Are You Gay?


Why is it apparently so difficult for parents to ask their children if they are gay?

Time and time again we read or watch accounts of young men and woman coming out and saying that their mother or father said that they had realised for a long time.

Realised, but had said nothing.

They had watched their child struggle to accept who they truly are and to find their place in a bigoted society full of negative messages of (at best) tolerance or (at worse) hate for homosexuality, yet still offered no helping hand – no reassurance of the acceptance or understanding they would have for them, which is of course exactly what the child needs to hear.

We help our children with everything as they grow, that is a parents job and our children need us for this. They need our maturity and experience to fill in the limitations of their intelligence or emotional state.

They need our guidance and they need our support or advice – often if only to reject it and throw it back in our face, but regardless of not embracing it they need to hear what we think and they need to know our understanding of what they are dealing with and working out – whatever it is.

It may well be completely unintentional, but the vast majority of parents will use language as a child grows up that suggests an expectation that they will be straight – ‘when you have a husband, ‘when you kiss your first girl’, ‘the boys will love you wearing that’, ‘your wife will never put up with that’ and on and on – even though for many children what is being said is quite simply wrong, so why not at least acknowledge the possibility of them being gay? It makes absolutely no difference to the child if they are not, but it can make the world of difference if they are.

Why is it so difficult to say ‘when you grow up and have a boyfriend or girlfriend?’

I know that more and more parents nowadays will voice and show acceptance of the gay world around their children and maybe even have gay family members or friends as part of their children’s lives – but maybe surprisingly that is not actually saying that they will accept it in their own child.

I know a number of gay children who have grown up in families like this – who still struggled with their own sexuality and in telling their parents.

Surely part of being a good parent is to not try to force our children into being what we expect them to be or want them to be, but I do fear that by not opening up the possibility of our children being gay to them from early on, many of us are inadvertently doing exactly that.

Even if we feel that we have created an accepting environment and that we are actively encouraging our children to be honest and true to themselves, to be truly sure of how their parents feel our children need to be TOLD, clearly and emphatically, just the way we tell them everything else.

They need to be completely sure that they have our full support and acceptance if they are gay. We need to be heard to be undoing the doubt we have probably sown, doubt which in fact our silence is probably confirming to them.

For some that may not be easy, the parent may not be fully comfortable with homosexuality, but that is OUR – the parents – problem, not the children’s and that is something that we have to deal with, while at the same time supporting them.

It is not our child’s place to hold our hands and to educate us through this, it is our duty to be the parent and to learn what we need to learn and to be there for them.

Life is always a bit tougher being gay (as it can be for most minorities) and sometimes it can be very tough, the very last thing a child needs is for it’s parents to be adding to the negativity they will inevitable be facing.

And maybe it’s a little tougher for adopted children than birth children, without being reassured otherwise a child that does not have our genes could well fear that being gay is something that has come from their birth family and because of that it could be even more unwelcome to their adoptive parents.

So to return to my opening question – Why do parents find it difficult to ask their children if they are gay?

Personally I think that it is mostly because we all wish for the very best for our children and socially being gay is sill seen as ‘other’ and understandably ‘other’ is something that is not wished for and regardless of us knowing that we can not determine our child’s sexuality – maybe deep down we think that by not mentioning it, just possibly there is more chance of it not being so.

Advertisements

The Worst Babysitter


My partner and I don’t go out together leaving our sons very often at all, in fact over the five years they have been with us I doubt that it has even been as often as ten times. We have been out individually with friends while the other stayed and looked after the boys on a number of occasions, but even so it’s a rarity that they don’t have both of us to kiss them good night and tuck them up in bed. It is an important part of the day and we know that both the boys get such a lot from the routine of showering, us drying them (still at 10 and 11 they seem to love the nurturing and intimacy that being cocooned up in a big warm, fluffy bath towel and wrapped in our arms brings) and settling down with a book before they go off to sleep.

Not going out is not any kind of sacrifice, we are older parents who are more than contented with what family life has brought and we never feel that we are missing out in any way – in fact quite the opposite, I think we relish the laziness of quiet nights in and the opportunity to recover from our busy days.

