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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Change

We sense a change.

A small change, but a real change and – fingers crossed – a fundamental change. Although of course we could be wrong – we certainly have been before.

We think we are seeing signs that our younger son’s anger and the screaming and shouting that are a consequence of that anger are being controlled. They are still there, still part of our lives, but it’s somehow feeling different. There now seems to be a desire from him that was clearly not there before, a desire to bring our ‘battles’ to an end. It’s clearly a struggle, but a struggle that maybe he is winning. Slowly, gradually he seems to be taking control.

The anger came as a shock when he first moved in and we were initially quite overwhelmed, but we have got used to it, used to watching it build and watching it take control of him. We could see how he was incapable of dealing with it – of letting it go, but now we feel sure we are seeing a difference. Without doubt we still have a long way to go as the change is small, but it does feel significant, it finally feels that we are heading in the right direction.

Maybe it’s just a little maturity, he is no longer the 4 year old that came to us, but 7 – and a very important 1/2 – and that has to make a difference, no? Things have been improving over the 2 years 8 months he has been with us – gradually – but until now that has been down to the fact that we have slowly learnt how to handle him and his clearly specific needs. We learnt how to stop fighting the anger, how to calm down a situation that initially we were just making worse. I guess we learnt ‘pastoral care’, learnt to do first hand what we were taught at Prep’ course that we would need to do. We learnt how to stop making our reprimanding feel like a threat to him and to the stability we were building, how to reassure him of our love while still making our point that he had done wrong or that his behaviour was unacceptable. It wasn’t / isn’t easy and of course we are sometimes just too angry, tired or frustrated to keep calm and to be the parent he needs, but we immediately pay the price for that and we make a mental note of our failing and the need to be better, stronger and calmer next time.

I guess the small change that we feel we are witnessing feels so significant because we were worried it might never come, we were concerned that the so-very-angry little boy would become a very angry big boy, teenager and ‘out of control’ man and that the anger would always be a part of our lives. Maybe that was somewhat irrational, but in the moment it felt anything but. Now I guess we can hope that it will not be so and we can look to the future as being a little easier, a little brighter. Let’s hope that is the case. We have never allowed the anger to dominate our lives, our family, but the thought of living without is a very promising one. For us, but most of all for him, our little boy.

Our big adoption friendly / attachment aware school choice gamble.


I don’t buy lottery tickets or gamble, but when my husband gave me responsibility of selecting our adopted daughters school, that’s exactly what I did.

Almost three years ago, we met our fabulous children and started family life together. While in the throes of building a family relationship and surviving instant parenting of a 1 & 3 year old, we were pressured by our children’s social worker to select and apply for our daughters school place fairly early into our placement. Under time pressure, not knowing many local families with school aged children and being fairly emotionally exhausted, I will admit to doing fairly limited local research… visiting one school. Excluding many of the immediate local faith school options, I grasped onto a neighbour’s recommendation of a free school which was nearby. It had only been open for 2 years so came with many risks but, it sounded amazing. After looking at reviews and reading about the school, I applied assuming that being a London school, they would have some experience of the needs of looked after and previously looked after children. I was sold on the sound of the nurturing but classic education offered with firm behaviour expectations. To be honest, I didn’t even visit the school until the place was allocated.

Writing this reminds me of the big gamble I took with our children’s education. It was always a risk going with a recently opened school and I was aware it would be a work in progress. So how have we got on?

Our daughters school place was confirmed and I waited for the school to get in touch and arrange a home visit. When it became apparent this was not going to happen, I contacted the school only to have doubts well and truly set in. They no longer offered home visits, could not be less interested in allowing my daughter to visit the school to help prepare her for the move and the (then) head teacher along with her extremely bad attitude, left me spending the summer regretting the school choice and feeling like the worst parent ever. I debated changing to another school but, my husband and I both felt that we had to follow through having made the choice.

