Gay parents raising well-adjusted children
MATT GLEASON The Oklahoman Comments Comment on this article0
Published: January 16, 2010
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — IsaBella Ingersoll is only 2, but one day the Collinsville child will be reminded of her mothers’ guiding words, which are painted in bold pink letters that ring her girlie bedroom walls: Dream.
Wish. Hope. Believe. Imagine. Achieve. Fly …
Bella calls Liz Ingersoll, her birth mother, “Mom” and Liz’s wife Stephanie Ingersoll “Mama.” The trio of Ingersolls make a family, albeit an unconventional one.
Tulsan Brian Timms has his own unconventional family. The 37-year-old gay man is raising his two teenage sons, both born to Timms and his ex-wife. He and his ex-wife also have a 22-year-old son, who is a U.S. Marine fresh out of Afghanistan.
To explain the effect of gay or lesbian parents on children like IsaBella and Timms’ sons, Dr. Eric Nelson, a Tulsa clinical psychologist, said, “The research strongly shows that same-sex couples are just as effective in raising healthy, well-adjusted children as opposite-sex couples.”
Nelson’s statement is echoed by Charlotte J. Patterson, who has been called “the world’s expert on psychological research on children and youths raised by lesbian and gay parents.”
Patterson wrote in the American Psychological Association’s journal: “In study after study, the offspring of lesbian and gay parents have been found to be at least as well adjusted overall as those of other parents.”
Asked to comment about gay and lesbian people raising children, Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern, an opponent of gay marriage and adoption, e-mailed this response:
“I am opposed to same sex couples raising children because children need both a mother and father in the home. Both sexes are necessary in order for a child, especially very young children, to learn how the two sexes are complementary and yet different.”
In Oklahoma, same-sex couples cannot adopt a child together, but a gay person can adopt a child on his or her own.
In 2007, a lawsuit successfully challenged an amendment to the Oklahoma Adoption Code, which would have barred state officials from recognizing same-sex adoptions from other states or countries.
Toby Jenkins, president of Oklahomans for Equality, offered his view on gay and lesbian parents.
“When those people decide to have children, they have to spend more reflection time thinking about it than the average Oklahoman,” he said. “They have to financially prepare for it. They have to prepare their family for it. They have to go through intensive counseling, therapies and resources if they consider adopting, all to just show they are fit to be parents.
“When you stop to think about it,” Jenkins continued, “that’s the way all children should come into the world.”
Before Liz and Stephanie Ingersoll could realize the dream, they had to find each other. Liz Ingersoll “came out of the closet” at 10, so the 34-year-old has spent 24 years of her life as a gay woman — one whose own mother will say everything, but, “I accept you for who you are.”
Stephanie Ingersoll grew up the daughter of a Pentecostal pastor, so, as she said, “I never explored (being a lesbian.)” Rather, she followed her parents’ expectations of: “You grow up. You marry a guy. You have babies.”
It wasn’t until Stephanie met Liz at work that she finally understood what she wanted in life: Liz. The couple’s 2004 nuptials aren’t legal, but meant enough for Stephanie to take Liz’s last name.
Liz Ingersoll, now with the Community Food Bank, once made a list of all the qualities she wanted in a partner. Foremost among them was someone who wanted to raise a family.
Sitting at the couple’s dinner table with IsaBella, whose face was covered in spaghetti sauce, Stephanie Ingersoll summed up her own life’s goal: “I wanted this. Family.”
After IsaBella was born to Liz Ingersoll via artificial insemination, nurses didn’t quite know what to make of Stephanie Ingersoll.
Liz Ingersoll recalled, “The nurse would ask, ‘Where’s the dad? Are you the grandmother?’ Everyone was confused.”
Stephanie Ingersoll didn’t give birth to IsaBella, of course, but she did try for three months to conceive before Liz Ingersoll’s successful attempt.
When it came time to sign IsaBella’s birth certificate, her parents both wanted their names on it. Instead, that piece of paper ignored Stephanie Ingersoll’s parentage. But it couldn’t keep Bella from loving her.
