The truth, the whole truth and not always the truth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few months after our sons moved in we went to visit a dear friend who was dying, he had arranged for somebody to buy presents for the boys, he engaged with them and he gave them lots of attention. Even though he was very poorly and in quite a bit of pain he made every effort to smile and welcome them and he clearly left an impression.

Although they saw him only once again they still remember him and talk about him, as far as we know this was the first death the boys had experienced and we did our best to be totally honest and to give them as much understanding that we felt their 5 & 6 years merited.

Of course they had questions, some simple matter of fact queries, others quite deep and difficult to know how to respond to. The most difficult was in response to my saying that death was very natural, that everybody dies and it wasn’t something to be afraid of. To which our 6 year old asked ‘so are you going to die and leave us Daddy?’. They had been with us for just over 6 months at this point and we had been reassuring them almost daily that we were a forever family and that we will always be here for them.

The temptation was of course to say no, which is no doubt what he wanted and maybe even needed to hear, but instinctively I maintained the honest approach we have when confronted with any questions from our sons and said ‘yes of course like everybody else I will die’, but added that hopefully it will be a long time from now when they are both grown up and maybe have families of their own. This appeared to work and seemed to put his mind at rest.

However, the subject of my death did raise its head in little remarks here and there quite a few times over the next couple of months, which made me realise that it was clearly something he was still thinking about and was possibly worrying him.

Eighteens months later the boys experienced another death and this time is was much closer to home when my sister died, she had built a wonderful relationship with the boys and they both thought the world of her and in fact our youngest seemed to have a particularly close bond with his special new Aunty.

Again lots of questions which we answered as honestly as we always have. However 18 months older meant that their questioning had a little more maturity behind it and that they were less willing to simply accept our answers at face value.

My ‘when you are both much older’ was now met with ‘how old Daddy?’ And my response of ‘when you are grown up and both men’ resulted in uncharacteristic on the spot mathematics and them pointing out that I would be nearly 70 when they were 20 and that people died much younger than that, like their Aunty who was only 53.

More attempts at reassurance and I pointed out that both their daddies (we are 2 dads) ate well, that we didn’t smoke, that we drank very little and that we were reasonably healthy which meant that there was nothing to suggest that we would not live until we are in our 80’s and that by then they would probably have children of their own. I also pointed out that their other daddy is almost 8 years younger so would likely be around a lot longer than me.

Again we could see them considering this and then with rather a glum expression we were met with ‘our uncle is older than Aunty and she died first’ A slight pause and then ‘and what if you both die together, who will look after us then?’
At which point we caved in and all our principles disappeared as I replied ‘Don’t be silly, that is never going to happen. I am sure that you will always have both of us and that we will always be able to look after you’.

Not the thruth that I put so much value in of course, but not exactly a lie either. Most importantly though it was clearly the reassurance they both needed as our deaths have not been mentioned since.

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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 #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 #8

20161223_131840If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year what would it be?

We are away for Christmas so we’ve brought some of the presents from home and the rest are at home waiting to be opened when we get back. Despite my best efforts for a low key event with few gifts and more family time we’ve still had the usual hoopla. It’s far too easy to get buried under piles of food, seasonal experiences and family days out. It’s the first Christmas we have officially been a family of 4. Last year we had a court date in December that we had hoped would finalise the adoption, but a tiny overlooked detail meant that the judge deferred the decision until January. It wasn’t what we had hoped for, but he was still with us and as far as we were concerned he was one of us. It just wasn’t official yet.

So this year he is spending his first proper Christmas with us. The first time he was only a few days old and his second was with his lovely foster family. They do not celebrate Christmas, but at his birth family’s request they took him to see Father Christmas and put up a tree for him. Then he was with us last year and we kept things simple with a meal at home and visited grandparents and of course spoiled him with presents galore. Now he’s big enough to sit up at the table all by himself. He eats yorkshire puddings, he loves sausages and we hope he will enjoy pulling crackers, wearing a paper hat and telling awful jokes as much as we do.

Since he came to us it’s been testing and trying and with both boys we have been challenged at times to what we felt was beyond our capability. Only other adopters really understand the anguish I feel when I wonder if we’ve done the right thing for both our children. The one who was already in our family who thought he wanted a brother until he turned up and he was walking and shouting and taking his toys and not wanting to be a younger sibling. The one who had already had a big move when he was only a few months old and who for at least a year didn’t trust us to not leave him behind whenever we visited another house.

When anyone asks what he’d like for his birthday or Christmas I struggle to think of anything. He has so many toys and clothes, he loves books, he came with plenty of building blocks. He already has a scooter, a trike and plenty of sports kit to play with. I’ve bought the boys a table football game as they seem to love it and it’s something I hope they will do together – other than fight and annoy each other that is.

Of all the things that I’d like be able to put under the tree for Baby Boy this year it would be his life story book. We have been so patient and are still waiting for anything that might fill in the gaps for us. Seeing the family who cared for him between his birth family and us is the closest we get to this. We meet up with his foster carers in early December and as they don’t celebrate Christmas it’s not as emotionally charged as it could be. It’s a chance to catch up and for them to see how he’s doing and for us to ask them about the things we still don’t know about him.

