We Are Family Blog 2015 in review!

Here it is! Everything you ever wanted to know about the blog in 2015!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #11: Memories of Christmases Past

Image 2I can only recall one Christmas from my childhood. I was 6 years old and I was beaming with the holiday spirit. I don’t remember much else up to the age of 15. People tell me stories, but they might as well be telling me about someone else’s life. Because of this, I sometimes feel that I never had a childhood. All I know is that I cannot recall two thirds of my life. I have learned to be okay with this fact and once in a while, when I really dig deep, I find another distant memory that I can add to my odd collection. This is comforting, because then I know that it’s all in there somewhere and bit by bit I’m discovering my life.

I have not always been okay with my lack of memory; it used to create an unsettling lack of self. I didn’t know who I was, because I didn’t have the tools to deal with all the bad things in my childhood. And in my respected, academic family it was preferred to sweep it under the carpet and uphold the illusion of a well-functioning family. But Christmas was a glistening sham, where we could pretend that alcoholism and violence were strangers to us. Therefore I packed all the bad, but also the good, memories away. And I lost myself in the process. I spent my teenage years trying to piece a person together. Not on a blank slate, but on a weird, dark, wobbly slate that I couldn’t read or understand. It was like starting from scratch, but having to build a hopefully stable person on unstable ground.

At the age of 20, I finally went to my first therapist to deal with the dark wobbly thing that followed me around. It was like living above an abyss that I was afraid I would fall into. I had found some peace with my missing memory, but still struggle with the consequences. However, now I was confronted with questions to which I didn’t have any answers. I had no idea who I was or where I came from and it was terrifying to let someone onto this secret. But it was also very hard to explain. How could I know so little about my own life?

Now I have created a mess of a collage from stories and pictures and unearthed memories. I build myself and my life every day and I create new memories that I try my hardest to hold onto. Mostly I rely on feelings. I may not remember the details, but I remember the feelings from the other Christmases.

And for now that’s good enough.

Why the label?

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

Many years ago I remember watching an interview with a famous musician who took exception to the interviewer bringing up the fact that one of his children was adopted, and I can also remember wondering what all the fuss was about.

Nowadays I get it.

More and more I’m becoming aware of our children being referred to in this way. Not just as our children but as our ‘adopted children’

Why the label? What does it add other than a frisson of mystery around the birth of said child? It also quite unfairly reveals more personal information about our children than others; why?

Recently in the press we have had a high profile hollywood star’s ‘adopted daughter’ committing the sin of getting married without having her ‘adoptive parents’ present at the ceremony. This story ran and ran for days with the adjective ‘adopted’ peppered throughout the coverage. It was irrelevant in the context and carried the quiet implication that perhaps the adopted status of the child was in some way an explanation for a rift.

And this is by no means the only example I have come across.

It makes me worry for my children. How are they supposed to feel ok about themselves if adoption is regularly referenced in this way?

Are we talking about it too much?

I personally know of two teenage children adopted at birth who are tired of their background being referenced all the time with one of them recently proclaiming loudly to his bemused mother “Why are you always going on about me being adopted? I’m sick of it. Can’t I for once just be your son and that’s all?”

Food for thought…

The Impossible Decision – Part 1

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

We are four days into our summer holiday. Last night was an unusually late night out and not so surprisingly (but in fact quite uncharacteristically) the children are sleeping late this morning, needless to say I am making the most of this rare occurrence and I am enjoying a well deserved lie-in.

I am looking out at a perfect clear blue Southern European sky and I am just starting to feel the warmth of the early morning sun and it feels good, I can sense my body responding and even without my first coffee of the day it is willingly coming to life.

I had imagined the beginning of this particular family holiday giving me some food for thought and possibly some material worth sharing in a blog, but in fact even before we left home we had news that meant that the blog was destined to be something quite different from what I could have imagined.

I was conscious yesterday that I was starting to relax and that I could feel some of the stress of the real world back home fade into the ocean as I sat on the beach and soaked up that eternally restful vista of waves breaking on the shore. In the pre children days it would take less than a day to fully relax and to lose myself in my holiday, since our sons moved in I am aware that I am now never completely relaxed – not even when on holiday – and although I can shed the burden of the stress of work and the endless bills to pay back home, the awareness of the responsibility of being parents sits heavily on our shoulders and carries its own special kind of pressures that never seem to leave you.

This is a very special holiday for our sons because we have invited their elder sister along. The sister that had always been there, the sister that had looked after them when birth mum didn’t, the sister they had left behind at the foster parents – the sister we took them away from. The sister they clearly – and obviously – love so very much.

