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.

ACE scores in the family

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I’ve been listening to some ultra interesting interviews recently:

Full Potential Parenting ‘s Healing Our Children – 2016 World Summit. Alison Morris of Full Potential Parenting has gathered up some amazing speakers for her interviews this year and I have been listening as much as I could.

One of these interviewees was Donna Jackson Nazakawa, who spoke about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE): Their Impact on Health and How to Heal After They Happen. She mused over the ACEs survey and it’s far-reaching implications, including the surprising benefits of going through the healing process. You can take the ACE test yourself here.

I did. I did it twice. No; three times. In two different languages. On two different sites; it made no difference! It is still 5/6 depending on how literally you take things. I’ve also done the test before. That answer then was also the same.

I then glanced over the questionnaire with my son in mind and … His ACE score is 1.

S***

My ACE score is higher than his.

Surely his single point trumps mine. Surely it does. But …

Childhood trauma is common. The majority of the population has an ACE score of 1.

But the higher your ACE score the higher the chance of health, social and emotional problems. I read that with a score of 4+ things get more serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent. (See link)

Oh dear. I know I shouldn’t surf for this kind of information because it scares me. I know I should be hypercritical. Yet… I guess I will have to look under that rock.

I’ll freely admit that my darling son has triggered me in many ways, most of it very good. But not all of it. Some of it seemed unreflective regurgitated childhood hurt of my own.

So … I’ve gone and got some personal therapy. Some of this stuff was so not anything to do with my son. It was purely. Squarely. My own. S***.

His arrival triggered strong reactions and re-evaluations of my own childhood. Which was privileged in many ways. White. Middleclass. Liberal. Educated. Sprawling.

The more I look at my parenting, the more I, and the way I was parented, stand in the way. Looking at the screen and my ACE score there is no other way of looking at it either. I have to look at my own roots. And deep down this really isn’t about me. It is about being and becoming a better parent for him. I’m chipping away at trying to make sense of my own history, and first and foremost being honest about it. How I felt about various stuff. Some of it is easy to access – like remembering being belittled, overruled, not being believed or trusted. Basically not being taken seriously and respected. I remember that vividly. It still happens. When I tap into that understanding, it is easy to take a deep breath and try to do it differently. I am hoping it is from a place of greater respect and understanding. But there are so many blind alleys and stuff I myself am unaware of.

Just today another blip came up, that hinted at a huge blind angle.

I often apologise when I don’t need to. I really try so very hard to please. And although I know I can be assertive, often I don’t really say what I really mean. Not because I don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings. No it’s not always that. It’s because being honest can be difficult. I was trained so well early on in life to keep the peace no matter what, that I am not actually sure how I feel.

The trigger today was life story work. My son’s story isn’t full of gore and drug and abuse and neglect. He was a baby when he moved in with us. I often apologise for this fact. Other people have it worse. Other kids have suffered way more. But my son’s loss is his loss. It isn’t about comparison. So why this drive to apologise and thereby diminish it??

This ACE score stuff tells me the same story about my own life.

All my life I’ve been telling myself that my story isn’t so bad and my life has been and still is privileged. That my siblings had it worse. Only, it was bad for me. I just developed a very good coping mechanism not to get hurt, and to go undetected. I became a big time pleaser. And in that I forgot how I felt about things. It is still difficult to know how I feel about certain things. I don’t necessarily know when I have to stop, when I am tired and need a break. Because I can power on for a long long long time. Until I SNAP! Which is a family speciality. And it is not pretty when it happens.

Now I am doing the same to my son: trying to please, teaching him what he feels doesn’t really matter. Worse still I am showing him (teaching him really) that you can overrule how you feel in order to fit in, to be seen as more acceptable and accepting. And that it is not proper manners or socially acceptable to do otherwise. That’s just crap. And ultimately disrespectful. To us both.

The link between how I was parented and what I am passing to my son in terms of self-respect, because this is essentially what this is about, is so simple to understand, once I saw it. I feel embarrassed to admit that I never really saw the link til today. Not as clearly anyway. And now I feel ashamed that I didn’t. Which also doesn’t help. I fear there is a long way to become a better parent.

