Smother them with love

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We had a number of friends and family say in advance of our sons moving in that we would just need to ‘smother them with love’ and all would be OK.

It was then repeated by others when they met the children as if love was a ‘cure all’ in the world of adoption.

And yes SO much of what needs to be achieved can be done with love. They need to feel secure and feeling loved is such an important part of that, they need to attach and to bond and again love is essential – however love alone is clearly not enough and I wonder if love is relevant at all for some of what we have to deal with. In fact as an adoptive parent of over 4 years I can now confidently say that the ‘love conquers all’ theory feels quite misguided as it doesn’t take into account our children’s individuality and their personal history and worryingly I fear it could stop adoptive parents focussing on the bigger picture.

Regardless, In some cases the children have indeed come from families that had love. They have been loved – and often continue to be loved – by their birth parents, yet that love was anything but enough. Their past is not always about a lack of love, it’s just a love that was overridden by lack of care, lack of consideration or lack of ability.

Now there is an abundance of love not just from us, but from our families too: their new grandparents, new aunties, new uncles, new cousins etc and it’s wonderful to see that love and to see how they are flourishing from these new relationships.

Most of all though there is our love – a selfless, unconditional and endless love. We adore our sons and we feel that we fell in love with them from the very moment we were brought together and that is a love that we can see has grown deeper than anything we had experienced previously or anything we could have anticipated. We reassure them daily of that love and I know they understand it and truly feel it – yet we can see that the love alone can only achieve so much.

It is painfully clear that no matter how intense the love they are surrounded by, it has not and can not erase the damage that the early years have inflicted. It gives us strength and greatly helps us deal with the troubling behaviour that is a result of their past, it reassures them that no matter what we will always be here, but it doesn’t change what they have lived through or the resulting hurt, anger and confusion.

How we wish it did, how we wish it was that simple, because smothering them with love has been the really very, very easy part.

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ACE scores in the family

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I’ve been listening to some ultra interesting interviews recently:

Full Potential Parenting ‘s Healing Our Children – 2016 World Summit. Alison Morris of Full Potential Parenting has gathered up some amazing speakers for her interviews this year and I have been listening as much as I could.

One of these interviewees was Donna Jackson Nazakawa, who spoke about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE): Their Impact on Health and How to Heal After They Happen. She mused over the ACEs survey and it’s far-reaching implications, including the surprising benefits of going through the healing process. You can take the ACE test yourself here.

I did. I did it twice. No; three times. In two different languages. On two different sites; it made no difference! It is still 5/6 depending on how literally you take things. I’ve also done the test before. That answer then was also the same.

I then glanced over the questionnaire with my son in mind and … His ACE score is 1.

S***

My ACE score is higher than his.

Surely his single point trumps mine. Surely it does. But …

Childhood trauma is common. The majority of the population has an ACE score of 1.

But the higher your ACE score the higher the chance of health, social and emotional problems. I read that with a score of 4+ things get more serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent. (See link)

Oh dear. I know I shouldn’t surf for this kind of information because it scares me. I know I should be hypercritical. Yet… I guess I will have to look under that rock.

I’ll freely admit that my darling son has triggered me in many ways, most of it very good. But not all of it. Some of it seemed unreflective regurgitated childhood hurt of my own.

So … I’ve gone and got some personal therapy. Some of this stuff was so not anything to do with my son. It was purely. Squarely. My own. S***.

His arrival triggered strong reactions and re-evaluations of my own childhood. Which was privileged in many ways. White. Middleclass. Liberal. Educated. Sprawling.

The more I look at my parenting, the more I, and the way I was parented, stand in the way. Looking at the screen and my ACE score there is no other way of looking at it either. I have to look at my own roots. And deep down this really isn’t about me. It is about being and becoming a better parent for him. I’m chipping away at trying to make sense of my own history, and first and foremost being honest about it. How I felt about various stuff. Some of it is easy to access – like remembering being belittled, overruled, not being believed or trusted. Basically not being taken seriously and respected. I remember that vividly. It still happens. When I tap into that understanding, it is easy to take a deep breath and try to do it differently. I am hoping it is from a place of greater respect and understanding. But there are so many blind alleys and stuff I myself am unaware of.

Just today another blip came up, that hinted at a huge blind angle.

I often apologise when I don’t need to. I really try so very hard to please. And although I know I can be assertive, often I don’t really say what I really mean. Not because I don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings. No it’s not always that. It’s because being honest can be difficult. I was trained so well early on in life to keep the peace no matter what, that I am not actually sure how I feel.

The trigger today was life story work. My son’s story isn’t full of gore and drug and abuse and neglect. He was a baby when he moved in with us. I often apologise for this fact. Other people have it worse. Other kids have suffered way more. But my son’s loss is his loss. It isn’t about comparison. So why this drive to apologise and thereby diminish it??

This ACE score stuff tells me the same story about my own life.

All my life I’ve been telling myself that my story isn’t so bad and my life has been and still is privileged. That my siblings had it worse. Only, it was bad for me. I just developed a very good coping mechanism not to get hurt, and to go undetected. I became a big time pleaser. And in that I forgot how I felt about things. It is still difficult to know how I feel about certain things. I don’t necessarily know when I have to stop, when I am tired and need a break. Because I can power on for a long long long time. Until I SNAP! Which is a family speciality. And it is not pretty when it happens.

Now I am doing the same to my son: trying to please, teaching him what he feels doesn’t really matter. Worse still I am showing him (teaching him really) that you can overrule how you feel in order to fit in, to be seen as more acceptable and accepting. And that it is not proper manners or socially acceptable to do otherwise. That’s just crap. And ultimately disrespectful. To us both.

