Family Hug

It’s been three years.

Our anniversary was simply acknowledged with a family hug, the four of us embracing – as we have on so many occasions throughout those three years – in a circle with our arms wrapped around each other and squeezing as tight as we can until somebody complains that it’s too tight or that they can’t breath and then (and only then) we loosen our embrace.

It’s a bit of a family ritual that came about from those early days when we were thinking of anything that we could do that incorporated the word family, anything that would help us bond together and get the boys feeling that they belonged and that we were indeed a family.

It’s a simple – but actually quite intimate ritual and on this occasion it certainly belied the true magnitude of what we were celebrating.  We had been a family for three years which meant that both our boys had spent longer with us than with their birth parents or their foster parents .

Three years and we could finally reason with ourselves that they unquestionably saw us as their parents and their only parents, no more sharing with ghosts of the past, no more fearing that although they clearly loved us that they in fact loved other people who have parented them more.

We know that they were probably foolish fears, but we carried them with us regardless and it felt good to finally let them go.

It has been an amazing three years, not easy by any stretch of the imagination (but nobody said it was going to be) and in spite of the tough times what we remember most are three years full of hugs and kisses and of laughter and of love and of learning.

For the boys: learning about us, about who we are, about our rules, and about our expectations.

For us: learning about who they are, what their – very different – needs are and well… just learning how to be parents.

Part of that learning was just how much a hug can mean – especially a family hug.

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.

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.

War Horse

20161115_113414Cinema has been a big part of our family life since the boys moved in, they clearly love it and we go as frequently as possible.

They are good in the cinema, even when they first joined us at just 4&5 they understood the need to sit still and to sit quietly. We are proud to take them and love to peek over at them as they watch the film, their eyes wide and often their mouths slightly ajar – or indeed fully agog.

They will watch pretty much anything and get caught up in the tale and visuals regardless of just how good or bad the film actually is. Of course it’s us the more discerning parents who have to suffer when the films are really bad, but the joy of seeing our sons so engrossed and so thoroughly entertained makes up for even the worst offerings… well maybe not the very worst, however in those cases we can always grab a – no doubt much needed – sneaky snooze.

I have always loved the cinema and always tried to see films that I was interested in on the big screen and I have always felt a bit ‘cheated’ if I have missed something when first released and had to watch it on DVD/TV, however with our sons I now realise that there are in fact great advantages to watching a film at home together.

The realisation hit one Saturday evening when as a treat we said the boys could stay up late and watch ‘War Horse’ with us, we explained that it was a more adult film than they were used too and that they may find it difficult or may not enjoy it and that they could go to bed whenever they wanted.

They both stayed up to the very end and were totally engrossed throughout. However, there were parts of the film that were beyond their grasp and being at home they were able to ask us to explain and we could do so freely without interrupting others as we would have in a cinema.

This interaction was actually very pleasing and created a certain intimacy that went beyond the cuddles and lap sitting that we are treated to in the cinema, it felt special and rewarding and much more like a ‘family’ activity than just sitting in silence and I think we all benefitted from it.

So much so that we now actively look out for slightly more mature offerings that we can sit together at home and watch as a family.

A letter to the makers of Inside Out

20160929_235344Dear makers of Inside Out,
I just wanted to write and thank you for what I consider to be one of the best films ever made.

To explain, I have found being an adoptive Mum, at times, an extremely difficult and highly charged emotional experience. It is made more difficult by the fact that much of what I am feeling is very difficult to properly break down and understand. For me, your film articulated a lot of these feelings in such simple terms. I found myself in tears from early in the film when the yellow balls (representing happy memories) as core memories for the central character ‘Riley’ throughout her early childhood lead to her being able to build a really strong and positive sense of self-identity. In contrast my girls, without doubt, have early core memories which are blue (representing sadness) and so have had to build their early sense of self upon experiences which are sad and/or frightening. And just like Joy later in the film I can’t change that early sadness for them, I can’t remove it, it is something which is a part of them and which I have to help them to weave positively into their identity.

For one of my girls in particular who is regularly ‘driven’ by Anger, the film has helped her to start understanding that there are in fact a number of different feelings, that she can name them and that we all have them. She seemed genuinely surprised to hear that I have ‘Fear’ in my head and that I get worried about things. I asked her if she ever worries about anything and she said yes, that she worries about her sister going away. My daughter is 3. We have always thought that she was very anxious about transitions having moved carers 3 times by the time she was 18 months old but it had never occurred to us that she thought that her sister, the one constant, could maybe leave as well.

The film also gave us an easy segue into discussing birth Mum and Dad because at the very beginning of the film Riley is born and first sees her parents looking down happily at her. Happily for us we do know that this happened for our girls and were able to say this – so much nicer to have a visual depiction of it than just trying to explain verbally ‘your birth Mum and Dad loved you very much when you were born’.

And happily for me your film provided me personally with one of the best moments of my life. I was talking with the girls about which one of the little ‘people’ they thought was most like each of them and finally which one was most like me. I asked because I feel like I spend much of my time telling them off, being grumpy and tired so from that aspect I fully expected them to choose ‘anger’, or alternatively because I wear glasses and have a bob I thought they may plump for ‘sadness’. They shocked me by choosing Joy.

With love,
A grateful, re-motivated parent

My heart swells.

photo-1470394056006-130bc90c012bMy heart breaks when I think of their past, when I think of them suffering, of them left uncared for, for every day that they went hungry and for each cry that went unanswered.

It breaks for the unfair start that they had in life and for the fact that I was not there for them – to care for MY sons and to protect them as a parent should.

Do those feelings ever go, do they – can they – ever leave an adoptive parent?

Will I one day be able to let go of their past and focus only on the positive that is their life today and on what the future has to offer?

They now have the unconditional love and care that they should have always had, they have protection, they have security and they have hope. They have come a long way and are different little boys to the ones who first joined us, but they are still the same children, they still carry their past within them and they always will.

And it feels like I will too.

However, it most certainly doesn’t dominate, as mostly my heart now swells.

It swells with pride for the amazing little boys who call me Daddy. It swells with each smile and with each achievement – no matter how small – and most of all it swells with love: pure, unadulterated and total love.

My heart swells for my sons and the joy that it brings is what I focus on and what I now live for.