Stephanie Ingersoll, a stay-at-home mom, said, “There’s no way this child could love me more than she does.”
Every night before IsaBella goes to bed, Liz Ingersoll tells her daughter: “Do you know you’re my favorite thing in the whole wide world?”
During an early December truck ride to see the Rhema Christmas lights, the couple explained how they are raising IsaBella. The women say they prefer to explain things to IsaBella rather than scold her.
Stephanie Ingersoll said, “I just think it’s very important to speak to them, and let them know why.”
“I want to raise a functioning adult,” Liz Ingersoll explained, “someone who chooses to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because of the consequences they might get. I firmly believe in natural consequences.”
Liz disagrees with Stephanie’s stance on not spanking.
“I don’t know where she’s coming from in that respect,” Liz Ingersoll said. “But I respect her decision.”
But it’s not all discipline. Liz said, “I’m definitely the one who plays. I come in the door and we usually get down on the floor and we just play. I hope that’s always my role.
“I want her to be able to come to me and not be afraid to tell me the truth. I know that there will come a time when I am not cool at all.”
One day, Bella will realize her family isn’t like other children’s families, but Stephanie Ingersoll hopes it’s a gradual lesson.
“We want to keep her exposed to families of same-sex families and families with different-sex parents, so it’s all normal,” Stephanie Ingersoll said. “That’s the whole thing, the kids themselves, they don’t think it’s not normal.
“Hopefully it won’t be that big of an issue as she’s growing up. The world is changing every day.”
Brian Timms has watched that same world change over the decades, first as a gay man and, later, as a gay father.
On a cold night in late December, Timms cooked a spaghetti dinner for his two teenage sons, a 14-year-old who didn’t want his name printed in the newspaper, and his 17-year-old, Josh.
Once Timms plated dinner, he joined the boys in the living room.
“I tell my mom, that if it wasn’t for feeding them, they’d probably never come out of their rooms,” Timms said of his Xbox-loving teens. “I would have a dozen more kids if I could keep them when they’re little. It’s when they’re grown like this that I’m done with them. They start talking back, and all that. They’re not any fun anymore.
“They’re teenagers, they come in and close their doors.”
At 16, Timms worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, where he met a 20-year-old beauty raising a 1-year-old son on her own. Soon, Timms not only fell in love with the older woman, but also her baby boy, Jon Smith.
Timms married the woman and adopted her son. During the couple’s six years of marriage, they had two more sons.
“I had kids and that’s what I always wanted,” Timms recalled. “I wanted what everybody else had, so I never thought about (being) gay, until the end, when I knew it was over.”
At 25, Timms received full custody of the three children.
“It’s just the way it worked out,” he said. “She had other things going on in her life, and it was best for (the children), we both agreed.”
About five years ago, Timms told Josh and his younger son that he was gay.
“I want them to be open and honest with whatever,” Timms said. “How can I expect them to be honest if I wasn’t honest with them?”
Josh said, “All my friends know, for the most part, because, I mean, I don’t care. It’s not a big deal to me. If you don’t like me because my dad is like that, I don’t want to be friends with you. It’s not evolution, it’s staying dumb.”
Timms is now a full-time student at Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow. He’s working toward a degree in social work. He also conducts HIV tests for HOPE Testing Clinic, working with the same man who tested Timms positive for HIV nine years ago.
Timms told his younger boys that he was gay years ago, but he waited until two years ago to tell them he was HIV-positive.
“I wanted to wait, first, for them to be older, but I also needed them to know that I had it long enough that I wasn’t going to turn around and die.”
Josh said of his father’s disease: “It’s not a character of my dad. It’s just something he’s living with.”
For other children whose parents are gay or lesbian, Josh had this advice: “Don’t take people’s (stuff). If they’re going to be a hater, and discriminate about it, ignore them. Don’t retaliate, because that’s not going to work out for you. Just walk away.”
“Just stay open-minded.”
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