Parenting problems and difficult questions.

25th June is Relationships and Sex Education Day.  An often overlooked essential of a comprehensive education. Read on as Dad, Chris Flack of FASTN explains how he appreciates the support of his kids' school in educating his children about healthy relationships and positive sexual health. 

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When I found out I was adopted I was shaken. 

I was a teenager in the middle of multiple surgeries, I was dealing with high school, buck teeth and irrational hormones; so, the news came as a shock.  In the long term, it has only ever added to my belief that I'm blessed to be part of a family that is so full of love and humour.  It has shaped my view of family in ways that are hard to describe. 

My parents fostered kids for as long as I can remember, we joked that we should install a turnstile in place of the front door. We had an ever-changing family that welcomed people regardless of their class, religion, or colour. If you had thick enough skin to blend in, then you were welcome to sit and drink tea with us, there was always tea.  I like to think my history, the politics of family and other families, my work where negotiation was key to success, where selling a concept or talking up a daft idea was the norm would equip me for having my own two small people. 

Boy was I ever wrong.

You have these small people and no matter how much planning you put into it they still come like a bolt out of the blue.

 I will never forget the moment when the nurse in the hospital uttered the words “Your baby needs changing” and left the room.   Neither of us had ever changed a baby.  It very quickly became something out of a Melissa McCarthy movie. This was a whole new, terrifying world and that nappy stank like nothing I had ever experienced. I say that as someone who cleaned a music venue at four in the morning.

When you have small people you wonder about the world they'll grow up in, you think about things beyond your reach, geopolitics, greenhouse gasses, sea levels, unemployment, underemployment; you think about capitalism, the cost of university and buying a home, public funding reductions, bank crashes and people taking every opportunity to glean every last ounce of your energy and empty your wallet at the same time.  The world is a minefield and our two haven't even hit double figures yet.  We have the teenage years to get through and if memory serves there is a whole other level of parenting required to get through that quagmire.  

For me, these conversations start now.

It is our job to make our children respect themselves, respect others, be kind and courteous, take care of each other and their friends.   One of the most difficult things we can do as a parent is show our small people how to behave, show them right and wrong. That process that starts on day one.  And frankly, we need all the help we can get.  

If that help comes in the form of a comprehensive, whole-school approach to relationships education then I am for it.  If our children are surrounded by people who are supportive, engaging, respectful and patient then they will get it too, they'll understand how to approach difficult situations. 

Not long ago our little boy went through months of turmoil, nightmares, tears; the stress was so much for him that he started to dread school, he would get so stressed he would vomit in his sleep. We were at a complete loss. One of the children in his class was behaving in ways he couldn't understand, acting in ways he couldn’t manage, it wasn't bullying, they were all too small for that, but still, he dreaded going to school and seeing this boy; my heart broke every morning, we discussed home schooling, changing schools, all of it, anything to stop the nightmare my tiny little human was living through. 

The school helped us understand what was going on, helped our son understand and worked hard to calm the situation and help him feel that school could be a positive learning experience where he could make friends for life.  He is now best friends with the child who so scared him not very long ago, and that is a wonderful thing. 

For me the whole scenario shows the power of a staff team that sees what is going on and understands how to deal with it, that approaches relationships in a caring way and helps everyone understand challenges and how to deal with them.  It shows a school that understands the power of positive relationships and positive relationship education and how to share those values with their pupils and colleagues and the wider community.  The early days of that situation were horrible, it led to conversations with my son that I never imagined I would have at his age. Conversations I never want to have again.  At any age. 

As for relationships and sex education and me, well, anything that can add to the conversations we have, anything that backs us up as fledgling parents is to be welcomed. God only knows we need the help. 

About the Author

Chris Flack grew up in a family full of laughter, blues music, chocolate and the kind of internal family ribbing that may only come from being a mixed-faith family growing up in the troubles in Northern Ireland. In a place surrounded by the grim realities of life and death, we made room for each other and our tribes. There were few boundaries, every move was open to critical interpretation and cutting jokes. As a result, we are all very comfortable with each other and close.  Chris is now Online Communities Engagement Co-ordinator for FASTN

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