The Briefest Moment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was the briefest of moments, but a moment that has filled me with guilt and which I know will stay with me forever.

It was early days – in fact just five or six weeks into placement – the honeymoon period was over and we were starting to see a different side to our new sons. We were totally smitten with the boys and felt that we had loved them from the very first moment we were brought together, but now we were being challenged and we were finding it hard.

The previous couple of weeks had been tough – very tough – mostly with our then almost 5 yr old, who was angry and upset and confused – which we still see signs of today – and daily we were dealing with that. We were new parents and rapidly discovering that all the experience we had of looking after children seemed to be irrelevant when it came to our own, our own damaged and wounded children.

Our son is extremely short tempered and he will fly into a rage over very minor incidents, it is a rage that was uncontrollable then and grew worse with our feeble and misguided attempts to deal with it. We knew we were in it over our heads and we knew we were just not breaking through. It felt like we were failing and to be honest it felt more and more like we were faced with an insurmountable challenge. However, it was a challenge we were committed to and no matter what it took we would get the better of it. Nobody said it was going to be easy, in fact we had it drummed into us on the prep’ course that it would be anything but.

To make matters worse we were exhausted, emotionally and physically. We had not slept a full night since they joined us in our home, jumping up from our bed at the slightest sounds from their bedroom next door, lying awake for hours considering the day we had just had and worrying about what the day ahead would bring.

In addition nothing could have prepared us for the sheer magnitude of the emotional roller coaster ride we found ourselves on and just how weary that would make us.

From the moment our son woke that morning we knew it was going to be ‘one of those days’, there is a look in his eyes, a little extra swagger and attitude in his interaction that we were already able to spot and identify, but to this day we have no idea what determines that mood. It was not a good start to the day and with my partner and older son leaving early we were left alone. My gentle reprimanding of our sons constant challenging increased, and as he and I sat down after breakfast to play together it was clear that all of what I was saying was falling on deaf ears.

Gradually my anger was growing and getting more and more difficult to control as he persisted in his mis behaviour and his determination to ignore my attempts to bring it to an end. Finally a very stern warning that one more time and he would have time-out (a last resort then and of course eliminated completely now) which predictably was immediately followed by the action that spurred the warning.

With far too much anger he was lifted from the floor and stood in the time-out spot, from here on in the situation just deteriorated totally out of control, with my anger continuing to grow – and the volume of my shouting increasing with it – as he refused to stay for time-out, the more I shouted the worse he got and we were in a vicious cycle going absolutely nowhere.

With time we were to learn that he gets worse as we get angrier as of course it destabilises the security we are building, but way back then we were a long way off that realisation and I just saw a defiant and naughty little boy determined to ‘get one over on me’. How crass and ignorant that statement sounds now.

He was refusing to stay on the time-out spot and I was sure that giving into that would be the beginning of the end and that he would never listen to me and my discipline from that moment on, so I repeatedly lifted him back into place. His anger continued to build and soon it was completely out of control and there I found myself, on my knees, face to face with my 4 year old son trying to hold him in place, his face blazing red from absolute fury and his spit covering my face as he simply stood and screamed at me.

And then that moment.

I gave up. I accepted defeat and realised that I couldn’t do this. I had failed. I was not a parent and could never be, which of course meant only one thing – he had to go back. Back into Care.

That briefest of moments.

And then thankfully it was gone and I pulled myself together. Could this 4 yr old really get the better of the 50 yr old me? Of course not – that is NOT what this is about. Then the realisation that this was in fact all about me, not his naughtiness or his anger, but my handling of it. I didn’t know the answers, but I knew it was about me finding them.

Totally ashamed at the thought that had run through my mind and with my heart breaking for him – my beautiful SON – for even thinking what I had, the anger drained from my body. I let go of him and I stood up and he of course immediately ran from me and he hid under the table. Calmer now, I lowered my voice to little more than a whisper and told him that ‘under the table’ was the new time-out spot and his 4 minutes were starting from now.

