Parenting is hard work.


I underestimated how hard parenting is.​

​I love my child dearly and parenting him has turned out to be both more wonderful and more rewarding than I could have ever imagined but also much much harder than I ever thought.

It’s hard, testing work and it’s difficult to navigate.

One of this things I feel most stupid about in retrospect is just how hard it is to put and keep boundaries in place. I always looked at parents who didn’t bother with them and thought they must have a screw loose, because from the outside it looked like much harder work letting their children run rings, demanding whatever they want.

I naively imagined it was a simple as putting a rule/boundary in place and then simply sticking to it so everyone knows where they stand and harmony would abound right?

Wrong!

​Turns out they do this stuff anyway! – the demanding, the procrastinating, the “that’s so unfair”.

They have a relentless energy and drive to push and keep pushing for hours on end; and it is our job to either crumble and give in (and in so doing get five minutes peace..) or to hold fast and keep that boundary in place – hopefully from a place of calmness… (yeah right!)

It truly is a test of stamina. Why did nobody tell me?

So it’s actually a lot easier to not do this work and I realise now why some parents do occasionally cave in, because some days we just don’t have the strength in us.

We just do the best we can.

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Bedtime Stories


Celebrating our daughter’s sixth birthday last week, and at nearly four years together as a family, I found myself reflecting on the picture story books that have helped on our journey. A friend gave my daughter Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb as a present, and as I read it to her at bedtime I could feel how deeply the beautifully delicate metaphorical story of loss, love, grief and memory had affected her. She asked me to read it again and before I could even start, she talked about her foster carers and wondered about the feelings of other adopted children she knows. Did they ever “feel funny about their changes” as she does? I’ve seen time and again with my daughter how a story book can offer a way in to sometimes difficult feelings and conversations, and how the characters can normalise feelings of anger, loss and sadness which can so often be brushed under the carpet. And when we are snuggled up cosy at bedtime seems most often to be the time she will open up and want to talk.

So I thought I’d share some of the books that have helped our family along the way as we wrestled with tangled feelings and attachments, not adoption books per se, just beautiful stories. So, this is not exactly a review, not exactly a blog, just some thoughts on the healing power of story.

‘Oh No George’ by Chris Hauton was a Book I bought very early on, drawn to it partly by the beauty of the illustrations. A pet dog struggles to be ‘good’ and finds it hard to resist his impulsive desires. He feels regret but also finds forgiveness and growth. A beautifully simple and funny story which shows how everyone can make mistakes, even with the best intentions, but that relationships stay strong anyway. My daughter loved this and wanted to read it over and over, lingering often on the page where George feels guilty, sad and tearful.

The Feelings Book by Todd Parr. This was one of the first of his we read and we still revisit this along with The Family Book and We belong Together. She gets so excited to see other adopted characters! In the early days my daughter would always want to linger and ask questions about the tummy ache and crying pages – clearly feeling a connection and empathy with their experiences.

I Love Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark is a story about a girl being given multiple new cuddly toys, each of whom is added to her list of love, with her original favourite Blue Kangaroo dropping later down the list and feeling displaced. A sensitive and beautiful story of change and loss, we feel for Blue Kangaroo as he wonders if he has been forgotten and left behind. But we learn he will always be special. As my daughter experienced so much change, in particular her fierce grieving for her foster carers, I could feel how the sadness and worry Blue Kangaroo felt really touched a nerve for her.

Finn Throws a Fit by David Elliott and Timothy Basil Ering deals in beautifully economical text and vivid pictures with a toddler’s overwhelming tantrum. It is shown as a huge and violent storm which surges and then passes. Big feelings are drawn on an epic scale, Finn’s internal turbulence made visual and concrete – he and we don’t know the reason why it comes or why it goes but we see that everyone feels out of control sometimes. It’s so interesting to see when my daughter chooses this story at bedtime.

Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban and Henry Cole is a wonderfully funny story about an angry mouse trying to find the right way to express his anger and get it out of his system. A tip from the wonderful blog Mighty Girl this is a great tool for normalising angry feelings and giving good choices for how to express them. Mouse eventually finds the right path for him and his animal friends are very impressed. We’ve tried Mouse’s deep breathing and stillness techniques together at bedtime.

