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.

Dear birth daughter.

20160728_110457I’ll admit, love, that I’ve always found ‘the baby game’ irritating. The game you most often ask me to play with you, usually at the most inconvenient times. A game I didn’t really understand, or the fascination it held for you. At 10-years old, and nearly as tall as me, you’d want to be a helpless, mewling, wriggling little thing, while your adopted sister, although five years younger, was assigned the ‘teenage babysitter’ role or, if she protested too much, a twin baby to you, but one that was ‘smart’, and could ‘do more’ – the one that didn’t need so much attention.

I’d nearly always sidle off and you’d usually end up playing it yourselves, or I’d reluctantly agree to a quick (imaginary!) nappy change for you, before getting on with whatever it was that was more pressing. How could I miss something so blindingly obvious?

A decade before, you were my newborn, mewling baby – on my belly, eyes locked on mine and I’m tumbling down the rabbit hole. But, when your sister came, she was not the helpless newborn sibling that many of your friends had gotten used to in their lives. She was a wary, demanding, mercurial toddler – and as much a stranger to us as we were to her.

Believe me, the urge to parent again wasn’t, in any way, because you ‘weren’t enough’. In fact, it’s because you were, and are, so special that I was greedy for another chance to watch a life develop in front of my eyes – with all the joy, terror, responsibility and sense of fulfillment that brings. That, and, perhaps, not wanting you to remain an only child, as I am, whose ache for the siblings I never had only gets stronger as I get older.

We patted ourselves on the back that you seemed as enthused as we were about the possibility of another child joining our family. When our social worker had a private ‘assessment’ session with you, she felt you had the necessary self-confidence and personal esteem to handle it.

And it’s been three years now since your life changed irrevocably. The other day, dad found some video snippets we made in that heady, eight-day, introduction period with your new sister. Watching them again now, I’m struck by how much has changed – and some things that haven’t. You both look impossibly different – your front baby teeth are missing, you’re at least a foot shorter, and your face carries echoes of the round-faced, doe-eyed baby you were. There’s footage of the two of you bouncing on the bed in the cottage we rented for that week – when your sister got too close to the edge, you laughingly hauled her back; a game you still play to this day. Then there’s the film of you patiently helping her plug the gaps in an early years jigsaw puzzle…a metaphor writ large if ever there was one!

During the tortuous, four-hour, car journey home at the end of that week, the two of you sat in the back – your (new) sister silent and withdrawn, dad and I poleaxed by the emotional intensity of ‘taking’ this little girl away from the people she called mum and dad and you, calm and composed, gently stroking her palm and singing Round and Round the Garden, over and over again.

You were so little yourself – did we expect too much of you? In those early, blurry weeks, we were all punchdrunk with the excitement of getting to know each other. But, as the months went on, you faltered. Your sister would rebuff your hugs; you’d get slapped or scratched. You’d try not to mind about your precious things being messed with, turned out, or broken, but the scribbled notice on the door of your room – ‘Get outt or I will kick your but!’ – told its own story. And whenever you came to me for a cuddle, your sister would knock you out of the way, and cry: “No! MY mummy….!” You never once said what I most dreaded: “NO, she’s not, actually, she’s mine!” Instead, your plaintive wail: “Well, she’s my mummy, too!” showed a care for her feelings that not even your white hot anger could eclipse.

One night, you broke down after your sister was in bed and said she had to “go back”, that she “didn’t like you” – and you didn’t like her, either. We explained that wasn’t an option – we were now a family, and we had to work it out. Then it came out – you missed us, your mum and dad, and all the years you’d had one, or both of us, to yourself. It was so obvious, then – in trying so hard to be a family of four, we’d somehow forgotten you needed our individual attention, too. We promised that next weekend, and for as many weekends as you wanted after that, me or dad would do something with you – just you. And then dad shoved his shoe down his shirt-front and did a made-up song and funny jig that made you laugh out loud.

We also made sure you had a separate, later bedtime so you got time with us to have your own story, watch telly or chat about your day. We made sure your sister understood the boundaries of your stuff being your stuff, your room being your room.

Such simple solutions, yet such a profound effect. I knew we’d turned a corner when, one weekend, you said you’d rather not go off with just me after all; you wanted to be with your dad and sister too.

And now yours is the love story at the very heart of our family – exceeding even my rose-tinted fantasies of a sister relationship.

You buy her gifts out of your pocket money; she draws you pictures or makes you something un-nameable every day in school. You cuddle on the sofa and call each other your ‘BFF’. When you do argue, and I intervene, you forgive each other instantly and turn your ire on me instead.

There will probably be times, with a five-year age gap between you, when you’ll grow apart for a while – perhaps a 12 and 17-year-old will struggle to find common ground. But at 30 and 35, say, or 52 and 57 – heck, even 91 and 96! – I hope with all my heart you’ll still be making mischief together, consoling each other, laughing your socks off together, all as you do now, and sharing your memories of family life, long after dad and I have gone.

But that’s all in the future. In the here and now, you’re taking your first, tentative steps towards a new phase in your life – more time spent in front of a mirror, endless combing of your hair, throwing aside favourite outfits and toys now deemed ‘too babyish’. So, just to let you know that I get it, now, and I’m up for playing the baby game, for however much longer you need and want me to. I just hope I’m not too late.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #10: The most wonderful time of the year.

