Finding Me a Family.

Not me; I have one. Rather some reflections on the series on Channel 4 that ran before Christmas and on a recent blog in the context of us receiving our first contact letter from one of our child’s siblings, because ultimately it might turn out to be “Finding My Family” for them, in the fullness of time.
Firstly, how utterly heartbreaking it all was. Even though there was little exposure of the circumstances under which the children came to be looked-after, why they were removed from their birth-parents, we who have adopted and therefore have had access to case files know how much more heart-break there is above and beyond children being in foster care and looking for a forever family.
When we read our child’s case file, since they were removed from their birth mother the moment they were born, most of the file was a harrowing account of birth mother’s life from early childhood and how, to all intents and purposes, she never really had a chance from the get-go. That was hard to read; it truly personalised the context in which our child came to be with us and made me angry in many ways that the vulnerable child that was our child’s birth mother wasn’t protected and supported – we felt that if that had happened, she would not have gone on to have had five children removed from her care. And that the utterly gorgeous person who is our child would not have the heartbreak in her life that will now inevitably come when she is older and able to fully understand why she was removed from her birth-mother’s care. How much better for her never to have known us and therefore never to have that in her future? That’s an actual question, not a statement.
Secondly, the siblings bit. There was a little family of four siblings in the programme, looking for a forever family. The programme told us that if no adoptive family were forthcoming in the immediate future, the four would be split into two or even adopted separately. How utterly heart-breaking was that thought? Of course what we did not see or have explained in the programme is that sometimes the eldest of the siblings do not experience a childhood at all in those situations being instead the surrogate parents, even at that young age, and the ramifications that might have for their development. But it seems counter-intuitive to split up siblings.
In our child’s case, the siblings (some full, some half – that’s a genetic and somewhat cold view of the world in my view, but that’s another story) were all born before and removed from their birth-mother’s care. Our child is the youngest of the group (as far as we know at the time of writing) and therefore never knew them, even intuitively or unconsciously. For five years we battled to find out where they were, to get contact in place – and it was a battle, believe me, one that we almost relished fighting on behalf of our child – and for five years we heard nothing from any of their families, despite sending letter and photos and saying how much we were longing to hear from them on behalf of our child. We were upset and disappointed and sometimes furious, to be honest.
And then wholly unexpectedly, a letter and some photographs landed on our mat this week. Be careful what you wish, or battle, for. Because unexpectedly for me at least, it triggered highly conflicting emotions. I thought I would feel joy that finally it had happened, that we had been answered after all that time, happy that our stories, photos and pleas had not just disappeared unresolved into the ether.
But would it have been easier to explain years later how hard we tried, unsuccessfully, we tried sweetheart we really did – look at all the letters we wrote for you; now let’s just carry on being us three, shall we? Now that’s not even a rose-tinted, unrealistic and frankly stupid option. Now there’s a sister out there, who looks a bit like you, see, an older sister that you’ve often said you wanted. I’m full of fear for our child and for our cosy family. But also full of hope. But also full of anxiety. And joy. And panic. And happiness. And trepidation. And optimism. And dread.
But I look at what might happen to those 4 children from the programme and how indescribably painful the separation would be. And how they might grow up with a longing the source of which especially the smallest ones may not even understand or be able to articulate. And with a guilt for the eldest that she couldn’t keep her brothers and sisters together, even though it was never in her power. And I think we’re lucky in many ways; we only have to try to explain and manage the getting to know you process and hopefully an introduction to perhaps a life-long bond. It may not go the way we would like, we may bodge the explanation, they may not bond at all, they may never want to meet. All sorts of things could go wrong and we will feel responsible if they do, no doubt. But also we could be responsible for facilitating a wonderful new relationship for our child, one that will outlast us. Here’s hoping.
And here’s hoping those 4 lovely children find each other together for the rest of their lives.

Better Off With Straight Parents.

We had a good friend visiting for the weekend with a friend who had recently separated from a civil partnership and was voicing her feelings that she wanted to meet a man and to start a family.

We were somewhat surprised and we had a number of questions, not least of which was why she felt she needed to be in a straight relationship to have children, we were even more surprised when the answer was that her therapist had said raising children in straight relationships was of course better than raising them in gay ones.

