As good as we are.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI should think it’s pretty obvious to say that our parenting dictates our child/children’s behaviour.

We all know that if you are a ‘bad’ parent it will most probably translate into our child/children being badly behaved, but what if you are a good parent, what if you have read the books, been on the courses and you put your heart and soul into raising your family? What if you feel that you do everything that you can and that you are exhausted with the effort? What if everybody around you is telling you what a great job you are doing… yet still your child is displaying truly troubling behaviour?

How easy is it then for us to look at our parenting and to see how we are often responsible for the difficulties that we are facing.

Are we able – or indeed willing – to spot the small mistakes, the subtle errors that we make as we go about our day to day parenting – which regardless of being minor can have a huge affect on the behaviour of our children.

Do we notice how we fail to maintain the sense of order and security that is so vital for most adopted children, children who almost always come to us with a degree of trauma and attachment related issues that can result in behaviour that they have NO control over… but that WE do.

A simple and what seems like unavoidable change in their routine (as innocent as something like organising a play date, or having family around or going out for the day) can result in a major (and what seems like totally illogical) tantrum. A tantrum brought about by choices that WE have made and that they have no understanding as to why it has unsettled them and consequently no ability to make sense of their instinctive reaction to it.

From their past experiences our children have often learnt to be hyper vigilant and consequently they pick up on the slightest emotional change we present, which can result in situations such as when something as simple as a justifiably angry ‘look’ can be read as a sign that we don’t love them anymore, or worse still – that we want to get rid of them, just as their birth parents did.

Or when a relatively mild reprimand can make the child feel that they have totally failed us and that they are not worthy of us and that we are about to send their entire life into turmoil again (immediately unravelling all that has been achieved in their attachment to us) resulting in panic and desperation which displays itself in totally unreadable and possibly uncontrollable behaviour?

Justifiably telling them off!? Shooting a angry glance at them!? Surely we all do that daily and no doubt with just cause, but can we then in the midst of our anger and frustration see that WE have made the situation worse? How easy is it for us the parents to be self aware enough in these situations and to step back or take control of something that we are often unaware that we have created?

I am sure many out there want to shout ‘well obviously it’s impossible’, but – put simply – it can’t be impossible. Impossible would mean that we would be failing our children even further, that we would inappropriately be putting blame where it doesn’t belong – on them! Blame for something that is impossible for them to deal with because from lack of nurture as an infant their brain has literally not formed to understand it or to recognise it.

It’s not about beating ourselves up over our ‘failings’, it isn’t about blame. It is about recognition and acknowledgement, it is about accepting the fact that no matter how good a parent we are we are still fallible, that we will always be getting things wrong, that we will make mistakes and that we can’t be perfect regardless of how hard we try, we can only ever be ‘good enough’ parents and that is just fine.

We HAVE to allow ourselves to see where WE are failing and to see that it’s perfectly OK.

However it is essential that we recognise that in being imperfect WE are the ones who often create the situations that results in our child misbehaving and consequently we must NOT look to make THEM responsible – not reprimand them (which of course usually just makes things worse anyway), not shame them and most importantly not consider the situation beyond our ability to deal with. We can deal with it and we must deal it and by rightfully taking the blame away from the child we will deal with it appropriately, we will deal with it therapeutically and we will deal with it with empathy, with love and with understanding – and consequently we will get results.

I can feel so sure of this because I see it just about every day with our youngest son. It has taken my partner and I over four years to develop the relationship and understanding that we now have with him, we have made countless mistakes along the way and we can now see how we continuously made the situation worse – worse for us and sadly so much worse for him. Our inability – or indeed willingness – to recognise how we were mishandling him is a tough thing to admit, but acknowledging it has been essential for us to be able to move forward.

As a result the improvement in his behaviour is amazing. Not only at home, but maybe even more importantly at school too where he was becoming impossible to handle and we were being told that he would need to be moved to a ‘more specialised’ environment. By sharing our experience and understanding with the school they have become better equipped to understand his needs, thankfully we had teachers and staff who were willing to listen and were able to acknowledge that they too were handing him inappropriately and were ‘getting it wrong’.