However, when we do leave the boys we of course need to have a reliable babysitter and until quite recently we were very fortunate to have a young neighbour who was more than willing to sit for us. The boys really like her and were comfortable being left with her and we loved the fact that we not only got a lovely and very responsible young lady, but in addition we were reassured that her mother (a very accomplished parent) was just 4 doors away.

Of course even with this level of confidence and knowing that the boys would be fine, the first couple of times we left them we had our phones out on a lap and in ‘vibrate mode’ for the whole evening, in fact I had to stop my partner from texting the sitter every few minutes asking if things were OK (it was probably every hour or so, but it felt so much more).

All was good until our wonderful neighbour had the audacity to selfishly go off to university. Fortunately the next time we were going out a good friend hearing of our predicament offered to sit the boys, they were excited as they have a great relationship with this friend already – so everybody was happy.

We left the usual instructions of the bedtime routine and said that as it was a weekend they could stay up a little later until 8.30 or ‘maybe even 9.00’ as a special treat. Four years into being a family we were far more relaxed than in the early days and barely gave thought to the situation at home and just got on with enjoying our night out, on our return we quietly entered the house and as we took off shoes and coats, fussed the dog and grabbed something to drink we were both a little confused that the sound coming from the TV was in fact – children’s TV. It was 11.30 at night and as neither of us had any idea that children’s TV was even on that late in the day we were somewhat thrown, I am of an age when children’s TV went off at 5.45 (Magic Roundabout) and it’s never on much later now for our boys.

Assuming our friend had been exhausted by the boys and had just fallen asleep the moment they went to bed without even changing channels, we quietly made our way into the Reception room.

Yes indeed our sitter was asleep – rather amusingly on his back clutching a half full glass of wine to his chest. Far more surprising though was that he was flanked by our sons, wide eyed and with beaming smiles as we entered the room they turned and said –

‘We love J being out babysitter he lets us stay up really late and look he brought us treats too’. As I surveyed the coffee table I was somewhat perturbed to see empty coke cans, crisp packets and empty chocolate and biscuit wrappers.

The excited conversation woke our friend and as he sat up (still clutching his wine glass), he smiled a rather cheeky smile and said ‘the boys have been fantastic, I figured they deserved a few treats’.

There was a time when we would have been really upset, we would have felt betrayed and let down by our friend, but we have relaxed as we have eased into our role as parents and consequently we immediately saw the amusement in the situation – and indeed the sheer joy in the boys faces.

Of course now the boys want J to babysit every time and we have been more than happy whenever he is available to arrange that and strangely enough even without any pressure from us, he now makes sure that they are tucked up at a sensible time and not full of sugar.

He hasn’t acknowledged it, but we think he realised just how much easier that is for him, which is indeed something we learnt very early on.

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.

12 Blogs #11. Unleashed

It was our first Christmas together and we were spending it away from London, in a house in the country.

There was great excitement all around, from the boys who we had been working on for weeks filling them with expectation and from us looking to make our first christmas together special and memorable.

However, something that we had not considered was the weather – which was quite simply horrid. It rained constantly and apart from the gloom that it brought about, it prevented the boys from going outside as it was very cold and the garden (as well as the surrounding countryside) were quite literally a mud bath.

It took us a while to realise what was happening, but regardless of out attempts to keep the boys busy and entertained we started to notice that they were getting restless and were becoming more and more difficult to cope with.

By the end of day 4 things were bad, their behaviour was getting out of control and we had little patience left. They were sent to bed early amid tears and anger.

The following day – Christmas Eve – started pretty much how the previous day had ended and the prospects of having to deal with two increasingly uncontrollable little boys on top of preparing for the big day tomorrow was quite simply looking beyond our ability.

My sister – a far more accomplished parent – phoned to ask how things were going and I shared our distress, the conversation went something like this:

Me – We have had enough, the boys are clearly unsettled being here and none of us are enjoying it, in fact the boys are driving us mad.

Sister – They have been couped up for 4 days, it sounds like big time cabin fever to me.

Me – Could be, I hadn’t considered that. (duhh)

Sister – You need to get them out to release some of that energy that’s just building and building.

Me – We can’t, the weather is just too terrible’ I think it best that we just go home.

Sister – Don’t be silly, you have everything planned and set up for Christmas there, why don’t you take them to a soft play area.

