Equal Love


My mother made much of the fact that she loved each of her three children equally and reassured us of the fact with some regularity.

However, as the one in the middle I grew up with the (typical middle child?) feeling that I got a little bit of a raw deal in some respects compared to my siblings, I reasoned that it was because my older sister was the first born and the only girl and my younger brother the baby.

Long after I had left home I did express this to my mother who was clearly shocked that I felt the way I did and said that it was just not true as of course she loved us all equally and treated us all the same.

Of the love I have no doubt, I never felt less loved in any way, but I stressed that I felt it was obvious that I was treated quite differently as I did get reprimanded more and at times over things that my siblings clearly got away with.

My mother considered what I was saying and said ‘you know, that may be true, I think I was more likely to reprimand you in a situation worthy of discipline than the other two, but not because you were the middle child, or your sister the only girl or your brother the youngest, but because it brought the situation to an end in a way that it possibly would not have done had I addressed my anger or frustration at your siblings’.

She went on to say that I was a very easy going child and quite matter of fact and as such would respond to discipline in a way that my siblings would possibly not. She said at times she did not want the confrontation that telling off either my brother or sister would result in, so potentially they did get away with poor behaviour when I did not.

After more thought she said that in fact if two of us were arguing or fighting that reprimanding me resulted in the situation being resolved much more easily than it would have been by reprimanding either my brother or sister. So she could see how she could have unfairly targeted me.

She said she had never realy given it that much thought or picked up on it as being unjust as I seemed quite unfazed at the time.

I guess it didn’t bother me too much and I simply accepted it, but over time and looking back as an adult the reality of the unjustness did strike me and hence the conversation we had – I never however felt any less loved and reassured my mother, who was clearly feeling rather guilty.

Which brings me to my own children, sons just 11 months apart, brothers who have responded to the trauma they have suffered in totally different ways and who require VERY different parenting and consequently get treated quite differently as a result.

Our youngest son is so clearly angry, confused and deeply troubled by what he has been trough and is so obviously in need of considered, therapeutic care, he reacts badly to regular ‘ ‘rewards and punishment’ parenting and just doesn’t respond to the threat of consequences or worse still to our anger and especially not our raised voices.

His older brother is the the complete opposite, he is a child who seems unaffected by his past and who we know wants to please us, he is aware when he has done wrong and accepts punishment as a result of his bad choices. He responds pretty much immediately to us reprimanding him and simply accepts any punishment as a result of his actions – apparently just like I did.

They are two children in the same house with very different needs in how they must be patented, two children with the same parents who have had to identify these different needs and to learn how to satisfy them. Two children who as a result have parents who treat them very differently.

As a child who felt he was treated unjustly how ironic I am now a parent doing exactly the same with my oldest son.

However, I am fully aware of what is happening and why it needs to be so. My own experience and my mothers explanation have helped me understand and appreciate my sons situation and we are careful to make him realise that we know there is a difference and to explain why that difference needs to be.

He seems to get it and so far does not resist in any way, maybe one day he will, but we will be prepared and we will listen and respect his concerns – meanwhile we will constantly reassure him that he is loved equally in every way.

Words Words Words

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Words, words, words… I think I’m getting tired of them and I think my son might be too.

As my husband likes to point out – I wasn’t born with the editing gene and neither were large parts of my family. I marvel at his ability to sum up any situation or episode – swiftly, succinctly and with integrity.

Fewer words is what I aim for.
For clarity. For integrity. For honesty.

When do I use too many words?
Well … Often. Here are a few situations where I am trying to cut down:

When he is sad. Or hurting. Then he just needs comforting.

When he is playing. Especially when he is in his flow zone, then he just needs to be left to his own devices and good company (except if course when sports casting).

When we need to leave the house/playground, eat, drink, get dressed and so on. Actually … I ask myself how often do we ever really need to do anything?

When he finds something that is totally absorbing. Like noticing a spider in a hedge, or spotting a blue truck, or a crane, crane, Crane!! CRANE!!! Then he just needs my attention.