It is hard to explain, just how difficult I am finding it to write this, to own up to the fact that it is me more than him that needs work, if I am to be as good and respectful a parent as he deserves.

You don’t love me anymore.

20160214_153718Social workers are just people doing a job and of course like all of us they are sometimes less than perfect; however they are dealing with people’s lives so even simple mistakes can be emotionally wounding. We became very aware of this through our own experience and also that of friends who have also been through the adoption process. It can be as simple as failing to immediately tell you of a change in the panel date – which of course means a huge amount to you, but is just a correction in a diary to them – to fundamentally not “getting it”.

There was one incident by our sons’ social worker in particular that resulted in upset to us and great distress to our eldest very early on in the placement.

He and his brother had been with us for just a few weeks. It had been weeks full of every effort from us to build a bond and to get the boys to attach, every effort to prove our love to them and to convince them of the fact that we were now a forever family.

Things were going well; they are warm and loving little boys and from the very beginning they were open to our relentless hugs and kisses and really seemed to accept us and indeed start to attach very quickly.

We had lots of fun and we were making the most of the time together as a family while I was off work. They seemed happy – on the surface anyway – and they both seemed to like the fact that we were their new parents and that this was their new life.

We used the term ‘forever’ as much as possible and would break into the 1970’s disco classic ‘We are family’ at every opportunity – it’s amusing to see that our support group was equally inspired by that track.

It was early days and I don’t for one moment think they were fully bonded or attached, but they certainly seemed to like the idea that this was forever.

Their social worker was new and quite inexperienced and on her first post-placement visit we remembered the advice from prep group that it can be a difficult and confusing time for the children and we thought we had prepared the boys well in advance and that they understood that she was coming to see them and to see how they were doing. She arrived and the boys greeted her with smiles and hugs and kisses and after 20 or so minutes they were sent upstairs leaving us adults to talk through our first few weeks as parents.

At that stage – still well in the honeymoon period – things were good and we had few issues to bring up, and looking back we realise that the social worker’s inexperience meant that she asked very little and offered very little, consequently she was soon ready to leave.

We called the boys down to say goodbye and only the youngest came. My partner went to find his brother and returned saying that he was acting very strangely, hiding under the sofa and refusing to come out. As he tried to coax him out he was told, “Go away; I know you don’t love us anymore.” My partner said it was clear that he was very upset.

At this point the story of a close friend who had also adopted came flashing into my mind. It was the first visit of her daughter’s foster parents whom the child loved dearly and as my friend opened the door with her new daughter in her arms, the child took one look at who was on the doorstep and turned with a look of total bewilderment and grabbed my friend with all her might. Clearly the presence of the foster parents from her old life was threatening and in her little mind could mean only one thing; that they were there to take her away from the security of this new forever family.

Which is exactly what our son was thinking, upstairs, alone, hiding under the sofa. Then – and only then – I recalled being told to look out for exactly this situation during our preparation.

Suddenly it was all very obvious to me and I immediately took control of the situation. With my partner left to say goodbye to the oblivious social worker, I went to sit with our son and reassured him that he was safe and secure with us and that she had not come to take him back. He was not immediately convinced and stayed in his hiding place until I went to the window and told him that she was now in her car and he could came and wave goodbye from the safe distance of a first floor window.

It was all so very obvious; both my partner and I were truly ashamed that we had not anticipated the inevitable and saved the anguish that the situation had so clearly caused our son.

Yet our prep group had been nearly two years before this and dealing with two children coming into our lives and turning everything upside down meant that nothing was as obvious to us as it should have been.

However, the meeting was organised by the social worker and although new, surely she had a responsibility to be prepared, to make sure we were prepared and, more importantly, to make sure that the children were too?

She didn’t and as a result our son was deeply upset, which of course hurt both of us too.

I guess it could be considered a small oversight on her part, but it is exactly situations such as these where their professionalism is essential and – novice or not – some things are just too important not to get right. The incident has stayed with us and it has made us extra-cautious of anything from their past coming back into their lives.

It also made us very aware that social workers, like all of us, are fallible and not the perfect professionals we sometimes need and perhaps unrealistically expect them to be.

