When Driss’ 10-year-old daughter from a previous marriage asked to live with him and his boyfriend (‘the dads’), she was welcomed with open arms. We talk same-sex parenting, running a business together and weekends in their motorhome…
Driss Ziani, 41, and Scott Blumson, 33, live in Gidea Park, Essex, with their daughter/stepdaughter Leila Ziani, 15. They run IRFC Studio together – an interdisciplinary design and marketing agency.
Interview with Driss and Scott on same-sex parenting
Driss: you were previously in a relationship with Leila’s mum, how did it come about that you now have full custody?
Scott and I have been together for 14 years and prior to this, I was married to Leila’s mum for four years. We have always lived near each other and in the early years, following the separation, shared the responsibility of Leila’s care very successfully.
At around the age of 10, Leila wanted to live full time with me and Scott. At this time, our home had a garden and was also closer to her school. We’ve always included Leila in these types of decisions and she has maintained that she wants to live with ‘the dads’.
Scott: How did you feel about the idea of taking on Driss’ daughter, when you decided to move in together?
I have been fortunate to have known Leila since she was a very small child, so we have grown up together, as it were. I’ve always wanted children so was very fortunate to be with someone who already had a child. It’s never phased me or been an issue and like I say, as Leila was really small when our relationship began, we’ve always been part of each others’ lives, which is just great.
How were the early days: what was difficult/challenging, what was good/worked well?
Driss: It may seem hard to believe, but we have been blessed to have a really strong family unit. Scott and my ex wife are very good friends and as a family we support each other. Work can often be demanding, with long hours and travel. Leila’s mum understands this and will have her when this occurs. This was particularly key in Leila’s early years and also as we were growing the business.
It involves being super organised, communicating well, running around in the car and even using the odd taxi when something has cropped up. Now that Leila is older, things are a lot more manageable as she’s becoming an independent young women – she can travel on her own, cook for herself and even do some housework!
You also work together, running interdisciplinary design and consulting studio IRFC. What came first: business or romantic relationship?
Scott: Our romantic relationship happened first. I was working as a sales and marketing manager for a new boutique hotel in Clerkenwell and Driss was working as an operations manager for a high street coffee brand. We met socially and had our own career paths.
After a few years, I set up my own business which was going well and Driss had taken a large role, which involved a lot of international travel. There came a point where we were not spending any time together as a couple but also as a family. Coincidently, Driss was made redundant and decided to set up the IRFC Studio.
Driss: We had always talked about Scott joining the IRFC studio, but were nervous about it becoming all encompassing – working together and being together romantically. Scott subsequently sold his business and was kicking around for things to do so started (meddling) getting involved with the IRFC Studio. After a few months, it became more regular and our romantic-work relationship started.
What are each of your roles?
Driss: We are both directors and have 50/50 ownership of The IRFC Studio however we each have strengths and experience in different aspects of business. We are both very hands on and, as with most businesses, get involved in every aspect of the company. We manage different accounts, client relationships and projects with a collaborative creative and build team. Scott is more process and numbers driven and focused on the intricacies and details of accounts, contract and business development.
Scott: Driss is constantly on the move – some might say, the “loose cannon”. It’s a great balance, as I’m generally more cautious and less risk averse, whereas Driss is carefree – jump first, think later. Between us, we feel we strike a good balance and partnership with the business. Quite often you’ll find Driss painting walls in the office whilst I’m running financial reports and trying to have a business discussion!
How do you find it, spending (presumably) a lot of time together?
Our life is not a conventional division of work life and home life – we drive into the office everyday and have desks opposite each other. We have always talked about any concerns either of us have in this regard and make sure we don’t let the company take over.
When we feel we are becoming consumed we make a point of drawing a line in the sand and taking a break, especially in the evenings. It’s ironic that our fears of it being all encompassing haven’t actually materialised.
When we were previously doing our separate roles, we’d get home in the evenings and bitch and talk about our days and often end up arguing with each other as we criticised each other’s decisions and actions from that day.
Strangely, now that we work together, this doesn’t happen. When we get home, we have gotten all of that ‘stuff’ out of the way during the day; so our evenings are spent talking about positive things that happened during the day and doing fun stuff.
Do you make a conscious effort to spend time apart socially?