He stayed – thank goodness he stayed – I am sure it was because he was as relived for the ‘out’ as I was. The – very long – 4 minutes passed and I attempted to calm him and to get some kind of order back in place. He was having none of it and refused to move from his spot where he stayed for quite some time. When he did finally come out he would not come to me or allow me to hug him, which of course I desperately needed to do for my own sake as much as his.

He stayed angry, hurt, upset and distant and then finally my partner arrived home. Initially he resisted my partners efforts to console him, but he was in such need of comfort that he did eventually allow himself to be picked up and I stood and watched as our little boy crumpled into my partners shoulder and sobbed his heart out.

This had been tough on me, but my goodness it was now very clear to see how tough it had been on him and I was responsible for that.

Things had to change – and they did, or should I say WE did.

Nearly three years on we still have an angry little boy, but episodes as extreme as this are now rare and we are hopeful that they will soon be eliminated completely. We have learnt how to handle him much better and in doing so we have became more like the parents he needs and my goodness so deserves.

Far more importantly though, there has never been a repeat of my thoughts in that moment, but as a parent those thoughts will always haunt me and shame me.

We are a forever family and families come as they are – for good and bad – and one thing is for sure – being adopted does not make you any less forever than a birth child and to even think so for the briefest of moments is surely unforgivable.

Out of the blue – A lesson in patience.

Picture 053My daughter and I are both recovering from surgery.

Mine – not hers but we’ve both been affected.

It happened so quickly that I didn’t have the chance to explain to her that not only would I not be coming home in time to cook her tea, bath her and carry her to bed, but that I would be gone for six whole days. I was just gone, absent without warning and it felt unbearable. In my panic I was sure our bond would be damaged by my sudden departure so I can only guess how it felt for her, and explanations were left to those who kindly jumped in to care for her in my absence.

Now we’re all dealing with the aftermath.

Crucially, I can’t bend down and I can’t lift her. Doesn’t sound that bad but it’s created a space between us that wasn’t there before. Now I tower stiffly over her, my stance so different to usual, essentially talking down at her and she doesn’t like it – I don’t blame her. I wish I could sweep her into my arms, or kneel down and kiss her face but I can’t. It feels very formal.

Mummy has gone from being a big strong, person she could bounce off, to a stiff, weak temporarily disabled one she needs to be careful around (as everyone keeps telling her!) Despite the constant reassurances that I will be back to my old self in time – a concept she doesn’t understand anyway – she rarely answers when I speak to her and constantly demands toys and presents and sweets – something she was probably given a lot of while I was in hospital. I find it heart wrenching.

I know that life’s not perfect and stuff happens all the time but it feels big. It’s brought loads of stuff up for both of us, for me how I can’t bear to be still and I really struggle to find the patience to recuperate at the right steady pace, and for her? .. Well tantrums and it’s anybody’s guess what else but she’s reacting differently as each day passes. My husband tells me not to worry, that our bond is strong and secure and my presence alone is nourishing and comforting to her. I trust his judgement and try to stay positive. There are encouraging signs. This morning as I woke up she did slip her hand into mine and whisper “Mummy, when you are well you can pick me up again” and gave me a kiss. I’ll just have to wait it out.

 

Is it ok if I don’t love you?

20130330_111946It started out I think as a game, but through it’s gradual insistence I then started to wonder and finally, like water torture, it started to hurt. It wasn’t a “funny thing children say” anymore; it had become unfunny and in my worst moments, cruel. I had been lucky I think to have been the favoured one once upon a time, but as our daughter cemented a lovely bond with my wife and as I became more distant through not being around during the day, there were little signs appearing, warning me to be careful with her affection, be careful with my presence, or lack thereof. She used to go bananas when I came home, after careering with joy at the sight of me, loving being lifted into my arms for a cuddle. But someone, and I think it should be me to blame, took a step back from this. I became perhaps too careful with her affection, looking for signs that might not have been there that my cuddles were not quite as welcome as before and holding back for fear of being too intrusive. I was left with tickling as the means of getting some physical contact and hearing her laugh. But eventually “Stop it, Daddy” was the cry. When she first told me she didn’t love me, I said it was ok, I loved her and always would. But it became a more frequent song, culminating in a frighteningly earnest, “Is it ok if I don’t love you, Daddy?” I said it was; that she must always tell me how she feels, what she’s thinking, feeling myself like the grown-up, not wanting to show her I was upset. But of course I was. What else was I to say? No, it’s not ok actually?

