Wonderful Reassurance

IMG_4583I think we are possibly in a very rare and what feels like quite a privileged position to be able to watch the first children our agency presented as a possible match for us growing up with their new family. At the time there was no guarantee that the new baby brother would be taken from the mother and as we were determined to adopt two siblings, the uncertainty was enough for us not to take it any further. However, as with the other children we went on to consider – even briefly – before we found our sons, the memory of the two brothers who could have become our children stayed with us.

A year or so after our boys joined us and we became a family we had a call from the agency to say that another couple were in the process of adopting siblings and would we mind being put in touch with them to discuss our experience and how things were working out.

We met and were surprised and delighted to discover that they were in fact adopting the siblings that had been discussed with us – the baby having since been taken into Care. We got on well and stayed in touch and after their sons had been placed and settled we met again and have become good friends. Our children now know each other and play together and we parents have much to discuss, compare and indeed complain about our experiences as new parents.

The first time we met their new sons did seem significant and we were curious to see how we would feel meeting these two little boys who we felt a certain affinity for. We were by then over a year into being a family and we had felt like such from the very first moment we met our boys, consequently we didn’t feel that we would be ‘comparing’ the children or even considering ‘what could have been’, because that was now quite irrelevant, our sons are our sons in every way possible and any kind of alternative is simply unthinkable.

I think the most important thing about that meeting was just seeing the children that – for no reason to do with them – we felt we were unable to move forward with, now adopted. To see them happy and settled in a loving and secure family, which thankfully they most certainly are.

Choosing children is one of the hardest parts of the adoption process we faced, every child deserves a loving a home and every photo that we looked at had a face pleading to be chosen, but some just spoke to us in a way others did not. We have considered and discussed this and I do think it boils down to the vanity of recognising yourself (or indeed your partner) in the face of a child, it was certainly never our intention to adopt ‘mini me’s’ as my partner and I had put no real restrictions on the children we would consider and we were certainly open to children of different race and ethnicity, but in fact we have two sons who are surprisingly similar to both of us – in appearance and more amazingly in character too.

There are of course lots of children who you simply skip passed and others who you may consider even briefly, however they all touch your heart and many leave a memory that I guess will stay with us always. Wondering what became of them is hard and I guess unsurprisingly it has left us with a degree of guilt.

Having contact with these two lovely little boys and seeing them loved and cared for in a beautiful family is wonderfully reassuring in every way and we are truly grateful to have that in our lives.

Parents need SUPPORT in order to ‘Parent Therapeutically’!

miranda's heartMy take on ‘therapeutic parenting’ is this; a way of parenting that reduces a child’s suffering, which allows ‘emotional’ release which in turn makes healing possible. In fact the kind of parenting that every child would benefit from.

Having trained as a psychotherapist and participated in years of personal therapy, what I know is this. To feel safe in relationship is imperative. To establish such a relationship when one is not born to it takes time. Trust doesn’t develop overnight. Connection is necessary.

Listening is key… deep listening; listening below the words, below the behaviour, below what can be seen and heard; with warmth, without judgement and most importantly with acceptance.

I thought I was ready for that until our little monkey arrived. Children are bundles of emotion; children who hurt, who have experienced trauma, have a layer of intensity that cannot be explained. This sure threw me adrift, found me on my back foot!!

I want to ask you a question…

How does it FEEL, to parent a child who is quietly suffering!?

How does it FEEL, to parent a child who is hurting so bad, they flip into high octane expressiveness in a second?

How does it FEEL, to be with your child’s feelings, to be with such raw emotion – overt or covert?

Do you or can you even allow yourself such reflection? Exhausted, drained… how to fill your emotional tank, let alone strengthen your own resilience in the face of such emotional intensity!?

Yet, here we are, parents of traumatised children, expected to be able to listen and support our children’s feelings when we can hardly handle our own!!

In the helping professions it is a known fact, that caring for people who have experienced highly stressful events (trauma) puts the caregiver at risk of developing similar stress-related symptoms, also known as secondary traumatic stress.

Have you heard of compassion fatigue? vicarious trauma?

What about your own life story?

After our daughter arrived I read “The Primal Wound” by Nancy Verrier. It was one of those aha! moments where it dawned on me that my life story began with a disrupted attachment. That was the beginning of me realising, with some certainty, I needed to tend to my own wounds if I was to be able to do the same for our daughter.

