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Parenting Class 101

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Life changes after you have a kid—all parents experience this, but for us it was a long process just to become a parent. We decided to build our family by adopting through the foster care system, so the process was a lot more complicated than one might expect. This process has made parenting both a privilege and a gift for Philip and me.

A couple years have gone by since we went through training classes to be a foster parent; I try to think back and remember the topics discussed. More often than not I just remember how hard it was to hear what some kids experience in the foster care system.

After we had our son, it seemed like the first couple years required a lot of care—from bottle feeding to diaper changes and medical appointments—there was a lot to keep us occupied. Now that our son is over two, things have changed; Jacob has started coming out of his shell, but we have also started to see unwanted behaviors that have practically unraveled overnight. We also haven’t quite mastered “potty training” either. Philip and I also came to the realization that our social needs are not being met. We missed adult-only time too!

One day I saw a flyer at daycare for The Incredible Year’s Parenting Class, and I thought this might be what we need! We could get our training hours in (we are still in the Foster care system), and we could learn parenting skills that we might not already have. The class was a commitment—two and a half hours a week for fourteen weeks. I’m the type of person who, when I commit to something, I have a hard time backing out of it later. I wasn’t sure if Philip would be interested, but he was! I think he felt the same way that I did; this class would get us out of the house, and we could meet other parents. It was hard to meet other parents at daycare—they always seem to be in such a rush with no time to talk and a “get-out-of-my-way” attitude. I wanted to break this routine. We signed up at the last minute and read the details—the class provides dinner and childcare, even better!

Ground Rules

Our first Thursday class arrived, and I was both excited and nervous. I felt bad for Jacob, going to daycare all day and then two additional hours of childcare at night. However, I was determined to stay positive—this is for all of us, our family!

After dinner we walked in to the classroom to find the agenda written on the marker-board. I thought to myself, “What did we get ourselves into? There are at least ten couples, and, of course, we are the only gays!” Sometimes I think we gays are more judgmental then others. We think that we’ll be judged so we decide to become more judgmental initially.

The first thing our instructor did was to lay out the ground rules.

    “What should the ground rules be for this class?” the instructor said.

    A mother spoke up and said, “Don’t Judge.”

    “What is said in class stays in the class,” a dad said.

    Another mom chimed in, “Be open minded.”

I was immediately relived and elated. Here I thought we, my family, would be judged based on who we are, but I came to realize it is not about me; these families signed up for this class to become better parents to their kids just like us! I realized that I’m a parent, and it does not matter that I’m a gay person. I’m a parent and that is why I’m taking this class.

    “When you have a kid, no one gives you a manual, you have to figure out how to be a good parent on your own,” a mother said.

That statement is so true. I think most parents try their best to be a good parent, but with daily stresses and challenges that come with juggling work and home life, it is easy to sometimes forget to focus on your child, even though everything that you do is for them.

After the initial ground rules were finalized, the instructor moved on to goals:

    “I want to go around the room and ask each parent what his/her goals are for the class, Eric we will start with you,” he said with a big smile.

Oh great! I’m put on the spot right away with no time to think about it, but then it just came out. I said, “To meet other parents and know what to expect down the road.” He continued to write everyone’s goals down and off we went into the class session.

While our goals might have been a little different, we all had the same reasons for joining the class—to be a better parent and to have the tools needed to get by the day to day challenges we face as parents.

After the first class, we got home and Philip and I looked at each other with a big smile. This is just what we needed! It was really great to be around people who are experiencing the same struggles that we do—it felt like much needed therapy. To talk about issues and hear about other parents’ struggles—we were not alone! Fourteen weeks seemed like a long time until we got into the class. I began to come out of my shell, and I really felt a part of something that I have not felt for a while.

Moving Forward

Our last class was a week ago. Our last dinner was a potluck, every family brought something to share. You could tell everyone really cared because everything was delicious and wholesome.

Looking back, I even noticed this experience helped Jacob grow. He was able to be with older kids, which was great preparation for his future: elementary school. At the end of each night, it was nice to open the door to the classroom and see the excitement of the kids waiting for their parents to pick them up. It was also nice to say bye to each parent and the support of saying, “Have a good rest of the week!”

Now that class is over, I am a little sad because we are on our own, BUT I did achieve my goal—we met a couple of families whom I look forward to connecting with outside of the class. I also feel like I have the tools I need to be a good parent. I have a fear that we will forget techniques we learned as time goes on, but I know we need to take a step back and focus on behavior instead of immediately getting frustrated.

On a side note, I have to say—those of you who have two girls—I feel for you! Wow! From the stories we heard it appears that having girls is a bigger challenge than boys. We wanted a little princess, but I think Philip has changed his mind after hearing some of these stories. I did not realize how hard a little girl could bite another’s check and not let go!

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs I have ever had—even owning my own business is easier—but being Jacob’s Papa is the most rewarding job I have ever had. I would encourage gay dads to join some kind of parenting group, even if you think you know all there is to know about parenting. It really helps with the day-to-day challenges; what works one day might not work the next. As a parent you have to be ready to roll with the punches or bites for that matter.

