Sean Szeps, mama disrupt

[Guest Editor] Sean Szeps: ‘I am a father who is mothering his children’

In Features, Guest Editors, Stories by Nicole Fuge

Sean Szeps is the first to say it – I’m not like other dads. Here, he chats with Mama Disrupt® about being a queer parent, overcoming postnatal depression, and self-care for dads.

By Sean Szeps

As a same-sex couple, my husband and I had a few options to choose from: adoption, fostering and surrogacy. We were very lucky that a close family member of mine offered to donate her eggs to us in early 2016, which inspired us to vet IVF and surrogacy agencies so they could assist us in creating embryos and finding a surrogate to carry our children.

It was through that process that we were paired with our surrogate, Sara, a selfless mother-of-three who was passionate about assisting families-in-need on their path to parenthood. We chose, with the support of our doctors, to put two embryos in during our first transfer, which resulted in the birth of our boy-girl twins, Stella and Cooper in late 2017.


Sean Szeps, mama disrupt
What I love most about being a dad

I was – and still am – a very big fan of my parents and the ways that they raised me. Specifically, how creative they were. Getting to continue the legacy of being a creative DIY-dad is a driving force behind my style of fathering.

My parents prioritised hands-on activities, daily crafts, play-based learning and dressing up. They went all out for birthday parties and holidays, creating very special memories and traditions with hand-made ornaments, DIY gifts and decorations.

I live far away from my family, who reside in America, so replicating those traditions and bringing them to life for my kids, is a way to remain connected to them from afar.

Sean Szeps, mama disrupt

Some of the biggest challenges since becoming a dad

Being a queer parent comes with its own set of unique challenges. Mainly, accidental and purposeful homophobia. As an adult, I’ve acquired the necessary skills to cope with and respond to these interactions in public. But when you have children, you have to relearn new skills.

For instance, I would normally walk away if someone was being rude to me for being gay. But when someone does that in front of my children or even directly to them, which has happened a few times in the last few years, walking away isn’t always an option.

It’s more important that the issue is dealt with head-on so that my children see me standing up for us. Parenting is hard enough as it is, so dealing with these types of uncomfortable interactions when you’re playing at a playground or picking up your dry cleaning is, without a doubt, a massive hurdle to leap over.

Sean Szeps, mama disrupt

I am a father who IS mothering his children

Mother and father are both nouns. When we think or talk about a mother or a father, from a simple definition perspective, we mean a woman or a man in relation to their child.

But “mothering” and “fathering” are verbs. They are states-of-being. When we use the term “mothering” in our modern vernacular, we’re assigning certain adjectives to the verb such as caring, warm and patience. We often go, even without needing to state it, a step further.

To be “mothering” is to take ownership of the child’s wellbeing, to be emphatic, thoughtful and to place a child’s needs above our own. Fathering, though used a lot less in common communication, is a different state-of-being. It’s often linked to words like tough and stern. We think of an authority who provides for their family.

I am not a mother. I am a man who is a parent, a father. But I take on the role that society sees as a mother in our same-sex parenting partnership. I am a father who is mothering my children on a day-to-day basis.

Sean Szeps, mama disrupt

My diagnosis with postnatal depression

I realised, within a few months of the twins being born, that I was experiencing signs of depression. I have a long history of mental health issues, so it was easy to identify the symptoms. But it was difficult to acknowledge and admit that it was happening so soon after finally achieving a milestone I had always dreamed of, fatherhood.

I wanted to be a great dad and the sadness was getting in the way. I didn’t want to leave the house or shower. And I found it hard to think positively or find joy in day-to-day life and I often fantasise about leaving the family and running away.

One night, I drove to the airport to run away. That’s when I knew I needed serious help. My husband booked me an appointment with our GP and it was with his support that I began seeing a psychologist and a counsellor and later began taking Sertraline (Zoloft). That jump-started an on-going mental health plan that kept me accountable.

Even after coming off the meds, I remained in therapy as an always-on touch-point to discuss my wellbeing. It was in those sessions that I decided to go back to work part-time, begin journaling and exercising. These systems have remained in place for the past six years.

How heterosexual parents can better support LGBTIQ+ children

I think the biggest insight is the power of language. If we think of our children as bisexual-until-proven-otherwise (just in our heads) and we prepare for the possibility of them liking someone of the same gender, then we immediately change the way we talk to them to ensure we don’t create an unnecessary division.

Instead of saying “do you have a girlfriend?” or “which girl will you ask to the formal?”, you might say “do you have a partner?” or “will you take a boy or girl to the formal?”. This simple language tweak increases the likelihood that your child will feel comfortable telling you their truth if they are, in fact, queer.

Additionally, the world is packed to the brim with straight entertainment. Nearly every movie, television show, song and book they read as a kid presents a certain type of love, heterosexual love, as the only option. And while this is the case 90% of the time, it’s very rare that they will see their love – queer love – as worthy of storytelling. This is damaging, as it leaves the queer child feeling that they are broken or bad. And this usually happens without your knowledge, stuck inside their head. No parent wants their children to suffer in silence.

We can’t be ourselves if we can’t see ourselves, so make sure you are presenting your children with a wide variety of content that showcases the reality of our diverse world. If your child is queer, showing them this type of content might save their lives. Quite literally, it’s suicide prevention. But if they aren’t queer, like 90% of the population, all you’re doing is ensuring that your child grows up to be a bit more empathetic and sympathetic to others who are different. And what parent wouldn’t want that for their child?

Looking after my mental health and wellbeing – as a dad

One of the greatest gifts my husband and I have given each other since becoming fathers is the gift of time and space apart. We give each other two weeks off a year. Where we can ignore our parenting responsibilities and simply go away.

Sometimes we go travelling with our friends and sometimes we simply take a night off and stay at a nearby hotel for the night to get an uninterrupted night’s sleep. This has had massive impacts on our mental health and wellbeing, as we’re able to prioritise self-care and remain connected to the person who came before the role of parent.

We’re better partners and parents upon arrival, missing our family and learning to appreciate each other more while the other is away.

Two weeks may seem like a lot of time, unrealistic for many, but I often say to people just start with two nights off. Gift yourself and your partner just that simple, restorative gift. We all deserve a break every now and then.

Sean Szeps and dad, mama disrupt

Sean Szeps’ debut book, Not Like Other Dads is available in all good bookstores and online.

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