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.

Not in front of the children.

We were getting to the end of our assessment and panel was rapidly approaching, it had been long, intense and surprisingly emotional. We had a great social worker who we felt we got along with very well and who we found to be professional and very capable.

Suddenly we hit a huge stumbling block and the process came to a grinding halt when our agency received an anonymous and vicious email saying that we were unfit to parent. The content of the email was relatively simple to disprove or render irrelevant, however the fact that we had somebody in our lives capable of sending such an email was of grave concern to social services, our social worker worked hard with us and got us over this significant hurdle and we do feel it could have been far more complicated and I guess even fatal to the process had it not been handled with such professionalism and determination.

A number of the issues raised in the email did relate to us being a gay couple and although we had felt that processing a gay couple was probably reletively new for our Social Worker (as indeed it would have been for many/most at that time) and possibly even quite personally challenging, we never felt judged or criticised in any way.

Except for this once that is. There were a couple of loose ends to tie up before our report was finalised and we received a phone call to give a response to two or three final questions. One of which was ‘how will you explain to your children that you are gay’, with very little thought I responded ‘well I don’t think there will ever be a need to explain it to them as such, they will be living with us and experiencing it first hand’.

The conversation that followed went like this –

SW – Well they won’t understand unless you tell them.

Me – Of course they will, they will clearly see it, it will just be part of their lives.

SW – But how would they know and understand what they are seeing?

Me – Well they will see us living and functioning as a couple and they will see the love that we have for each other.

SW – But how, what would make them understand?

Me – They would see the intimacy, see us showing our love.

Puzzeld SW – but how?

Me – Well, by going about our lives as a couple, by us embracing, by us kissing etc

Shocked SW – but surely you wouldn’t be kissing in front of the children!

It was very much a reactive response, obviously delivered with no real thought and as such it certainly didn’t feel as though it carried any kind of animosity. I think it simply displayed her true comfort level around homosexuality (as opposed to any kind of homophobia) and consequently I took no offence, I responded ‘Well of course we will, just like you and your husband, or indeed any straight couple kiss and cuddle in front of your children’ and this was enough to bring the conversation back on track.

It was one blimp in an otherwise totally professional handling of us and if it was an insight into her true feelings then I feel that it emphasised just how professional she had been over all.

I am sure it was just a lack of first hand experience and I feel sure that nothing of the sort ever happened in any another gay cases she has handled since.

Gay adoption then (7 plus years ago) was still relatively new and social workers would often have been dealing with their first gay adopters – which I think was probably the case with us – so of course it would have been a steep learning curve for many.

As I say, it was just one minor blimp and from conversations with gay adopters who have gone through the process more recently it is the kind of ‘faux pas’ that is now no doubt relegated to ancient history.

One step ahead of the bully.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only objection voiced to us as a gay couple when we decided to adopt, amazingly came from gay friends. None of our straight friends or family thought of it as anything other than a wonderful decision, for us and indeed for our future children.

The objection was a pretty standard one: ‘they will be bullied for having gay parents’, it just came from quite a surprising source.

Naturally we defended our decision and stated that children are bullied for a myriad of reasons, often related to their parents. I pointed out that children at my school were teased because their parents were considered – old, fat, lazy (unemployed), dirty and in one very memorable case ugly. Should all these parents have been banned from having children because their offspring would be bullied as many of their peers found the parents worthy of ridicule?

Of course not, so why should that only be a consideration for gay parenting? When I hear it from broader society I assume it’s just being used to mask homophobia, but when I heard it from within the gay community I was truly shocked. However, with some thought I realised that it was no doubt a direct reaction to what we suffer in our childhood, growing up gay and being bullied – directly or indirectly -for it.

Unlike most of the parents from my childhood who were oblivious to their children being bullied because of them – and consequently could do nothing to help – we are fully aware of the prospect of bullying and we arm our children well, they have a full understanding, respect and indeed pride for having gay parents.

They will never see a negative in the word gay as they are being brought up with it as a matter of fact part of their lives, they are taught that others ‘choose’ to see it as something bad and that as wrong as we may think that is, it is their perogative.

