Most weeks, Tom and I learn something else new that we need to know as a parent, and a few weeks ago we found ourselves on a first aid course run by the British Red Cross.
I haven’t had any first aid training since I received my badge as a scout and Tom has never had any. The information was clearly still somewhere in my head as I’ve twice had to hold a nephew or godson upside-down to dislodge a stuck sweet or toy from their throats. But, as with all things, if you don’t practice something you tend to forget it, so Tom and I decided it would be a good idea to refresh our first aid knowledge.
And a good thing we did too. So much has changed in the more than two decades since I was a scout. They include:
Luckily most things have remained the same and it all came flooding back. The recovery position, how to deal with bleeds, breaks and sprains, how to stop a fever, and how to spot meningitis were all covered as well as a host of other first aid skills.
The only thing I hadn’t heard of was croup - but now, not only do I know what it is (a really bad cough), but also what it sounds like (an upset walrus) and how to deal with it (steam).
Each area of first aid was explained by an instructor before you have a go at it yourself. We then watched a short video on each exercise – some of which were very badly acted and made me want to giggle.
The first aid was specifically aimed at babies and children, but actually much of what you do for a child over two years old is the same for an adult, so we feel fully prepared for any eventuality.
The course cost us £35 each which we thought was well worth it. It can be more expensive if you go to a training centre in central London so if you can get to a different centre you could save yourself some pennies.
It was a really informative morning and definitely worth attending. We all received a booklet outlining everything we’d learnt, a pen with a pull out reminder of what to do in an emergency, a mouth guard for emergencies with strangers, and a certificate (whoop!).
For more information you can visit the Red Cross website.
Just before we went into the room I had a panic about what we’d say if they asked why we were attending. There were a lot of very pregnant women so it was clear why they were there, but in our case I wondered how people might react. As predicted, they asked and I told a room full of strangers that Tom and I were adopting and wanted some first aid training. No intakes of breath, no disapproving looks – everyone seemed to be fine about it. Then at lunch, amongst all the chat about how far gone the mums-to-be were, we were also asked lots of questions about the adoption process. People were genuinely interested and, really wonderfully, completed unfazed by two men adopting a child. It was very refreshing and made us both feel really happy.
In a previous post, I thought about all the different skills parents might need. What else would you recommend?
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?
Three months ago I wrote my original #preadoptionbucketlist post. This week's #WASO theme is 'Bucket List' so I thought I'd update you on how we're doing...
Lots of our family and friends who already have children keep reminding Tom and me how much our lives are going to change when we have our children. And some (most) of them talk (moan) about the things they wished they’d done that are ruled out now they have children.
These comments got Tom and I thinking about the things we want to do before the children arrive and so we came up with our pre-adoption bucket list. For example, I’d never been skiing before and had always really wanted to. Recently a friend of ours found a really cheap deal (via a friend’s friend’s uncle) so we went for it. It was amazing. I want to go again…
So our plan is to get through as many as possible in the time we have left which, due to the nature of adoption, is a completely unknown length of time. I should probably point out that not being millionaires it’s unlikely we’ll tick off many of these, but a boy can dream…
Tom and I have at the very least six months to do all this stuff and I’m sure we’ll have an absolute blast attempting it. But what’s interesting is that all our friends who ‘moan’ about how their lives have changed wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, while Tom and I were skiing we kept talking about how much the kids might enjoy it. Because for all the amazing experiences we have together, we are going to be able to have them all over again - but this time with our children. And that will be incredible.
I’ll be keeping track of our progress on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #preadoptionbucketlist. What would be on yours?
Original post on March 25th 2016. Updated in 24th June 2016.
Last week we had our third assessment meeting with Denise. When we arrived I was slightly taken aback to find out that due to a booking mishap we were to have our meeting in a room at the front of the building that is sometimes used as an entrance. Thankfully we were only disturbed once but it wasn’t ideal. Tom was absolutely fine about it so I figured I should be too.
We started off with the boring stuff. Firstly, there were our employment referees which, both being self-employed, have caused all kinds of confusion. Plus, Tom worked in France for a while and I’ve worked with children on a regular basis so all those employers have had to be contacted as well. Amazingly, the French version of DBS only took a week to come through, so that was a relief. Secondly, we talked a little more about our finances. I’ve noticed as the sessions have gone on, Denise has seemed less worried about our self-employed status – I hope that’s a good sign. Thirdly, Denise gave us the obligatory warning about what we were letting ourselves in for. And asked again if we were ready. And again we told her we are.