Our immediate challenge to this was met with ‘but of course it’s better, that’s obvious isn’t it!? Children are at an immediate disadvantage if they have gay parents’.

We were ourselves a gay couple en route to starting a family so we were shocked to even have the question put to us – let alone from a bi sexual woman in a manner that suggested we would of course agree.

We didn’t agree then and we sure as hell don’t agree now, after five years of being adoptive parents there has not been one single thing that we have felt our sons would have benefited from had they had straight parents instead of us, not one single thing that puts our sons at any kind of disadvantage – in fact as I see them grow with a wonderful understanding and acceptance of diversity I could possibly argue the exact opposite.

The utopian notion that all children with a mother and father are brought up in a loving, healthy and stable environment is simply ridiculous as it totally ignores the everyday reality of difficult, challenged, less capable adults as well as ignoring poor parenting, poor relationships, divorce, single mothers, step parents, bereaved partners…the list goes on.

Regardless, what exactly do people think straight parents do or can give that is better than gay ones can?

What is ‘better’ for a child is having GOOD parents who are dedicated to their role of parenting and good parents can of course be straight or gay.

The majority of gay parents have adopted and like most adoptive parents we work very hard at trying to be good parents – maybe even harder knowing the prejudice that is stacked against us. Beyond the initial training that we all receive my partner and I have read books galore, been on courses and regularly research parenting and adoption sites on the internet, in addition we are constantly discussing the difficulties that we face and how we should go about dealing with them. I know that we get lots of stuff wrong and I am sure that our sons will grow up questioning some of their upbringing (which I think is actually quite healthy), but we can be sure that we have given 100% and that we have absolutely tried our best, I do question how many straight parents of birth children – who we are compared unfavourable to – can honestly say the same.

The above episode is of course far from the only time I have heard the ‘better off with straight parents argument’ and it always strikes me as mightily ironic that the people making it conveniently overlook the fact that in this country it is almost exclusively bad parenting from straight parents that result in children being taken into care in the first place.

Equally they over look the many millions of children who have been brought up by closeted gay parents living a straight life.

P.S. It is a little known fact (as it tended to go ‘under the radar’) that long before gay adoption became legal, children were occasionally placed with single adopters who were gay or in gay relationships with only one partner being registered as the legal parent and it is hugely ironic that it was only the children who needed extra special parenting, special care and a huge amount of attention (such as children with severe mental or physical special needs) and who stood little (if any) chance of being adopted by heterosexuals.

This to me suggests that those responsible for these placements (potential those that know best) have never had any real concern with gay parenting.

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME.

Just to set out credentials here, I’m not an academic, I’m not a behavioural psychologist, I’m not an expert in genetics, I’m not an etymologist (however, I do however know the real meaning of the word semantics, as opposed to its common use meaning. Good for me).

So, I’m a Dad. I’m a Parent. I’m a Father. I’m a Guardian. I’m a Carer. I’m an Educator. I’m a Counsellor. I’m a Philosopher. I’m a Taxi-Driver. I’m a Nurse. I’m a Playmate. I’m a Guide, literally a Girl Guide. I’m any number of words that describe taking care of someone unable to take care of themselves (for the time being), nourishing someone in body and mind and helping them grow, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

Is there a word that sums up all of these roles? I’m sticking with what she calls me, because to her, that’s what Da-Da means.

Now, we are told there are any number of ways someone in my situation becomes a Da-Da. And all of these ways have equal merit. Except they don’t, no matter what our social workers told us to tell our daughter. Previous blog authors and commentators are right; let’s face facts – there’s something diminishing in being an adopter, whether it’s not being the “real” father – not having become a Da-Da directly through sexual congress with my wife – or whether it’s having to spend a lot of time writing dutifully on behalf of my daughter to her “real” mother, who hasn’t written back to her “real” daughter in three years.

Right? Wrong; there’s nothing diminishing about it at all in my eyes and in the eyes of almost everyone I know who has become a Da-Da through adoption.

