Parenting is hard work.


I underestimated how hard parenting is.​

​I love my child dearly and parenting him has turned out to be both more wonderful and more rewarding than I could have ever imagined but also much much harder than I ever thought.

It’s hard, testing work and it’s difficult to navigate.

One of this things I feel most stupid about in retrospect is just how hard it is to put and keep boundaries in place. I always looked at parents who didn’t bother with them and thought they must have a screw loose, because from the outside it looked like much harder work letting their children run rings, demanding whatever they want.

I naively imagined it was a simple as putting a rule/boundary in place and then simply sticking to it so everyone knows where they stand and harmony would abound right?

Wrong!

​Turns out they do this stuff anyway! – the demanding, the procrastinating, the “that’s so unfair”.

They have a relentless energy and drive to push and keep pushing for hours on end; and it is our job to either crumble and give in (and in so doing get five minutes peace..) or to hold fast and keep that boundary in place – hopefully from a place of calmness… (yeah right!)

It truly is a test of stamina. Why did nobody tell me?

So it’s actually a lot easier to not do this work and I realise now why some parents do occasionally cave in, because some days we just don’t have the strength in us.

We just do the best we can.

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Gold Tooth.

A greasy winter’s day a couple of years ago I was walking down the street, as you do, pushing a newly arrived Jack in his buggy and my goddaughter by my side. My little brand new family and hers were heading off for some half term shenanigans.
The three of us were walking a little away from the rest of the group. Sophie was deep into a riff about volcanoes and Pompeii. She’d recently done a project on both in school. She was excited and detailed in her explanation using her whole body to show me how lava breaks up through the earth’s crust. I asked questions and was quite taken with her passion (she is usually a quiet and at times slightly withdrawn girl). She went into more detail and kept talking. I was able to give her my undivided attention as my little bug was sleeping soundly in his buggy. We were having a good moment. I was thoroughly enjoying it and her, when suddenly a man stepped out in front of us and said STOP! He looked homeless, unkempt and he smelled of alcohol and bodily fluids. I pulled Sophie close and tried to push past him.
He blocked our way again.
‘No! Just stop for a moment.’
I felt threatened. I held Sophie’s hand and swung the buggy a bit so I could see Jack. Alert and scared. Could he have recognised Jack? A birth dad? A relative perhaps? My brain was working fast.
‘I don’t want to harm you. I don’t want anything.’ he said. ‘I just want to say something.’
‘Okay…’
‘You’ve cracked it!’
‘Excuse me? Cracked what?’ I looked around.
‘You’ve cracked it! Life! Motherhood! It’s beautiful. How you talk to your daughter. How she is so alive. And your son… I just thought you should know. I’ve followed you for a little while. That’s all. I’ll leave you alone now. Have a good day.’
And then he smiled. A big gold tooth blinked in the winter sun.
I was perplexed.
‘But …’ I started. ‘This is my goddaughter and …’
‘It doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful. Enjoy it.’
I smiled back. I had nearly waffled on about how neither were actually mine. How I didn’t feel I knew the first thing about motherhood or life for that matter. I’d nearly made that excuse about my son not being mine. I was so fresh to it all. But it was true that the moment was bliss. And he felt it too.
He shifted a lot in me that day. It’s still shifting. Some of it is about prejudice. I had reacted so strongly to his smell and looks. I had felt really scared. And I wanted to run away from him. But he could have been Jack’s birth family. I can’t ever really run from that. It was an ever timely reminder that it is up to me as Jack’s mum to build that bridge to his past, as part of his present and future. I owe to both of us to move out of my comfort zone to explore it. The man with the gold tooth gave me a precious gift that day. Amongst other that both children – in very different ways of course – are also mine.

10 Missed Calls

Like many today I am somewhat attached to my smart phone and I have it within reach pretty much constantly. However I was recently away on holiday and just decided that I wanted a day without it so left it behind on a trip to the beach. I didn’t miss it at all and in fact I barely gave it a thought throughout the day.

Arriving back at the accommodation it wasn’t sitting out anywhere obvious and I was still happy to be without it, some time later we were leaving to meet friends for dinner so I searched out my phone. I discovered that my brother had called, in fact I could see that he had called 10 times throughout the day as my phone was displaying 10 missed calls. There was also an SMS – ‘Call me bro’. That all seemed a bit keen – in fact it seemed a bit desperate.

Our 79 year old father had recently spent 3 1/2 months in hospital, finally recovered and well he had been moved into a care home just three weeks earlier – so of course I assumed this was about him:

– Had he had another fall and broken another bone or two?
– Had he caught yet another nasty, dangerous infection?
– Had he organised a alcohol fuelled party against the home rules?
– Had he insulted a resident or carer in the home and was getting his marching orders?
– Had he done a runner in his wheelchair?

These and other thoughts ran through my mind as I made the call to my brother. He answered and after asking how the holiday was going, he said ‘Sorry bro, there is no easy way to say this – Dad has died’.

