Dear Grandparents.

Dear Grandparents.

Being the birth mum it seems that people simply put all the blame on your daughter, even the birth dad gets overlooked by most – regardless of the obvious fact that he failed our sons just as much as a parent.

Somehow it seems that it is always the mothers inadequacies that are ultimately brought into question and she who has the finger pointed at her for her failings, regardless of the fact that in this case mum and dad were still together up until the children were removed and indeed beyond.

As unjust as it is I do get it, dads can have a horrible habit of sitting back and leaving it all up to the mother or worse still just walking away from their children, their responsibility. It’s then when the – often very capable and to be admired – mothers have to stand up to the plate and keep returning those balls no matter how fast and relentlessly they keep coming.

But not all mothers can manage and can you not see that your daughter was possibly set up to fail from way back, maybe even from the very start.

And fail she did – horribly, yet does the responsibility for the children being taken into Care really fall on her shoulders alone?

I read her report, I know that she didn’t have the best start to life herself. It seems that you failed her – failed to teach her what a parental role fully is, failed to instil the virtues and the sense of responsibility required. Maybe even failed to teach her love.

You failed her and in turn did you not then fail our sons and their siblings too?

Where were you when she was clearly struggling? Where were you when your grand children were hungry, dirty or left alone?

Where were you when social services stepped in?

She was little more than a child when she first became a mother, even if you had experienced similar failings in your upbringing, you would have had maturity and one would hope wisdom – surely you knew better.

I know that you lived locally, I’m pretty sure that you must have been aware of how bad things were getting and how your grandchildren were suffering.

Am I now fully pointing the finger of blame at you?

No and I apologise if it feels like that is so. Your daughter was an adult, she was married and had 5 children – she was responsible for herself and her family.

And maybe you did try, maybe you did step in and got pushed away, but nothing I have seen or heard suggests that was so.

So this is not about blame – after all what can blame possibly achieve? It’s just about recognition.

Recognition that the picture is in fact a much bigger one than many people see and recognition for your daughter who is simply not the ‘demon’ mother many now make her out to be and that maybe it is convenient for even you to buy into.

It may all have been beyond her ability, beyond her comprehension, and I guess she has paid the ultimate price for that and I’m sure she suffers every day.

However, I do wonder if you do too?

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12 Blogs 5: When was your best Christmas ever?

When was your best Christmas ever and why?

Easy – The one when my dad came back.

It was 1976 and my parents had recently separated.

As a small child I must have missed the more obvious signs of what was to come but i do remember being woken up in the night by sound of my mother crying and when morning came my dad was gone. It was a strange feeling.

It followed close on the heels of the hottest summer imaginable. My dad and I seemed to practically live up at the outdoor swimming pool and I can remember laughing my head off with him over and over again in the water, as well as brilliant family BBQ’s where we were allowed to stay up late in the heat. I thought everything was perfect.

Then Autumn came and he was gone and the atmosphere in our house became confusing- and sombre.

Memories of this tine are like snapshots…

Day Trips out with my dad – when it slowly dawned on me that he was willing to buy me whatever I wanted! Brilliant! That had never happened before…

Catching my mum crying when she didn’t know I was watching…

Teachers suddenly paying me much closer attention and asking if I was ok.. apparently I didn’t have to stay at school all day if I didn’t feel I could manage it.. Again – brilliant! That had never happened before! – I thought I was OK.

Then Christmas was on it’s way and my Grandparents arrived much earlier than usual. That’s when it hit me. It suddenly dawned on me that my dad was not going to be there on the big day and I can remember an unleashing of sadness and fear that I had somehow managed to suppress up until that point.

Christmas without my dad seemed awful. Wrong. Unthinkable.

Nonetheless festive preparations carried on and as the tree went up and presents appeared underneath it, there was an inescapeable atmosphere of something being missing, and as a child I felt the overwhelming need to try and fix it. It felt like my life depended on it but I didn’t have the tools to do so.
So instead I just worried and worried and watched.

Then Christmas Eve came and there was a knock at the door. My mum said “why don’t you get it?”

It was my dad! He was back! They’d sorted things out.

What I remember most of that night is him lying on the floor laughing while me and my brother crawled all over him in a marathon wrestling session because we couldn’t get enough.

It was the best Christmas ever because my family got back together but it has also stayed with me for another reason.

I soaked up everything that was going on in that house in the lead up to the best Christmas ever and it has been with with me ever since.
And I have come to realise that this is what children do. we cannot protect them by telling them what’s going on is not their fault, it doesn’t go in. Doesn’t compute because it is not a conscious decision to worry. It just happens…

I remember this Christmas more clearly than any of the others and I’m sure a big part of that is because of the fear and worry that things were not right. I was vigilante the entire time and it imprinted on my memory.

