“Families headed by heterosexual parents tend to ‘specialize’ more—meaning, the dad specializes in making money and the mom specializes in child care,” says Charlotte J. Patterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia who has studied gay-parent families for the past 15 years. “While many hetero couples don’t follow these traditional patterns, the Ozzie and Harriet scenario is still the majority.” In gay households, she says, there’s inherently more flexibility around gender roles.
In 2004, Patterson published a study of 33 lesbian couples and 33 straight couples; all of them had young children ages 4 to 6. “There was a greater sense of egalitarianism among the lesbian parents in how they run their home,” Patterson says.
Craig Hartzman, 49, who’s raising two adopted children in Portland with his male partner of 23 years, couldn’t agree more. “Is there a true democracy in our home? Well, there is more equality, for sure,” Hartzman says. “Because those traditional gender roles didn’t exist for us, we were able to create more of a feeling of ‘This is a team effort’ from the get-go.”
For Kevin Reedy and Scott Cooley, becoming first-time parents in their mid-to-late 40s—and in the midst of successful, and lucrative, careers—was, to say the least, a little challenging. Cooley, a Texas native with a slight drawl, met Reedy in Chicago in 1996, and the two talked about kids right away.
“I didn’t want to do it if I couldn’t be a stay-at-home parent, but we didn’t know if it was financially possible for one of us to stay home,” says Cooley, 49. The couple is relaxing in the spotless front room of their Alameda home (they admit they tidied up the toy area a bit before I arrived) after a long afternoon in the sun at the Mississippi Avenue Street Fair. Their 2-year-old adopted son, Caden, is upstairs sleeping because, Cooley explains, the warm weather “wiped him out.”
In the end, the dads say they were able to make good on Cooley’s wish to stay home with Caden while Reedy, 47, continued his career as an investment adviser. Cooley says it was easier than he thought to quit his job in the software industry, but admits that not getting a paycheck was, at first, tough.
“For so long, I’d gotten a piece of paper with my name on it, followed by a bunch of zeroes,” he says, adding that he understood what it feels like for career women to drop out of the workforce when they have kids.
Reedy, a lanky Chicago native with a shock of thick blond-and-gray hair, says that Cooley is the more hands-on dad, while his own days are consumed with professional pursuits. “It’s an important division for us, and it works,” says Reedy. “When it’s your decision, as opposed to society imposing it, you really are more empowered.”