When confronted with that we have to understand that it is just their choice and that it has no value to us. Of course we also share with them that idealistic view of bullies as being the ‘weak’ ones which is why they bully and to treat bullying almost like a weird kind of compliment as it is saying that they actually feel ‘less’ than you and that they are probably threatened by you in some way. Although of course not always true I do think it’s something for a bullied child to get reassurance from.

I don’t for one moment think that we will eliminate the hurt that bullying can cause, but we are hoping that we can at least soften the blow if our children are exposed to it. We are trying to raise children who will be fully open and be able to share with us if they are being bullied and who are strong enough to keep it in perspective.

Whether we like it or not bullying is a sad reality of school life/childhood and I think it just seems to be an inevitability that we all have to teach our children to be aware of and to face up to. Are we not fooling ourselves as parents if we feel that our child/children will not be exposed to it and would we not be doing them a disservice if we did not prepare them in some way?

As much as we can hope that the schools are on top of it, I think the best we can expect from them is that they lessen it or control it, but certainly not eliminate it completely – regardless of the best of intentions and of any Zero tolerance policies they may have in place.

Personally I think it’s similar to how we need to make our children aware of the dangers of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, it’s inevitable that they will be exposed to these and even see their peers embracing them and I feel we have to prepare them for that and give them as much knowledge as possible for them to make the right decisions.

By preparing our children I think we would be taking away the power from the bullies and hopefully putting it in the hands of the bullied by making them strong and not feel like ‘victims’.

None of us want to think of our child being bullied – but the fact is we can stick our head in the sand stating that ‘it is unacceptable and should not happen’ while it goes on regardless or we can face the reality of it and accept that children are being bullied on a daily basis regardless of every effort by us the parents or the schools or even society at large to prevent it.

Also let’s not forget that as much as us parents should be aware that our children could be exposed to bullying we also have to accept that for some of us it will be our children doing the bullying.

Now that’s an even tougher one to get our heads around.

Kissing

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We kiss our sons – endlessly.

We kiss them pretty much at every opportunity and anywhere that we can reach – neck, tummy, feet, toes, bottom, back, legs, arm, head, back of their hands, all over their faces and of course on their lips. In fact if we are kissing each other in a good morning greeting or at bed time or even an embrace throughout the day it would feel strange not to kiss them on the lips.

My partner and I were kissed as children by both our parents (which isn’t as obvious to some as we may assume) and we don’t think twice about it with our sons. In fact if I stop and consider it at all I would say that we saw it as a bit of a short cut to bonding and attachment and a way of showing them that we were open emotionally to them right from the start.

We were lucky because they are cuddly little boys who are clearly as happy with this intimacy as we are and it was obvious that they were right from the moment we were brought together (of course it may not be appropriate for all adopted children – especially when first placed).

However we have been surprised to discover that some of our friends are a little uncomfortable with our overt shows of affection, especially the kissing on the lips. We are even more surprised that it is in fact our fellow gay friends who apparently have the biggest problem with it.

What’s that about? Thinking about it I wonder if it is the result of years of oppression and a forced need to be discrete with displays of male on male affection, or even worse a reaction against that shameful and totally ignorant linking of homosexuality and peadophilia and a fear that a man kissing a boy could be blurring the lines in the minds of the pathetic, mindless bigots.

Actually here in the UK there seems to be huge confusion about the whole ‘kissing thing’ in general and for the majority there seems to be a reluctance to kiss anybody in any situation.

For me when growing up in the 60’s/70’s kissing on the mouth was very much a ‘family’ thing, extended family all kissed as an hello or goodbye, with certain members stealing locked lipped smooches from us kids any time in between – I guess this was especially true from Grandmothers and Aunties. There became a point/age when the men stopped kissing the kids and this interestingly included my father, but I can’t say I recall exactly when that was, but I would estimate around the time we became teenagers. Do straight dads became scared that it is just too gay or just not manly enough?

