One of the wonderful things about our adoption journey so far has been meeting so many people who have been willing to support and guide Tom and me. Most of these meetings have been virtual, having ‘met’ people through Twitter, blog posts and forums.
But we have also met some in real life too. Last month we went to a New Family Social event at a bar in London and met up with around six other LGBT couples – all of whom are at very different stages of the adoption process. There was one couple who were considering adoption and wanted to find out more, us in stage two, a few couples who were approved and waiting for a match, a couple who were about to start introductions, and one half of a couple who have had their children for about a year (the other half was at home with the kids).
It was great for us as we had so many people ahead of us in the process so we were able to quiz them on what more to expect, and what their experience had been like with different agencies and local authorities. Crucially, we were able to ask about any challenges that might be particular to LGBT parents. Thankfully no-one had encountered any issues or bigotry whatsoever and, most importantly, that the children were totally unfazed by having two dads. This seems to be the case with most of the LGBT parents we’ve spoken to.
If I’m honest, neither Tom or I were particularly looking forward to the event as we really didn’t know what to expect and we aren’t that into the gay scene anymore. We agreed to stay for one drink and arranged a code word that would enable a swift exit. But by the end, we’d stayed for four drinks (on a school night!) and had a really nice evening. We’ve since been in touch with one of the couples and Tom has received a few Facebook friend requests.
New Family Social organises a whole host of events throughout the year including play dates, summer camps and day trips, as well occasional drinks for the adults. Knowing that there are other families out there going through the same experiences as us and our future children really makes us feel safe.
We’re really looking forward to the next event. And if it is drinks again, we’ll take the following morning off.
The gap between assessment meetings is getting shorter and shorter and with only one meeting to go we really are getting to the end of the assessment period. Where has the time gone?
On Wednesday we had our penultimate session with Denise, our social worker, and the focus was very much on the types of children we could see ourselves adopting.
As both my parents are Irish (I was born here), Denise has asked whether Tom and I would consider adopting a child from the Irish traveller community. If we thought we could, which we do, she suggested I speak to my parents as there is a history of antagonism between the two communities. I’m unaware of my parents having any kind of bad feeling against travellers, but I’ll check.
We also talked a lot about the types of children, and their specific needs, we felt we could cope with as a couple. We talked about the varying degrees of disabilities and/or learning difficulties, mental health issues, and the types of abuse and/or neglect that children in care might have been subjected to. Although Tom and I have had conversations about this topic, and started to make some decisions, it was really useful to be able to ask Denise questions without feeling judged. Denise gave us the adopter registration form, which will allow us to state our decisions for the matching team, to complete at home ready for the next session.
With this information in mind Denise gave us four profiles of siblings. She made it very clear that these children were unlikely to be available to us but wanted to check that she was thinking along the same lines as us. Two of the profiles were spot on and we would seriously consider them as children who we could care for. And the other two were positive choices but they both required a lot of thinking about and raised more questions than answers.
Tom and I talked later about how far we were willing to stray from the ‘perfect’ family (whatever that is) we’d imagined. It’s tough because we don’t want to seem heartless by saying we won’t take this child because of x and y but at the same time we have to weigh up in our hearts and minds what is right for us too.
We finished up by talking about Fostering to Adopt. This is where a child is placed with an approved adopter but where the child’s placement order has yet to be approved by the court. The benefit is that when (if) the order is approved the child is already with the family that will go to adopt them, reducing the number of moves and increasing their abilities to make good attachments. The downside is the possibility that the foster family start building attachments only for the child to return to the birth family. Also, before the placement order comes through you have far fewer parental rights. Tom and I will need to time to do some research and to really think about how we feel about this in the next few days and weeks. I’ve had some great advice and guidance from the twittersphere which has been invaluable.
Our homework from the last session was to write a Pen Picture (otherwise known as a biography) about who we are and why we want to adopt for the children’s social worker to read. We wrote way too much but thankfully Denise is happy to edit it down for us.
However, our homework from weeks ago is proving very difficult. We’ve been asked to provide a photo of us where we look like dads. We can’t find a single image that we’re both pleased with. Either I think Tom looks great but I’m pulling a face or Tom thinks I look great but he’s squinting. The search continues…
As is now a very positive pattern, we left feeling really good about how things are progressing and the realisation that stage two is very nearly over. And that is a little bit scary but also unbelievably exciting.
On Wednesday I had my individual assessment meeting with Denise, our social worker. Tom had his session a fortnight ago so I knew the basic outline of what to expect but I was a little nervous nonetheless and, oddly enough, rather looking forward to it.
We were together for three hours and twenty minutes which is a really long time to talk about yourself. But I persevered and we covered the following topics…
As it’s a very good place to start, we started at the very beginning and talked about my childhood. For the most part I had a great childhood. We went on holidays to foreign countries, I had a TV in my own room, I enjoyed school (despite a few bullying issues), and I had my brothers to play with. I’ve talked in previous posts about the less happy parts in my childhood and of course we went into this in great detail as I’d suspected.
We talked a lot about my relationship with my mum and dad and how their very different personalities have clearly had an impact on who I am now. It’s so weird having someone point out the characteristics of your parents so clearly in you. The really difficult task was describing my relationship to my mum and dad in five words. I found that virtually impossible but really insightful. We also talked about my brothers and our relationships with each other and why the strength of those relationships is one of the reason we’d like to adopt a sibling group.
We then moved on to the relatively easy task of discussing education and work. The only sticking point in this discussion was, as always, being self-employed. In fact, Denise’s supervisor has requested we devote a whole session to finally sorting out whether two self-employed creative types can be financially stable enough to adopt. When will they accept the answer is yes?!
