They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in our case it took at least five, the biological mom and dad, foster parents and a social worker. It all started when a friend asked if I would consider volunteering as a teacher for a group of bilingual kids. Each Saturday for two hours I had 3 boys and 5 girls who could already speak English. All three boy’s parents knew I was gay and all 5 girl’s most likely assumed I was straight, yet they trusted me completely with their kids. Sitting in a circle reading a book while they clamored for who would get to sit closest was truly special for me. This made me think of kids and raising children.
Before getting married to my husband I had never really thought about bringing up children. Even the idea of a normal healthy gay relationship had seemed so alien to me after having had a religious upbringing and no gay role models to look up to. Sure as a teenager, back in the States, I really enjoyed being around children and became a popular babysitter in my neighborhood. But after hitting university I had almost no opportunities to interact with children for several years, first because of my studies and then due to work.
When I and my husband started talking about kids we finally decided to apply to the foster system here in Iceland and after a grueling 10 week course including lengthy essays, home visits, background checks and tax records, we were approved.
Mischievousness in the locker room
A few months after finishing the course we got a call from social care asking if we would be willing to take on two brothers, aged 5 and 7. When we expressed interest we got a chance to meet the boys at the children’s home and spend some time to get to know each other. This was followed by a visit to our house before they moved in and over the next week we spent evenings and weekend-days together before they transitioned to living at our house.
I have to admit that going from a no-child household to two kids was quite a challenge. For example a visit to the swimming pool ended with both boys running naked from locker to locker, pulling out the keys, throwing them inside and slamming the doors shut, me telling them to stop and get dressed and a man asking with a smile if I “got enough to do?”. After pouring over Supernanny (all seasons) and implementing some structure (a sticker based calendar reward system and a time out chair) the next pool visit was much easier.
Teenagers against gay parents
Before I go on, I have to admit I was pretty much convinced that if I would ever get a hint of homophobia in Iceland, it would somehow be connected to childcare. So when the social workers asked in the first interview if we would be willing to care of teenagers I said: “If you were to place a two-year old with us, they would grow up thinking two fathers was just another normal household. But what if a fifteen year old doesn’t want gay parents?”.
The social workers looked at each other as though the thought had never occurred to them. The answer was simple: “This is Iceland. That will not happen.”
We never experienced anything but normal interactions from everyone after the two boys were placed with us, whether from social workers or teachers. The biological parents never mentioned that aspect and were only curious about our background and housing space. So it seems I need not have worried after all. This was just another step in the long healing journey for me as a gay man raised in a homophobic culture (the 80’s and 90’s in a conservative southern US state).
From babysitting to full-time dads
The two boys we took care of are now back with their biological parents. Since then we’ve also tried our hand as a „support family“ which differs from a „foster family“ in the sense that the child’s biological parents are doing fine but it could benefit from time away from home and with another set of parents.
One of the children we’ve looked after, a boy only 13 months old, was placed with us full-time for a short period and the experience was totally different. Whereas before we got two fairly high functioning individuals we had a non-talking infant constantly smiling at us, wanting to be held by us instead of our friends and family and grasping new skills which is really rewarding to watch. Ultimately he was placed back with his biological grandparents after only one week, which was upsetting for us, but that’s part of the foster process – and we had been warned.
Our parenting journey is far from over and has been quite different from the traditional role of deciding to get pregnant, giving birth, raising a kid. I personally believe there is an opportunity for us same-sex couples to give a loving home to kids who need some extra adults at times in their lives, be it as a full-time foster parent, a support family, a doting uncle or even just a tax-paying family not using any childcare resources. It truly does take a village to raise a child and including same-sex couples in the village only makes it richer.