“Where’s mummy today?” is a question I’m asked all too often, in restaurants, the park and the nursery line when with my two-year-old. Before I used to laugh it off or even let it slide, but now I’m confident in putting people right: with a smile I politely say “my daughter has two dads”.
And while the assumption that I have a wife at home is annoying, I know it’s rarely meant with malice. It’s what sometimes follows this initial question that’s so frustrating and antiquated: “so your husband is the one who stays at home then?” or “who takes the mum role?”.
I look at my heterosexual colleagues in senior positions at Shakespeare Martineau; many of which also have children and partners working full time, yet I doubt they have had that question asked of them at the school gates or playground.
The fact that people still believe the only way to successfully bring up a child is if they have a hyper-traditional masculine and feminine role model (with mum at home), is not just a blow to same-sex couples, but single-parents and working mums too.
Sadly, the questioning doesn’t stop there: during early lockdown easing we’d often be challenged about whether the three of us were from a single household, and just recently I was met with utter confusion when I tried to sign myself, my husband and my daughter up for a family membership at our local leisure centre.
Not all questions are bad
When people find out our daughter is adopted I have found that this opens up a lot of conversation. I’ve had colleagues and friends share their own stories about adoption: either they, or their parents, were adopted or that they are considering the process themselves.
There are literally thousands of children across the UK waiting for a forever home, so learning more about adoption is only ever a good thing. My husband and I had a really positive adoption experience thanks to a charity called New Family Social, which helped guide us through the process and connected us with other LGBTQ+ parents, and has also created a community of children for our daughter to be part of too. I’ve since stayed part of this charity to help others through the process and champion adoption both in and outside of the LGBTQ+ community.
Not everyone has such as great experience as we did; there is still some stigma to adoption and some workplaces don’t offer much support. As leaders and law firms we should be stripping back the barriers to adoption, levelling up the parental leave offered to adoptive parents and offering true flexible working, where parents are empowered to manage their own diaries around pre-adoption process requirements (and I assure you it’s work!) and then post-adoption life and family commitments. We should do this not only because it’s a more accurate reflection of the world today, but because it’s the right thing to do – for the parents and the children.
Mind your language
There is common misconception that you only come out once and it’s a big moment! While the latter point is true – that first time is definitely a moment – sadly it’s never just the once. Since the age of 18 I’ve been ‘coming out’ every week, whenever I meet a new person or start a new job for example. I consciously have to consider ‘when do I say?’ and it’s usually when I have to correct them. It can be exhausting – and still in 2021 you have pre-empt or gauge reactions (or potential reactions) to a piece of information that shouldn’t be shocking, controversial or even needed – and this is before I even begin to talk about our adopted daughter. Think about it – have you ever had a time when your heterosexual colleague has had to define their sexual orientation or correct your assumptions about them?
There are easy fixes to some of these unnecessarily uncomfortable situations and I think it starts with not making assumptions. Then it can be as simple as the use of non-gendered language – something that can easily be encouraged and role modelled in the work place. Use they/them pronouns, and ask about someone’s partner, not their wife, or boyfriend. Using more inclusive language will save someone in the LGBTQ+ community from feeling like they have to come out in order to correct you, or feel nervous about what your reaction might be and keep their true self hidden.
For me, it’s now rare that I don’t correct someone and proudly talk about my daughter having a Dad and Daddy – it’s on me to be part of the solution. I grew up in single-parent family myself and I want my daughter to remain secure in the knowledge that all families are different and that this is ‘normal’, whether you have one mum, two dads, are adopted or live with your aunt. Families are as rich and diverse as the world they are in, I am a proud co-parent with my husband and if you ask me I’ll happily tell you all about it.
A world where we replace assumptions with acceptance and openness would save a lot of time and a lot of blushes. So, remember it’s okay to ask questions, but make sure they are the right questions: instead of asking ones that are pre-loaded with assumptions or stereotypes, ask open questions that are meaningful and offer a safe space for discussion.
This Pride month, and all year round, we should openly celebrate families of all kinds and support the children within them.
Ben Buckton is chief marketing and people officer at Shakespeare Martineau