Meet The Parents by Peter Bently and Sara Ogilvie is a hugely witty and warm celebration of all that parents do and the wide variety of families you find, with beautiful illustrations. We might be annoying in telling our children to eat their peas but we do have our uses! Every single time my daughter wants to linger on the parents give cuddles page and I can feel the emotion welling in her.

There have been countless other stories we have read and enjoyed over these years, all of which have given us little worlds to experience together and emotions to work through and understand. In film and tv, special mentions would have to go to Frozen for a character living in fear of the dangerous power of her big feelings and also Bing as a exploration of a toddler’s everyday emotional struggles and the ever calm and supportive Flop.

As someone who has worked with stories my whole career it’s been a privilege and joy to experience them anew through the eyes of my daughter – the brightest, funniest, most insightful and wonderfully complex audience a story could ever wish for.

Are You Gay?


Why is it apparently so difficult for parents to ask their children if they are gay?

Time and time again we read or watch accounts of young men and woman coming out and saying that their mother or father said that they had realised for a long time.

Realised, but had said nothing.

They had watched their child struggle to accept who they truly are and to find their place in a bigoted society full of negative messages of (at best) tolerance or (at worse) hate for homosexuality, yet still offered no helping hand – no reassurance of the acceptance or understanding they would have for them, which is of course exactly what the child needs to hear.

We help our children with everything as they grow, that is a parents job and our children need us for this. They need our maturity and experience to fill in the limitations of their intelligence or emotional state.

They need our guidance and they need our support or advice – often if only to reject it and throw it back in our face, but regardless of not embracing it they need to hear what we think and they need to know our understanding of what they are dealing with and working out – whatever it is.

It may well be completely unintentional, but the vast majority of parents will use language as a child grows up that suggests an expectation that they will be straight – ‘when you have a husband, ‘when you kiss your first girl’, ‘the boys will love you wearing that’, ‘your wife will never put up with that’ and on and on – even though for many children what is being said is quite simply wrong, so why not at least acknowledge the possibility of them being gay? It makes absolutely no difference to the child if they are not, but it can make the world of difference if they are.

Why is it so difficult to say ‘when you grow up and have a boyfriend or girlfriend?’

I know that more and more parents nowadays will voice and show acceptance of the gay world around their children and maybe even have gay family members or friends as part of their children’s lives – but maybe surprisingly that is not actually saying that they will accept it in their own child.

I know a number of gay children who have grown up in families like this – who still struggled with their own sexuality and in telling their parents.

Surely part of being a good parent is to not try to force our children into being what we expect them to be or want them to be, but I do fear that by not opening up the possibility of our children being gay to them from early on, many of us are inadvertently doing exactly that.

Even if we feel that we have created an accepting environment and that we are actively encouraging our children to be honest and true to themselves, to be truly sure of how their parents feel our children need to be TOLD, clearly and emphatically, just the way we tell them everything else.

They need to be completely sure that they have our full support and acceptance if they are gay. We need to be heard to be undoing the doubt we have probably sown, doubt which in fact our silence is probably confirming to them.

For some that may not be easy, the parent may not be fully comfortable with homosexuality, but that is OUR – the parents – problem, not the children’s and that is something that we have to deal with, while at the same time supporting them.

It is not our child’s place to hold our hands and to educate us through this, it is our duty to be the parent and to learn what we need to learn and to be there for them.

Life is always a bit tougher being gay (as it can be for most minorities) and sometimes it can be very tough, the very last thing a child needs is for it’s parents to be adding to the negativity they will inevitable be facing.

And maybe it’s a little tougher for adopted children than birth children, without being reassured otherwise a child that does not have our genes could well fear that being gay is something that has come from their birth family and because of that it could be even more unwelcome to their adoptive parents.

So to return to my opening question – Why do parents find it difficult to ask their children if they are gay?

Personally I think that it is mostly because we all wish for the very best for our children and socially being gay is sill seen as ‘other’ and understandably ‘other’ is something that is not wished for and regardless of us knowing that we can not determine our child’s sexuality – maybe deep down we think that by not mentioning it, just possibly there is more chance of it not being so.

What Positives Adoption Has Brought To Our Lives


Of course there are negatives – unexpected worries, stresses and difficulties that we have to deal with everyday, but this blog is just about the positives – which thankfully dominate our lives and put the negatives into perspectives.

The positives –

Our Sons (obviously): Two amazing little boys who have become our world. Two pure soles who have filled up our lives and who’s resilience and joy surprise us everyday.

