Good enough partners

20160929_235606_resizedWe were warned at our prep’ group and again on a number of occasions by our social worker whilwe were being processed.

We were told that it was going to be tough on our relationship, that it would add stress and could highlight issues that maybe we were unaware even existed and that most certainly it would bring any festering issues to the surface and make us confront them head on. We were warned that adopting – particularly adopting more than one child – could indeed destroy less well established, less secure relationships.

We had been together for the best part of two decades and felt that we had grown into a great, honest, committed and totally secure relationship. We had never had any serious issues as a couple and had relatively easily got over the odd argument or disagreement along the way.

We (quite smugly) felt confident that it didn’t apply to us. We were good at this relationship malarkey and how could bringing two little children into our lives undermine or threaten the love, the respect, the history that we had?

And thank goodness our relationship is so strong, because they were right!

Our sons coming into our world has changed our lives beyond recognition and indeed our relationship too and yes it has dramatically impacted on how we are as a couple.

The need to focus so singularly on our sons, the need for my partner – the stay at home parent – to dedicate EVERY ounce of energy, every thought, every consideration on them, on meeting their needs and on working so tirelesly at making them secure and settled in their forever family – means there has been little if any time for me, little time to even acknowledge our relationship, let alone work at it.

And that’s OK. Perfectly OK.

Thankfully we are secure enough for it not to make me question where I am in his world now, from being his number 2 (being gay and Latin American let’s face it, his mother is always going to be no 1), I am now clearly No 4 – which is exactly where I need to be.

Our children need him to be there for them first, they need his love and his attention ahead of me in every way and of course they so deserve that.

There have been times when I have felt that I hardly exist in his life anymore and if anything I just seem to add to the stress and troubles of his day and that has not felt good and I can see that for less secure partners that could create a divide in a relationship – possibly even a divide too big to get back across.

It has been 4 years since our relationship expanded and we became four, as the boys have settled and as they have matured their demands have started to change and now my partner has a little space for himself again and I sense that there is now some energy and a little time for me and I can see that it will grow as we go forward.

It’s evident that I will never overtake the place our sons have etched into my partner’s heart and I can say that with nothing but contentment and pride – as surely that is just the way it should be. Equally of course I am sure that my partner is just as aware that he will never overtake the place that they have etched into mine and that he is just as satisfied with that.

It is anything but a competition and nobody is winning at the expense of anybody else, it’s just a reality that is brought about from necessity and from love – love for our two amazing sons and indeed our love for each other. It is just the reality of being a family.

We both know that we are loved and needed and appreciated and respected and that the other will always be there when we need him to be.

Meanwhile the need is greater from our children and we will get on with being ‘good enough’ parents in the safe knowledge that we are indeed good enough partners.

Big little girl

20160728_110230And so it begins… This week, this long awaited week was your first at school. I can barely believe it as I type the word- school! the very idea seems quite preposterous for someone as young as you are.

We have had a summer of ice-creams, holidays and adventures. But also of nights with you a wriggly, sleeping starfish in MY bed, me alternating between snatched snippets of sleep when you are at rest, and holding the little hand that migrates frequently into mine. We’ve seen a lot of the moon this summer.

Although outwardly you seemed sanguine about the big move up, and could become quite animated when reeling off the list of “things to look forward to about reception” that your nursery teacher so thoughtfully prepared with you before you left her class, occasionally you’ve let slip little clues about your anxiety.

I find your anxiety painful, and want to make it go away. I am aware though that reassurances aren’t really enough for someone for whom the earliest changes involved suddenly and unexpectedly losing literally everything and everyone you knew. Having gone through this twice, it is unsurprising to me that you are constantly attentive to the slightest ripple in routine, and acutely alert at times of change. So whilst many of those around you, myself included, have been gaily chattering about “big school”, sometimes in an attempt to habituate you to the idea, sometimes to offer reassurance, I know that for you, the undercurrent to this summer has been apprehension that has kept you from sleeping soundly, and peacefully as I know you can.

But you’ve done it, the great unknown has this week begun to become the new normal, and tonight as I tucked you up in bed, you looked so small, but I felt hopeful that as you grow older, and we go through more and more of these big changes, you’ll develop a deeper understanding that you can depend on me being there, and there for you, and that your confidence in the permanence of your place in your world will grow. Oh, and also I hope you’ll spend more time in your own bed.

Scared of Water

fullsizerenderI am sitting besides a pool watching my partner and sons play in the water. It is loud, excited, fast and furious play, lots of splashing and swimming, jumping and diving, so much fun, so much joy. It is a great pleasure to watch and I soak up every minute.

We were on a similar holiday 18 months months or so ago, lots of sun and lots of chances for the boys to use the swimming pool or play in the sea, however things were quite different then. There was fun and excitement, but none of the carefree abandon of today, sadly underlining it all was a huge amount of fear, fear that stopped the boys really letting go and enjoying themselves.