I apologise if this is sounding self righteous because I certainly have no right to be so, trust me reaching this understanding (which took us an awfully long time) is one thing – living by it is something completely different and my partner and I are still failing daily – but at least now we fail with an understanding of the consequences that brings. It has been a long – and at times very painful – learning curve, but I can now see how misguided and indeed foolish we could be in the past and how our child – and indeed our family – suffered as a consequence. Now that we are willing to look inwards and to recognise our part in our sons behaviour, it feels like we are becoming better parents and consequently a much better family.

There is an assumption in this blog that ALL behaviour is manageable and that is deliberate. I am not remotely qualified to state whether or not that is so, but personally I feel that it is crucial that parents always start with that assumption and that they parent accordingly and maybe – just maybe – we can prove it to be true.

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Always wipe the seat.

20160621_102206We were that couple who cleaned and cleared as we went about our day, we both like a tidy home and even when we may have been feeling a little lazy or just not in the mood we still recognised that the other had expectations that needed to be respected.

We knew that bringing children into our home was going to change things and indeed understood that our home was never going to be the same again – and we were both OK with that. It’s reassuring to see that we are still OK with it 4 years later, in fact we are probably even more so now.

The perfect white walls are now covered in marks, the nice clean windows are smothered with goodness knows what, the wooden floor – chipped, scratched and marked -and do you know what? NONE of it matters.

In fact we often find ourselves smiling as we see a distinct hand print somewhere surprising and unexpected or a mark in a piece of furniture or an ornament we realise that we once valued FAR too much.
However there is ONE thing we struggled with as indeed our sons continue to, but for entirely different reasons- pee on the toilet seat.

Our struggle originally was to remember to check before we sat down (after decades of always having a clean seat – guaranteed – that was not as straight forward as it may sound) and we soon discovered that failing to do so had consequences that were far from pleasant.

Once we got to grips with that our struggle changed to trying to get our heads around why it was SO difficult for our sons to remember to lift the seat or at least to wipe up after themselves if they failed to.

Because that really is a struggle for both of them, as is apparently remembering to flush.

Our conclusion is that going to the toilet is way down their list of priorities and while they are busy playing or watching TV or generally running around, any need to pee is pushed to the back of their mind until it becomes an absolute necessity and then it it done as quickly as possible so that they can dart back to what ever they had dragged themselves away from.

Consequently in the rush, lifting the seat or wiping away the evidence is just too trivial a matter to hold them back – even for the briefest of moments,

In the grand scheme of things Is that such a big deal?

I can see that we used to think so, but as time has gone on we have stopped nagging them and getting cross at them and now just gently – but constantly remind them – which is clearly better for all of us.

And of course, we ALWAYS remember to wipe the seat first.