Love: So very much love. From the moment we met our sons and were overcome by a level of emotion that neither my partner and I had experienced or could have anticipated, to a love today that has flourished and amazingly continues to grow even more intense with each passing day.

Happiness: They have brought a happiness that is beyond anything that we have experienced previously, a happiness that is pure and complete.

Pride: They have filled our hearts with pride. Pride for what they do, pride for what they say and pride for them for being just exactly who they are.

Laughter: Children have a wonderful perspective on life and their innocence and naivety is charming and often very, very funny. We laugh at them, we laugh with them and most importantly we laugh as a family – everyday

Contentment: Being a family has made my life more complete and has filled me with a level of contentment that I could never have imagined.

Perspective: Children help us to see what is truly important in life, they make us realise that ‘they’ are more important than anything! More important than money, more important than ‘stuff’ and most significantly more important than ourselves.

Re evaluation: Adopting our sons has made us stand back and look at the life we were living – the long hours at work, the partying, the constant attempts to please oneself – and it has made us realise that what we have now is more than we ever had or could ever have achieved.

Friends: Adoption has brought us many new friends, friends from inside the warm and welcoming world of adoption as well as friends from the lives of our sons, from school, from clubs, from their friendships.

And quite clearly adoption has brought us a great degree of smugness – for which I make no apologies.

Photo courtesy of
unsplash-logoAnnie Theby

A Thicker Skin

In Sleeping Beauty the King and Queen invite all the fairies in the kingdom (except one of course with disastrous consequences..) to bestow gifts of beauty and character apon their new daughter the princess Aurora and whenever I read it it strikes me they massively missed the point.
None of that stuff matters.. they should have given her a thicker skin.
People with thicker skins seem to sail through life
and it’s the one thing I wish I could give to my daughter.
She comes home form school mortified that people have even noticed her.
She won’t have her photo taken and we’re not allowed to praise her or say she looks pretty because the attention – good or bad – is simply too much. At home we can work around this but school it’s out of my hands.
To a lesser degree I know how she feels. If I had had a thicker skin I would have sailed through the numerous school and location changes we endured as a family when I was little. Instead I have painful stark memories of standing in new classrooms surrounded by staring people I didn’t know and I remember feeling raw and exposed.
In one of our moves, I was forced to leave a small village school with only 30 pupils in total (and a cherished best friend) to be taken 200 miles away and thrown in to an inner city school of 1000. I can distinctly remember my legs almost buckling under me as I walked in on my first day and the scrutinising expressions on the other children’s faces.
I still wince at the memory.
Compare this with what most of our children have gone through and it’s a drop in the ocean – each and every one of their numerous losses and changes having stripped another layer of security and sense of self from them making it just that bit harder to face all the challenges that growing up brings.

I wish I could give them all thicker skins.

Gold Tooth.

A greasy winter’s day a couple of years ago I was walking down the street, as you do, pushing a newly arrived Jack in his buggy and my goddaughter by my side. My little brand new family and hers were heading off for some half term shenanigans.
The three of us were walking a little away from the rest of the group. Sophie was deep into a riff about volcanoes and Pompeii. She’d recently done a project on both in school. She was excited and detailed in her explanation using her whole body to show me how lava breaks up through the earth’s crust. I asked questions and was quite taken with her passion (she is usually a quiet and at times slightly withdrawn girl). She went into more detail and kept talking. I was able to give her my undivided attention as my little bug was sleeping soundly in his buggy. We were having a good moment. I was thoroughly enjoying it and her, when suddenly a man stepped out in front of us and said STOP! He looked homeless, unkempt and he smelled of alcohol and bodily fluids. I pulled Sophie close and tried to push past him.
He blocked our way again.
‘No! Just stop for a moment.’
I felt threatened. I held Sophie’s hand and swung the buggy a bit so I could see Jack. Alert and scared. Could he have recognised Jack? A birth dad? A relative perhaps? My brain was working fast.
‘I don’t want to harm you. I don’t want anything.’ he said. ‘I just want to say something.’
‘Okay…’
‘You’ve cracked it!’
‘Excuse me? Cracked what?’ I looked around.
‘You’ve cracked it! Life! Motherhood! It’s beautiful. How you talk to your daughter. How she is so alive. And your son… I just thought you should know. I’ve followed you for a little while. That’s all. I’ll leave you alone now. Have a good day.’
And then he smiled. A big gold tooth blinked in the winter sun.
I was perplexed.
‘But …’ I started. ‘This is my goddaughter and …’
‘It doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful. Enjoy it.’
I smiled back. I had nearly waffled on about how neither were actually mine. How I didn’t feel I knew the first thing about motherhood or life for that matter. I’d nearly made that excuse about my son not being mine. I was so fresh to it all. But it was true that the moment was bliss. And he felt it too.
He shifted a lot in me that day. It’s still shifting. Some of it is about prejudice. I had reacted so strongly to his smell and looks. I had felt really scared. And I wanted to run away from him. But he could have been Jack’s birth family. I can’t ever really run from that. It was an ever timely reminder that it is up to me as Jack’s mum to build that bridge to his past, as part of his present and future. I owe to both of us to move out of my comfort zone to explore it. The man with the gold tooth gave me a precious gift that day. Amongst other that both children – in very different ways of course – are also mine.