She has had a pretty terrible time of it almost all of her life and we just can’t help feeling guilty at the fact that we have added to that, not intentionally of course, but by breaking up the family when her brothers came to live with us. I wrote in a previous blog Ask The 8 Year Old about the fact that she had been given the absurd and totally unrealistic ‘choice’ of either staying with the foster parents (and the known security that offered) at the expense of being separated from her brothers, or waiting for the huge unknown of adoption.

Her obvious decision to stay did not result in any kind of ‘happy ever after’ as not only was life in the foster home quite tough for her – but it broke down after two years.

Moved to a new foster home we have been hopeful that she would settle and be happy, but unbelievably and tragically that is not so and it was this shocking piece of news that we were given just before we left the UK.

We were told that at after just over a year and a half into the placement, the new foster parents have expressed their need to give her up too – not because of anything she has done, but because of some vague family circumstances. Social services say that they are trying to resolve the situation, but they sounded anything but hopeful.

It seems she is destined for the typical life of an ‘older child in care’, being passed around from pillar to post… unless of course we step in and adopt her too.

It’s the logical thing to do isn’t it? She is the sister of our sons, practically family already – are we really going to stand by and watch her childhood be destroyed further and not do the ‘right’ thing? Are we really just going to keep our fingers crossed and hope that eventually she will find a home and the love she deserves?

It’s obvious what has to be done. We know what is best for her. We are possibly the only people in a position to turn things around, to give her a secure, loving home and some hope for the future.

Yet to be brutally honest – it just isn’t that straight forward and we just don’t know if we can.

Of course I want to say ‘yes we will adopt her’, but it could be the wrong thing for us – for our family. We know our youngest is still not fully settled, even after three years with us and we also know that change is one of the most difficult things for him to cope with.

We know he can feel threatened when his brother is getting more attention than him, even when it is from their sister and that has been more than evident over the past couple of days.

We feel the boys have adjusted to their position as youngest and oldest child in a family of four and we fear that another child 5 years older may upset the equilibrium that we have worked so hard to achieve. Social services would not even consider putting an older child into a family if is was not a sibling and possibly only then if the situation is as desperate as this one is.

We feel that we have all ‘grown into’ our family over the last three years and that the ‘fit’ is just about perfect for all four of us now. We have never doubted our love for our sons – that was pretty instantaneous – and we don’t question their love for us now, but there was an incredibly difficult settling in period that we had to work hard to get through, there are clashes of personality that have had to be worked on, big ups and down that we have had to adjust to and learn to appreciate, to tolerate and learn how to deal with and now there is a history of understanding, respect and love as a family, as a family of four.

Although far from perfect, things are good – in fact very good now – and we are scared to threaten that on any level.

But isn’t that all just horribly selfish? Isn’t it just far too much all about ‘us’? Is that really how we should be making decisions in our lives? Keeping them safe, keeping them manageable because that suits us, regardless of the potentially devastating affect that can have on others.

There is of course the possibility that the sister could join us and all will be OK, that some of the issues we are still dealing with our youngest could actually be resolved by reuniting the siblings, that there may well be no major issues of any sort and indeed bringing her back into their lives now could be preventing issues we would face in the future when they start to wonder why she was excluded from our family.

Thankfully she is currently unaware of the new placement being under threat, but it is news waiting for her upon her return in just over three weeks time and if we step in now there is no reason that she need ever discover that truth. Ironically – and potently – she has already expressed her desire to be with us long term (that happened on day one out here) and I am pretty sure if asked she will now make the decision to be with her brothers.

It feels like we are faced with an impossible decision, we somehow feel like we could be damned if we do – and damned if we don’t.

Although time is against us (as a decision needs to be made before we return home) I guess for now we will just get on with our holiday and hope that as each day closes we will start to feel more and more sure of ourselves as a family of four or hopefully we will be feeling like a family of five. I guess we are hoping that the decision somehow makes itself and what ever that decision is it will indeed be the right decision for ALL of us.

Flowers

photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

I previously wrote a blog about the break down of the long term foster placement and guardianship of our sons older sister, I ended by saying that we hoped that the the new placement the sister had been moved to was a good one and would offer her the security she so deserves.

Thankfully that appears to be so, it does seem like a good placement and the new foster carers are committed and seem to be giving her the family life she needs and indeed some of the security that has been lacking in her life recently.

Most importantly she just seems happy.

She is a sweet child who has spent much of her life caring for others and as a result is thoughtful and selfless. She has had it tough all her life and being 4 years older than our oldest was more aware of the neglect and the consequences of that while in the birth family. At the age of 5/6 she was attempting to ‘mother’ our boys, stepping in where birth mum was failing.

What we have now discovered is that the almost 5 years she spent with the previous foster carers were not as positive as we had thought and in fact we have really had to reevaluate our reaction to the break down of that placement.

