We are family is 1! – an update

Wearefamilylogo

These days it is a year ago that We are Family saw the light of day.

We were a few parents who met on the grass in our local park with our young ones. Every week, or trying to. A year on and our local group now count 55+ families. If our members choose to we can meet once or twice a week – with or without our children. And we can stay in touch in between via the Interweb.

The last six months has seen a real growth spurt: we now run four local groups in and around London; and there are more in the pipeline. All four existing groups offer playgroups and social gatherings. Presently, the Hackney/Islington group is only one offering a Parent Support Group.

In total approximately 140 WAF families use our services as much or as little as they wish. We are still a very diverse bunch of young and older, reflecting the community in which we live and that our children will grow up. While the majority of our members are families, we are welcoming an increasing number of prospective adopters.

In north London, we continue to have a good working relationship with the North London Adoption and Fostering Consortium (NLAFC). Since the beginning of the New Year we have been meeting regularly, and we have now settled on meeting quarterly. We have established a dedicated working group consisting of two social workers and two adoptive parents, though other SWs or parents may join our meetings as and when necessary. This group has been set up in recognition that we cannot do our work efficiently on our own. So far we have found this arrangement very worthwhile. And it is definitely a two-way thing.

Current collaboration in the WAF/NLAFC working group focus on a number of issues in Post Adoption Support (PAS), mainly recruitment and training. The recruiting part is straight-forward: The SWs help spread the word, so that new families can join us. The training bit is more complicated and multifaceted. We parents bring up the kind of training we would like to see and discuss how to focus existing support evenings (as SW are present these evening have a different flavour to our Parent Support Evening). Like all London Adoption Consortia, NLAFC covers a large area, too large for all their adoptive families regularly to make it to our local meetings, therefore this working group are now considering where to set up further WAF groups. We have been speaking with adopters and SWs in another NLAFC local authority (LA) to further this idea. In the autumn we will visit and speak at more LAs.

One major result that has come from this WAF/NLAFC working group is that NLAFC has opened their training to all WAF members in their area, whether or not they adopted through one of their LAs. September will see our first collaboration on training as we have scheduled a workshop on quotidian therapeutic parenting with Sally Donovan. An event we are particularly excited by the prospect of!

Moreover two of our parents are now training for adoption parenting course, Adoption Changes. The aim is for them to deliver training along side the SWs.

In May, two of our mothers spoke at the newly formed London Adoption Showcase at Somerset House. The response and support from floor, including existing partners was very encouraging. This meeting lead to new collaborations and new ventures – more on that another time, suffice to say that we are hoping to replicate WAF/NLAFC in other London consortia, as we are very interested in working on this level. In fact, this month we have been to speak with the South London Adoption Consortium and the East London Adoption Consortium. Both are keen to support us and similar initiatives.

Recently, we have started the process of becoming a charity. To this end we have formed We are Family HQ, which has members from existing groups. First move is getting a constitution. Truth be told we are a bunch of enthusiastic parents. So this part of the learning curve is extra steep! It is clear that we need to think realistically about how best to grow, so we remain in close contact with our members and their wishes.

Once again, we would like to stress that we are not in competition to PAS offered by other institutions and organisations; we just feel there could be much more peer-to-peer and user-led PAS in London, as indeed all over the UK. Too many adopters are still much too lonely on this life-changing path that is adoptive parenting.

We are celebrating our first anniversary with a big summer picnic for all our members.

Thank you to all our families. For being there. For being part of this.

And thank you to all of you out there, who have helped and talked and tweeted with us over the past year. It is more appreciated than we could ever express, and it’s been our absolutely pleasure!

 

 

