Parenthood is dynamic.
Just when you think you have it nailed, your child is bound to cartwheel into a baffling new phase of development and turn life on its head.
Chris and Sophiaan (pictured, left to right) learned this indisputable truth of family life soon after becoming the foster fathers of an eight-year-old boy.
The couple spent about six years inching towards this decision. They read widely, talked, asked questions, adjusted, sold their house and bought a new one, renovated and prepared. And late last year they welcomed a foster son into their new, child-friendly home, hoping they were ready for the highs and lows of parenthood.
“It’s a rollercoaster ride,” admits Chris. “We’ll see an eruption of behaviour over a short period and we don’t know where it’s come from or where it’s leading to.
“But when life takes a sharp turn in one direction, it will knock me for a day or so and then I understand how to deal with it.”
But nothing could prepare them for the heart-swelling moments of sheer joy they experience in the ordinary happiness of becoming a family.
“It’s the pure spending of joyful time with the three of us, seeing (our foster son) laugh, seeing him comfortable and relaxed — and seeing a whole new side of my husband,” Chris says.
Chris, 50, a diversity manager at a human services organisation and Sophiaan, 43, a university linguistics academic, are relishing their new status as a family.
“Family has always been really important to us,” says Sophiaan. “I really love children and I do know that, being in a same-sex relationship, our options — when it comes to having children — are very limited.
“My idea of my role is much clearer now. It’s not about adoption, it’s not about having a surrogate child, it’s about providing stability for the child.”
The couple has been together for 10 years and married in Queenstown, New Zealand, in 2015. After years of on-and-off consideration of fostering, Chris and Sophiaan began the process at an information evening run by a fostering agency.
“We came away from that feeling very positive, and we began the registration process,” Chris says. “It moved forward fairly quickly after the assessments began and then we became accredited.”
When the couple were notified that they would soon become foster fathers to a young boy from a traumatic background, they were in the final stages of moving from a small house on a major road to a larger home in a leafy area, suitable for a young child and a dog.
“We were at the tail end of major renovations and were racing against the clock to get it done,” Chris recalls.
“We saw a photo of him and we started to develop an emotional investment. We just wanted him here — yet we still had the kitchen to do.
“It was a crazy process, like the last night before the big reveal on The Block.”
In the end, the two men managed to sweep the tradies out the door with two hours to spare before their own big reveal. They used the time to walk in a nearby park, consciously letting go of the high-pressure rush of the last few weeks.
Both knew they needed to be calm, collected and welcoming when the doorbell rang.
The young boy who appeared with the social worker had already moved through multiple homes. At eight, he had experienced traumatic events and become dislocated from his biological family, but needed to maintain contact with siblings.
“For the first two weeks or so, he was impeccably behaved,” Chris says. “I remember the two of us saying: ‘We were expecting a child with behavioural difficulties’.”
But the youngster was on high-alert, in survival mode, performing to the best of his ability so he could stay with this new family. Eventually, erratic and challenging behaviour broke through the tight-stretched facade.
“It was about ‘tear and repair’, him seeing if we could bear his behaviour without pushing him away,” Chris says.
“We reassured him that whatever his behaviour was like, we wouldn’t push him away, we wouldn’t leave him. That was very important to deepen the relationship. We’re lucky that we’re in a situation that looks long-term, lucky in terms of our connection and (our son’s) stability.”
With a background in social work and counselling, Chris quickly got to grips with their child’s triggers and fears.
“Like a lot of children who have experienced a lack of power and control he is very resistant to new experiences, so we have to look at ways to scaffold him, to get him to let go of his fear and step into a new challenge.”
The couple takes time each evening to discuss the challenges, responses and successes of the day, drawing out valuable lessons for the future.
“We’re both really lucky that we’re in a relationship with a partner who has the cerebral and emotional capacity to do this,” Chris says.
Sophiaan notes that having two dads appears to be a non-issue with their son, who has a close friendship with the child of two mums.
“While we were doing training (with their fostering agency) we met with other same-sex couples,” Sophiaan adds, “so we’re not the only gays in the village.
“One of his close friends said: ‘You don’t have a mum.’ He said: ‘Well, I have a few mums and a few dads!”
Chris and Sophiaan are excited to give their son a future of adventure, a broad cultural education, stability and family consolidation. “In the next few years, I’m looking forward to seeing him grow to become emotionally stable,” Sophiaan says.
Sophiaan is about to take the child on his annual trip home to Singapore, to meet extended family, while Chris is planning a Queensland holiday for the family, taking in the Daintree National Park, the Great Barrier Reef and the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival in Cape York.
Brought to you by Foster Care Queensland and the Queensland Government. Call 1300 550 877 for more information or visit the Foster Care Queensland website.