Points of view: A two-pronged review of Gareth Marr/Scott Casson-Rennie and Hermione Michaud’s talks at Southwark Library on Wednesday 24th February 2016.

WAF LOGO DEC 14Hearing that We Are Family and the South London Adoption Consortium were running a presentation on “Why Children Placed From Care Need Support In Schools” was exciting news for me on multiple fronts. As a prospective adopter, I am trying to gather as much information as possible to help me prepare for life as an adoptive parent, but additionally, by day I work as a Deputy Headteacher at a London Primary School, and am always keen to learn more about how I can support vulnerable pupils at school.

So with two hats on, I felt like I was well placed to write a review (or two) of the evening. Thanks to We Are Family for giving me the chance to share my thoughts!

As a prospective adopter

My wife and I are underway with stage 2 of the adoption process, and keen to absorb as much information as possible to help us prepare as best we can. This fascinating talk was both worrying and massively useful for us in thinking about supporting an adoptive child through school.

The evening began with a (needlessly) nervous Scott Casson-Rennie taking to the stage to deliver Gareth Marr’s thoroughly researched presentation on the issues surrounding adoptive children in schools.

This part of the talk highlighted the serious problems that are evident for a worryingly high proportion of adopted children (and children under Special Guardianship Orders) in schools. Adopted children are much more likely to be permanently excluded from a school, and adoption disruptions are much more likely to happen around times of school transition (e.g. starting school at Age 4/5, and especially moving to Secondary school at age 11).

Despite these worrying figures, the level of support in place for adopted children falls well short of that available to children in care, who are supported by a “Virtual School” within each Local Authority. The Virtual School Headteacher plays a key role in supporting schools to do the best by these pupils, putting Personal Education Plans in place, and provides guidance to teachers in schools who may have limited experience working with children who have suffered trauma and loss. Once the permanence order is in place – no such luck.

Scott shared some of his experiences as an adoptive parent to 3 boys, all of whom had experienced difficulties at school. These clearly resonated with many of the current adopters in the room; children having angry outbursts at school, struggling to cope with changes in routine and working with different adults, and clearly, a sense that too many teachers had no understanding of the background or context of adopted children.

Scott and Gareth warned that too many schools lack training and understanding in how to best manage children who present difficult behaviour that is surely a result of their experience of trauma and loss. Scott told us how he came to dread collecting his boys from school some days in case he was intercepted on the playground by a teacher telling him about what a bad day it had been for their behaviour. The nods in the audience told me that this was a feeling many had shared.

Already, I was making mental checklists of the issues I will need to think about to help deal with this. How will I help prepare my child for starting school, or moving school? How and what will I need to share with my child’s teacher/s to help them understand? What will I do when my child lashes out in frustration at school, and I am confronted with this on the playground at the end of the school day?

Hermione Michaud then took the stage to share her expertise as the Virtual School Head for the London Borough of Islington. She was clearly not only knowledgeable, but warm, approachable and empathetic to the needs of traumatised children and their parents; in short, just the sort of person you would want overseeing your child’s education. Encouragingly, Hermione has extended her oversight to include Islington’s adopted children as well as those currently in care.

She told us that early in her teaching career, she had known very little about the impact that trauma can have on young lives, and that teacher training had not prepared her for how best to work with children no longer living with their birth families. Now, as an experienced teacher and Virtual School Head, she clearly has a wealth of expertise, and systems in place to share this with the Islington schools that need to hear it, not least through providing training to teachers to raise their awareness of the needs of such children.

Hermione advocated being involved and informed as a parent choosing a school; looking beyond an Ofsted report and taking the time to visit schools to get a sense of their ethos, and how welcoming and supportive they are to those children who can find things more difficult than most (more notes for the mental checklist!).

As prospective adopters, the highlight of the talk for my wife and me was the list of questions she provided to ask a school before enrolling my child. Asking things like “how does pastoral support work at your school?”, “What training have staff had on attachment and the impact of early trauma and loss?” and “is there any support for children during less structured times like playtimes?” will give us a clear sense of whether the school is going to be willing and able to meet the needs of our child when things don’t go to plan. More than ever, our focus will be on finding a school that understands that prioritising children’s wellbeing is the route to achieving the best academic results, all the more so for adopted children.