Whatever we’re going through, it seeps into the very being of our children and leaves a mark.

If I hear songs that were popular around that time, I still get taken back to the time my dad left and the feeling of deep uncertainly I learned to live with.

Memories are physical as well as mental and we carry them around good and bad. As do our own children on daily basis.

12 Blogs #4 A Blog about Christmas


Would I like to write about Christmas?
Well, I would but I’m sorry as it won’t be all sparkle and joy. I have found myself having to dig deep to find even a little Christmas spirit this year and it feels like it has been like this for some time, I wish it were different.
Once upon a time I looked forward to Christmas with childlike wonder and excitement. I was the queen of Christmas cheer. I loved the anticipation of decorating the tree, singing Christmas carols, writing and sending out Christmas cards, spending time with friends and family, the giving of gifts I had either lovingly chosen or even handmade. Where has the sense of delight and magic gone.
I long for those Christmases gone by and wish I could bring the energy, enthusiasm and pleasure back to life, into the here and now.
Before parenthood, I dreamt of celebrating Christmas with my own little family, I fantasised about watching our little cherub open presents on Christmas morning. In my mind’s eye I saw that little person smiling in delight, happy and easy going amid the Christmas goings on (turns out that last bit was some fantasy, trauma is rarely easy going!).

That said I have the family I dreamt of. The cherub I wished for. But after our first forever family Christmas some years ago the gloss and shine of those Christmas hopes and dreams has worn thin. It is reflective of an accumulation of hard times across these years.
Maybe I need to cut myself some slack. This year has been particularly hard. I am incredibly tired… drained, drawing on Christmas spirit and goodwill feels like a huge effort, I have little left to give, I am spent!
That said, those who meet me on the street will be none the wiser, I will still put on my Santa hat, I will find a smile and I will create some Christmas magic, for our cherub, our little family and memory making.

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.

Yearning for secure attachment

I assume that most adopters feel that the most crucial aspect of our relationship with our child/children initially is getting them to attach. I think it’s fair to say that we feel that attachment proves that we are doing a good job, that we are creating real security and that we are ‘getting it right’, in fact that we are unquestionably becoming a ‘complete’ family – and the sooner that it is achieved the better.

It’s only natural that we all yearn for that child/parent bond to be significant as quickly as possible, the bond that we are enviously aware is no doubt automatically there with birth children, yet is one that we have to work hard to achieve as adopters – after all we are competing with the ghosts of birth parents, foster parents and other parental figures that have been in their life prior to us, maybe even a teacher or a grandparent, aunt/uncle or older sibling.

Our children arrive as strangers and although they reassuringly turn to us right from the start we know that it is as their care givers and that it is led by circumstance and need – not emotion. We take what is on offer and as time goes by maybe even start to kid ourselves that it is real even though we know that it is too soon and more than we should be expecting, regardless we know that we have to keep trying, keep doing the best that we can to win our way into their hearts.

And gradually we see change, we see a increasing level of closeness, an intimacy that is new and of course so very rewarding. We feel that all our hard work is paying off and we allow ourselves to assume that all those fears of damaged attachment that the social workers planted in our minds throughout the preparation course and beyond are indeed unfounded – even for those of us who may have children who have been diagnosed with attachment disorder. We feel fortunate to have escaped the issues we were told could so clearly be a part of our life – forever.

Or maybe not! Maybe our child/children are not as settled as we hope for and maybe we are dealing with difficulties, with challenging behaviour, behaviour that we are truly struggling with, maybe there are clear signs that the attachment is questionable, signs that I think many of us chose to disregard or play down in attempts to convince ourselves that they have indeed attached, or at least started to attach.

My partner and I certainly did, we saw clear signs that our sons had attached from quite early on in the placement, or more to the point – we felt it. We felt the love, the bond, we felt the attachment and it seemed so real – and in the case of our oldest son amazingly it seems that it was.

However for our younger son, it is now evident that we really have been fooling ourselves. We certainly knew he had issues, which we always put down to the trauma he suffered. We knew that he was diagnosed with attachment disorder and that he displayed behaviour reflecting this, yet we still believed that there was true attachment. We feel his love, we see his joy when he interacts with us, we see his need for us and the unquestionable security that we bring.

Yet now we know that it is just not enough and that we still have a way to go regardless of the more than 5 years we have been together and we also know – and now accept – that there may never be full secure attachment.

Because of behaviour problems (mostly at school) he recently underwent a phycological assessment in view to undertake ‘theraplay’ and we have been truly shocked by one set of results in particular.

