The couple at the next table had been glancing in our direction for a while, but from my seat it was hard to see the expression on their faces. Were they smiling at our adorable twins, or scowling at the noise R, fed up with having a cold, was making?
Alongside quality food and drinks, and value for money, I now have two new criteria for a good restaurant. The first is whether the staff mind sweeping up pieces of food hurled to the floor by an 18 month old practicing for his granddad’s cricket team. Fortunately the restaurant we had Sunday lunch in a few weekends ago passed this test. The second is whether the clientele mind the presence of sometimes squawking twins amongst them. Here the results were less clear cut.
Neither R nor A were particularly noisy, but they could occasionally be heard well above the background chatter. And my partner and I could not help but wonder what the clientele around us were thinking. Look at that couple who can’t control their children; shoddy parenting; those poor children! So went the downward spiral of criticisms that we assumed the strangers around us were thinking as they watched us try to comfort the poorly R and shovel food into A’s mouth fast enough to sate him.
Drawing on anecdotes from friends, I am fairly sure that all parents of young children sometimes look back on a family meal out and wonder what the people around them must have thought. In our case, though, we have an added paranoia: are these strangers judging us not just for being “bad” parents, but for being gay parents?
No matter what legislation Parliament actually passes, there are still significant swathes of our society who recoil at the thought of a gay couple raising children, who do not believe that my partner and I should have had the boys. I can tell myself that their attitude is nothing to do with me. But still I wonder if, as a gay parent, I have a responsibility to prove them wrong. Do I have a duty to prove that gay parents can raise well-behaved, well-adjusted children? And if so, then every time the boys are less than perfect in public, am I letting the side down? Am I giving the nay-sayers ammunition?
The answer, on a superficial level at least, is that every child – from every background and every family structure – is sometimes difficult in public. so long as I and my partner love the boys and raise them as best we can, then we are proving ourselves to be parents, irrespective of our sexuality. Still, the sense of assumed duty is hard to shake.
The story the other weekend had a happy ending. The couple at the next table turned out to be lovely, asking about the boys and cooing over R’s teddy. The man, it transpired, had a virtually identical teddy when he was young, even down to the bow tie. And they didn’t bat an eyelid at the presence of two mummies.