This worried me and left me feeling outside her circle of love. I brought this up at the WAF get-together and, lovely supportive people that were there that night, felt comforted after sharing my concerns.

And they were right. One night after reading the made-up hand book stories a mish mash of Frozen  and Brave – odd worlds that Walt et al would not recognise – as she lay there eyes closed, apparently asleep, she reached her hand over, placed it on my arm, stroked me for a while and said, “I do love you really, Daddy.”

Fostering issues

Picture 033I found the prep’ course that adopters go through to be quite comprehensive and of great value, it’s hard to imagine that in the past adopters were offered none of this information to prepare them for what in some cases are huge challenges, but for everybody is something new and unknown.

However, in our case something I think that it lacked was more information about the importance and affect of Foster Parents on our children.

Our boys spent almost three years in one foster placement meaning that our youngest actually spent longer with the foster parents than with his birth parents and at a very crucial age – from 2 to almost 5.

They are an older couple with grown up children and grandchildren of their own, as a result they have all the children in their care call them Nanny and Grandad. Actually I think this can be very helpful as I know that many children in foster placement refer to the carers as Mummy and Daddy and can grow to see them as exactly that, making the eventual split from them all the more confusing and difficult for them to deal with.

It is especially good in our case as my mother and my partners father are both dead and ‘Nanny and Grandad’ slot quite nicely into those empty positions in our family.

Because of the time spent with them and the long term relationship they had, It was recognised by all that an ongoing relationship with the foster parents would be healthy for our sons, especially as their older sister was staying with them in long term fostering. Twice yearly contact has been agreed, along with a younger sister and her adoptive family.

It was clear that along with the foster parents maturity – she is 60, he a very sprightly 70 – came a certain type of parenting that is best described as ‘old school’. They are strict – very strict – and run a very tight household, which I can see is essential as they not only had our boys and their sister, but also a fourth child in care as well as their 14 year old granddaughter. In addition two older children who at 17 and 18 had left their care, came almost nightly for dinner.

Our boys – at not yet 5 and 6 – tidied behind themselves, made their beds (to a fashion), bathed themselves, dressed themselves and even took their dirty laundry to the utility room… and separated whites from coloureds.

In addition the children were separated from the adults at meal times and sat at a ‘child’s’ table and not allowed to utter a word.

Although we can see the huge benefits for the household, we can also see that it somewhat defies social services guidelines or expectations on parenting looked-after children and is somewhat out of skew with what would be consider more up to date parenting or pastoral care.

Their parenting style has gone on to create issues for us, the adoptive parent. We are taught to maintain as much familiarity to the life that the child would be leaving to help with transitioning into their new life and indeed time is spent with the foster carers in their home watching and learning the parenting we are suppose to emulate.

In prep’ group we were told to expect to have to deal with the issues of bad parenting, neglectful parenting, lazy parenting – the parenting that resulted in the children being removed from their parents and not the parenting of their foster parents. However in our case all of this had been dealt with by the foster parents, we had to handle quite different challenges.

Introducing discipline and order into a chaotic life must be tough, however it’s starting at a point and heading in one direction – towards instilling good behaviour and values where there has been none.

We actually had to head ‘backwards’ as we were/are so against much of what the foster parents instilled into the boys, which has caused them – and by default us – quite a few issues.