It sounds cringe, but we don’t. We have a fantastic team at work and are often in the pub with them socially. Similarly, we have the same circle of close friends and everyone knows and loves everyone. This said, we don’t get masses of time to spend out socialising – we much prefer a weekend away with friends, or more importantly: together as a family.
Same-sex parenting: the day-to-day
Scott: how involved are you in the day-to-day care of your stepdaughter?
At 15, as involved as a teenager will let you be! We’re getting to the stage where Driss and I just aren’t cool enough to be seen with! I generally look after Leila’s extracurricular activities, if she shows the right type of interest in the right activities I believe we should support her. Kickboxing, gym membership, piano and guitar are all on the list.
Chores are now part of Leila’s day-to-day life which I generally keep on top of. Driss doesn’t drive, so I am ‘dad taxi’ for all activities and chauffeuring Leila from friends’ houses to her mum’s and so on. We are fortunate that Leila walks to school and has done for many years. We share making packed lunches between us (Leila included).
What time are you up in the morning?
We are early risers and are usually up by 5am.
Who makes breakfast?
Scott: We make sure Leila has her breakfast before heading to school, but Driss and I usually get something once at the office. In the early years, we shared getting Leila’s breakfast ready.
What are your working hours?
We are in the office between 7.30am and 8.00am most mornings, however that depends on the day and whether we are travelling or have breakfast meetings. We like to get ahead and start before the team at 9am.
As far as our finishing time, that all depends on the work to be done and how much the sun is shining in the summer (!), however one of us will be home around 7/7.30pm. We work it around what Leila is up to.
How are evenings spent?
We all have busy schedules between work, school and related events, homework and Leila’s activities. We have dinner together every night (unless we have a client event, in which case Leila will be at her mum’s). And we love to enjoy some down time on the couch.
Describe the ideal family weekend…
Driss: We recently, dare we say, bought a motorhome so take off most weekends with the dogs in tow. We love being in the countryside (me) and the coast (Scott). We all love the outdoors life, the peace and quiet. It’s a great time for us to all be away from the day-to-day distractions and share some games, some tunes (generally Justin Beiber, Airana Grande, JoJo and Head Kandi). We love to talk, have a laugh and plan our next adventure. None of us can sit still for more than 10 minutes, so it’s a great way for us all to spend time together and appease our OCD traits!
How did friends and family react to news that the three of you were moving in together?
Driss: We really are blessed with fantastic families. Scott and Leila’s mum have a very close relationship and I’m very close friends with my ex wife, too. My mother passed away when I was 15 and my dad lives between France and Morocco, so we don’t unfortunately see him as much as we would like.
Scott has a very large family who mostly all live just over an hour away; so we see a lot of each other. Scott’s parents were initially concerned that he may be taking on a bit too much, as at the time he was in his early 20s. However, they have always been supportive, loving and involved in his life – and now have an extended family too.
What would you say about same-sex parenting to another couple hoping for custody of a child from a previous relationship?
Scott: We are big believers in being positive and making things work. Smiling and being honest and true to yourself and each other is crucial. Sometimes it may seem like there’s no escape or it’s all too much; but if you’re solid together and have a plan and a great support network, there is always a way to work something out. For us, it’s always been about relationships – from Driss’ ex wife, Leila, our team at work and our families.
What are your hopes for the business?
Naturally we want to grow and expand; we are very quality and partnership driven. We work closely with our management team as we trust them to take our ambitions out into the world and work as a team to get us all there. We don’t think we’ll ever stop being so hands on, but of course there is only so much time in the day which is why our team are extremely important to us. Our plans for the next five years include international business growth and office locations whilst also developing retail outlets and diversity of clients.
And for your home life?
Scott: As clichés as it sounds, that we remain foremost healthy and happy, but that we always remain focused on me, Driss and Leila. We hope that over time we will be able to work more from home and as Leila starts making her own life decisions that we will be there to support her and help her to achieve what she wants to in life.
We all love to travel, so should Leila be on some travel time in a few years, we’d like that ‘the dads’ will be able to join her on her adventures. We recently went to Australia as a family and travel Europe regularly. We are planning a US trip for 2017.
Are you in a same-sex relationship with children? How do you find same-sex parenting? Is it different to parenting in mixed-sex relationships? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below…