In plain speaking I am upset. Upset with myself, upset with everything. Tired of everything being hard work. Tired of nothing being simple. Beating myself up for not listening more at the beginning and having unrealistic expectations, maybe I would have been more intuitive if I had read and listened more. I am disgruntled with a system that leaves you groping in the dark, trying to be a good parent to children that need something more than we are. Maybe teflon-coated parents that also have a masters degree in Psychology?
Would it have changed my mind if I had listened better? Probably not. Do I regret anything? No. I bloomin’ love my kids to bits, I just wished life was easier for them.
The optimist in me knows that things will come good, the human in me wants to get off the rollercoaster for a break. Maybe for a spell on the Swan Boats instead.
“Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.”
Taken from the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) – IMDb.
For us, like many other couples, adoption was a means to an end. We couldn’t conceive children naturally, had tried the route of fertility treatment which was utterly miserable and we sort of gave up the idea of having a family and enjoyed our time together as a couple.
We spent lazy Sunday afternoons sunbathing, pottering around the garden, reading and sharing a bottle of Chardonnay in the sun (weather permitting of course), got a dog, travelled, took holidays when we wanted, went out when we wanted and did all the impulsive things, last minute things that you can do as a child-free couple. One day though, it wasn’t enough and I think it was something we both decided at the same time. I think the thought had always been there that maybe a miracle would happen and we never really completely gave up the idea of having a family. Even our first dog Harry was chosen because it was a ‘child-friendly’ breed.
We made a call to our Local Authority in the October of 2006 and in December a social worker came to visit, he gave us a few scare stories, told us of the horrors of adopted children burning down houses, not being able to cope with schedules, told us about PEC charts and autism, had a mooch around the house and said ‘We’ll be in touch…’ leaving us feeling as though we had been tested with his worst case scenarios.
Obviously we went forward (I wouldn’t be writing this now if we hadn’t), sat through a three day prep-course and all the time felt as though we were being told about worst-case scenarios. After prep-group I can remember feeling a mix of emotions numbness, trepidation, excitement, eagerness. I can’t tell you how quickly I ran to the letterbox with our completed application form straight after the course.
The actual date of the prep course escapes me, it was something like March 2007 but from the very moment it started our life has been a roller-coaster and still it goes forward, a never ending ride of highs and lows, twists and turns, the uphills are slow, the plummets are fast and sometimes your stomach churns to the point of sickness.
So did we get our happy ending? That’s kind of hard to answer. At the moment I don’t feel like that things are alright so therefore it is not the end. Sadly this week I have had to re-home my puppy. Hopefully only for a while but she could not cope with the kids manic behaviours, particularly Boy who spent most of the day screaming or lashing out at her, she was nervous and edgy and I was scared that it would turn into a nervous aggression. Puppy behaviour training fell at the wayside with dealing with Boy’s behaviour and my in-laws offered to take Meg in for a while at least to help with her training. I am utterly devastated. In the short time she lived with us I bonded with mad Meg, I was the one who sat nursing her with a baby bottle when she was poorly, she made me laugh when nothing else did with her wacky puppyness and shadow chasing and she often came to me for a cuddle, putting her paws on my knees, giving me that look of utter devotion that only a dog can and pressing herself gently into me gazing upwards with her curiously different coloured eyes, one blue, one brown.
The house is quiet and empty without Meg’s large bouncy presence, she filled this house like nothing else. Boy is still shouting.
Becoming a parent is difficult, you give up so much which is of course is the deal you make when you decide to become a parent, the kids always have to come first but for adoptive parents you give up just a little bit more. No longer can we do things on a whim. A trip to the gym when Girl is around is nigh on impossible as she gives the Hubster a hard time, she worries I won’t come home or that I prefer the gym to her company. Holidays are unpredictable and I won’t even contemplate much-longed for foreign travel with Boy. Christmas or Birthdays can leave us in a wake of difficult behaviour but we brush ourselves off and deal with whatever comes next. A romantic weekend away for two that most of my friends can take is a distant memory. I hate people coming round to babysit or put the kids to bed, the house is such a tip because I can’t take my eye off Boy for a minute, he is actively seeking out silly and dangerous things to do.
