12 reflections of parenthood

In the spirit of being at the very end of the final month of the year and looking to the year ahead, I thought I’d look back on my first full year as a father with my twelve reflections of parenthood. So here they are…

1.  It’s been an amazing. It’s important to get this one in first because it best sums up my year. The girls have enriched my life beyond measure and brought me countless moments of joy. I’ve laughed and cried (tears of happiness) at things I never thought I would; such as as hearing “I need a cuddle daddy”; or when watching them try and experience something new for the first time. Parenthood is wonderful!

2. I cannot imagine life without my children. I’ve only been a parent for fourteen months but I cannot imagine what life would be like if I didn’t have the girls. Having children has caused my world to grow immensely and i’ve tried and experienced lots of new things that were just not on my radar, as a result of having them.

3. It’s hard work. As amazing as my girls are, parenthood is hard. Bloody hard in fact. There are times when I’ve wondered what the hell I’ve gotten into, feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing and that I am merely muddling my way through. At times like these it’s been great to talk to other parent’s, to hear that I’m not the only one and that we’re all just trying to do the best we can, for our children.

4. Being a stay-at-home-dad was not for me. I’ve only fully realised this now that I am back at work but being a stay-at-home parent was tough. It’s not something I’d ever change – I’m eternally grateful for the time I got to spend bonding with the girls, getting to know them, having fun with them and providing them (hopefully) with a nurturing and stable environment. However, by the end I felt like I struggled being at home all day. Work by comparison seems surprisingly easier now that I’ve returned. Maybe it’s because I cannot invest as much of myself and I’ve now got the balance right. The girls are thriving at nursery and I still get to have my ‘fabulous Friday’s’ with just them and me.

5. The tiredness does get better. Suddenly having two small people to look after – to feed, bathe, nurture and play with; coupled with reduced sleep meant that exhaustion levels at the beginning were high. However, I’m pleased to reflect that it does get better. Well either that or you just get used to it. I’m writing this post at 6.30am, having decided that this time is one of the few moments in the day when I can have some quiet time to myself. I, someone who would normally stay in bed until the latest possible time each day, have chosen to rise early. I couldn’t have imagined doing so 9 months ago as I’d have been too wiped out.

6. Your instincts count. There are so many books, guides and websites out there with conflicting information about how to do this, that and the other. The advice seems to change from week to week but you are a sensible person and you know you’re child best. So sometimes you just need to listen to your instincts. The decision to take my youngest to A&E, despite two visits to the GP in the previous two days both resulting in no diagnosis or prescription, was vindicated when it was confirmed that she had a bad chest infection and a raised heart-rate. Sometimes you just know.

7. Your children do not sound as loud in a restaurant as you might think. I’ve spent many occasions over the last year sat in restaurants cringing and thinking that my children have been causing my fellow diners to be put off their meals. In fairness this probably did happen on at least a few occasions, one memorable one being as my youngest projectile vomited across the floor. In most cases though it probably wasn’t as loud or disturbing as I thought. Not once have we had any evil stares, or tut-tuts from other diners. Please don’t be put off going to restaurants out of fear of your child having a melt-down. It happens and most people are reasonable. I’ve heard lots of people over the last year say “oh we never really go to restaurants”, which I think is sad.

8. My partner and I have very different parenting styles. And actually that’s okay. During the adoption process we talked at length about our parenting styles and how we would unite and align to be a consistent presence in our children’s lives. We talked about our parenting styles and truly believed that we would be similar in our approach. Then reality hit us like a ton of bricks, we felt like we were treading water and a kind of fight-or-flight reaction kicked in meaning that all of the ‘theory’ went out of the window and we suddenly realise that we do things very differently to how we expected. I thought I would be the softy but am totally the disciplinarian. The girls only have to pout and my partner gives in. We’ve even resorted to telling the girls that he has gone to the gym every evening (ha ha) after they have gone down to sleep, as they like to play up to get his attention (which he gives into), which they don’t do for me.

9. Being gay parents is still a novelty. We live in London and probably have a much different experience to people living in say the Outer Hebrides but we have still had some strange reactions. Most recently was our visit to Father Christmas with the girls. On entering the Grotto my partner and I, each with one of the girls in our arms, were asked “are you together?” We said yes. He then proceeded to ask my partner and youngest where they lived and he told them the street name. He then turned to me and asked the same question. I looked at him baffled and said the same street name and he said. “Oh you live on the same street?” “Yes, Father Christmas we all live together, we are a family”, I said. He turned as red as his suit as he realised his mistake. Nothing malicious in it at all, just a lack of awareness I suppose.