We were aware that the carers were very strict and lacked pastoral parenting skills, but it seems that the situation for the sister was anything but ideal, we have been told that she was made to do most of the housework and ironing as well as various other chores, apparently time was dedicated for this before and after school everyday and most of Saturday and if this is true it strikes us as being quite inappropriate.

Again we question where social services were throughout this, but now she has moved from that placement and seems happy I feel we should all be looking to the future.

So things are good – or certainly looking so. However we are concerned about the effect the break down of the placement has had on the sister. Yet again she has had parents who have failed here, yet again the family she thought was for life has proven not to be so, yet again she has been thrown into the unknown.

She is aware that – all going well – the new placement will only be until she is 18 as the new carers are not offering guardianship and as yet we do not see any suggestion that they will remain ‘family’ beyond that.

We have been really concerned for her and when we finally met for contact – after a year of not being able to – we asked how she was doing and if she felt settled and happy, she was her usual cheery self and said that she was pleased to be where she was and that life was OK, we asked if there was anything that bothers her or that she had concerns about and her response shocked and saddened us as she opened up and expressed her concerns for being alone after she turns 18.

We assured her that her fears were unfounded and that she was loved by all of us and that we would always be there for her as she was our family. We hope that we offered some kind of reassurance, but somehow we are not convinced as it was evident just how alone she felt.

Her exact words will always stay with us:
‘I don’t mind never being adopted I know it’s difficult for somebody to take a child of my age and that’s OK, the only thing that really bothers me is when I think of the future and not being in a family it upsets me to think that if I was to die there would be nobody to bring flowers to my grave.

She is 12.

The Things Kids Say…

2011-07-12 17.27.34We have two girls – a birth daughter, aged 10 and our youngest, aged 5, who we adopted four years ago…Here’s just a few gems they’ve come up over the years.

1. During a somewhat drawn-out tour of our local secondary school before making the final choices for our eldest daughter for next year, our youngest, after an hour and a half, obviously decided it was time she cut in on the action.

Lightly touching a maths teacher’s arm to gain her attention, and stopping her in mid-flow, our daughter piped up: “I can go to ANY secondary school I want to when I’m old enough…cos I’m adopted!”

“Really?” says the teacher, rising to this magnificently. “That’s great… and I really hope you choose this school when the time comes?”

Our daughter, after a thoughtful pause…

“No. I won’t.”

2. After a particularly (and unusually, these days, I have to say) fractious afternoon recently, wherein it seemed I could do, or say, nothing right by our youngest, I was pretty relieved by the time she was in bed. An hour later, it was time for our 10 year old to go up. Giving me an extra big bedtime hug she said: “My mummy. My only mummy.”

I laughed and said: “Well, I hope so!” And then, after a wee while I added, ruefully: “Though, of course, I’m not your sister’s only mummy, am I? And I sometimes think, especially on days like this one, that she’d probably prefer to be with her other mummy…”

I’d meant it lightly, I thought, but maybe she detected something that needed to be aired? So she considered this statement, solemnly, then nodded and said: “You know, birth mum’s got a huge advantage over you because, basically, well, she gave her life, didn’t she?”

“Yes, good point, love, and that’s just the way it is and there’s nothing I can do to change that,” I agreed.

“But remember, you have an even bigger advantage, Mum – you’re giving her a BETTER life than she would have had.”

3. Our youngest now regularly says she loves us but, recently, she added an extra something: “I love you mum. And I’ll never, in my life, un-love you.”

“Never un-love me,” I repeated, savouring the words and tears pricking my eyes. “I’ve never heard that before – and what a lovely phrase that is…”

She frowned, then: “It’s not a phrase. It’s what I feel.”

4. I got back from a solo overnight stay at my mum’s and the girls wanted to know how nanny’s new rescue dog, TJ, was getting on now? I said how nervous, over-excitable and unpredictable he still seemed, even two months since he’d come to live with mum.

Our youngest put her little hands on her hips, waggled her head and exclaimed, in mock outrage: “Well, whaddya EXPECT mum? He’s been adopted hasn’t he, just like me! And when I first came to live with you, you were just RANDOM people. I didn’t even know you! And really, we’re all still totally RANDOM to him!”

5. A very ordinary teatime, about a year on after we’d adopted our youngest and I’m making boiled eggs. Our eldest casually mentioned how big Auntie V had got now her baby was almost due – and was I that huge when I was pregnant with her? The youngest froze in her tracks and the room seemed to hold its breath: “So, she was born out of your tummy?”

We’d all been upfront from the beginning about adoption and discussing with our youngest her life story, before us. There were no secrets here, we thought. But what we’d not thought of before was her assumption that her big sister was also adopted.

