The topic of parenting is one that is often discussed amongst not only couples but single people who are ready to take that all important next step in their lives.
Some, like Neil Patrick Harris, Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, have gone the surrogate route in order to become proud daddies. There are plenty out there, however, who have navigated the world of foster parenting that comes with a much different set of rules compared to what those famous men have encountered.
So what if you are ready for any sort of parenting and find yourself interested in the foster side of things? Meet Shane and Russell, a longtime couple who made this their reality years after it being an idea in their heads.
Shane chatted with us about everything including how they first met, when the thoughts of parenting began, the peaks and pits they faced and his surprising response on if there was any issues with this process due to them being gay.
Let’s start from the beginning. How did you two meet and was it love at first sight?
Like so many people, we met online. I have never seen myself as a ‘husband hunter’ or that I was ever incomplete whether single or in a relationship. Instead, you spend time with people you connect with that bring you joy by encouraging you to grow, respond to vulnerability with care, and embrace gratitude. Sex is important, too, of course. So, quietly and unexpectedly after meeting online, it just felt natural to spend time together. And we did. Then, more time. Love at first sight is a strange idea. I need to know someone to build that, so the concept doesn’t work for me. I am always learning about Russell, and I am always learning ways to love him. Love is something that you build together daily through reflection, negotiation, and care: a crazy, bizarre, wonderful journey with no beginning, no end.
We are very different people. Yet, at some fundamental levels, we both get where the other is and provide that balance so many people talk about. It’s not without conflict, but in nearly 8 years, I can count the number of actual fights on one hand.
How long into the relationship did you both agree on wanting to become foster parents?
Raising kids was always something that we saw for ourselves individually, and then, together. I believe the subject came up more seriously for us by our second year together. Russell was a school teacher, and I had worked with high risk youth as part of my community activism. Fostering was one path I considered even before meeting Russell. I had become a Big Brother for a time as I did my own evaluation if I felt I could deliver the kind of care and support needed by a young person to help thrive. Both of us come from homes that were unstable and, in my case, incredibly hostile and destructive, so being able to provide a home for a young person to thrive in spite of the challenges they may face from others is important to us.
Another “how long” question, but how long did it take for this dream to become a reality?
That’s more complicated. It’s my fault that the process went on as long as it did. When we lived in New York City, it was my activism that inhibited us when we first initiated the conversations and steps to become foster parents. And a couple years later, that queer activism tripled our time to get approved. So, what should have been an already cumbersome six months ended up taking three and a half years. Russell has been nothing short of supportive through the process and affirming of my commitment to the social justice work I had been doing.
What would you say has been the peak and pit of your experience in this matter?
For the last year, we have been doing respite foster care, which means short-term stays when a foster family is traveling (because you cannot take a foster youth out of state), the youth is transitioning homes, or the youth has just come in to care and a long-term placement hasn’t been found. We opted for this for a bit because we are trying to gauge our own abilities through this process.
One challenge of the experience is the self-reflection that’s needed to make sure we are able to provide the attention and care that a youth needs to thrive. I come back to that idea again and again because that’s why we do it. More recently, we have taken full-time placement of a youth because we are at a place where we feel we can be that support. To be honest, we are still learning, and those pits are where we just can’t get through the bravado, the distance, the walls that many youth bring with them after years in the system or managing the harms caused in their previous homes.
The peaks are those moments where there is connection and a young person who has been building up a set of coping skills to manage traumas they’ve experienced eases back. From there, they can start to play games, spend time with the dogs, tell you a story, or carve a pumpkin. When they feel safe enough to just ‘be’ for a moment—unjudged and unburdened—then we are supporting their space to grow.
Did you find you were treated differently because you are part of the LGBTQ community?
There are several LGBTQ+ foster parents out there. I don’t know the data, but many institutions recognize that double-income earning adults with no children are logical homes for foster youth. Yet, youth in care are disproportionately identifying all across the gender, gender identity, and sexual identity spectrum. Sometimes, that is related to their being in care, and often, it is an incidental part of being in a home with negligent or abusive parents. Either way, ensuring all youth have an affirming home is what every child deserves.
There was no hostility in the process around our sexual identity, and they even understood that we wanted to prioritize care for youth that were grappling with gender, gender identity, and sexual identity, especially in a state like North Carolina where there is a strong, rich progressive community often living next door to people hostile to queer youth.
What advice would you give to any LGBTQ parent who is interested in going through this process?
Great question. As I said before, we are still learning, and one thing that I wish parents of children would do, is to continually learn about yourself, about the youth in your care, and about practices that encourage growth. No doubt, mistakes will be made, and there is no perfect situation because people are complicated. Young people, especially those who have responded to trauma, are very complicated. Your struggles allow you the empathy and patience that make you better care providers for youth that have quietly established their own patterns of protection.
In caring for them, you can work collaboratively to shed the harmful coping mechanisms and amplify the healthy ones. The cool thing about queerness is that no matter where the youth falls on the spectrum of identities, queerness is an acknowledgment that dignity is deserved by all people and that it’s ok (and even awesome!) to not be like all the other people in the room all the time. Embrace who you are and wear it with pride so that the youth in your care can do the same.