Better Off With Straight Parents.

We had a good friend visiting for the weekend with a friend who had recently separated from a civil partnership and was voicing her feelings that she wanted to meet a man and to start a family.

We were somewhat surprised and we had a number of questions, not least of which was why she felt she needed to be in a straight relationship to have children, we were even more surprised when the answer was that her therapist had said raising children in straight relationships was of course better than raising them in gay ones.

Our immediate challenge to this was met with ‘but of course it’s better, that’s obvious isn’t it!? Children are at an immediate disadvantage if they have gay parents’.

We were ourselves a gay couple en route to starting a family so we were shocked to even have the question put to us – let alone from a bi sexual woman in a manner that suggested we would of course agree.

We didn’t agree then and we sure as hell don’t agree now, after five years of being adoptive parents there has not been one single thing that we have felt our sons would have benefited from had they had straight parents instead of us, not one single thing that puts our sons at any kind of disadvantage – in fact as I see them grow with a wonderful understanding and acceptance of diversity I could possibly argue the exact opposite.

The utopian notion that all children with a mother and father are brought up in a loving, healthy and stable environment is simply ridiculous as it totally ignores the everyday reality of difficult, challenged, less capable adults as well as ignoring poor parenting, poor relationships, divorce, single mothers, step parents, bereaved partners…the list goes on.

Regardless, what exactly do people think straight parents do or can give that is better than gay ones can?

What is ‘better’ for a child is having GOOD parents who are dedicated to their role of parenting and good parents can of course be straight or gay.

The majority of gay parents have adopted and like most adoptive parents we work very hard at trying to be good parents – maybe even harder knowing the prejudice that is stacked against us. Beyond the initial training that we all receive my partner and I have read books galore, been on courses and regularly research parenting and adoption sites on the internet, in addition we are constantly discussing the difficulties that we face and how we should go about dealing with them. I know that we get lots of stuff wrong and I am sure that our sons will grow up questioning some of their upbringing (which I think is actually quite healthy), but we can be sure that we have given 100% and that we have absolutely tried our best, I do question how many straight parents of birth children – who we are compared unfavourable to – can honestly say the same.

The above episode is of course far from the only time I have heard the ‘better off with straight parents argument’ and it always strikes me as mightily ironic that the people making it conveniently overlook the fact that in this country it is almost exclusively bad parenting from straight parents that result in children being taken into care in the first place.

Equally they over look the many millions of children who have been brought up by closeted gay parents living a straight life.

P.S. It is a little known fact (as it tended to go ‘under the radar’) that long before gay adoption became legal, children were occasionally placed with single adopters who were gay or in gay relationships with only one partner being registered as the legal parent and it is hugely ironic that it was only the children who needed extra special parenting, special care and a huge amount of attention (such as children with severe mental or physical special needs) and who stood little (if any) chance of being adopted by heterosexuals.

This to me suggests that those responsible for these placements (potential those that know best) have never had any real concern with gay parenting.

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12 Blogs 5: When was your best Christmas ever?

When was your best Christmas ever and why?

Easy – The one when my dad came back.

It was 1976 and my parents had recently separated.

As a small child I must have missed the more obvious signs of what was to come but i do remember being woken up in the night by sound of my mother crying and when morning came my dad was gone. It was a strange feeling.

It followed close on the heels of the hottest summer imaginable. My dad and I seemed to practically live up at the outdoor swimming pool and I can remember laughing my head off with him over and over again in the water, as well as brilliant family BBQ’s where we were allowed to stay up late in the heat. I thought everything was perfect.

Then Autumn came and he was gone and the atmosphere in our house became confusing- and sombre.

Memories of this tine are like snapshots…

Day Trips out with my dad – when it slowly dawned on me that he was willing to buy me whatever I wanted! Brilliant! That had never happened before…

Catching my mum crying when she didn’t know I was watching…

Teachers suddenly paying me much closer attention and asking if I was ok.. apparently I didn’t have to stay at school all day if I didn’t feel I could manage it.. Again – brilliant! That had never happened before! – I thought I was OK.

Then Christmas was on it’s way and my Grandparents arrived much earlier than usual. That’s when it hit me. It suddenly dawned on me that my dad was not going to be there on the big day and I can remember an unleashing of sadness and fear that I had somehow managed to suppress up until that point.

Christmas without my dad seemed awful. Wrong. Unthinkable.