The therapist had asked our son to draw a circle and then a larger circle around this and the same again and again. She then asked him to think of all the relationships he has had and currently has in his life and starting in the centre circle write the names of the people that are most important to him and then work his way out as the relationships feel less important.

Our son wrote just 5 names, 4 in the centre and one in the second circle. These names include the one constant in his life – his brother – as well as his one and only friend and the family dog. Shockingly these 5 names did not include either myself or my partner.

They also did not include birth parents, long term foster parents (of almost 3 years), other siblings (who we are still in contact with regularly), a new aunt who he was especially close to until her death 3 years ago or any other of his new extended family – other than Granddad (my father), who we have not witnessed a particularly close bond to and who sadly has just died – adding to our son’s loss.

The therapist gave us time to digest the information and then said that she realised that it must be difficult to hear, but in fact was not too surprising. She pointed out that he had left off all the people he has got close to who have in some way deserted him – undermining his attachment. She said that our absence was evidence that he was still not able to fully attach to us because of the fear (probably subconscious fear) that we too would ultimately let him down and leave him – as all these people in his life before us have and as indeed Granddad has now done too.

We know the loss he has suffered has severely affected him, but I guess we hoped that we had broken through that and that the close, loving relationship that we have is proof of secure attachment and that we really had reassured him that we are not just here for him now, but that we always will be.

We just hope more than anything in the world that we will eventually get there. The positive is that we are optimistic and even if full secure attachment never happens, we feel confident that he will always know how much we love him and that we will always be here for him, no matter what.

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.

Unattached to school.

Photo by lili Gooch

Our son has been kicked out of school.

That is two and a half years of almost constant struggle (and endless meetings) with the school reduced to just one line.

Two and a half years of trying to get them to realise that his behaviour is not naughtiness and that is is controllable, two and half years of trying to make then understand his needs (which are quite typical of adopted and traumatised children) and the correct way to address them, two and a half years of him suffering and consequently failing to get an education because of their inability to make him feel safe and calm.

Sadly, ultimately it boiled down to that one simple line and that is all that now matters for us.

The school tried – at times they tried very hard indeed – but their attempts were often misguided and sadly short lived. They would feel that they resolved one issue and another would raise its head and then they would simply give up. It has never felt that they were wanting to learn and to grow as a school, frustratingly it always felt like they were doing what was required to placate us – the frustrated, demanding parents. Without the belief that it was benefitting them too I fear that their investment into it lacked any true conviction.

We never felt we had the understanding or the assistance of the SENCO to fight our corner or from the ‘Pastoral support teacher’ who barely seemed to even understand pastoral care – so it always felt like a battle we were fighting alone and in hindsight we can see that it was one we were never destined to win.

The suggestion of finding him a ‘special school’ was made regularly throughout the two and a half years, yet nobody could tell us what kind of school he needed to be in or indeed where to find one.

Fortunately we had started looking into alternatives and had found a school that seemed to offer an amazingly therapeutic approach within reasonable distance of where we live and which does indeed put the special needs of its children first and foremost.

However we were yet to introduce ourselves to the school or indeed apply for admission for our son when on the last day of term the old school informed us that our son is no longer welcome there.

Thankfully the school we had found has been incredibly understanding and have accepted him pretty much immediately as they could see that it was a critical situation.

It’s very early days and we are fully aware that we are in a ‘honeymoon period’, however we are full of hope as so far things have been amazing. Our son is clearly at ease and comfortable in an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of his emotional needs.

They have not witnessed one issue so far and have said that his behaviour has been exemplary and for the first time in a long while he is concentrating on work and he is actually achieving.

It is a total turn around.

He is the same child, we are the same parents parenting in the same way that we always have – yet the old school just couldn’t accept that THEY were failing him and creating the environment that was so difficult for him to function in.

We are told as adopters that mainstream schools must meet our children’s needs and I understand that the government are allocating a dedicated teacher in every school who is aware of the special needs of our children and will be there to support them.

However, how well trained and how capable they will be and just how willing the school they are part of is to listen to what they have to say remains to be seen.

Our son is not a bad child, in fact family and friends around us are shocked when we share the issues that the school have been facing as they know a child who is nothing like the one the school knows.

Even if it is just a ‘honeymoon period’ which comes to an end and the new school are subjected to the behaviour that the previous school struggled so deeply with, we know that they will still not see him as a bad boy and just like we have learnt to do at home, they will see that they are doing something wrong and they will address the situation accordingly – and they will get the results required.

Isn’t that what ALL schools should be doing?