extracurricular activities.