When you are a parent to a child with attachment issues or a child that has come through adoption you find that normal friendships and relationships become more complicated, that you almost shut off a part of your life for fear of being misunderstood. I do not talk about adoption or attachment issues with my non-adoption friends unless specifically asked, they just don’t understand that parenting an adopted child or a child with attachment disorder is different. There seems to be this belief that children are resilient, their past is made sort of irrelevant, ‘oh well kids adjust, they’re with you now and you’re a great mum’. So it doesn’t matter what traumas they experienced in the eyes of my friends anything that happens henceforth is down to you.
I never dare utter the word trauma to a non-adoptive friend. Moving to a new family was not traumatic it was ‘a difficult time for them’. That’s as far as I can take it with a non-adoptive friends. I have used the word traumatic before and been given The Look. They may as well have scoffed ‘traumatic? don’t be so dramatic’. Friends view adoption as a rosy, glowing moment not unlike the time they held their newborn baby for the first time. ‘How did you feel the first time she called you mummy?’ I am asked repeatedly. I never know how to answer because it wasn’t an easy moment. The children (that can talk) are ‘trained’ to call you mummy, it doesn’t come from an emotional place or a place of love it’s just they have no other name for you. I can’t tell that to my friends because it’s a bit of a conversation stopper, it’s a bit too downbeat when they are expecting the answer ‘oh it was such a special moment’. There are special moments but the first time I was called mummy was not one of them, my daughter was far too tense and distraught for there to be any pleasure in the moment.
Friends don’t seem to realise that there is more to adoption than the actual event of adoption, the process we go through or the first time we are called mummy.
I have a friend that takes a great interest in my life and well, come to think of it, everybody else’s life too. She is vivacious and bubbly and wants to know everything about everybody and she remembers the important stuff. She remembers if your child has been to the doctors and always asks how you got on, you know just the little things that make you feel that somebody else is thinking of you.
This friend has asked a lot of questions about adoption and the kids and about all the different aspects and emotions that come with it but when it comes to me telling her about the difficulties that can arise or a bad day or Girl’s latest tantrum and more importantly why we have these problems I am met with the blanket phrase’ well you know…all kids do that’. An uncomfortable silence follows and I can’t even try to explain that they are reacting in the present to their past because in friend’s eyes the past is ancient history whereas actually the trauma Girl experienced in her past formed who she is today, the quirky but troubled Girl that I love with all my heart.
To invalidate her past is to invalidate my Girl and I myself also feel invalidated and I know it’s not intentional but it’s one less person I can talk to openly, another person I have to close off to because just in that blanket statement I have been labelled a neurotic mother and it leaves me questioning myself and our life and now more than ever I need friends who don’t sweep our issues under the carpet.
So I have read a lot of books, attended some training, I know what my girl has been through, I know the daily struggle my girl has with herself and I know I am vindicated in worrying about my Girl. Luckily, I have an army of friends in the adoption circle who know exactly how I feel, how lonely it can sometimes feel because talking to non-adopters can be really tough when they can’t empathise with your life. Our life isn’t talking about C-sections or breast feeding, it’s about contact, about privacy and security and placing authorities. Talking about the issues you go through on a daily basis is not a conversation stopper.
We have had a bad weekend. The like of which we have not had for a long time. I would like to blame it on recent events but if I’m honest I’m not sure I can. We appeared to be dealing with the loss of grandad pretty well and nothing had changed to provoke the outbursts we had on Saturday.
However one thing happened that should have been a good thing and was something we had discussed previously with our PASW but has me inwardly thinking ‘surely not?’.
On Friday afternoon my little girl had her usual after school soccer training, which she absolutely loves, she really puts 100% effort into it and has always been a little disappointed at not winning one of the coveted trophies at the end of each half term. Each child gets a medal for good playing but two children, one girl, one boy get a trophy too. This Friday Girl won the trophy for Best Girl Player. I think she was pleased and proud but oddly she didn’t come bursting through the door the same way as when she won a certificate for Dancer of the Week, ‘Mom, Mom, look what I got, look what I got!’. I have to add that dance club she can take or leave so the difference in behaviour was puzzling but I just took it as tiredness after a long day; she had also been on a school trip that day.
I took some photos of her holding the trophy and medal and published them to my facebook page to share with close friends and relatives. I looked at the photos after I had uploaded them and thought to myself ‘why does she not look happy?’. Girl was smiling but her eyes were what I call ‘hooded’. When she is not happy she half closes her eyes when she is smiling, it’s like she is hiding what she really feels inside. A bad sign. The Hubster was so pleased and proud of her I did not immediately mention what I thought to him, not until after what happened next but other people noticed the same as me and remarked discreetly about it.