Nonetheless festive preparations carried on and as the tree went up and presents appeared underneath it, there was an inescapeable atmosphere of something being missing, and as a child I felt the overwhelming need to try and fix it. It felt like my life depended on it but I didn’t have the tools to do so.
So instead I just worried and worried and watched.

Then Christmas Eve came and there was a knock at the door. My mum said “why don’t you get it?”

It was my dad! He was back! They’d sorted things out.

What I remember most of that night is him lying on the floor laughing while me and my brother crawled all over him in a marathon wrestling session because we couldn’t get enough.

It was the best Christmas ever because my family got back together but it has also stayed with me for another reason.

I soaked up everything that was going on in that house in the lead up to the best Christmas ever and it has been with with me ever since.
And I have come to realise that this is what children do. we cannot protect them by telling them what’s going on is not their fault, it doesn’t go in. Doesn’t compute because it is not a conscious decision to worry. It just happens…

I remember this Christmas more clearly than any of the others and I’m sure a big part of that is because of the fear and worry that things were not right. I was vigilante the entire time and it imprinted on my memory.

Whatever we’re going through, it seeps into the very being of our children and leaves a mark.

If I hear songs that were popular around that time, I still get taken back to the time my dad left and the feeling of deep uncertainly I learned to live with.

Memories are physical as well as mental and we carry them around good and bad. As do our own children on daily basis.

12 Blogs #3 Woof.

It was our sons first Christmas in their new school.

They had only been with us for 3 months and as new parents we were so excited to be attending the school nativity.

They were both on stage and the oldest even had a line – well actually a word.

Looking back at those early days of placement one of the strongest memories is just how emotional it all was, it was a bit overwhelming in many ways and it seemed that even the slightest thing could result in an unexpected tear or two. Any conversation about our wondrous new sons – especially when discussing their past – would make us choke up and god forbid sitting down to watch a slushy Hollywood movie or TV programme, no matter how obvious or manipulative we could see they were – they would inevitably became a vehicle to let out all our emotions and would have us in floods of tears every time.

Regardless of that, we (maybe foolishly) had not anticipated shedding a tear at the school nativity.

Just what resulted in this public display of emotion?

It was of course the moment our son stood to say his one line – no, his one word.

Sweet you may think and maybe even not that unexpected, however maybe a little more surprising when I tell you that as he was playing a dog (don’t ask how that fits into the nativity, we are still trying to work it out 5 years later), all he had to do was bark!

‘Woof’ he said – and the tears flowed.

10 Missed Calls

Like many today I am somewhat attached to my smart phone and I have it within reach pretty much constantly. However I was recently away on holiday and just decided that I wanted a day without it so left it behind on a trip to the beach. I didn’t miss it at all and in fact I barely gave it a thought throughout the day.

Arriving back at the accommodation it wasn’t sitting out anywhere obvious and I was still happy to be without it, some time later we were leaving to meet friends for dinner so I searched out my phone. I discovered that my brother had called, in fact I could see that he had called 10 times throughout the day as my phone was displaying 10 missed calls. There was also an SMS – ‘Call me bro’. That all seemed a bit keen – in fact it seemed a bit desperate.

Our 79 year old father had recently spent 3 1/2 months in hospital, finally recovered and well he had been moved into a care home just three weeks earlier – so of course I assumed this was about him:

– Had he had another fall and broken another bone or two?
– Had he caught yet another nasty, dangerous infection?
– Had he organised a alcohol fuelled party against the home rules?
– Had he insulted a resident or carer in the home and was getting his marching orders?
– Had he done a runner in his wheelchair?

These and other thoughts ran through my mind as I made the call to my brother. He answered and after asking how the holiday was going, he said ‘Sorry bro, there is no easy way to say this – Dad has died’.

It was a total shock, I had left my father less than a week earlier and although very unhappy to be in the home, he was physically well.

We had already set off for the restaurant and I was walking a little ahead of my family and friends, how to handle this information – most significantly for our two adopted sons – suddenly became the most relevant issue at hand and from necessity it had to take priority over my own emotions. Our sons have suffered so much loss in their short lives and it has clearly impacted our youngest quite severely and I had no idea how this further loss would affect him or his brother and of course being on holiday added an additional dimension and difficulty to breaking such shocking news.