Denial

2015-12-13 17.21.56Due to increasingly difficult behaviour in school – which is now very much spilling over into our home life – my partner and I have been reassessing our son and the behaviour we are facing and we have concluded that he does indeed suffer from Reactive attachment disorder (RAD). This has resulted in me thinking back over our adoption process and how we dealt with the information being presented to us, information which is now evidently appropriate and true. Yet information that at the time we could be somewhat dissmissive of – even after further research on the topics being raised.
On reflection I think it’s fair to say that we were quite simply in denial and it is a denial that has continued well into placement.
Athough we could very quickly see that our son was troubled and that we were dealing with some very challenging behaviour, we put it down to anger brought about from the trauma he had suffered or from being removed from a secure, long term foster placement and it has taken us a good while to open ourselves up and to stop denying the full reality of our family,
And I am wondering if that denial is typical of many adopters? I think it is often a very difficult path that leads to adoption and for some adopters it is a last opportunity to become a parent. Consequently that desire to parent possibly overrides all else and whilst being processed I feel we could be subconsciously denyng anything which could get in the way of us becoming the family we so desperately want to be.
All new adopters are repeatedly and relentlessly warned by social services of the issues that the children in their care could have – or indeed are likely to have – and in many cases when it gets to the matching process there can be clear information about our potential children presented to us that I guess we allow ourselves to doubt. In theory there are no secrets and all the known facts are laid out before us – and indeed information about what could be unknown. This is all information that could possibly have most of us running for the hills, yet we don’t run, we hold fast.
I remember clearly thinking ‘but they are just kids and kids are kids’, ‘The social workers are making too much of this’, ‘they need to exaggerate, to present the worse case scenario’, and more incredibly ‘we can handle it’ without truly knowing what it would be that we would need to handle.
In our case there was in fact a professional diagnoses (RAD for both our sons) that we were very willing to question because of factors that we felt discredited it – in our defence this did include our sons family finder and social worker saying that they felt the diagnoses to be ‘surprising’ and to be fair to them we do still feel that the diagnoses for our older son to be totally wrong.
I am not saying that we ignorantly blanked out the information put before us, I think we were just somewhat selective in how we allowed it to impact on us and our decision making. I think we were in denial.
I think it is fair to say that it is a rare adopter who can knowingly and willingly take on a physically disabled or a severely disturbed child, most of the rest of us may not be looking for ‘perfection’ when it comes to the children we chose, but in fact I am pretty sure we are hopeful of a child who will be physically and mentally healthy – and this is regardless of being told that it may be a rarity amongst adopted children nowadays.

As was the case for us, I think possibly those adopters who feel that they are willing to take on children with (what we see as manageable) issues, do so with a belief that the impact will be minimal and that all will be OK.
Not blindly – but hopefully.

More denial.

On reflection I tthink that all of this denial is a wonderful thing, because without it I fear that so many of us would not be the families that we are.

Our children move in, we become a family and the love and the bond develops and grows. They become part of us They are our children and then whatever reality we are faced with, we deal with – as any parent would.

Just as the vast majority of birth parents would never turn away from their child if the child became ill or disabled or very challenging – neither do the vast majority of adopters.

We are there for our children, we learn to understand their problems, to understand their needs, we learn to be the parent we need to be.
We learn that it doesn’t matter that they are not ‘perfect’ , they are ours and they come as they are and we are a family that is meant to be.

Don’t get me wrong, we did not deny our son had issues, there was just an instinctive desire to ‘play them down’, regardless we still had to learn to parent therapeutically and to give him the special care he requires. The only difference now is that we have to acknowledge that it is likely to be a much longer road ahead of us than we thought we were on – and that is perfectly OK.

P.S. I am very aware that many reading this will not relate on any level and I stress that the blog is about my experience as an adopter and my assumption that it could also be true for many, many others.

Whose story is this anyway?

20160621_102226It’s bath time.

There’s Quackers, Chloe the Cat, Minion, Turtley-Turtle, whose head moves in and out of his shell when he walks (wheels, to be technically accurate), and the Frozen Diamond Necklace, the brightest necklace in all the world, so bright that it’s impossible to look directly at it without burning your retina.

Chloe the Cat lives permanently and precariously atop a Pez tube (empty naturally), inside an invisible house just around the corner from corner of the bath. Chloe the Cat is very accommodating, if not an easy touch. She’s quite large, which makes the Pez tower wobble violently during waking hours, but when she sleeps, tucked between some white enamel and a knobbly knee, all is at peace.

Quackers, who shares a house with Chloe the Cat, is in fact secretly a jewel thief, with an underwater cavern, created from an unnatural kink in a foot-arch, which quite often goes into cramp, far away from prying eyes, where she stores all the sparkly things she has purloined. Quackers is a night-owl and literally a cat-burglar – she steals the Frozen Diamond Necklace every night from under the nose of the sleeping Chloe. She is also prone to weeing on people for fun.

Minion of course loves bananas and bapples, He lives across the sea from Chloe and Quackers on top of the second knobbly knee. He is a very good swimmer. Minion is a police (sic) with a heart of gold; he’s not a massive disciplinarian, not a believer in prolonged incarceration and sometimes “forgets” to lock the door of the prison, tucked between the water’s edge and a bony elbow, so that Quackers can escape to steal again.

