How I Parent explores the ins and outs of modern day parenting with moms and dads from all over the world, who are raising their own unique families and sharing their best advice and most heartfelt lessons with PEOPLE. Want to be a part of it? Email what makes your family so special to howiparent@peoplemag.com.

By Diane J. Cho
December 01, 2019 09:00 AM
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Credit: Drayton McJunkins

Name: Jarius Joseph
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Occupation: I am a social media influencer and my husband Terrell is a talent acquisition specialist.
Family Situation: We’re both fathers to our son Ashton, 2, and daughter Aria, 2. We had two different surrogates deliver around the same time and have had a nanny since the kids were 6 months old. Very recently, my mom moved from Louisiana to live with us and she now assists with evenings so we can enjoy a date night every now and then. However, we still have our nanny come Monday through Thursday.
Parenting Philosophy: Your job is not to be the parent you always wished you had or imagined you’d be, but to be the parent your children need!

What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
Terrell and I met at 18, at a haunted house in 2011. Oddly enough, Terrell was with his then-girlfriend and I was with my then-boyfriend. Shortly after, both of our respective relationships ended but Terrell and I stayed close. We eventually realized that we had feelings for each other and began to date.

During our senior year of college, Terrell sat me down to discuss how we envisioned our future and introduced the idea of having kids. I thought it was too early, but he was very adamant about it so we started the process of finding a surrogacy agency. The first one we chose became embroiled in an embezzlement scandal so we couldn’t go through with it, but shortly after that, we found a woman through a forum who was interested in becoming a surrogate, which is how we got pregnant with our first daughter, Aubrey. Then 20 weeks into the pregnancy, we had an unfortunate miscarriage. We were only 22 at the time, and early in our relationship, so the news really took a toll on us. The heartbreaking part was that we saw our daughter [on the ultrasound] just a week before.

We were in Florida where our surrogate was having her doctor’s appointment and during the ultrasound, Aubrey was waving and turning so much. It was so cute. Then a week later, while I was driving, I got a call from Terrell who broke the news that we had lost Aubrey. I was confused. We had just seen her and 20 weeks is pretty late to lose a child. Once I got a text from our surrogate that said, “Call me,” that’s when I knew.

Of course the doctor and hospital staff were concerned about our surrogate, who also had her boyfriend there to comfort her after the loss. We were also very concerned. And although Terrell and I weren’t technically the ones giving birth to Aubrey, I think everyone had this mental block, as though we were not as affected by the loss of our daughter. At that moment, our whole world had just crumbled and not one person asked if we were okay. They just walked past us as they saw us breaking down after losing our child. A part of me believes personal and conservative views about us being a same-sex couple were at the forefront of how people treated us in that situation. Even during our OB-GYN appointments, the doctor would not allow the both of us in at one time. We had to switch out, which didn’t make sense to me at all.

After we lost Aubrey, I remember trying to hold in my feelings so I could be strong for Terrell. So much was going on that I felt like I didn’t get to process things the way I probably should have because I felt like I had to be strong. For other fathers out there who have experienced miscarriages, I want them know that it’s okay to grieve as well. We’re so programmed to be strong — don’t cry, don’t show emotions. It’s okay to take all the sadness and all those tears you’ve kept inside and let it all out so you can process your feelings in a healthy way.

Once we got back home, Terrell’s mom flew in and stayed with us for a week. She took care of everything to make sure that we had time to ourselves. It was March and Aubrey was supposed to be born in July. I thought, How were we going to get to July and not have a baby? How were we going to afford to try to have another child?

One issue Terrell and I had to work through was that I wanted a baby right away and he felt as though I was trying to replace our daughter. It caused a big rift in our relationship and because we were so young as the time, we both struggled to figure out how to deal with our grief.

There were several points in time where I wasn’t sure if our relationship could withstand the pain we felt after we lost Aubrey, but by October of 2017, we were able to make our grand announcement that we became parents to our two little ones, Ashton and Aria. It was like our re-introduction to the world, and we’ve been on this parenting journey ever since.

How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
I am close to my mom and my grandmother was very much involved in my life too, but my dad wasn’t really around. I was taught to work every day, provide for family, to take care of one another, but we didn’t show much emotion towards each other. Once I met Terrell and saw how different his family’s dynamic was, I didn’t realize how abnormal it was to not tell each other, “I love you,” and how important those words are.

As I spent more time with Terrell’s family, I started to realize that you’re supposed to talk things through and share how you feel, especially when it comes to the people that you love. That really influenced my parenting style – and now, Terrell and I do a fantastic job at communicating with our kids. We like to lead with love and teach them, especially our son, to express love for each other and that it’s okay to talk things out. It’s our way of shaping the next generation to express themselves instead of keeping everything bottled up.

What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
It’s incredible to see how quickly they learn at just two years old. Watching them try to comprehend new things is really amazing to witness.

What’s the hardest part?
The hardest part is not knowing the effects of what you’re doing. Being a conscious parent is so difficult when you think about the things that you’re doing and how it might affect your child. I’m not constantly analyzing everything I do, but I try to make sure that I’m aware of how my behavior may affect them in the long run.

Do you have any holiday traditions you love sharing with your family?
The holidays are super important because so many events take place during this time: my birthday, Terrell’s parents’ birthdays, our anniversary, then Terrell’s birthday. It’s a really hectic time but we look forward to getting everyone together.

Now that we have Ashton and Aria, it’s been fun starting new family traditions for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, especially because I didn’t have many as a child. It still amazes me that Terrell and I have been able to create our own little family that is filled with love and acceptance, and no one feels like they have to hide anything. Our kids can just be who they are, and we’re always going to be there to love and support them.

What’s the best advice you can share with new parents?
Don’t put pressure on yourself to have everything figured out. You’ll learn as you go, and as long as you’re doing your best to be a conscious parent, I think you’ll see that your kids will be very proud of you.

What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?
I would want them to say that Terrell and I were always present in their lives and that they could talk to us about anything. That’s all a father could ask for.