If you have your own unresolved or unconscious developmental/relational traumas, if you have had some difficult times growing up; they too will likely be re-stimulated. You may recognise such moments; these are our triggers, hot spots, the times we feel our buttons pushed, our blood boil or feel like we are losing our minds, going crazy. If you are unaware of being re-stimulated, chances are you frequently experience feeling controlled and/or manipulated by your child and their behaviour.

Where is your emotional support?

All parents need and deserve support for the hard and complex work they do. This is a key ethos of the We Are Family community. It is imperative for adoptive parents – for anyone who becomes a parent to a child from care… foster carers, kinship carers, special guardians!! We are at risk! We live with our children’s trauma 24/7! That’s before even looking at our own attachment or trauma histories. Please don’t get me started….

I advocate that we parents need regular, personal emotional support! At a bare minimum each and every one of us needs someone to listen, a “Listening Partnership”, where we can offload emotional tension, brainstorm solutions and ease the pressure and judgements we place on ourselves. A “Listening Partnership” is a way to get back to being the authentic parent you want to be.

Being Older

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Adopting in my 50’s means that there is little doubt that I am an older (and the ‘er is me being kind to myself) parent.

Being an older parent has made me acutely aware of the negatives that age has wrought on my body, aware of every ache and every pain and aware of my inability to run and jump and play with my sons for long periods – as I would have been so capable of even a decade ago.

Being older I no longer have the energy levels or indeed the enthusiasm to be a constant and active part in my sons fun and games. I now have a need for ‘down times’ to reenergise and to deal with the stresses of the day – which is very frustrating when it clashes with when my sons are eager to play. In fact there is a need for quiet in general in my life now – even though that is pretty impossible with two young sons bouncing around the house.

Being older means that I am not remotely in touch with the ‘youth culture’ that my sons are just tapping into, I have never been into computer games or the like, I have never followed sport and even current music – that used to be a constant in my life – has now been replaced with talk radio.

Put simply I am aware that I can not give them the kind of parenting I would have been able to when I was younger and fitter.

Also –

Being older I have to accept the sad reality that my sons will possibly not have me in their lives that far into their adulthood and I have to face the fact that I will probably not be there for important adult milestones. I am assuming I will be for there to see them graduate, to become adults, but will I be there if the marry or have children? More importantly, will I be there for them when they need me for significant adult decisions or situations that they struggle to face alone, times when even though we are adults we turn to our parents to help us make sense of the world and the difficulties it can throw at us?

Being older I have focused on these negatives that my age brings to my parenting and I have worried about how it affect my sons now and how it will do so throughout their lives.

Yet –

Being older means that I have a maturity and wisdom that I can bring to my parenting. I think it has been especially valuable in helping me identify and to understand our sons needs, to help me learn how to deal with issues (especially trauma related issues) in a way that I would have struggled to get to grips with in my younger days.

Being older means that I now have a fuller perspective on what it means to be a parent, I think I see a bigger picture as I am no longer distracted by things that meant so much more to me in the past than they do now.

Being older means that I had already settled into a ‘comfortable’ more sedate life. I had already stopped the partying and I am now far more contented with family nights in front of TV and going to bed early – in a way that I never could have been previously.

Being older means that I do not feel like I am missing out, I feel like I have ‘been there and done that’ and I am happy to see others living the life I used to lead without feeling remotely envious.

Being older means that I have a long history with my partner (now in our third decade), it means that we are not working on our relationship with the intensity that is required for newer couples – especially when faced with difficulties. We are able to face the challenges adoption has brought to our partnership with more self assurance and a greater sense of security than younger relationships possibly offer.

Being older means that I am more financially secure which results in me not having to parent around the worry and stress that month to month budgeting can bring to a family. It means that our family has the luxury of a stay-at-home parent and it means that we are able to give our sons experiences that we would not have been able to a decade or so ago, experiences that they clearly learn from and which are of great value to them and indeed to us as a family, experiences that they clearly get great joy and happiness from.

Being older means that my life is far more established and that as a consequence I have time, more time to focus on my sons and on my family, more time to make it all work.

Actually – *****

Being older and coming to parenting so late has worried me greatly.

Being older very nearly stopped me from adopting and it was a huge consideration at the time.

Being older almost prevented my boys from having a forever family, at 5 and 6 they too were (rather ironically) seen as ‘older’ and being siblings and having attachment issues they were difficult to place, it has been stated that we were a last opportunity of adoption for them.

Being older almost stopped my world from being filled with a happiness and a love that transcends anything I could ever have imagined.

So –
On reflection I guess I can see that my worrying was in vain – as surely the positives so greatly outweigh the negatives.

There is no perfect age to be a parent – I guess no matter what age, we all just have to make sure that we try to excel in what we can. Isn’t that the best any parent can do?

