Out of the blue – A lesson in patience.

Picture 053My daughter and I are both recovering from surgery.

Mine – not hers but we’ve both been affected.

It happened so quickly that I didn’t have the chance to explain to her that not only would I not be coming home in time to cook her tea, bath her and carry her to bed, but that I would be gone for six whole days. I was just gone, absent without warning and it felt unbearable. In my panic I was sure our bond would be damaged by my sudden departure so I can only guess how it felt for her, and explanations were left to those who kindly jumped in to care for her in my absence.

Now we’re all dealing with the aftermath.

Crucially, I can’t bend down and I can’t lift her. Doesn’t sound that bad but it’s created a space between us that wasn’t there before. Now I tower stiffly over her, my stance so different to usual, essentially talking down at her and she doesn’t like it – I don’t blame her. I wish I could sweep her into my arms, or kneel down and kiss her face but I can’t. It feels very formal.

Mummy has gone from being a big strong, person she could bounce off, to a stiff, weak temporarily disabled one she needs to be careful around (as everyone keeps telling her!) Despite the constant reassurances that I will be back to my old self in time – a concept she doesn’t understand anyway – she rarely answers when I speak to her and constantly demands toys and presents and sweets – something she was probably given a lot of while I was in hospital. I find it heart wrenching.

I know that life’s not perfect and stuff happens all the time but it feels big. It’s brought loads of stuff up for both of us, for me how I can’t bear to be still and I really struggle to find the patience to recuperate at the right steady pace, and for her? .. Well tantrums and it’s anybody’s guess what else but she’s reacting differently as each day passes. My husband tells me not to worry, that our bond is strong and secure and my presence alone is nourishing and comforting to her. I trust his judgement and try to stay positive. There are encouraging signs. This morning as I woke up she did slip her hand into mine and whisper “Mummy, when you are well you can pick me up again” and gave me a kiss. I’ll just have to wait it out.

 

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Is it ok if I don’t love you?

20130330_111946It started out I think as a game, but through it’s gradual insistence I then started to wonder and finally, like water torture, it started to hurt. It wasn’t a “funny thing children say” anymore; it had become unfunny and in my worst moments, cruel. I had been lucky I think to have been the favoured one once upon a time, but as our daughter cemented a lovely bond with my wife and as I became more distant through not being around during the day, there were little signs appearing, warning me to be careful with her affection, be careful with my presence, or lack thereof. She used to go bananas when I came home, after careering with joy at the sight of me, loving being lifted into my arms for a cuddle. But someone, and I think it should be me to blame, took a step back from this. I became perhaps too careful with her affection, looking for signs that might not have been there that my cuddles were not quite as welcome as before and holding back for fear of being too intrusive. I was left with tickling as the means of getting some physical contact and hearing her laugh. But eventually “Stop it, Daddy” was the cry. When she first told me she didn’t love me, I said it was ok, I loved her and always would. But it became a more frequent song, culminating in a frighteningly earnest, “Is it ok if I don’t love you, Daddy?” I said it was; that she must always tell me how she feels, what she’s thinking, feeling myself like the grown-up, not wanting to show her I was upset. But of course I was. What else was I to say? No, it’s not ok actually?

This worried me and left me feeling outside her circle of love. I brought this up at the WAF get-together and, lovely supportive people that were there that night, felt comforted after sharing my concerns.

And they were right. One night after reading the made-up hand book stories a mish mash of Frozen  and Brave – odd worlds that Walt et al would not recognise – as she lay there eyes closed, apparently asleep, she reached her hand over, placed it on my arm, stroked me for a while and said, “I do love you really, Daddy.”

Fostering issues

Picture 033I found the prep’ course that adopters go through to be quite comprehensive and of great value, it’s hard to imagine that in the past adopters were offered none of this information to prepare them for what in some cases are huge challenges, but for everybody is something new and unknown.

However, in our case something I think that it lacked was more information about the importance and affect of Foster Parents on our children.

Our boys spent almost three years in one foster placement meaning that our youngest actually spent longer with the foster parents than with his birth parents and at a very crucial age – from 2 to almost 5.

They are an older couple with grown up children and grandchildren of their own, as a result they have all the children in their care call them Nanny and Grandad. Actually I think this can be very helpful as I know that many children in foster placement refer to the carers as Mummy and Daddy and can grow to see them as exactly that, making the eventual split from them all the more confusing and difficult for them to deal with.

