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?
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.
Yesterday we had our 6 month follow up meeting with the Community Paediatrician (CP), a meeting that was promised but I had to chase up. The meeting could probably be regarded as positive but I came out just feeling a bit blasé. You see, we’ve been here before. I have been in meetings and been promised help and still here we are no further forward than we were four years ago, a sprinkling of SALT appointments and PASW visits but little effective support.
I have come to the conclusion that once our children are with their new families they are forgotten, where they may have had priority access to resources pre-adoption they are now being seen as a drain on limited resources and I think it is through underfunding, inadequate support and a total lack of recognition by medical professionals of the difficulties these children face coping with life. It seems that once the court order has been granted sadly our children become less important.
In preparation group we are told of the difficulties and of the issues that may arise so there is a level of awareness but parents are left to cope with these difficulties alone because there is not enough awareness. In our county we have 2 PASW’s. Between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012 46 children were placed for adoption and data shows that around 30% of those children were 12 months or under. Now I would assume that all of those children will be entitled to adequate and effective post adoption support until they are 18 years of age, granted not all families will use or need the support but it should be there and it should be easy to access and almost instantly available. We had to wait for almost two months for our first PASW appointment at a time when we felt as though our family was falling apart. Now start to do the maths and consider whether 2 PASW’S is enough?
If you are ‘coping’ (in other words not on the edge of disruption) you are seen as not really needing support, our referral by the CP at the last meeting to the support service specifically provided for adoptive families in our area was denied by our PASW on the grounds that we are coping. This based on a handful of meetings. This based on the fact that I know how to effectively deal with a meltdown. This based on knowing the signs of anxiety in our little Girl and knowing what activities she can cope with.
Well fine but what about the bed-wetting, the tics, the temper flare ups, the inability to self regulate, the dyspraxic tendencies, the toddler behaviors, the developmental delays, the comprehension issues, the self-awareness, the self-esteem and the anxieties my little Girl still suffers with despite her parents ‘coping’ with a meltdown? Is my little Girl not allowed to learn how to enjoy life properly because her parents are ‘coping’?
According to the CP life shouldn’t be about ‘coping’, life is there to be enjoyed and I wholeheartedly agree with this but I am not holding my breath right now. The CP is referring us back to the same adoptive families support service, so yet another full concentric circle.
Last year we had the worst start to the year we possibly could have imagined. It took an inner strength to realise we needed help and then to ask for it, we felt like failures. Why were we not coping with this beautiful little girl? Why were things so difficult? What was wrong with us? Were we bad parents?
I feel as though right at the start we were failed by Early Years CAMHS despite the comprehensive report we had from the adoption paediatrician. I will never forget that therapist who never met our daughter, had one meeting with us told us how marvellous we were and offered us a parenting course. Three years on and we are still fighting for help. At times we have felt that we were turning a corner and coping and indeed were told this by our PASW who was so confident in our abilities that she ‘closed the case’. I can see from her point of view that we did not need her support as much as others, we were not on the verge of disruption, we were coping and dealing effectively with the meltdowns and with only two PASW’s for the whole county with a number of adoptions on the edge of disruption we agreed her time would be better spent elsewhere. The trouble is we are not getting any real support from anywhere else either. My daughter’s violent outbursts are not taken seriously by anybody, they are more interested in her speech and language and her eduction which is important but also I think that those things are only going to be achieved if her mental state is good too.
I know that her tics come from a place of emotion and trauma, her immature behaviour, her violent outburts, her sadness, her inability to self regulate. As her mother I know my little girl better than anybody but nobody takes my concerns seriously.
The behaviours are escalating, the things that normally help like fresh air or some craft are not working particularly well and I am desperate for some help and reassurance, some guidance. I spent most of last night tossing and turning in my bed, fretting about my little girl; about her inability to sit still, her inability to process instructions or take part in a conversation, her constant need to show and receive affection, her every action performed with mania and hyperactivity.
Thankfully today despite her wearing her superhero costume (always an indication of a bad day) we are having a more normal day. Lets hope that continues.
Life is never simple with adopted children. At the moment Girl is coping pretty well with everything and Boy is not. Weekends are still fraught and from the moment we woke up on Saturday morning this weekend Boy has been grumpy, mean, spiteful, uncooperative and stubborn. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that though he loves his older sister he also feels threatened by her or not actually by her but having to share the attention he gets throughout the week. It’s something he will learn to cope with as he grows older, it’s so hard for any two year old to share attention (adopted or not) but still pretty exhausting for mummy and daddy.
Life has been interesting with Girl in that she has been quite a different child recently. She has returned to school with no real difficulties, she is not particularly enjoying it, grumbles about having to go, gets upset with the playground politics and we have had some slightly difficult behaviour but she does seem to be trying very hard to control her impulses and share her anxieties which is just brilliant. We have learned the signals, we know the usual triggers and I think we deal with and understand the behaviours pretty well now.
However, today we have had contact with Girl’s older sisters, it’s the first we have had for a while and the behaviour this afternoon after a relatively calm weekend has been manic. We had a few warning signs of anxiety before going to bed and after her bedtime story she told me ‘My tummy feels funny and wants to do something but I don’t know what’. Earlier in the year this would have been a surefire start to some pretty horrendous bedtime behaviour, she wouldn’t have accepted me telling her that if she goes to sleep she will feel better, she would have fought me. This surely signals a step forward but on past record I also know that it takes a couple of days for Girl to process how she feels about contact and ‘fight it out’. It will be interesting to see how it plays out this week. I am hoping that it is not the straw that breaks the camels back. She is stressed with school, we know that but as I said she is coping but any extra stress could tip her over the edge and that’s the problem, stress is going to come by the bucket load in the next few months.