Echoes

wpid-img-1407228241252-v.jpgMy Dad was 44 years old when I was born; I loved my Dad, but as a teenager and into my twenties I swore that I would not be an “old” father. I felt at the time that the age difference wore away at our closeness; we had very little in common and I did not want that with my children. He was 65 when I graduated from college; he was 74 on my 30th birthday; he lived for another 19 years and died when I was 48. The age gap didn’t make that much difference to our closeness in the end; somehow spending time shaving him and combing his hair, dressing him, taking care of him, talking to him all the while enabled me to rediscover that connection we had, but there were lost years no doubt before he got older and more frail. But I was angry too that he wasn’t the strong man I knew as a youngster. And for a while I cursed being 44 years younger than my Dad. But I was lucky that his long years of outdoor, physical work gave him a robustness that belied his years and he lived a long life. When I hit my forties childless, I was actually happily resigned to not having children.

 

I have good genes when it comes to ageing; my Dad was 93 when he died, my Mum is 82 and still going strong. But our lifestyles are not the same – I have not done physical work day-in, day-out for 28 years; I sit at a desk 8 or 9 hours a day. And I do things that my parents did not that I know are not longevity-enhancing.

 

I was just reaching my 48th year when my son was born, older even that my father was. I will be 65 when (if) he leaves home to go to college; I will be reaching my 77th birthday at his 30th birthday party. If I’m around.

 

Before I had a child, I never thought about ageing; becoming a parent at a relatively late stage in life has made me very aware of my own mortality, not in a purely selfish way but because imagining my son’s life going on without me fills me with sadness, for both of us. I will miss major milestones in his life; I might never know his children nor they me, in the same way that my son does not know my father.

 

As is gauchely said, it is what it is. What good does thinking about that do me? Actually a lot of good because it makes me cherish every interaction I have with my son, however small.

Sad Eyes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI previously wrote a blog about being at a party and meeting a number of people who knew our sons from their time in foster care. we had been confused that nobody recognised them and surprised by everybody saying just how much the boys had changed.

We could not see such a huge difference and even when told that it was more than them just looking older, and that it was a ‘fundamental’ change, that they looked healthier and happier – as much as we understood it and accepted it, we failed to see it to the extent that was clearly evident to others.

That is until now.

This week we stumbled upon a DVD that the boys brought with them when then first arrived that was filmed at a children’s play centre. It showed the pair of them sitting in a car seat ‘driving’ in front of a screen projecting moving cartoon images. We had watched it soon after they first arrived and it is sweet and charming and we thought it a lovely little peep at the younger – yet to be part of our world – them.

However, watching it again now is very different indeed, and what we see are two almost unrecognisable little boys. They are smiling and laughing and there is no doubt that they are enjoying themselves, but their smiles are not the smiles that we know, the smiles that we see every day, the smiles that light our lives and that we love so very much.

It takes me a while to understand. I study the faces in the DVD and I realise that the smiles are ‘limited. They are quite brief and  contained around their mouths and only around their mouths. It is suddenly very apparent that the rest of the face and particularly their eyes are not smiling or sharing in their happiness at all.

In fact it’s very clear to see a sadness in their eyes, a sadness that the laughter simply fails to erase. It is a look that wonderfully is no longer there, making the two little boys in the DVD quite different little boys to the ones we see before us today.

Terms such as ‘smiling, but with sad eyes’ are used a lot and I have always considered them a bit of a literary tool for lazier writers – especially in the music industry – and also a bit of a cliche. In fact if I gave it more thought and consideration I guess I found it to be a bit nonsensical, people smile because they are happy or amused or content and it lights up their face, when they are not truly happy the smile is very obviously insincere and not a true smile at all.

However what we are watching in our sons’ faces in the DVD is indeed happiness, they are having a lovely time and there are spontaneous bursts of laughter and genuinely happy smiles, but regardless of them both so clearly enjoying themselves and being happy with what the moment brings, their smiles are concealing a sadness.

It is heartbreaking to watch – both my partner and I are emotionally affected – but just how deeply we did not realise until the following day.

I was with a close friend and telling her about the DVD and how the change in the boys is SO evident and explaining about the sad eyes. She said ‘it must make you so happy and proud that you have erased that sadness’, at which point the always positive, glass-half-full me started to say ‘No. In fact I feel the exact opposite. It makes me hugely sad for how they suffered before we were there to protect them’… but the sentence was never completed as I felt myself choke up and immediately start to shed tears. Real tears. Proper heart felt tears.