We deal with all this, there are other things or moments to enjoy that replace our small losses but I am finding that losing my puppy because she couldn’t cope with living here the bitterest pill to swallow, it feels like one loss too many. Maybe if I’m really honest getting a puppy was one ball to juggle too many but given how my other dog Harry has coped with adopting two children I genuinely believed we would manage, I am nothing if not optimistic. Perhaps that’s a failing in me, my optimism knows no bounds but maybe I should learn to be more cautious?
Our happy ending is going to be very different to the one we imagined, the one of joy-filled family holidays, the stream of children’s party invitations, after school clubs, trophy winning and happy festivities. All those things that you imagine will make you the best parent in the world, giving your child all these wonderful memories and opportunities are the hardest ones for them to deal with. Our happy memories are in a way simpler and probably better really. The hard-won cuddles, the small achievements and turning corners, finding some peace and a moment of acceptance by your child that yeah actually life is good, a moment of understanding by friends and family, an offer of help by a professional. A different happy, an adjustment to your life expectancies.
It’s going to be hard fought for but I know the happy ending will come, that it’s not yet the end. Don’t for a minute think we are unhappy, it’s just not the unrealistic idyllic dream of parenthood we imagined. If I could change one thing it would be that I wished I had listened a little more carefully right at the beginning. The lows are low but the highs are unimaginably good. They are sometimes just different highs to that of my friends.
Bringing a second child into your family is tricky and if your family is made up by way of adoption, well, it just makes things that bit more complicated. I am not by any means saying that natural families don’t have issues with expanding the family but when your family is expanded by way of traumatic (yes, that word again) life changing events rather than (what I imagine to be) the joyful moment of childbirth it kind of sticks. These adopted children will always feel a sense of insecurity and I would go as far as to say that all of them will feel like this, it took me a long time to realise this but the truth is why wouldn’t they?
With one child it’s simpler to work on creating those secure attachments and life can be enjoyed, you can build the trust, you can concentrate your efforts solely and get through the tough times together with no added complications. Then comes along child number two. Suddenly life is as complicated and confusing as it’s going to get. You need to create a bond with your second child but yet maintain a good bond with your first child but then you have to consider that your first child still needs that concentrated effort of attention but your second child needs it just as much or actually more and the more one needs it the more the other needs it. Even thinking about it sends my head into a spin.
I have come to the conclusion that a lot of the time one child is going to feel like their nose has been put out of joint. The squabbles and bids for my attention are never ending. I might sound bitter, I am not. What I am is stretched to my limits. Whatever my moves are with one child I have to make sure I have the other child in mind, ready to spring into quick-witted action, I have to be forward thinking. If anyone has ever met me, I think they would agree that quick-witted or forward thinking would not be the first words you would use to describe me. I am a thinker, I like to take my time to mull something over, I am not really very good at being one step ahead unless I have already learned previously from a similiar mistake and I guess that’s the important thing, learning from the mistakes.
Take for instance the other day. Girl came home from school and Boy laid into her as he does most days. Whatever she picks up he wants, ‘it’s mine (whether it is or isn’t), I want it’. If she sits down he shouts ‘my chair, me sit there’. Resigned, Girl slipped to her room quietly with the excuse she was going to the toilet. After twenty minutes I went to check on her and she was sitting playing snap with herself on the floor, looking utterly miserable. I tried to talk to her but she was stubborn that she was not going to say she was sad about Boy picking on her again so I suggested she find her Guess Who game and I would play that with her (while I cooked the dinner I hasten to add). To cut a long story short (because it really is dull), Boy soon sniffed out that Girl was having ‘Fun with Mummy’ and he was not. Much squawking later Girl is happy but Boy is not and refuses to eat his dinner, he suddenly has tummy ache, leg ache and mouth ache (and Mummy has a headache Boy dearest). In hindsight I could have picked a game for us all to play but Girl looked so sad I thought she needed some special attention but by doing that I put Boy’s nose out of joint. What do I do? Is there ever a point of mummy coming out champion of everything?