Advertisements

Useless Blog #4: Ramblings on The Lovely Daughter

peppa1

I spend a lot of time thinking about The Lovely Daughter. What shocks me is that I cannot remember how it felt not to have her in our lives. I mean, I can remember what it felt like not having my two front teeth wholly attached to my jawbone (painful after the fact but just really, really surprising in the immediate moment), I can remember what it felt like not to have our dog (the postman – not sexist language; he happens to actually be a man – could come to the front door without the walls in the hallway rattling from the reverberations of the barking insanity) and I can remember what it felt like not to live next door to the three man-teen Hoxton beardos – a DJ, a golf pro and a kite-surfing champion – (we could watch Breaking Bad without questioning whether we actually lived in the same house as Jesse), but I cannot remember what it felt like not to have The Lovely Daughter running around with her FIVE (count them!) Peppa Pigs , bouncing off the walls and leaving a trail of strawberry yoghurt, a stunned, lightly salted dog, and two weary but happy parents. And that’s a good thing. Or early-onset dementia. She managed to blow up our TV a few weeks ago. I could have sworn that she was listening intently to my home-school physics lesson – you know the one, where I explained that two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen and integrated electronic circuitry don’t good bed-fellows make – but now that I think about it, I didn’t see her taking notes at the time and she did leave my laminated handouts in her potty, so perhaps she didn’t really take it all in. Still, our fault for leaving the dog’s water bowl on the floor in the kitchen, only fifty feet and a flight of stairs away from the television, I suppose. The other day she regressed for fun and went back to bottom-shuffling down the garden path. She turned to look at me with this beaming smile on her face and my heart exploded with love. Not literally – that would have made writing this slightly more tricky – but at that point I do remember thinking that she could water all our electrical appliances every day and still have an infinite number of brownie points in the bank. The Lovely Daughter is a great negotiator; I do that for a living and used to think I was pretty good at it, but it seems she has been secretly watching the CASS Business School “Principles and Tactics for Negotiating for Value” tutorials on You Tube (via the new TV we had to buy which has built-in internet access – every cloud…) while clearly I’ve not updated my strategy skillbase for a while, as she seems to confuse me into agreeing to pretty much anything she wants. Read six more stories before bedtime? I know you are tired, Daddy, and you’ve read to me for an hour already, but if I don’t remind myself what happens to Sam and his green eggs once more, I don’t think I will be able to sleep past 5.30 tomorrow morning. Or yes I know I haven’t eaten my raw carrots and hummus, Daddy, but if I don’t have that Peppa Pig ice-cream now, it’s unlikely that I will be able to get into my pyjamas for at least another four hours, you know, in time for you to play in that online poker tournament you haven’t told Mummy about. Pretty refined strategies for a two-year old. The Lovely Daughter – I hope I never forget the way she is now.

“She’s not my real mum you know…”

It was said so casually – a matter-of-fact statement that temporarily stopped the room. It was just me and my youngest daughter visiting my mum; the eldest and her dad having stayed in London. This was our first visit to nanny’s without them – I’d made the most of enjoying this new, relaxed dynamic where, for a few short days, I wasn’t trying to keep both a 10 and 5 year-old happy, in this quiet, ‘tick-tock of a clock’ environment so different to the harum scarum 90-mile an hour pace and noise of our home.

Mum’s brother, who has slipped effortlessly into surrogate granddad role since my dad died, misses a beat or two as he’s told this. His eyes flicker from my daughter, to her pointing finger and, finally, who’s at the end of it – me.

“Yes, I know all about that, love,” he says gently. “But she is, isn’t she? Because she’s the one taking care of you.”

I breathe again, my daughter nods and goes back to combing what’s left of his hair.

And I could kiss him – this 80-year-old who’s never experienced anything to do with adoption before – was put on the spot, Paxman-style, and came up with an election winner.

And, believe me, I wasn’t hurt – it wasn’t the first time I’d heard her say this. She’d referred to her ‘real mum’ a few weeks earlier, when she told me she didn’t want to call her by our usual expression, ‘tummy mummy’, anymore. I said that was fair enough – but maybe she could call her by her first name – or ‘birth mum’, instead? And then I explained that, although I hadn’t given birth to her, and couldn’t do anything to change that, in every other way I was, and always would be, her ‘real mum’ and she was my beloved daughter.

I know this pleased her but I also now think that, for her, it’s only half the point. She needs to say it – her ‘real’, actual mum, who’s DNA she shares, and who she already fantasises about coming to her next birthday party – exists. I wonder if saying it out loud is her way of keeping that truth – her birth mum’s existence, out there, somewhere – part of our family narrative? Or that she needs me to be able to hear it, and to show I can deal with it, ‘hold’ it for her, as part of feeling secure and safe – after all, if I can’t handle this truth, then how is she meant to, now, or in the future?

It somehow reminds me of a film I’ve not seen since I was a kid but which left a huge impression on me. It’s an old Hollywood noir, with a world-weary gumshoe detective tasked with investigating the supposed death of a beautiful young woman called Laura. He has nothing to go on but a haunting portrait of her and various reminiscences of her character by many different people in her life. He becomes obsessed and enthralled – who is the real Laura and why are there so many wildly at odds contradictions in the reports of what she was like? She is, essentially, the main character, yet she never makes an appearance or speaks for herself – until, that is, the very end, when it’s suddenly revealed she’s not dead after all and she and the besotted detective finally meet. I’ve no recollection of where – if anywhere – their relationship goes after that. What on earth happened next….?

My daughter is lucky, in some ways, that we have tons of photos of birth mum at various stages of her life. In fact, recently, when I bought each of my daughters a lovely photo frame, within a nano-second my youngest has flipped through appropriately-sized photos and selected and dexterously fitted the most hauntingly beautiful one of her birth mum. She put it in pride of place on her bedside shelf. And, if you want the truth, I was temporarily poleaxed to find a photo of all of us, that used to be propped up in that same space, discarded, having slipped, unnoticed, beneath her bed. Now, whenever I say goodnight to my daughter, my eyes often wander to her ‘Laura’, in that photo frame, gazing back at me enigmatically.

