Out with the old, in with the new?

It feels like all my blog posts at the moment start with ‘recently I attended a training course…’ and this one is no different! I am very grateful for our excellent adoption agency who provide so much training, and also for my part time job that means I have plenty of time to attend said training courses!

Although the most recent one was actually on a Saturday anyway. It was Support Network Training for our friends and family. This time we took two of our best friends who wrote references in our PAR, and we’re going again in September with our parents. The training day was a great idea, and really valuable. It summed up the main information we’d been given at our prep groups about what our children have experienced and how it might affect their behaviour. It referenced Helen Townsend’s book Before I Arrive – which we love – to help friends and family think about the adoption from the child’s point of view.

DSCF4881.JPGProbably the most helpful part for me, and I think for our friends, was an illustration with a ball of wool that we’d already seen at prep group. However, on the other side of the process now, it was very helpful to see again, and both my husband and I found it quite moving.

One person plays the child, and sits in the middle of the room. Everyone else is around them as different characters – birth mum and dad, social worker, foster carer, foster carer’s dog, swimming instructor, adoptive mum and dad etc. A course leader then read out the child’s story. Every time one of the other characters was mentioned, the wool was passed from the child, to the person and back again, representing the relationship, the bond of trust, developed. By the end of the story, the child was connected to all of the other characters by a piece of wool. It was a great visual of the web of relationships the child had formed in just a few years.

The end of the exercise was when the child moved in with his adoptive parents – happy ending, right?

As adoptive parents, and the friends and family of adoptive parents, it’s tempting to feel like this is the start of the story.

A fresh start for our children, a new life. We weren’t part of their old life, and it’s easy to forget that they were! But there will be people who we have never met that our children will love and trust deeply. More than they love and trust us when they first arrive.

After reflecting on the web of wool, the course leader then went round the room with a pair of scissors and cut every piece of wool except the two that connected the child to the adoptive parents. All of those relationships were severed. That child would never see their birth parents again, never stroke the foster carer’s dog again, never play with their best friend at school again. They were left with their new mum and dad, relative strangers to them, who it seemed had snatched them away from all they’d ever known and loved.

Now, as the adoptive parents, this is our happy ending. We’ve longed for our children for so long, and suddenly they’re home! And we know that this is the best thing for them – a safe, permanent home. But what we need to understand is that they need time and help to grieve for what they’ve lost, if they’re going to be able to celebrate what they’ve gained. As adoptive parents, I can imagine this is very hard. I can imagine feeling hurt and rejected when our children cry for their foster carers or ask to go back to birth parents. I can imagine feeling like a failure.

I love my children already, I think about them constantly. We have been preparing for them to come home for months and months. But this is not the case for them. When they arrive they will have suffered much more loss in their few years than I have in my 25. It reminds me of the bit in Annie when Mr Warbucks gives Annie a new locket to replace her old broken one. He wants her to think of him as her new Daddy. Annie loves him and loves her new life with him, but to accept him and his gift means giving up on her hope that one day her birth parents will come back to rescue her. Loving him feels like a betrayal to them.

Now please don’t panic, I’m not expecting our adoption story to be anything like Annie! But I do know that the story is going to look very different to our children than it does to us. Those early chapters will always be part of our children’s stories; and instead of trying to tear out those pages, somehow we need to help them make sense of them so that they can enjoy the rest of the book.

I’d love to know your experiences of this. How have you helped your children grieve? How did it make you feel and how did you deal with those feelings?

 

How will we know?

In 11 days we go to panel to be (hopefully) approved as adoptive parents. Then comes the matching process. Our Social Worker seems confident that we will have profiles to look at straight away because our criteria is fairly open. Throughout the process we’ve tried not to think past panel day, we really wanted to take it one step at a time and not get ahead of ourselves. In fact, as someone who gets excited about Christmas in January, I have been incredibly self-controlled!

However, there is now very little to distract ourselves with, no forms or meetings or training days, and so inevitably our thoughts and conversation have turned to post July 5th. Aside from wondering when our children will finally be home, and desperately hoping they’ll be here for Christmas, our biggest question has really become ‘how will we know?’

DSCF4869We are very confident in our Social Worker, she knows us really well, she has so far worked really hard on our behalf, and she is genuinely concerned with the best interests of the children looking for families. And so when she starts to bring us profiles to look at, we’re confident that all of them will be sensible, good matches for us. And so now we’re wondering ‘how will we know?!’ And if all of them will be good, sensible matches, what would make us say no to the first one we see?

Should we be waiting for a fuzzy feeling? Or holding out for a child with less ‘issues’? Should we narrow our criteria? Should we look for profiles with cute photos?! How on earth will we know?!!!