The next day started badly, everything was moaned at. Getting in the bath, getting out of the bath. Everything was exxagerated. Getting out of the bath Girl didn’t just lift her leg over the side of the bath, she kicked it and stretched it out as far as she could, kicking Boy in the head in the process, not on purpose but she had lost all concept of being aware of other people and how her actions might affect them. It might not sound like much but these are the little clues that we know so well, a total absorption in herself, a downbeat mood.
It was a busy morning, I had to go to Sainsburys and Girl’s grandad had come round to help with some little jobs, including putting Girl’s new shelves up so she could display her trophy and other treasures. I returned from the supermarket to find Girl in full insolent and uncooperative mood, refusing to tidy her desk so that grandad could put her shelves up. I was tempted at this point to go straight back out of the door, I knew what I had been anticipating had started. What followed I can only describe as pure rage. I was attacked like an animal by my little girl, punched, kicked, bitten and screamed at. All plans for the rest of the day (some important ones too) were put on hold.
This happened twice during the course of the day. It was traumatising for every one of us and really put a strain on the whole household. I ended up having a row over nothing with the hubster, walking out and sitting on a park bench crying and thinking why? what if? what happened here? In some ways it felt as though it came out of nowhere but did it?
I was talking some months back about attachment disorder and self-esteem with my PASW after a different incident, something I had read in a book and we discussed and she confirmed. About feelings of ‘not being good enough’. About sabotage. This whole incident could apply to that. Girl wins a trophy, Girl is confused because inside she does not feel that she is deserving of the trophy. She sabotages any good feelings by behaving badly, by being so upset by the feelings she has that it develops into a real rage.
Surely not? Sometimes I like to think to myself that Girl does not have attachment issues, that maybe I imagine it all but she is like a text book case and an incident like this brings reality crashing around our ears. Why are we not getting help for this? What happens when Girl is older and she decides to sock me in the eye, thump or kick me like she did on Saturday? At six she is very, very strong. At twelve, well I dread to think what she will be capable of if we do not get this under control. Will she have a temper like her birth father? Does that combined with her feelings of inadequacy just make for more rage? Our SALTist has told me that Girl is complex. Our PASW has told us that she is complex. So where is the help? I am thankful that for the most part we are controlling this but the incidents have been building back up in frequency and I am worried. This afternoon my mum and dad are taking the kids out for a half term treat. The minute they leave I am back on the phone to the Community Paediatrician to beg for some help.
It’s been a while since I last blogged. Plenty has been happening, some of it quite positive but I haven’t known where to start. I am very conscious that with Girl’s grandad being so poorly our life at the moment involves, you could say almost revolves around this and the effect it is has had on Girl. I am reluctant for many reasons for this part of our life, Grandad’s illness, to also be part of the blog but I think it is probably unavoidable. We have had increased contact and some pretty concerning behaviour has followed but each time we discuss and plan for the next time and I think we have it almost fine tuned.
The first important thing that has happened recently is that my counselling sessions have finished, mutually agreed with the counsellor that I am in a much better place than at the time of my first appointment.
Secondly our sessions with the PASW have also finished, in her words ‘case-closed’, also mutually agreed because we are in a better place. Girl’s behaviour has been better granted but we also deal with and understand her complexities much better than we did at the start of the year. I felt that our PASW’s time would be better spent with other families. PASW support is limited, the staffing levels for PAS is frankly shocking and there are families in much worse positions than we currently are.
So, life now? It has been a whole year since we went through our worst period with Girl. The build up to Christmas is difficult enough for a child with attachment issues but mixed with starting school and settling her new brother in it was just too much for her.
So far this year Girl has been coping with the build up to Christmas quite well, infact so well i was considering putting up the tree today and then the advent calendars came out and then the first Christmas party of the season, the party which just happened to be a PAS Christmas party. Both children decided to have full on meltdowns. Boy’s meltdown I anticipated, Girl’s I did not. I don’t know why I didn’t anticipate it. A room full of strangers, social workers, loud noise from the disco, party games, santa visits, sugar and contact with her sisters? It was inevitable really but she has been coping so well lately I was feeling perhaps a little bit over confident. I soon settled her by taking her to a quiet corner to colour and the rest of the day followed relatively well, even with a trip to Tesco on the way home thrown in for good measure (relative being our normal perhaps not your normal).