Neither of our sons could swim when they came to us, but I guess at not yet 5 & 6 that was not such a surprise. We think that our oldest’s fear was little more than fear of something new and he took to the water well and with us beside him he did quickly relax and start to enjoy himself, by the end of the holiday he was much more confident and clearly happy in the water.

However, his brother’s fear of water was quite shocking, he was so afraid he would not even take a shower. Up until he moved in he had only bathed sitting in a bath of a few inches of water and insisted we continue that. When it came to washing his hair it was a huge drama and we had to work out ways of rinsing off shampoo with minimal amounts of water making sure none splashed his face. A damp face cloth gently wiped over his face was the very most he could cope with.

It took quite a bit of time, energy and effort to get him to even consider the shower and when he finally did it had to be totally on his terms – shower barely lukewarm, shower head held down below his waist, and water totally turned off while he was soaping himself up and absolutely no water was to get on his face.

Slowly we worked on his fear, each evening in the shower we tried to get him to relax his ‘rules’ and little by little he did. Gradually we got him more used to water to the point that when we did go on that first holiday he had already come on a long way and we were amazed to see that he actually wanted to be in the pool – with arm bands and with us beside him to grip on to. He was still truly scared, but clearly felt confident enough with us and safe enough with us to allow himself in. Mind you, all hell broke loose if his head went underwater and it wasn’t much better if his face got splashed.

The 18 months between holidays have been put to good use and weekly swimming lessons have seen them both come on hugely and swimming is now simply a part of their lives. The youngest has continued to be fearful, but now has more confidence in himself to trust being in the water.

However, even with the lessons he still needed somebody by his side pretty much constantly. That is until now. What I am witnessing today is a total revelation – it is evident that the fear has gone.

On the first day we noticed a different attitude from him and a very surprising willingness to put his face down into the water – as this was still something he was refusing to do. By the end of the day he was actually ducking under the water and holding his breath for a second or so.

Since then there has been no holding him back and he is jumping in and actually swimming under the water.

We have no idea what has brought about this change so abruptly or so completely, but it is heartwarming to see. I have always enjoyed swimming and to my partner it has been quite a big part of his life and knowing that we can now be together in the water without concern for our sons fears is a great step forward.

We have no idea if their fear of water was a result of some kind of ‘water related’ trauma in the birth family and neither of the boys have shared anything to suggest such. We think it was more likely just through lack of them being introduced to water as babies, you assume parents bath and clean their babies daily and make the most of what should be quite an intimate parent/baby experience – the likelihood of that not being the case for our children is just one more thing from their past that we have to come to terms with.

Reflections on loving a boy

Do you want to go to nursery, or shall I just give you kisses and cuddles all day long?”
We laugh. “I want to go to nursery”
“OK then”
“But you can kiss and cuddle me when I get home”
I love my boy.
On the way we crunch through fallen leaves.
I don’t like Winter because the trees are bare.
You like the Autumn because it cools you down.
We have the Spring to look forward to.
I love my boy.

When did I finally become a mum?
Most mums know the day, the hour, the minute, maybe even the second.
Can I pin down the day, the month, even the year?
Wow I’m a mum.
I love my boy.
I live in a house where the only shared DNA is between the cats.
Our respective birth parents come from five countries.
We are so different but somehow we are the same.
How does that make me feel? Hopeful for humanity.
I love my boy.
At times it can be hard.
A troika sharing feelings of anger, loss and helplessness.
Conflict has extra layers of meaning in our family.
But we work through it.
I love my boys.

I know that the future is full of laughter.
You will develop, grow and learn, as most children do.
You will have to face some realities that most children don’t.
We will be there.
Because we love our boy.

Dear Son: Not such a big ask.

20160803_182409Dear Son,

We are confident that you know how much you are loved. We know that you are happy living with us and we can see that you have attached and that you are settled in your forever family, yet we are also aware of a sadness that pains us to our core.

We think that it is no longer directly to do with the memories of your difficult start in life and the losses that you have suffered, but that it is all to do with what has been left behind by these experiences.

We can see that your past has robbed you of self esteem and self confidence which manifests itself as an inability to play nicely and to make friends – which is desperately cruel for a child who clearly needs them so much.

We see you try SO hard – much too hard – with the children around you and we can see how your attempts are misguided and how they achieve the exact opposite of what you want them/need them to and you simply push your playmates away.

The hurt that this causes you is so evident and we feel helpless in our inability to stop that pain.

We want to teach you that no matter how important friends are in our lives that you can be happy all by yourself. That you are loved and cherished with every ounce of our being and that the great happiness we share as a family really can be enough for now – if you let it.

There is plenty of time ahead of you, time to build up your confidence and to make friends who appreciate you for who you are.

If you could just allow yourself to be happy with what you have then this is what will attract friends, this is what people respond to and then you will not have to try at all.

But how to make you understand or indeed appreciate this?

You are 8 years old and just want to be liked by your peers and have even one person who you can call a friend because you genuinely feel like they are.

I can appreciate that no matter how tough we can see that it is, in your world it is just not such a big ask,