Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Nook: Girlish - Growing Up in a Lesbian Home

There are a lot of stories rightfully celebrating great moms and what we learn from our own parents about how to be people and parents ourselves. There are fewer stories about what happens when our own upbringing teaches us what not do when we become parents ourselves. However, this is the reality for many mothers. It's not as upbeat and cheerful as recounting the fantastic example your own mom set, but neither does it need to be shameful or embarrassing. 

As a child, Lara Lillibridge found that in other people’s eyes, the most interesting thing about her wasn’t about her at all; it was about her parents. She has written Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home [April 2017; Skyhorse Publishing] to share the story about this and other aspects of her upbringing. 

The way she was parented shaped and scarred her at the same time, but not in the ways that people assume. While unconventional barely scratches the surface of describing Lillibridge’s upbringing, the strange and scarring aspects of her childhood have nothing to do with her mothers’ sexual orientation. It is rather her step-mother’s mental illness, her father’s “off the grid” lifestyle and serial divorces, and the fact that none of the adults in her life are equipped to raise a well-adjusted child. 

She is currently working on her next book which focuses on the upbringing of her own child. I had a chance to interview her to learn more.

Why did you decide to write your book?
It’s funny, I became passionate about writing after the birth of my second child and I went back to school, eventually earning a MFA in Creative Nonfiction. I wrote about almost every topic under the sun except for my mother. At my final thesis interview, the last day on was on campus, one of my advisors asked me, “when are you going to stop writing all this boring crap and write about growing up with lesbian parents?” I went home and started Girlish the next week. He wasn’t the first person who expressed interest—when people learn that my mom is a lesbian and my father has been married seven times, they often say, “you should write a book!” I felt as if I couldn’t focus on anything else until I got this story out of the way first. 

How will your book also resonate with people who didn't grow up in a lesbian home?
I think Girlish will appeal to anyone who felt as if they grew up on the outside—it’s a narrative of exile. So many of us feel like we don’t fit, for many different reasons. In the end, the reason doesn’t matter nearly as much as the feeling of exclusion. Girlish also resonates with people who wanted more from their parents than they received, for whatever reason. It’s a story of yearning. 

What lessons have you learned through your upbringing about resilience?
There were several times in my life when I had to hold my head up and walk past people who were yelling insults at me. Going through that and living taught me that no matter how terrible it feels at the time, it will not destroy me, and I’m proud of that strength.  I think I am much less concerned with what other people think than a lot of people. 
What advice do you have for parents who are raising children in what might be considered a "nontraditional" home?
I think the best thing that parents can do is to make friends in similar situations. There is a national support group called COLAGE, which connects children of LBGTQA families with each other. It’s really important for children to feel as if they aren’t the only one. 

For me, when I broke up with my husband, I went out of my way to seek out other divorced parents, so that my kids didn’t feel so strange about going back and forth between two houses. Whenever your family is different, people treat you as a tour guide for the group, or maybe a specimen: asking questions, offering sympathy, etc. But when you are around other children in the same boat, you can just talk about regular day-to-day things without having to examine life through that one lens. 

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