Telling children of the loss of anybody close to them is difficult, however with the extra level of loss an adopted child has experienced it possibly makes it even more of a concern. Our sons knew that their grandfather had been very poorly in hospital, but they also knew that he had recovered and was well and they had visited him a few times over the past few weeks.

As I finished the conversation with my brother I was already aware that I needed to contain myself and to not give any indication of how I was feeling as I knew immediately that I would need to prepare the boys for the news over a period of time. Also, as we were leaving the next day we would soon be home, which I figured would be a much more secure environment for then to deal with the information.

So I said nothing, which of course made for a rather difficult meal and end to the day for me. However, I actually started to realise that I was also allowing myself to process the loss and deal with the shock privately, which I appreciated. I shared the news with my partner and friends after the boys were tucked up in bed and then the following morning I simply said to the boys that I had spoken with their uncle who had said that Granddad had become quite ill again and that we were quite worried, then again the following day when we were back home I brought it up and said that Granddad had sadly got even worse and as he was an old man we were very concerned that he was so weak. On the third day I said that there was no improvement and that things looked very bad – then that evening we told them that Granddad had sadly died.

They were clearly a little upset, but both of them appeared to take the news well. They had immediately started to ask if he was going to die when I first said that he was unwell again and I had answered that it was possible and having a couple of days to process the possibility I think at least helped remove the shock. We have spoken about Granddad almost everyday since and both boys wanted to come to the funeral, where they were very well behaved and respectful of the occasion, which we feel was evidence of them dealing with their emotions.

I am sure they will be processing the loss for sometime now, but it does however seem that they are coping with it. We of course will not take that for granted and will keep an eye on them and hopefully will be able to recognise any difficulties if they arise.

Meanwhile we will continue to talk about Granddad as still being very much part of our lives and we will share the many happy memories we have, hopefully the loss is then wrapped in warmth and love and positivity. I have learnt for myself that the best way for me to cope with loss is to always think of something happy, wonderful and positive about the loved ones who are no longer with us in a way that warms my heart and with each of those thoughts comes a smile – a genuine smile from deep down – and it’s very hard to be sad when you are smiling. This I am trying to pass on to my sons, for the loss they are suffering now and indeed for the loss they have suffered in the past.

Yearning for secure attachment

I assume that most adopters feel that the most crucial aspect of our relationship with our child/children initially is getting them to attach. I think it’s fair to say that we feel that attachment proves that we are doing a good job, that we are creating real security and that we are ‘getting it right’, in fact that we are unquestionably becoming a ‘complete’ family – and the sooner that it is achieved the better.

It’s only natural that we all yearn for that child/parent bond to be significant as quickly as possible, the bond that we are enviously aware is no doubt automatically there with birth children, yet is one that we have to work hard to achieve as adopters – after all we are competing with the ghosts of birth parents, foster parents and other parental figures that have been in their life prior to us, maybe even a teacher or a grandparent, aunt/uncle or older sibling.

Our children arrive as strangers and although they reassuringly turn to us right from the start we know that it is as their care givers and that it is led by circumstance and need – not emotion. We take what is on offer and as time goes by maybe even start to kid ourselves that it is real even though we know that it is too soon and more than we should be expecting, regardless we know that we have to keep trying, keep doing the best that we can to win our way into their hearts.

And gradually we see change, we see a increasing level of closeness, an intimacy that is new and of course so very rewarding. We feel that all our hard work is paying off and we allow ourselves to assume that all those fears of damaged attachment that the social workers planted in our minds throughout the preparation course and beyond are indeed unfounded – even for those of us who may have children who have been diagnosed with attachment disorder. We feel fortunate to have escaped the issues we were told could so clearly be a part of our life – forever.

Or maybe not! Maybe our child/children are not as settled as we hope for and maybe we are dealing with difficulties, with challenging behaviour, behaviour that we are truly struggling with, maybe there are clear signs that the attachment is questionable, signs that I think many of us chose to disregard or play down in attempts to convince ourselves that they have indeed attached, or at least started to attach.

My partner and I certainly did, we saw clear signs that our sons had attached from quite early on in the placement, or more to the point – we felt it. We felt the love, the bond, we felt the attachment and it seemed so real – and in the case of our oldest son amazingly it seems that it was.

However for our younger son, it is now evident that we really have been fooling ourselves. We certainly knew he had issues, which we always put down to the trauma he suffered. We knew that he was diagnosed with attachment disorder and that he displayed behaviour reflecting this, yet we still believed that there was true attachment. We feel his love, we see his joy when he interacts with us, we see his need for us and the unquestionable security that we bring.