When he is eating – at dinner for instance. He knows when he doesn’t like something or when he is full or wants more, he just needs my trust in him.

There can be a lot of acknowledgement in silence. Just catching his eye, or touching him gently. In smiling.

Let’s take one of these situations and dissect it: My son needs comforting. He doesn’t need words or even explanations. When he is sad or hurting, he just needs comforting. Period. Plus the acknowledgement of his world and feelings. Chances are he doesnt know why he fell of that log or bashed himself on the head, or spilled all the milk all over himself so there is no point in asking for an explanation. He won’t be listening anyway. His little body is so full of feelings (surprise, sadness, hurt, anger, frustration to name but a few regulars.) his ears are as tightly shut as his eyes. Only his mouth is open to let out the sobs and cries.

So now I find it best – and most efficient – just to comfort. I put my arms around him – if he will let me, and hold him. Sometimes I rock him. He likes me to stand up so he is really held tightly – suspended really.

‘Oh dear, my little love.’ Repeated or a variation of this, if necessary. Perhaps adding ‘ That looked liked it really hurt’ But not more. It is the tone of voice that carries the most weight of the sounds anyway. It is a verbal hug. The sound of soothing.

In any of these situations there’s a not so thin line between explaining and lecturing… (wrote the daughter of two teachers. – I should know.)

Words can crowd and cloud the space between us. Curiously I write this as my son’s language is coming on apace. This week I estimate 80%ish of his blubber being actual words that I might be able to understand. Last week it was 70%ish. When he gets it wrong, I try not to correct him too much but ask him either to repeat himself or what he meant. For instance ‘mee wan aish’ he might proclaim and I can ask ‘does Digger want an ice cream?’ Or ‘does Digger want that ice cube?’ Always followed by a long pause. I’m practising pauses. If I can master them, I hope to raise a son who is better at listening that my family is. Me included.

So many messages are lost in words.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll try to sum this blog up like this:
In parenting fewer words will probably do. Not least in the preverbal world of a toddler. So choose them well I tell myself.

I’m trying, I’m trying!

They’re Adopted

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was at a meeting of fellow adopters and was surprised to hear a parent say how unhappy they were that their child’s school had outed them as being adopted. They were clearly upset and concerned and stated that they had made an official complaint.

On a number of occasions since I have heard similar comments and concerns from adopters who were saying that they felt a need and a desire to keep their child’s status secret in certain situations.

It surprises me greatly and I have to say that I am confused as to why any adoptive parent would feel a need not to be totally open and honest about their adoption in all circumstances, as surely that is an essential part of making an adopted child understand, appreciate and embrace exactly who they are.

Isn’t keeping a child’s adopted status a secret suggesting it’s something… well, to be ashamed of? I appreciate that ashamed may seem a little heavy, but to have a child – by default – denying they are adopted is far from instilling any sense of pride.

Having something that you have to keep a secret because of what others may think can only be creating a degree of shame and no matter how open and honest you are around family and friends I can’t see how it would fully eradicate that.

I understand the reasoning – that is sets their child apart and that it may give bullies something to use – and I understand that a parent is supposedly trying to protect their child, but surely what is far more important it how the child feels about themselves.

Regardless the fact that you are keeping it a secret means that you are potentially giving the bullies ammunition to use against your child, to them justifying their bullying. Teasing a child who is secure in an adopted family and secure in their knowledge of being adopted is surely going to have far less impact than teasing a child who has had a secret exposed.

As gay adopters I am fully aware that we don’t really have a choice over being ‘out’ as an adoptive family – as it’s pretty self evident that it was unlikely to have happened naturally – and as such we are not faced with a choice over this. However, I should imagine we would be far less likely to decide to be anything other than fully open.

Gay people know what it’s like to live with a lie, we know how it confuses us and creates a shame – in some cases a self loathing – that is often with us for our entire life. We know how better it is when we ‘come out’ and live openly and freely as the people we are, when we face the world without fear or shame.