10. I now cry at the silliest of things. I’ve had many ‘oh my contact lenses are irritating me’ moments as I have blubbed while watching the say or do something. Watching my girls say ‘cheers’ with the milk cups in the morning sets me off, as does seeing them holding hands in the back of the car. Seeing my eldest sing Christmas songs at her nursery show had me in floods.

11. My home will never be as tidy as I’d like. Being a parent has made me realise how much I really do love having a tidy and ordered home. We currently have toys everywhere. Piles of washed but as yet unfolded clothes dominate our bedroom. Paperwork clutters the kitchen worktops. There are finger-prints, smudges, crayon marks and unidentified sticky substances on surfaces where there shouldn’t be across the house. I am slowly coming to realise that the magazine shoot ready home I’d love to have is just not going to happen with two little ones. And I’m okay with that. Sort of.

12. Cherish every moment. This is the advice we’ve been given by lots of parents with older children. As adoptive parents we’ve been very lucky to experience and enjoy some of the key early moments with our children, as we adopted them relatively young. But whether you’ve had your children from day one or year five, cherish every moment as they grow so quickly. The past year has seen the girls grow and develop from baby/toddler into little girls each with their own distinct personalities and character. This time next year I’ll be looking at primary school places for my eldest. It goes so quickly. Cherish every moment.

I finally ‘get’ Pride now that I am a gay parent

The phrase ‘you don’t know you’re born’ came to mind as I left the cinema one evening after seeing the brilliant film Pride last year. My partner and his best friend, who are lets just say a ‘couple’ of years older than me, were telling me about what it was like to be a gay man in London in the 80s, how tiny the gay scene was, the challenges that gay people faced and how political it all was. It really hit home how easy I’ve had it and how lucky I am.

I came out in 2002 to a family who accepted me unquestioningly; and I’ve lived my whole life in London, one of the most open and tolerant places in the world. Being gay has never affected my education, career, relationships, friendships or even my chances of becoming a parent. It’s probably for this reason that I’ve never felt particularly connected to or strongly about the various gay political movements.

Of course I sympathised with the plight of people in countries around the world where being gay is illegal. I’ve been horrified by stories places like Saudi Arabia and Jamaica where people are persecuted because of their sexuality. But I suppose I’ve been a bit ignorant about the causes and issues that are important to so many people who still feel disadvantaged or marginalised here in the UK; the people who still feel unable to come out to their families or people at work or the people who grow up in less tolerant towns and villages and face verbal or physical abuse for being themselves.

Even Pride, arguably the biggest gay event of the year, with it’s all it’s political history tended to pass me by. My one and only attendance at Pride was in 2002 when there was a festival in Hackney Marshes. As a newly out bright-eyed twenty-two-year-old Pride was just a great big fabulous excuse for a party. I went with a group of friends and spent the day drinking and dancing, oblivious to the march or any of the issues that Pride gives a voice to.

Now, as a gay adoptive father of two, I finally feel like I have something to get angry about. When articles like this utter tripe are being written about gay adoption; when prominent gay people such as Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana can denounce non-traditional families; and when Republican presidential candidates can call gay parents ‘unconscionable and a destructive’ it makes me realise how much work there is to be done to educate against the ignorance that still exists. Despite research showing that children living in same sex parent families are not negatively impacted, a quick look in places such as the comments section on any same sex parent related article on the Daily Mail will uncover a whole host of backward and bigoted views.

This ignorance could be directed at my children at the school gates or in the playground. This ignorance could prevent a gay person from choosing to adopt out of fear for how they or their child will be accepted. This ignorance might cause a child to be left in care for even just a second longer than is necessary. And this makes me mad.

I feel that the best way to tackle the bigots is to just be ourselves, to be the best parents that we possibly can be. Every child that we raise to be happy, confident and prejudice-free is a kick in the teeth to those who believe it is somehow wrong or unnatural for us to parent children.

So I finally get what Pride is all about. I now see that Pride, with the attention it demands in the media, is the perfect opportunity to proudly show the world that same-sex parent families are here, happy and doing just fine. This weekend, I will be attending for the first time in 13 years and I will be there at the march with my partner and my children to show solidarity, not only with other gay families (those who have already fulfilled their dream of a family and those who are still on their journey) but with every LGBT person affected by discrimination or prejudice. And then I’ll have a drink and a dance. Because, well, it would be rude not to wouldn’t it?