The main topic for discussion today, however, was our relationship. Denise asked about how we met, how we dated, how our relationship developed and how we came to be in a place where we’re wanting to adopt. It was lovely reminiscing about both events that took place nearly thirteen years ago (where has the time gone?) and more recent conversations about adoption. It was funny which bits we both remembered exactly the same and which bits had altered in our minds over time.
Denise asked us about what we love and what niggles us about each other. It was relatively easy to find minor niggles – apparently I leave my shoes all over the place, Tom always seems to want to talk to me when I’m in a different room and can’t hear him, and… maybe I should stop there. But it was so difficult to put into words what I love about Tom, and he me. It’s simply something we both feel and know.
In previous meetings we talked about times of stress as individuals and this week we talked about times of stress for us as a couple, and importantly how we dealt with them.
As we started talking, Tom and I really struggled to think of any major stresses in our lives together. I was desperately trying to think of some terrible situation that we’d got through in order to prove that we could cope with stress, but there simply weren’t any. Tom then reminded me of when I left my well-paid job to become self-employed - it was worrying but also completely liberating for me. And with further prompting we thought of other instances too… When the sale of our house nearly fell through, which was infuriating, but we persevered and sorted it out. When Tom’s dad was unwell, it was really sad, but we all rallied around to make sure he got better. And when the abusive, alcoholic couple in the flat above ours flooded us after they left the bath on, we rolled our sleeves up and sorted the flat out. At the time each situation felt terrible but the important thing is that on every occasion we looked after and supported each other.
Like at the last meeting, Denise took two hours of discussion and in one line summarised our relationship perfectly. It was lovely hearing someone from the outside talk about what they saw in us together. We left feeling rather loved up and thankful for each other. And I think Denise has seen that we are able to love and support each other and our future children.
I’m posting this blog a little earlier than usual to coincide with LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week (plus I’m going on holiday so won’t be here to press Send on Friday).
In one of our most recent meetings with Denise, our social worker, we were asked about stressful situations in our past. In the last two blogs I've talked about stresses in my family but one of the most stressful times in any gay person’s life is ‘coming out’. Thankfully, both Tom and I have really supportive families but, as seems to be the case in most events, my story has a little more drama.
In some ways I have three coming out stories. The first is when I decided to tell my friends and brothers. I was 14 and had just attended the Pride march in London. I already knew I was gay (why else go to Pride?) but if there was any doubt in my mind, by the end of the day there was none whatsoever. The following week at school I told a close friend, then another, and by the end of the term most of my year group knew I was dating a guy two years above me. I was lucky enough to go to a school where being gay was widely accepted and I didn’t encounter any bullying or homophobic comments. I also told my brothers, who were amazing. Annoyingly, quite a few of my friends and my eldest brother’s girlfriend had already worked it out, which rather took the wind out of my sails. Even at this tender age it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have a family of my own one day. And although the specifics of how that would happen remained hazy – I somehow knew it would.
My second coming out was when my mum found out by accident. I was 15 and it was New Year’s Eve. For one reason or another she was looking for the telephone number of the party I was at and whilst looking in my filofax (remember those?!) found a letter from my then-boyfriend. She discovered more about me in that letter than any parent should know about their child – gay or straight! The next day was awful; she was barely able to look at me. But day by day, and week by week, she came round to the idea, and by the following Pride march she was waving the banner of the parent support group FFLAG with Sir Ian McKellen.
Years later, she described her anguish at my coming out as mourning for the son she thought she had, for my future marriage she wouldn't attend, and for her future grandchildren she wouldn't have. Well since then, she got to know the son she has even better, she was at my civil partnership with a big hat and a damp hanky, and hopefully by the end of the year she’ll have two more grandchildren.
My third coming out was when I told my dad. Fast forward ten years - Tom and I have been together for about a year and are thinking of moving in with each other. Everybody in my life knows I’m gay except my dad; when my mum originally found out, she made me vow not to tell him since at this point, being in his mid-60s and quite vocally homophobic, he would not have accepted it. So against my mum’s wishes, I came out to my dad whilst my mum was sobbing upstairs. To this day he still believes my mum found out at the same time as him. There were a lot of tears. The defining moment came when my mum asked if my dad still loved me. Without missing a beat, he answered “Of course I love him, he’s my son”. Cue a lot more tears and the knowledge that everything was going to be fine. My dad was at our civil partnership, treats Tom like a second son, and is slowly but surely coming round to the idea of us adopting.