The link between how I was parented and what I am passing to my son in terms of self-respect, because this is essentially what this is about, is so simple to understand, once I saw it. I feel embarrassed to admit that I never really saw the link til today. Not as clearly anyway. And now I feel ashamed that I didn’t. Which also doesn’t help. I fear there is a long way to become a better parent.

It is hard to explain, just how difficult I am finding it to write this, to own up to the fact that it is me more than him that needs work, if I am to be as good and respectful a parent as he deserves.

Another penny drops. A follow up to A banana, 3 clementines, a bowl of grapes and 4 kiwis

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We were on a beach holiday and the mid day sun was just too much for the fair skinned Anglo Saxons amongst us.

My partner and our younger son returned from a shopping trip with a few treats that they had picked out for the family as we had planned a ‘picnic’ together on the floor of our hotel room. I had made some preparations and we sat down around a makeshift picnic blanket (3 beach towels) nestled between the beds, which I had rolled out of the way.

We settled and our son immediately opened a family size packet of crisps and started eating them, after a few minutes in a light hearted way I leaned across and took the crisps from his hands, making a joke about the packet being almost as big as him and how I needed to feed my big, fat tummy.

At which point he got immediately angry, we could see that unprovoked his anger was increasing and rapidly turning into a tantrum. This came as a total surprise as he had been in a good mood and this abrupt change seemed to come from nowhere and it was clearly building into something really quite extreme.

Before long he was screaming and ‘wailing’ that he wanted the crisps, that he wasn’t finished, that now we were all eating them and would leave none for him. We were firmly pointing out that they were not his and that he knew the ‘picnic’ was for everyone to share, we insisted that of course we could eat them and that he had to calm down.

He didn’t. His ranting continued and was getting quite hysterical, we were at a bit of a loss as we started to realise that any attempt at calming him was failing hopelessly.

We tried a firm approach telling him he was being selfish and that we all had to share and that this behaviour had to stop – which of course just made it worse.

We tried a softer approach and put down the crisps and told him that he could have more when he was calm and had apologised for his unacceptable behaviour, but this achieved nothing either.

He stormed from the room and continued his screaming from behind the bathroom door. I was calm and attempted to open the door telling him that I just wanted to hug him and calm him down. He screamed that nobody was to come in and nobody was to talk to him.

We sat down and fell silent, not so much giving in to him as respecting the ‘limits’ we thought he was clearly laying out. We figured if this is what it needed to bring it to an end then so be it, once calm we hoped we could get him to listen to us and recognise that his behaviour was unacceptable.

However when he came back into the room he was immediately upset that we were not talking to him and started screaming that we were being horrible and ignoring him. When we started to respond NOTHING we said was the right thing and just resulted in more wailing and crying and with him putting his fingers in his ears saying he didn’t want to listen.

We have got used to his anger and his tantrums over the past 2 1/2 years and we have discovered ways of getting through, so much so we thought we were ‘on top’ of them, but somehow in this case nothing was working and we were back to being truly mystified.

And than the penny dropped – for my partner anyway. He looked at me and said ‘this is about food, you snatched it away from him’. Suddenly some sense in a totally chaotic and illogical scene.

As I explained in the previously blog, in the birth family there was frequently a shortage of food and being the youngest he often missed out to his older siblings when food was placed in front of them and immediately snatched up before he got any.

I didn’t have to stop and consider what my partner had said, I immediately knew it to be true. This was clearly the trigger, in this case and what was more difficult to accept was that it had probably been so in a number of other similar situations previously that we had failed to see and would have simply treated his behaviour as naughtiness.

Knowing the cause didn’t stop the tantrum, but it did give us the confidence to deal with it. Our son had retreated back into the bathroom so my partner went to him saying ‘I know what’s wrong and I understand’ over and over, he continued with ‘daddy did a silly thing, he should not have snatched the food from you, he is sorry that he did that and knows it was wrong and he wants to apologise to you’. Gradually our son allowed himself to be embraced and finally stopped shouting and just sat sobbing.

I stood behind the door listening, my partner said that he knows that when he was little his brothers and sisters snatched his food away and left him hungry, but that in our family he is never hungry and he will never be hungry again. Our son’s response was – in between sobs – to agree that was why he was so upset, it was not just a simple ‘yes’ in agreement, it was truly heartfelt and said with a passion and I like to think a sense of relief at the fact that we – and maybe even he – had finally ‘got it’.

To anybody who thinks that he was just playing us to get his own way, rest assured that is not the case. We know ‘those’ tantrums and as I said we feel we are getting better at dealing with those before they get out of control, we are quite firm in our parenting and the boys know there is only so far they can go before we clamp down hard on any bad behaviour. We knew this was different and we could see that our regular way of dealing with him was only making it worse.

This was absolutely not about him eating all the crisps, which was evident once he calmed down and had the crisp packet again as he willingly shared them around between us without even needing to be asked.

He made sure I was held to my apology as promised by my partner and when I did say sorry it was for SO much more than snatching the crisps from his hand.

So another penny dropped. At the time I was angry for us not realising immediately, now writing it down I am even more so as it all just seems SO blindingly obvious, but in the moment that is just not the case.

Our boys are far from perfect and they do misbehave, they do push their luck and they do try to play us to get their own way and yes that includes throwing the odd tantrum, I think working out which tantrum is simply bad behaviour and which has been triggered by something haunting them from their past is one of the most difficult challenges we have to face as adoptive parents.

To see the original blog A banana, 3 clementines, a bowl of grapes and 4 kiwis please follow this link. http://wp.me/p44UZE-ki