Then I moved to London and found myself surrounded by friends from all over the world and I soon discovered that greeting somebody outside the family with a kiss was actually expected of certain cultures – but of course never on the mouth. I also discovered that it had been adopted by the gay community and was a standard greeting amongst gay friends.

I’m a tactile person and I liked this and made a conscious decision to embrace it – at least when greeting women or gay friends whom I encountered throughout my day – and I have attempted to make a peck on both cheeks my form of greeting ever since, which over the years I have become aware of as being taken up by many others Brits.

Yet this now leads to such confusion. My family – especially the older members immediately felt a bit offended that I was ‘avoiding’ kissing them on the mouth and thought that I was going all ‘continental ‘ on them and getting a bit above my station.

English friends who I had never greeted with a kiss previously were clearly shocked to have me move in on their space and plant a smacker on their cheek – it was actually barely a touching of cheeks, but one would have thought it was a French kiss by the reaction of some.

And clearly not all people I encountered were as comfortable with it as I am, but how do you know who is and who isn’t, how do we know what greeting is expected of us? This lack of a standard way of greeting in the UK is frustrating and at times even embarrassing.

So what are we suppose to do? I reckon the only way is to go for it with what you are most happy with and stand your ground, I appreciate that it may be uncomfortable for some, but I do feel that they need to ‘get with the programme’.

I think it’s fair to say that as a nation we have a history of being very sexually repressed which I think is the route of the issue here. However, surely things have moved on and in these times of such sexually abandon where just about anything goes isn’t it confusing that a civilised, human greeting such as a peck on the cheeks is still considered questionable and for some inappropriate?
P.S. This blog was written months ago, but it suddenly seems very topical following the outrage and consequent debate around a beautiful photo (bouncing around social media this week) of Victoria Beckham kissing her 5 yr old daughter – on the mouth.

It made me realise that the issue is clearly not just a gay one and that it is quite definitely all about sex, from reading various ‘opinions’ and listening to the subject being debated it was obvious to me that those who have an issue with it do so because of their inability to separate a loving and affectionate parental kiss from a kiss of passion between sexual partners.

To us ‘kissers” this is shocking – and indeed pretty offensive – because of course there is absolutely NO sexual connotation – on any level – to us kissing our children, just as there isn’t when parents touch their children or hug their children – both of which are surely as much a part of a sexual embrace as kissing.

According to a physiologist (who I heard discussing this on the radio) kissing on the mouth is almost exclusively to do with upbringing, if you were brought up being kissed on the mouth then chances are you will continue that.

I have to say that from my perspective I feel very lucky to be in that group and to be able to pass that onto my children.

I feel that our world is SO much richer as a consequence.

Mum

fillipo lippi V&CBoth our boys on occasions have called my partner and I ‘Mum’, as we are both men it has surprised us and we have considered it long and hard.

They have done it to me only a couple of times and in fact I’m pretty sure it has stopped completely now, but although it has lessened for my partner it will very occasionally and apparently quite randomly still pop up. He is the stay at home parent and consequently takes on the more ‘motherly’ role, but trust me he is every inch a man and a father.

The obvious question is – why?

The obvious answer to many – because they wish they had a Mother.

Yet we are sure that is not so at all, we regularly discuss being a family and them having two dads and we have directly asked them on a number of occasions if they wish they had a mum. In the beginning they would sometimes say yes – and we were pleased that they were being honest and felt able to be so – yet that stopped some time back and now they simply say ‘no, we love having two dads’. They usually go on and point out that they do have a mum anyway – referring to birth mum.

As I am sure is the case with other families that do not fit the stereotype, we have became acutely aware of how the ‘nuclear family’ of Mum, Dad and usually two children (mostly a boy and a girl) is an image that is constantly and relentlessly fed to our children.

The good news is that the awareness does make us address the issue and we spend some time seeking out books, films, TV programmes etc that have less obvious family set ups and it’s great to discover that they are out there nowadays.

The bad news is that trying to normalise our family is a tough battle to fight and we are now realising that it is one that can never actually be won. No matter how many alternatives we find these are so greatly outnumbered that the ‘normal’ image of the nuclear family will always win through, I guess the most that we can hope for is to soften the blow of that as much as possible.