It’s not just Boy being mean to Girl, we do get the opposite where Girl has tried to push herself into whatever activity Boy is doing. She calls it sharing but differently to boy it’s more sly. Boy will just shout his desires, ‘mine, I want it’ but Girl pushes herself into Boy’s space so eventually he is pushed out of the activity altogether, comic reading, brushing the dog, playing on the ride-on motorbike etc.
Our (new) family therapist told us to consider that in parenting terms having one adopted child is the equivalent of having two children, just in sheer input and extra measures we have to take. In my words I would say adopted children have extra needs, not necessarily special needs, just extra needs. They have been to the dark side, they need to know they won’t be there again and every move towards the sibling is a small rejection for them, I think that’s important to understand.
I hear so many adopters excited by the prospect of a second adoption, frustrated at having to wait the two years required by most adoption authorities and possibly more excited than when they adopted the first child. I have been there myself. The grim reality is, it’s bloody hard work parenting two very needy children and juggling all the different sized balls that come with adoption but by golly I must be a glutton for punishment because I actually love it. Honestly at times I have felt like I haven’t liked it very much, that the incessant demands for my attention have been overwhelming but I would not change a thing. The moments when you get it right I am sure feel a million times better because those cuddles and smiles, moments of relaxation are fought so hard for.
A great new service was launched last week, an online service for people considering adoption (follow this link if you want to have a gander). One of the pages that caught my attention was What Does It Take To Become An Adoptive Parent? I thought it was well written and concise but as an adoptive parent I had a little chuckle at the stuff it merely hints at . Yes, it does mention that a sense of humour is required, it also mentions that you may have to parent ‘differently’ which for us is certainly true but what does that actually mean? If I read that as a non-adopter I would not have a clue, I might think about time-ins as opposed to time-outs (it’s a favourite with the social workers) but it’s deeper than that.
Firstly, whatever their background there is no getting away from the fact that your child will always probably feel a greater sense of insecurity than non-adopted children and this always has to be in the back of your mind. Boy had as good a start to life as can be hoped for for an adopted child, good foster carers, no abuse or neglect but still his insecurities came crashing down on our heads when he was ill and hospitalised overnight (twice), his personality changed from bubbly, bright little boy to an insecure, unattached, angry little mess. It’s only now that he is returning to his usual self. Boy also hates being on holiday, perhaps sleeping in a strange place just brings back memories of the first time he had to sleep in an unfamiliar bed.
A lot of adopters talk about their children being hyper-vigilant but actually I have realised that as an adopter I have have a heightened awareness too, the triggers for insecurity and unexpected behaviours are wide and sometimes totally unexpected. If my awareness is heightened at least I can spot some of them before they become an issue. I have to be careful about story lines in films and TV, Despicable Me caused the mother of all meltdowns and Tangled left me feeling uneasy though Girl coped well with this one. Noisy places, shopping centres, highly stimulating places – perfect examples of these were the amusement arcade on our recent holiday or Splash Landings both were noisy and exciting, both resulted in some difficult behaviour and we have to consider carefully whether it’s worth the risk. As parents we often go with the decision to try it and roll with whatever comes our way. Splash Landings I will not be returning to in a hurry.
Empathy and understanding. It goes without saying but it really is the most important factor so has to be mentioned. When we first adopted Girl I never really understand too well why my daughter behaved the way she did. After all, supposedly she came from as good a start as possible and hey kids are resilient right? (tongue is firmly in my cheek) It’s only later we learned of the situation in the foster carers home and that was only by chance but even without that knowledge I could have understood her better. It was only with a lot of time and a lot of reading and research that I finally began to get it, to understand all of Girl’s little quirks. I am much better at it with Boy, I thoroughly understood the reasons for his recent difficult behaviour. I didn’t like it much but I understood it and empathised with him.
