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Denise Balkissoon (Kevin Gonsalves)

Denise Balkissoon

(Kevin Gonsalves)

The 7 habits of highly effective lesbian families Add to ...

And that should hold true for any kids who face extra challenges – as families of kids with physical or learning disabilities, for example, have already learned.

When it comes to prepping kids on how to deal with teasing or bullying, different parents take different approaches. “Some are pro-active, some would rather wait – they say, ‘Why bring up a problem?' ” Ms. Greenbaum says. “I would never say which is right and which is wrong.”

“It's difficult, because when you talk to the kids themselves, they tell us about the school cultures that they live in. Although we don't like to hear it, they say that what sometimes works best is to beat somebody up,” says Rachel Epstein, the co-ordinator of Toronto's LGBTQ Parenting Network. “You don't want to encourage violence, but we have to pay attention to what kids tell us about their social context.”

“Somebody said, ‘At least I have a family,' to me,” Montreal tween Caleb Foster says. “That was probably the worst thing. I didn't say anything back. I went straight to the teacher, who reported it to the principal, who talked to the kid. I felt that was okay. We actually became sort of friends.”

5. It does take a village. So build one

Against criticisms that their children lack male role models, many lesbian moms can counter that their kids have an even greater variety of adult nurturers. These “chosen families,” sometimes formed when gay people are estranged from their own relatives, are often reinforced by their paths to parenting, so that Caleb, for instance, acquires a sperm-donor “uncle.”

As a result, many children of lesbian couples may benefit from a “village” effect, to recall the African-inspired proverb Hillary Clinton made famous.

Last year, the mothers of Tasha and Josh Lilliman (16 and 13) moved them into a large Montreal house with another lesbian couple who have a six-year-old and a three-year-old. Two mothers work, while two stay home. Domestic jobs are split up using a big chore wheel. Tasha also knows her sperm donor and his daughter, who she calls her “genetic half-sister.”

She doesn't feel thrown off by the arrangement: “I have an even bigger, loving family now. … It's interesting to grow up to see so many different types of love.”

Other families, too, might find it easier when parents don't try to handle everything alone, and help relieve the pressure by reaching out to friends, relatives and other families.

6. Let them make their own spaces too

Since the mid-1980s, when so many lesbians began pursuing motherhood that it was labelled the Lavender Baby Boom, support has become easier to find. Toronto has the LGBTQ Parenting Network, Montreal has the LGBT Family Coalition, and Vancouver has Queer Families.

There are even summer camps such as Camp Ten Oaks in Quebec's Gatineau Hills, founded in 2004 by a lesbian couple who felt their children could use a space to canoe, hike and camp without awkward scrutiny. The camp is regularly at its 64-spot capacity for its two-week run.

As its members grew older, staff created Project Acorn, a leadership program for GLBT teens and the kids of same-sex couples.

These “lavender babies,” now too old for picnics and play groups, have ideas and sexualities of their own, and they want to be seen as independent beings deserving a distinct space in lesbian, gay and transgendered communities – even if they're straight.

Some are adopting the term “queer spawn” as a label that is about them, not their parents.

“It influences every decision I make, in both positive and negative ways,” says Danielle Sutherland, 26, who grew up north of Toronto with a lesbian mother. “Job interviews, any time I talk about my family, what I did in school.” She wrote her master's thesis in social work at Ryerson University on the queer-spawn experience.

Ms. Sutherland and her friend Sadie Epstein-Fine have both been councillors at Camp Ten Oaks. Project Acorn energized and excited them, connecting them with likeminded youth in a way they hadn't before.

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