The majority of Jewish women, myself included, marry men and beget joint biological children. We live within the safety — and anesthetic — of cultural norms, so thinking about alternative ways we might parent or partner rarely occurs to us. We don’t, for example, ponder the following:
“Would I be a better parent if my ‘romantic partner’ and my ‘parenting partner’ were two different people?” “Would I be a better parent if I only parented half the time and found a ‘parenting partner’ in another household to do the other half?” “If I raised my kids communally but without a partner, would that be a better fit?” These are questions so distant from our brain pans that we’re more likely to ask if Bubbie ever fought the Boers.
Heterosexual and fertile, we are also never really challenged to find out to what degree our behaviors are determined by what other people think — a question I contemplated a lot as I interviewed women whose parenting and coupling choices are wildly different from just about everybody else’s. Plus these norm-indifferent folks are enviably confident.
In the stories about ‘differently conceived’ families that follow, Julie Greenberg and Jenifer Firestone describe creating kinship systems that break a million rules, but also roost upon sturdy new ones: Always do a gut check. Do what’s best for the child. Don’t sweat what other people think. Zoe Greenberg, 18, writes about growing up in her out-of-every-conceivable-box-in-the-world family. And would-be ‘spuncle’ Avi Levinson talks about finding — and then losing — the niche that fit him better than fatherhood.
These self-determining souls have something important to teach the ovine rest of us. Read on and be challenged.
In This Feature
by Susan SchnurBreaking the Norms Confidently
How one mother, with a series of female lovers, two rabbinic sperm donors, two adoptions and one gay parenting partner, raises five exceptional kids.