Our sons at 7 and 8 declare their adopted status openly and freely to anybody and everybody, just as they declare that they have two daddies. They need to be proud of both and every time they state either fact they are acknowledging and affirming their pride. If they were encouraged to keep either fact a secret surely every time they stopped themselves from exposing it would diminish that pride.

We know that as they get older and are with peers who have been fed prejudice and hatred that it may not be as easy to be so open and in fact that is exactly
why they need to be so comfortable with it now, so they are prepared and can handle the possible abuse with knowledge and confidence.

I think possibly the denial in some straight parents is far more to do with them and their journey to adoption. Declaring your child as adopted is possibly giving out a lot of very personal and intimate details about you, information that maybe just feels wrong sharing with anybody other than family and friends. However it is a reality and absolutely one to be proud of.

Why the label?

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

Many years ago I remember watching an interview with a famous musician who took exception to the interviewer bringing up the fact that one of his children was adopted, and I can also remember wondering what all the fuss was about.

Nowadays I get it.

More and more I’m becoming aware of our children being referred to in this way. Not just as our children but as our ‘adopted children’

Why the label? What does it add other than a frisson of mystery around the birth of said child? It also quite unfairly reveals more personal information about our children than others; why?

Recently in the press we have had a high profile hollywood star’s ‘adopted daughter’ committing the sin of getting married without having her ‘adoptive parents’ present at the ceremony. This story ran and ran for days with the adjective ‘adopted’ peppered throughout the coverage. It was irrelevant in the context and carried the quiet implication that perhaps the adopted status of the child was in some way an explanation for a rift.

And this is by no means the only example I have come across.

It makes me worry for my children. How are they supposed to feel ok about themselves if adoption is regularly referenced in this way?

Are we talking about it too much?

I personally know of two teenage children adopted at birth who are tired of their background being referenced all the time with one of them recently proclaiming loudly to his bemused mother “Why are you always going on about me being adopted? I’m sick of it. Can’t I for once just be your son and that’s all?”

Food for thought…

Why is she in the buggy?


The first time it happened I really felt her pain.

It was her first play date ever and her new friend ran confidently around picking up toys and evaluating them for fun value. My daughter ran ahead delightedly pointing out her possessions and waiting for approval. Suddenly the friend let out a shriek ; my daughter had proudly held up her tatty old half-perished dummy which she wouldn’t go to sleep without, the one she arrived with that made her feel safe. “Oh no”, said her suddenly much more grown-up friend. “That’s for babies; you shouldn’t have that”. The friend eyed her suspiciously and my daughter flushed with shame. Confused she looked to me and although I made light of it, the rest of the play was not relaxed. After the friend left she kept reliving that moment of shame. When she went to bed I saw her really struggle with her need for the dummy and I told her it was ok to have it if she needed it. “She thinks I’m a baby,” she said through tears.

The second time we were on holiday and I was more prepared.

Having made firm friends with a little girl of a similar age, they were giggling away, thick as thieves until we got up to leave and our daughter climbed into her worn out old buggy. The other girl was speechless and no longer laughing. She turned to us – the adults with whom she now clearly felt more affinity – and enquired, “Why is she in a buggy? She’s not a baby.” Once again our daughter flushed with shame. Quick as a flash I bent down, and in a whisper said, “Well, first of all – between you and me- this isn’t a normal buggy – it’s magic and takes her to special magic places – that’s where we’re off to now actually; and secondly we’re staying a lot further away than you are and it’s very late for little girls to be up now.” I’m not sure she believed me but it stunned her into temporary silence and away we went, but all the way home she kept repeating, “she didn’t like the buggy did she? She didn’t like the buggy? You had to explain”.

It made me sad and then it made me a bit angry. What is the rush anyway?

What if she’s a little slower in shedding some of the comforts of infancy? Why does it matter? Why is society so geared up towards moving on to the next thing as quickly as possible? Couldn’t we all benefit from taking a bit more time over things?

