Not as good at this as we expected

We went into Adoption with many preconceived notions, not least of which was that we would find the whole parent thing pretty straight forward and well…kinda easy.

After all we have decades of being favourite uncles having been involved in the lives of our nieces and nephews and more importantly lots of experience of looking after children – often taking them away for weekends or even full holidays – not to mention some hands-on parenting experience for  me after moving in with an uncle and young cousins to help out when he left my aunt and also being with a close friend on a daily basis raising her two youngest for a number of years.  Then on top of that at the suggestion of our social worker my partner became a teachers assistant, he has an amazing way with children, so much time and patience for them and he loved this work.

During the prep course we were indeed warned that no amount of experience could prepare us for the reality of becoming adoptive parents and to be honest we listened and took note, but with a certain amount of conceit and arrogance we did think that we probably had more experience than most and maybe it never applied to us quite as much.

In addition we were told of the ‘complications’ and ‘difficulties’ of a child damaged by being removed from their birth family and taken into care, but fundamentally they were children and we would be older, mature parents so of course we could cope with that.

We were sure that we wanted to adopt siblings and were happy to consider older children, when we were finally approved and our agency only had lone children we resisted their pressure to adopt one child now and go through the process again for a second child later.

This put us in the horrible position of ‘child shopping’ through other agencies, how on earth do you choose children from the – sadly – many available? Every child was of course a possibility and in fact we wanted to adopt them all, but trawling through web sites and magazines some pictures spoke to us more than others.

What was it that made certain children stand out we don’t know, maybe the vanity of seeing something of ourselves in their faces, maybe something sub conscious. We can’t say, but after a couple of false starts we were sent the full report of our two future sons and something felt very right.

On reflection we see that their agency were a little deceitful and initially withheld some pretty important information from us until we were very much ’emotionally’ committed, it finally came out that both boys had been diagnosed with severe attachment disorder, to be fair the family finder and their social worker both stressed that they felt the diagnoses to be questionable and in their opinion the boys showed no real signs at all. In addition we were told that the youngest ‘may’ be affected by ‘Foetal alcohol syndrome’ (FAS) and had been displaying some quite troublesome behaviour at school.

Do you walk away because it suddenly looked a bit tougher than you expected? We already felt an attachment to the boys and reasoned that you can not guarantee anything with childbirth and going into something with your eyes open and aware of issues is an advantage birth parents don’t have.

So maybe it was not about to be ‘easy’, but of course we could cope, of course we would be great parents, of course we would be gentle, quiet, rational, reasoned and considered in our parenting – because we were mature and that’s how we were with children.

But in fact – we aren’t.

Our sons are wonderful little boys, they are loving and affectionate and we do feel that the attachment diagnoses was quite simply wrong. Potentially there may be issues with the youngest and maybe it is to a small degree FAS, but we are not convinced its anything more than ‘anger’ for what he has been through. His mis behaviour at school has stopped and its now directed at us at home, which we do see as an achievement as we feel it is a sign that he is secure enough with us to let it out.