Yet now we know that it is just not enough and that we still have a way to go regardless of the more than 5 years we have been together and we also know – and now accept – that there may never be full secure attachment.

Because of behaviour problems (mostly at school) he recently underwent a phycological assessment in view to undertake ‘theraplay’ and we have been truly shocked by one set of results in particular.

The therapist had asked our son to draw a circle and then a larger circle around this and the same again and again. She then asked him to think of all the relationships he has had and currently has in his life and starting in the centre circle write the names of the people that are most important to him and then work his way out as the relationships feel less important.

Our son wrote just 5 names, 4 in the centre and one in the second circle. These names include the one constant in his life – his brother – as well as his one and only friend and the family dog. Shockingly these 5 names did not include either myself or my partner.

They also did not include birth parents, long term foster parents (of almost 3 years), other siblings (who we are still in contact with regularly), a new aunt who he was especially close to until her death 3 years ago or any other of his new extended family – other than Granddad (my father), who we have not witnessed a particularly close bond to and who sadly has just died – adding to our son’s loss.

The therapist gave us time to digest the information and then said that she realised that it must be difficult to hear, but in fact was not too surprising. She pointed out that he had left off all the people he has got close to who have in some way deserted him – undermining his attachment. She said that our absence was evidence that he was still not able to fully attach to us because of the fear (probably subconscious fear) that we too would ultimately let him down and leave him – as all these people in his life before us have and as indeed Granddad has now done too.

We know the loss he has suffered has severely affected him, but I guess we hoped that we had broken through that and that the close, loving relationship that we have is proof of secure attachment and that we really had reassured him that we are not just here for him now, but that we always will be.

We just hope more than anything in the world that we will eventually get there. The positive is that we are optimistic and even if full secure attachment never happens, we feel confident that he will always know how much we love him and that we will always be here for him, no matter what.

Reawakening – Tiara 2

When booking a recent holiday to DisneyWorld, my partner searched online for recommendations of essential things to do, and regardless of how inappropriate I felt it would be for our family he duly booked ‘Dinner with the Disney Princesses’.

Our oldest son (10) was mortified when we told him and he made us promise we would not tell his friends, surprisingly his 15 year old sister was actually quite excited… as indeed was his 9 year old brother.

Three years ago I wrote a blog about our youngest’s love of jewellery (which he calls his treasure) and the piece he most valued and wore with pride – a Tiara. Over the years since we started to see less and less of his Tiara and he hasn’t worn it for maybe a year or so, in fact he generally seems a little less fascinated by his ‘treasure’ nowadays.

It was the day of the dinner and we found ourselves in one of the dozens of shops selling everything Disney – including princess Tiaras, our youngest with a twinkle in his eye and a smile lighting up his face immediately sees one and puts it on. ‘I think I need this for tonight’ he says. Knowing it will probably be worn once and forgotten about we point out that he has his own money and it needs to be spent on what he thinks will be best value.

The Tiara it was.

That evening there was noticeable excitement between him and his sister as they discussed what was about to unfold. We arrived at the genuinely impressive DisneyWorld Castle and were ushered in and met by Cinderella (for a ‘photo op’), our son was clearly enthralled and stood starring at Cinders with his mouth slightly ajar and a look of true wonder on his face.

We were seated and then our waitress appeared with a wand and two swords, on being offered his sword our son asked for a wand instead and was duly brought one. The dinner is a three course meal, throughout which you are visited by a number of princesses who engage with the children and pose for photos. It was evident that our son was truly taken in by the whole experience, but just how much so was only evident as we left and he beckoned me over and said ‘Daddy can I buy a Princess dress?’.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I hesitated before responding. As I explained in my previous blog we pride ourselves on never judging our sons for their choices and just want them to be happy for who and what they are, but I guess I was caught off guard and by a request that was more surprising than we have seen previously. In my moment of hesitation his sister (with a clearly judgemental look on her face) declared ‘of course not, you are a boy’, and on witnessing the crest fallen expression this resulted in I immediately corrected her and said ‘of course you can, if that is really what you want’ but could not stop myself from adding ‘but only if you are really sure’ – his smile returned as he nodded ‘yes’. Full credit to his sister at this point as she looked at me and said ‘ Wow, I think it’s really cool how you don’t care about ‘that stuff’.

