School, and other parents

These are extracts from a recent conversation on our message board:

At the moment we are having to think about choosing a school for our six year old. We’d like to hear about the kinds of experiences others have had with schools and any advice you can offer. Also what kind of response have you had from other parents at the school?
Peter

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Hi, We are in the process of being linked to two boys and looked around a school today and they were wonderful. Extremely helpful, honest and friendly. The only advice we could give would be to be open and ask lots of questions. We asked lots of questions about how the school would deal with homophobic comments, and experience of same sex couples. This school were very honest and ended up saying that they thought we would make fantastic parents. Strange but lovely comment considering they just met us!!
Good luck

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Hi
Our boys have been placed with us since June last year. We are still waiting for the legal adoption to go through. Throughout the approval process we made a point of saying which school the children would attend. This tied in with our local support network, as our neighbours and friends had children at this local school. At the point of placement, the school placement all fell apart. The school was full. There is a legal ruling for children in infant schools that there can be up to 30 children only. As the local school was full, we were offered other schools. On further research, the nearest school was over a mile away (not within walking distance for a 4 yr old) and the other schools were all at the bottom of the performance league tables.

Social services could do nothing. We were simply left high and dry! Fortunately, one of the boys was given a place at our local school on the day term started. For the other boy, we had to wait. We then went through a process of appeal and appeal and appeal. I wrote letters to everyone! I went to see education authority staff and I tried to speak to the headmistress about the school curriculum so we could educate from home. Finally, we persuaded the social worker to act and bring in her legal team to say that the placement was at risk of failure if the right school placement was not offered.

So, for all of you out there going through adoption process be warned. The children do not get an automatic right to go to the school of your choice, even when you have discussed this endlessly with your social worker. School placement cannot be arranged until the exact date of placement. Also, the 30 per class rule for kids under year 2 is really enforced. So, once you have been approved and the matching has all been done, ascertain which school best suits the needs of your children and then fight tooth and nail to achieve that school position.

Then, when the kids start school, you then have new battles. Our youngest one’s behaviour at school has been quite erratic and the teachers seem to just mark him out as a “naughty” boy. He does not have special educational needs but after all the things the poor little mite has been through, he does have special emotional needs and being labelled a “naughty” boy is not really very helpful. We have since had a meeting with the school and enforced the children’s educational review (which all children in care are now legally eligible to have). In this meeting we were able to get the Head Teacher to explain the needs of children in care to the young, recently graduated teacher. Since then, things have been much more positive. So, in answer to your question, you have decide upon a school which meets the needs of your children and be able to work with them to help with your child. Remember, the children are at school for such a long time during the waking hours of the day. The teachers and the system can really undo all the good work you are doing to help the child in your care!
John & Marcus

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Something I’m curious about, but which hasn’t really been raised in this thread of conversation, is whether any of you (those of you who have children placed) have been open with other parents about the fact that you are lesbian/gay/bi? Both Amanda and I are very comfortable in our relationship and we are out at work and to our families/friends, but when it comes to getting to know parents of your children’s friends, what do you tend to say?

We were at a birthday party at the weekend for a friend’s 3-year-old little boy and there were a lot of parents there with their toddlers. I suppose I did feel a little nervous around the other parents and worried that they would have a problem with it. I suppose I’m thinking more of my own parents’ generation than the current generation of parents! Do young, heterosexual parents nowadays tend to have a problem with lesbian/gay/bi people adopting/having kids? None of our friends with children do but maybe we just know open-minded people! Has anyone experienced any trouble with this? I’m sure our social worker will ask us, once we get into home study, how we will deal with negative comments from other parents…

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Dear Claire, you are who you are and that will be for all to see at school/nursery/parties etc etc. We have been very fortunate in that we live in an OK area and have not experienced any ‘overt’ discrimination or problems. We get on well with a good number of parents and our child mixes with a good range. I’m sure there are those that don’t approve and say so in private, but that could be said for all sorts of difference. All you can do is be who you are and get on with it. In this process for these kids honesty and trust is vital. The kids and parents will spot it anyway, so any attempt at concealment would prove fruitless and why make such an issue of wanting to be a Gay adopter if you are not going to be right out there! All I can say is our experience to date has been fine!
Best of luck with the home study

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Hi
I agree with you. We talked about this with our social worker at length before the adoption but the reality of being a gay parent has really hit me for six in a way I never expected it to.

I would say that I am “openly gay” but on reflection I previously (BC – before children) only tended to tell people about my sexuality when I got to know them or needed to spend any amount of time with them. Now that I have kids I quite often feel self conscious in way that I have never imagined. It often seems that, when I walk down the street with my partner and two boys, the whole world can see this “Strange” family as thought there is some kind of huge spotlight on us.

When out with the kids on my own, the straight Dads give me knowing looks of “aren’t all children hard to cope with” in a way that other gays do when they spot another gay in a group situation. It’s as though you are a member of a new Dad’s club, yet you feel a bit of a cheat because you are not quite the Dad they are trying to relate to.

Initially at the school gates it took a while to settle into speaking to some of the mums and dads. As our boys joined the school into the term, it was apparent to some that there was a new family on the block. Most paid no attention at all. There were already cliques of mum’s who had obviously known one another from pregnancy classes and throughout the nursery school years. I would stand and look at everyone, fearing that they were all talking about us.