We then moved on to past relationships. It felt weird talking about people who were, in one way or another, really important in my life, but I haven’t seen, or in some cases even thought about, in years. But it was interesting to re-visit these relationships and think about how they had influenced who I am today.
The final two questions were easy to answer. The first was whether there was anything that I wanted to tell Denise that I didn’t want Tom to know. It was a very simple – no. I can’t believe there’s anything that someone would tell their social worker that they wouldn’t tell their partner.
The second was whether Tom and I were in total agreement about wanting to adopt. Although Tom took longer to come round to the idea of adopting, I knew he was completely on board when we were house-hunting and he rejected one of the houses because the garden was too small and he couldn’t envisage our children running around in it.
All in all it was a really positive session and I know that Denise is totally behind us as we enter the final phase before panel.
A few years ago a friend of mine used to run classes teaching men how to use a cut-throat razor. It was all very on-trend and swanky, but the main reason he started the lessons was because he felt it was a skill men had lost that ought not to be forgotten. And it got me thinking about other skills that men have lost over the years that have traditionally been passed down by their fathers.
Before you read any further I should point out that this blog is based on my experiences and of the experiences of people I know. I am not making wild generalisations about the population at large. Disclaimer over…
As a hopeful dad, who also happens to be gay, I realised there were certain aspects to my skillset that are lacking in one way or another.
Sport – I am unable to kick a ball with any sense of direction, I lack the ability to catch an object that’s thrown at me (and when I do catch the said object I lack the ability to stop myself from cheering – it really happens that rarely), and if you expect me to hit an object that’s thrown at me with a bat or racquet, well then we may as well just give up now. I think it’s safe to say that I have little or no knowledge, skill or prowess in any sport whatsoever.
DIY – I have a drill, a set of screwdrivers (both Philips & flat-heads), a spirit level, spanners, wrenches, a drawer full of screws and a drawer labelled ‘miscellaneous’. But if a shelf needs going up, a picture needs to be hung or some painting needs doing then I usually call a wonderful handyman who lives near us who, for a small fee, will get everything sorted with minimum fuss. I should point out that I could very well do everything around the house that needs sorting, but it would take all day and it would end up being a bit wobbly, wonky or streaky. Having said that, I plumbed in our washing machine and dishwasher, sorted out minor electrical issues, and I can put together flat-packed furniture in record time - so I’m not completely useless.
Cars – When I was a kid my dad would spend hours tinkering with the family car. I remember him taking the car battery inside once a month to charge it from the mains plug – did everyone’s dad do that? He would check the various water compartments were filled, that the air pressure on the tyres was correct and safe, he would check the oil levels and knew how change the oil when necessary… the list is endless. I don’t think he ever got his car serviced and it ran for years. Nowadays, I know where to find the dipstick but I have no idea what I’m actually looking for or what to do when I do. Plus the car goes in for a service once a year so someone at the garage does all that for me.
Now, I’m not blaming my dad for not passing on these skills. I suspect that I simply wasn’t interested in sport, DIY or cars, and I always kind of assumed it was because I was gay. But actually lots of my straight friends share similar feelings about these traditionally male pursuits. Some of them might be great at sport but couldn’t drill a hole in a wall without destroying the wall in the process whilst others can throw together an amazing bookshelf whilst not being able to kick a ball straight.
Whether it’s simply that my generation’s dads decided to do everything for us without actually showing us how to do stuff, or new patterns of working meant they weren’t around and our mums didn’t have the relevant skills, or that we were the first generation to have computers and multiple TVs at home and we simply didn’t engage with what our fathers wanted to pass on. Whatever the reason I knew that something had to be done.
So I came up with the idea of “Dad Camp” – in my head it’s a place where men can share the skills they have with other men and can learn those forgotten (or never taught) skills they want to be able to pass on to their sons.
But then things took a turn for the unexpected. What about the dads with daughters? This wasn’t a question of whether their daughters should be taught sport or DIY – of course they should. The question was how to do their daughters’ hair, or bake cakes, or make homemade cards – all the things that traditionally mums used to do.
With more and more modern dads taking on as much parental responsibility as their partners, with the number of stay-at-home dads steadily rising, and the possibility of Tom and I having a daughter, it suddenly became clear that there was a whole other skillset that might need to be taught and learnt.
This became all the more apparent when a friend told me of the time he had to book an emergency hairdresser appointment for his daughter as he didn’t know how to put her hair in a bun. His wife was away for the weekend and his daughter’s ballet teacher is notoriously strict about such things. He has since learnt and can now do a very neat plait too.
Another friend of mine who’s a single mum showed a huge interest in Dad Camp. She was aware that she didn’t want her son to miss out on the traditionally male pursuits but felt she didn’t have the all the necessary skills to teach him.
So suddenly Dad Camp was looking like it might need to be renamed. Because this wasn’t about what dads passed on to their sons anymore. It was about what parents passed on to their children. Nowadays families are made up of single parents (both female and male), parents of the same gender and parents of different genders. And all these parents have their own specific set of skills and values they want to pass on to their children regardless of what gender they are.
And so I give you “Parent Camp” - a place where parents can share the skills they have with other parents, and can learn new skills they want to be able to pass on to their children.
Would you be interested in joining a Parent Camp? What skills would you want to share or learn at Parent Camp?
My husband and I have adopted two wonderful children. Duckling is 5 and Gosling, her little brother, is 3. I'll be keeping track of our journey here...