It is especially good in our case as my mother and my partners father are both dead and ‘Nanny and Grandad’ slot quite nicely into those empty positions in our family.

Because of the time spent with them and the long term relationship they had, It was recognised by all that an ongoing relationship with the foster parents would be healthy for our sons, especially as their older sister was staying with them in long term fostering. Twice yearly contact has been agreed, along with a younger sister and her adoptive family.

It was clear that along with the foster parents maturity – she is 60, he a very sprightly 70 – came a certain type of parenting that is best described as ‘old school’. They are strict – very strict – and run a very tight household, which I can see is essential as they not only had our boys and their sister, but also a fourth child in care as well as their 14 year old granddaughter. In addition two older children who at 17 and 18 had left their care, came almost nightly for dinner.

Our boys – at not yet 5 and 6 – tidied behind themselves, made their beds (to a fashion), bathed themselves, dressed themselves and even took their dirty laundry to the utility room… and separated whites from coloureds.

In addition the children were separated from the adults at meal times and sat at a ‘child’s’ table and not allowed to utter a word.

Although we can see the huge benefits for the household, we can also see that it somewhat defies social services guidelines or expectations on parenting looked-after children and is somewhat out of skew with what would be consider more up to date parenting or pastoral care.

Their parenting style has gone on to create issues for us, the adoptive parent. We are taught to maintain as much familiarity to the life that the child would be leaving to help with transitioning into their new life and indeed time is spent with the foster carers in their home watching and learning the parenting we are suppose to emulate.

In prep’ group we were told to expect to have to deal with the issues of bad parenting, neglectful parenting, lazy parenting – the parenting that resulted in the children being removed from their parents and not the parenting of their foster parents. However in our case all of this had been dealt with by the foster parents, we had to handle quite different challenges.

Introducing discipline and order into a chaotic life must be tough, however it’s starting at a point and heading in one direction – towards instilling good behaviour and values where there has been none.

We actually had to head ‘backwards’ as we were/are so against much of what the foster parents instilled into the boys, which has caused them – and by default us – quite a few issues.

The best example are mealtimes, they are important family times for us and of course the boys sit up at the table and of course we converse. It’s a time to talk about their day, their thoughts and about issues they may have. A time to share and a time to really be a family. Introducing this to our boys was very unsettling for them, without the strict regime they were used to they just didn’t know how to behave.

They found our relaxing of rules to be an invitation for a ‘free for all’ and suddenly we found ourselves with children who need constantly reprimanding at the table, constantly reminded of the manners that they came to us so adept in.

There are other lesser examples, but this has been the one area that has really impacted on us adversely and 2 1/2 years on we are still battling with the fall out.

Something else that we are not taught and is worth mentioning is the difficulty that foster parents sometimes have at letting go. It was not an issue for us, but I have head of many examples where they have bonded very strongly with the child and consequently have a degree of resentment towards the adoptive parents. Considering we spend a chunk of transition in their house it can make for a great deal of discomfort. I have even heard of situations where the foster parents have even negative about the adoptive parents in front of the children.

As it takes about 9 months for a child to be removed from its parents legally and before it can be put up for adoption, I guess ALL adopted children have spent at least this time within a foster placement, as is the case with our sons it can be years. They are an important part of their lives and it surprises me that they get a little over looked by social services, for us adoptive parents it would be very useful indeed to be better prepared from the impact they can have on our children and indeed on us.

Another penny drops. A follow up to A banana, 3 clementines, a bowl of grapes and 4 kiwis

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We were on a beach holiday and the mid day sun was just too much for the fair skinned Anglo Saxons amongst us.

My partner and our younger son returned from a shopping trip with a few treats that they had picked out for the family as we had planned a ‘picnic’ together on the floor of our hotel room. I had made some preparations and we sat down around a makeshift picnic blanket (3 beach towels) nestled between the beds, which I had rolled out of the way.

We settled and our son immediately opened a family size packet of crisps and started eating them, after a few minutes in a light hearted way I leaned across and took the crisps from his hands, making a joke about the packet being almost as big as him and how I needed to feed my big, fat tummy.

