He is not my friend

A pet peeve of mine is children and parents describing their relationship as a ‘friendship’.

I’m in my 50’s and I am aware it may be a generational thing as I hear it an awful lot from younger parents – and I appreciate that I may well be a bit of a ‘Dinosaur’, but never the less I can’t stop myself from wincing internally every time I hear a parent describe their child as ‘my best friend’ or vice versa.

I understand that it is often just terminology and not literal, but regardless for me there are such clear distinctions between being a parent and a friend that even casually blurring the lines feels wrong.

Personally I feel that getting on with your child, having a wonderfully close relationship, sharing certain interests, being able to open up and share your feelings with them and encourage them to share theirs with you is not friendship – it is just good parenting.

So it is somewhat ironic that I quite regularly hear my 8 year old son declare that my partner is ‘not my friend anymore ‘ when he is angry or upset with him.

It usually follows a reprimanding of said son and no doubt my partner having raised his voice – which our son always struggles to cope with as he immediately perceives it as a sign that the security he has with us is under threat.

He is comfortable using the word ‘love’ and he declares his love for us daily – as of course we do to him – and I know for sure that he sees us as his parents , yet I question if he truly feels it 100% and understands yet that it is forever.

And maybe that is where the idea of a ‘friendship’ with us comes from, I guess it’s easier for him to relate to the word ‘friend’ and to see his relationship with us as such – even though we have never suggested anything of the sort.

I think that even with the constant assurance of our love he is confused by our anger when it arises and he sees it as being decidedly ‘unfriendly’.

I’ll let it go – for now – and as he grows and settles more and more I will hope that it will slowly disappear. If not and he continues to see us as friends then I’ll accept that and even consider it to be an achievement under the circumstances. However, rest assured he will never hear me using it in return.

We Are Family. The Whys of WAF

We Are Family started on the grass in a local park in the summer of 2013, about a year after our son had moved in.

It was borne of a strong need to be with other adopters and their children, and frankly also out of a sense of disbelieve that after such ongoing intense scrutiny of our private lives if not parts, the flurry of social workers and other officials just seemed to vanish soon after placement.

There was no two ways about it: A traumatised child, who had not asked for any of this, had been placed with us. A child with a complicated background and at least one other set of parents.

However happy we might have been, he was in shock. The early days was the time when I really needed a network, or just someone to talk to.

Instead I was stuck at home with a toddler who was also a stranger, and completely out of sync with parents of children the same age.

I was astounded that there wasn’t really much post-adoption support to be found.

Where was that village that was going to help me raise my son??

Actually my exact thoughts when the gap in the post-adoption provision dawned on me was ‘You’ve got to be kidding me… after all this you hand us a traumatised kid and then you disappear?!’

I am well aware that some people think that adoption is a happy ending of years of trauma… Forever families, love is all you need and all that jazz. Well, let me state this for the record and as a main reason for starting We Are Family:

Placement is just another beginning.

So after attending some training offered by our local adoption consortium and with the encouragement of other adopters, I just got started along with a few other kindred spirits. Building the village from scratch, every Friday afternoon in the local park. Sometimes no one came, but other times we were 25 parents with our children. And it grew from there.

A friend in Southwark who had adopted around the same time as us had started coffee mornings for local adopters in her area, borne out of the same need and disbelieve. A few months later another group was born in Richmond. We got together to support each other and started calling ourselves We Are Family or WAF for short. We all soon met more adopters who felt the same, and soon we were many parents doing something for WAF on a very regular basis.

Then, people from other parts of London started contacting us to hear if there was a group in their area, and if the answer was no and some of them decided to get going themselves with our support.

In other words there are only groups in areas where parents have been and are proactive. In the NLAC area alone there are currently two WAF groups: One for Hackney/Islington and one for Enfield.

