Tears before bedtime, and any other time too.

wpid-img-1407228241252-v.jpgI know this isn’t exactly earth shattering… I just need to share it with someone…

The following is a list of things that have made my 3 year old inconsolable today.

She had to get dressed.

My hair wasn’t curly enough.

I wouldn’t let her choose the shopping.

Her collection of Top Trump Frozen Cards were too ‘cold.’

She hasn’t got an Elsa doll that lights up.

I forgot to give her all the CD’s to hold during the 5 minute journey to Nursery. (This was an epic melt down in which she questioned me – between gasps and sobs – Gestapo style as to how I could possibly have let this happen, and was I aware of the bad it was..)

She wasn’t allowed to wear her Peppa Pig onesie to school.

She realised that she hadn’t heard Mungo Jerry’s In The Summer Time recently.

She remembered she didn’t have an ice lolly today.

She still hasn’t been taken to Disneyland Paris even though ‘there are planes that go there.’

We didn’t go swimming today.

She wasn’t allowed to take every single one of her toys to nursery with her.

I helped her put toothpaste on her toothbrush.

I helped her out of the car seat.

I wouldn’t let her drive the car.

I combed her hair.

She wasn’t allowed to stand in the toilet.

I wouldn’t lie on the floor and let her use my stomach as a trampoline

I wouldn’t let her cut my hair.

She didn’t like my shoes…

Sometimes it makes me want to laugh, but if I’m tired and we’ve had a day of it (see above) it makes me want to cry with the frustration of what is to follow if I don’t immediately comply. Where does this sudden rush of indignation come from? I love my daughter so much and simply want to be as close to her as possible in the most harmonious way I can manage, yet I must carefully pick my battles or I’d be negotiating in a high stake situation all day long.

I’ve noticed that most of this procrastination is reserved for me. My partner gets some of it but the lions share comes straight at me as though a fight is eminently preferable to peaceful hugs and smiles. I know she needs to test boundaries and it is a good thing that she clearly feels safe enough to do so with me but I miss the little toddler who so recently ran into my arms for hugs and kisses and who seems to have suddenly grown up. The one who loved getting dressed and laughing with me at silly things all day long. I crave the hugs we used to have and feel like I’m going cold turkey. It’s all I can do to stop myself from engineering a situation in which she might hug me in her on order to get my fix.

It’s all a learning curve I know, but I didn’t anticipate this neediness in myself. Being a parent is like having someone constantly hold up a mirror and show you the bits of yourself you didn’t realise were there… and if I’m like this now, what on earth will I be like when she leaves home?

You Won’t Ever Leave Me Will You?

20130511_114156As much as we know that the right thing is to insist that the boys stay in their own beds, we find nothing more lovely than a warm body crawling in between us as we wake in the morning. If either of them do wander into our bedroom in the middle of the night we take them back to bed immediately, but on the occasional morning that it happens we are more relaxed and are delighted to share in the huge comfort that it clearly brings to us all.
It’s a special time full of tight hugs, morning breath kisses and whispered conversation. There is an intimacy in these moments that is difficult to achieve as you rush about your day to day lives and it feels special and rewarding. It’s a time for reassuring them of your love, for forgiving the mis behaviour of the previous day or for preparing them for the day ahead, but most of all, for us it’s a time to relish the sheer wonder of being a parent.
It is one of those mornings and our youngest is snuggled between us with his arms around my partner, I’m listening to the whispers and as usual there is a smile on my face at the sweet things he is saying and the pure innocence of his conversation.
Then I hear ‘you will never leave me will you? Promise me that you and Daddy will never give us away?’
The heartbreak of these words – that could surely only come from an adopted child – touches my heart and erases my smile in an instant. We know he struggles with his past, we know he is confused and angry at the changes he has endured so far in his short life, but we really thought that he was now – after more than two years with us – sure of our love, sure of our role in his life – and we assumed – sure that he was totally secure in his forever family.
Clearly that it not the case and it’s a painful realisation.
We feel confident that we couldn’t give any more love than we do, that we couldn’t repeat more frequently how important they are to us, how we are the best family in the world and indeed that this family is forever. It feels that barely a day goes by when one of us isn’t reassuring them in every way possible.
We know they are happy, we know they have attached, we know they feel like we are a family. Yet regardless of all that we also know that our son’s lives to date have taught them that nothing is for sure and that families are not permanent.
They have lived through being removed from their birth family and then after almost three years from their foster family. Their various siblings and half siblings are scattered and are living in a number of different families, some permanent and sadly some not. In addition our life is full of other adoptive families, all of whom – of course – have children no longer with their birth parents.
How to un-teach what life has taught them? In fact, is it even possible?
What more could we do to convince them? To really make them understand that this is a forever family and that we will always be their parents.
Can our love and verbal assurance truly impact on their inner feelings and fears and can we override all that they have learnt and what has been the reality of their lives to date?
We have had our doubts and after our son’s early morning plea we are less sure than ever.
All we can do is to continue to do as we have been doing and just hope that little by little we chip away at those doubts that they are clearly harbouring.