I was embarrassed and also shocked. Shocked at the level of emotion I was feeling but most of all by the tears which had literally sprung from nowhere.

Tears had been a pretty regular event in the first few months of becoming a father – surprisingly more for me than for my partner, and dealing with the overwhelming emotions of it all had knocked me for six. I had got used to uncharacteristically shedding a tear or two in the early days but things had slowly calmed down; and although I often have a lump in my throat when talking about the first moment we laid eyes on ours sons, or about something they have said or done that has touched us, on the whole tears are nowadays thankfully under control.

Or apparently not.

It pains me hugely to think of my sons suffering and me not being there to prevent that and as much as I know it is illogical and I guess even foolish, the feelings are real and they are clearly beyond my control. As a parent whose place it is to always protect my sons, knowing it was an impossibility doesn’t stop it from feeling like a failing on my part.

What’s coming next?

2011-07-12 17.27.34Am I the only one feeling slightly overwhelmed by all the information we are confronted with  about our kids and their pasts and potential futures?

At the moment I feel like everywhere I look I’m reminded that life is going to be difficult. – Not that it’s perfect for everyone else, but apparently it’s going to be much harder for our children.

I’m told I must let go of the picture perfect image of a happy family cycling merrily along a river towpath together, splashing through all the puddles, and replace it with something a lot darker, something unknown that perhaps I won’t be able to cope with. All in all it’s supposedly going to be to be tough and sometimes I feel overwhelmed by what’s potentially coming (it’s not ‘if’..-but ‘when’… apparently). All the anxiety inducing rhetoric and reading I’ve done has suddenly got to me. Is there a word for it? A phrase? Adoption anxiety fatigue perhaps?

What of we can’t cope? What if we mess it up?

I’m fully aware of how controversial it is to be saying all this because in many ways, it’s such progress for us as parents and for society in general  to be made aware of all the potential damage caused by early trauma and what we can do to overcome it. I get it. I just feel a little weary from it. I know it’s not helpful but sometimes I do.
My son is beautiful, funny, clever, obstinate, demanding, loving and fascinating and a million other adjectives too. Sometimes I’d rather just see him as this instead of a ticking time bomb.

Mum

fillipo lippi V&CBoth our boys on occasions have called my partner and I ‘Mum’, as we are both men it has surprised us and we have considered it long and hard.

They have done it to me only a couple of times and in fact I’m pretty sure it has stopped completely now, but although it has lessened for my partner it will very occasionally and apparently quite randomly still pop up. He is the stay at home parent and consequently takes on the more ‘motherly’ role, but trust me he is every inch a man and a father.

The obvious question is – why?

The obvious answer to many – because they wish they had a Mother.

Yet we are sure that is not so at all, we regularly discuss being a family and them having two dads and we have directly asked them on a number of occasions if they wish they had a mum. In the beginning they would sometimes say yes – and we were pleased that they were being honest and felt able to be so – yet that stopped some time back and now they simply say ‘no, we love having two dads’. They usually go on and point out that they do have a mum anyway – referring to birth mum.

As I am sure is the case with other families that do not fit the stereotype, we have became acutely aware of how the ‘nuclear family’ of Mum, Dad and usually two children (mostly a boy and a girl) is an image that is constantly and relentlessly fed to our children.

The good news is that the awareness does make us address the issue and we spend some time seeking out books, films, TV programmes etc that have less obvious family set ups and it’s great to discover that they are out there nowadays.

The bad news is that trying to normalise our family is a tough battle to fight and we are now realising that it is one that can never actually be won. No matter how many alternatives we find these are so greatly outnumbered that the ‘normal’ image of the nuclear family will always win through, I guess the most that we can hope for is to soften the blow of that as much as possible.

I have to say that it has filled me with a whole new found respect for single parents, divorced parents, large families, stay at home dad families (where mum works) or any family that does not fit into the stereotype our children are taught to see as ‘normal’ and as a consequence are facing the same issues that we are.

Our sons are clearly proud of their two dads and they tell everybody we are a family – which occasionally freaks out the odd stranger or two on the 38 bus. They are clearly happy with us and not on any level embarrassed or ashamed of having gay dads which is wonderfully reassuring – although as with any parent/child relationship we are pretty sure that being ashamed of their parents will rightly develop with age and will be ever present throughout their teenage years.

The great positive in our sons calling us ‘Mum’ is that we now clearly see it as a sign that we are in fact meeting all of their ‘motherly’ needs and that they are in fact just reassuring us of that fact. It seems to satisfy them and consequently that certainly satisfies us too.