At the time of writing this WAF now consists of ten groups, mainly in London, each with their own head and steering group of volunteers. We count over 700 families. We believe in meeting regularly and informally. Face-to-face. We carry a strong belief in the comfort of knowing that when you open your front door and step outside you are not alone. And you will have somewhere to turn when you need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to share a success story with or just to rant.

WAF is unashamedly parent-focussed. It is in essence about meeting others in the same boat, and we aim to do this as low key as possible. With a thermos and a muddy ball under your arm if that’s what it takes.

As we have grown it is interesting that so have the expectations of WAF. It may be timely to remind everyone and ourselves that we are ‘only’ parents or parents in waiting, who feel passionately about adoption support for all families. WAFers do what we can – in our spare time – on a shoestring. If you think our charity status has offered us a certain standing and corporate responsibility, please lower your expectations a tad to meet us at eye height. We are not councillors, we never give advice, we don’t mentor, and we don’t have any quick fixes for any of the hard stuff that happens to so many of us on a daily basis, but we are happy to share information and our own experiences.

We are very passionate about you adopters getting to know about the training and other useful stuff out there, especially if it is good, free or low cost. We are all grown ups, who can make judgements about who we want to hang with. WAF just provides opportunities. In practical terms that means that WAF offers parent groups, playgroups, family meet ups and other socials across London. Most of our groups met monthly, if not every other week, or in some cases weekly. These events are all run by our small fleet of volunteer adopters or prospective adopters, who we welcome from stage 2 onwards.

In the beginning many of us had younger children, and our events seemed to cater mostly for families with primary school-aged children. We now have an increasing number of kids in secondary school, and so there is now mounting pressure to host a group for parents of teenage kids.

Critical to WAF is a non-judgemental atmosphere as some of our parent groups often have their fair share of heavy stories.

Essentially it’s all about people who just ‘get it.’ People to whom there is no need to explain about trauma, loss and the other baggage that comes with adoption.

WAF has regular contact with all five London Consortia, some of them have even offered us some funding. We meet with their social workers to discuss the interface between our organisations (WAF is a social worker free zone).

Of course as well as WAF, I must point out that there are other peer and user-led adopters groups out there. In London, Adoption  UK (AUK) runs groups too, and we are aware of several informal or social worker-led support groups across the capital. If you live outside the capital, your local authority may be able to help you. You can also find support online, through twitter or facebook, who may help you locating groups of adopters nearer you. And if you haven’t already, be sure to hook up with the wonderful Adoption Social, now hosted by The Open Nest. They too are aware of networks in various places.

Because we believe you really shouldn’t feel or be alone in this topsy turvy world of early trauma. There should be a group for you too.

For more information please take a good look around our beautiful new website designed by Here Design: And maybe consider sending us a blog, all written by adopters from this community.

http://www.wearefamilyadoption.org.uk

Most of all, do get in touch in you are interested in joining us.

We’d love you to.

What I see.

When I look at our sons –
I see confusion over the disruptions in their lives and the difficult heart wrenching changes they have endured.
I see hurt and anger for what they have suffered.
I see the lack of self worth that has resulted and I see a lack of trust in the adults around them.
I see their belief that it could happen to them again and I see their lack of certainty that we really are forever.
I see the fear that this instills in them and I see their doubt that the security of their lives today is real.
But bit by bit I see change.
More and more –
I see bigger smiles.
I see deeper laughter.
I see unquestionable happiness.
I see them settling and I see security growing, proper deep routed security.
I see contentment for the family that we are and I can see the future overriding the past.
I see hope.
I see love.
And most amazing of all – When I look at my sons I see… US.
I see my partner and I can clearly see me.
I see likeneses that never cease to amaze me.
I see our faces, I see our smiles.
I see our mannerisms, I see our expressions and also I hear our words.
From the moment we met we felt that they were unquestionably our children and more and more we can SEE it too.

The smell of Digger.