Our daughters first few weeks starting school were a test for me. She loved it immediately. I got 5 minutes on her first day to help settle her in the class and then had to leave her to it…. And it was so hard to leave. There were tears.. Mine! My assumption that the school would be experienced with understanding and meeting the needs of children who have experienced developmental trauma and have compromised attachments was fairly misguided. Thankfully, her teacher despite being newly qualified was incredibly nurturing and willing to learn / understand. Yes, some mistakes were made for example: seating a distracted hypervigilant child with her back to the door, not anticipating that changes of staff, environment or school trips lead to edgy/ hypervigilant behaviour.

Collecting my daughter at the end of the day was a lucky dip of either a food angry, emotional daughter who could fly easily into aggressive tantrums and rages or a delightfully happy little girl, loving school and wanting to share every moment. My lowest point was sobbing in the senco’s office about the tantrums and self-destructive behaviours which started about the time our daughter started the school. Hitting herself in frustration or giving herself massive nosebleeds, sometimes nightly, as a result of emotional anxiety and consequently many mornings she and her bed looked like there had been a massacre. I learnt to come to pickup armed with pockets full of snacks and not expect a hello or hug until at least half had been quickly consumed.

While I had conflicted feelings about the school’s lack of attachment experience / awareness, my daughter was thriving. The teachers were fabulous, the curriculum was amazing and being a new “free school” the parents wanted to make it a success There were many, many positives. Changing schools was not an option we would consider, as it would be further disruption. Speaking to other adoptive parents in the borough who had placed their children in school’s known to be experienced with adopted children, I realised we were not alone in having challenges regardless of the school’s experience.

I decided that I would become a squeaky wheel and (be annoying) encourage…… the school to work on becoming attachment aware, transparent regarding how the Pupil Premium Grant was being spent, share my experiences to ensure lessons were learnt and improve communication. Luckily, the head teacher left at the end of our daughter’s first term in reception and a senco started. New staff arrived and it was a breath of fresh air. On a mission, I contacted and met with the interim head which was a refreshing experience. After off loading, and then meeting with the senco laying out all the issues, the school were thankfully receptive to working with me on ensuring our daughter’s needs were met and receptive to feedback on areas of improvement needed. Our daughter thankfully now gets drama / play therapy sessions weekly, consistent staff to support her with changes, I’m notified in advance of changes to prepare her, she has access to confidence boosting clubs / activities and is thriving. The school remain receptive to feedback and ideas, taking on board anything I feel our daughter might benefit from at school. They have started arranging regular follow up sessions with parents of children needing support and are working on encouraging parents or carers of previously LAC to meet up/ support each other. Despite the odd tantrum and nose bleed now, it’s remarkable to reflect how much more settled our daughter is and very excited she is to be returning to school shortly in year 2. After the long summer holiday break, I’m excited she is back to school shortly too!!

As our son prepares to join his big sister and start school in a few weeks, I’m reminded of how far we have come! What a lovely feeling it is this time round to know he will be in good hands with a school who has observed him at nursery, had him do visits to the class/ meet his new teacher, provided him with a book of photos of the class/ school/ teachers to look at over the summer, his teacher is coming to visit at home and a phased starting school plan organised with clear parent/ school communication to ensure his needs will be met. Nurture spaces are in place and support is evident. Staff have had had attachment training and once he settles, there will be discussion on how his Pupil Premium Grant can be used to support him.

While the school continues to work towards becoming an “Attachment Friendly School”, it is really nice to appreciate how far they have come in two years. I realised early on that there was not the joined-up approach I had assumed would be in place regarding information sharing on things like talks on “how to become an attachment friendly school” or free training offers actually being offered directly to the school. I took it upon myself to share with the school any information I came across regarding talks or training opportunities for school’s especially the free ones. I would follow up and repeat if needed. Thankfully, a deputy head and the sendco have embraced the school working to become an attachment friendly school with full support of the head teacher and governors. They have gone to great effort to attend talks, become actively involved with virtual schools, signed up with PCT and more. Most importantly, they are working in partnership with parents such as myself on ensuring the school understands and works towards meeting the needs of their looked after and previously looked after students.