Overall, it was an incredibly useful, if sobering, event, and has helped equip us for yet another possible future challenge as an adopter. It was encouraging to hear that both Gareth and Hermione are looking at ways to get their message across to the Department for Education and to schools – that Virtual School (or similar) support for children post-adoption is crucial to securing the best education for them. We can only hope that there are some keenly listening ears out there to help make this a more widespread reality in the very near future…

As a Primary School Deputy Headteacher

As a Deputy Head, I often find myself with the opportunity to stand in front of a group of people and share my thoughts, and hopefully inspire some of them along the way. Listening to this talk put me on the other side of that fence – and it was not a comfortable place to be. Through the evening I felt a growing need to take a turn with the mike and have my voice heard. What did I want to say? In bold: “It doesn’t have to be like this!”

You can’t argue with the personal experience of those, like Scott and Gareth, who have not felt supported by schools in the past. And the picture painted by both the data, and the collected experiences of adopted parents, is clear – schools are a source of major anxiety to far too many adopted children and their parents. But the vibe in the room that evening towards schools was very negative, which I worry is nothing but counter-productive in helping to improve the situation for our children.

You see, my experiences of working with children who are living with trauma and loss have been overwhelmingly positive. Not that they have all been calm, happy and well-behaved – far from it! I have been punched, head-butted, spat at, kicked and sworn out more times that I can count. But I have seen first-hand that when schools work with families to deal with these issues, things invariably improve. Communication, and a united front are key: if a child sees that home and school are on the same page whether things have gone well or badly, they get the consistency and security that they so desperately need. If school and home are not talking, or saying two different things to the child (or both), then things can begin to go badly wrong.

Though I’ve never worked at a school where a child has been permanently excluded, I have only ever seen that possibility on the cards when the relationship between school and home has broken down. In these cases, I’ve seen parents (maybe unintentionally) undermining the school’s approach to supporting and addressing their child’s behaviour.

One case that has really stayed with me illustrates the power of the home-school partnership. Seb (not his real name) joined my school aged 9, having just been removed from his mum’s care for the third time. He had previously had failed placements with a foster family and his paternal grandparents whilst mum struggled to cope with alcohol addiction and a turbulent relationship with dad (now in prison). Seb was now moving from the North of England down to London for a new start with his paternal uncle Dave and aunt Sophie (again, not their real names).

Uncle Dave made a point of coming to meet with me before Seb started at school. He was frank and open about what Seb had experienced in his young life so far, and let me know about the difficulties Seb had in his previous school. Immediately, I was able to talk to the teacher whose class Seb was due to join, and help her begin to think about how she would make Seb welcome, and plan for what to do if he was struggling to concentrate, distracting others, or becoming angry.

When he started, it was clear that Seb was a funny, cheerful and charismatic boy with a beaming smile. He was also on the move non-stop, didn’t know how to manage his friendships without sometimes upsetting or physically hurting people, and had crushingly low self-esteem about his academic ability, especially in writing. In short, he was a real handful for a class teacher.

We had some issues; big ones. I held meetings with Dave and Sophie on several occasions dealing with the fallout of incidents that included violence, persistent disruption and racist language. I’ll be honest – Dave and Sarah didn’t always agree with how I had handled things; sometimes feeling that I hadn’t taken Seb’s point of view into account enough. But they were polite and reasonable in letting me know how they felt, and crucially, always backed me up in front of Seb.

Over time, we saw fewer of the big issues. Seb was settling well at home with his Uncle and Aunt, who clearly lavished him with love, got stable routines in place for him and gave him space to talk whilst still making sure he got his homework done. At school, we arranged to spend Seb’s Pupil Premium Plus on weekly sessions with a play therapist. We kept talking to Dave and Sarah, I would always make a point of chatting to them at the start or end of the school day, and sharing all the good things that were happening for Seb. Dave and I would stand together at the touchline while Seb was playing as goalkeeper for the school football team, cheering him on and celebrating every save he made.

