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.

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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.

Good enough partners

20160929_235606_resizedWe were warned at our prep’ group and again on a number of occasions by our social worker whilwe were being processed.

We were told that it was going to be tough on our relationship, that it would add stress and could highlight issues that maybe we were unaware even existed and that most certainly it would bring any festering issues to the surface and make us confront them head on. We were warned that adopting – particularly adopting more than one child – could indeed destroy less well established, less secure relationships.

We had been together for the best part of two decades and felt that we had grown into a great, honest, committed and totally secure relationship. We had never had any serious issues as a couple and had relatively easily got over the odd argument or disagreement along the way.

We (quite smugly) felt confident that it didn’t apply to us. We were good at this relationship malarkey and how could bringing two little children into our lives undermine or threaten the love, the respect, the history that we had?

And thank goodness our relationship is so strong, because they were right!

Our sons coming into our world has changed our lives beyond recognition and indeed our relationship too and yes it has dramatically impacted on how we are as a couple.

The need to focus so singularly on our sons, the need for my partner – the stay at home parent – to dedicate EVERY ounce of energy, every thought, every consideration on them, on meeting their needs and on working so tirelesly at making them secure and settled in their forever family – means there has been little if any time for me, little time to even acknowledge our relationship, let alone work at it.

And that’s OK. Perfectly OK.

Thankfully we are secure enough for it not to make me question where I am in his world now, from being his number 2 (being gay and Latin American let’s face it, his mother is always going to be no 1), I am now clearly No 4 – which is exactly where I need to be.

Our children need him to be there for them first, they need his love and his attention ahead of me in every way and of course they so deserve that.

There have been times when I have felt that I hardly exist in his life anymore and if anything I just seem to add to the stress and troubles of his day and that has not felt good and I can see that for less secure partners that could create a divide in a relationship – possibly even a divide too big to get back across.

It has been 4 years since our relationship expanded and we became four, as the boys have settled and as they have matured their demands have started to change and now my partner has a little space for himself again and I sense that there is now some energy and a little time for me and I can see that it will grow as we go forward.

It’s evident that I will never overtake the place our sons have etched into my partner’s heart and I can say that with nothing but contentment and pride – as surely that is just the way it should be. Equally of course I am sure that my partner is just as aware that he will never overtake the place that they have etched into mine and that he is just as satisfied with that.

It is anything but a competition and nobody is winning at the expense of anybody else, it’s just a reality that is brought about from necessity and from love – love for our two amazing sons and indeed our love for each other. It is just the reality of being a family.

We both know that we are loved and needed and appreciated and respected and that the other will always be there when we need him to be.

Meanwhile the need is greater from our children and we will get on with being ‘good enough’ parents in the safe knowledge that we are indeed good enough partners.

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.