Me – What’s a soft play area?

Once she had finished laughing at me – the oh so clearly novice dad – she educated me into the word of indoor play and advised that there was a great centre about 50 mins away and that it will be a journey I would be very grateful of.

51 minutes later we are paying to get in and I could see the boys positively ‘chomping at the bit’, waiting to be let loose. Armbands on wrists the gate was opened…

And they were off, immediately running into the thick of it without looking back, we found seats and made them aware of where we were and they did not come to us for over 30 minutes (and these were still the very early days when they never seemed to leave our sides).

They ran, they climbed, they jumped, they slid, they shouted and they laughed – before they even thought about us. When we did finally come to mind they ran to us for a quick drink and then they were off again and it was like this for the next two hours or so.

I have described it as being like letting a dog off a lead – you could see the ‘need’ they had to get rid of all the pent up energy and it was actually a delight to watch.

Our sons are quite active little boys and of course four days stuck indoors was going to drive them mad – and by default us too – it is just shocking how oblivious we were to the blindingly obvious – even as it unfolded around us.

We live and learn and as painful as we the parents can find the hour or two in a soft play centre it saved our Christmas and has become a regular part of our life since.

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.

Feeling a Fraud

In retrospect it’s easy to see that it was probably just self doubt, but at the time it felt like something so much bigger, something so much more significant.

We were new parents and loving (mostly) everything that entailed, we were totally smitten with our two sons and relished every moment we spent together.

It had been a long and at times very difficult process to get us to where we were and we were delighted and relieved in equal measures to finally be the family we set out to be some three years earlier.

We were in our early and late 40’s and new parents to two brothers almost 5&6 years old and we were embracing the role wholeheartedly and from the moment they woke to the moment they went off to sleep we were there for their every needs.

We were active in their school and would ferry the boys around for various after school activities almost every night of the week. We engaged more with friends who had children, encouraging friendships amongst the little ones and had play dates with school friends and big birthday parties with kids and parents in attendance.

Yet, regardless of all of this we didn’t truly believe in ourselves, didn’t truly believe in the fact that we were indeed parents. We knew the reality – that we had children and that we were now a family. We knew that we loved our sons unconditionally and immediately couldn’t imagine life without them – yet we felt a bit…fraudulent.

We hadn’t gone through the 9 months of pregnancy, the wonder of birth, the sleepless nights, the caring for a being so helpless that the need for your attention and your love 24\7 outshone everything else – literally everything else.

Being school age meant that after the initial few weeks of settling in, we packed them off every day and made them somebody else’s responsibility – and we have to confess to a certain relief each and every time we did so. It was proving to be so much harder than we ever could have imagined and on many levels we were struggling and we figured that IF ‘real parents’ had the same struggles they would be so much more adept in dealing with them.

We got on with it all, we walked the walk, we talked the talk and we smiled our way through it, yet looking back I realise just how much we felt that we were bluffing.

Now with five years of experience behind us we realise that bluffing is not unique to adoptive parents at all, in fact probably ALL new parents start out bluffing – because in fact nothing can truly prepare us for being a parent.

However, I think the feeling of being a fraud is possibly unique to us adopters and I can see that it takes a while for us to shrug it off.

We now feel like fully fledged parents and we know that our sons are 100% ours – regardless of being born to others, but in those early days the ghosts of their birth parents were always with us as indeed were those of the established (and oh so accomplished) foster parents where the boys spent almost three years.

We felt we could never really compete with the history of either of those and that we possibly never would. We felt we were somehow just ‘standing in’ – not their real parents at all.

Looking back now, it seems unthinkable that we doubted our role. Amazingly from day one the boys simply knew us as their new parents, and of course they fully relied on us as their parents – as we were the ones putting clothes on the back, food on the table and a roof over their heads. It may well have taken a little while for them to emotionally attach, but I don’t feel that got in the way of their understanding of our role in their lives right from the very start.

They were open to us nurturing them every step of the way, we were their security, we were the one’s putting them first and reassuring them that we would always be here for them and that we would be protecting them no matter what.

So regardless of how fraudulent we felt and regardless of the fact that it took time for our sons to fully attach to us, in their eyes we were the real thing right from the very start.

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.