We’ll take that

WAF LOGO DEC 14We were recently invited to a party by our sons Foster Mother of almost three years, for her husbands birthday. It was a surprise party with family and friends and a good opportunity for the boys to see – who they call – ‘Nanny and Grandad’ outside the twice yearly contact that is arranged through social services.

We arrived suitably early for the surprise and not knowing anybody we sat and awaited their arrival.

We were aware that the boys had met some of the extended family during their time in the foster placement so we were surprised that nobody seemed to know them, also that the boys didn’t seem to recognise anybody in the room. Having said that they were both being quite coy and uncharacteristically shy and did not want to leave our laps, which we put down to the emotion and maybe confusion of mixing their old lives with their new.

Just a couple of weeks prior, we had reason to be deeply upset with the foster parents – that’s a whole other blog – and had seriously been considering our ongoing relationship and indeed not attending the party at all. However, we had previously accepted the invitation, the boys knew it was planned and it was very obvious that they were both terribly excited.

The big moment came and Nanny and Grandad arrived. It was clear how thrilled both boys were to see them, even more so than at regular Contact which tends to be all about the four children. Our youngest seemed especially happy and his little face lit up the moment they walked into the room, in fact he didn’t want to leave Nanny’s side for most of the night.

The boys had a lovely evening and it was blindingly obvious that they got so much from being in contact with these people who were once the only parents they had. It was clear how wrong of us it would have been not to have gone to the party and to have denied them something so special.

Indeed we can see how important it is that ongoing we must put aside our ill feelings and maintain a good relationship with these people who are clearly very important to our sons. It will be tough as the issues are quite significant, but we realise that first and foremost this has to be about the boys and what is right for them, regardless of the difficulties that represents to us.

We were introduced to various members of the family throughout the night and a number of people realising who the boys were declared how they had not recognised them and how much the boys had changed in the two plus years since they had last seen them.

Mid way through the evening a woman approached us and introduced herself as another Foster Parent and explained that she had on a number of occasions looked after our sons for respite care while Nanny and Grandad were busy with other children placed with them, or when they just needed a break.

She too said how they had changed and that she had not realised they were the same children she once looked after, she added how well, how healthy and most importantly how happy they looked.

We said that we were aware how much they had grown and compared to photo’s taken after they first came to us, clearly looked so much more mature. She said ‘No, I don’t mean older, I mean fundamentally changed. They look wonderful and are a credit to you. You are clearly doing a great job and it’s a joy to see’. She went on to say that she had been fostering for ‘decades’ and knew what she was talking about as she had experience of hundreds of looked after children.

A little embarrassed we politely brushed off the compliment in that very British way and got on with the party.

However, her comments stayed with us. She was clearly being sincere and it felt very genuine.

On the way home, with the boys having immediately fallen asleep in the back of the car my partner and I discussed it and – with the embarrassment out of the way – we recognised that it was a very significant thing to have been told.

We know we are not bad parents on any level, but we do – daily – question our parenting and often feel inadequate and well… somewhat at a loss. We know we make mistakes and we know that we all too frequently get things wrong.

We of course focus on all these negatives – which make us try harder. Yet we suddenly realised that in doing so we had been failing to allow ourselves to look for and to acknowledge the positives. To allow ourselves to feel that we are doing a good job too – possibly a damn good job.

Not only that, but to see that the good job is getting clear and apparently obvious results.

So we will, we’ll take that compliment and wholeheartedly allow ourselves to feel that we deserve it.

In addition I will share it (or maybe it’s brag about – if so, sorry) in a Blog, for others who in the turmoil of day to day parenting also forget to give themselves an occasional, very well deserved pat on the back.

Then of course, I will immediately go back to worrying about our bad parenting.

I Want to be a Superhero

WAF LOGO DEC 14No child is perfect and my partner and I reassure ourselves of that every time we have a particularly bad day. Our sons are good boys – on the whole, but truth is not a day goes by when we are not reprimanding both of them pretty much throughout the day. It may be mostly for minor things, but even then it’s the persistency of the minor offences that make them worthy of the telling off.

