Deidre Olsen is a queer, non-binary writer and digital marketer based in Toronto. The opinions expressed here are their own.
Polly Pagenhart, an androgynous genderqueer parent, enters an airport bathroom with their wife and child, and is immediately snapped at by a stranger: “This is the women’s room!” This is nothing new to Pagenhart, who keeps their hair short and wears collared shirts and blazers, and says they’re mistakenly called “sir” several times a month. Pagenhart identifies as a “lesbian dad,” uses they/them pronouns as opposed to gendered ones, and argues that one needn’t be a man to be a father. Kind of like fitting into someone else’s definition of “a woman” shouldn’t determine which bathroom you use.
As we get more comfortable with the notion that gender is not binary, perhaps the way we look at families should change, too. Words like “mom” and “dad” are nothing more than gendered terms for people who raise children, after all, which means they’re restrictive. The ways that people enact these roles are evolving. Or, rather, the roles of “mom” and “dad” themselves are converging, and gender is becoming less of the point.
In 2015, women in the United States had their first child at the average age of 26.4, compared to 22.7 in 1980, nearing the average age for men, which is up to 30.9. According to 2016 Census data, 31% of women age 30 to 34 have never given birth to a child, which is 26% higher than it was one decade earlier. Women are delaying having children, and having fewer of them — if they have any at all. They are prioritizing professional pursuits that used to be an “either/or” with parenting, but never was for men; they are no longer beholden to or defined by the stereotypical definition of wife or mother.
Meanwhile, men are becoming stay-at-home parents and single parents. There were twice as many stay-at-home dads in the U.S. in 2010 (2.2 million) as there were in 1989, according to Pew statistics. Lack of work after the Great Recession sent many men back into the home, but many are simply choosing a lifestyle that allows them to be caregivers. And single fatherhood is also on the rise.
In 1960, there were fewer than 300,000 single dads, a number that had skyrocketed to more than 2.6 million in 2011. (There are an estimated