For my dad, coming to terms with me being gay was a e=result of him recognising that it’s really not a problem anymore. I think he was worried what people would think about me (and indeed him), but as time has gone on and he’s seen how normal it is, those fears have dissipated. And I hope that’s how he’ll feel about the adoption.
His initial response to being told we were adopting was that it wasn’t right for two men to bring up a child but he was unable to explain why he thought that. He know Tom and I are in a loving, solid relationship, and he has seen that we're both great with all our nieces and nephews. As the months have passed and I’ve spoken about the adoption around him (if not directly to him), and have left a few books lying around for my mum to read, I think he’s seen again that it’s fine. No one bats an eyelid any more at the myriad ways families are created.
In the twenty-two years since I came out so much has changed. The age of consent has been equalised, Section 28 has been repealed, civil partnerships and then marriages have been introduced, and of course the LGBT community are no longer barred from adopting and fostering.
I have no idea what it’s going to be like for our children having gay parents, but, as my mum has pointed out to my dad, isn’t it better that two children live with Tom and me in a loving home as opposed to languishing in the care system? Surely no-one can argue with that. And if the experiences of the children of gay parents we’ve spoken to are anything to go by, they’ll be absolutely fine.
Hopefully by the next LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week I’ll be able to tell you...
We’ve had a couple of second meetings recently. The first was when Tom and I met up with a couple of people from our Stage One preparation day for a drink. It was a really nice evening and was great to share our experiences of the process so far. Interestingly, we’re all at very different places with one being approved to adopt, another waiting for DBS certificates to be able to finish Stage One (if I felt the process was taking a long time, I can’t imagine how frustrated they must be feeling), and us in Stage Two. At the end of the evening (and after more bottles of wine than is sensible midweek) we made tentative plans to meet again in a few months. It felt like the start of our very own ‘NCT’ group.
Our second second meeting was with Denise, our social worker. After the last session I was prepared for anything and everything but fortunately that wasn’t necessary. The meeting was at the agency’s offices which I thought would be a bit grim but were actually very relaxed – it turns out Denise makes a great cup of tea which always helps (although she was a bit slow in offering the large box of biscuits that sat between us).
Denise, once again, kicked off the session by reminding us of the types of children we’re likely to be matched with and asked if we were ready for the challenges they might bring. Just like last time we assured her we were. I suspect this is going to be a regular exchange between us. We then spent some time looking at the types of children that are waiting to be placed in recent editions of the Adoption UK magazine.
This was a really useful exercise as it helped focus Tom and my thoughts on the types of children we feel we could offer a home to. As we’re committed to adopting a sibling group we don’t think it appropriate for us to take on a child with severe physical disabilities, which would mean our focus would naturally have to be on one of the children more than the other – not an ideal situation in any sibling group let alone with an adopted pair. However, we did think that a child with some form of developmental delay would be something we could cope with. As all our siblings have a child of each sex, it would be nice to have one of each too but gender isn’t really an issue for us. All of this is very fluid and will change as we go through the process but it’s good to be having the discussion.
We re-visited the eco-map but today looked at the people we offered support to and how they might cope when we were suddenly the parents to two children. This was interesting to think about as most of the people in our support network are either immediate family or our friends (most of whom have children themselves) and so the support has always been reciprocal and hopefully will continue to be so.
Tom and I mentioned that we’d met some of our prep group the night before and Denise was really pleased about this. We all agreed that they would be potential support for us (and vice versa) in the future. It turns out Denise knew I’d organised the contact list through speaking to the social workers that ran our prep days. I wonder what else she’s been told…
The conversation that took up most of the session was about stressful situations and how we deal with them. For me the big one is my mum’s mental health issues, which came up in the first session with Denise.
My mum’s periods of depression are sporadic, with her thankfully having far more ups than downs. In fact it’s so well managed nowadays, through a combination of medication, self-care, and counselling, that it’s a shock when it reappears. It is sometimes possible to predict when it’s coming though - the main crunch time being New Year’s Eve which is emotional for many people, but it’s also the night she finally escaped her life in Ireland and arrived in the UK, and it’s also the night (26 years later) she found out that I was gay.
Denise was interested in how I was affected by this and how I dealt with it. If anything I would say it’s made me a stronger person and far more in touch with my feelings (not in a new age hippie way). From the age of 11, when my mum’s illness was at its worst, I had to act as carer from when I got home from school until my dad came home from work. This meant cleaning, shopping, cooking – all things that I can manage very well now and actually are skills that all children should have. Thankfully, I also had my older brothers (who by this point had moved out) who supported me and made sure I was OK. There were also some great friends of my mum’s who were there for us and to whom I will be eternally grateful.
