Jems Loves GILFs is a series in which we ask parents of all kinds what gives them life.
Help Shawna and Jasper move into the next dimension! Shawna and Jasper are currently fundraising to send one of their niblings to college, buy a house, and get Jasper top surgery. Show your support by donating to their fund.
If it “takes a village to raise a child,” who’s in your village, and how would you like to see it grow?
Jasper: Oh my gosh, we really did raise these kids with the help of probably hundreds of people from all around the country! When we moved to Arizona to become guardians of the kids, we went from being a childless couple to suddenly having four small children and a teenager. We needed our friends and they really came through above and beyond. We had friends doing art classes with the kids on Zoom, a friend who was tutoring one of the kids in math every Sunday for months, another friend's mom worked with them every week one summer to get help prepare them for a new school, there were FaceTime hangouts, my mom would record videos of herself reading a story aloud. Also the internet was really helpful in moments when we were truly at a loss.
Shawna: Our village is a magical, whimsical, ephemeral and chaotic one. Our chosen family and extended circle of queers, punks, self-proclaimed freaks, and eccentrics rallied around us. They poured so much love onto us and the children. All of our community had such a strong impact on the little ones self-expression and open-mindedness. They saw adults who were free and it let them know that they could fully embrace their uniqueness. We've had so much fun together and so many people stepped in so that Jasper and I were able to attend to our mental health and have intentional romantic time together. Many times one of our friends would visit from two hours away so that Jasper and I could take a few days off. I came to realize that parents need so much support. Be it the parent of a movement, creative project, a house mother. Having so many people trust us with their emotional, financial, physical and energetic resources really pushed me (in a good way) to parent intentionally. We are lucky because we are queers and punks and a part of all these other communities and identities that prioritize mutual aid and showing up for one another. I would love it if all parents had access to that sort of support through their communities and extended circle. It seems that the grueling and emotionally challenging aspects of parenting are glossed over. I like to think about non-governmental structures that can support parents.
“Our chosen family rallied around us.”
Tell us about the last time your baby/babies made you laugh (or cry) (or both!).
Shawna: I always laugh when I am secretly observing them at play. They like to play "family" and the youngest is always the mom. We love to travel so they are always pretending to go on road trips. Their family play is hilarious because they emulate how we parent them and wow... Apparently I'm quite the vaudevillian character.
Parenting can be such a balancing act. What keeps you balanced?
Jasper: The barn has been my saving grace. Early on, Shawna really encouraged me to look up somewhere to take riding lessons, since I've always wanted to become a good rider, and it's more affordable out here to ride horses. We found an amazing stable near our house, where we actually both started taking lessons. You have to be fully present when you ride a horse, and their energy is so grounding. Horses have done a lot for me. They're such big animals and they're very sensitive to us. They can be very healing, but you also have to give to them. I rode Rocky for about a year, and he was one of the most empathetic horses at the barn, meaning his energy would match mine so I had to be very grounded so he wouldn't spook at like a leaf blowing in the wind, or a shadow. Showing up to ride, even during the most stressful times of our life, helped keep my head straight. I'm not the best at taking time for myself, I can be a little addicted to responsibility, so it was nice to have something scheduled every week to fill my own cup.
Shawna: Glamour keeps me balanced. I like to take long baths with very hot water, epsom salts, essential oils, and dim lights. The ritual of bathing is a big one for me. After the bath, a full scrub in the shower, then spending a long-time massaging myself while applying a rich moisturizer to my body. Even after a simple shower I'll usually give myself a little foot rub or lower back rub and do a few simple stretches for my hips while moisturizing. Sometimes I'll get extra dressed up with make-up and sometimes a cute wig to lift myself up. Organization keeps me balanced when possible. Doing some hardcore manual labor is always great. I like to keep a very neat space BUT releasing that also helped a lot! The house isn't always going to be clean and that's fine too. Lowering expectations has been a great help!
What’s your favorite toy?
Shawna: My favorite toy is a butt plug. It instantly kicks everything up by ten levels and there's so many fun and exciting things that can be happening at the same time. The best sensory overload. I love that with a butt plug I can take more impact and a little more pain and have extremely intense orgasms.
How has being a parent changed your relationship to your own childhood, inner child or sense of play?
Jasper: I feel like before I was a parent, somewhere along the way I became kind of serious. We went through a lot in our three years of being parents, and I also began transitioning during that time, so I had to power through a lot of my seriousness and tendency to cling to responsibility to really unlock my own happiness through it all. The kids and Shawna both helped me lighten up and be a more fun, playful person. It was important for me to make a safe space for the kids to be happy and play and be imaginative, and in order to do that I had to tap into it myself. I also realized that I was kind of a weird kid, like I would meticulously arrange and set up my toys and keep all the pieces together and I learned that most kids just scatter everything everywhere.
Shawna: Being a parent forced me to come to terms with my emotional wounds from childhood. Certain behaviors or outbursts from the kids would be triggering. I would often realize that maybe I was triggered by certain things because I wasn't allowed to be that way as a child. I really had to stop and examine my emotional reactions. I was able to heal and reconnect with my inner child because in order to be the type of parent I wanted to be, I had to. I felt a lot of compassion for parents, so many are struggling and overwhelmed which directly impacts how they treat their kids. Because I have so much support and have been in therapy, I was able to pause, reflect, identify and strategize how to enact my parental values. Me and the kids had a lot of fun messing with Jasper. Lol. We loved to be silly, have fashion shows, roasting sessions, do characters. I was able to handle stress with a little more grace. Playfulness was an important tool of communication for us, it took the edge off of frustration and allowed us to laugh at one another.
What titles and terms of affection do you use in your family? Are there "moms" "dads" or “guardians”? First names? Nicknames? What language feels most joyful and representative of your family and parenthood?
Jasper: The kids call me by my name. Two of them call me Jaspie which is really cute. I actually changed my name after moving to Arizona to take care of the kids, and they took to it really quickly! Quicker than any of the other adults around me (besides Shawna). A couple of them call me Jaspie, or "MY Jaspie."
Shawna: They just call me Shawna or Shawna Shawnté if they are being sassy. Oh! One of them calls me Shawnzee, which is so cute!
How can we all, whether parents or not, better support today's young people? What are some of the struggles unique to youth today? What are some of today's youth struggles that you remember from your younger days?
Shawna: I think the timeless struggle is one of acceptance. So many people are always telling young people how to be. Also, having conversations. Not telling but asking young people what they think, how they are doing. Asking direct questions, the other day I asked my teenage sister how her mental health is and if she knows what self-care is. It's really important to remember what it felt like when you were young so that there can be a sense of empathy. We have SO MUCH to learn from young people, treat it as a two-way street. I like to share about myself, things I've overcome, challenges I've experienced, mistakes I've made as funny stories that have important information. I think it can be intimidating to have boundaries with teens but I firmly believe that you have to be a little in their business, ask them direct questions, make sure they come down and eat dinner with the family, know what's going on with their relationships. Let them tell you things and respond honestly but not overbearingly. All people want to feel loved, seen and accepted. Give the young people in your life compliments about who they are, their skills. Give them hugs and reassurance. Let them see you being yourself, loving yourself and setting boundaries.
If you liked this interview, please consider donating to Shawna and Jasper’s next dimension fundraiser.