Next morning we awoke and with an ever broadening smile the first thing he said was ‘We are getting my princess dress today aren’t we?’ confirming his desire and decision to go ahead. On entering the park we were dragged to the shop where unbeknown to us he had apparently spied the dresses the previous day – but interestingly had said nothing at the time. It’s a large store and entering from the opposite end we were walking around looking for the dresses and I see a sign above an entrance that says ‘Girls section – Princess Dresses’. Without thinking I point it out and we head in that direction, however our son pulls me back and says ‘Daddy it says ‘For girls’, I dismiss his apparent concern with ‘don’t worry about that, it’s just the shop being silly’ and carry on. However, as we reach the dresses it is clear that the excitement has left him and with a noticeable sign of misgiving from our son we start to look through the dresses. I realise what has happened and I ask if he has changed his mind and he says ‘I don’t know’ confirming to me that he does indeed still want a dress, but has been confused by the sign we have just walked under.

I notice my son looking around and I see a sea of little girls all excitedly running around picking out dresses and various ‘princess’ accessories and I realise that there is not another boy – or indeed father – present. There was a desire to dismiss his concerns again and to try to make him realise that is doesn’t matter about anybody else and that this is about him and his own choices, but I stop myself. I realise that in fact he is now at an age where there is clearly a stronger comprehension of what his choices represent in the wider world around him. Realising that his decision to say ‘he doesn’t want it’ is as important as the decision to say that he does, stops me from encouraging him in a direction he is he now clearly less comfortable with.

I say that we are going to look around the rest of the shop and if and when he feels that he wants to come back and look at the dresses we will, we leave the ‘For Girls’ section and do not return. In fact a princess dress has not been mentioned since.

I feel saddened that he was so clearly ‘shamed’ into repressing such a clear and natural desire, however I do feel confident that it was a decision he reached with a full understanding that we would support him no matter what.

We still feel that his ‘feminine’ side is not at all an indication of any confusion around his sex or indeed his sexuality, from day one we have been acutely aware of his more boyish side too and we have a house full of decidedly ‘masculine’ toys which he plays with and enjoys – in fact as I write this he is upstairs with his brother in the middle of a ‘Nerf gun war’ (so much for our ‘no guns’ policy). He is every bit a little boy and in fact is quite into rough and tumble and is far too handy with his fists which gets him into trouble with some frequency.

I guess he is just growing up and we are seeing signs of a maturity that is leading to new and different decisions. As we were told to expect, being adopted he is young for his age and I think that maybe we were seeing him living out his ‘toddler years’ with us, which sadly he was deprived of at the time.

He can be the sweetest, most charming little boy and we can’t help fearing that side of him could be crushed as the masculine side dominates, that would sadden us and we will always be encouraging him to ‘be himself’ and we just hope that means himself will be one that comes from within and is not too conditioned by the wider society around him.

Daddies are bad.

Daddies are bad because they get up early and go to work before I wake up so we can’t have a hug and a kiss and even though I said they couldn’t have a hug and a kiss for a billion years and twenty-eight, they could.

Daddies are bad because they say the mushroom pool is closed for swimming because they want to go the heated warm one instead.

Daddies are bad because they don’t sing to me at bedtime like Mummy and when they do they don’t sound as nice as Mummy.

Daddies are bad because sometimes when they tickle me it makes me do a little wee in my pants.

Daddies are bad because they’re boys and Mummy’s not a boy and I’m not and girls are better.

Daddies are good because they let me steal money from their pockets and put it in my money box.

Daddies are good because they hold me upside down and spin me round and make me laugh, but one time they made my nose bleed but it didn’t hurt.

Daddies are good because they sometimes don’t do the voices when they read at bedtime when I tell them not to, but their voices are quite good actually. Excepting for Merida; that’s not good.

Daddies are good because they sometimes pick me up when my legs are tired and then they hug me and kiss me, because that’s a rule, and even though they’re not supposed to for a billion years and twenty eight.

Daddies are good because they do the rough-and-tumble and when I do Number 4 from my rough and tumble book and jump on them, they laugh and say “I submit” and don’t mind when I keep doing it anyway.

But Daddies are bad because they say they can’t do Number 4 from their rough-and-tumble book on me til I’m six. And I really want to disappear and come back again. But I’m only 5. That’s bad.