I really like writing kids into my books. Maybe because being a mom has been such an intense part of my life own experience, or maybe because I like what kids as secondary characters can bring to a story and my main characters. Either way, I find the surly teens and cute slobber-monsters regularly try to sneak into my novels. But in romance, deciding to add kids to the mix is something that I stop and give a second thought, and sometimes a third.
There’s a tendency in genre romance for a baby to be like the cherry on the sundae. After the wedding and the rings at the sweet climax, then the pregnancy announcement or birth, or the cute baby moment, are traditional epilogues. In M/M there’s an added aspect of triumph to it— even now, haters claim that gay people can’t be ideal parents. Giving a child to our M/M couples, to raise lovingly and wonderfully, is refutation of that ridiculous bigotry. It’s so freaking tempting to take our big, burly chef or flamboyant FBI agent, with his arm around his man, and put a baby in the crook of his other arm to complete the pretty picture.
There’s nothing wrong with that, from a standpoint of beauty and satisfaction. But I find I have to be doubly careful that the kids in my stories are not plot-muppets, or lifestyle accessories. A baby is not the cherry on the sundae; it is in fact a grabby monster who will demand a banana split instead, smear the whipped cream in their hair, tip the whole thing in your lap, and then smile so sweetly you can’t kill them as you clean up the mess. They take over our lives, wreck our hearts, and make us better, stronger people than we ever thought we could be. But they are never easy.
In M/M there are a variety of pitfalls. One is the stability of the couple. Our guys go through a lot, to be together, in the short span of our stories. They often still face obstacles as we near the end. Trust me when I say a baby rarely makes a rocky or new relationship stronger.
Babies and especially slightly older children are awful for limiting parents’ sex lives, for one thing. I read one book where a couple really bonded through their BDSM sex, including a fair bit of physical pain, and strict D/s. And then they were given a baby. I wished I had a better window into how they coped with this huge constraint on the sex and dominance that had just become central to their lives, because I couldn’t see the child as entirely a wonderful development so soon.
Another issue is how we treat the mother of the child. In M/F, providing a kid is simple enough, through either a previous relationship or a pregnancy. But divorced men are infrequently awarded custody of their kids, and outside of Mpreg, they are still waiting on those artificial womb experiments (which recently took a leap forward) to have their own. So we have to figure out what realistically happened to get that child into their hands.
Death of a spouse for a bi or closeted man is an easy, softly-emotional answer. (And can be great – like in Tere Michaels’ Faith and Fidelity.) But they can’t all be dead. I do find I have to fight the temptation (too common, as I write in M/M) to have an awful woman— the unwanted-pregnancy ex, the neglectful sister, the run-off-to-find-herself wife, the one who damages or dumps a child. I’d like to see more books with a loving surrogate, like K-lee Klein’s Countdown to Daddies. Or books that show the possibilities opening up for fostering and adoption for LGBTQ parents, including overseas adoption complications. So many good plot possibilities. I’m trying to do a better job in future of neither killing nor villainizing the mom.
And of course, the other key is realism with regard to the child. I’m grateful over and over for my own parenting experiences, as I write kids in my books. I adore my own children, but hopefully I don’t yet have rose-colored memories of what raising them has been like. My two reminded me fiercely, from the time they were toddlers, that children are their own small people, with their own personalities and needs.
My favorite M/M reading includes books where the kids have individuality, and are not interchangeable pieces. Perhaps the clearest in my mind are Nick Wilgus’s Shaking the Sugar Tree, and TJ Klune’s Bear, Otter, and the Kid. Even more admirable is writing a child who is not special needs in any way, and yet still has individuality that impacts the story – like in Brandon Witt’s Then the Stars Fall, for example. In my stories, I figure I got it about right if the kids are mentioned by name in the reviews, but not as the first element, and some reviewers think they’re too sweet and some think they are brats. 🙂
I’ll continue to write more books with kids. I love the emotional pull and complexity that loving both a man and a child gives to my main characters. I like the political emphasis of showing gay men as successful, caring parents. And I just like the fun of creating a range of characters, some of them six, or fourteen. But I’ll also try to keep checking myself to make sure that they don’t take the focus off the romance, but add layers to it. And that I keep it real.
What about you? Do you like kids in your M/M romance? What situation would you like to see and haven’t? What’s your favorite book with kids?