When we were looking to ‘adopt’ our cats I looked at loads of websites with photos and descriptions. Both times I knew as soon as I saw the cats that we ended up adopting, and then did everything I could to make them ours.

Adopting children is quite a lot more complex and serious than adopting cats. I don’t think we can operate the same method.

When our Social Worker asked how we’d like to go about the matching process, we said we’d like her to do all of the searching, and bring us the profiles she thought were good matches. We knew if we started looking ourselves we’d fall in love with every face we saw, and we’d talk ourselves out of our original criteria that was decided with very sensible reason. We didn’t want to risk getting attached to photos of lots of other people’s children, and we didn’t want to risk pursuing matches that would ultimately not be approved because they weren’t at all sensible.

And so if we are only going to see profiles of children that fit our criteria, and that have been selected by a professional who knows us well, understands the system and cares for the children, why would we say no?

If you’ve adopted, I’d love to know your thoughts. How did you go about the matching process? How did you finally know? Or maybe you’re in the matching process now, has it been what you expected? Please leave a comment!

 

 

Generation X-Box

A while ago I attended a training day on Therapeutic Parenting. The afternoon session was an introduction to the Nurtured Heart Approach. As a Christian, I had some issues with this approach, however one thing about the Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA) that stuck with me was the idea of Video Game Theory.

The three key points of NHA are:

  1. Absolutely No – “I refuse to energise negativity”
  2. Absolutely Yes – “I will relentlessly create and energise positivity”
  3. Absolutely Clear – “I set and enforce clear limits in an unenergised way”

NHA starts with the basis that every child has the capacity for greatness. Imagine a character in a video game, setting out on a quest. The Quest is Absolutely Clear. There are logical clear rules with defined consequences. As the Hero of the game, the player knows exactly what is expected of them, and what will happen if they break the rules.

If the Hero breaks the rules, very often they die! However, in most (child friendly) games, this looks simply like a time out, a black screen for a few seconds, before rebooting for another try. There is always a consequence, followed instantly by a second chance. And with a second chance comes more inspiration to follow the rules. Video games tend not to give energy to negativity. There are consequences to rule breaking, but once the consequence is dealt the Hero can move swiftly on and try again to succeed.

If the Hero follows the rules, they can win the game. There is always an opportunity to win. Victory in a video game is often loud, colourful and jubilant – quite the opposite of the “power down” defeat. This is what it looks like to give energy to positivity – music, fireworks, celebration.

Therapeutic parenting, or perhaps all parenting, needs to be a bit more like a video game.

The rules are absolutely clear. The consequences are completely consistent. The consequences are immediate, always followed by second chances. There is always a chance to succeed. Even the small victories are celebrated.

DSCF4861.JPGBefore we married, we fell in love over ‘Nazi Zombies’, a bonus level on the X-Box game ‘Call of Duty’. You basically shoot zombies dressed as Nazis, and survive as long as you can. It’s very fun. We also love playing the various Lego X-Box games – Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, Lego Star Wars, Lego Lord of the Rings – you get the picture. I always thought that playing video games was very bad for children; but when we heard that playing X-Box games could actually be therapeutic we were quite excited!

For children who have experienced very inconsistent and unpredictable parenting, very negative parenting, or not really experienced parenting at all, practicing this format in a video game can help them understand how rules work in real life. It can teach them the value in following the rules. It can give them a world where they start to feel safe because they can actually understand how it works. It can help them to switch off and relax their brain which might normally be on constant high alert.

Now, our children are not going to spend their lives glued to a computer screen. And they’re definitely not going to be playing Nazi Zombies anytime soon. But occasional family therapy time playing The Lego Movie or Lego Jurassic World on the X-Box is definitely on the agenda!

I’d love to know your thought on the Nurtured Heart Approach, or on video gaming in general! Leave a comment!

 

 

Lazy weekends, walks and wine.

During half term we decided to really knuckle down and get on with some of the decorating. In February we had a loft conversion done, adding another bathroom and bedroom to our 3 bedroomed terrace. We also plan to dig up the concrete yard, lay turf and plant flowers. We also have various cupboards to build, rooms to sort, things to fix. Half term seemed like a good time for some ‘nesting’, getting the house ready for the arrival of our little ones.

DSCF4837.JPGOn the first day we spent about an hour painting before we gave up. Now, that sounds kind of rubbish. But let me explain why. Preparing the house is really important, I had visions of a perfect haven for our children when they arrive, with a red front door and milk bottles on the step. In the real world, we’re realising that preparing ourselves is much more important.

Our children aren’t looking for a forever house. They’re looking for a forever family. Yes, of course, the better condition our house is in, the easier it may be to parent. Good storage, a safe outdoor space, carpeted stairs, it will all help. But what our children need even more is parents who are united, who love each other, who are a team.

