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.

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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.

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.

The truth, the whole truth and not always the truth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few months after our sons moved in we went to visit a dear friend who was dying, he had arranged for somebody to buy presents for the boys, he engaged with them and he gave them lots of attention. Even though he was very poorly and in quite a bit of pain he made every effort to smile and welcome them and he clearly left an impression.

Although they saw him only once again they still remember him and talk about him, as far as we know this was the first death the boys had experienced and we did our best to be totally honest and to give them as much understanding that we felt their 5 & 6 years merited.

Of course they had questions, some simple matter of fact queries, others quite deep and difficult to know how to respond to. The most difficult was in response to my saying that death was very natural, that everybody dies and it wasn’t something to be afraid of. To which our 6 year old asked ‘so are you going to die and leave us Daddy?’. They had been with us for just over 6 months at this point and we had been reassuring them almost daily that we were a forever family and that we will always be here for them.

The temptation was of course to say no, which is no doubt what he wanted and maybe even needed to hear, but instinctively I maintained the honest approach we have when confronted with any questions from our sons and said ‘yes of course like everybody else I will die’, but added that hopefully it will be a long time from now when they are both grown up and maybe have families of their own. This appeared to work and seemed to put his mind at rest.

However, the subject of my death did raise its head in little remarks here and there quite a few times over the next couple of months, which made me realise that it was clearly something he was still thinking about and was possibly worrying him.

Eighteens months later the boys experienced another death and this time is was much closer to home when my sister died, she had built a wonderful relationship with the boys and they both thought the world of her and in fact our youngest seemed to have a particularly close bond with his special new Aunty.

Again lots of questions which we answered as honestly as we always have. However 18 months older meant that their questioning had a little more maturity behind it and that they were less willing to simply accept our answers at face value.

My ‘when you are both much older’ was now met with ‘how old Daddy?’ And my response of ‘when you are grown up and both men’ resulted in uncharacteristic on the spot mathematics and them pointing out that I would be nearly 70 when they were 20 and that people died much younger than that, like their Aunty who was only 53.

More attempts at reassurance and I pointed out that both their daddies (we are 2 dads) ate well, that we didn’t smoke, that we drank very little and that we were reasonably healthy which meant that there was nothing to suggest that we would not live until we are in our 80’s and that by then they would probably have children of their own. I also pointed out that their other daddy is almost 8 years younger so would likely be around a lot longer than me.

Again we could see them considering this and then with rather a glum expression we were met with ‘our uncle is older than Aunty and she died first’ A slight pause and then ‘and what if you both die together, who will look after us then?’
At which point we caved in and all our principles disappeared as I replied ‘Don’t be silly, that is never going to happen. I am sure that you will always have both of us and that we will always be able to look after you’.

Not the thruth that I put so much value in of course, but not exactly a lie either. Most importantly though it was clearly the reassurance they both needed as our deaths have not been mentioned since.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #9

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Under the Christmas tree this year is a new family! Let me explain. As a gay man family has always been a challenge. However, I would like to think I navigated it quite well, until I adopted. Forever family is key to who we are as a family and now my extended family are fighting with each other. I’m not even going to give that story space. But what I would put under the Christmas tree this year is a new extended family.

I’m pee’d off and I would happily un-wrap a new extended family who I could present to my boys as their new forever extended family. It’s difficult I know but it’s often heightened because it’s Christmas.

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.

Something more to love.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have written previously about the pressure that adoption puts on relationships and how the need to focus on the child/children so singularly can create problems in even the healthiest of partnerships and of course it is at the exact time that we need to be most united and strongest as a couple.

I stated how it has affected my partner and I and how we have learnt to adjust our expectations and to adapt to a new dynamic as a couple. I can see that we have learnt to expect less from each other and to be satisfied with what is available, what is left after our sons have been put first and all their needs met.

Yet I realise that there is more than that, it is not just about being empathetic, being tolerant or ‘putting up’, it is not just about accepting ‘all there is’, it is also about looking for and discovering something new.

We have less time for each other, we have less patience with each other, we are both fully aware that we are not each others priority – yet I can see that the love that I have for my partner now is possibly stronger than ever and I can see that is because of something very different to what was there before.

I may be living with the same person, but he now displays different qualities to the ones I fell in love with and I can see that they are qualities that are even more beautiful and to be admired, in fact at times they are qualities to be in awe of, qualities to love even more.

I can see that my partner is a wonderful parent, a parent who always has time for our children and always puts them first, a parent who is dedicated and who in generous with his emotions, a parent who gives and gives and gives.

I watch the interaction of my partner and our sons and it truly touches my heart and it fills me with a love that is palpable – a love that reassures me that we are as strong as ever.

Our relationship may be different, but I can see now that there is quite simply so much more to love.

I am hoping that my partners feels a little of that in return.