ImageThis is tough time of year for some people. Adverts telling us we need to buy this or that for our loved ones; tinsel and Christmas decorations adorn every nook and cranny; Christmas songs stream relentlessly through pipes in every shop and down the high street, telling us it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And for most of us, it might well be, once you factor out the stress of it all.

But for some, it’s a tough time. It’s the anniversary of my Dad’s death; my uncle died a week ago; my sister is spending Christmas in hospital.

These are not things that impact only me; my wife knows and understands how this time of year has become somewhat difficult for me, but it’s hard on her especially when a few years ago I would have been jumping around with excitement in the run-up to Christmas and now she might feel that she has to top up the excitement quotient for both of us. Don’t get me wrong – there is excitement, particularly for our daughter, but it’s been tempered for me somewhat by the coincidence of circumstances.

But if I think about what this time of year actually means to me, underneath all the glitz and shimmer and food and drink and merriment, it’s about sparing a thought, or doing a deed, for those who struggle with the gaiety of Christmas, who are harbouring sadness or grief, who are putting a happy face on loneliness, depression, heartache or day-to-day struggles, and reminding myself of the blessings in my life. It’s about truly being with the ones I love, even if not all of them can be there. It’s about relishing those moments when I see joy on other people’s faces and allowing that joy to banish all other feelings. It’s about remembering the happy times with loved ones no longer with us and the warmth and comfort those memories bring; it’s about being in the moment and embracing the joy of this special holiday.

Oh yes; and it’s about getting that Ferrari my daughter said she would buy me with the change in her money jar. It’s the thought that counts.

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 Questions #10 A peek into how we do family.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning
Our LO is woken by our alarm and is normally grumpy about it. Sleeps on air bed next to our bed.
Why adoption?
birth children did not work, mostly Mum’s age
From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?
Assessment started half a year after first enquiry and then it took just over 1.5 years
How could it be improved?
Hope new process is better, assessment to approval was less than a year and then we were looking for the “right” child. At the moment key improvement seems to be availability of children, judges need to make permanence decisions.
What has been the biggest surprise?
We found out loads of things about us.
After half a year with us it feels like we’ve always had our LO.
How was the assessment process?
Good, we felt it was sensible, appropriate and professional.
What’s your favourite thing to do together?
Eat
What makes you and your family laugh?
LO’s enthusiasm
The best thing about being a parent?
How happy our LO is
The hardest thing about being a parent?
When LO is not happy and we can’t understand why and repetition.
The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?
Slow down
What time do you go to bed?
By midnight

The Questions #6 A peek into how we do family.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning?

Our son usually gets up between 6 and 6.30 and brings duvet,pillows and all soft toys off his bed and then turns into the spin cycle of the washing machine as soon as he gets on our bed. The joys!

From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

The process was 3 long years from start to littley coming home.

What has been the biggest surprise?

The biggest surprise to me was how much I resented my me time disappearin

 

How was the assessment process?

The process was fine but took forever it seemed.

What’s your favourite thing to do together?

Cuddles together watching a DVD and going for walks as a family are the favs. My husband makes us laugh when I get too serious he can always lighten the situation.

Best thing about parenting?

Watching the changes happen over the years. How little man is becoming more confident to try things and to now be more affectionate to us both. He couldn’t show affection before and it was upsetting to see him.
The hardest thing about being a parent?

Never stopping worrying about him when he isn’t by my side.Loving him so much( sometimes it brings me to tears).Being older parents means we get more tired than we thought we would.

What time do you go to bed?

Usually fall asleep on sofa around 10ish for an hour then wake and go to bed.

The Questions #5 A peek into how we do family.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning?

Our 18 month old sleeps in her own room. We used to wake to her chatting to herself in her cot bed, but more recently she has been less patient or possibly more anxious. In any case, she now tends to cry out for us in the morning. We go to get her up and either get up for breakfast or, if it’s still too early, bring her into our bed for snuggles and sometimes a bit more sleep before we all get up.

Why adoption?

For us adoption seemed right for a number of reasons. Firstly, as a same sex couple we would not be able to conceive a child naturally and if one of us were to have insemination then we felt this may create an imbalance with the non-biological parent in the couple. Neither of us have ever felt a strong urge to be pregnant or to pass on our genes. We did, however, really want a family and we felt we could love a child who is not biologically ours. With so many children needing a loving home in this country, it seemed a good choice.

From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

2 years

How could it be improved?

So many ways!! We had four different social workers and there were a lot of delays and very poor communication from our agency throughout. More coherent management of our ‘case’ would certainly have reduced the delays and reduced our stress.

What has been the biggest surprise?

I guess how easily we have bonded as a family.

How was the assessment process?

Fine. Could have been a bit quicker and more coherent but was ok.

What’s your favourite thing to do together?

Explore the outdoors!

What makes you and your family laugh?

Chasing, tickling, dancing, being silly in general.

The best thing about being a parent?

Innocence and wonder.

The hardest thing about being a parent?

Backache!

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?

Be yourself.

What time do you go to bed?

Between 10-11pm.