I have to say that it has filled me with a whole new found respect for single parents, divorced parents, large families, stay at home dad families (where mum works) or any family that does not fit into the stereotype our children are taught to see as ‘normal’ and as a consequence are facing the same issues that we are.

Our sons are clearly proud of their two dads and they tell everybody we are a family – which occasionally freaks out the odd stranger or two on the 38 bus. They are clearly happy with us and not on any level embarrassed or ashamed of having gay dads which is wonderfully reassuring – although as with any parent/child relationship we are pretty sure that being ashamed of their parents will rightly develop with age and will be ever present throughout their teenage years.

The great positive in our sons calling us ‘Mum’ is that we now clearly see it as a sign that we are in fact meeting all of their ‘motherly’ needs and that they are in fact just reassuring us of that fact. It seems to satisfy them and consequently that certainly satisfies us too.

We Are Family Blog 2015 in review!

Here it is! Everything you ever wanted to know about the blog in 2015!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #9: 1 plus 3 makes 4 this Christmas.

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Christmas has been different this year.

The decorations are up, the cake and turkey were cooked and eaten but something else happened.
It was months in the limbo stage; all the usual social services blurb and all the red tape, and now suddenly she’s here in time for the celebrations. Our beautiful daughter!

This is our second time around and most of it feels old hat.

We are familiar with all the upheaval and the feeling of being emotionally dishevelled, but this time we had an added element to consider – our beloved son.

We have been amazed by his reaction to all of this. He is 4 but blimey! – it feels like he could be 24!

He has taken all of this on board and has shown courage, compassion and an immediate beautiful love towards his new sibling. It’s like watching a beautiful masterpiece being painted, watching him shape his enthusiasm, outline and profile his brotherly reactions and eagerness to embrace and cuddle his future. A future that he will now get to share with someone else.

I am awestruck at how willing he is to accept this baby so unconditionally. We were both apprehensive of course and I definitely was nervous about where I was going to find the same equal, immeasurable quantity of love I hold for my son; how was I going to double up? But it came in a heartbeat. Flowing and pushing its way up out into a smile that my wife lovingly calls my ‘giddy as a kipper’ smile.

In the meantime we have been waiting, preparing, fixing things, stair-gating, baby-proofing, John Lewis buying, the Christmas shopping’s prepared and wrapped early; yes, we were ready for her arrival.

Our daughter came home for good with us a couple of weeks ago. We are exhausted already and I have a pile of ironing taller than me to get through. The dishwasher is on twice daily and the washing machine is on a permanent spin cycle. Oh, and on top of that – I almost forgot – my son also asked me to make a cake; a green cake with an elephant on for our celebration  as a family of 4. December really is magic this year. I best crack on!

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #7: So Macho

DSC_4363Last year for Christmas we gave our oldest son a simple MP3 player. We went through our music collection and filled it with happy pop songs that we felt he would enjoy – and enjoy them he does.

Very quickly he learnt some of the lyrics and he merrily sings along – often at the top of his voice – and very quickly we realised the error of our ways.

We are gay dads and without considering it we had filled our young son’s gift with VERY ‘gay man’ music.

Immediately his favourite song became ‘it’s raining men’, closely followed by ‘dancing queen’, ‘YMCA’ and ironically, ‘So Macho’.

I have never been under the illusion that I have a cool taste in music, which is fortunate because if I ever had been it would have been quashed when my nephews reached the age when they could express their feelings about it; it was often clearly stated that I like ‘sad old gay man’s music’.

And here I am passing it on to my son.

I am the first to scream about the merits of gay adoption, but even I have to acknowledge that when it comes to music, there could be a real downside for our children.

I am now going to take my tongue out of my cheek to go and ‘daddy dance’ around the Christmas tree to something very butch…where is that K D Lang CD?

They’re Adopted

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was at a meeting of fellow adopters and was surprised to hear a parent say how unhappy they were that their child’s school had outed them as being adopted. They were clearly upset and concerned and stated that they had made an official complaint.