Today was the second party of the weekend. I know that two parties in one weekend is a lot for my little Girl to cope with but boy did she go for it today. We had tantrums, pinching daddy, sulks and strops. It resulted in us leaving early which is something we have not had to do for a long time. We came home feeling slightly shell-shocked and a little embarrassed in front of the school mums but this evening we have had a little remorse from her which is good.
On top of this Boy is going through a really difficult period at the moment, mostly I think down to his age but partly down to his fears following adoption. He is suffering with almost extreme anxiety over separation to the point of not being able to be in a room on his own unless of his own choosing, ie he can choose to go into a room on his own but if one of us leaves a room he is in he needs to know where we are and what we are doing and demands for us to come back repeatedly. That’s not easy to cope with when you are sitting on the loo and makes getting on with everyday tasks very difficult.
So here I am polishing off the bottle of wine I opened last night, I will not be winning any slimming awards this week!
It’s interesting the body language displayed by my daughter. For instance last week we had the class photo back from school and immediately I noticed that my daughter looked very different to the other children. All her class friends were sat up straight and smiling, Girl was given pride of place in the middle of the front row of seats and there she was slouched down in her chair, chin touching her chest and a pretend smile plastered on her face, a grimace if you like, her eyes hooded. It was almost like she was trying to hide and was very uncomfortable with the situation. I remember when I was young I would have been besides myself with the excitement of a break from the daily routine and most of the children in the photo look exactly how I would have felt, happy, excited to be having a photo taken outside, proud to sit upright with their friends.
Before we adopted Boy we went through a blissful summer of sparkly wide-eyed photos. It took us a couple of years into the adoption to get there but it was short lived. Nowadays most of the photos we take her eyes are hooded, I can’t describe it very well, it’s like she is trying to hide her soul with her eyelids. She is very happy to pose for photos and a lot I take without her noticing, I like the candid shots better but I can’t see her eyes and I would give anything to get back the wide eyed sparkle.
It was parent-teacher meeting day yesterday and time for school reports, I was a little apprehensive about it as we felt that the school were not seeing the ‘real’ Girl. We got to the school and outside the classroom was a table with all the children’s work books and a sealed envelope with the school report. We took a chair whilst waiting for our appointment; I chose to open the report and the Hubster picked one of the workbooks.
Now this is going to sound really strange. As I sat reading the report my heart was sinking. The report was very, very good, gushingly good. Immediately I felt mistrustful, it was like reading about a different child, all the things we struggle with at home Girl was getting right in school. They were seeing a Girl who could dress independently, a confident and sociable little girl, a girl who had no problems following instructions, who could think independently for herself. At the same time I was reading this, Hubster was pointing out that in her writing book on every page were the words ‘with support’, with support’. Now I am not saying I am unhappy about reading a good report, it’s surely what every parent dreams of but when you know your daughter has so many difficulties you expect to see some of that reflected. So what is going on here? What is missing? Why the conflict in what we are reading and what we are seeing? I felt myself welling up, desperate that nobody was seeing what we see.
However, this is where it all changed. The teacher called us in to our meeting and immediately thanked us for the document I had sent in on Attachment in the Classroom by the national Children’s Bureau (it is very, very good, bookmark it, you never know when you might need it). She had read it and then passed it round to the teaching assistants and also on to Girl’s new teacher. She then went on to say that upon reading it she had started to notice of a few behaviours that Girl was displaying, her emotions and the way she shrugs into herself when not feeling comfortable with a situation, the document fully backed up everything we had been telling her. She told us there had been a few incidents of aggressive behaviour that she had to talk to Girl about (why are we only just learning about this?). She pointed out that Girl seemed to like playing roughly with the boys at playtime (full marks teacher) and could easily get carried away with the aggression of the fighting games. I pointed out that they would need to keep an eye on that because if not pulled up in time she could easily hurt somebody through lack of self-control.
Lastly she acknowledged that Girl was having difficulties with her reading, writing and phonics and that they would be keeping an extra eye on her. Hoo-bloody-rah! We had a discussion about how her writing seems to be going backwards, that she seems to be ‘unlearning’ things. The teacher said they don’t like to bandy about the word Dyslexia and they don’t normally diagnose until 7 years of age but with her background, the adoption, the development delays it was a distinct possibility, that her difficulties were enough to worry them.
I also mentioned to the teacher about not doing much of the hoemwork with Girl. This is something I worry about but we both find it too stressful. The teacher did not seem concerned at all so that is a weight off my mind.
So that’s it, I am so pleased to know that I was not getting it totall wrong but a little sad that I was actually getting it right too, do you know what I mean?
