A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME.

Just to set out credentials here, I’m not an academic, I’m not a behavioural psychologist, I’m not an expert in genetics, I’m not an etymologist (however, I do however know the real meaning of the word semantics, as opposed to its common use meaning. Good for me).

So, I’m a Dad. I’m a Parent. I’m a Father. I’m a Guardian. I’m a Carer. I’m an Educator. I’m a Counsellor. I’m a Philosopher. I’m a Taxi-Driver. I’m a Nurse. I’m a Playmate. I’m a Guide, literally a Girl Guide. I’m any number of words that describe taking care of someone unable to take care of themselves (for the time being), nourishing someone in body and mind and helping them grow, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

Is there a word that sums up all of these roles? I’m sticking with what she calls me, because to her, that’s what Da-Da means.

Now, we are told there are any number of ways someone in my situation becomes a Da-Da. And all of these ways have equal merit. Except they don’t, no matter what our social workers told us to tell our daughter. Previous blog authors and commentators are right; let’s face facts – there’s something diminishing in being an adopter, whether it’s not being the “real” father – not having become a Da-Da directly through sexual congress with my wife – or whether it’s having to spend a lot of time writing dutifully on behalf of my daughter to her “real” mother, who hasn’t written back to her “real” daughter in three years.

Right? Wrong; there’s nothing diminishing about it at all in my eyes and in the eyes of almost everyone I know who has become a Da-Da through adoption.

I’m truly weary of being preached at by people who in theory should know better, of adoption apologists, of adoption guilt-vendors. I already know somewhat intuitively and also from practical experience that denying a part of someone’s history or genetic make-up is not a positive-impact exercise on any time- or development-spectrum, thanks.

I also know about nuance – I know what it means and I know what it actually means. Maybe my daughter doesn’t right now – she’s getting there, slowly but surely under our Guidance, Parenting, Taxi-Driving, Teaching, Caring – but adults ought to know, to varying degrees possibly, but at least get the gist.

Who’s the Daddy? I am. And so is someone else. So what.

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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.

The Diagnosis

It’s been one week since my son was diagnosed at St Thomas’ with ASD (Autism), ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and major emotional regulation difficulties.  He was diagnosed by a panel consisting of a Paediatrician, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Speech and Language Therapist and Occupational Therapist who spent 3 hours assessing him.  They were thorough, professional and understanding.  

I came out of the feedback in shock, it was not what I was expecting to hear from them, though of course I suspected it all.  Four years of having been continuously told it was our parenting and attachment that were really the issues doesn’t give you a lot of hope in being understood.  They did understand.  Engaging him with the assessments was a challenge they told me, the motivators changed from moment to moment.  Not only is he easily distracted, he is very interested in what he is distracted by.  And of course he just does not understand people and how they communicate.  They could see how on the edge he was at any given moment, a coke bottle on the brink of fizzing over.

I had to get my son home.  We surprisingly managed without incident considering what he’d just been put through. We walked through the door and I cried.  For the first couple of days they were tears of devastation.  It’s a paradox but although I know we’ve done everything we could have I did really want someone to say, ‘just try this new thing and it will all be ok’ (a magic cure), ‘give him some Ritalin and he’ll cope’ (I would try it!), ‘turn your parenting around and he’ll be better’ (we have, things got a little better), ‘try some therapy, he’ll engage’ (we have, he hasn’t).  What they actually said was ‘you have turned your world upside down for this child, but you can’t do that for him forever.’  They think his problems will be lifelong and are mostly influenced by his genetics.  So that’s Developmental Trauma out of the window, at least partially.

Others’ reactions to the diagnosis have also been difficult.  People immediately questioning it’s accuracy, whether we’re convinced, ‘was it really that thorough?’  The people who’ve been the most supportive and helpful on our journey have effectively been congratulating us on finally achieving some recognition of our difficulties as a family.  They mean well but they have missed the pain that comes with the confirmation.

Some have pointed out that he is still the same child as before.  Well of course he is but we must now shift our expectations and rethink everything.  We are worried for his future, and ours.  I have hope, mostly based on the relationship my husband and I have managed to build with him through sheer perseverance despite his difficulties and the lack of support.  I do believe that with the right support (that we will continue to fight so hard for) our love for him will mean that he finds his way.  That love now has to guide us through some difficult choices.

In the eye of the beholder

​I have just come home from a wedding where one of the guests leaned across the table  and asked “Is that your daughter running around?” When I answered in the affirmative she triumphantly announced to the table “I knew it! She is the absolute image of you! It’s like someone has taken a blue print of you and put it into a little person.” Satisfied with her deduction she grinned at us all and had I been in other company I may have thanked her for the comment without response, but several guests knew of our adoption and it made me self conscious so I put her in the picture.

“Well actually she’s adopted.” I whispered, and then I had to repeat myself as the guest looked entirely bewildered.

“Pardon? … Really?… But she looks so much like you”.

I’m pretty sure I made her feel like she’d said something a bit stupid which was the last thing I wanted to make her feel. Especially as I enjoy people seeing a similarity.

But it got me thinking because so many people are clearly looking out for this stuff. It is by no means the only time it has happened to me, and I hear similar stories from other adoptive parents too.

Only last week I was helping out on my daughter’s school trip and was walking along holding hands with her and another little girl when one of the mums called out ‘How funny! Your daughter walks exactly like you. She’s completely inherited your physicality and way of walking’. This time there was no need to fill her in but it’s clear that spotting a likeness does seem to please people; and I suppose that is why the matching process is so important, although at the time I thought it was absolute nonsense. I couldn’t see why we were told it was unlikely we would be considered as prospective parents for a mixed race child because we are not mixed race ourselves. Or that we wouldn’t be considered for a child of any other ethnicity than our own for the same reasons.