Letterbox contact is here again…


Oh no – the pressure of having to do letterbox contact is here again!

Every six months, I feel the stress and pressure rise the closer it gets to letter box exchange.
It’s like going to the dentist to get a filling when all I’ve rather be doing is …. well…anything else. Absolutely anything else!
That feeling as the reminder letter arrives that it’s exchange month again.
The call to tell us the birth mother is fretting because the adoptive family of a sibling sent their letter on the first day of the month so where is our’s? – We still have a week to go… it’s been busy…… it’s still on the bottom of the to do list.

The emotional roller coaster

I don’t want to share details about my children with the birth family!

I don’t want to be reminded that they had them first!

I also don’t want to think about and be reminded of what they experienced while in their birth parents care. I already parent the result daily.

I don’t want to feel like I can’t gush about how much I love my children and how amazing they are, due to fear of causing upset and distress.

I don’t want some unknown social workers to be reading personal details about our children and our family.

It feels like that one last link is still there; which means despite paperwork to say we are their parents, they are still not quite completely ours.

I want to stop writing!

I really,really want to stop writing. If it was up to my husband we would never have started. But; I worry that my children will blame me later on when they are older and understand more about their life story if I stop.

I worry that by not having fairly current information on how the birth family are doing; as my children get older they might go in search of their birth parents before they are really prepared for a meeting, just to get information that they could easily have by continuing letter box exchange.

I feel bad for the vulnerable woman who is their birth mother and the loss she has already endured.

I feel pressured by the social workers who have to support the birth mother regularly as she bombards them for any info on how the children are doing. When we asked if we could reduce exchange to yearly, this was met with oppositional pressure from all levels within the department.

I look at our two most amazing children and feel a debt to my children’s birth mother for the chance I have to share their lives and have them call me mummy!

So here we go again!

I’ve just sent our 6 monthly letters. It took me 6 weeks to write them because it was a start and stop thing.

I’ve shared lots of superficial detail so she will feel a part of their lives even though I know she will never really know them like we do.

I realise this is a small thing to do that means the world to her and that she pressures the adoption contact team daily during exchange month, to find out if our letters have arrived.

I know she has constructed a fantasy in which she gave us our children and she believes one day they will come in search of her and want to be with her again. In reality; they were removed and it may be that they choose never to meet with her. It’s a big unknown.

I know that she will write back. That despite the challenge it is to her, she always makes a big effort…… I also know I should be grateful for this and that my children will appreciate the letters and cards we receive from her when they are older.

I’m aware that many birth parents are not able to respond to letter box exchange. That my children are fortunate in having current information and we can save every single response we get from our children’s birth mother and their birth family.

I find myself having to convince my children that it is their best interests that I write to their birth mother as they have recently started to question why I’m doing it as they understand more about the reasons they were adopted.

So when will it end???

I have taken the step to write and let her know that while our children are happy to share how they are doing with her, I will continue to write and support them. But if that changes; and that should they at a later stage decide they don’t want letterbox exchange to continue or they want to limit the information, we will prioritise and respect their choices.

I know that this will be upsetting for her and she will not really understand but, I felt she needed to be prepared.

I didn’t expect the social worker to call me after reading it and suggest that if the children decided they don’t want to do letterbox exchange in future, couldn’t we just do it anyway? Do the children need to know? Clearly we were not in agreement with this idea!

So when it ends, I do not know. Looks like were staying on the emotional roller coaster for quite some time to come.