I watched the pilot episode for The Fosters and really loved it. I think it’s compelling television that is exploring interesting characters, and I’m in. But is it believable? Are lesbian moms really like Lena and Stef?
I’m the real thing, so I’m a good comparison for the characters on the show. I’m a lesbian mom and have worked in social services, including as a counselor/teacher to a troubled teen population at an alternative school, and I’ve worked alongside many law enforcement officers as a victim advocate. I known many, many other lesbian moms with similar backgrounds. Real Lesbian Mom Do-Gooder Cred, I’ve got it.
So I watched the pilot for The Fosters through that lens, and put the characters through my Real Lesbian Mom battery of tests. Would real lesbian parents behave like Stef and Lena on the Fosters?
Real Lesbian Mom Test Results for The Fosters
1. Premise: In the pilot, Callie, a tough kid just out of juvvie comes to stay with the family, which is comprised of Stef and Lena and their three children: Stef’s biological son Brandon (Stef was previously married to his dad, Mike) and twins Mariana and Jesus and who were adopted by the couple following a foster placement.
Does this ring true? Yes. We are masters at blending families, defining family relationships outside our primary home, and creating family in different ways.
2. The family is offended when Callie refers to their moms as “dykes,” but no one flips out.
Does this ring true? Yes. That scene was right-on. They all schooled Callie without flinching, with evident scorn but without preaching, losing it, or tossing her to the curb. We’re used to having to set people straight, and we’re not going to let jerky behavior fly free, but the way the family handled the slight showed that they knew that Callie’s use of the word said much more about her biases, attitude, anger and lack of education than it did about them. Well done.
3. The kids in the The Fosters attend a charter school where Lena is the Vice Principal.
Does this ring true? Oh yeah. See my street cred above. LGBT parents are often very involved in their children’s schools to make sure those schools are open and affirming to gay and lesbian families and students and make to sure their children have access to curricula that supports the whole child including creative growth. It’s one of the ways that gay values affect gay parenting choices. It also reflects home ownership trends. In my community, the gay and lesbian parents have been less inclined to purchase homes in outlying suburban (i.e., resourced) school districts and are more inclined to invest in improvements, the development of a charter schools and a few private alternative schools while living midtown, downtown or in older areas like my beloved mid-century gayborhood.
Fun fact: I met my partner when each of us had a child in the progressive pre-school in town, the one ALL the queer parents went to. Totally rings true.
4. Would Lena welcome a troubled foster child without consulting Stef?
Does this ring true? Hmm, not sure. Often when you have relationships between two people who have had to fight to define themselves against oppression, you end up with some strong boundaries and a couple that puts a high premium on communication, in which case, no, Lena wouldn’t have put them all in that position. Then again, you can also have some great matches built on trust in the other’s ability to discern the right course of action based on already mutually-agreed upon couples’ values, so I can see it going down the way it did in the show. What I like is that The Fosters show both women in the relationship as equal and as being strong but also flexible, and those are great traits for any couple, gay or straight.
5. Jesus suggests that his sister might be acting weird because “it’s that time of the month” and Lena says, “If you say ‘time of the month’ I’m gonna sign you up for up for a women’s health workshop at my OB-GYN clinic. Don’t ever say that to a house full of women.” And then he smiles and says “okay okay!”
Does this ring true? Yes and yes. I love you Lena. Ask my two sons if this sort of convo happened, if men in a lesbian-led household develop a deep understanding of how to talk about women respectfully while also developing a huge sense of their own strength gained in trial by fire. Ask them if a Real Lesbian Mom might chastise by offering education in the form of more feminists who can talk to you until you understand so much about women’s health that you’ll know how to serve as a doula. Or if the conversation with Stef asking her son point blank if he needed condoms rang true. They will tell you yes, and yes, and oh yes. By and large I’d say we raise strong, smart, cool men who can talk about anything but know when to hold their tongues, and that part of The Fosters was shown perfectly.
6. At work Stef is given a new partner: Mike, Brandon’s father and Stef’s ex-husband. He says he wants to help protect Stef. Lena is not amused but ends up thanking him for volunteering to keep her wife safe.
Does this ring true? No, I don’t think so. In real life, Stef wouldn’t let this happen. It’s too messy. It would be more common for a couple to be extra protective of letting Brandon’s father (especially if he’s on a hero-trip) become a triangle in their relationship.
The worst moment was when Mike suggested that the women formed their family by “bringing home strays.” He was talking about Callie, but by extension about Jesus and Mariana, too. Oh no way! In real life, those moms would have taken him down. Our families are forged creatively each and every time and no differences diminish our commitments, so no comment like that could stand. Ever see a mama bear raise on her hind legs? Try making two mad. The scenes about Mike worked best when Lena was shown to be dubious and annoyed, because that rang true.
For lesbian viewers of the show, I think this plot device will be unwelcomed. It’s a worn-out trope for a lesbian couple to be divided by a child’s dad, and The Kids are All Right was the last nail that coffin needed. Truthfully, we tend to be more jealous of third parties who are women over men, and we work hard to have great relationships (with boundaries) with the men in our children’s lives. If The Fosters wanted to foster a tense triangle, a strong woman as Stef’s ex would have been a much more realistically-incendiary character, but I’m interested to see where they go with Mike’s character and this plotline.
7. Stef is super hot in her cop uniform and tight French braid. Lena is super sexy in her groovy jackets and foxy accessories.
Does this ring true? Who cares! Well, I say yes, lesbian moms are cool and stunningly gorgeous just like other moms. Women come into their own in their 40s, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. More importantly, I particularly love how both women are shown with a range of strength and warmth. Stef has reserve and looks at home responding to a dangerous crisis call, and she is also shown cupping her children’s faces and approaching them when she wonders if they are struggling. Lena is shown to be warm and welcoming, but also stands up and proclaims her fierceness throughout. Both are tender and both have swagger. The Fosters breaks gender-defined stereotypes, and that makes it ring very true.
So far, The Fosters passes my Real Lesbian Mom Tests, so this real lesbian mom will be dialing in for more. What do you think?
Click here to see more of the discussion and watch The Fosters on Mondays at 9/8c only on ABC Family.
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