In particular this is true of our youngest who has just turned 7, he is a sweet little boy, affectionate and charming and comes across as though ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ and that is him – it’s not fake at all – it’s just that there is another side, a side that is always just beneath the surface. He defies us, he makes bad choices, he constantly pushes his luck and maybe most worrying of all is that he doesn’t play well with other children so he is always squabbling and fighting – especially with his brother.

We know he is carrying demons from his past and that he struggles with them, we know he is angry and volatile. However, we feel there is something else, something that… well, ‘compels’ him to be naughty. There are times when he seems positively disappointed with himself for his behaviour and maybe even shocked by it.

We don’t look for excuses for the misbehaviour and as we are not big on ‘labelling’ children we are not about to rush him to a child psychologist to be ‘diagnosed’ – with or without a diagnoses the same is true: we have to get to understand him and deal with him for who he is. I often worry that diagnoses becomes an excuse for parents to overlook behaviour they struggle to deal with which ultimately is at the child’s expense.

Recently for the first time we may have had a little insight into his struggle.

We are on holiday and we were at dinner with relatives, we have a strict bedtime routine at home and the boys are in bed by 7pm, as much to maintain the routine they have always known as for giving ourselves a few child free hours at the end of the day for all the chores that are not easy to do with them around.

It does mean an early start each morning, but my partner and I are fine with that as we have always been ‘morning people’. However, others find it difficult to fit into our routine, especially as early bed means early dinner and when on holiday with others that is almost impossible to achieve.

So it’s late for our boys to be out and our youngest is struggling, he is past the grumpy stage we always suffer when he is overtired and now just wants to sleep. He puts his head on my partners lap, but because of all the activity around him he struggles to turn off.

My partner strokes his head and talks softly, he randomly starts talking about when our son is grown up and a big man, he asks ‘so what do you want to be when you grow up?’, the response is not so unusual I guess ‘ I want to be a superhero’. However it is then followed by a ‘but’.

‘I want to be a superhero, but in my head it makes me want to do bad things, not good things’.

We think this is an amazing insight into his ‘inner psyche’ and that it does indeed confirm our suspicions that the struggle he has to be good is not as straight forward as it should be.

We are not phycologists and we certainly can’t claim to understand what this means, but it feels significant and we can see and accept that for him the ‘naughtiness’ is something that he sees as being beyond his control.

It doesn’t excuse his behaviour, but we feel that it does somewhat explain it and knowing that helps us accept it. We recognise that we must stay firm and continue to address his bad behaviour, but at the same time somehow acknowledging his difficulties with it.

How? We have NO idea, but as with much of our parenting we will grope around in the dark until we strike something of value.

Nothing other than our attitude has actually changed because of his ‘revelation’ and I am sure we will still be dealing with his difficult and challenging behaviour for sometime ahead, however what has always felt like such a difficult part of our lives now just ‘feels’ a little less so.

I guess our children are not there to give us answers, but without doubt they are there to be listened to and to learn from.

It is just a shame that sometimes in the chaos of our day to day living, it is so very difficult to allow ourselves to hear them.

Faulty Connection

20140315_120934From the first day I met our child, I loved them and that love has grown with each day that has passed. Until last week. From out of nowhere, I felt utterly disconnected from them and it freaked me out completely. It made me cry. I never expected to feel anything like that. Sure, I have been frustrated with them, angry even sometimes, but underneath there was always the connection and the love. Suddenly I’m looking at them and for a few minutes I’m thinking “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know who you are.” I lost the connection. I’ve heard of that sort of thing happening to people during introductions or within a few weeks of bringing their child home, but after this amount of time with no inkling it was coming? I sat down and looked at our child and was crushed by the apparent vulnerability of our connection. How could I suddenly have that feeling? Where did it come from? Why? It went as quickly as it had come, but it really scared me. I got the connection back fairly quickly, as strong as ever and the love continued to grow as well, but it now seemed somewhat tinged by that awful moment.

So I did some online research to see if I could find out what happened, and whether it’s unusual. The second one first; apparently not. I found lots of anecdotal evidence of this “dis-connecting” experience among birth and adoptive parents, at varying stages of parenthood. Secondly, and to my relief, it seems the cause of it in the majority of “cases” I could find was anxiety or stress and a depletion of energy. I talked it over with my partner and it seems I had been worried prior that I hadn’t been as patient as usual with our child of late, that they were going through a phase of wanting me less and my partner more, and that had impacted me in a way I had not been aware of, on top of which was a difficult and tiring phase at work. So that’s how it played out. It scared me then, but after reading lots of other parents’ stories around this subject, I feel less worried about it now. I hope this helps anyone who has ever experienced a similar feeling. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your child in that moment, but that you are anxious, perhaps under a lot of pressure and your emotional gas tank is empty. So, look after yourself, try to recognise the symptoms of anxiety and stress, be kind to yourself in that moment and for moments after and give yourself some time and space to re-fill your tank.”

