12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #7

20161223_131548As I take stock as the year closes and assess where we are as a family, I feel acutely aware and quite sad about one very particular thing. I can see both our children have made big strides this year in terms of learning new skills – from “school stuff” like vocabulary, reading, writing and (possibly!) arithmetic to their chosen creative and sporting pursuits. But emotionally I feel, for our son, his reality has evolved very little.

I have to wonder whether – despite feeling overtrained, being professionally supported and having a small library of (albeit partly read) books – we are missing a trick in terms of how we are approaching this adoptive parenting thing – emotional wellbeing is paramount, but skills development in our case seems so much easier to achieve. And in the turbulence of our daily life, achieving some progress feels essential for our own sanity. Perhaps we are not allowing enough emotional space, but with space tends to come volatility, so we keep our time as filled and structured as possible. There lies the circle? Some food for thought in our home over the holidays…

Hence… If we could put one thing under the Christmas tree, it would be a superpower that enables us to access our son’s subconscious – so that we can pinpoint the emotional drivers of his behaviour and perhaps palpably help him to heal and move forward.

12 blogs under the Christmas tree #6

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If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?

I don’t have one thing to put under the Christmas tree… I have a few things. I can’t help but be excited for Christmas. I smile and nod when people say it’s for the kids…Raspberry to that! I love it even more that I have children, despite the challenges.

So under my tree I would put: –
· A big box of hugs for my children and husband. I can sometimes be a bit mean with my hugs being an avoidant adult myself.
· Love, love, Love I would buy it all up and fill not just the tree but the house. I apologise now if the shops have sold out of love
· Passion! I wear it as a badge and I would get a badge for each of my children. After all, I am from the Caribbean therefore can be a bit passionate.
· Finally, I would buy us all a watch which speeds up when the day is tough but slows down when the day is just right! Particularly when all the other gifts above are being well used….

Merry Christmas parents.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #5

20161223_130426If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?

I just want sleep. 10 hours. Every night till I feel restored.

Getting enough sleep is the key to me functioning as a parent. I’m grumpy without. For a good couple of hours. Or more.

My son has cottoned on to that as well. A couple of days ago when I really couldn’t move at 7pm, he and daddy snuck out, and I heard his whisper : ‘ let’s close the door to the bathroom, daddy, so mummy can sleep.’

I know he is exhausted from a long and seasonally dark term. So am I. So is daddy.

After four years with us, our son still wakes on average 4 times a night, and calls for me. ‘Mummy, I’m scared.’ ‘Mummy, can you come to my bed? It’s dark.’ ‘Mummy, it’s dark.’ ‘Mummy, I think it it is getting light now.’ ‘Mummy….?’ ‘Mummy??!’ ‘Mummy, can we get up know?’

There are periods when he sleeps through til 6. But it’s been some months now since we had that luck.

We’ve been working hard a teaching him to snuggle in bed. And now he will come to our bed around 5.30/6am where he will have a good long quietly snuggle. He may count his fingers or sing a little song. But it is mostly snuggling.

I am very grateful for that. Very.

But I want more.

Please Santa, give me sleep. Dreamless and deep, restful and restorative sleep. Bring me peaceful sleep.

Snow would help. The world is so quiet …… wrapped crisp cold and fluffy white.

But really… sleep is all I dream of.

Love,

a mummy

12 blogs under the Christmas tree #4

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If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?

My gift under the tree right now would be for my son to find peace at bedtimes to help him switch his mind off and let his body relax and drift of to sleep feeling safe and with a smile on his little face.

Peaceful bedtimes for him and us.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #3

20161223_131940If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?

 

A hug from my Dad who we lost three years ago, for you, me and our daughter.  That would be joyous.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #2

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If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?

If I had a chance to do this all again, would I? Yes I would.

I love this time of year, I love the joy and the twinkle of great things to come.
I see the stars and then I wonder how did I get here? To this place, right now.
I asked my son what he wanted for Christmas and he said a dinosaur that roared! My daughter is not old enough to ask for things so I’m just guessing what she would like.
But I know all I want for her is to be able to walk and talk. Last Christmas Day she communicated with me for the first time by playing peep o. In the last year she has blossomed and grown so much but there is part of her that is locked up tight. She reminds me of an Anabel doll, who obligingly does what is needed and then wraps herself back into her own world and sleeps her way through.
I’m asking for hope this year as my present under the tree. Hope to carry on living and loving my family in a way that will nurture and give back. Hope to understand the nuances of childhood trauma. Hope to listen to the unspoken monologues that must need to be heard. Hope to laugh and hope to light a candle for light to shine where there was darkness and hope that tomorrow will bring us all joy and happiness.