On a number of occasions since I have heard similar comments and concerns from adopters who were saying that they felt a need and a desire to keep their child’s status secret in certain situations.

It surprises me greatly and I have to say that I am confused as to why any adoptive parent would feel a need not to be totally open and honest about their adoption in all circumstances, as surely that is an essential part of making an adopted child understand, appreciate and embrace exactly who they are.

Isn’t keeping a child’s adopted status a secret suggesting it’s something… well, to be ashamed of? I appreciate that ashamed may seem a little heavy, but to have a child – by default – denying they are adopted is far from instilling any sense of pride.

Having something that you have to keep a secret because of what others may think can only be creating a degree of shame and no matter how open and honest you are around family and friends I can’t see how it would fully eradicate that.

I understand the reasoning – that is sets their child apart and that it may give bullies something to use – and I understand that a parent is supposedly trying to protect their child, but surely what is far more important it how the child feels about themselves.

Regardless the fact that you are keeping it a secret means that you are potentially giving the bullies ammunition to use against your child, to them justifying their bullying. Teasing a child who is secure in an adopted family and secure in their knowledge of being adopted is surely going to have far less impact than teasing a child who has had a secret exposed.

As gay adopters I am fully aware that we don’t really have a choice over being ‘out’ as an adoptive family – as it’s pretty self evident that it was unlikely to have happened naturally – and as such we are not faced with a choice over this. However, I should imagine we would be far less likely to decide to be anything other than fully open.

Gay people know what it’s like to live with a lie, we know how it confuses us and creates a shame – in some cases a self loathing – that is often with us for our entire life. We know how better it is when we ‘come out’ and live openly and freely as the people we are, when we face the world without fear or shame.

Our sons at 7 and 8 declare their adopted status openly and freely to anybody and everybody, just as they declare that they have two daddies. They need to be proud of both and every time they state either fact they are acknowledging and affirming their pride. If they were encouraged to keep either fact a secret surely every time they stopped themselves from exposing it would diminish that pride.

We know that as they get older and are with peers who have been fed prejudice and hatred that it may not be as easy to be so open and in fact that is exactly
why they need to be so comfortable with it now, so they are prepared and can handle the possible abuse with knowledge and confidence.

I think possibly the denial in some straight parents is far more to do with them and their journey to adoption. Declaring your child as adopted is possibly giving out a lot of very personal and intimate details about you, information that maybe just feels wrong sharing with anybody other than family and friends. However it is a reality and absolutely one to be proud of.

Just a little bit of sadness.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

I love my sons utterly and completely and I love my life as a parent, they bring so much joy and a level of happiness unlike anything I have experienced before, however there is one thing that stops my joy being 100% – the fact that my mother never got to meet the boys and that they don’t have her in their lives.

She died 14 years ago – 11 years before we adopted – and at just 62 was way too young, her death has of course left a huge hole in my life and indeed in the lives of all those who were close to her and she is still missed greatly most every day. Her death was before it became possible for gay people to adopt so from the day of my coming out she had never even considered that I could be a parent and I was always aware how deeply upsetting and painful that was for her. Consequently I know how elated she would now be to see me as a father.

I guess most people think that their mothers are ‘ the perfect mother’ as they were taught what mothering is about by them, however some mothers are just more… well… motherly and my mother was one of those mothers who are the most motherly – and indeed grandmotherly – of all.

She lived for her children – or indeed anybody else’s children if allowed – and then when we were grown and my siblings had children of their own – she lived for her grandchildren.

She was a fantastic grandmother and was adored by her grandchildren, an adoration she so deserved as she put so much time, effort and thought into the role and it saddens me that my children don’t have that in their lives.

My partners mother is a wonderful grandmother, but lives 6000 miles away and consequently her relationship with our boys feels limited.

They have missed out on so much in their short lives and although we try our hardest to make up for that, I am so aware that a totally committed and unconditional grandmothers love on a day basis is just something we are unable to provide.