Bad Advice

WearefamilylogoMost of us new parents came to adoption later than many of our peer group came to parenting, often it is after many years of trying for a birth child and many more attempting to ‘put right’ whatever issues were preventing that from happening naturally. For many same sex couples it can be after a life of assuming it would never be an option at all and embracing a child free existence, only to be confronted with the possibility of parenthood later in our lives which can require a long period of adjustment to the idea of being a family.

This can put us at a bit of a disadvantage as our friends and family are often a big step ahead of us, they have experience, they have knowledge and as we soon discover – they have advice. For most of them ‘children are children’, what they learnt raising their family will of course work for us and the experience and knowledge is passed on with the best of intentions and most of it of great value.

Of course when we run into problems or have doubts we turn to those around us who have been through it already, those we feel can help us and and naturally they have good advice, useful advice, much needed advice, but sometimes its well intended but totally misguided advice.

Our children come with ‘instructions’ and that’s something the established parents around us don’t realise and often can’t appreciate even when explained to them. Of course there is not a full manual to guide us every step of the way – if only – but there are strong guidelines for us to acknowledge and to adhere to.

Our children are different. As we are repeatedly told during the assessment process our children are damaged and as we soon discover they do indeed need to be parented in specific ways, ways that can make the advice we are being offered quite simply wrong.

I guess every parent dreams of a ‘perfect’ child and I think maybe there can be a degree of denial from adopters early in placement as we seek to see the perfectly normal in the child that has become our son or daughter, but gradually as the ‘honeymoon’ period gives way to our regular day to day life we start to see signs that makes sense of all that we have been told during the adoption process.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, in fact one of our two sons has been amazingly resilient to the trauma he has suffered and the huge changes he has endured in his short life. He seems to cope astonishingly well – so far anyway – and we are hopeful that the toughness is not just skin deep, however we are under no illusion that all is OK and understand that he could just be bottling it all up and that we may well be dealing with it later on – bring on the teenage years.

Meanwhile his younger brother is a sensitive little chap and he wears everything on the outside. There is only 11 months between them and they have a wonderfully close bond which no doubt comes from the fact that the only constant in their chaotic lives has been each other, regardless of that they could not be less alike emotionally.

From very early on in the placement we had clear signs of how difficult our youngest was finding the transition into his ‘forever family’ and nearly two years on those signs are still there and the behaviour can be just as challenging. We have got better at understanding it and dealing with it, but he is still upset and angry and clearly affected by the lack of consistency and security he has endured.

You can make a child happy, give them lots of attention, lots of praise and of course limitless love and you may well get immediate results. Make them feel wanted and work at building the security they so need and the attachment that WE of course need too and you will see the results, hopefully lots of smiles and wonderful laughter and maybe even definite signs of contentment at the new life they have been introduced to. However, we can never forget that they are carrying their past with them every step of the way and those words that we heard in prep group and read about in all those books were probably true no matter how much we hoped otherwise.

And that’s the bit those around us tend not to understand. They see a happy child and they assume all is OK, they even tell us what a wonderful job we are doing, how great it is that we have become what is clearly a ‘tight’ and loving family, but they are usually not there to see the other side – the screaming, the shouting, the tears, the full tantrums ( and that’s just us parents) – they are not there to grow an understanding of what it all is and where it comes from. Then they witness a touch of ‘naughtiness’ and immediately judge us, even we aren’t sure the behaviour has anything to do with the child’s history and their emotional state, but we know it could be and we know it needs to be handled in the way that we have learnt from our – albeit limited -hands on experience.

However, we are given advice. Advice from somebody who obviously feels they have the experience and that they know so much better, somebody who has raised their children ‘successfully’ and maybe even with grandchildren they have advised on, somebody who has watched bloody Super Nanny and the like on TV, but regardless it is somebody who does not really know OUR child, our life, and it is somebody who does not have our understanding of the situation.

My partner and I are NOW not afraid to ignore the advice, but in the early days that was not so, we didn’t know what we were doing, we didn’t know what was right or wrong, We assumed those with the parenting experience where exactly the people we should be listening to – for goodness sake we watched Super Nanny too. We are now of course judged for not taking heed and no doubt blamed for the behaviour they feel that we have brought about from our parenting choices. We are told that we are indulging our son when we choose ‘time in ‘ over ‘time out’ or spoiling him for giving him attention when in their eyes he is clearly just ‘attention seeking’ we are told that we are making a rod for our own backs – but we have learnt for ourselves and we know that is not the case and we know that we are getting long term results handling things the way we are, in fact the way we were told we would need to, even before our boys arrived.