Nowadays, it’s Tom, my brothers and my friends that I turn when I need support - usually it’s just a frustrated rant that gets everything off my chest. When things are really bad with my mum it usually falls to my older brother who lives the closest to support and help her. But we all chip in when we can.
I’ve witnessed first-hand what bottling up feelings and emotions can do to a person, and the devastation caused when these feelings are released, so I’ve always been able to talk about my emotions, share my thoughts (this blog is testament to that), and if I ever feel a bit down I acknowledge those feelings and respond to them.
Throughout this conversation, Denise was frantically scribbling notes and at the end she summed up an hour’s worth of talking into one succinct sentence – “I get from what you’re saying is that you don’t feel responsible for your mum, but you love, care and look after her as any son would do”. I was amazed. Despite Denise’s slightly shambolic approach to paperwork, she picked up on tiny details from our conversation and understood my relationship with my mum completely. And phrasing it that way that was a revelation. It felt liberating to hear it said out loud in such a manner. And exhausting. But at least I didn’t cry this time.
We finished up with Denise giving us some homework. We have a piece of writing about the area we live in to complete, a couple of topics from the session to think about further, some more books to read (how there can still be books on adoption we haven’t read yet is beyond me), and we have to take a picture of us both that makes us look like a pair of dads.
All in all, two really positive meetings. I’m already looking forward to the next ones…
Today I revisit a blog I originally posted back in November when I was writing my family tree. Now we’ve started Stage Two I thought I would re-examine the cracks in my extended family in light of conversations with Denise, our social worker.
I come from a large family and I was struggling to fit everyone on to my family tree. And that was without including my sister – or half-sister to be exact. And, I suppose if we’re going to be exact, I should also call my brothers “my half-brothers” – a title that I would never dream of using when introducing them to anyone or generally talking about them.
I’m the only child of my parents’ marriage. My three brothers are from my mum’s first marriage and I grew up with them in the same house after my mum left her first husband and moved in with my dad. It must have been difficult for everyone but my parents and my brothers’ dad dealt with it brilliantly. There were occasional issues between my older brothers and my dad but they got through it, and my nieces and nephews call my dad “Granddad” without any thought to whose blood is in whom. We are a family. End of.
This is all in stark contrast to the relationship I have with my sister. There is a 22 year gap between my parents and as a consequence my mum is only a few years older than my sister. I appreciate this must have been difficult for her at the time, but when I was born she was a woman in her late twenties and a few years later would be a mother herself. Yet it took her until I was nearly 30 before she would even entertain the idea of acknowledging my existence.
About six years ago my dad became ill (he’s fine now) and he asked for us all to meet up. So my Mum and Dad, my sister and her husband, and Tom and I all met for dinner. It was fine (if not very strange) and we meet up now and again at my parents’ house but we don’t call each other or see each other outside of these meetings.
I know my dad would like us to have a similar relationship to the one I have with my brothers. But the fact that she’s more of my parents’ generation than my own, that she ignored me for 30 years, and that she has continually rebuffed any efforts I’ve made with her mean, for me at least, that the opportunity has passed. Plus, I’ve always felt like I was somehow betraying my brothers by having a relationship with her – I know this is completely irrational, and when I’ve said this to them they’ve always said they would support me in any decision I make, but I can’t shake that feeling.
I was originally worried about how this broken relationship would appear to Denise. Would she see it as a weakness in our application that I hadn’t been able (or willing, if I’m honest) to mend the relationship between my sister and me? Would it matter that I’ve met her two children only once, and never their children? Would it matter, when asked who’d support my ageing dad in future my answer was immediately “my brothers” (related to him by marriage), and that Denise had to remind me I had a sister (his daughter) who might take the responsibility?
As it turns out, the answer seems to be no. What I’m starting to realise is that what I thought might be considered ‘weaknesses’ by Denise are actually bonuses. Many of the children we’re likely to adopt may also have complicated families. Being aware of how that feels and can be managed could be a crucial part of what our children need.
Being British, I tend to shy away from discussing my personal finances in public. But today I’m going to make an exception - whilst still being vague enough about the details to protect my bank account and avoiding sounding too vulgar.