The best example are mealtimes, they are important family times for us and of course the boys sit up at the table and of course we converse. It’s a time to talk about their day, their thoughts and about issues they may have. A time to share and a time to really be a family. Introducing this to our boys was very unsettling for them, without the strict regime they were used to they just didn’t know how to behave.

They found our relaxing of rules to be an invitation for a ‘free for all’ and suddenly we found ourselves with children who need constantly reprimanding at the table, constantly reminded of the manners that they came to us so adept in.

There are other lesser examples, but this has been the one area that has really impacted on us adversely and 2 1/2 years on we are still battling with the fall out.

Something else that we are not taught and is worth mentioning is the difficulty that foster parents sometimes have at letting go. It was not an issue for us, but I have head of many examples where they have bonded very strongly with the child and consequently have a degree of resentment towards the adoptive parents. Considering we spend a chunk of transition in their house it can make for a great deal of discomfort. I have even heard of situations where the foster parents have even negative about the adoptive parents in front of the children.

As it takes about 9 months for a child to be removed from its parents legally and before it can be put up for adoption, I guess ALL adopted children have spent at least this time within a foster placement, as is the case with our sons it can be years. They are an important part of their lives and it surprises me that they get a little over looked by social services, for us adoptive parents it would be very useful indeed to be better prepared from the impact they can have on our children and indeed on us.

Another penny drops. A follow up to A banana, 3 clementines, a bowl of grapes and 4 kiwis

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We were on a beach holiday and the mid day sun was just too much for the fair skinned Anglo Saxons amongst us.

My partner and our younger son returned from a shopping trip with a few treats that they had picked out for the family as we had planned a ‘picnic’ together on the floor of our hotel room. I had made some preparations and we sat down around a makeshift picnic blanket (3 beach towels) nestled between the beds, which I had rolled out of the way.

We settled and our son immediately opened a family size packet of crisps and started eating them, after a few minutes in a light hearted way I leaned across and took the crisps from his hands, making a joke about the packet being almost as big as him and how I needed to feed my big, fat tummy.

At which point he got immediately angry, we could see that unprovoked his anger was increasing and rapidly turning into a tantrum. This came as a total surprise as he had been in a good mood and this abrupt change seemed to come from nowhere and it was clearly building into something really quite extreme.

Before long he was screaming and ‘wailing’ that he wanted the crisps, that he wasn’t finished, that now we were all eating them and would leave none for him. We were firmly pointing out that they were not his and that he knew the ‘picnic’ was for everyone to share, we insisted that of course we could eat them and that he had to calm down.

He didn’t. His ranting continued and was getting quite hysterical, we were at a bit of a loss as we started to realise that any attempt at calming him was failing hopelessly.

We tried a firm approach telling him he was being selfish and that we all had to share and that this behaviour had to stop – which of course just made it worse.

We tried a softer approach and put down the crisps and told him that he could have more when he was calm and had apologised for his unacceptable behaviour, but this achieved nothing either.

He stormed from the room and continued his screaming from behind the bathroom door. I was calm and attempted to open the door telling him that I just wanted to hug him and calm him down. He screamed that nobody was to come in and nobody was to talk to him.

We sat down and fell silent, not so much giving in to him as respecting the ‘limits’ we thought he was clearly laying out. We figured if this is what it needed to bring it to an end then so be it, once calm we hoped we could get him to listen to us and recognise that his behaviour was unacceptable.

However when he came back into the room he was immediately upset that we were not talking to him and started screaming that we were being horrible and ignoring him. When we started to respond NOTHING we said was the right thing and just resulted in more wailing and crying and with him putting his fingers in his ears saying he didn’t want to listen.

We have got used to his anger and his tantrums over the past 2 1/2 years and we have discovered ways of getting through, so much so we thought we were ‘on top’ of them, but somehow in this case nothing was working and we were back to being truly mystified.

And than the penny dropped – for my partner anyway. He looked at me and said ‘this is about food, you snatched it away from him’. Suddenly some sense in a totally chaotic and illogical scene.

