Thomas and Chris Ryan-Lawrence with their son, Noah / Courtesy photo

Family Life with Thomas and Chris Ryan-Lawrence

From their first date together, Thomas and Chris Ryan-Lawrence knew they wanted to have kids. The two working fathers balance successful careers with raising their now 10-year-old son Noah, and they do it with humor and grace. Thomas and Chris sat down with Georgia Voice to talk about their parenting journey and reflect on the past decade of fatherhood.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.


Can y’all introduce yourselves?

T: I grew up in Atlanta, went to school at Georgia State. After that, I started working with the Gay Yellow Pages and from there partnered with that founder and subsequently launched Gayborhood in 2010. Now I’m the founder and executive director of Q+ Equality Foundation.

C: I grew up in Virginia and went to Virginia Tech — go Hokies! — and then moved to Atlanta in 2000. I met Thomas in 2009. I launched my first company at the same time that I met Thomas; he was dating one of my employees. We got married in 2012. Our son was born in 2014.


Have y’all always wanted kids? Growing up gay, did you know having children was an option for you?

T: On our first date, we talked about having kids.

C: My mom used to call me the kid magnet, the kid whisperer, because kids would just run up to me and talk to me. I’ve always loved kids. I was with Lost-n-Found Youth for a while on the board of directors with them, and I’m currently on the board of directors of another youth group. I always wanted to [have kids], but never thought it was a possibility. Once we knew that it was, we went down and explored a lot of different avenues.

T: In the extremely conservative house that I grew up in, I didn’t frankly think it was a possibility to even get married or have a long-term relationship. So yeah, kids were definitely not on my bingo card early on.


You had your son in 2014. How long did it take from deciding to have a kid to that point, and how did you decide it was the right time?

T: As far as the right time, I will say there is no right time. We decided it was something we wanted to move forward on after our wedding, because we didn’t know how long it would take. We really got to explore every option: foster care, domestic adoption, foreign adoption, surrogacy, and we had narrowed it down to two. We either wanted to adopt domestically, because at that time any foreign adoption would have required us to lie [about our sexuality], or we were going to use my sperm, Chris’s sister’s egg, and then a gestational surrogate carrier. We found a doctor’s office and went in for a consult. We both walked out just with the exact same feeling: this isn’t how we’re meant to do this. So, we settled on domestic adoption and from there started the process of finding the right agency and all of that. As far as getting approved to the time our son was born in our hands, it was right at 18 months.

C: Thomas put a very positive spin on the fact of how fast everything went. Have you ever done speed dating? It’s very much the same thing. We got scammed a couple of times. I would never not encourage anyone to start building a family, but from a sense of reality, you’ve got to know that you’re in for a lot of bumps and a lot of joy and a lot of heartache and a lot of enthusiasm. I wouldn’t change being a parent for anything in the world, but it completely changes your life from the moment you start the process.


What has the last ten years been like with your son? You mentioned that having a family changes you completely.

T: The other day, someone said, “What’s it like having a kid?” I wanted to show her, so I asked her for gummy bears 17 times and when I finally got them, I threw them at her face and I cried all while spinning around, throwing water on the artwork. That’s what it’s like to have a kid. Then they do something incredibly cute or something that makes you so proud that it just melts your heart. You’re shaping a little person in a world that is increasingly more negative, a world that’s increasingly more divided. To teach compassion, love and joy and manners, it’s tough.

C: I would tweak one word in that sentence: switch “child” to “terrorist.” We have to accept that this little person’s brain — I’m sorry, little terrorist’s brain — is going to continue to keep developing until he’s 25. He’s funny. He’s smart as a whip. Sarcastic as hell. He gets that from both parents. He is, you know, very athletic. He loves to swim. We’ve shed more tears in the journey of becoming parents and being parents than I think we have in just about any other parts of our lives.

T: We have an awesome relationship with our birth mother; [our son] Noah knows who she is. They text each other. He knows his birth sister, who his mama Tara is parenting. We see them four or five times a year. It’s not challenging with his friends at school because he goes to a fairly diverse school, but kids are kids, right? The both of us show up to an event and they’re like, “Where’s your mom?” And he’s like, “Mama Tara’s in Tennessee.” He knows he can always call her or text her.

Noah goes to a private school, and we were there for Field Day in second grade, and this kid looks at me and he’s like,” So, you’re Noah’s dad” and then looks at Chris and is like, “You’re Noah’s other dad.” And then he asks, “Are y’all married?” Keep in mind this was right as Don’t Say Gay passed in Florida. My only savior in that moment was Noah’s teacher, who is an openly gay man, and he said, “I don’t know why you’re acting surprised. We’ve talked about this in class. A boy can marry a boy. A girl can marry a girl. There are some people who don’t identify as either. Why are you acting shocked?”

All that ran through my head was what if I was in a public school right now? What most people don’t realize about the Don’t Say Gay law is that it’s not just about LGBTQ students. It encapsulates kids of LGBTQ families.


Is Noah at the age where he knows what’s going on in the world and what people think about the LGBTQ community?

T: He’s familiar with politics, that’s something that we’ve never shied away from. He knows exactly what Putin is doing, all the things Trump did. No topic has ever been off the table. It’s just a matter of approaching it in an age-appropriate manner.


Do you have any advice for gay parents or LGBTQ parents in general?

C: Be committed, because no matter which angle you take, there are going to be lots of bumps in the road. Go until something doesn’t feel right, like we did when we were standing in the parking deck with the IVF. Go with your gut. It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. So enjoy the journey of becoming a parent because they’re just milestone after milestone after milestone after milestone.

T: Babies don’t sleep through the night, so you have this point where you have to tag out and swap off. There is no reason to speak to your spouse in between midnight and 6am. If you are the one being handed the baby, don’t ask, “Did you feed them? Did you try to burp him? Did you check a diaper?” Because the response you’re gonna get is…

C: No, I’ve been standing around with a kid screaming and yelling for the past three hours doing nothing! 

T: There’s a change in dynamic that happens whenever any couple brings a kid into the mix. It changes the entire household dynamic, not in a good way, not in a bad way. It’s just different. So, take time for yourself. We did not do this early on, but one of the things that we ended up implementing that we still do now is like Chris has a night out a week and I have a night out the week. I don’t have to go out you know, but if I choose to, he knows that on Wednesday night he is responsible for dinner, I may be here or I may not. It’s important to keep that time and not lose yourself in this new family that you’ve created. I’m not saying do it when the kid’s two weeks old, but just don’t lose yourself because the dynamic changes. I mean, if you didn’t want the dynamic to change, you wouldn’t have brought a baby into it.