The long and winding road.

wpid-20141211_190407.jpg

It seems obvious that for the vast majority there is quite simply an inevitability that you will one day become a parent and indeed a social expectation that will be so right from the very beginning – all those references made to children about their futures as a mother or a father, all those dolls, push chairs and other baby related toys – even those young adults who buck the trend and do not consider themselves all that child focussed may soon find themselves in a relationship where parenting is the next logical step or around their peers who are establishing families which opens up the possibility of the same for them. I am sure we all know people who categorically stated that they would never have children who somehow found themselves swept along with this inevitability and are now proud, loving and totally committed parents. When on that path and the unthinkable happens and a natural pregnancy is not possible and medical intervention fails too, adoption becomes an obvious consideration and hopefully a solution.

However, for gay people all of this could not be further from reality. In the not so distant past acknowledging to ourselves that we are gay was also acknowledging a childless future, particularly for gay men. Lesbians of course had options gay men didn’t and a relatively small number managed to establish families pretty naturally (with the help of a friend and a turkey baster for instance) however if gay men where involved they were usually in the back ground and even if part of a child’s life were outside the nuclear family.

We do a great job of getting on with our child free existence and indeed for many our fun filled, self centered existence apparently has much to be envious of – however not being a parent can often be a huge disappointment that no amount of time and effort dedicated to children of friends and family or substitute children – pets – can truly fill.

As a result my partner and I came to parenthood/adoption by quite a long and convoluted process: growing up thinking that of course we would be fathers, realising we were gay and assuming parenting would never be an option, falling in love and recognising how we both yearned to parent, trying for a birth child with a close friend and failing, discovering later – in our early and late 40’s – that gay people were now able to adopt, feeling it came too late and that we were too old, being full of doubt that we could do it at all, struggling to let go of our great child-free life, but then being inspired by friends who had already taken the step.

The first visit from this new family literally changed our lives. We of course knew they were going through the process and we were aware that they had been approved and later that the children had been placed, we also knew of their need to stay away from extended family and friends until the dust had settled and the family had bonded and the children attached.

We were thrilled for the new Dads and so excited to finally be meeting their sons for the first time, brothers who we had heard so much about who at the age of 2 and 6 being a sibling group and one of them a short way off being considered ‘older’ for adoption could have been close to spending the rest of their lives in care or could have been seperated to give them a better chance of placement. Seeing them in this new family with so much love and with hope for a great future ahead of them had a huge impact on us.

It was a wonderful weekend. They are lovely little boys – beautiful, funny, warm and affectionate. They are great dads – firm, fair and totally loving. They are a great family and a total inspiration.

We realised that up until this point our thoughts on adoption had been all about us satisfying our desire/need to parent, suddenly that all changed and we were now discussing being able to do what our friends had done and give children a loving home and a far greater chance of a happy, productive and positive future. Of course its not selfless, we get to satisfy ourselves at the same time – the desire to parent was as strong as ever, but the new perspective put the negatives we had been focusing on and the fears we were concerned about into perspective. The difficulties we knew we would be facing and the ‘sacrifices’ we thought we would be making would be minimal compared to what we could bring to children in need of parents, in need of a home, in need of a future.

We immediately started the process, it was over five years ago and being before the recent changes in the system it was a slow and laborious experience that took almost three years from the initial enquiry to placement. At the time that seemed quite painful, but on reflection we can see that it really gave us time to consider and to reconsider (over and over) just what we were doing and what we would be taking on. It was a bit of a roller-coaster ride and the ups were of course great and exciting, but these were offset by many negatives that we had to work through and the slow process allowed us to do exactly that and most importantly without the pressure that rushing through the process may have added.

The length of time it took also brought us to two wonderful and very special little boys who are our sons, had the process been any quicker it could have resulted in us not being in the right place at the right time for what we see as a perfect match and that now feels unthinkable. Of course I realise that had we been matched earlier with other children they would no doubt now feel like the perfect match, but that is immaterial as we are a family that was ‘meant to be’ and NOTHING else is even remotely relevant.

