Four Years.

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

Best years of my life so far.

Easily.

Here’s to many many more my beautiful daughter.

Advertisements

A Simple Equation

I was at an adoption prep group recently talking as an established adopter and mentioned that even after being placed with us for 3 years our youngest son still clearly struggles with the turmoil of his past, I said that we frequently suffer the consequences of that in his difficult behaviour and how tough we were still finding it. A social worker paused me for a moment, asked how old my son was and said to the group –

‘This sounds quite typical and is to be expected, there is a very rough guide that we use which is the age of the child when they come to you representing in years how long it will take before they are likely to fully settle’

IF this had been said during our prep course or any time during our adoption process we had both forgotten it and hearing it now was wonderfully reassuring.

For a large part of the time our son has been with us we have been waiting – and worse still expecting – for there to be a very obvious and significant improvement in his behaviour, waiting for the signs that he had indeed settled and that he had let go of his hurt and anguish and that he had embraced the love and more importantly the security he now had in our family.

And we have been worried, sometimes very worried that we could not see definite signs that we were close to being there or indeed – on some days – that we were on a path leading there at all.

We do know that things are better, there are of course unquestionable signs of improvement, but we were not sure if some of that is just maturity – regardless we still feel that we are a long way from things being easily manageable.

But now we know better.

Now we know that we have been harbouring unrealistic expectations and that we are still likely to be a way off him being fully settled and his behaviour reflecting that.

You know? Being aware of that helps tremendously. It helps us to relax and helps us accept the behaviour so much more readily – and that’s a huge positive for our parenting and for our family.

Update –

Amazingly this blog has been sitting around unfinished for almost 2 years and our son has in fact now been with us for almost 5 years – his age when he joined us.

So is the equation right?

Well we still deal with difficult behaviour so I could instinctively say NO, but in fact would not be true.

The behaviour we struggled with is now quite rare and there is no question that there is a huge change in him, in fact I do think it’s clear to see that he has very gradually settled into his new life and indeed continues to do so. I would say without question that he is far more secure in our family than he was when I started the blog originally and the difficulties we face today are more to do with his diagnoses of reactive attachment disorder, which we have learnt to deal with therapeutically and which has resulted in far more calm for all of us.

What we have learnt is that there are no short cuts and that as adoptive parents we have to embrace the difficulties for what they are and to allow time to heal the scars that our children arrive with, we have to give them time and we need to have realistic expectations along the way – and trust me it’s worth every bit of effort that takes.

3 horsemen

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

What I see.

When I look at our sons –
I see confusion over the disruptions in their lives and the difficult heart wrenching changes they have endured.
I see hurt and anger for what they have suffered.
I see the lack of self worth that has resulted and I see a lack of trust in the adults around them.
I see their belief that it could happen to them again and I see their lack of certainty that we really are forever.
I see the fear that this instills in them and I see their doubt that the security of their lives today is real.
But bit by bit I see change.
More and more –
I see bigger smiles.
I see deeper laughter.
I see unquestionable happiness.
I see them settling and I see security growing, proper deep routed security.
I see contentment for the family that we are and I can see the future overriding the past.
I see hope.
I see love.
And most amazing of all – When I look at my sons I see… US.
I see my partner and I can clearly see me.
I see likeneses that never cease to amaze me.
I see our faces, I see our smiles.
I see our mannerisms, I see our expressions and also I hear our words.
From the moment we met we felt that they were unquestionably our children and more and more we can SEE it too.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #2

20161223_131359

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

If I had a chance to do this all again, would I? Yes I would.