At our first assessment meeting last week, Denise, our SW, raised concerns that as two self-employed ‘creative types’ the panel may see us as having a weakness in our application to becoming adoptive parents. Over the last few days I have had a number of Twitter conversations and responded to comments on this page where people have pointed out that Denise is only trying to make sure that any ‘weaknesses’ are resolved so the panel can’t trip us up later on in the process. I’m sure they’re right, but my worry is that even if these are not Denise’s concerns, they are someone’s.
And that ‘someone’ in the adoption approval world has decided that two people who own their own home, have savings, and in most years earn near enough the national average from our ‘creative type’ jobs are at risk of not being able to feed and clothe our children. We’re not rich by any stretch of the imagination but we’re not destitute either. What more do they want?
I accept that the approval process has to be rigorous to ensure that vulnerable children are properly looked after, but some common sense has to be used as well.
I remember when we first started looking into adoption we visited the First4Adoption website and it listed who was eligible to adopt. The list was pretty comprehensive and the final line stated ‘those who were employed or on benefits’ (I went back this week to check I remembered right).
So I ask myself the question: if it’s possible for someone on benefits to adopt, surely we’ll be OK. Or is that line added on the website to be ‘inclusive’? Does that mean that if you are on benefits it would be seen as a weakness and someone’s adoption dream would end there? Surely that can’t be right.
The other big financial issue for us is the fact that self-employed workers are not currently entitled to any form of Statutory Adoption Pay. Whereas a friend of mine who is self-employed and recently gave birth can claim £140 per week, and another friend who is employed and has just adopted a child can claim a similar amount, I can’t. It’s my understanding we all pay the same amount of tax and national insurance so what’s going on?
I’ve written to my constituency MP, who has written to Nick Boles, the Minister of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and I received a letter from him explaining nothing beyond what I already knew. Apparently “nothing can be done”. But I have no intention of leaving it there, I can tell you. It’s so frustrating that this is yet another hoop that Tom and I (and countless others) have to jump through in order to have children.
So where does that leave us? I normally try to end my blogs with some kind of resolution or an uplifting remark. But this week there seem to be more questions than answers and, as is often the way with money matters, there’s nothing uplifting about it. I suppose all we can do is gather together enough evidence to prove that we can afford to look after our children.
And pray HMRC come to their senses before we’re (hopefully) approved to adopt. Now, that would be uplifting…
And lo! Adoption UK spoke and our prayers might be answered after all. On Tuesday, minutes after finishing this week's blog, a report by Julie Deane OBE was released that makes recommendations to the government to offer adoption pay to self-employed adopters. Fingers crossed.
Today is my 14th blog about our journey to becoming adoptive dads but it’s the first one to be in ‘real-time’. From now on my updates will be in the moment. Well, kind of - they’ll be delayed by a few days while I write them, edit them, and agonise whether they’re any good. I should also point out that this blog is a long one, so get comfortable…
So we’ve finally met our new social worker, Denise, and completed our first Stage Two meeting. Denise announced that she had a form we had to fill in that would officially start Stage Two proceedings and that at the end of the meeting she would decide to either leave the form with us to complete and we’d carry on the process - or she wouldn’t. If that happened that would be the end of our adoption journey with our agency. Righto!
Denise followed this by explaining she wasn’t going to pussyfoot around any issues and would be forthright with us throughout the whole process. She looked like she meant it too.
Both these announcements were enough to make me feel like I wanted to be sick. I wasn’t but it set quite a combative tone for the rest of the meeting.
It all started off easily enough with Denise going through our family trees, chronologies and eco-map. Tom went first and explained who particular people were on his family tree, discussed his relationships with his family, explained how he’d got into his line of work, and answered a whole host of questions about education, finance (more of this later), and a lot, lot more. The type of questions that need a bit of thought but nothing too strenuous.
Then it was my turn. In a earlier post I explain my ‘complicated’ family tree and gosh did it confuse Denise. Being inside my family I don’t think it’s that difficult to understand that I have three half brothers that I grew up who, to all intents and purposes, are my brothers. And I have a half sister whom I barely know. But this had Denise’s knickers in a twist as she tried to work out the relationships between various people. She was particularly perplexed by the story of how my parents met and asked me to ask them to get clarification on it* as she was unsure of their story (which is theirs so I won’t share it here).
*I have since asked them about their first meeting and it’s as brilliant as I thought it was and I was right. Take that Denise! I realise by not telling the story it sounds sordid somehow - I promise it isn’t. It’s actually very sweet – although no daughter of mine will ever meet her future husband in that way!