The icing on the cake apart from knowing how our children are benefiting is to hear from a fellow wearefamily parent, giving positive feedback about hearing the deputy head from my daughter’s school, speaking at a local virtual schools talk about the benefits of schools becoming an attachment friendly school… So far thankfully the gamble in paying off. Perhaps it’s time to buy that lottery ticket ….

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.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #8: How did I get here?

20150214_122654I picked up a brand new “Frozen” themed bike for my 4 year old daughter just before Christmas and even though it’s not my new bike, I’m brimming over with joy every time I see it!

Carrying it home from the shop was one of those moments when you think, “how did I get here?”

I’ve been a mum for nearly three years. I’ve seen her through the nappies, the dummies, the pushchairs, the tantrums (on-going), but this feels like a dream. A moment to cherish. “I’ve got a daughter and I’m buying her a bike for Christmas.” I just can’t believe how happy that sentence makes me.

All our Christmases have been great but it feels like there’s something big about this one. The tree is bigger. Our daughter is bigger and this year was able to reel off a proper BIG list to Father Christamas of what she “needs”.

This year she was finally big enough to help me decorate our tree; yes she put rubber bands on and bits of plastic and anything else she could get her hands on onto it, but to me it is beautiful.

It’s not been an easy year. We’ve had family illnesses, operations, challenging beahviour from the little one but this is one of those ‘joy’ moments I’m really going to hold in my heart forever.

Funny how the really big joy moments totally overshadow all the bad ones.

I’m so thankful for that.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

The Questions #12 A peek into how we do family

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning

Daughter shouts “mum, mummy, MUM, MUUUUUMMMMYYYYY”. Son babbles to himself or cries if his babbles aren’t responded to in time.
Why adoption?

We had a still born baby girl following IVF and wanted to do something worthwhile instead. Also my husband is adopted.
Mainly we wanted a family.
From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

16 months
How could it be improved?

We started the new short assessment but due to lack of resources it still took nearly a year to be approved despite us being described as straight forward adopters.
What has been the biggest surprise?

How much I’m enjoying it. And how supportive others have been.
How was the assessment process?

Good, interesting and reassuring.
What’s your favourite thing to do together?

Outdoor play in a park.
What makes you and your family laugh?

Playing together. Tickling and rolling around cuddling.
The best thing about being a parent?

Rewards of seeing how the children have progressed. Meeting new people.
The hardest thing about being a parent?

Frustration that we do everything we can to make them happy and they don’t understand that and have tantrums.
The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?

Just to let them be. For them to be honest in asking for what they want.
What time do you go to bed?

10.45 – 11.00 but it’s too late and we are always tired.

The Briefest Moment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was the briefest of moments, but a moment that has filled me with guilt and which I know will stay with me forever.

It was early days – in fact just five or six weeks into placement – the honeymoon period was over and we were starting to see a different side to our new sons. We were totally smitten with the boys and felt that we had loved them from the very first moment we were brought together, but now we were being challenged and we were finding it hard.

The previous couple of weeks had been tough – very tough – mostly with our then almost 5 yr old, who was angry and upset and confused – which we still see signs of today – and daily we were dealing with that. We were new parents and rapidly discovering that all the experience we had of looking after children seemed to be irrelevant when it came to our own, our own damaged and wounded children.

Our son is extremely short tempered and he will fly into a rage over very minor incidents, it is a rage that was uncontrollable then and grew worse with our feeble and misguided attempts to deal with it. We knew we were in it over our heads and we knew we were just not breaking through. It felt like we were failing and to be honest it felt more and more like we were faced with an insurmountable challenge. However, it was a challenge we were committed to and no matter what it took we would get the better of it. Nobody said it was going to be easy, in fact we had it drummed into us on the prep’ course that it would be anything but.

To make matters worse we were exhausted, emotionally and physically. We had not slept a full night since they joined us in our home, jumping up from our bed at the slightest sounds from their bedroom next door, lying awake for hours considering the day we had just had and worrying about what the day ahead would bring.