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With everything going on in our country, I think saying that it has been a crazy year is an understatement. It has been emotionally difficult and draining at times for many. This year brought so many new changes that it is hard to wrap our minds around some of them. The daunting feeling of uncertainty looms over our heads as we march forward into this unfamiliar territory led by someone we do not particularly trust.

With that said, one thing will not change- the holidays. For my family, this time of year brings cheer, joy, hope, and optimism for the new year to come.

I have always had one golden rule when it comes to decorating our home for the holidays: the current holiday must pass before decorating for another.

Recently, our two year old, Alli Mae, had started to develop an appreciation for all that Christmas brings. The way she lights up and gets excited when she sees Christmas decorations made me think for the first time in my life, what if I changed things up this year? Decorating earlier will also help attenuate the political frustration that this year brought. That coupled with the amazement that our little girl has for Christmas makes a strong case for decorating for Christmas early. Sure, there are diehard Thanksgiving fans that grumble at the thought of Christmas coming early and I am sure they will give this a healthy eye roll and, if so, that's ok. We are not replacing Thanksgiving... we are enhancing it.

We will most definitely continue to teach our children the meaning of Thanksgiving and to enjoy the symbolic feast that comes along with it. The white pumpkins I usually put out for Thanksgiving really made a statement when I mixed them with the Christmas attire. I was quite surprised and impressed by the final outcome!

These days, one of my primary goals in life is to create an environment for my family that is happy, healthy, and nurturing. I want them to get excited about Christmas, both the true meaning and the atmosphere that it brings. When my children walk into the house, I want them to be transported into a bright, cheerful place that they will always remember. Perhaps it will even inspire the way they celebrate the holidays with their families (and our future grandchildren) in the future. The world can be a harsh, cold and scary place, especially lately it seems. I would be lying if I said I didn't do this for myself, too. I am. For the first time in my life, I am worried for the future of our country. I am terrified of the direction we as Americans are taking and worry it is setting a precedent for what the future will be like for my family. Mass shootings seem to happen monthly now, yet there continues to be a lack of response by Congress to create solutions. Bigotry and racism, masked by patriotism, also plague our society. I know I am speaking of sore subjects, but all of these reasons give me the motivation for welcoming the Christmas season earlier.

I do have faith that in time, competent leaders will emerge and will steer us in a direction that will help fade our fear into the bold and lionhearted society that we are. We as LGBTQ families need to comfort one another. Lets extend our hands to each other. Let this holiday season not be about the "correct" time in which we decorate for Christmas, moreover lets make it about coming together as a community that lifts each other up. Lets protect each other. Lets embrace each other for all the we are, all that we bring and all that we stand for. Let us not be silenced- and pushed into a corner but let us lead by example- while showing our children who their parents are by being respectful and tolerant and warmhearted as we welcome this Christmas season.

Erik and Douglas' two daughters, Ella and Alli Mae, who recently turned 2

May you and your family have the most beautiful and happiest of holidays, regardless of when you choose to welcome Christmas. I pray that 2018 will bring each of you happiness, patience, resilience and with time, we will get there, together!

I would love for you to follow our family's journey on Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Arejay Encinas and his husband Mauricio Camargo wanted to become foster dads so they could help a child find a loving home. The two live in Tucson, Arizona, and were married February 2015. A little less than two years after their wedding, they received a call about a newborn who needed to be fostered. They said yes immediately. In October 2017, the little boy's adoption was finalized. This is the story of two dads and their moving letters to their son Dylan on the day they became a forever family.

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In October this year, James and Andrew took their eldest Olivia (Liv for short) to Disney World for her 2nd birthday.

"We were going to wait under her adoption day," said James, "But she has a real affinity for Winnie the Poo and Belle from Beauty and the Beast ... She loved it!"

Andrew and James have been together a little over 10 years, and they currently are fostering two children, 2-year-old Liv and 5-month-old Brandon (Bran for short).

"We have always wanted to be dads from the moment we met," said James, who was also adopted through foster-care. "That is how I was adopted and it seemed to be the best fit for our family."

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November is National Adoption month, and in the US, around 16,000 same-sex couples are raising more than 22,000 adopted children.

In honor of National Adoption Day, Saturday 18, 2107, we heard from a few of our families on how they celebrate their kids' "forever family" days.

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Welcoming a child into your home though foster care or adoption can be an exciting, but also challenging, time. However, there are several things you can do to help make the transition smoother for the new child and your family.

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In March this year, we shared the story of Michael and Wes, their eldest daughter Katie (and wonderful big sister) and their newborn Talulah. Apart from the sore backs attributed to their age as new dads, Michael and Wes have loved every minute of it. (Watch Talulah's 1st year video below.)

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As celebrations sweep across Australia, the LGBTQ community, along with their allies, rejoice in the results of the marriage equality vote. Despite the controversial campaign that surrounded the plebiscite, love won. And won big! An overwhelming 79.5% of the population took part in the survey (12.7 million people), and in every state and territory, the majority voted "yes," with 61.6%.

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