It was a total shock, I had left my father less than a week earlier and although very unhappy to be in the home, he was physically well.

We had already set off for the restaurant and I was walking a little ahead of my family and friends, how to handle this information – most significantly for our two adopted sons – suddenly became the most relevant issue at hand and from necessity it had to take priority over my own emotions. Our sons have suffered so much loss in their short lives and it has clearly impacted our youngest quite severely and I had no idea how this further loss would affect him or his brother and of course being on holiday added an additional dimension and difficulty to breaking such shocking news.

Telling children of the loss of anybody close to them is difficult, however with the extra level of loss an adopted child has experienced it possibly makes it even more of a concern. Our sons knew that their grandfather had been very poorly in hospital, but they also knew that he had recovered and was well and they had visited him a few times over the past few weeks.

As I finished the conversation with my brother I was already aware that I needed to contain myself and to not give any indication of how I was feeling as I knew immediately that I would need to prepare the boys for the news over a period of time. Also, as we were leaving the next day we would soon be home, which I figured would be a much more secure environment for then to deal with the information.

So I said nothing, which of course made for a rather difficult meal and end to the day for me. However, I actually started to realise that I was also allowing myself to process the loss and deal with the shock privately, which I appreciated. I shared the news with my partner and friends after the boys were tucked up in bed and then the following morning I simply said to the boys that I had spoken with their uncle who had said that Granddad had become quite ill again and that we were quite worried, then again the following day when we were back home I brought it up and said that Granddad had sadly got even worse and as he was an old man we were very concerned that he was so weak. On the third day I said that there was no improvement and that things looked very bad – then that evening we told them that Granddad had sadly died.

They were clearly a little upset, but both of them appeared to take the news well. They had immediately started to ask if he was going to die when I first said that he was unwell again and I had answered that it was possible and having a couple of days to process the possibility I think at least helped remove the shock. We have spoken about Granddad almost everyday since and both boys wanted to come to the funeral, where they were very well behaved and respectful of the occasion, which we feel was evidence of them dealing with their emotions.

I am sure they will be processing the loss for sometime now, but it does however seem that they are coping with it. We of course will not take that for granted and will keep an eye on them and hopefully will be able to recognise any difficulties if they arise.

Meanwhile we will continue to talk about Granddad as still being very much part of our lives and we will share the many happy memories we have, hopefully the loss is then wrapped in warmth and love and positivity. I have learnt for myself that the best way for me to cope with loss is to always think of something happy, wonderful and positive about the loved ones who are no longer with us in a way that warms my heart and with each of those thoughts comes a smile – a genuine smile from deep down – and it’s very hard to be sad when you are smiling. This I am trying to pass on to my sons, for the loss they are suffering now and indeed for the loss they have suffered in the past.

Reassurance, reassurance reassurance.

‘That’s the name of the game in the early days. Reassurance.’ said the social worker on the phone. ‘Just reassure him that everything will be ok. As much a you possibly can.’
The nice reassuring lady was the social worker on call. Not our assessing social worker, nor my son’s social worker. Just the one around in the week after our son moved in.
It was August. London was wonderful calm, and the weather was good. A perfect time to start a family. If ever there was one. I was nervous, scared and happy. And many, many other things.
Reassure we did. Him as much as ourselves. Every time he cried. Or even might cry. At the very sight of a lower lip starting to wobble.
‘Oh, darling. It’s ok. It’s ok.’
I’d rush to him and pick him up. Gently bobbing him on my hip. Hushing him, Shsshing him.
‘There, there. It’s ok. Everything is going to be ok.’
In truth I think I was a little scared of his tears.
As the weeks turned into months, I felt reassured myself that I could settle him. That he would let me. That my bosom was a place of safety and comfort. I put pride in being able to stop his tears. Only… he was a quick learner. He read me. I could stop his tears quickly, because that’s what I wanted.
Except that one night…. when three hours after we had successfully put him down for the night, he woke up crying. This time, neither I nor my husband could settle him. He cried for a solid three and a half hours. Solidly. Ebbs and flow but tears throughout. Sometimes sobbing, sometime just silent tears, sometimes loud and angry. Wailing, screaming, sobbing. Snot and tears running into one around his O-shaped mouth.
We call the NHS helpline, and as we could find no outwards sign of illness or pain, we got rushed through the system, and at 2am we drove to the hospital, where they had made us an emergency appoint. We were all in distress.
The tears stopped the moment we activated the entrance doors at the hospital. The glass doors slid to the sides, and we stepped through, holding a silent and mesmerised baby. They gave him a bit of paracetamol and we left. He fell a sleep on the way home and we transferred him to his cot without him waking. For the first time since he moved in six weeks earlier he slept for more than 90mins in one stretch.
I have never been in doubt that this outburst was existential. That was the episode when it finally dawned on him that this was it: he understood he was going to be staying with us. Foster family gone. Replaced by smiling middle-aged amateurs.
I now also believe that’s where the tears that I has so successfully stopped for weeks flooded out. I hadn’t left him much space for waterworks. So he kept it in – most of the time.
Over time I slowly learned to accept his screams and tears. To gently squeeze him like a lemon till he was all cried dry. Letting him how that it is ok to cry and let it all out. Till he was done crying. Not when I was done listening. I brace myself, and stick it out. Because the return is so wonderful. It is like torrential rain followed by sunshine. And the sunshine lasts if he is allowed to let it ALL out. It is simply the most effective, and quickest way for him to shed whatever is really bothering him. All he needs from me is me being there. And staying there till the storm has passed.
I’m no longer so sure that what he needed was reassurance, as much as acknowledgment (something I needed too). Acknowledgment that it was a scary and crazy period for us all. And that there was huge loss involved.
I’m no longer a fan of reassurance. All it is saying is ‘I can’t deal with how you are feeling right now. I want you to go to normal.’
Reassurance is a little like telling someone who has just lost a loved one that it is all going to be ok.
No, it’s not. Everything has changed. And nothing will ever be the same. Ever. Again.

