OK, confession time: I don’t know a thing about interior design. But as the birth mother to a little boy who's being raised by a same-sex couple, I love meeting gay parents — and, selfishly, seeing if I can steal pointers that I can take back to my son’s daddies. So I was delighted to interview famous gays Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent, one of the most visible gay couples on television today.
With their TLC show Nate & Jeremiah by Design (in which their 3-year-old daughter, Poppy, prominently features), Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent have endeavored to normalize families like theirs. And they’ve just welcomed a new addition to said family: Oskar, born via surrogate (as was Poppy).
Read on for Berkus’ and Brent's thoughts about how to keep your home elegant — yes, even with kids around — as well as the surrogacy process and the importance of representation.
SheKnows: It’s so great to get to meet you both. I’m actually the birth mother to a baby being raised by gay dads.
Nate Berkus: Oh, amazing!
SK: I shouldn’t say “baby.” He’s almost 6. So I was extremely excited to meet some more two-daddy families.
Jeremiah Brent: You’re a superhero.
NB: You are a superhero. That’s so amazing.
SK: Thank you! So, I wanted to start by asking: You’ve got these two ruffians running around — or who will be running around shortly. How do you keep your home elegant when you’ve got little kids? Kids are not inherently elegant.
JB: You know what? We have always believed in curating the energy of the house. I set that energy every morning when I wake up. There’s candles lit. I light the palo santo. The windows are open with the fountain, and there’s always music playing. We’re really cognizant of the energy of the home. And at least in our experience, it’s really changed and shifted the way the kids interact. There’s always a calm space. You know, there’s always toys, Poppy’s older now, and there’s stuff everywhere, but the ceremony of putting everything away — she’s got her chores now that she has to check off — it’s about respecting the home. We were raised to respect our homes, and we’re trying to raise our children to respect the home.
NB: And both of us really have focused on assembling a home that’s filled with meaning and filled with things that feel personalized and that tell our story. And so we’re teaching our daughter — our son is obviously too little — but we’re teaching our daughter to respect things. Because things are important in our home; they’re totems for us, of memories and places that we’ve been and people that we love. Poppy knows… to care for her own things, and put them away, as Jer said, and be part of what our household is about, not just her zones.
SK: That’s beautiful. And speaking of Poppy, as a birth mother, I was super-curious about your surrogacy process. Was it the same surrogate for both Oskar and Poppy? Did you encounter any setbacks in the process?
JB: It’s different surrogates for both kids. And to be frank with you, we had really beautiful experiences both times. We’ll spend our entire lives thanking our surrogates for what they did and helping make our family whole. We’re still very close to both of them. Our kids will know them. They’re part of the story and the fabric of our family. And it took a lot of love to get those kids here. It’s a beautiful start for our family. It’s born from love. That’s what we tell the kids.
NB: We wanted those relationships to be sustainable so that when our daughter or our son asks, “How did I come to be?” we not only have an explanation, but we can make an introduction. And so it was very important for us. A lot of people talk about the transactional nature of surrogacy, but people don’t really talk about the emotional nature as well, which it can be. And it can be.
SK: Absolutely. And adoption and surrogacy are obviously different processes, but I really hear you about all the love that went into making this family happen. I can feel that.
JB: Well, you know it firsthand. It’s a big deal.
NB: We worked with an agency for both children, the same agency, called Growing Generations, and I asked the woman who runs the agency, “What do we tell our daughter when she asks who her mother is?” And the thing that she shared with us that still resonates very much is: “We wanted you so badly that it took a lot of people to make it happen, and a really wonderful person decided to help us make you.”
SK: Yeah, and I think that’s a great way to put it. And is it separate surrogates and egg donors?
JB: Yeah, it’s all separate.
SK: What one thing about parenting do you wish you’d known before becoming parents?
JB: How great it is. I mean, it’s a layer to your life that I don’t think anybody could expect. Or at least neither of us expected it. It kind of shifts the lens that you look at the world [through]; it brings life back into life again, laughter and silliness and warmth and struggle. It’s just a new lens, and we’re having the best time looking through it.
NB: It’s so special because in many ways, you’re responsible for these people, new people, and it also returns you back to some of the most simple things. Like, I remember with our daughter when she was first born, I said to Jeremiah, “When was the last time I laid down on my back on a blanket in a public park?” With an infant laying next to us? I haven’t been outside laying down on my back, not in a pool chair on a vacation, for 30 years. Now, I’m watching the sky and the leaves rustle. And it’s a reconnection, I think, not only to the children, but to nature and to yourself. It really simplifies a lot. People talk about how complicated parenthood is, and we’re no experts. I mean, obviously — our daughter’s 3, not even 3-1/2 yet), but I don’t think people talk about how grounding it can be.
SK: I know my son’s daddies sometimes struggle to find other queer families to hang out with. Do you have other two-daddy families in your life?
JB: We’re gonna change that. That’s the point. That’s why it’s so important, even today, the fact that we’re getting to partner with a company like Huggies, with Made By You…
NB: …That knows every family doesn’t look the same.
JB: …That celebrates individuality and customization and just that inclusion. That’s what this is all about. This is the ripple. Right? People look up and our kids are gonna come today and see that our family’s being celebrated. They don’t know anything different than that. So we’re trying to change that. We’ve been really lucky because we live on both coasts that we get to be around other gay families and that it’s normal, but I never saw this in an ad when I was growing up. I never saw two dads putting their kids, creating something together…
NB: …on television…
JB: …Watching them on television. So we take it very seriously, and that’s our goal. I want this to be as normal as you think normal is.
SK: Yes! Also, one of you is Buddhist; one of you is Jewish. What role do you think your faith has played in your parenting?
NB: Wow, that’s a really great question. I would say, more than religious, we’re spiritual as a family. We tend to believe in anything that really honors who our children were meant to be. Both of us believe that you come here and you arrive and you are predisposed — you’re in there somewhere. And our job as parents is to make that as easy and as celebratory… and safe as possible. So we don’t have expectations of our kids. We’d like them to be good people. We’d like them to have nice manners. But beyond that…
JB: …they’re on their own.
NB: Yeah. If one wants to be a linebacker, we really don’t have any control over that. And we don’t need them to be in design; we don’t need anything from our children. We just want to make that sure we create an environment that allows them to be who they were meant to be.
JB: Giving them the gift of freedom. And that is a very powerful thing as a parent to give your child. We give them all the tools that they can have and need, but beyond that, this is their life, and I hope they have as much fun with it as we are.