(Oh and by the way she is bloody brilliant at maths and art!)
Most parenting books will tell you that 20-30 minutes a day positive, quality time with your child will provide most of their need for the day, not so with Girl and probably most children with an attachment disorder. Our weekends have to be full of activity, over time we have learned that Girl needs to be directed in most things, she cannot seek out an activity for herself and struggles to play with toys. She will happily play with Boy but she is so controlling and demanding and neither of them understand his limitations (being only two) so the play is really not much fun for either of them.
Currently our weekends are filled with trips out, crafts, baking and as a last resort TV and films. Both of my kids would happily zone out on TV all day if you let them but I just cannot do this, of course I can’t!
It is actually quite fun meeting with Girl’s needs for stimulation at the weekend, it forces our hand to forget the housework and concentrate on maintaining equanimity; unfortunately it does mean that we do not get a break and this is a weekend where I for one really did need a rest as I am not very well. We could have phoned grandparents to help by taking the kids off our hands for the day, they would have been more than happy to do that but I just didn’t want to, I love the time with my little girl and despite feeling so unwell have really enjoyed my Super Sunday. We spent the whole day at a Country Park walking, bug-hunting, playing and I now have two happy bunnies now tucked up in bed ready for the week ahead but boy do I need a rest.
I have always been relieved that Girl seems to contain her anger and impulses to her home environment but this evening I witnessed her bullying some other children at a soft-play party, forcefully and deliberately elbowing one little girl because she wanted a go on something Girl was hogging for herself and had actually finished with when the girl got on for her turn. The little girl had done nothing to provoke the attack and I was a little taken aback. I pulled Girl out immediately and gave her a ticking off. I still can’t decide whether she looked remorseful or just plain cheesed off that I had seen her do it.
I have never seen Girl do anything like this before but then we don’t often get the opportunity to watch her play properly with other children, though I have noticed that in the playground she soon takes the lead. I know that kids tussle and argue but it does worry me with Girl because I know that at some point she is not going to not contain herself or somebody is going to hit her back and she will not have the self-control to fight her impulses. I worry that with her control issues that she could easily turn into the class bully and our PASW has warned us that we might experience this once she settles into school. I do wonder whether we are going into another stage of her development, where she feels safe enough with her peers to show her true colours. I shall be keeping a close eye on this.
As you may have already read in my previous post we had a direct contact visit with Girl’s sisters and grandfather last weekend. I mentioned that Girl seems to be struggling with the arrangement and since the contact certain behaviours have started to reappear and sadly she has been on a downward spiral all week. We have had a week of walking on eggshells and despite our best efforts and creating a Super Saturday of epic proportions it has ended in a huge meltdown tonight.
Something about contact makes Girl feel unsafe and I think it’s that her sisters and grandfather are a link to her old life, a life where it’s certainly possible to lose everything you know. I think something touches her subconscious mind – perhaps the sound of grandfather’s voice or a familiar smell? So, Girl has been testing us all week, pushing the boundaries further and further and further. Tonight mid-meltdown I was told that she does not need a mommy and daddy, does not need a nanny and granddad, that we are all rubbish, that she can take care of herself. So, so sad, this to me says she has put up a protective wall around herself, is regressing back to what she feels is a safe position of trusting nobody. I don’t get hurt by these words, to me they are so useful, a clear indictation of what is going on in her mind. It’s Girl’s way of opening up to me.
So to today, it began in a bad way with lots of hyperactive behaviour and winding her brother up to manic proportions. She also tried to encourage Boy to do something very dangerous immediately after she had been warned against it herself, almost like she wanted him to hurt himself. We have had lots of repeat whispering, lying, refusal to follow simple orders or be helpful in anyway. Most of this behaviour we had seen by 9.30am this morning so we decided we need a Super Saturday, a walk in the beautiful countryside, fresh air, peace and quiet. It did work to a certain extent but we still had a lot of bossy and controlling behaviour, lots of glass half empty moaning (which drives me to distraction, it doesn’t matter what or how much we do Girl can always find something to moan about).
The behaviour once home immediately escalated again and ended up in a meltdown at bedtime, always a difficult time because she does actually have some control here, I can’t exactly pin her to the bed and force her to go to sleep and boy does she know it!
It has taken me two hours to calm her down tonight, I kept my cool whilst being attacked physically and stayed true to my Poker Face method, which although works I actually hate with a passion. It seems so wrong that I have to sit in the doorway to block exit from the room, that I have to keep some distance at a time when really she probably needs some comfort, I wish I could just give her a cuddle and talk to her about what is bothering her but the closeness just exacerbates the problem. It seems the best I can do for her is to just contain her in her room and let her fight it out until she is exhausted, it seems far from ideal to me but at the very least it gives me some control.