It is more than a year and a half since their placement with us and things have calmed somewhat, but we are still presented with some very challenging behaviour from our youngest. However, something we have learnt is that much of it directly reflects our poor parenting. We miss things, fail to look beneath the obvious, we are pushed and pushed and we get angry and that provokes more anger from him as it destabilises the security we have built for him. It is clear that we make him worse.
A good example was the first contact day we had with their two sisters, one adopted by a new family – with two boys very close in age to ours – the other now in long term foster care with the foster carers they were all together at for nearly 3 years. It went great, regardless of the sudden realisation that we had not just taken on two little boys, but in addition – two families. Everybody got on really well and all the kids seemed to have a great time.
Two days after contact – note: two days after – our younger son started playing up, at first a little and then it grew as our anger at his consistent challenging increased – it got quite out of control with full melt down tantrums and only late into the second day did the penny drop. It may not have started immediately, but of course his behaviour was a direct result of the contact, which must have been a hugely emotional experience for him and very unsettling. He was 5 years old and meeting his baby sister who had two replacements brothers, his older sister who had always been with them and at 5 and 6 had been ‘parenting’ them – finding food to feed them and trying to clean and clothe them – and the foster parents who were the only parents he actually remembers.
Of course he was upset, of course he was playing up, of course that got worse as we got angry at him – in his mind unsettling his placement with us – how could we be SO stupid?
I went to him in bed and asked if he was sad about seeing everybody and he nodded, then I asked if he wished he could have gone home with his big sister and the foster parents and he nodded again – then he froze and looked very scared. I said that was OK to feel that, of course he wanted to go with them because he loved them and missed them, you could see him immediately relax from the reassurance. It broke our hearts and made us realise  that we still had a long way to go before he truly thought of us as his forever Dads and could himself commit to that and before we could assume his beaviour was not led by anger at the trauma he had suffered and indeed no doubt continues to suffer.
Regardless of experiences like this – where we feel that we learnt a lot – we still have to parent on a day to day basis and we are surprised to find ourselves not being the parents we expected to be and want to be, for a start we are those parents who shout at the children  – a lot! – Also we can be short tempered and impatient and I think we are starting to realise that we have unrealistic expectations around their behaviour.
Why? We were not at all like this before.
Well for a start we are tired – always tired – Parenting 24/7 is so unlike anything we have experienced previously – parenting troubled, insecure children even more so – it demands everything you can give and then some. Also the responsibility of taking on these two lives and the commitment we have is huge and stressful and sits heavily on our shoulders and that ‘maturity’ we felt we could give, now it just feels like ‘old’!
I guess sometimes we feel disappointed in them for not seeing how much we put in and how much we try to be perfect – for them – but of course they don’t they are 6 and 7 years old and getting on with being 6 and 7. I guess there is anger at ourselves for not always coping as well as we want to and maybe – somewhat illogically – anger at birth mum and dad for damaging our beautiful boys.
Regardless, we try and try and try to be better parents and maybe little by little we are, but even so – we are certainly not as good at this as we expected.
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6 thoughts on “Not as good at this as we expected

  1. Really thoughtful blog. Thank you for sharing. I am at the very early stages of the journey (still hoping to be approved!) and have learned so much from adopters and especially all of you who take the time to share your thoughts online.

    I have one aim only: to do my very best to be good enough! I will do all I can!

    🙂 Pedalling Solo

  2. I know how you feel! You have articulated parental guilt well.
    But, I do think children need good enough parents, not perfect parents. (To be honest, if it were possible to be a perfect parent, I think it would actually be a lot of pressure to be the children of such paragons!)
    Even traumatised children will cope with good enough parents and it is more than OK to make the odd bad call. Be gentle with yourselves!

  3. Thanks for writting this post, I absolutely understand where you are coming from. Never thought of myself of a shouty mum either before parenting my beautifully and strong willed 3 year old. It takes me sometimes a while to realise that we moved beyond normal toddler revolt into something more trauma based….

  4. Thank you for writing this post. It expresses so much of what I feel at times. Sqk is younger but we still had a delayed reaction last week to him meeting his foster carer & foster-siblings. We both have moments when we lose the empathy or can’t understand where he is coming from. But I think all we can do is try to learn and to be good enough parents – no one is perfect all the time.

  5. Reblogged this on treemendouskids and commented:
    This is a great insight into the realities of parenting adoptive children. Such an honest account that is great for preadoptive parents like us. We have so much to learn and so many preconceived ideas…

  6. This is quite a painful read but one that really resonates with me. We have both struggled with aspects of my son’s behaviour and found that we are not the reasoned and “successful” parents that we expected to be! Particularly for me, I have found being angry, disappointed and frustrated with my son has made me feel very angry and disappointed with myself and very guilty when I reflect on how unhelpful I have been to my son, who I adore and really want to be happy.
    I hold onto the thought that his history is very hard and there is some damage that can not be undone, whoever parented my son. I have realised that however hard we try we cannot remedy every difficulty for our children and my son is doing as well as he can. Despite sometimes feeling despair I have never doubted that we are going to be there for him forever and will carry on doing our best,although I do acknowledge, we have made some real mistakes!

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