 

Letter Box Contact

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Yearly letter box contact has been agreed and we diligently get the boys to write Christmas cards for birth Mummy and Daddy – regardless of indifference from our oldest and huge resistance from his younger brother – in addition we put pen to paper and write a letter updating them on the boys past year.

This has taken place three times so far, but sadly the boys have received nothing from either Mum or Dad – who are no longer together.

I understand that the situation must be tough for them both and I appreciate that it could be easier for them to try to erase the past and to get on with their lives. However, we hope that social services have explained the importance of this contact for the boys and for us as a family and that they are constantly encouraging both Mum and Dad to be doing the right thing and put their feelings to one side for the sake of the children. If that is happening then it’s clearly not getting any results, but actually I wonder if it is at all, after all this is the agency who have supplied very little information of ours sons past and have failed to get a photo of either birth parent regardless of many requests from us.

Of course all correspondence must go through social services and it is checked for anything inappropriate or upsetting to any party. Awareness of this ensures that we give extra consideration to what we say and how we express it, consequently we were most surprised to have our most recent letter returned to us.

We had written two things which social services had an issue with. Firstly we wrote that the boys were looking forward to meeting their new baby brother when contact was finalised for the baby to join the twice a year contact that was already set up for various siblings. Apparently the term ‘looking forward’ was deemed to be inappropriate, we have been told that as having the new baby removed from birth Mum would be a traumatic experience anything ‘positive’ in relationship to that would be hurtful and disrespectful.

Secondly, we have been told that our comment that out youngest was ‘still struggling to come to terms with the changes in his life’ and that we were dealing with difficult behaviour as a consequence was insensitive as it could be seen as judging them and commenting negatively on their failures at parenting.

Really?

I responded saying that we have absolutely no animosity toward birth Mum and Dad – in fact maybe surprisingly quite the reverse – and that we would never attack them in any way in what we wrote. I went on to say that being open and honest is an essential part of adoption and that I was confused that we were being asked to edit out truth and to sugar coat reality.

They stood by their original criticism and insisted that the letter was edited at it is not acceptable in its original format.

This has angered me as yet again as an adopter I feel that we are the ones expected to ‘make it work’ for everybody else. I have often felt that social workers expect too much from us and have been frustrated in the past at being judged unfairly and being expected to tow-the-line regardless’ of us clearly disagreeing.

Maybe I’m just being a bit over sensitive and a bit touchy, but you know even if that was the case I think we have a right to be occasionally and wouldn’t it be nice for social services to respect that and acknowledge that?

As an adopter I don’t expect any kind of gratitude – in fact it embarrasses me to even consider that – but I do expect respect. Not for adopting, but for being a parent of a traumatised child or children and everything that comes along with that. In addition most of us have relationships – put under pressure since the children moved in, work to prioritise, homes to run, finances to juggle, we have to deal with schools, child minders, play dates, friends, illnesses… the list is endless. Yet on top of that social services expect US to put the feeling of the birth parents over our own and to pussyfoot around reality – a reality that we have to deal with and live with every minute of every day.

There was a time when I was angry at the birth parents – for the neglect, for the resulting damage and for the lack of any responsibility, but I am long over that and now I am not even angry at the fact that they fail to write or send a card once a year, in fact in a perverse way I am just grateful for them giving the chance for us to be the family that we are – a family that feels like it was meant to be.

Yet I feel that social services are threatening that ‘harmony’, the resentment and anger at the birth parents that I felt Initially could indeed return and not because of anything that they have done (or not done), but because of – what I feel is – a huge injustice and imbalance from social services.

Surely that would be bad for ALL concerned.

P.S. it’s somewhat ironic and very frustrating that the letter to us pointing out our suppose lack of consideration towards the birth parents was sent a month AFTER Christmas, apparently our correspondence which was sent to social services two months early had sat forgotten about on a desk. If only social services could always show the same consideration and respect that they expect of us.