Ultimately, Seb left us at the end of Year 6 with a good set of test results (which hadn’t looked likely when he joined!) But more importantly, he was enjoying school, had positive friendships and much improved self-esteem. I am convinced that it was the relationship that we managed to forge with Dave and Sarah that made this happen. And I am convinced that for other families and other children, the same is possible.

So my plea to adoptive parents is this. Firstly, take Hermione’s advice and take the time to visit a school and check that they support an inclusive approach; that they want to work together with you to understand what your child’s needs are and will do their level best to meet them.

Second, talk to your child’s school before they start. Tell them about your child and how they can help them. Tell them if you are uncomfortable with being approached on the playground with bad news and ask them to give you a phone call instead, or write it in a note, or in a behaviour book (like it or not, the school will have to tell you if your child has punched someone, or spat at them, or done something else fairly serious). And make sure you share the successes and the positives with them too, as they hopefully will with you. Thank them when you know they have done something to make school a better place for your child.

Thirdly, let your child know you support the school and trust their decisions. Let the school know politely if you don’t think they’ve made a good decision in dealing with something, but make sure your child doesn’t know you think that. It is important that they carry on seeing home and school as a united force trying to do the best for them (even if sometimes that means both sets of adults putting in place consequences for a bad choice).

Working in a positive partnership with school isn’t going to be a magic wand to fix all the issues your child is experiencing with school but I’m convinced that it is by far the most likely approach to lead to improvements.

Overall, the evening of talks was a disheartening experience for me as a Deputy Headteacher. But I did come away with a better understanding of how many adoptive parents feel about the school system, and a stronger resolve to do everything I can to build bridges with the families of vulnerable children. At a time of unprecedented change and considerable stress in the school system, many thanks to Gareth, Scott and Hermione for bringing our attention to what is clearly a vital issue to be tackled.

Listen Closely

 

20150716_102245I recently met a beautiful and totally delightful 11-year-old girl who at the age of 10 – after a long and very difficult struggle – had finally managed to make her parents realise and accept that the male body she was born into was wrong and that she was indeed female.

The parents shared with me the terrible time they had coming to terms with this reality and how they now realise that they had seriously failed the child that they loved so very much for so long because of their own ignorance and prejudice.

They explained that their resistance to accept the truth had caused the daughter so much unhappiness and distress and that it had resulted in her becoming ill and developing stress-related alopecia and then how it had simply gone away once they listened to her and allowed her to be the person she knew herself to be.

As a parent this conversation touched me greatly. And as a parent of a child whose genes I do not share maybe even more so. It made me realise the huge responsibility we have to listen to our children and to respect that they have a voice, to comprehend that they may not be the ‘mini-mes’ we want them to be, nor the people we expect them to be and, most importantly, that it just can’t matter.

Whoever they are and whatever they are is a fact. We can teach them to understand and appreciate social mores and expectations and we can equip them to be the best they can possibly be within the framework that society lays down, but we can’t stop them being who they truly are. And even if we could, what on earth right would we have to do so?

We can educate our children to understand and appreciate our lives and the way we live them, but we can’t change their being to suit us, to suit our extended family, to suit our friends, our neighbours, our religion. Maybe we can influence them, maybe we can bully them into our ideals, or to meet our expectations or our beliefs, but does that change the people who they truly are? Or does it just result in them hiding their true selves to meet our selfishness, potentially confusing them and no doubt making them hugely unhappy in the process?

I wonder how many of us parents can look back at how we were brought up – and what we inevitably bring into our own parenting to some degree – and recognise just how strongly we were expected to live up to our parents’ expectations and how wrong that was for us.

I for one wish that I had been able to stand up for myself and say – ‘NO, listen to ME. That is NOT me, that is NOT what I want and that is NOT who I am’ – but as a child I was never given that chance, was simply chastised for trying to be true to myself and made to feel guilty for disappointing my parents’ impossible expectations.

Of course we have to make sure our children know right from wrong; we have to make sure that they are good citizens who abide by the law and respect others as they would wish to be respected. It is our responsibility to arm them well to take their place in the adult world, but surely only as the adults that they know themselves to be.