​The first time I met Digger, I thought his smell was strange, and truth be told, unpleasant, vaguely off-putting. It made me very worried. How could I bond with him if I didn’t like the way he smelt? Was it a fundamental dislike I had sensed? Was adopting him going to unravel because of it?

I love the way my husband smells, and have always done so. I fell in love with it and him at the same time. But with Digger was different. It felt like a barrier I had to break through, and I didn’t know how.

Few months later, the perfume of Digger was as intoxicating and wonderful to me as that of my husband. After a good work out in the park or the playground, it is always that little bit stronger. Especially if the sun is out. I can bury my nose in his soft, wild curls and inhale him. It has become familiar, and completely connected to this little person who I love.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when it all changed. I guess I was too busy to dwell it. But by October I found myself in love – he had moved in in August. I imagine I started to like the scent of him sometime in that two-three month window.

Perhaps it was the diet then that initially made him smell so peculiar to me – along the lines of Europeans smelling a lot like old cheese to the Japanese, because of our diary intake as opposed to theirs. And I wonder whether he now smells like us. I guess we smell like a family, The Norwoods. Or perhaps it is simply the love I feel for him. But one thing is certain: It is.

Our Norwood smell would have been an omnipresent signifier of how things had changed. I imagine he must have felt something similar to what I was going through, only he had landed in our world.

No doubt Digger thought we smelt odd at first. As did our house and everything in it. He couldn’t turn away from it.

Digger has a keen sense of smell. Nowhere is it more obvious than when he is trying new food. He is very confident in declaring likes and dislikes. I think smell is at the heart of this. He doesn’t need to taste it to know.

I guess, after a while you grow used to a scent. Or it could continue to grate. Or you begin to love it.

Now when he turns towards me as he falls asleep at night, it is not only the closeness he wants. I sense he wants my smell too. And that it adds to his sense of safety.

In preparation for transition we were told to copy and transfer as much as possible from his foster homes into our house, his new forever home. We were told to begin using the same washing powder and softener as his foster mum, and we did so as soon as we had met her, and continued to do so for months after wards. I still like the particular transition-softener smell very much, and sometimes use it for our towels even now – for sentimental reasons.

I can’t help but to think that it is actually impossible to transfer very much from the foster homes. Bringing the physical things from one home to the new is the easy bit. It is whole context that is difficult to translate and is mostly lost. Because the overwhelming sense and reality of the situation will be changed, forever. This is not to undermine the sound and obvious advice in being very sensitive and in trying. It is to remind myself of just how much these children lose through adoption. As good as everything vanishes overnight. Expect for their little bodies and some physical memories. Smells and scents are but one aspect of it.

We were conscientious to bring some the smell of his foster home with us. And we expected not to wash his bedding for a long while. On Placement Day, the foster mum wasn’t going to let Digger go with dirty laundry, so everything was spinky spam and smelt of her clean home.  We left the bedding on for two weeks. Then he peed on it, which neatly ended the discussion of when to wash it.

Whenever we travel we make sure to bring along something with Digger’s distinct smell on it – his pillow, for instance, or better still duvet. And one (or two) of his beloved soft transition bunnies without which he will not leave the house and cannot sleep (we haven’t really tested this – we trust his judgement on the subject). Bringing these items helps him sleep in a new environment.

The only malodour around Digger’s two-year-old self (well… expect an obvious one) is that occasional pungent waft of a too well-loved soft bunny, when he sweetly offered it to our cheeks for comfort. That can be really hard on the old nostrils – stale regurgitated milk and sleep dripple, and whatever else it has been in contact with over the last few days.

I am grateful to Digger’s foster mum that she always kept everything so very clean, that it is easy for me too to stick everything – bar Digger himself, or my husband for that matter – in the washing machine when it needs it, without fear of losing too much redolence.

My sons smell.

I am sorry to disappoint anybody who thinks this blog will be about teenage boys and their personal hygiene habits – or rather the lack of.