I’m truly weary of being preached at by people who in theory should know better, of adoption apologists, of adoption guilt-vendors. I already know somewhat intuitively and also from practical experience that denying a part of someone’s history or genetic make-up is not a positive-impact exercise on any time- or development-spectrum, thanks.

I also know about nuance – I know what it means and I know what it actually means. Maybe my daughter doesn’t right now – she’s getting there, slowly but surely under our Guidance, Parenting, Taxi-Driving, Teaching, Caring – but adults ought to know, to varying degrees possibly, but at least get the gist.

Who’s the Daddy? I am. And so is someone else. So what.

The Diagnosis

It’s been one week since my son was diagnosed at St Thomas’ with ASD (Autism), ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and major emotional regulation difficulties.  He was diagnosed by a panel consisting of a Paediatrician, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Speech and Language Therapist and Occupational Therapist who spent 3 hours assessing him.  They were thorough, professional and understanding.  

I came out of the feedback in shock, it was not what I was expecting to hear from them, though of course I suspected it all.  Four years of having been continuously told it was our parenting and attachment that were really the issues doesn’t give you a lot of hope in being understood.  They did understand.  Engaging him with the assessments was a challenge they told me, the motivators changed from moment to moment.  Not only is he easily distracted, he is very interested in what he is distracted by.  And of course he just does not understand people and how they communicate.  They could see how on the edge he was at any given moment, a coke bottle on the brink of fizzing over.

I had to get my son home.  We surprisingly managed without incident considering what he’d just been put through. We walked through the door and I cried.  For the first couple of days they were tears of devastation.  It’s a paradox but although I know we’ve done everything we could have I did really want someone to say, ‘just try this new thing and it will all be ok’ (a magic cure), ‘give him some Ritalin and he’ll cope’ (I would try it!), ‘turn your parenting around and he’ll be better’ (we have, things got a little better), ‘try some therapy, he’ll engage’ (we have, he hasn’t).  What they actually said was ‘you have turned your world upside down for this child, but you can’t do that for him forever.’  They think his problems will be lifelong and are mostly influenced by his genetics.  So that’s Developmental Trauma out of the window, at least partially.

Others’ reactions to the diagnosis have also been difficult.  People immediately questioning it’s accuracy, whether we’re convinced, ‘was it really that thorough?’  The people who’ve been the most supportive and helpful on our journey have effectively been congratulating us on finally achieving some recognition of our difficulties as a family.  They mean well but they have missed the pain that comes with the confirmation.

Some have pointed out that he is still the same child as before.  Well of course he is but we must now shift our expectations and rethink everything.  We are worried for his future, and ours.  I have hope, mostly based on the relationship my husband and I have managed to build with him through sheer perseverance despite his difficulties and the lack of support.  I do believe that with the right support (that we will continue to fight so hard for) our love for him will mean that he finds his way.  That love now has to guide us through some difficult choices.

In the eye of the beholder

​I have just come home from a wedding where one of the guests leaned across the table  and asked “Is that your daughter running around?” When I answered in the affirmative she triumphantly announced to the table “I knew it! She is the absolute image of you! It’s like someone has taken a blue print of you and put it into a little person.” Satisfied with her deduction she grinned at us all and had I been in other company I may have thanked her for the comment without response, but several guests knew of our adoption and it made me self conscious so I put her in the picture.

“Well actually she’s adopted.” I whispered, and then I had to repeat myself as the guest looked entirely bewildered.

“Pardon? … Really?… But she looks so much like you”.

I’m pretty sure I made her feel like she’d said something a bit stupid which was the last thing I wanted to make her feel. Especially as I enjoy people seeing a similarity.

But it got me thinking because so many people are clearly looking out for this stuff. It is by no means the only time it has happened to me, and I hear similar stories from other adoptive parents too.

Only last week I was helping out on my daughter’s school trip and was walking along holding hands with her and another little girl when one of the mums called out ‘How funny! Your daughter walks exactly like you. She’s completely inherited your physicality and way of walking’. This time there was no need to fill her in but it’s clear that spotting a likeness does seem to please people; and I suppose that is why the matching process is so important, although at the time I thought it was absolute nonsense. I couldn’t see why we were told it was unlikely we would be considered as prospective parents for a mixed race child because we are not mixed race ourselves. Or that we wouldn’t be considered for a child of any other ethnicity than our own for the same reasons.