As time has progressed I feel I can ask more about how he was when he came to them. More than I could have coped with when he first came to us. That early period when he couldn’t settle at night and he would cry and miss them terribly. I felt as though they didn’t trust us to care for him and they didn’t want to let him go. In fact I’ve realised that because of his early experiences of neglect they wanted to be sure he was in a caring and loving family who would be able to support and nurture him.

If it weren’t for their kindness and devotion to caring for our little boy he wouldn’t have joined our family. Maybe we have to accept that the only life story we will have for now is the one that they are able to share with us.

All the while we are making our own life story with him. One in which he is very important.

Scared of Water

fullsizerenderI am sitting besides a pool watching my partner and sons play in the water. It is loud, excited, fast and furious play, lots of splashing and swimming, jumping and diving, so much fun, so much joy. It is a great pleasure to watch and I soak up every minute.

We were on a similar holiday 18 months months or so ago, lots of sun and lots of chances for the boys to use the swimming pool or play in the sea, however things were quite different then. There was fun and excitement, but none of the carefree abandon of today, sadly underlining it all was a huge amount of fear, fear that stopped the boys really letting go and enjoying themselves.

Neither of our sons could swim when they came to us, but I guess at not yet 5 & 6 that was not such a surprise. We think that our oldest’s fear was little more than fear of something new and he took to the water well and with us beside him he did quickly relax and start to enjoy himself, by the end of the holiday he was much more confident and clearly happy in the water.

However, his brother’s fear of water was quite shocking, he was so afraid he would not even take a shower. Up until he moved in he had only bathed sitting in a bath of a few inches of water and insisted we continue that. When it came to washing his hair it was a huge drama and we had to work out ways of rinsing off shampoo with minimal amounts of water making sure none splashed his face. A damp face cloth gently wiped over his face was the very most he could cope with.

It took quite a bit of time, energy and effort to get him to even consider the shower and when he finally did it had to be totally on his terms – shower barely lukewarm, shower head held down below his waist, and water totally turned off while he was soaping himself up and absolutely no water was to get on his face.

Slowly we worked on his fear, each evening in the shower we tried to get him to relax his ‘rules’ and little by little he did. Gradually we got him more used to water to the point that when we did go on that first holiday he had already come on a long way and we were amazed to see that he actually wanted to be in the pool – with arm bands and with us beside him to grip on to. He was still truly scared, but clearly felt confident enough with us and safe enough with us to allow himself in. Mind you, all hell broke loose if his head went underwater and it wasn’t much better if his face got splashed.

The 18 months between holidays have been put to good use and weekly swimming lessons have seen them both come on hugely and swimming is now simply a part of their lives. The youngest has continued to be fearful, but now has more confidence in himself to trust being in the water.

However, even with the lessons he still needed somebody by his side pretty much constantly. That is until now. What I am witnessing today is a total revelation – it is evident that the fear has gone.

On the first day we noticed a different attitude from him and a very surprising willingness to put his face down into the water – as this was still something he was refusing to do. By the end of the day he was actually ducking under the water and holding his breath for a second or so.

Since then there has been no holding him back and he is jumping in and actually swimming under the water.

We have no idea what has brought about this change so abruptly or so completely, but it is heartwarming to see. I have always enjoyed swimming and to my partner it has been quite a big part of his life and knowing that we can now be together in the water without concern for our sons fears is a great step forward.

We have no idea if their fear of water was a result of some kind of ‘water related’ trauma in the birth family and neither of the boys have shared anything to suggest such. We think it was more likely just through lack of them being introduced to water as babies, you assume parents bath and clean their babies daily and make the most of what should be quite an intimate parent/baby experience – the likelihood of that not being the case for our children is just one more thing from their past that we have to come to terms with.

Dear Son: Not such a big ask.

20160803_182409Dear Son,

We are confident that you know how much you are loved. We know that you are happy living with us and we can see that you have attached and that you are settled in your forever family, yet we are also aware of a sadness that pains us to our core.

We think that it is no longer directly to do with the memories of your difficult start in life and the losses that you have suffered, but that it is all to do with what has been left behind by these experiences.

We can see that your past has robbed you of self esteem and self confidence which manifests itself as an inability to play nicely and to make friends – which is desperately cruel for a child who clearly needs them so much.

We see you try SO hard – much too hard – with the children around you and we can see how your attempts are misguided and how they achieve the exact opposite of what you want them/need them to and you simply push your playmates away.

The hurt that this causes you is so evident and we feel helpless in our inability to stop that pain.

We want to teach you that no matter how important friends are in our lives that you can be happy all by yourself. That you are loved and cherished with every ounce of our being and that the great happiness we share as a family really can be enough for now – if you let it.

There is plenty of time ahead of you, time to build up your confidence and to make friends who appreciate you for who you are.

If you could just allow yourself to be happy with what you have then this is what will attract friends, this is what people respond to and then you will not have to try at all.

But how to make you understand or indeed appreciate this?

You are 8 years old and just want to be liked by your peers and have even one person who you can call a friend because you genuinely feel like they are.

I can appreciate that no matter how tough we can see that it is, in your world it is just not such a big ask,