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‘Adoption is like couples therapy’: what we learned as hosts of an LGBT+ family podcast

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Lotte Jeffs and Stu Oakley
·7-min read
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Lotte Jeffs: ‘There should be no shame’

The adoption process is the equivalent of intensive couples therapy
I knew very little about the process of adoption until I started hosting Some Families with Stu, who shared his experience of adopting two children and then, a year later, a third. We have spoken to a number of other LGBTQ+ adopters on the show and the thing that I’ve learned most is that you have to really know yourselves. Throughout the journey, you are forced to answer the kinds of questions that other families never have to consider – from asserting your preferences on the age and ethnic background of a potential child, to how willing you are to take in a child with health issues or disabilities. A lot of what Stu described sounded like intensive couples therapy. Such self-analysis would be beneficial for anyone intending to start a family.

Gay people make better parents
This may sound a bit sensationalist but it’s true. We spoke to Prof Susan Golombok, who has studied the effects of coming from an LGBTQ+ family since the 1970s, and she told us that, compared on aggregate with straight families, there was better communication and emotional intelligence in families with same-sex or transgender parents. This comes down to the fact that if you aren’t in a straight couple you will have had to have been very sure you wanted to start a family, given the emotional and financial investment. Sadly, as one of our guests, Chris Sweeney (host of Homosapiens), put it, it takes more than “a lasagne and a bottle of wine” for LGBTQ+ people to make a baby.

We’ve come a long way from the 1970s
Something else I learned from Prof Golombok was how awful it was for lesbian parents in the 70s, 80s and even 90s, who separated from a male partner to be with a woman, only to have their children taken from them after divorce proceedings. Courts at that time believed it was detrimental for children to be brought up by gay parents. In one US case she told us about, the courts ruled it would be better for a child to live with his father – a convicted murderer – than with his mother, who was in a happy and loving relationship with a woman. It is so important to remember our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, who fought and struggled so that we can enjoy the protection and relative ease of being a queer family today.

Communication and honesty is key
Something I’ve been thinking about a lot as my own daughter grows into a very smart and sassy toddler is how and when to talk to her about how her Mummy and Mama brought her into the world. It’s a subject Stu and I ask many of our guests’ advice on, and, overwhelmingly, what they tell us is to be open and honest from the get-go. Children are happiest and most well-balanced if they don’t ever remember being “told” something as though it was a secret that has now been revealed, but rather that they grow up with conversations about their donor, or their surrogate – their birth mother or biological family being part of their everyday lives from the earliest of ages. There should be no shame, no hushed conversations. We had a great chat with adoptive mums Didi and Priscilla this season, who told us their five-year-old daughter outs them at every occasion – to Amazon delivery people, shop assistants. She’s so proud of her mums, she wants to tell the world! Stories like that are heartwarming.

Stu Oakley: ‘Prejudice and ignorance still exist’

The existence of gay parenting shame
My son loves to wear dresses, which is something I’ve found surprisingly difficult to deal with. I’ve struggled to find why I’ve had such a strong emotional reaction to this harmless, and totally normal desire, especially as a queer parent. Discussing it on the show with Lotte and other guests, I have come to realise that the cause of this upset is likely to be the deep-rooted shame that often weighs the LGBTQ+ community down. “Am I pushing my own gay “agenda” on him?” is my constant concern, but who cares? I am so proud of him and the fact he is constantly exploring his gender. My fear of what other people think took a hold of my parenting and held me back from allowing him to express himself the way he should. I was in danger of enabling a vicious circle of shame, but meeting our guests, with the support of Lotte has helped me come to my queer senses.

Educating oneself on parenting from across the queer community
In our pilot recording, I began to ask Lotte a question: “So, during the surrogacy process – ” but she stopped me. “Donor conception via IUI [intrauterine insemination] not surrogacy.” Ten minutes later, I dropped the S-word again and by the third time Lotte was not happy, and quite rightly so. I came to this podcast knowing little outside my own gay adoption bubble and it has been incredible to educate myself on the whole fertility journey that Lotte and our other lesbian guests have been on. We are a queer community and, regardless of how you created your family, it is important to learn about the journey we all go on to support and understand one another. I think this is also a reason why the podcast resonates for so many cis-het parents, who are curious and want to educate themselves on what it means to become a queer parent.

Related: It's not just about having gay parents: why we wrote our kids book about queer families | Maya Newell

The next generation are our future
Hearing how proud and supportive children from LGBTQ+ families are has been a wonderful part of Some Families. Trans-parent Zoey from series one had the most incredible support from her young children, who witnessed their father transition into their Mama Zo, and recognised that their parent was much happier post-transition. Mike, who grew up with two mums, was so happy to be part of a queer family. And a teenage daughter of two mums told us she had never felt any different. Lotte and I have taken great solace in talking to some fabulous families whose children’s high emotional intelligence gives us comfort in our own parenting and hopefully points to a sign of a more inclusive and supportive generation to come. Children thrive on the confidence of their parents, regardless of their identity.

Sadly, ignorance still exists
We have heard so many wonderful and positive stories from parents across the queer spectrum. However, it is clear that widespread prejudice and general ignorance still exist and we should never be complacent. While some people’s intent might be good, there is still a lot of education to be done and LGBTQ+ families are still very much in the minority with almost no representation in popular media and culture. One listener told Lotte and me about a nurse, who constantly referred to her wife as “dad” and another guest told us how her daughter was “uninvited” to a party when they learned she had lesbian parents. The fear of being grilled at passport control when travelling, the worry about that first day at the school gate and the wicked parenting whispers, feeling alienated by “mummy” groups, heteronormative language, and the unnecessarily awkward conversations at hospitals are all very real occurrences for queer parents. I have been pulled up for referring to myself as a “gay” dad by the LGBTQ+ community before, but it is important to bring queer parenting to the table and ensure we make parenting a safe space for anyone.

Some Families is the UK’s first LGBTQ+ parenting podcast series. Series two is available to download now

For more information on LGBT+ Adoption and Fostering Week visit New Family Social