My daughter is also fortunate that there are years’ worth of ‘birth mum’ reminiscences we can ask for from close, supportive, birth family members we have regular contact with. For now, at least, they amply fulfill the birth family connection my daughter so obviously needs.

I wish we’d had the opportunity to meet birth mum before our daughter came to us – but it just didn’t materialise. I wish I could help her know that she really does share her birth mum’s smile, and her eyes – which she does, but, like her, I only know this from looking at photographs.

But one thing I do know – when and if, at some point in the future, my daughter seeks out her ‘Laura’, I am determined to be at her side, and loving her and supporting her every step of the way. Because that’s what a ‘real mum’ does.

Digger Tantrums

This is the story of my parental epiphany with regard to handling Digger’s tantrums.

The other night Digger had a massive meltdown. ‘Daddee, daddee, daddeeeeee, daddee, daddee, daddeeee, daadddddEEEE!!’ Mummy just wasn’t going to cut it. He wanted Daddy and only Daddy. All the way through bath time, brushing his teeth, rubbing in his cream and putting on his PJs he was screaming for Daddy and I was wondering what the neighbours must be thinking. By the time I handed over to Daddy for milk and stories, I was exhausted and annoyed. ‘Here you go! You deal with it! I’ve had enough!! £%$@&&!’. Yes, I lost my temper. I’d been calm and patient up to the point and there had been no reward. Grrrrr.

Soon Digger calmed down in the arms of Daddy and even sooner after that he was asleep. Happy as Larry with a smile on his face. But I was still fuming. I was only able to calm down once I realised that it was jealousy – good old-fashioned jealousy – that I was feeling. That acknowledgement released the tension and annoyance inside me. That and a strong feeling that I had failed both him and me.
I hadn’t been able to contain either of us.

A couple of nights later the same thing happened, but this time Dad wasn’t home for the hand over, and so I had to deal with it.  All of it. So I did. I held him close. We were sitting on the floor of our bathroom throughout. Digger squirming on my lap throughout. Sometimes he faced me, sometimes he was turned away from me, sometimes he was laying across my legs, but he remained on my lap. I was holding him, but not firmly.

This time I had more resolve and more patience. I kept repeating in properly calm tone of voice (managed not to fall into the patronising calm): ‘I’m here. You are safe’. I acknowledged how (I thought) he must have been feeling: ‘Oh dear, you are sad, very sad. Do you miss Daddy?’ The question released floods of tears, and a hoard of yes’ses. ‘I’m here. Let it all out, sweet mouse. I’m here. I will stay here.’ Digger cried, and cried, and whiggled, and cried.

I didn’t say ‘I won’t leave you’. Because that sentence has the words ‘…leave you’ in it.
I didn’t say ‘Don’t worry it’s is all ok’. Because it wasn’t.

And then … suddenly … it was over. Digger smiled, hiccupped, was meek and happy again. He turned around and wrapped his small hot arms around my neck, and nestled into my neck. And so it all ended in a big cuddle. Milk and stories were administered as usual and he fell asleep peacefully.

I can only describe his outburst as a torrential rainstorm followed by the sun breaking through.
The contrast was stark. And I wonder whether it felt the same to Digger.

It is the first time I have experienced what seemed to be the natural end of a tantrum. Void of hang ups, blame, guilt, anger. Void of the use of distractions or a belittling his feelings. And most importantly, for me anyway, I wasn’t scared of his outburst and wondering about how I was to handle the situation.
I stepped right in. And stayed there.

Seeing through Digger’s outburst of these big, uncontainable emotions has given me great resolve. I have since found tantrums much easier to deal with. We both know that the frightening toddler storms will end. We both know that I, mummy, can sit through them, without being dragged into them.
We have seen I can remain calm.

Whatever the trigger for Digger’s tantrums, I need to be present to show him that he is safe and that I can handle and contain his emotions. I remain in charge throughout. The emotional space I occupy in these moments is difficult to describe, but it is one of (for me) amazing, calm presence and total focus on my son, almost like meditation or you might call it mindfulness. I have a mental image of me being a capital ‘C’ containing his tiny ‘c’. Odd, I know, but it works.

Once again, he has been my supreme teacher. I have learned that I do have the necessary reserve of patience (most days anyway), as long as I trust him and myself.

Since I wrote this a month ago, Digger tantrums have become much less frequent. I assume this is partly due to his age, but I also think we have found a way of working through them. I think he feels more contained when his feelings boil over. But toddler emotions are a moving goal post. Tantrums are bound to be back… and bound to challenge me again. I hope I will remember what I have learnt.

 

[Editors note: This blog is an edited version of a blog first published on diggerdiaries.wordpress.com where this mother also blogs]