There are no rules: two dads, two babies, one very personal journey

Last updated 30th July 2023

Family influencers and dads, Stuart Armfield and Francis Haugen, talk to Family Traveller about surrogacy, travelling with a toddler and keeping it real on Tik Tok when you’ve over 1 million followers.


Stuart and Francis with Rio

What’s the biggest challenge travelling as gay parents?

We’ve been so fortunate to travel lots with our son Rio. Our first trip with him was to Miami when he was only 8 weeks old. Now, apart from making sure we have the right things for him: milk, a cot in the hotel room, snacks, and games for the plane, you know the stuff every parent must think about, we really haven’t had any challenges relating to being gay parents.

We’ve been treated and accepted with love everywhere we’ve been. Yes, occasionally we feel an extra stare at the breakfast buffet but maybe it’s the first time some people have ever seen two dads? We just make sure we’re being extra good parents in the moment. (Ha ha.) Of course, we always choose countries or destinations where we know we will be safe but I’m sure they’re the same destinations that the majority of parents would choose.

Best holiday so far with a toddler?

Our favourite toddler holiday without question has been a Royal Caribbean cruise travelling around the Mediterranean. The best thing is that the ship was really aimed at families with so many activities to do. We didn’t even manage to see everything by the time we left a week later.

Rio loved the shows, which is perfect as that’s our favourite thing to do. It was great as every day we were at a new destination without having to repack, which when you’re travelling with kids is one less thing to worry about!


Francis, Stuart and Rio in Hawaii

Tik Tok Rio is adorable, what’s the secret to keeping it natural on film?

One of the biggest compliments we get is when we meet any of our followers in person and they say we are exactly like we are online. We just aim to capture things throughout our day, the good bits, the funny bits, the mess after meals, the clean ups, the struggles as this is real life.

We feel like we are capturing memories so that one day we can look back with Rio and show him what we got up to. So, it’s less performance and more of a diary to look back on. Whenever we’re filming we ensure it’s Rio’s natural habitat and never make him do anything specific, it’s all in the editing rather than Rio!

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Francis and Rio having a beach moment

Tell us a little about your surrogacy journey?

One of the main reasons we started our account and decided to share our journey online was because we wanted to help educate people about what a non-nuclear family looks like. At the time we had such little representation of what it meant for two men to have a baby. So, when we started our surrogacy process, we also had so much to learn and would describe it as learning on the job!

We were blown away when our good friend offered to carry Rio

One thing we did know from the outset is we didn’t want our baby to be genetically connected to anyone we knew as we wanted to bring Rio up just us. We were blown away that when our good friend offered to carry Rio and be our surrogate (AKA gestational carrier), we couldn’t believe that someone could be so selfless. The best solution for us in this situation was to use an egg donor from the USA. We both created embryos with her and then these embryos were transferred into our surrogate and good friend Sam.


So, we’re not sure who people would class as ‘Rio’s mother’ in our surrogacy situation. The woman who carried him and gave birth to him isn’t genetically connected to him, the egg donor is, however. Although we don’t have a personal relationship with her, she is also the egg donor for our second baby. It was important to us that, if possible, Rio and his sibling would be genetically connected to one another. Our second baby is being carried by another incredible friend of ours who is due in the summer.

Our relationship with Sam and her family will always be special to us, we were great friends before and we will continue to be. We will always be eternally grateful to her and her whole family, as it wasn’t just her that went through the surrogacy journey with us, but her husband and kids too.

But ultimately, our view is that Rio has two loving parents who adore him and shower him with all the love, support and care a child needs, and that is all that matters!


Rio always steals the show, Hawaii

Who is the biggest Tik Tok star: Stuart, Francis, Rio or Dolly?

We’ve been told many times – Rio always steals the show!

How do you work addressing serious issues (gay parenting, prejudice, surrogacy) with your feelgood Tik Tok vibe?

Our focus is just to have fun! I think for some of our followers this is the first time they’re ever seeing two dads bring up a baby, and just watching the dynamics is fascinating for people. Our mission is to show the joy in life and to lead with love.

In some ways by just showing up and sharing our story we’re helping to change people’s mind on what parenting can look like.

Worst travel with toddler story so far?

Dealing with jet lag by far is the hardest thing. When we arrived in the US it took at least 5 days for Rio to adjust to the time and then when returning home, it started all over again. We tend to pick trips with shorter time differences where we can.

Best travel with toddler story so far?

We went to Club Med in Marbella with some friends and just seeing him playing with the other kids in the pool, having the time of his life, was a vision board moment for us. We didn’t know it would be possible for us to have a family, so we relish these moments.


Stuart and Rio, Hawaii

Where would you recommend travelling to as gay parents with young kids?

Anywhere in Europe is the best for us where you can do a max 3 hour flight as anything longer then comes with a lot more challenges. As long as you have a good kids pool or access to a beach you will have hours of fun.

You’ve another baby on the way, what’s your advice for anyone thinking about the surrogacy journey?

There are so many different routes to go down with surrogacy. Find and connect with other parents that have gone before you and I’m sure they will be willing to give you all the advice and share their story.


Another perfect beach day!

With over 1 million Tik Tok followers as family influencers, what’s your priority when aligning with brands?

We always want to make sure it’s a brand that we would genuinely recommend and use, or if it’s a new product, one we actually want to try. Plus, we also love helping brands show different types of family because we never saw any representation of this growing up. And it’s great when brands allow us to be fully creative and get their message across in a unique way.

What’s the biggest travel change from carefree couple to travelling dads?

Really having to think about every single baby item needed which adds so much more stuff. We have however, learnt over time that you need less than you think.

What are the triumphs and pitfalls of being social media family influencers?

For us we feel so grateful to be alive at a time where it’s possible for us to share our story openly and to be so loved. We really can’t thank our followers enough for all the support they give us.

In terms of the pitfalls, we do receive the occasional hateful message which is never lovely to read. But that’s to be expected to anyone who posts online. We’re having such a joyous time we just send love back to them.

Thank you Stuart, Francis and Rio! To find out about the new addition to the family follow @stuartandfrancis on Tik Tok

All images © Oliver Shafto @osvisual