Gay dads Stuart Armfield and husband Francis Haugen want you to know that they’re just like other parents.
Although practically TikTok royalty (their account has reached over 1.2 million followers, thank you very much), they’re not immune to the judgement on 'sharenting' or whether the surrogacy route is the ‘right’ way to have a baby. But before the social media fandom came, let’s go back to the year 2021. Stuart and Francis were sitting at home, bored of their own company, thinking about what direction their lives were heading. And, in between the uncertainty and repetitiveness of that year, it’s safe to say we were all forced to question our rigid timelines, and double down on what truly makes us happy going forward. Priding themselves on being driven individuals, the couple were beginning to feel their dreams of the family they always wanted getting further and further away from them unless they did something about it. So they did.
After a quick search for #gaydad on social media, Stuart, 38, discovered that the landscape for two men wanting to start a family was a bleak one. That was until they started documenting their progress, with the hopes of being a voice for others who were also about to embark on the personal and unfamiliar journey of surrogacy. Now, with two children of their own – Rio, two and newborn Rebel – the couple use their TikTok platform to share what it's like bringing up two young children with “love, acceptance and fun”. Zooming from their house in Beaconsfield, I sat down with them to find out how they’re doing as a family of four, what it means to be gay parents in 2024 and beyond, and their advice on navigating surrogacy.
Congratulations on the birth of your baby girl, Rebel! How are you finding being parents of two?
Stuart: “Now we’re in our flow, it’s absolutely amazing, but the first six weeks were kind of like, ‘oh God, what have we done?’. The adjustment of having two children is such a shock, and because Rio [who turned two in November 2023] was so good, we were like, ‘We’re smashing this; we’re the best parents ever!’ and then when Rebel came along…"
Francis: “You think your second baby is going to be exactly like your first but the rule book just gets thrown out and you have to learn on the go while you’ve got a toddler, so we’ve had some challenges but she’s more settled now.”
How did Rio react to having a sister?
Stuart: “He’s been so good, he’s such a loving little boy, and it was so adorable when they met for the first time. There are some moments of jealousy, especially when my mum is holding her because he loves his grandma, but it’s nothing major and to be expected to be honest.”
Francis: “Generally, we get lovely comments from our followers, and one thing that assures me we’re doing good at being parents is how amazing Rio is – he’s such a joyful young boy that I think, we must be doing something good.”
When did you start sharing your lives online?
Stuart: “We’d been talking about having a family forever and when COVID hit, we were at home and thought, let’s go for it but at the same time, how does a gay couple do it? So I just went on social media and typed #gaydad and tried to find other men in our situation but there was no representation – in the UK at least – of a gay couple having a family. I spoke to Francis about it and I said I would love for us to be a voice for other people and be a kind of example, so from there, we decided to share every bit of our journey even before we put the embryo in our surrogate. I found that with American dads they only spoke about when their baby had arrived but my biggest question was ‘how?’, and so we started documenting our journey on YouTube first and then TikTok after. We never expected it to grow as fast as it did and we were blown away when we saw our videos going viral.”
Francis: “We were really intrigued as to what a home life with two dads looks like so by sharing our lives, we kind of demystified it and I hope people get a sense that we’re just like any other parents; yes, we’re both men but we still go through the sleepless nights, and hopefully in ten years’ time there will be even more voices out there.”
Why do you think your content does so well?
Stuart: “When we first came into this, we had a bigger purpose than just trying to influence people to buy products. We felt like there was a missing piece, and if watch any gay TV programme it’s always about men being promiscuous and not having great relationships – not that we judge at all – but we wanted to be that voice because it’s just not shown.”
Francis: “Our setup is actually really traditional, and yes it may be a bit backwards with two men, but Stuart and I wake up every day and we feel so blessed to be gay, and we’re very lucky that people in the UK are more accepting. From our perspective, our relationship just feels right and now sitting here with two kids, we have to pinch ourselves!”
Do you ever worry about how your ‘sharenting’ might impact Rio and Rebel?
Stuart: “One hundred percent, I think every single parent in the world wants to do what’s right for their kids, and before we had Rio or Rebel, that was the biggest conversation we had, like are we doing the right thing for us as a family? The number one thing for us is to protect our kids and we would never want to put them in a position where they feel vulnerable, so it’s something that we’re navigating as we’re going along. We’re aware that Rio will get to a point where he won’t want to dance at the doorstep any more, and that’s a conversation we’ll have to have and of course say, that’s fine, Rio.”
Francis: “When I’m editing, I’m constantly checking myself and thinking, ‘is this an accurate representation of us and who we are?’. At the same time, if we made the decision to remain offline, we wouldn’t have been able to create the impact that we have. It takes people to be visible to bring about change and to change the way they see family, and as long as it’s handled with care, that’s the most important thing.”
What advice would you give to soon-to-be parents?
Stuart: “The amount of advice you get [as a new parent] is overwhelming – every single person who has ever had a baby has something to tell you, and I don’t know if it’s because we’re on social media but we really take it all on board. As a new parent, my advice would be to trust your gut and stay in your lane because once you stop doing those things, you end up trying to listen to everybody and losing yourself in the process. Listen to your intuition because it will always lead you on the right path.”
Francis: “As a parent, you feel all these different emotions, you feel guilty when you’re not doing something right and the ideal parent you have in your mind is one who is never angry; never upset; always present; always doing these different activities with your kids, but life doesn’t present itself like that and this phrase of just being ‘good enough’ is a great way to think and really helps let yourself off the hook.”
You can keep up with Stuart and Francis on TikTok and YouTube to find out how they’re getting on with their family of four.
In other parenting news, relationship expert Anna Williamson shares the ‘most testing time’ of her relationship after kids and celebrity couple Chrissy Teigen and John Legend welcome their fourth child via surrogate.
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From building healthy family relationships to self-care tips for mums and parenting trends - Daniella also covers postnatal workouts and exercises for kids. After gaining a Print Journalism BA Hons degree and NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Nottingham Trent University, Daniella started writing for Health & Wellbeing and co-hosted the Walk to Wellbeing podcast. She has also written for Stylist, Natural Health, The Sun UK and Fit & Well. In her free time, Daniella loves to travel, try out new fitness classes and cook for family and friends.
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