Projection.

What do you do when suddenly you don’t recognise the child standing in front of you? He has the same blonde hair, the same slightly chubby, ruddy face, but the smile is gone and in its place is a snarl that seems so grotesquely out of place on a five-year-old.

When suddenly from being the loving centre of his world you are the meanest, cruelest person he’s ever encountered?

When instead of a warm, small hand sliding lovingly into yours, an open hand crashes into your arm, a tightly curled fist into your chest again and again, accompanied by a scream that emanates from so deep within them that you cannot believe it doesn’t contain all their truth when it bursts out in a stream of “I hate you; you’re mean; I don’t like you any more; I don’t love you.”?

And when you explain this to other parents and they tell you it’s just a phase, they all go through it, when your heart is hurting and when you cannot get them to understand that it’s different when your child is adopted to hear those things for the first time because it makes you project into your future when your child will say in anger “you’re not my real Dad.” And to some, and to a little bit of you, it will be true and that is your worst fear realised.

When your experience thusfar has been mostly love and laughter and joy and of course the odd tantrum, but never this well verbalised because now they have the vocabulary and it really hurts as opposed to being slightly irritating. Because now it’s not about ice cream or not wanting to share a toy, it’s about how they really feel in that moment about you?

I don’t have any answers. It just hurts. And I pray that the projections are very, very wrong.

Four Years.

Four years ago today you arrived in our home twinkly and tiny and so brave under the circumstances…
Or did we misread that?
In retrospect you must have been flooded with fear. Your little body stuck in a massive terrifying moment that went on and on. And because we didn’t know you, we assumed arrogantly that your smile was a symptom of calm and acceptance. A sign that we were in fact good parents already who had a good grasp of your needs.
I’m so sorry my darling for our naivety.
I’m so sorry I hadn’t a clue about the trauma you must have suffered.
I wish I could go back and cuddle that baby girl with the insight I have now. But I can’t.
So here we are four years on.
Four years of waking up to your chuckle.
Four years of wiping way your tears
Four years of being called mummy.
Four years of loving you so much it hurts that I’m not perfect at it.
Four big years.
I can remember trying to look forward in time to the little girl you would become but it seemed impossible, scary even. Like the 5 year old you would be a whole new little person I would have to meet and get to know all over again. What if you were harder to win over than the baby in front of me? Who in fact were you going to be?
And yet here we are 4 years on. You are simply you. A bigger, brighter more articulate version of that baby we brought home. It’s miraculous how children grow and develop so quickly and there is so much more of of it to do. So much more to look forward to.
Thank you for our four years.

Best years of my life so far.

Easily.

Here’s to many many more my beautiful daughter.

3 horsemen

The twisted briars cloud my vista
I only see the dark and tangled past
It’s upon me the 3 horsemen
It’s crowding me
Drowning me
Making me twist and feel like I’m failing
Flailing, shivering in my nest.
I stop. I stare. I implode. I scream.
The journey of my youngest feels
Like a weighted stone and doubles
The pain of my childhood.
I see my mother’s wrinkled face and don’t feel love.
I don’t feel compassion. I don’t feel joy.
I only feel sad. Sad like a bag of rocks weighing me down.
It slips into my childhood disease and makes my stomach churn.
My cheeks burn with embarrassment. I feel guilty, I feel shame at this.
I have to resolve this.
I need to move through it.
I can’t go under it.
I can’t get over it.
I need to go through it.
I try and see open doors but I only feel brick walls.
The prospect of drowning in this is a fingertip away but I need to find a path which allows me to see the wretched past and the matriarch and allows enough light in so that the flowers can bloom. So that I can become the mother to my 2, that they need me to be. So I can be brave. So I can let it go. I am not my mother. I have time to be a brave mum to my 2 as they need me to be brave, to fight for them. To be their advocate. They chose me to be in their lives and I will get on these horses and I will pound down the walls and find those open doors.