In addition nothing could have prepared us for the sheer magnitude of the emotional roller coaster ride we found ourselves on and just how weary that would make us.

From the moment our son woke that morning we knew it was going to be ‘one of those days’, there is a look in his eyes, a little extra swagger and attitude in his interaction that we were already able to spot and identify, but to this day we have no idea what determines that mood. It was not a good start to the day and with my partner and older son leaving early we were left alone. My gentle reprimanding of our sons constant challenging increased, and as he and I sat down after breakfast to play together it was clear that all of what I was saying was falling on deaf ears.

Gradually my anger was growing and getting more and more difficult to control as he persisted in his mis behaviour and his determination to ignore my attempts to bring it to an end. Finally a very stern warning that one more time and he would have time-out (a last resort then and of course eliminated completely now) which predictably was immediately followed by the action that spurred the warning.

With far too much anger he was lifted from the floor and stood in the time-out spot, from here on in the situation just deteriorated totally out of control, with my anger continuing to grow – and the volume of my shouting increasing with it – as he refused to stay for time-out, the more I shouted the worse he got and we were in a vicious cycle going absolutely nowhere.

With time we were to learn that he gets worse as we get angrier as of course it destabilises the security we are building, but way back then we were a long way off that realisation and I just saw a defiant and naughty little boy determined to ‘get one over on me’. How crass and ignorant that statement sounds now.

He was refusing to stay on the time-out spot and I was sure that giving into that would be the beginning of the end and that he would never listen to me and my discipline from that moment on, so I repeatedly lifted him back into place. His anger continued to build and soon it was completely out of control and there I found myself, on my knees, face to face with my 4 year old son trying to hold him in place, his face blazing red from absolute fury and his spit covering my face as he simply stood and screamed at me.

And then that moment.

I gave up. I accepted defeat and realised that I couldn’t do this. I had failed. I was not a parent and could never be, which of course meant only one thing – he had to go back. Back into Care.

That briefest of moments.

And then thankfully it was gone and I pulled myself together. Could this 4 yr old really get the better of the 50 yr old me? Of course not – that is NOT what this is about. Then the realisation that this was in fact all about me, not his naughtiness or his anger, but my handling of it. I didn’t know the answers, but I knew it was about me finding them.

Totally ashamed at the thought that had run through my mind and with my heart breaking for him – my beautiful SON – for even thinking what I had, the anger drained from my body. I let go of him and I stood up and he of course immediately ran from me and he hid under the table. Calmer now, I lowered my voice to little more than a whisper and told him that ‘under the table’ was the new time-out spot and his 4 minutes were starting from now.

He stayed – thank goodness he stayed – I am sure it was because he was as relived for the ‘out’ as I was. The – very long – 4 minutes passed and I attempted to calm him and to get some kind of order back in place. He was having none of it and refused to move from his spot where he stayed for quite some time. When he did finally come out he would not come to me or allow me to hug him, which of course I desperately needed to do for my own sake as much as his.

He stayed angry, hurt, upset and distant and then finally my partner arrived home. Initially he resisted my partners efforts to console him, but he was in such need of comfort that he did eventually allow himself to be picked up and I stood and watched as our little boy crumpled into my partners shoulder and sobbed his heart out.

This had been tough on me, but my goodness it was now very clear to see how tough it had been on him and I was responsible for that.

Things had to change – and they did, or should I say WE did.

Nearly three years on we still have an angry little boy, but episodes as extreme as this are now rare and we are hopeful that they will soon be eliminated completely. We have learnt how to handle him much better and in doing so we have became more like the parents he needs and my goodness so deserves.

Far more importantly though, there has never been a repeat of my thoughts in that moment, but as a parent those thoughts will always haunt me and shame me.

We are a forever family and families come as they are – for good and bad – and one thing is for sure – being adopted does not make you any less forever than a birth child and to even think so for the briefest of moments is surely unforgivable.