The 13 Rules of Engagement

In the 1 1/2 years since the children have been with us we’ve experienced an overwhelming amount of support from family, friends, and complete strangers. We’ve also been met with some reactions, responses, and passes of judgment along the way, which I’ve summarized below in what I call The 13 Rules of Engagement. Some of these aren’t unique to two dads raising two children, but they’ve turned into pet peeves nonetheless.

1). The Three Second Assessment
When we turn the aisle in Target or the grocery store and you see one or both of our children for the first time don’t size them up in three seconds and think they’re a little prince or princess.First of all, we don’t fill their heads with notions of them someday marrying into the Royal Family or becoming an animated Disney character. It’s best to hold your assessment until after you’ve spent five hours, or even twenty-five minutes, with one or both of them (double your trauma) and get back to us. Until then our cynical facial expressions or tepid responses will simply come across as rude or unappreciative, which isn’t entirely true, when we’ve likely just finished telling them for the thirty-seventh time to stop touching things and to keep their hands to themselves.

2). Candy and Stickers, et al
Don’t offer our kids candy, stickers, balloons, or toys without spelling, miming, or mouthing the words to us first (I’ve learned to interpret all and you’ll want me as your partner when playing Password and charades). Otherwise in mere seconds you’ve thwarted our plan, which we’ve invested an exorbitant amount of time, strategy, and effort into diverting them from these items.

3). Advice
Don’t offer parenting advice unless we’ve specifically asked you for it. And don’t think that just because we’re complaining about being a parent for a brief moment that the door has been cracked open for you to tell us what works, or has worked, for your child(ren). I can assure you that the behavioral issues and deficiencies that our children have manifest themselves differently than your child(ren). As a matter of fact, one parenting strategy rarely works on both of our kids as I’m convinced it’s their sole mission to make me schizophrenic.

4). Don’t Pass the Judgment
When I’ve had hours, or in some cases days, of dealing with oppositional behavior, defiance, or a little girl who purposely pees on the floor when the toilet is just four feet away, the last thing I need is a disapproving glare from a complete stranger in regard to my parenting skills.Unfortunately, no child comes with an operating manual so there are surprises, challenges, and LOL moments every single day. Providing a little compassion in my direction goes a long way, as does a good bottle of wine!

5). Public Displays of Defiance
If I’ve had to resort to putting one of our children into a time-out in public, trust me, it’s for a good reason. And if you see our son hitting his head with his hand or banging his head against the wall, he isn’t hurting himself, he just wants more attention, which is why I’ve chosen to actively ignore him, and you need to as well.

6). One Way Conversation
If one of our children says “hello” to you, and you hear them, please say “hello” back so I don’t have to explain to them why you’re so mean. Or if you engage in conversation with one of our kids don’t look to me to interpret what they’re saying back to you unless you’re willing to pay me an interpreter’s fee.

7) Open Invitation
While my son is sitting on a bench on a tennis court minding his own business while watching his dad play tennis DO NOT invite him over to your golf cart to pet your dog. I could care less that your dog is friendly, or that you have six grandchildren, I’m his dad and you should know better to check with me first rather than letting him traipse off out of my line of vision and causing me to have a heart attack when I don’t see him sitting on the bench any longer. What you also don’t know is that my son has Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) – Disinhibited Type, which means he has bonding issues and a willingness to go off with complete strangers, which we’re continuously working on with him, as well as with his sister.

8). Fathers Know Best
Don’t tell us the pixie haircut is too sophisticated for our daughter when as her [gay] parents that is what we’re asking for – after all, we’re fans of America’s Next Top Model and Tabatha’s Salon Takeover.

9). We’ll Pass
When giving birthday or Christmas presents to our kids please don’t send them flannel clothing (especially pajamas). We appreciate the thought, but we live in the desert where flannel is never in fashion and is considered the enemy.

10). Where’s Mom?
When you ask one or both of our kids, “Where’s your mom?” try not to look too surprised when I respond back with, “They have two dads,” especially when its mother’s day weekend and we happen to be out shopping. These days, with so many unconventional families in existence – single or divorced parents, two moms or two dads – maybe we just need to have a “parent’s day” instead?

11). Nurture vs. Nature
To the therapists (more on the “therapist from hell” in a future blog entry) and so-called child experts out there — STOP questioning our ability to provide our children with the nurturing they need, especially for our daughter. We’re two gay men, not two cave men, who are in touch with our feminine sides. We might not know how to throw a football, but we know how to bake cookies and accessorize.

12). It’s Legal
When we tell you that we’re in the process of adopting the children, don’t look at us like we’ve given you a calculus problem to solve. You may not approve, or maybe it hasn’t even crossed your mind until now, but it’s legal in California, as well as many other states, for two gay men to adopt children together.

13). No Doesn’t Mean Yes!
Stop offering our kids cookies and ice cream right before their bedtime, and right after I’ve explicitly asked you not to give them any sweets, and then say, “I know I’m breaking the rules” as you hand them a chocolate chip cookie. First of all, you’re undermining me as the parent and the limitations that we’ve placed on sugar in their diets because they have ADHD. And don’t tell me that you don’t believe sugar has an effect on their energy levels when you don’t witness them scaling the walls because five minutes after overloading them with sugar you’re shooing us out your front door. I realize it’s highly unlikely you’ll invite us over for dinner again since I couldn’t hold back any longer and got all confrontational on your ass and brought the dinner party to a screeching halt; but in the rare event you invite us over again and still insist on giving our children sweets when we tell you not to, don’t be surprised when you suddenly find yourselves hosting a slumber party for two young and very hyper children at your house.

–Thomas L-L

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