I now look back and realise that over the years I have been around a number of parents who I think did wrong by their child/children by forcing their own ‘needs’ or their own agenda upon them. That has left me as a parent wondering if I will be able to hear my children when they need me to, if I will really listen to them when confronted with something that I would struggle with or simply does not suit my expectations.

I certainly hope that I can and if required: I truly hope that I do. Of course for their sakes – but equally for mine.

P.S. I guess it is not going to be as easy as I had hoped it would be. A short time after writing this, I was having a conversation with a parent about their child (who has been privately educated) not wanting to go on into further education, and I found myself saying, “Well of course he has to go to university. The investment you have made has been huge and what will his future hold without a degree?”. To which I was quite rightly told “I know my child and he is not remotely academic. This is not about money; it is about him knowing himself and about me respecting that”.

Thank goodness for the parent group!

WAF LOGO DEC 14We soon realised – and it was a shocking realisation – that we were in it over our heads.

We had listened intently at the prep’ course, read copiously, had scoured the internet, picked the minds of the experienced parents around us; we thought we were prepared. However, can anything truly prepare you for the impact of an adopted child coming into your life? Especially when a child displays the trademark – and oh so challenging – behaviour of a traumatised child?

We are taught what to expect and indeed one of the biggest criticisms of social services by many of our fellow adopters during the adoption process was that they were overly negative and continually painting the bleakest of pictures. Even if it’s not as bad as it could be, it seems that most adoptive parents go through a tough time once that initial ‘honeymoon period’ is over; it takes us by surprise and immediately rocks that solid foundation we thought we had built with all our preparation. Some of us had years to prepare, yet when we are faced with the reality we realise that it’s simply nothing like we expected.

The impact of a child arriving in your – often calm and in hindsight easily manageable – life is truly huge. Apart from the immediate pressure of the responsibility for these little lives and the exhausting non-stop care and consideration that they require, there is the enormous emotional turmoil that I am sure none of us could have anticipated.

Before placement and in the early days I think many of us can be in denial; a child is just a child and our son/daughter is going to be just fine regardless of what we are being told. I think this can be especially true of adopters of babies or very young children. When the reality of our children, our family, our new life hits it can be frightening and with social services stepping back it can feel worryingly lonely.

To use a cliched metaphor, for me it really did feel like being in the middle of an endless ocean on a rickety raft; I truly felt adrift and uncharacteristically helpless. On good days it felt like I had oars that could dig deep into the water and make progress, on other days it was oars that barely skimmed the surface or indeed on the worse days (and there were plenty) with no oars at all – bobbing along at the mercy of what life was throwing my way.

For somebody who likes – no, needs – to be in control this was new territory and I was far from comfortable with it.

I needed a life line – oh how I needed a life line – to help me pull the raft ashore and to give me some control again. Turning to our network of family and friends helped tremendously, but as we all no doubt discover, advice and help from parents of birth children is not always what is best for us parents of adopted children.

Then I was introduced to the We Are Family Parent Group – which has proven to be exactly the life line I required.

I can’t say it has ‘solved’ my family’s problems, but it has helped me understand them and most importantly helped me to put them in to perspective. It has made me realise that we are not alone and that what we are dealing with is not exceptional; that others out there are struggling just the same as we are and that it is just fine to be doing so.

The parent group is for sharing – sharing your experiences (good and bad) and your worries and your fears – and the group is also about listening, listening to others who clearly understand what you are living through and dealing with as they too face the same challenges and indeed the same joys.

No advice or suggested solutions tend to be offered directly – as nobody is qualified to do so – but by sharing our stories, our problems, our difficulties and of course the many positives we are experiencing, we support each other and we can take away what we feel we need to take or what we feel can help us.

It is most certainly not all about the difficulties we face. Between the tough times we are all equally overwhelmed by the wonder of being new parents and by the marvel that are our children and this is just as important to share, if not even more so for some.

If nothing else, the group just gives us a chance to vent – to let it all out – and not to feel judged on any level while we are doing so. That is enormous, that is appreciated and if you have never been along, that is highly recommended!

For more information about times and locations, or if you think you may be interested in starting a group in your area please click on the contact us button in the menu.