A New Reality: Life with Kids
May 29, 2014 by Guest contributor
Erin, Dan, Kyle and Lucas enjoy family time on vacation, April 2014.
I grew up in rural Louisiana so far out in the country that we had only two industries; farming and families. I knew from an early age that the former was not the life for me. When I came out at age 25 I assumed that I had given up the latter. I have always loved children but I never thought that it would be in the realm of possibility for me to have a family of my own. For much of my life, there wasn't even the concept of same-sex marriage, let alone same-sex parenting. Now, same-sex couples can get married in more than a third of this country, including my home state of Washington, and even if same-sex parents aren’t routine, we are no longer an exception. For me, having a spouse and family has gone from being an abstract concept to an achievable reality.
Even now with a wonderful husband and two amazing children of my own, I still marvel at this blessing. For Dan and me, parenting was not a biological imperative or an intellectual choice; it was a choice about love and sharing our lives with children. There are a lot of options available to those who want to become parents, but for us adopting through the foster system felt right. We are both caretakers by nature and had been very involved in the lives of our many nieces and nephews. There are so many children in foster care who have never been nurtured or cherished in the way that we were as children, who never had the safety and stability that we had received from our parents. We talked over every aspect of the process before making our decision and decided that this was the way to go.
When we started the foster-to-adopt process, we were 50-years-old, not generally considered the optimum age for starting a family. If you've ever been part of a minority group, you know that you are very much aware when people are being condescending, when they are giving lip service to the idea that you are equal, but they don’t really accept you. What I appreciated about our adoption agency, Amara, is that they didn’t make us feel uncomfortable or pretend that we were just a run-of–the–mill couple. They didn’t gloss over the fact that we were older and gay. They looked at us in our entirety and we felt that they saw not only the challenges that would face us as parents, but they recognized the qualities that made us ideal to adopt children who needed a loving home. In the end, it was our decision to parent that was the most important thing to them, not someone else’s opinion that we were arbitrarily unacceptable.
We decided to foster siblings rather than a single child. We both come from large families (I am one of four children, Dan is one of nine). When you consider it, most of us outlive our parents, so your relationships with your siblings will be the longest of your life. We had gone through a lot of training to get a foster license and had learned that sibling sets are hard to place. By opening our hearts to taking more than one child, we knew that we could help keep children together who may have had only each other for support.
Our foster license came through just before Christmas and we were deluged with profiles of children in need. Emergency placements abound during the holidays and each story is a little tragedy laid in your lap with a plea to help. Even with all the training and the workshops and the advance warning that this was going to happen, we felt a bit overwhelmed. When you’re looking at profiles of children needing care, it can be easy to see them as an abstraction.
First you get a thumbnail sketch (“Boy 4, girl 6; he has tantrums and she wets bed, removed from substance-abusing parents following outbreak of domestic violence, need placement with potential for permanence) that sounds like the character description for a drama, not children like your nieces or nephews. However the reality is that these kids aren't any different than your brother's son or your sister's daughter. Their life experience has just been different. The children in the foster system aren’t the picture-perfect products of loving homes; these children have real needs that have never been met. It's not the well-behaved child that needs you so much, it's the child who wets the bed and has tantrums and has never known the security that you can provide.
Erin and Lucas were 6 and 5 years old when they came into our home. We felt a connection the first time we met them. There was a haunted look in Lucas’s eyes and a tentativeness to Erin that was almost heart-breaking. After our first playdate, we were in love with them and it was clear that they needed us. We soon came to realize that neither Erin nor Lucas had ever been unconditionally loved or cherished by anyone. This is fundamental to the healthy development of every child. When you see children who know that they are precious to the people around them, they look different. Our children didn’t have that look when we first met them. They do now, and I expect you can see it just as well as we can. That’s when you know that you aren’t just taking care of these kids, you have become their parents.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to romanticize the parenting experience. It is hard work. It's tiring. It's all day and all night and on into the next day. When Santa brings a puppy and two kittens, it becomes even harder. When friends ask how fatherhood is treating me, I tell them it has chewed me up, but hasn’t spit me out yet. However, being a father rewards and nourishes both of us in ways that we could never have anticipated. One of our favorite things is to look at Erin and Lucas when they're asleep. We call it hitting the reset button, because no matter how much they have aggravated us during the day, their peaceful faces are like a balm. So we’ve gone from being the kind of couple that tried new restaurants to the kind of couple that watches Disney videos. But you know, we had a lot of nights out before the children came. Today, we don't mind so much that the evening festivities usually go by the wayside. We get the chance to enjoy a new reality, our family.
This May, HRC is proud to celebrate National Foster Care Month by honoring the leaders at child welfare agencies that are committed to improving outcomes for LGBTQ youth, the LGBTQ foster youth themselves, and the foster families supporting them. Stay tuned to HRC blog throughout the month for more foster care stories.
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