I need to phone him; that’s the only way to do this without sounding deranged. How do you explain to a friend, via text, that you’d maybe like to have a baby with some of his friends that you met at his barbecue the other day?
My partner, Leo, and I have become a version of the “we saw you from across the bar and dig your vibe” meme – a poke at sexually adventurous couples looking for a “threesome”. We’re more like: “We saw you from across a gathering of thirtysomethings and wondered if you’d be down to help us redesign the nuclear family.”
Our version might be less catchy, but since we decided we want to co-parent, we can’t help checking out every gay, male couple we meet, although we’re strictly looking for dads, not “daddies” (read: “hot older men”). The idea is that we – a lesbian couple and a gay couple – will raise a child together. For some, the arrangement brings to mind the age-old adage “it takes a village to raise a child”, which is essentially what we’re trying to create: our own village of four. Perhaps this sounds crazy, but – then again – with the cost of living soaring, infrastructure crumbling, and parents being offered the bare minimum in state support, so is the traditional two-parent family.
Even so, we don’t want to co-parent for purely economic reasons. We see this set-up as a solution, rather than a compromise: to living in a society that is simply not designed for having kids. Parental burnout is on the rise and, according to Moïra Mikolajczak, professor of emotion and health psychology at the Catholic University of Louvain, can cause greater stress than extreme physical pain. The way we see it, the more loving hands on deck, the better. LGBTQ people are able to challenge so many of the social structures and institutions others take for granted. As a same-sex couple, it may be harder for us to have kids, but in doing so we are forced to challenge the traditional parenting model. And, as we know from toppled statues of history’s monsters, and that Fiddler on the Roof song about patriarchal gender roles, tradition can be terrible. Any practice that continues purely because it’s been done that way for millennia deserves to be questioned.
Admittedly, the idea took me a while to get my head around. Yes, parental decision-making may well become much more complicated with more than two people involved. Yes, the pure logistics could be a spaghetti-like tangle of times, places, and names. But Leo is a pretty hardcore collectivist. If it weren’t for me talking her down from some of her wilder fantasies, we’d probably be living off badly cooked lentils in a commune somewhere. The co-parenting route was her idea, and initially one I dismissed as impossible hippy nonsense. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realised just how much it makes sense. And now I want it, too.
It mustn’t be forgotten, of course, that something very similar to the four-parent model is already being practised by many millions of divorced people. Family is a beautiful thing; it’s also a crucible of error, exhaustion and resentment, heated to a red glow by pure, dumb love. Every single one is different in ways you can only begin to understand if you’re part of it. Who in the world hasn’t nodded along to Philip Larkin’s words: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”?
At this early stage in the co-parenting mission, we’re looking to “date” other couples. Like the lovely one we met at a friend’s barbecue, and then had to psych ourselves up to “ask out”. But there’s no template for asking someone if they’d be open to co-parenting with you. Like so much of this process, we’re having to make it up as we go along. There are a couple of co-parenting “dating” sites, through which we’ve learned just how important fitness levels and income seem to be to a lot of gay men.
“Is this too risky?” Leo asked me recently. “Yes,” I said, “but all of the best things are.” Our village of four is currently a dream. It’s something we talk about in hypotheticals: what if we meet the perfect guys and they want to name the kid Keith? How much do we value love and kindness over the desire to not name our child Keith? Will we be able to afford the therapy Keith will need, on account of being called Keith?
Either way, Keith will be loved.