I remember we felt certain we were ready to take on the challenges, and to love and parent a child of any background and culture. But had we been matched with someone who was clearly not biologically related to us would we all now be enduring the opposite responses from people?

Instead of people commenting on our likeness, would they now be constantly asking us why we didn’t look alike? And would that become hard to deal with? And what would that be like for our child? Maybe it would be ok – I get a sense that it would – but it’s not clear cut and I’m not sure how I feel about it anymore..

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.

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.

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.

Ask the Kids #5

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As part of National Adoption Week we asked for contributions in the form of a list of questions and answers supplied by our children on the subject of us – their parents.

Having received quite a few sets of these answers, some parents have chosen to omit certain questions in order to keep the responses within safe boundaries; and others have run with every single one of them and each and every contribution has been so gratefully received.

If you’d like to contribute, please feel free to play around with the format and customise it to suit your own family and forward your answers to me.

Here’s our fourth set of answers.

1. What is something I always say to you?

Wash your hands

2. What colour are my eyes?

Blue

3. What makes me happy?

When you cuddle me

4. What makes me sad?

When I don’t get dressed

5. What is my hair like?

Brown

6. How do I make you laugh?

Jokes

7. What do yu think I was like as a child?

Happy

8. How old am I?

46

9. How tall am I?

Bout taller than the cat but not taller than the house
10. What is my favourite thing to do?

Cooking

11. What do I do when you’re not around?

Wait to pick me up from school

12. What am I really good at?

Cooking

13. What is something I’m not good at?

Not good at sweeping up leaves

14. What do I do for a living?

Talking to me, cuddling me

15. What is my favourite food?

Avocado

16.What do you enjoy doing with me?

Making pizza together

Aged 5

Broken

img_5309When I look at my two children I see, unreserved joy, excitement for the today and for the tomorrow and I feel goodness flows from them to me. They Nourish our family unit and make us whole.
When I look at my siblings however, I see nothing but broken glass, jagged edges and unreadable faces and I am touched beyond belief that the tragedy of our childhood is so apparent.
When we went through the adoption process, the social worker, held up her hands in horror at the baggage we had compiled between us in our 40 something lives. and wasn’t sure we would get past the triathlon process of panel. But we did and two kids later we feel like that was a lifetime ago. But when I peek back on that, I remember the insecurity, the doubt, the judgements and wonder how we got through it all.
When I think of my kids and their life story and our role to support them in the future and this on going journey I sometimes worry how we will fare in it all. Will our support be adequate? Better than they could hope for? How will they score us?
It’s a minefield and I feel trepidation as I watch my oldest mature and blossom and ask more and more questions.
I am still feeling upside down inside after a most recent sibling contact. The conversation went pretty much like this:
Him: my first memory of you is mum biting you to teach you a lesson
Me: oh yeah, that was in the car right?
Him: (laughs) and remember when we (my brothers) took the stamps off the envelopes and blamed you and you got locked in the cupboard under the stairs.
Me: oh yeah, that was a pretty horrible place to be.
Him: I remember eating my breakfast outside on the doorstep in the snow, because mum thought I ate too noisily.
Me: I remember that, it must have been cold out there.
My feelings are all awol. My stomach is in knots since it happened and I keep turning it over in my head. My children will have the same kind of conversations, the same kind of dialogues with their siblings. The history may not be identical, the language not the same but the intensity, the anguish, the shame and the trauma is like for like.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that I, we, need to be beacons of hope for our kids. To help guide them and navigate their way emotionally through the rest of their lives. We go forward armed with the knowledge that no matter how young they were when they were adopted, their life story immerses itself into the very fibre of their being. It doesn’t have to define them but we need to be able to demonstrate how we can overcome and comprehend these things. We don’t have to let the past overwhelm our future.

I have learnt a very big lesson from all this, and now realise just how fortunate I am to have my wife to support me, to hug me, to hold me and reinforce that my family is here In this house now; and I can finally slightly detach myself and feel secure enough to look back, a bit at a time.

This knowledge is definitely something I can impart to help my kids face their life story.