As I’m sure you’re aware being a same sex family sometimes has its challenges, don’t get me wrong its nothing we can’t overcome or combat, because in our eyes the love we feel for our children, and the way we parent (both through theory and real-life practical lessons) is the same. It got me thinking about Maternal instinct and ‘Mum knows best’ type situations, something forever lacking in our family unit. What even is ‘maternal instinct’? Do women who adopt have the same instincts, do women who use an egg donor and a surrogate have the same maternal pull? Or is this ‘urge’ simply ‘Love’, but packaged differently? Either way I feel all apply.
We can speculate endlessly about how this instinct came about. Whatever the reason, does it make it any less true that fathers are devoted to their children? Does it make any less true that nurturing children is an important and fulfilling aspect of being a man? Is paternal instinct any less authentic, deep, pure and powerful than maternal instinct? We have always been very honest about our family and our feeling on biology as we have a unique set up, where not all of us are linked through biology – but we most certainly are all linked and entwined together with love. Something I believe is far more profound, more appreciative and equally as obvious as how someone looks, or who they resemble physically.
My quest to find some of the answers got more and more bizarre and my google search ended up with me reading about examples within the animal kingdom where Fathers play an integral role in raising their young – along with or in sometimes in place of – a mother.
We’re all aware how incredibly unique seahorses are, and how they fertilize and incubate the eggs until they emerge 45 days later. They even experience contractions too which I never knew until now. And then there’s the legendary Emperor Penguin, taking care of the Egg for up to two months, after the female leaves to replenish her reserves, the father will hold the egg in between his feet and his brooding pouch, without feeding, throughout the brutal unforgiving winter (when freezing winds can reach 120mph). His dedication, balance and skills ensure a survival of a new generation – what an amazing Dad! But there’s no one more forgiving than the Jacana. Male Jacana’s do all the hard work of making nests, keeping it tidy, incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks. Whilst Female jacanas gallivant around and mate with as many males as they can. The males make loyal homemakers, even choosing to stay and nest long after females have left on their migration. They often care for eggs fertilized by other males. Poor guy, it gives a whole new meaning and respect to stay at home Dads.
Parenting has its challenges, we all know that – we’re currently in the midst of Toddlerdom, if you’ve read the book Man vs. Toddler by Matt Coyne, you’ll know exactly what I mean. His hilarious true accounts of parenting are genius, we’ve had all his books and found each one relevant and useful in its own way.
So Talulah is three in October, and like most threenagers she’s fiercely independent, and likes to make her presence known - friends tell me this is typical of little girls which that itself fascinates me. She wants to do everything herself, tie her shoes, dress herself, comb her hair, style her hair, put it up in fancy up do with 19 bobbles and hair grips, she even wants to prepare and cook all her own meals it now seems. The slightest thing however will set Talulah off – the speed I peel her banana, the fact I peeled her banana and the fact its even a banana will result in her throwing herself to the floor, covering her face and then screaming till snot and dribble accelerate from her face, telling me she hates bananas (she loves bananas!) and resembling some mythical dragon like creature similar to a fire breathing beast from Game of Thrones. Welcome to the 2’s, 3’s and 4’s – a long ride.
If you follow us on Instagram and Facebook (@TwoDads.U.K) you would have seen that we recently had an issue with Talulah deciding to paint her fingers, toes and finally the carpet in shocking pink nail varnish. I knew she was being quiet, and I should have known better, but I just needed 30 seconds of me time, whilst I pee’d in private, and what felt like 30 seconds of me dashing to our bathroom she’d managed to get into her sisters room, bring all 25 bottles of her nail polish into the snug, and open the brightest bottle of pink and orange polish you’ve ever seen. I walked into the room and I literally gasped so hard I thought I was going to choke. She knew full well what she had done, she knew it was wrong, but was mesmerized by the beauty of the colours. She came into the kitchen after I’d dashed to get a bottle of hairspray (as it removes nail varnish beautifully from carpet – who knew?!), sat on my knee and confessed it all. Before I could even tell her off, or ask her why she did this and how this would make others feel (as I feel its important to self-reflect and own your actions and the unintended consequences they bring), she simply handed over the nail varnishes and said ‘I think I need to get on the naughty step Daddy…’ and off she took herself – for her self-confessed time out session. Perfect! See video...
The beauty of T is that she listens (and loves to learn and repeat, maybe it’s her age?), and despite the tantrums and the screaming – she will hear through the piercing noises, amplified in her own skull - and will calm herself down. But you can reason with her, it sometimes involves cheese – I don’t think a tiny bit of child / parenting bribery hurts – after all, no parent is perfect.
We do what feels right, and we do what we have to given the situation we’re in. We’re not judging those who believe in controlled crying techniques, or swear by the baby whisperer – it’s just not for us, and we’ve tried both. Talulah isn’t our only pocket sized human that lives with us, you see we’re parenting lunatics. We have a fourteen-year-old too, and this is a whole world we’re recently experiencing – pass me banana tantrum any day. Fourteen-year-old girls are something else – a whole world of newness we’ve never experienced. Was I this difficult and challenging at 14? Mainly because this generation ‘Generation Z’ (born 1995 – 2012) are so heavily influenced by social media, and most are addicted to their phones and technology, their Instagram feed or their snapchat – or in our case all three. Take them away, by means of a phone ban (for being disrespectful in our recent case) and you’d have thought we’d just committed the most horrific of hate crimes – or at least we were hated and that we’ve just ‘ruined her life’. 24 hours later – she’s a dream again. Bloody hormones.
For those that have been following us for a while, you'll know our son makes an appearance mid-August, our surrogate has been amazing throughout the pregnancy again, and has kept us up to date with his activeness, mainly late at night similar to Talulah. So, come August we’ll have an unpredictable 14-year-old, a terrorizing toddler who has aspirations to be the next Banksy and our new born – all with varying needs and different parenting skills required, and I’m sure we’ll manage perfectly. Gin will certainly help (for us, not them!)
Yet neither me or my husband (apparently) will ever experience the maternal instinct we hear so often in often preachy parenting books, magazines and NCT classes. What we can compare this to however is the parental instinct we have as Dads. This animal like protection to do what’s best for our family, whether its feed, cuddle or comfort them we’re always there for our children. Like Mothers do, we recognise every scream, every cry and every call for help – we know why each tear has dampened their cheeks, and similar to Mums, we too can tell whether it’s a hungry cry, a tired cry or a I’ve just filled my nappy cry. It’s simply love, a love that’s in tune with our babies.
So, whilst we can learn from mothers about parenting, we can read and study all the books available, we also have a lot to learn from listening to our own nurturing side. We have a lot to gain from letting ourselves trust more our own instinctive and intuitive reactions as parents.
(Also printed in the July edition of Fertility Road Magazine)