12 blogs under the Christmas tree #1

20161223_131517If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?

Easy – the whole of my New Zealand family. My big brother, my lovely sister in law, their three children, and their dog.

My parents are old and frail. they can no longer travel on long haul flights to visit the other half of our clan and miss them dearly. Trouble is that 5 return fares from Auckland to London cost a lot of money so when we do see them it’s usually in dribs and drabs as they can never all afford to come at the same time. So the thought of waking up on Christmas day and drifting sleepily downstairs to find a room full of excited Kiwis dressed in shorts, T shirts and flip flops (They always do this, despite the English winter temperatures) would be quite simply brilliant.

My nephews would be raiding the kitchen cupboards for exotic English snacks like Quavers and mini rolls. My niece would once again be confused and bemused by the fact that my mum’s kitchen has a washing machine in it… (back home in Auckland they have a separate washroom and the cooking area is no place for the laundry!)

I’d take my brother (Still dressed in shorts but this time probably with boots and a sweat shirt as well) to our favourite local pub down by the waterside in Milford where he’d drink quite a few local ales and make me laugh a lot.

My mum would thrive on all the busyness of having extra people to cater for at dinner time and enjoy stressing over what to feed 5 vegetarians for Christmas dinner before rustling up something magnificent and feeling quite pleased with herself.

My sister in law and I would spend several enjoyable hours sipping wine and catching up on all of the news. – She would also want a full run down of what is and has been happening in Coronation street as they are several seasons behind back home. – This is not something I could help her with but luckily my mum could win Mastermind with this topic.

My mother would also get to fuss over her son, and all of her grandchildren,

My brother would get to lie on the bed next to my dad who can barely get up now and tell him about what’s been happening in his life, or if he’s too tired to talk, to just be with him.

My daughter would get to meet the remaining Aunty and cousin she has never seen, and also get to know the others she has met, a little better.

And I would get to step back and watch them all; and quite simply It would be the best Christmas ever.

 

Assumptions make an ass out of you: part II.

20161109_115317-effectsMy recently published blog Assumptions Make an ass out of you http://wp.me/p44UZE-zs received the following comment. “What a shame – seems to have lost courage and decided on a ‘Hollywood’ ending… I was looking forward to where this was going. Maybe Part II is called for?”

So here I go with Part II. 

The Hollywood ending – yes, quite. On the one hand I lost courage; on the other, the ending was actually apposite. But it was a cop out of sorts.

So what exactly is wrong with adoption, then? Let’s look at some of the arguments…

1) It’s an archaic form, artificially creating a family, wrenching children away from their roots and cultural heritage. It fits a conservative, middle class view of family. It allows no alternative viewpoint; community responsibility for child-rearing is considered a liberal folly.

Or…

2) It serves a fiscal purpose – attempting to keep children in their birth families or extended communities where it’s no longer possible is expensive; and placing children with other families via adoption where they become a zero sum on a social security balance sheet, more often than not, makes more economic sense. Even with some breakdown rates as high as 60% in some areas for children adopted at 9 years old or older, the average time from placement to breakdown of 3.5 years still saves local authorities millions of pounds.

Or…

3) It’s really about childless singles or couples struggling with lost expectations, about their lack of ability to cope tarred with the childless tag, and not about the welfare of the child in the long term. Plus, birth parents are paraded in front of prospective adopters and made to express that they have done the right thing for their child or children by handing them over for adoption, to assuage any feelings of adopter guilt in the complicity of the practice, but it’s lip service rather than a conviction. Some birth parents don’t even truly understand that adoption is permanent.

And so on and so forth. Blah blah blah.

So what?

Let’s go back to broad-brush basics. Some children are being damaged in their birth environments, whether through acts or omissions, whether active or passive. They are removed from that environment and placed in a different one with people who try to nurture them through that damage. One of the ways this happens is through adoption, which is by far the method of placement with the lowest rate of breakdown (where children are (re-)placed into the so-called “care” system). No system of assistance is perfect.

But it’s not quite that simple either.

Whatever your feelings on adoption in theory, the practice is of course highly personal.

While I do stand by the feeling I expressed in my earlier blog that ultimately as parents, whether adoptive or otherwise, what we do is prepare our children to leave us, why was I left with the feeling that my identity as “father”, which has longevity connotations, had changed to simply “guardian”, which doesn’t?