Of course there are so very many things we turn to our family and friends for to help us along the way, advice about day to day practicalities, about illness, about schooling etc and its wonderful they are there for us – but we have learnt what not to ask advice on and what not to listen to.

We get it wrong – of course we do – we know that sometimes we even make things worse, however, we learn from that and we get better. We are on the ‘front line’ 24/7 and every day with our sons teaches us something new and we know that things are improving, learning when not to listen has helped us with that.

Useless Blog #5 Facing My Fear

20140315_120934USELESS BLOG #5 – FACING MY FEAR
I have a fear. It has two faces. One looks internally and gnaws at my well-being; the other externally and stands me on the edge of a very deep chasm, strong wind at my back.
Both have the same source; each has a different outcome.
I am not my child’s biological father.
I am afraid of hearing that from her; I am afraid of expressing my feelings on it to others.
But what am I afraid of?
Emotional pain on the one side; intellectual ridicule on the other.
In my head I know it does not matter; in my heart I am afraid it might.
I have spent a lot of time reading about, listening to and digesting the principles behind communicating the specialness of adoption to my child. I understand the importance of talking to her about her story, her background, where she’s from, how she came to be with us. I have been saddened by the stories of teenagers finding out they are adopted, feeling that their life thus far has been a huge lie, that their parents kept a secret they had no right to keep. Saddened by the unnecessary suffering, “going-off-the-rails”, feelings of isolation, feelings of loss, feelings of insecurity, feelings of crumbling foundations. I don’t want my daughter to go through any of that. It’s my job as her Daddy to make sure it doesn’t happen.
I get it. Intellectually.
Not emotionally.
It’s a dichotomy I struggle to come to terms with. And I am shocked by myself. I feel stupid, weak, emotionally immature. I feel that I may be subject to the righteous ridicule of social workers and other adopters (and non-adopters alike).
Previously when I have read emotional pieces written by adopters who feel vulnerable and conflicted by their feelings, the subsequent follow-up comments often judge harshly and show no allowance for emotional nuances, no ability to empathise. And I fear opening myself up to the same responses by writing about feelings that some might think I’m not supposed to have.
I have never really felt it an imperative to biologically reproduce; I did not care about being the birth father to a child, I wanted to be a parent. But now I find I do care that I am not the birth father to this child. Why? What difference does it make? I know that I will be the best parent I can be, that I could not love my daughter more, that I will protect her and guide her and be there for her, so what does it matter if she is not biologically mine? I’ve seen older adoptees speaking about their parents and their birth parents and clearly being aware who is the real Daddy, so why?
Because the irrational part of me does not fully believe it. The irrational part of me fears that when my daughter is old enough to fully process that I am not her biological father, some part of her will see me in a reduced light. And the thought of that causes me pain.
Some fears are simply irrational – and irrationality is part of the complex human condition.
During our adoption prep, when asked to roleplay an absent (and disinterested) birth father, I became so angry that I could not sit on the sidelines as asked, and kept interjecting with “I’m not allowing this to happen”, “I’ll sell everything I own and get myself the best barrister”, “You’re not taking my child”, “Whatever it takes, however long it takes I’m not giving up”. And the trouble is, it’s beyond me how any father could feel differently. Yes; I do know that people are different. Yes; I do know that not everyone has had as privileged and relatively secure an upbringing as mine. Yes; I do know that circumstances are different to mine. Yes, thank you; I do know that people’s lives are blighted by alcohol, drugs, abuse, neglect, indifference, lack of opportunity. Yes; I do sympathise, I can empathise.
So the other part of my fear is that when she understands that her birth father did not fight for her, no matter what the explanation, she will feel pain and there is nothing I can do to prevent that from happening; it’s a feeling of being powerless to protect her from that and therefore failing in my job, in my love. As I said, irrational, but nonetheless real.
My wife gets it both emotionally and intellectually and has no such fears; she says I should think about counselling. Maybe I will, but at the end of the day, maybe I simply have to live with my fear and face it down one day. Maybe today is one of those days; showing my fear to the world, allowing it, but not letting it rule me, expressing it and closing my eyes and waiting with fear and yet hope that the wind will not tip me over the edge.