Her childhood already seems to be going by so fast and I for one am in no rush to push her even faster through it. She can take as much time as she wants.

I’m taking you home with me

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

The mother of a close friend was over from Africa and came to our house to meet our new sons; we had made a lot of how far away she lived and that she had taken a long flight to get here. We spoke about Africa and all the wild animals and the boys were suitably intrigued and excited.

It was still quite early days in the boys’ placement and although we felt they had settled quickly, in retrospect it’s clear to see that they still had a long way to go before they really felt any sense of security or permanence.

Our guest was quite taken with the boys and half way through the evening from the opposite end of the room I heard her declare ‘my goodness what wonderful little boys you are, in fact you are so lovely I’m going to take you home with me’.

Innocent words delivered with warmth and a smile, words that to most children would be seen as a tease and do little more than elicit giggles and smiles. However these words to adopted children still in the first few months of placement mean something quite different indeed.

They mean ‘she IS going to take them home’ and the look on our sons’ faces clearly displayed their confusion at the thought of being taken away from their new Daddies and thrust into yet another home with different parents.

Thankfully the moment I heard the words I realised how they would sound to our sons and immediately started to laugh – to ease their tension – and responded ‘oh no you’re not, nobody is taking our sons away from us’.

Oblivious to the confusion she had created our guest continued to ‘compliment’ the boys by firmly stating ‘ oh yes I am, they will love Africa, won’t you boys?’

Shaking my head and continuing to laugh I approached the boys, knelt down to their level and repeated my reassurance that they were going nowhere, but still she failed to see the negative effect her words were having. Thankfully as she again started to insist that her plans were real, our – clearly more sensitive – friend stepped in with a firm ‘no mother you are not taking them anywhere, they are here with their new dads and that’s where they will always be from now on.’

Finally the penny dropped and she immediately assured the boys that she was just joking and that they would indeed always be with us from now on.

It was a difficult couple of minutes. It would have been inappropriate to make a big fuss and make her feel she had done something wrong because of course there was no ill intent – quite the reverse – and it’s no doubt something she had said many times before with other children. However it had needed dealing with immediately, regardless of it causing her embarrassment.

We knew better – not that that stops us making mistakes – but how on earth could she or would she have realised her error without us there to point it out? It was still early days and it made me realise that everybody around us was learning – just as we were.

Later with the boys tucked up in bed, she apologised and we stressed how it was just a simple mistake and that no harm had been done. She went on to say how the incident had filled her with a sadness for the little soles whose lives to date had seen such turmoil that the idea of simply being passed on to another family was very much a reality.

This took place almost 3 years ago and it was brought to mind yesterday when a friend who babysat our sons last week told me of her horror when she did a very similar thing. After an evening of the boys being on – thankfully and certainly not guaranteed – best behaviour she stated ‘you boys have been so good today, in fact I think I’m going to adopt you’, she said their quizzical expressions made her immediately realise her foolish choice of words and she back-tracked by telling them that she was being silly and of course she wasn’t going to be doing anything of the sort.

She was in fact apologising to me for what she had done and was clearly upset; I of course was not and pointed out that it was an innocent mistake and one she had rectified immediately and no harm had been done.

It did make me realise the difference between the two incidents and it was satisfying to see that just like us the other people around our sons were learning to understand them and their situation and as a consequence they are dealing with them in a much more sensitive manner.


new-year-celebrationThis blog is long overdue, all I can say by way of an excuse is it that starting a kid in nursery school is no joke: we have been taking turns in being ill since the beginning of September. Our kids (and their illnesses) trumps all! Anyway, here is what I have been meaning to say since a lovely day late in the summer hols:

On the 26th August 2015 we became a fully fledged charity! With the official number: 1163318. Oh what joy in a short sequence of numbers.

Hurray to us all!

Becoming a charity is a welcome recognition for all that we do, edging our way as we are towards support for all adopters, starting with London. The new status, however, does not change our profound wish to remain a grass roots organisation with a good sprinkling of the grounded and inclusive, hosting regular, informal and largely free or very low cost events for all our families.