In reality I was quite wrong. Other parents seem to be so wrapped up in their own stresses of doing their job of raising a family that we were hardly the gossip of the town. Even now, some months on, we are quite amazed that when one of us drops off the boys at a party there is often complete confusion by the hosts when the other partner goes to pick up the children. It seems the classmates all know the boys have two dads but the parents are the last to find out.

We have taken the bull by the horns and when asked, we always discuss our situation. We are two gay Dads and the boys are adopted. This does compromise the boy’s privacy but it gets over the embarrassment hurdle immediately. We have not had any problems. There are lots of naive comments but never any aggression to our faces.

A few months back, we went to stay at a hotel. During the evening the air con broke down and the boys complained about being too hot. We called out for house keeping only to be completely in fear that the engineer would find it odd that 2 men and 2 boys were sharing a room. Next week we are taking a similar short break holiday. God knows what the other families will think. In the past I never used to care. We could go about in anonymity but now that we have two children in tow it seems like having to come out all over again.

I am sure it will get easier in time but I had forgotten what it once felt like; to be fresh out of the closet
John

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Thank you for the replies so far… I’d be interested to see what others think, and whether it differs between male and female couples. John, I think that’s it, you know – having to come out all over again! In our everyday lives people we don’t know just assume Amanda and I are friends out together (we’ve never been hand-holdy people) so our sexuality is never at the fore of everything we do. But when we take our friend’s little boy out to the park (we are doing this to get some much-needed childcare experience) we get a few looks, and have been asked by children, “Which one of you is his mummy?” With him it’s easy – we just say “His mummy is at home and we’re his friends” – but with our own children that will be an interesting one to tackle! James, I completely understand what you’re saying too… we’re not ashamed/fearful really, just a little nervous. I know that if we are lucky enough to adopt we will have to put on a strong, proud, confident front for the child’s sake – just curious to know whether anyone has had trouble doing that, or if they’ve been pleasantly surprised! Maybe it’s because most of our friends are heterosexual couples who don’t have to deal with being “different” – meeting some other LGB adopters in June will be beneficial to us I’m sure. :-)

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I concur with John and James’ take on this. We’re about to be matched and we fully expect that a brief, straightforward and upfront explanation of what kind of family we are will be the best way to put possible detractors on the back foot and it will also put at ease those who would be supportive but who’re concerned about intruding or offending us with assumptions. I have an expectation, based on our experiences of being seen in public caring for kids where we’ve looked like the parents, that fewer people will be as intentionally offensive to a family as they have sometimes been on seeing us, a (childless) gay couple, holding hands in the street. Not that I think the whole world is about to be accepting, but if we can’t just be ourselves and assert who we are then others could see that as a weakness. We’ve taken other people’s kids for stays in hotels and we’ve found that people have been delighted to see us, perhaps because they already are pro-gay and they like children. It’s like being out with a puppy – suddenly, all sorts of strangers are happy to engage and smile. There’s an element of excitement at spotting such a rare and lovely thing as a happy family with two dads or two mums. I think that in the school setting and social situations involving school friends, any noticeable nervousness about other people’s possible hostile reactions might be taken as a fear of being outed (even though people can already see for themselves that you’re gay parents) and could hamper the development of good, relaxed relations with teachers and other families.
Craig

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Yes, children out you like you’ve never been outed before. You lose that ability to judge each situation and act accordingly – small children don’t understand and will happily tell total strangers, “I’ve got two mummies!”. Plus, you can’t and shouldn’t act in ways that teach children that their family is a shameful secret; we absolutely have to role-model for them that their family is nothing to be ashamed of.

We’ve had no problems so far, though occasionally I hear through the grapevine snide comments that have been made behind my back (like that dd was slower than average to start talking because of her ‘weird homelife’). I think it must get harder once these people’s kids start parroting their words of wisdom to our kids in the playground…
Sarah

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Hi all
Sarah, I couldn’t agree more!! Have just spent about half an hour with our girls in the Building Society opening savings accounts for them. During that time they chatted freely with the assistant and in the space of half an hour they disclosed their previous foster carers, that they were adopted, their birth names, the fact that they had 2 mummies, plus of course the usual stuff about how old they were, the fact that they are 5 and 8, that Casey is going on a school trip to a farm and that they want Jessie and Samantha to win on the BBC ‘I’ll Do Anything’ show!!! There’s just no stopping them!! Not of course that we really want to – we want them to be proud of who they are, although we did have a bit of a chat about the differences between friends and people we meet but will probably never see again!!
Debbie

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This thread has really taken off suddenly and its been great to read of the comments. We went to visit out preferred school this week and they were EXCELLENT. Very warm, welcoming and totally accepting – it was a real relief. Like the school Matt mentions it has a very mixed catchment and the assistant head told us they already have some “single sex” parenting couples and she was not aware of any issues. Comments about going on holidays (prob next year!) are encouraging. I too anticipated all kinds of reactions to two men sharing a room with a seven year old boy. But now with less than two weeks to the matching panel, we’ve got more immediate worries!!!

Published in From our message board on November 23, 2008