Turtley-Turtle just loves birthday cake. That’s pretty much it. Apart from being able to induce squeals of delight with his in-and-out head.

Days in this land last about 45 seconds. This gives the cast of characters at least 20 opportunities to live through the drama of a jewel heist before the water goes cold and the knobbly knees, cramping feet and wrinkle-tipped fingers call time on their adventures.

I did try tonight to change the plot to give Turtley-Turtle a larger part, but was told quite firmly that it’s not my story and that I will, perhaps, get to do my story one day.

I’m hopeful that will happen before it becomes inappropriate for my knobble knees to act as housing at bath time.

12 blogs under the christmas tree #12

20170102_170228A little more time.
My parcel under the tree would be – an extra 4 hours at the end of the day.

A gift to my partner, but one that I know I would benefit from too.

24 hours in a day is simply not enough, not enough to do everything you need to do as a parent AND to have time for yourself – and indeed time for your relationship.

We have quite a strict bedtime routine in our house and the boys are tucked up by 7.30/7.45 – which we have reluctantly stretched from 7.00/7.15 after constant complaints from our sons that NOBODY else at school goes to be so early.

I admit there is selfishness in tucking them up early as we feel that we need a little time for ourselves at the end of the day – however I am also a firm believer in early bedtime being good for the child. Our boys wake up when they are ready – it’s a very rare occasion that we have to wake them – reassuring us that they have had enough sleep and consequently they are never noticeably tired during the day.

However, regardless of our early to bed routine – which of course results in early mornings – the time that my partner and I have together is still limited as we ourselves are usually ready for bed by 10 – or worse still asleep on the sofa.

As a consequence we have time for little else of an evening other then to vegetate in front of rubbish TV.

And that’s were those extra 4 hrs would be put to such good use.

Time to properly unwind together, to enjoy each other’s company, to invite friends over, time to remind ourselves of what our relationship was like pre kids.

And dare I say – maybe even time to go out occasionally. Even if we have the will to go out we are usually so exhausted we just don’t have the strength nowadays and surely that exhaustion is mostly down to trying to squeeze everything into a 24 hr period.

So that would be my Christmas gift and I am pretty sure that my partner would relish every minute of it – just as I would with him.

12 blogs under the Christmas tree #11

20121201_130647A Friend.

That would be my Christmas gift for under the tree – if there were no limits and if anything was possible, that is what I would buy our son.

A friend.

A child his own age who will understand him and forgive his many challenges, a child who will not judge and will not question the difficulties he has with other children”

A friend who he can rely on and who he can always trust will be there for him. A friend he feels secure with.

My Christmas gift would be for my son and it would be the friend he doesn’t have.

The friend we worry he may never have.

12 blogs under the Christmas tree #10

20161223_131101My one special present under the Christmas tree would be a mini, pocket sized version of our family therapist. I could then pull her out to consult at those moments when I’m a bit lost as to how to respond to our daughter’s more dysregulated moments, or am just in need a bit of a confidence boost. We’ve been so incredibly lucky to find her and to have had six months worth of Theraplay and family support sessions funded by the ASF. We certainly weren’t in what I would call a ‘struggling’ place, so I’m sure we wouldn’t have qualified for support pre the fund. We would have just kept on trucking on. But having our therapist come to work with us with her warmth, expertise, experience and support has been transformative for our family and to my confidence as a mum. Our daughter is bubbly, outgoing, very bright and seemingly coping with everything fine, so many of our non adoptive family and friends couldn’t see any issues – it was a case of ‘oh she’s fine, all kids do that’. But our therapist immediately spotted the challenges our daughter has with hyper vigilance, emotional regulation, control and being extra demanding of me, as her mum, having been let down by so many mum figures in her past. Talking to our therapist made me feel like I wasn’t going mad, there were some problems we could get help with and it was okay to find things difficult. The games we play seem so innocuous and often silly (you should see me with a foam soap ball on my nose!) but gently and subtly they are nudging all of us towards healthier ways of relating and allowing our daughter to truly and deeply accept the loving parenting we so much want to give her.