Realistic expectations. Don’t go into adoption expecting a fairytale ending. I read a funny quote the other day which compared a woman’s brain to a browser window with 2,356 tabs open at the same time, all of the time. Well that’s what it’s like to be an adopter, the things we have to consider that non-adoptive parents don’t are wide and varied. Post-box and contact? are we open about the kids being adopted or do we keep it secret (almost impossible when a fully grown toddler suddenly appears in your life)? who should know what? how much life-story work do you do? how do get help in school? who is the SENCO at the school? It’s a rewarding life especially when you make steps forward but crikey it’s brain-frazzingly difficult sometimes!
A willingness to introduce some routine to your life. As much as possible we try to stick to a routine, it makes life easier when your kids know when they are going to bed, when they are going to be fed. It simply gives them some boundaries and takes some of the battles away. Bedtime is one area where we have always stuck to our guns and is one area of our life we get few problems. One of the battles we thought was important.
An ability to bite your tongue. My tongue is full of holes. The best advice I ever received was ‘Pick Your Battles’. It’s taken a while to work out which are the important battles but do consider just letting some stuff go without comment because honestly with the difficult behaviour that adopted children can display you would be forever nagging and that is no way to build a relationship. When your adopted child is displaying a lot of worrying or difficult behaviour it’s easy to pick up on every little thing and forget that kids will be kids, they do some pretty whacky and daft stuff and sometimes you might not like the idiotic, loud, noisy, irritating (and with attachment issues they do it with the volume turned up) things that they do but sometimes it’s best to just grin and bear it.
So come on fellow adopters, have I missed anything?
I like to take photos. Hundreds of them. It’s really my big passion in life. What I would really like is some time to set up my shots properly and a bundle of cash to invest in some seriously good camera equipment and to do it a little more professionally. (I am actually going somewhere with this.)
This week I have had a difficult time with both children. Boy is displaying some seriously out of character and worrying behaviour and Girl? Well Girl is just her usual self; up and down but well… manageable. We have had some really awful, demoralising moments but actually some really incredibly good moments too, moments where girl has properly relaxed into cuddles, where she has chilled out in the bath (Girl likes a bath but tends to be tense, unable to relax and enjoy the experience), where she has fallen asleep in my arms and those are the moments I hold on to.
We have been away for a few days, it’s been arranged for a while, before all the trauma of illness, hospitals and poorly puppies and in the run up I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea with life being chaotic but you know what? I am ever the optimist, I thought the break away might be good for all of us and selfishly after the crappy winter and the difficult few weeks I wanted a change of scenery, a chance to use my camera and do something I love.
I couldn’t really have been more wrong in my decision. The ‘relaxing seaside mini-break’ has been stressful for all of us, there have been few truly good moments, holidays are difficult for a lot of adopted children but if you were a member of my distant family or somebody on my facebook friends list you would never know this. My photos, because I take so many in those small moments of happiness show a regular family; a bit like one of those films based on a true story, it’s true but perhaps not the whole truth. I paint a story with my camera that doesn’t accurately mirror the reality of our life. In truth the photos have been taken in a rare moment of peace and to people who don’t know us very well the kids look happy and carefree but that happy, carefree twenty minutes was probably followed by a sulk or a major tantrum, certainly some tears from somebody (at times possibly me). My status updates rarely hint at what we go through as a family, and only a select few know the reality. People who know us well can recognise the small clues hiding in the photos, the hollow look in Girl’s eyes, or maybe puffy, tired eyes, a paleness, a chewed lip, a false smile.