I remember we felt certain we were ready to take on the challenges, and to love and parent a child of any background and culture. But had we been matched with someone who was clearly not biologically related to us would we all now be enduring the opposite responses from people?

Instead of people commenting on our likeness, would they now be constantly asking us why we didn’t look alike? And would that become hard to deal with? And what would that be like for our child? Maybe it would be ok – I get a sense that it would – but it’s not clear cut and I’m not sure how I feel about it anymore..

Daddies are bad.

Daddies are bad because they get up early and go to work before I wake up so we can’t have a hug and a kiss and even though I said they couldn’t have a hug and a kiss for a billion years and twenty-eight, they could.

Daddies are bad because they say the mushroom pool is closed for swimming because they want to go the heated warm one instead.

Daddies are bad because they don’t sing to me at bedtime like Mummy and when they do they don’t sound as nice as Mummy.

Daddies are bad because sometimes when they tickle me it makes me do a little wee in my pants.

Daddies are bad because they’re boys and Mummy’s not a boy and I’m not and girls are better.

Daddies are good because they let me steal money from their pockets and put it in my money box.

Daddies are good because they hold me upside down and spin me round and make me laugh, but one time they made my nose bleed but it didn’t hurt.

Daddies are good because they sometimes don’t do the voices when they read at bedtime when I tell them not to, but their voices are quite good actually. Excepting for Merida; that’s not good.

Daddies are good because they sometimes pick me up when my legs are tired and then they hug me and kiss me, because that’s a rule, and even though they’re not supposed to for a billion years and twenty eight.

Daddies are good because they do the rough-and-tumble and when I do Number 4 from my rough and tumble book and jump on them, they laugh and say “I submit” and don’t mind when I keep doing it anyway.

But Daddies are bad because they say they can’t do Number 4 from their rough-and-tumble book on me til I’m six. And I really want to disappear and come back again. But I’m only 5. That’s bad.

Seen and not heard

We had friends staying for a long weekend, a childless couple as well as a family with two children. It was fascinating watching the couple suddenly knee deep in four kids 24/7, one of them was clearly more at home than the other and it was really interesting to watch the other’s expectations of how he felt the children should behave unfold as the weekend progressed.

What became apparent was that the expectation was pretty much that all children should behave at all times. It was clear that the occasional wrong doing, curt reply, moan, bicker, sulk, back chat, snide look or minor display of disobedience or rudeness etc – were surprising to him.

I think I understand where he is coming from as we are both of an age to have had the mantra of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ quoted to us regularly by our parents and older adults around us as we were growing up and he has had little, if any reason to question that.

Thankfully that kind of parenting is a thing of the past and nowadays that approach is generally recognised as an outdated and somewhat ignorant attitude to child rearing – at least by those of us with children.

However, in various Memes and Social Media posts that regularly do the rounds I am conscious that it is not just my child free friend who feels the way he does, it’s apparent that certain people – possibly of a certain generation – do yearn for the days when it was so and when in their eyes all children were so much better behaved and the world a better place as a result. I would suggest that they do tend to be the same people who share posts about smacking children and the subsequent downfall of society now that it not allowed.

So it has got me wondering about the children of the past, did they all just sit around for hours on end saying nothing and not interrupting the adults around them, did they all behave so well out of the fear of being smacked?

It doesn’t take much thought to realise that the answer is in fact a huge, resounding…NO.

Of course children were heard, of course children misbehaved regardless of the threat of a smack. Of course children were children – just as they are today.

So what is different? What is it that makes certain adults feel that children today are less well behaved, less respectful, less well mannered?

In a word my conclusions is… proximity.

Nowadays children – especially (but far from exclusively) those growing up in cities or towns – tend to be around adults the entire time. In the ‘good ole days’ doors were opened and children went out to play for hours on end, they were free to run and shout and indeed to misbehave – all away from the judgement of adults. They were able to ‘let off steam’, to run and jump and skip and to ride around on bikes, on scooters etc, they played football in the streets and were involved in other sports and games – endlessly releasing all the energy today’s parents have to deal with at home.

There was not only far, far less interaction with their parents and other adults around them, but when they were indoors they were calmer after all the physicality of being outside.

Of course modern parents make sure that their children get to run around, to play and get to be involved in sports, but surely with far more limits on time and ALWAYS under adult supervision.

We know with our sons that when we have failed to get them to release all their energy we suffer the consequences and their behaviour is more troublesome. We could scream and shout at them and insist that they be seen and not heard – but that would hardly be fair considering it is our fault that they are ‘full of beans’ from being kept cooped up in doors all day.

So today’s parents learn to be more patient, more relaxed and more tolerant – because we HAVE to be.

To develop and to find themselves children need to be able to express themselves, they need to be loud and to be playful, they need to challenge and to question, they need to ‘let off steam’ and if they can not simply open the door and go outside to do all this – they need to be able to do it around the adults surrounding them and without being in constant threat of being reprimanded – just for being the children that they are.

So in conclusion, contrary to popular belief I am pretty sure that children are no worse behaved today than they have ever been. There always have been challenging, rude, disrespectful children, just as there have always been wonderful well behaved ones.

As indeed most of our children are today – if we can only allow ourselves to see it.

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.