I love this time of year, I love the joy and the twinkle of great things to come.
I see the stars and then I wonder how did I get here? To this place, right now.
I asked my son what he wanted for Christmas and he said a dinosaur that roared! My daughter is not old enough to ask for things so I’m just guessing what she would like.
But I know all I want for her is to be able to walk and talk. Last Christmas Day she communicated with me for the first time by playing peep o. In the last year she has blossomed and grown so much but there is part of her that is locked up tight. She reminds me of an Anabel doll, who obligingly does what is needed and then wraps herself back into her own world and sleeps her way through.
I’m asking for hope this year as my present under the tree. Hope to carry on living and loving my family in a way that will nurture and give back. Hope to understand the nuances of childhood trauma. Hope to listen to the unspoken monologues that must need to be heard. Hope to laugh and hope to light a candle for light to shine where there was darkness and hope that tomorrow will bring us all joy and happiness.

 

Assumptions make an ass out of you: part II.

20161109_115317-effectsMy recently published blog Assumptions Make an ass out of you http://wp.me/p44UZE-zs received the following comment. “What a shame – seems to have lost courage and decided on a ‘Hollywood’ ending… I was looking forward to where this was going. Maybe Part II is called for?”

So here I go with Part II. 

The Hollywood ending – yes, quite. On the one hand I lost courage; on the other, the ending was actually apposite. But it was a cop out of sorts.

So what exactly is wrong with adoption, then? Let’s look at some of the arguments…

1) It’s an archaic form, artificially creating a family, wrenching children away from their roots and cultural heritage. It fits a conservative, middle class view of family. It allows no alternative viewpoint; community responsibility for child-rearing is considered a liberal folly.

Or…

2) It serves a fiscal purpose – attempting to keep children in their birth families or extended communities where it’s no longer possible is expensive; and placing children with other families via adoption where they become a zero sum on a social security balance sheet, more often than not, makes more economic sense. Even with some breakdown rates as high as 60% in some areas for children adopted at 9 years old or older, the average time from placement to breakdown of 3.5 years still saves local authorities millions of pounds.

Or…

3) It’s really about childless singles or couples struggling with lost expectations, about their lack of ability to cope tarred with the childless tag, and not about the welfare of the child in the long term. Plus, birth parents are paraded in front of prospective adopters and made to express that they have done the right thing for their child or children by handing them over for adoption, to assuage any feelings of adopter guilt in the complicity of the practice, but it’s lip service rather than a conviction. Some birth parents don’t even truly understand that adoption is permanent.

And so on and so forth. Blah blah blah.

So what?

Let’s go back to broad-brush basics. Some children are being damaged in their birth environments, whether through acts or omissions, whether active or passive. They are removed from that environment and placed in a different one with people who try to nurture them through that damage. One of the ways this happens is through adoption, which is by far the method of placement with the lowest rate of breakdown (where children are (re-)placed into the so-called “care” system). No system of assistance is perfect.

But it’s not quite that simple either.

Whatever your feelings on adoption in theory, the practice is of course highly personal.

While I do stand by the feeling I expressed in my earlier blog that ultimately as parents, whether adoptive or otherwise, what we do is prepare our children to leave us, why was I left with the feeling that my identity as “father”, which has longevity connotations, had changed to simply “guardian”, which doesn’t?

Thing is, turns out it’s not just “blah blah blah. So what”.

I thought that I went into the adoption process with my eyes open. I really think I did; I felt the rage of the voiceless birth father, the anxious guilt of the birth mother, the tiny helpless voice of the child, the “am I doing this right?” frightened look barely hidden of the newly adoptive mother. But frankly I’ve recently had my compass completely skewed by a simple yet powerful blog questioning adoption as a practice. A blog that I stumbled upon (not a WAF blog for the sake of clarity) with which I vehemently disagreed, a blog I found vitriolic and unreasoning. But still there was something about it that has deeply disturbed my sense of self within my “created” family unit; and more than that, my own relationship with my mother and more vigorously with my deceased father.

It has thankfully not skewed or in any other way disturbed my love for my child; but it has detracted from my sense of what being a father is, – if you can understand that as a concept separate from my child.

For how long? I’m not sure, but I do feel off-centre and somewhat adrift. And it’s not a feeling I am comfortable with.

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