Tonight it felt like after a month of very good behaviour that we were back at square one. Based on last time I used the routine (which was also the first time) I am predicting that tomorrow night we will have more of the same but to a lesser extent, that it will take less time to calm down, that she will need to push the boundaries again to test whether she can trust me to have the same reaction (i.e. none) , that I will still love her and care for her no matter what she does.
I do not know what to do about the contact issue. I guess what we will have to do is just ride the storm, at least we know to prepare ourselves. In time I am sure that Girl will come to trust us and appreciate the continued contact.
I have a headache. Not a headache in the normal sense of the word but a headache from going round in circles thinking am I neurotic mummy? Am I one of those moms who constantly thinks that if their child isn’t perfect there must be something wrong with her? If I hadn’t been given so much information would I just think my daughter was a bit naughty and wilful? What would happen if I parented in a normal style, relaxed and stuck with it? Is my daughter’s behaviour worse than other children’s behaviour? How much of this behaviour is down to genetics?
Today the headache is worse than normal, I confided in a neighbour about our problems and she asked me if I was over-thinking things, that she had similar problems when her kids were younger and that she suffered Post-Natal Depression, it was like a body blow. I am confused and my brain is tired with self-doubt.
All I can think that makes me feel any easier about all these self-doubts is that there is a big difference between our children. My children have been through the most traumatic thing that could happen to any child, twice. The loss of a mother at birth followed by the loss of primary caregivers, not forgetting that girl was so developmentally delayed that they even considered Cerebral Palsy.
I know if I lost a close member of my family it would take me a long time to grieve, I would probably get mad or sad. How can I expect my children to just accept their losses without some ugly behaviours rearing their head?
So if being a neurotic mum means that my kids are treated with, well…kid gloves, does it matter? Call me what you want, I’m just a mum who cares.
The good behaviour has continued this week with a couple of really stand-out brilliant moments, we have had no meltdowns for over a week which is remarkable in itself and makes me so proud of Girl for controlling her behaviour in situations that normally would cause anxiety, we have had a couple of near-misses with the glazed-over look we know so well but it’s like you can visibly see her deciding not to go any further. I’m not talking perfect behaviour here because that would probably worry me as much as the extreme behaviour, no kid’s perfect, I certainly wasn’t!
First brilliant moment was that at the weekend Girl was invited to a party. Parties, I have discovered from experience are Girl’s worst nightmare, she likes the thought of them but can really shy away from the actual reality of them and is reluctant to join in with the activities and I do know this is uncommon but it can have a massive knock-on effect at home later on. Well this weekend we arrived at the party and all the children, most of them class friends of Girl so not strangers, were told to go to the toilet before the treasure trail started, most kids went by themselves but Girl froze and gave me the rabbit in the headlights look until I offered to take her. She would not leave my side to talk to her friends but I have come to expect this so it’s not something I worry about.
Once all the kids were toileted they were instructed to follow the play-leaders and the parents were asked to stay behind for a moment. Girl looked utterly panicked but after a little reassurance that I would follow quickly (come hell or high-water I was thinking to myself) she joined her friends, constantly looking over at me for more reassurance.
We soon caught up with each other and Girl happily joined in all the activities once she could see that I was very close and I am very proud of her for that, previously she may have detached from the activities and clung to my hand. I did notice that although she was one of the few to be invited to the party from her class she did not seem particularly close to any of the other children and really sat on her own eating the party food. The other thing I did notice was that a couple of the other girls cried a few times and ran to their mummies for reassurance , not that I want to see kids crying but it sort of normalises some of Girl’s behaviours, provides a benchmark because working out what is normal and what is attachment related is a fuzzy line at best.
The second brilliant thing that happened was some defiance towards the Hubster but compliance towards me when requested to get ready for bed. The Hubster was given a downright refusal to his request and he asked me for back-up, something our PASW has asked him not do. I went to find out what was happening, asked the same thing of Girl and she responded straight away, ‘OK mommy’ and toddled off to get her pyjamas on. Now this is a big breakthrough for us, asking me to wade in normally causes more friction but I think we have come to some sort of understanding. Mommy is not a baddy.
FIND ME ON FACEBOOK!
SW Social Woker
PASW Post Adoption Social Worker
SALT Speech & Language Therapy
CP Community Paediatrician