What I will share is why I cried. When I was 12 my mum suffered a devastating breakdown. This was triggered by the next brother up from me (the youngest from her first marriage) moving out of our family home. However, the root cause of the depression was my mum’s experiences growing up in a children’s home in the Republic of Ireland in the 1950s which she had kept hidden from us all until this moment. All this, mixed with a large helping of Catholic guilt, has meant she’d always felt she was a bad mother to us all and had let us down (my brother moving out was the straw that broke the camel’s back). It doesn’t matter how hard we try to prove to her this isn’t the case (the happy and successful lives my three brothers and I lead did not come about by accident) she still feels like she’s failed us.
My mum is actually convinced that her depression will somehow go against us as part of the approval process but, perversely, I’ve always had the feeling the social workers I’ve spoken to have been rather pleased there’s a bit of trauma in my background that I’ve overcome.
Anyway, I felt, wrongly or rightly, that Denise was somehow attacking my mum’s honour with questions about how she met my dad, her childhood, how she interacted with my brothers and me etc. And it bothered me. And as I defended my mum’s character I felt my hand reach for Tom’s leg, my cheeks get hot, my lips tremble, and then tears streaming down my face as my voice cracked. WTF?
I rarely cry. If you don’t count weeping at weddings or sniffling whilst watching a soppy move or the latest John Lewis Christmas advert (and let’s not for the moment) Tom has only seen me properly cry about three times in nearly 13 years. This is not to say I’m emotionally devoid of feeling – I am very in touch with my feelings – I just very rarely cry.
Another moment that made me bite my tongue was when Denise was talking about my first teaching job when I left university. She seemed to suggest that the only reason I got my job was that the school I applied to was so terrible (it really was) that no one else applied for the job. She seemed baffled that I could get a job at a school having just finished university. I was livid. And confused. What was she saying about me? Did she think I was unemployable after meeting me for an hour? It turns out she had misunderstood my chronology. My job title after I left after seven years was the head of a department. She thought I’d started straight out of university as a head of department, rather than as a class teacher, which explains her confusion – if not her rudeness.
Whilst talking to her I knew I was saying the right things – in as much as I was talking slowly and thinking about what I was saying. Unlike our first meeting with a social worker back in August. However, I was too aware of my body language. Should I cross my legs, lean back, lean forward, clutch my cup to my chest or put it down? I must have look deranged as I shifted from one position to the next thinking about the signals I was sending.
The final irksome moment was our finances which for obvious reasons I’m not going to divulge on a public blog. Suffice to say Denise felt that two self-employed creative types may not have the resources to bring up two children. We assured her we did and will spend the next few weeks proving that fact. It got me thinking though – is adoption only available to the rich? That can’t be the case surely. This will be the basis of a future blog so I’ll say no more on this topic for the moment.
We eventually got to our eco-map. Denise went through each person with a fine-tooth comb and talked about how they might support us. She felt that we might need more people in our immediate locality but she was generally positive about it. Thankfully, most of Tom’s school friends live relatively close to us and it’s just a matter of adding them to the eco-map.
Throughout the whole session Denise looked like she was drowning in a sea of paperwork. I had to stop myself from going to my desk to get her a stapler and putting her files in order. We knew from the couple of phone calls with her that was probably scatty but this really took the biscuit. For someone who is as freakishly organised as I am she is possibly my worst nightmare. Anyway, I’ve already decided that when this is all over I am going to buy her a stapler to say thank you.
We finished up by having a walk around the house where we talked more like people getting to know one another. She asked us about the books on our shelves, pictures on walls, where our bathroom tiles came from, and whether we had a gardener (I’ll admit it - we do). I’m pleased we did this as I think it showed her a bit more of who we are and equally who she was. I really wish we’d done this first as I think it would have put us all at ease and put her questions into a better framework.
Before Denise left she thankfully handed over the Stage Two application form (HURRAH!) and we set some dates for the following meetings plus a provisional date for our panel (AGHHH!).
When she did leave, Tom and I had a spot of lunch and talked through everything that had just happened. We both felt drained and poor Tom had to go to his first volunteering session at the local primary school. I meanwhile went for a long run to clear my head. When we both got back we opened a bottle of wine and talked some more.
So we’ve finally met our new social worker and it only took three and a quarter hours for us to decide that we like her. In that time I went from disliking her intensely, crying in front of her, drinking a lot of coffee, liking her, disliking her again, and finally making up with her. By the time she left I was exhausted but I genuinely feel like she is someone who is on our side and is going to fight our corner every step of the way. You can’t really ask for more…
NB. She phoned the next day to check I was OK – nice!
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...