Things are not perfect – of course not – and we know that we still have much to learn, as parents and indeed as a family. However, we never question the decision we made on any level and realise that all the steps that led us to where we are now add something to us being the parents and the family that we are.

People come to adoption from many, many angles, but amazingly we all end up at the same point – as parents of a child or children that we love with all our hearts and that we could never imagine life without.

Does it matter how we got here? On the journey I guess it feels like it does matter – especially if it’s a difficult one, but once we reach the destination then I think maybe it doesn’t matter at all.

We are all where we are and surely that is exactly where we are meant to be.

Interview with a blogger: The Quirky Parent.

F and L on beach

We Are Family asked the questions and The Quirky Parent answered!

Q) Why did you choose adoption, and why international?
A) When I was heavily pregnant with my son and slobbed on the sofa one evening, I accidentally caught a programme on the TV about Chinese orphanages that cared for children given up as a result of the one child policy. There and then I said to myself, I am not going to create my second child from scratch. I am going to adopt one of those children. I never ever let go of that feeling and determination. I have sometimes wondered if it was because I was flooded with ‘maternal’ pregnancy hormones at the time I watched it!

Q) From start to finish of process – i.e. (bringing your child home) – how long did it take?
A) Three years, from the very first interview to being handed our child when she was 10 ½ months old. It now takes six or seven years to adopt from China because most babies, I believe, are being adopted within the country – which is so much better. When we left China with our daughter, it felt like an act of love but also a wrench, taking her away from her country, culture and language. But at the time, I don’t think there was a better option for her.

Q) How did you find the assessment process?
A) We found the home study relaxed, enjoyable and thought-provoking due to our supportive and insightful social worker. There was something almost therapeutic about being asked to think and talk about your childhood, your relationship, your attitudes, your social networks and everything else it covers! There was a mountain of bureaucracy at the Chinese end, but it was a well-trodden and straightforward path.

Q) How do you think it could be improved?
A) Our particular adoption panel was scarey and intimidating with some slightly aggressive questioning – worse than any job interview I’ve ever had, worse than being in the boardroom on The Apprentice! I didn’t feel this approach was appropriate and I’m sure it doesn’t get the most open or useful answers from people.

Q) What has been the biggest surprise?
A) How incredibly well-matched my daughter and I are. This will sound a bit bonkers but it was as if there was some sort of magic at work! They say that in the ‘matching room’ in China they match the babies and parents – bizarrely – by which baby looks most like the father! I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that my daughter and I are incredibly similar in lots of ways. This gives our relationship an ease and an extra-special something.

Q) What advice would you give to prospective adopters?
A) Having adopted a baby, I think in many ways my adoption journey (so far!) has possibly been smoother than if I had adopted an older child, so I don’t feel in a position to give advice. But one of the adoption books I read before we adopted was The Primal Wound and this paragraph from it is something I always try to keep it in my head:
“The adoptive mother sees what looks like a normal baby, a baby who in many ways is normal, and later sees a laughing, happy toddler and she can’t believe that this baby is aching inside. But if she is really alert, if she is truly attuned to her child, she will notice the sadness, the pain, the fear. And in noticing, she will be better able to help the child to allow her to love her, and for her to love her in return.”

Q) The best thing about being a Mum?
A) Exploring the world with your children and seeing it afresh through their eyes. And feeling their hand in yours as you walk along.

Q) The hardest thing about being a mum?
A) Trying to keep your head above water in the constant whirlwind of parenting, work, house stuff, school stuff, rest-of-life stuff. Now is perhaps the hardest stage for me: I have a teenager (let’s not even go there!) and my daughter, now eight, seems to be at an age where the ‘grief’ and complicated feelings surrounding her adoption and birth parents seem to be intensifying.

Q) Your happiest moment?
A) Cliché, but holding my son for very the first time, holding my daughter for the very first time. Although the lead-up to each couldn’t have been more different, both times I entered a little, soft, blurry, muffled bubble of pure happiness.

Q) The saddest time that shook your world?
A) My dad dying unexpectedly and unecessarily. He was a tricky man and we had a complicated relationship. The death of a parent is such a jolt anyway, forcing you to face your mortality and grope around for meaning in life.

Q) If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
A) Feel the fear and do it anyway. I wish I’d had the courage then to act on good ideas and opportunities more instead of taking the ‘safe’ option.

Q) The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?
A) Find your passion in life and follow it. That’ll go a huge way to making you happy.

Q) The philosophy that underpins your life?
A) Don’t follow the crowd – unless the crowd is going the way you definitely want to go.