The photos do record the moments to treasure and that is exactly what I do, I remember Boy giggling on a swing ‘Higher, higher!’, Girl kicking a football through the water on the beach and getting absolutely soaking wet and loving it (Girl does not like getting wet). I try not to dwell on the memory that behind my camera boy is having a meltdown because he doesn’t want to be on the beach, he doesn’t like Girl playing football in the water, he wants to go back to the caravan but he wants girl to go too and now, this very minute (we had only just arrived). As a mum I look at the photos and remember with a photographic memory the detail of the moment but I am hoping that in time to come the kids will look at the photos I have painted and come to appreciate that we tried our best, we tried to make life fun and interesting and hope that they don’t remember the minutes of anger or anguish that may have followed.
When we adopted Girl one of the reasons they chose us as her forever family was because we always said we wanted more than one child and the reality at the time was that Girls’ birth mum could have another child at any time. A couple of years passed and we adopted Boy then last year I said never again but recently when asked I smile and say ‘…actually yes I would if we had a bigger house’.
I was shocked to find out yesterday that Girl’s birth mother may be expecting another baby. It is only third hand gossip so nothing definite but my mind has been in a whirl. There is so much to think about if it’s true.
We were always told we would get ‘first refusal’ on any subsequent siblings should they be taken into care. This is the most awful phrase I have ever heard. I can barely bring myself to say it but I guess nothing else really covers it.
For birth mother’s sake I hope that she has her life sorted out enough for her to keep her baby but where does that leave Girl and her sisters? Life would continue as normal but there will always be that question ‘why couldn’t she do that for me?’.
If the baby is taken into care which is a real possibility it is going to raise difficult questions and feelings from all of the sisters wherever the baby is placed; whether with us, with Girl’s sisters or with a third family. The whole issue of the sisters living separately is confusing and complicated enough and I am just trying to anticipate the questions that would be asked.
And what about my feelings? If I was being really selfish I would do it in a heartbeat. I adore Girl, I love her little quirks, the same quirks that she shares with her siblings but I have to put my own feelings aside. This could be the most complicated decision we will ever make and actually I am not sure there will be a right answer. Could I be resented by Girl for saying no? Would I be resented by Girl for saying yes? and what about Boy? Would we cope?
Girl has her issues but we get on with it and manage life and yes life can be difficult sometimes but we are still smiling, our biggest battle is not family life it’s getting professionals to recognise that Girl needs extra help. I feel that adopting a third child would not cause any extra stress to Girl as such, she adores her little brother but what about Boy? He is very needy, could he share further divided attention? I have no idea. I do know that the whole dynamic of the family would change again, that’s the only thing I can say for certain but whether it would be for the better I just don’t know.
We are trying to find out more, right now it’s all speculation, it could all be a false alarm but actually it’s made me realise that even if it’s not true now it certainly could be true at any point in the future.
One of Girl’s traits is that she can be determinably single- minded and stubborn. This can lead to her being difficult to dissuade or divert from her intention; for instance if she is determined to inflict hurt or harm on us then that is exactly what she will do. There is no response to cajoling or reasoning. It can be frustrating but also I have realised that it can also be a really positive thing.
At the start of Lent Girl announced that she was giving up chocolate. They had been discussing Lent at school and she told me that her teachers were giving up wine and crisps so she was going to give up chocolate, not forgetting that she is only six years old but not quite a six year old I smiled and told her that for every she went without chocolate that I would give 50p to Macmillan Cancer Support in memory of her Grandad. We made some chocolate filled pancakes for Shrove Tuesday and started the very next day. I said to the Hubster that if she lasted a week I would be very proud.
Well, you can’t have failed to notice it’s almost Easter? Not a bit of chocolate has passed Girl’s lips. I am so proud of her but actually when I think about it I should not be that surprised. It’s the same single-mindedness that she can use for bad intentions that has led to a really big achievement. She has been offered all sorts of chocolatey treats over the last thirty-odd days, at school, at the grandparents house, with and by friends but she has refused every morsel. We have found alternatives for her but she has resolutely remembered her promise to herself and stuck to it. I am one very proud adoptive mummy.