At which point he got immediately angry, we could see that unprovoked his anger was increasing and rapidly turning into a tantrum. This came as a total surprise as he had been in a good mood and this abrupt change seemed to come from nowhere and it was clearly building into something really quite extreme.

Before long he was screaming and ‘wailing’ that he wanted the crisps, that he wasn’t finished, that now we were all eating them and would leave none for him. We were firmly pointing out that they were not his and that he knew the ‘picnic’ was for everyone to share, we insisted that of course we could eat them and that he had to calm down.

He didn’t. His ranting continued and was getting quite hysterical, we were at a bit of a loss as we started to realise that any attempt at calming him was failing hopelessly.

We tried a firm approach telling him he was being selfish and that we all had to share and that this behaviour had to stop – which of course just made it worse.

We tried a softer approach and put down the crisps and told him that he could have more when he was calm and had apologised for his unacceptable behaviour, but this achieved nothing either.

He stormed from the room and continued his screaming from behind the bathroom door. I was calm and attempted to open the door telling him that I just wanted to hug him and calm him down. He screamed that nobody was to come in and nobody was to talk to him.

We sat down and fell silent, not so much giving in to him as respecting the ‘limits’ we thought he was clearly laying out. We figured if this is what it needed to bring it to an end then so be it, once calm we hoped we could get him to listen to us and recognise that his behaviour was unacceptable.

However when he came back into the room he was immediately upset that we were not talking to him and started screaming that we were being horrible and ignoring him. When we started to respond NOTHING we said was the right thing and just resulted in more wailing and crying and with him putting his fingers in his ears saying he didn’t want to listen.

We have got used to his anger and his tantrums over the past 2 1/2 years and we have discovered ways of getting through, so much so we thought we were ‘on top’ of them, but somehow in this case nothing was working and we were back to being truly mystified.

And than the penny dropped – for my partner anyway. He looked at me and said ‘this is about food, you snatched it away from him’. Suddenly some sense in a totally chaotic and illogical scene.

As I explained in the previously blog, in the birth family there was frequently a shortage of food and being the youngest he often missed out to his older siblings when food was placed in front of them and immediately snatched up before he got any.

I didn’t have to stop and consider what my partner had said, I immediately knew it to be true. This was clearly the trigger, in this case and what was more difficult to accept was that it had probably been so in a number of other similar situations previously that we had failed to see and would have simply treated his behaviour as naughtiness.

Knowing the cause didn’t stop the tantrum, but it did give us the confidence to deal with it. Our son had retreated back into the bathroom so my partner went to him saying ‘I know what’s wrong and I understand’ over and over, he continued with ‘daddy did a silly thing, he should not have snatched the food from you, he is sorry that he did that and knows it was wrong and he wants to apologise to you’. Gradually our son allowed himself to be embraced and finally stopped shouting and just sat sobbing.

I stood behind the door listening, my partner said that he knows that when he was little his brothers and sisters snatched his food away and left him hungry, but that in our family he is never hungry and he will never be hungry again. Our son’s response was – in between sobs – to agree that was why he was so upset, it was not just a simple ‘yes’ in agreement, it was truly heartfelt and said with a passion and I like to think a sense of relief at the fact that we – and maybe even he – had finally ‘got it’.

To anybody who thinks that he was just playing us to get his own way, rest assured that is not the case. We know ‘those’ tantrums and as I said we feel we are getting better at dealing with those before they get out of control, we are quite firm in our parenting and the boys know there is only so far they can go before we clamp down hard on any bad behaviour. We knew this was different and we could see that our regular way of dealing with him was only making it worse.

This was absolutely not about him eating all the crisps, which was evident once he calmed down and had the crisp packet again as he willingly shared them around between us without even needing to be asked.

He made sure I was held to my apology as promised by my partner and when I did say sorry it was for SO much more than snatching the crisps from his hand.

So another penny dropped. At the time I was angry for us not realising immediately, now writing it down I am even more so as it all just seems SO blindingly obvious, but in the moment that is just not the case.

Our boys are far from perfect and they do misbehave, they do push their luck and they do try to play us to get their own way and yes that includes throwing the odd tantrum, I think working out which tantrum is simply bad behaviour and which has been triggered by something haunting them from their past is one of the most difficult challenges we have to face as adoptive parents.

To see the original blog A banana, 3 clementines, a bowl of grapes and 4 kiwis please follow this link. http://wp.me/p44UZE-ki