Thing is, turns out it’s not just “blah blah blah. So what”.

I thought that I went into the adoption process with my eyes open. I really think I did; I felt the rage of the voiceless birth father, the anxious guilt of the birth mother, the tiny helpless voice of the child, the “am I doing this right?” frightened look barely hidden of the newly adoptive mother. But frankly I’ve recently had my compass completely skewed by a simple yet powerful blog questioning adoption as a practice. A blog that I stumbled upon (not a WAF blog for the sake of clarity) with which I vehemently disagreed, a blog I found vitriolic and unreasoning. But still there was something about it that has deeply disturbed my sense of self within my “created” family unit; and more than that, my own relationship with my mother and more vigorously with my deceased father.

It has thankfully not skewed or in any other way disturbed my love for my child; but it has detracted from my sense of what being a father is, – if you can understand that as a concept separate from my child.

For how long? I’m not sure, but I do feel off-centre and somewhat adrift. And it’s not a feeling I am comfortable with.

One step ahead of the bully.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only objection voiced to us as a gay couple when we decided to adopt, amazingly came from gay friends. None of our straight friends or family thought of it as anything other than a wonderful decision, for us and indeed for our future children.

The objection was a pretty standard one: ‘they will be bullied for having gay parents’, it just came from quite a surprising source.

Naturally we defended our decision and stated that children are bullied for a myriad of reasons, often related to their parents. I pointed out that children at my school were teased because their parents were considered – old, fat, lazy (unemployed), dirty and in one very memorable case ugly. Should all these parents have been banned from having children because their offspring would be bullied as many of their peers found the parents worthy of ridicule?

Of course not, so why should that only be a consideration for gay parenting? When I hear it from broader society I assume it’s just being used to mask homophobia, but when I heard it from within the gay community I was truly shocked. However, with some thought I realised that it was no doubt a direct reaction to what we suffer in our childhood, growing up gay and being bullied – directly or indirectly -for it.

Unlike most of the parents from my childhood who were oblivious to their children being bullied because of them – and consequently could do nothing to help – we are fully aware of the prospect of bullying and we arm our children well, they have a full understanding, respect and indeed pride for having gay parents.

They will never see a negative in the word gay as they are being brought up with it as a matter of fact part of their lives, they are taught that others ‘choose’ to see it as something bad and that as wrong as we may think that is, it is their perogative.

When confronted with that we have to understand that it is just their choice and that it has no value to us. Of course we also share with them that idealistic view of bullies as being the ‘weak’ ones which is why they bully and to treat bullying almost like a weird kind of compliment as it is saying that they actually feel ‘less’ than you and that they are probably threatened by you in some way. Although of course not always true I do think it’s something for a bullied child to get reassurance from.

I don’t for one moment think that we will eliminate the hurt that bullying can cause, but we are hoping that we can at least soften the blow if our children are exposed to it. We are trying to raise children who will be fully open and be able to share with us if they are being bullied and who are strong enough to keep it in perspective.

Whether we like it or not bullying is a sad reality of school life/childhood and I think it just seems to be an inevitability that we all have to teach our children to be aware of and to face up to. Are we not fooling ourselves as parents if we feel that our child/children will not be exposed to it and would we not be doing them a disservice if we did not prepare them in some way?

As much as we can hope that the schools are on top of it, I think the best we can expect from them is that they lessen it or control it, but certainly not eliminate it completely – regardless of the best of intentions and of any Zero tolerance policies they may have in place.

Personally I think it’s similar to how we need to make our children aware of the dangers of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, it’s inevitable that they will be exposed to these and even see their peers embracing them and I feel we have to prepare them for that and give them as much knowledge as possible for them to make the right decisions.

By preparing our children I think we would be taking away the power from the bullies and hopefully putting it in the hands of the bullied by making them strong and not feel like ‘victims’.

None of us want to think of our child being bullied – but the fact is we can stick our head in the sand stating that ‘it is unacceptable and should not happen’ while it goes on regardless or we can face the reality of it and accept that children are being bullied on a daily basis regardless of every effort by us the parents or the schools or even society at large to prevent it.

Also let’s not forget that as much as us parents should be aware that our children could be exposed to bullying we also have to accept that for some of us it will be our children doing the bullying.

Now that’s an even tougher one to get our heads around.