My sons are still only 7 and 8 years old and ‘that’ blog is hopefully still a few years away. Thankfully they are so far not showing any signs of being ‘allergic’ to soap and water, in fact quite the opposite as they really seem to enjoy their nightly shower and are evidently pleased to emerge from it smelling of some weird and exotic aroma that is current ‘en trend’ in the shampoo and shower gel industry.

In fact it’s one of my favourite things to sit down with them all showered and in their pyjamas for our nightly read together, all three of us huddled together with the odd whiff of coconut, honey, lime, Bamboo Milk… Amazonian pigmy chestnut marinated in Himalayan sesame syrup.

But this blog isn’t even about the multitude of artificial smells created to make us part with our money, this blog is about their natural smell.

Yes, they smell.

As a new parent this really surprised me and I can’t help feeling that the surprise was all to do with being an adoptive parent. I now assume that all children must smell and that it is something that I was totally unaware of – or am I misguided and should I be rushing my boys off to a specialist to have them de aroma’d?

I am also assuming that babies and children must carry the smell of their birth parents and consequently the smell goes unnoticed, at least on a conscious level. However to an adoptive parent the smell is new and alien and I will be honest, at times when particularly pungent not all that pleasant and it can take you by surprise.

It is only really noticeable in the early mornings when they are fresh out of bed, having been cocooned under the warm bedding I guess the smell has accumulated and intensified. It is not sweat as that would need to be washed away and this smell simply leaves their body (or no doubt it dulls down and is unnoticeable) as they wind up for the day.

Yes it is certainly a touch of ‘morning breath’ , but the intensity of that clears before they have brushed their teeth too which suggests that it is most definitely not just the regular bad breath we adults wake up with – and inflict on our partners daily.

It is a smell from within and it seems to literally seep from their pores.

I think that maybe we underestimate the importance of smell to us humans and that in fact we are more in tune with this sense than we are aware.

I know that before adopted babies are moved in with a new forever family, the new parents are asked to sleep with a cuddly toy so that the toy takes on their odour, it is then placed in the crib at the foster home, familiarising the baby to its new parents in advance. The theory being that there is then a connection that will comfort the baby in otherwise totally new and alien surroundings.

That’s quite powerful stuff when you think about it and yet so totally obvious too.

We spend so much effort – and indeed money – trying to erase or mask our natural smell that I think perhaps it has misguided us about its importance, maybe we need to use less manufactured odours and look to embrace the natural which is within us all far more readily.

Having said that, it has been a long day and I so need to go take a shower, where did I put that Amazonian pigmy chestnut marinated in Himalayan sesame syrup shower gel?

Please don’t fix me just hear me out.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

There is a strong current in our society to fix our surroundings. Mainly if they evoke negative feelings. Or if someone just sticks out.

Like my son who likes ballet. Eeeeuw say other five year olds, quick learners. Even adults are stunned. Really? Whose idea was that?? Karate sits better. With boys. But not with girls. We may let these things go. As just not important. We stand up for our children when they are the odd one out. That’s not too difficult, if it is only the after school activity.

What’s more difficult than to keep brushing off unwanted advice is the need to fix raw emotion. Especially anger. I can get angry about stuff. And I can rant. My husband and son can attest to that. And then I just need to vent and rant till I am done. I don’t need the ‘oh, well, never mind’ or the myriad of variations on that. I just need it to be acknowledged.

I fix my husband too. He once shared something with me that really troubled him. And when he finished I ventured how hard it must have been. For the other person. His eyes widened in incredibility. Without a word he turned on his heels and walked out of the room. I thought I’d opened the discussion. When in fact I just shut it down. Oh well… I’ve made many similar mistakes. So it’s not like I don’t recognise the urge. To advice, gloss over, change subject, to keep it light. As we grow up we learn to swallow many a camel. Of un-aknowledged anything.

It’s just that I’ve just about had it with blooming fixing. It stands in the way of so many things. Mainly relationships.