And so instead of decorating, that afternoon we went back to our old university campus, where we first met, where we got engaged and had our wedding reception. We wandered around the library, sat in the sunshine, ate curly fries and ice cream and reminisced. It was a really wonderful afternoon. We didn’t write lists of jobs. We didn’t talk about paint colours or cupboard interiors. We just enjoyed one another. (And then went to the cinema to enjoy the new X-Men).

As committed as we are to making our house a safe, welcoming, comfortable home, we are also committed to spending time together, talking, laughing and relaxing. Remembering why we fell in love, and learning to love each other more deeply. Having fun together! Once our children arrive there might not be much opportunity for a long time to be just the two of us. But the basis of a strong family is a strong marriage. And so I will make no apologies for lazy Sunday afternoons spent in the pub, snuggly Saturday mornings watching DVDs or spontaneous trips out. We’re doing it for the kids!

Always check the label?

Last week I attended an information morning with Adoption Matters on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD) and Neglect. The speaker was both a retired social worker, and an adoptive mum. I learnt that both FASD and Neglect can cause brain damage in a child, and can have very similar symptoms. As a prospective adopter, I picked up 3 main tips:

1. Don’t let your child’s difficulties become their failings.

Children affected by FASD and/or neglect will struggle with some things that other children won’t. There is such a wide variety of ways that children can be affected, this isn’t a one size fits all sort of thing. Children may struggle with poor co-ordination, hyperactivity, poor attention span, language development, understanding social situations, mixing reality and fiction, poor problem solving, attachment difficulties, poor academic performance etc. A child’s difficulties will be as unique as they are, and it’s a parent’s job to know them inside out.

A parent needs to know when their child is being disobedient, and when their child is unable to understand instructions. A parent needs to know when a child is being careless and clumsy, and when that child is struggling to control their own body. As you learn how FASD and neglect have affected your child, help them! If your child struggles to follow a list of instructions, don’t set them up to fail! Give them one instruction at a time, teach them ways to remember lists, help order their chaos with them. Our children may always have certain difficulties because in the past adults have failed to care for them. But those failings should never be our children’s failings.

2. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your child.

Many schools and teachers work really hard to help the children in their care learn and flourish. But it’s not always easy. Having a label like FASD can be really useful when it comes to getting school’s attention. A child with difficulties resulting from FASD or neglect may really struggle in a classroom environment. Hypersensitivity to smells and sounds can cause distress if a child becomes over stimulated, or can make it impossible for a child to focus on a task. Having to navigate complex peer relations and follow unspoken rules can be very daunting. Your child needs help, not just from you. They need other people on their side so their difficulties don’t become their failings.

And it’s a parent’s job to get people on side. You know your child best, so educate their teachers! If every child is unique in their strengths and struggles, your child’s teacher will need help to understand your individual child’s difficulties. Give them literature to read, point them in the direction of useful resources, be patient and explain exactly what your child struggles with and how they can help. It could just be things like always sitting at the front of the classroom, help getting changed for P.E., being allowed to leave the room for a quiet moment, a map of the school or a timetable of the day. Teachers won’t always think of these things, so don’t be afraid to help!

There may also be times when you need to really stand up for your child. You may have to go against your nature and be willing to make some noise. But isn’t it better to put yourself in an uncomfortable position, rather than your child? Make those appointments with the Head, ask exactly how your Pupil Premium is being spent, be your child’s advocate.

3. Don’t get distracted by the label.

DSCF4836Yes, labels can be really useful for getting the help and support your child may need. But labels are not the be-all and end-all. There is a lot more to a child than the labels we put on them. Especially a label like FASD, which can mean just about anything! All children, labels or not, will have struggles and difficulties. And all children have beautiful qualities and special gifts.

Enjoy your child’s special gifts, and celebrate their courage.

An adopted child will have experienced too much loss and pain in their little lives. They are brave, they are courageous, they are strong. Celebrate the little triumphs and love them for exactly and completely who they are, labels and all.

I’d love to hear your stories – how have labels helped/hindered your child? How do you enjoy your child’s special gifts and celebrate their courage? Comment below and join the chat!

 

 

Fighting the sexualisation of our kids

On Wednesday I went to a Christian youth workers training session on the Sexualisation of Kids. I wanted to share some of it with you.

Teens-and-Porn-Infographic.pngWith the birth of the internet, the smart phone, the app, children are exposed to things now that they never used to be. Pornographic images are no longer confined to the top shelf of the newsagents; they’re popping up in internet adverts, music videos and social media. Kids clothes are now just smaller versions of adult clothes, shops sell padded bras for 8 year old girls – the same girls who can now have pole dancing birthday parties. Sex Education is taught younger and younger in schools; and your child is only as protected as the child they sit next to in class, because chances are they’re hearing it all before you’ve even thought to sit them down for The Talk.

