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!
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.
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.