I wiped my hands on a teatowel to give myself time to think and suddenly, thankfully, the words came: “Yes, she was in my tummy,” I said, “and, later on, me and dad and your sister really, really wanted another child to join our family that we could love and look after and keep safe. But I wasn’t able to grow a baby in my tummy anymore. So we decided to find out about adopting a child…”

“And then you came and found me,” she said, a slow smile spreading…

“Yes, we did,” I said “and, I want you to know, although the two of you came to us in different ways, you are BOTH my girls – and I love you just as much as I love your sister.”

I glanced, then, at our eldest, feeling nervous – was this an okay thing to hear, so explicitly? Without hesitation, she came to her sister’s side, smiling, slid an arm around her shoulders, her head against hers. “Yes,” she said, “and I love you too. And now you’re my sister and you’ll be my sister forever and ever.”

Then both looked at me, then, and almost in unison, said:

“Are the boiled eggs ready yet?”

6. On a day out in the park, our youngest, and a close friend of ours, climbed a hill a bit ahead of us, towards the trees. The wind was rustling in the leaves and our friend, in poetic mood, said to her:

“The trees are talking to each other, whispering secrets,”

She didn’t miss a beat:

“Yes. Or it’s the wind,” she said.

Useless Blog #5 Facing My Fear

20140315_120934USELESS BLOG #5 – FACING MY FEAR
I have a fear. It has two faces. One looks internally and gnaws at my well-being; the other externally and stands me on the edge of a very deep chasm, strong wind at my back.
Both have the same source; each has a different outcome.
I am not my child’s biological father.
I am afraid of hearing that from her; I am afraid of expressing my feelings on it to others.
But what am I afraid of?
Emotional pain on the one side; intellectual ridicule on the other.
In my head I know it does not matter; in my heart I am afraid it might.
I have spent a lot of time reading about, listening to and digesting the principles behind communicating the specialness of adoption to my child. I understand the importance of talking to her about her story, her background, where she’s from, how she came to be with us. I have been saddened by the stories of teenagers finding out they are adopted, feeling that their life thus far has been a huge lie, that their parents kept a secret they had no right to keep. Saddened by the unnecessary suffering, “going-off-the-rails”, feelings of isolation, feelings of loss, feelings of insecurity, feelings of crumbling foundations. I don’t want my daughter to go through any of that. It’s my job as her Daddy to make sure it doesn’t happen.
I get it. Intellectually.
Not emotionally.
It’s a dichotomy I struggle to come to terms with. And I am shocked by myself. I feel stupid, weak, emotionally immature. I feel that I may be subject to the righteous ridicule of social workers and other adopters (and non-adopters alike).
Previously when I have read emotional pieces written by adopters who feel vulnerable and conflicted by their feelings, the subsequent follow-up comments often judge harshly and show no allowance for emotional nuances, no ability to empathise. And I fear opening myself up to the same responses by writing about feelings that some might think I’m not supposed to have.
I have never really felt it an imperative to biologically reproduce; I did not care about being the birth father to a child, I wanted to be a parent. But now I find I do care that I am not the birth father to this child. Why? What difference does it make? I know that I will be the best parent I can be, that I could not love my daughter more, that I will protect her and guide her and be there for her, so what does it matter if she is not biologically mine? I’ve seen older adoptees speaking about their parents and their birth parents and clearly being aware who is the real Daddy, so why?
Because the irrational part of me does not fully believe it. The irrational part of me fears that when my daughter is old enough to fully process that I am not her biological father, some part of her will see me in a reduced light. And the thought of that causes me pain.
Some fears are simply irrational – and irrationality is part of the complex human condition.
During our adoption prep, when asked to roleplay an absent (and disinterested) birth father, I became so angry that I could not sit on the sidelines as asked, and kept interjecting with “I’m not allowing this to happen”, “I’ll sell everything I own and get myself the best barrister”, “You’re not taking my child”, “Whatever it takes, however long it takes I’m not giving up”. And the trouble is, it’s beyond me how any father could feel differently. Yes; I do know that people are different. Yes; I do know that not everyone has had as privileged and relatively secure an upbringing as mine. Yes; I do know that circumstances are different to mine. Yes, thank you; I do know that people’s lives are blighted by alcohol, drugs, abuse, neglect, indifference, lack of opportunity. Yes; I do sympathise, I can empathise.
So the other part of my fear is that when she understands that her birth father did not fight for her, no matter what the explanation, she will feel pain and there is nothing I can do to prevent that from happening; it’s a feeling of being powerless to protect her from that and therefore failing in my job, in my love. As I said, irrational, but nonetheless real.
My wife gets it both emotionally and intellectually and has no such fears; she says I should think about counselling. Maybe I will, but at the end of the day, maybe I simply have to live with my fear and face it down one day. Maybe today is one of those days; showing my fear to the world, allowing it, but not letting it rule me, expressing it and closing my eyes and waiting with fear and yet hope that the wind will not tip me over the edge.