We do have more contact lined up at the weekend. Girl’s Grandad’s chemotherapy is not providing any quality of life and he is very poorly, his days are sadly numbered so we will be coping with that extra stress on top of normal every day life. The every day life that includes a trip abroad with a boy who we have realised does not like holidays and then the countdown to Christmas begins. (Yes, that in itself is stressful to Girl). So we are going to have to be very, very resilient and forward thinking in the coming months.
Two days ago we received postbox contact from Girl’s birth mum. I opened it hesitantly, I normally like to give it a once over first to prepare my mind for the discussions that may follow but Girl fetched the post and was eager for me to open everything, she seemed to instinctively know there was something interesting in the big brown envelope.
I have always thought I understood the importance of being honest and open about adoption with Girl, right from the beginning it has been something we have talked about with her, offered information and answered questions. We have embraced contact with her birth family, direct and postbox. We bought children’s books explaining adoption, ones that emphasise that families are different, ones that give her sense of belonging - in fact you name it we brought it. We have tried to let the need for information be led by Girl but with the issue of direct contact that has not always been possible, sometimes it has been led by circumstance more than by Girl’s needs.
The postbox envelope we received contained a letter and an envelope of photos and we observed that birth mum looks a lot like Girl’s eldest sister. Girl declared that she would like birth mum to come and live with us which I took in my stride, she always says something like that, I don’t believe it to have any meaning other than she is a kind girl.
I left the letter out on the table and this morning she took the photos out again and her first question was ‘mummy was the names of the two ladies that couldn’t look after me Janet & Josephine*?’. I was a little taken aback by this, it is quite wrong but also the names she said were of her two young cousins – one of whom does share the same name as birth mum. She then went on to tell me a little story about how she chose us, she went looking for a nice house to live in and chose this one. I have heard this story before, it’s clearly how she likes to think things worked out for her and I do correct her (age appropriately of course) but it just adds to her confusion.
Since postbox we have slightly gone back to some habits that we haven’t seen much of lately, major fidgeting, unable to get her words out properly or make a comprehensible sentence, an inability to do things for herself and a certain slowness in activities, nothing major but a definite difference.
Some people are of the opinion that contact is not a good idea, I am not one of those people. Some people and particularly older adoptees I have spoken to think it’s ‘wonderful’ (that’s a word that is used often though I am not sure it’s very appropriate). The older adoptees I spoke to came from am an age where they stumbled upon the fact they were adopted, or had the fact given to them on their 18th birthday (can you just imagine the impact of that?). So all in all I believe honesty is a good policy but I have a million doubts and questions about the way we approach talking about adoption and maybe in a way it could be compared to any mum questioning whether they are doing right by their child.
So I am thinking aloud now, I’m not sure there are any right or wrong answers but it would be good to hear your thoughts though. Is there a good age to start talking about adoption? Is it better to wait until they are old enough to understand completely rather than having them concoct wonderful little fantasies that you have to correct with a dimmer reality? Does Girl’s development delay have an impact on her ability to understand her circumstances and her relationship with people? Are we doing more harm than good by being too open and forward with information at such a young age? Is it too stressful to talk about different mothers; birth mothers, foster mothers, adopted mothers? How can Girl possibly be expected to understand that adopted mother means forever and come to think of it what is Girl’s understanding of forever when counting to 100 can ‘take forever’, getting to the seaside ‘takes forever’? That sort of forever is definitely finite.
We protect our children as much as we can, try to retain their innocence. Do we chat to our children about money worries, death, famine, war? Probably not but adoption is amongst the most stressful situations for a child to cope with and yet we are pushing (however gently) information at them at a tender age and I am beginning to think it’s too much and too complex for them to understand. What are we hoping to achieve by showing a five year old pictures of a woman she has never met (in Girl’s case) and reading her a letter that means so very little?
I decided to have a little ‘experiment’, I asked Girl what she thought some words meant, I told her there was no wrong answer just to tell me what she thought. I asked her what the word Sister or Brother meant and her answer after struggling for a little while was that she did not know. I asked her what she thought forever meant, she did not know. I asked her what she thought adopted meant and she said being born. We looked up the definition of Sister in the dictionary together
(sstr)n.1. A female having the same parents as another or one parent in common with another.
She said she did not really understand what that mean, I explained that she shared the same birth or tummy parents as her older sisters and that she shared the same adopted parents as her brother. I got a blank look in return and that’s probably my point, a lot of what we are telling our children is just words to them that they have no hope of understanding yet so why stress them out with it?
I have come to the conclusion that Girl is not capable of understanding the complexities or actually come to think of it the simple parts of adoption. She is interested when a letter comes and does ask questions, she has older siblings placed elsewhere that she seems to love though I guess it’s a very different relationship to siblings that would have been placed together. She has a lot of friends that were also adopted, we encouraged this to normalise adoption for her, so that she wasn’t ‘different’ but to Girl actually it’s just a word that she does not understand, something that she know’s she is but means nothing.
Would it be unethical to hold back letters from the birth parents until a time she could appreciate and undertsand them better? I definitely don’t want to hide stuff away but if she is too young to understand it why ‘worry’ her with it? Am I wrong to want to let my Girl enjoy an innocent childhood, one where she doesn’t have to think too much about her place in the world? To me her place in the world at the moment should be simple, we are her mummy and daddy and here is where she belongs. End of. No complicated interruptions thank you, let my Girl enjoy her childhood.
*Obviously I changed the names!