As I explained in the previously blog, in the birth family there was frequently a shortage of food and being the youngest he often missed out to his older siblings when food was placed in front of them and immediately snatched up before he got any.

I didn’t have to stop and consider what my partner had said, I immediately knew it to be true. This was clearly the trigger, in this case and what was more difficult to accept was that it had probably been so in a number of other similar situations previously that we had failed to see and would have simply treated his behaviour as naughtiness.

Knowing the cause didn’t stop the tantrum, but it did give us the confidence to deal with it. Our son had retreated back into the bathroom so my partner went to him saying ‘I know what’s wrong and I understand’ over and over, he continued with ‘daddy did a silly thing, he should not have snatched the food from you, he is sorry that he did that and knows it was wrong and he wants to apologise to you’. Gradually our son allowed himself to be embraced and finally stopped shouting and just sat sobbing.

I stood behind the door listening, my partner said that he knows that when he was little his brothers and sisters snatched his food away and left him hungry, but that in our family he is never hungry and he will never be hungry again. Our son’s response was – in between sobs – to agree that was why he was so upset, it was not just a simple ‘yes’ in agreement, it was truly heartfelt and said with a passion and I like to think a sense of relief at the fact that we – and maybe even he – had finally ‘got it’.

To anybody who thinks that he was just playing us to get his own way, rest assured that is not the case. We know ‘those’ tantrums and as I said we feel we are getting better at dealing with those before they get out of control, we are quite firm in our parenting and the boys know there is only so far they can go before we clamp down hard on any bad behaviour. We knew this was different and we could see that our regular way of dealing with him was only making it worse.

This was absolutely not about him eating all the crisps, which was evident once he calmed down and had the crisp packet again as he willingly shared them around between us without even needing to be asked.

He made sure I was held to my apology as promised by my partner and when I did say sorry it was for SO much more than snatching the crisps from his hand.

So another penny dropped. At the time I was angry for us not realising immediately, now writing it down I am even more so as it all just seems SO blindingly obvious, but in the moment that is just not the case.

Our boys are far from perfect and they do misbehave, they do push their luck and they do try to play us to get their own way and yes that includes throwing the odd tantrum, I think working out which tantrum is simply bad behaviour and which has been triggered by something haunting them from their past is one of the most difficult challenges we have to face as adoptive parents.

To see the original blog A banana, 3 clementines, a bowl of grapes and 4 kiwis please follow this link. http://wp.me/p44UZE-ki

Goo goo ga ga

lucyMy son is nearly 4 and we have had a pretty steady journey over the last 3 years as a family. We were delighted when he first played peek a boo with us – as all the books stated this was his first conversation with us. We were in, hooked with talking, babbling, singing and whatever noise he made we rejoiced with him.

Last week he completely turned the tables – we were having a normal day we had been swimming he was sleepy on the bus back. I made a pillow on my knee out of my scarf and he snuggled up and I stroked his hair. He looked straight into my eyes and began burbling like a baby. He called me Mamma which he has never done and seemed oddly very happy in this state. My reaction surprised me and I simply carried on stroking his hair. I adopted a lower, softer tone and replied back to him and he smiled from ear to ear.

I told my partner and now he has also done the same thing with her. We agreed to just go with it. We don’t ask him what he is saying we are going with the idea he will tell us if he needs anything.

Part of me thinks he has just gone through a massive growth spurt and has developed in all sorts of ways over the last month. We think that maybe he is letting himself catch up emotionally. Allowing himself to be the younger self he once was. Either way he is intent on communicating with us and I guess in whatever form that is we just have to go along with it.

 

 

A Banana, 3 Clementines, a bowl of grapes and 4 Kiwis

AlthougOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAh we both eat fish and seafood my partner and I have now spent more of our lives not eating meat than eating it. Nowadays it is less ‘freaky’ than way-back-when and we are challenged less and less about our choice.

