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Why Some Parents Pick Alternative Parenting Titles Beyond 'Mom' And 'Dad'

Some LGBTQ parents are shaking the monikers up.
Alternative titles can make some parents feel more comfortable.
Mint Images/Getty Images
Alternative titles can make some parents feel more comfortable.

Most parents know the enjoyable but challenging process of naming a child — fewer have experience figuring out what they themselves will be called as a parent, however.

Ellie Pickett of Calgary followed her toddler's lead when it came to finding a parenting name that truly fit. Her son calls her "Deedee."

"Being a trans woman in a relationship with a cis(gender) woman, 'Mama' was already taken, and 'Deedee' was a mis-saying of 'Dada' ... it's nice, because it's not gendered in the way that other stuff is. It's what he chose to call me, and it works for me," Pickett told HuffPost Canada.

There are many reasons parents move beyond the binary of "Mom" and "Dad." Within the LGBTQ community, they may be transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, or in a same-sex relationship and looking to mix the monikers up.

Whatever the case, these parents want what all parents do: for their kids say their name in a way that makes their hearts melt.

WATCH: Don't believe these myths about same-sex parenting. Story continues below video.

Grover Wehman-Brown lives in Alameda, Calif., and is the producer and host of the podcast Masculine Birth Ritual.

"I identify as trans-masculine and genderqueer," she told HuffPost Canada. "I don't identify as a man, and I don't reject the category of woman, but I have a trans experience ... I didn't feel comfortable being called 'Mom'."

Wehman-Brown was originally "Mapa" to her daughter, but she described the acutely uncomfortable experience of finding "that people who were trans-aware were stumbling over the words, calling me 'Papa'. And our straight family members were just calling me 'Mama'. Our kid, when she started babbling, was babbling the syllables 'ba-ba'. So I went with 'Baba' and I feel great about it."

"Baba" translates to "father" in many languages, which places the name in a strong legacy of parenting titles.

Non-traditional parenting names aren't always received well

Many families who go beyond the mom/dad binary feel a tension between the acceptance they feel at home and how they are received by society at large.

Kaito McVey (they/them) of Hamilton, Ont. is a non-binary parent with two young kids, and moved away from the name "Mom" when their eldest was three years old. McVey, like Wehman-Brown, also goes by the parenting name "Baba", and said that the change was smooth and simple for their daughter. But the same isn't always true outside the home.

"I still find that a lot of people ... have a hard time pronouncing it, or call me 'Bubba', which is not what I'm called," McVey said.

"A lot of the time I get read as a cis-male, and people refer to me as 'Dad' or 'Daddy'."

Families are usually portrayed as having a mom and a dad, but work is being done to expand this cultural image.
Maskot/Getty Images
Families are usually portrayed as having a mom and a dad, but work is being done to expand this cultural image.

Much of parenting culture is based around families looking a certain way, and having a mom and a dad. This is reinforced by media, childcare centres, schools, parenting groups, books, and more. Expanding the image of parenthood takes intention and persistence, but there is no shortage of strategies to help this process along.

Dana Rudolph understands how important it is to honour every family's unique structure and identity. Rudolph is the founder and publisher of the website Mombian, a popular lifestyle site for lesbian moms and other LGBTQ parents. Since 2007, she has been keeping a running list of parenting names on an Excel spreadsheet.

The list now has almost 300 entries, and Rudolph said she believes it is the largest of its kind.

"Just as we have started to get people used to the idea of asking for other people's pronouns, when we meet someone who's a parent, we should get used to asking them what their kids call them, what their parenting title is," she told HuffPost Canada.

Going 'off script' can help kids from LGBTQ2S+ families feel represented

Grover Wehman-Brown, in her article Read Off Script: A Tool to Prepare Your Kid for this Big, Queer World, confirms how important this is, and recommends that parents write the names down in a list of their own upon learning them.

Keeping a list can also be helpful when reading off script to children, which is a strategy to counter the overwhelming hetero- and cis-normativity in both children's literature and mainstream culture. Parents can read off-script by changing the genders, parenting names, or family structures of the books they read aloud to their children, the article notes.

Not only can this help children from LGBTQ2S+ families feel represented, it can teach all children about the many gender presentations and family structures that exist.

It's also a valuable practice to respect kids whose parents use names from the majority of cultures and religions from around the world," Wehman-Brown notes in the article.

Kaito McVey regularly reads off script with their family, and they also make sure there are visual representations of gender nonconformity throughout the house.

"We recently started printing out pictures of RuPaul and other genderbending folks, and putting them up in our playroom," McVey said.

In these ways, gender can be an ongoing conversation for all kinds of families. In McVey's home, they have conversations about gender with their daughter where they ask her questions that clarify her understanding.

"She'll say 'I have a mama and a baba.' When we ask her what a baba is, she says, 'it's sort of like a dad, but different.'"

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