Our focus remains stoutly the parents, hoping that supporting them will help support all our children as well.

It fills me with great joy and pride to see how far we have come in just two short years.

We now count no less than seven groups across London and beyond (East London, Enfield, Hackney/Islington, Richmond, Shepherd’s Bush, Southwark and North Buckinghamshire). In addition, we have three groups lined up, with a view to launch these in the New Year. These are Croydon, Havering and South Buckinghamshire.

Our core activities remain:

· Parent Support, which is run by all but one local group
· Playgroups for under-fives, which is run in five out of seven
· Family days

Furthermore, our groups are able to access pan-London subgroups, that is, our Prospective Adopters group and our Single Adopters Group. Both these groups popped up as it became clear they needed different kinds of activities and meetings than we were then offering; both groups are thriving.

We are also proudly working with four out of the six London Adoption consortia, in the acknowledgement that the dialogue with the professionals is key to being a successful organisation.

But fundamentally, there is no denying that our main asset is our volunteers and members: our fantastic parents and our parents in waiting. You know who you are. Without you, there would be no WAF. Your dedication is what keeps it alive, and as it happens, keeps it growing.

In building WAF we have been able to draw on the vast resources of our members and their skills (the range of professions in our midst never ceases to amaze me). Adoptive parents tend to be older parents, often professionals with a well-established career, and often ready for a new challenge, perhaps even a new career. WAF benefits enormously from this pool of extraordinary people and their warm energy.

To date we have been operating with practically no money. It’s a new world, we are in a recession, and frankly an awful lot can be done with very little. But there is no denying that we have been extremely fortunate in finding much support from a number of local authorities, adoption agencies and other professionals. Without them we would not be where we are today. Full stop.

The relative success of WAF may also be seen as a part of a new trend in self-organised volunteering. A move away from established charities that are often seen as corporate, whether or not that is a fair perception. Whatever the reason, we are part of a larger trend of people across the country are getting involved locally; they want to make, and feel that they are making, a difference – here and now. Thus adopter-led groups are springing up across the country.

The core of emphatic parent enthusiasm is a strong motivator and definitely our driving force. This fact makes the learning curve no less steep. We are certainly skipping along a tight rope. We are trying our hardest to strike a good and sustainable balance between the intimacy of grass root ideals – including the autonomy of our local groups and establishing replicable and reliable events and groups – with safe working parameters for some of our society’s most vulnerable people. Not an easy thing to do.

Thus, at a central level (yes, we now do have a central level!) we are working apace to develop necessary policies, establish procedures and digest it all to produce easy to follow guidelines. Some of this is simply necessary to protect our members and those who take a more official role. But we are adamant to try to keep these policies and procedures to a minimum, so our members can continue to dip in and dip out as they see fit. It is the hope to make all this (dare I say boring) work an open and free resource in order to inspire and support others considering setting up similar groups.

Perhaps the mission closest to my own heart, as the interim chair, is for WAF to be anti-isolation by nature. Isolation is a major factor in all kinds of depression (PADS included), as it is in all families in crisis and in adoption breakdowns. So if you are reading this is in crisis, the number one thing you can do is to draw on your network. Ask for help. But even if you seem to be bumbling along nicely, build on your network, and listen to those who need to talk. It is our hope in WAF to help building such supportive networks, face-to-face. To break down towers of isolation. We just provide the platforms.

I would like to end this brief look at the two-year-old WAF with some thanks, that cannot be overstated or repeated often enough.

If you are a WAF’er: Thank you for your particular part in this, for taking a chance on us. You are the reason we are here.

If you are one of our lovely supporters: thank you for believing in us and for giving us the help you have! There is no way we could have gotten this far without your help and trust in us. No way.

[Opens champagne: POP! Spills it every where, OOUHhhh, oh dear…, oh well…]:

Here’s to the future! THANK YOU EVERY ONE!