However, since our two sons moved in the challenging has reared its head once again, with a number of friends and family questioning our choice as to how we feed the boys.

We had of course discussed it ourselves before they arrived and had reached a conclusion quite easily. Becoming a parent didn’t change any of the reasons – and there are plenty – that we gave up meat, but we did recognise that chances were the children would come to us as meat eaters. We understood that needed to be maintained throughout transition and until they had settled into their new lives, as much familiarity as possible to their old lives being an essential part of helping them settle.

However, as feeding them meat would not be something we are comfortable with we turned to the many ‘fake’ meat products out there – which we ate very little of previously – so that we were able to prepare meals that they were familiar with and indeed requested.

We never told the boys that the ‘meat’ was not real and not knowing the difference they were wonderfully oblivious. However, we respected that they were old enough to have an opinion of their own and we had no intention of forcing our beliefs onto them, consequently when eating outside of the house they were free to eat whatever, so at school, in restaurants and at family and friends they eat meat aplenty.

For a whole year they were totally unaware that we were not eating meat, but once we felt they had settled enough and that it would not be any kind of issue we explained the situation and said that they could choose to stop eating meat from now on if they wished.

Immediately the older son made it very clear that he loved meat and would continue to eat it, however his brother was less sure, which we think has a lot to do with his greater need to ‘fit in’ with his new parents. He has – in theory – decided not to eat it, but in practice struggles and with regularity he ‘forgets’ his decision when meat is on offer.

He has quite an unusual relationship with food, which we know stems back to them being left unfed and hungry in the birth family. The foster parents told us of the need to liquidize every meal for a number of weeks to stop him from gorging himself and immediately throwing up. They explained that the older sister had told them that when they were hungry she would try to find food in the cupboards and share it, but being the youngest he missed out to his older siblings and usually ate less or indeed nothing.

Neither of our sons talk much about life in the birth family, but lack of food is one thing that is mentioned occasionally and which has clearly left its mark. On them and indeed now on us, as it generate a huge sadness and anger in us to think of our sons being left without food for days at a time.

It is only recently – after more than two years with us and almost 5 years in Care – we are seeing our youngest turn down food or leave something on a plate. Initially he would eat everything – and wonderfully anything – put in front of him. In fact we were forced to rethink a decision quite early on: we always had a bowl of fruit on the table and told the boys that it was there for them to eat and instead of sweets and dessert they could have as much fruit as they liked.

Watching out youngest finish a large dinner shortly after they moved in and then devour A banana, 3 clementine, a bowl of grapes and 4 kiwis for desert, made us realise that he still didn’t have an awareness of when he was ‘full’ and consequently the ability to stop eating, we had to step in and stop him before he threw up.

He isn’t greedy as such, he just eats very well and needs to be told when enough is enough. In the early days he always asked for more, but we see less and less of that and he has always accepted a ‘no’ when asking for seconds or thirds at meal times or treats throughout the day.

We feel that he has moved on, but the effects of his past are just below the surface and I guess the survival instinct of storing food when it’s available for times when it’s not, still kicks in when allowed.

In fact if anything it is now us the parents who have to learn and to hold back, there is a huge desire to compensate for their past and to give them whatever food they want, whenever they want it. We make sure they eat healthily – fresh, home cooked meals daily – and that they get lots of exercise, so its easy to justify the larger portions and sugary treats between meals, even though we know they are not needed or more importantly not good for them.

Mostly we do manage to control ourselves, but it’s difficult. Saying no to children we love so much and want to give ‘the world’ to is tough at the best of times, saying no to children we know have suffered and missed out so greatly in their early lives I think is even tougher.

However, to be good parents we need to do what we know is right for them and not what makes us feel good about ourselves, which is what giving in to them would really be all about.

As for eating meat, as much as we would love them to give up we would never try to push them in that direction, it has to come from them and who knows, maybe one day it will.

In their lives having enough food at each meal is what is relevant and trust me that will never be an issue in our house.