‘NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND’ my son will shout if I’ve assumed I know how he feels. Assuming too much, or even at all, if talking to an upset person, is just adding fuel to the fire. Pouring gasoline on the fire.

‘Sorry, you’re right. I just tried to fix it. I’m sorry.’

‘Is that a question or an assumption?’ Is an effective, if firm, way of getting things back on track. Depending on tone it may be a downright F U. It generally is.

I’ve learned to defend or deal with unwanted comments and advice. For the most part. I assume people mean well. I assume positive intend. I’ve made a mantra out of it. I sing it to myself when I meet ignorant or rude people. Lord knows I can be ignorant and let’s hope only unintentionally rude.

But sometimes, just sometimes, ignorance just really gets to me. I’m reaching another saturation point.

At the moment it is about the finer details of adoption. Please don’t say it’s all normal. Or that you best friend in childhood was adopted, and you know exactly what it means. ‘He will hate you when he grows up. Because you are not his real mum’ ermmm whatttt? ‘Just you wait. He will.’ And don’t get me started on thing like ‘So he has been with you for 4 years? Then he’s fine. He has forgotten everything.’

Next time you feel that urge to jump in with your opinion. Next time you need to interrupt to get your point across. Try to pause and listen. Don’t correct. Just hear it out. Chances are you may learn something. I tell myself this too. It’s hard. I know.

Ok. Chances are also you’re not interested. You’re just trying to cancel out the noise. Fine. I’ll move on.

But if you are dealing with my son, and hurting him by insisting you know better, soon it’ll be me who shouts

‘NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!’

Please don’t pretend that you do.

And please don’t just put me down as a fuzzy overthinking mum. Who reads too much. That most definitely isn’t the whole story.

It really does at times feel like listening is too much to ask.

I’m still working on myself on this one. And continue to shallow insults borne of ignorance. Often I’m itching to have the last word. Or explain so people will understand.

Oh well, never mind. They probably won’t. Probably never will.

Really?! Is this where this ends?

Smother them with love

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

We had a number of friends and family say in advance of our sons moving in that we would just need to ‘smother them with love’ and all would be OK.

It was then repeated by others when they met the children as if love was a ‘cure all’ in the world of adoption.

And yes SO much of what needs to be achieved can be done with love. They need to feel secure and feeling loved is such an important part of that, they need to attach and to bond and again love is essential – however love alone is clearly not enough and I wonder if love is relevant at all for some of what we have to deal with. In fact as an adoptive parent of over 4 years I can now confidently say that the ‘love conquers all’ theory feels quite misguided as it doesn’t take into account our children’s individuality and their personal history and worryingly I fear it could stop adoptive parents focussing on the bigger picture.

Regardless, In some cases the children have indeed come from families that had love. They have been loved – and often continue to be loved – by their birth parents, yet that love was anything but enough. Their past is not always about a lack of love, it’s just a love that was overridden by lack of care, lack of consideration or lack of ability.

Now there is an abundance of love not just from us, but from our families too: their new grandparents, new aunties, new uncles, new cousins etc and it’s wonderful to see that love and to see how they are flourishing from these new relationships.

Most of all though there is our love – a selfless, unconditional and endless love. We adore our sons and we feel that we fell in love with them from the very moment we were brought together and that is a love that we can see has grown deeper than anything we had experienced previously or anything we could have anticipated. We reassure them daily of that love and I know they understand it and truly feel it – yet we can see that the love alone can only achieve so much.

It is painfully clear that no matter how intense the love they are surrounded by, it has not and can not erase the damage that the early years have inflicted. It gives us strength and greatly helps us deal with the troubling behaviour that is a result of their past, it reassures them that no matter what we will always be here, but it doesn’t change what they have lived through or the resulting hurt, anger and confusion.

How we wish it did, how we wish it was that simple, because smothering them with love has been the really very, very easy part.