I don’t say this to scare you – although these statistics are scary – but to show you the reality of the world we live in. Our culture tells our children that they need to please themselves first, and that using other peoples’ bodies to do that is OK. It tells them that their value is in their sex appeal. It tells them that relationships are for serving themselves. It tells girls that to get somewhere in life they must either become like a man, or be able to seduce any man. It tells boys that some women are no more than objects, and that they like it.

While parents can put measures in place to protect their children while they are young, what we really need to be doing is training our children to live wisely in a world that has made sex a commodity instead of a commitment.

And so here are my top 3 tips I picked up this week:

1. Teach children to identify worldviews

We all have a worldview. It is simply how we view the world. It’s made up of our experiences, the worldviews of our family and friends, our core beliefs, our culture. It’s very hard to identify our own worldview. It’s as though we’ve been born with a snorkelling mask glued to our face, all of our masks are tinted in slightly different ways. We can never take it off and see the world without it, but we can be aware that it’s there. Teaching our children from a young age to identify worldviews and to challenge them is so important. Learning that words and actions start in the heart will help children see the worldview behind them and help them to question our culture. Try asking them questions in everyday life with this structure: What does x say/do? What does x think? In your experience, is x true? (If you’re a Christian) According to God, is x true?

What is Daddy Pig like? Are all Daddies like that? What does God say Daddies should be like?

What does this song say about men/women/relationships? What is the songwriters view of men/women/relationships? How do you feel about that? What does God say about that?

Know that your worldview is flawed. You’re not teaching your child to take off their mask, because you don’t even know how to take off your own! You’re teaching your child that they’re wearing a mask, and so is everyone else. If you’re a Christian, the Bible teaches us The Worldview. It tells us what the world was supposed to look like from the lips of its Creator. And so pointing your child back to this is so important.

2. Teach children delayed gratification

Microwaves, Google, On Demand TV. Food. Information. Entertainment. Whatever you want at your fingertips. We are waiting less and less, and we’re teaching our children that if they want something, all they have to do is press a button.

Now, whether you believe pornography is morally wrong or not, more and more research is proving that it is damaging to relationships and to the brain. What is the point in working hard at messy, difficult relationships when you can have no strings attached, sexual gratification at the touch of a button? And if you’re a Christian and you’re teaching your child that sex is one of God’s good gifts to us, how can you expect your child to want to wait for it at its best if they’ve never waited for anything before? Let’s teach our children to wait.

Take them to a restaurant, order a meal and then wait together. Don’t frantically try and distract them so they never experience waiting. Don’t only ever go to McDonalds where the food was cooked 5 hours previously and so no waiting required.

Encourage them to save up their pocket money for something big they really want, instead of spending it on smaller things they can afford straight away.

Wait in excited anticipation for Christmas instead of buying toys and presents just because.

3. Teach children God’s Good Design

God created the world and it was good. Then He created Man and it was very good. The pinnacle of God’s creation was us! God didn’t make us men and women by accident. He made us to be different and to beautifully complement one another. And the fact that we are sexual beings isn’t a mistake, it’s part of God’s Good Design. Sex is a gift from God, He wants us to enjoy it! The view of Christians as prude and anti-sex is so far removed from what the Bible says, the Bible celebrates sex! God was clear that sex was designed for the lifelong commitment of marriage, and any other version is a poor substitute. Christians, let’s not be shy, let’s teach our children the truth about sex! Let’s teach them to delight in the Gift, and the Gift Giver. and let’s pray that they will think it’s worth the wait.

Now obviously talking about sex needs to be done in age appropriate ways, and at the right time for each individual child. But whether you’re a Christian or not, I would encourage you to open those lines of communication. If your child sees that you’re squeamish or embarrassed, they won’t want to bring up the subject when they have questions or concerns. Don’t wait for your child to hear it from their peers, or from school. Be proactive, not reactive. The truth is at some point your children are going to start talking about sex. Probably sooner than you’d like. Pre-empt that by teaching them to think rightly and positively about sex, their bodies and the bodies of others.

Sorry for the long post, but this is such a massive and important topic and there is much more to be said. Share your thoughts in the comments and let’s help each other help our children navigate this crazy world!

Guest Post: To be known completely and yet loved outrageously.

I love this post! So true, how wonderful to be so completely known and yet not rejected, but loved.

Adopting Star

It was Friday, just after 5pm, the day had felt like an eternity, (as we knew the social work team were meeting to discuss who Star’s forever family would be,) and the phone rang.

It was Star’s family finding social worker ringing from the train station, because she wanted us to know, they had chosen us.

Wow.

I silently jumped up and down in our study, barely able to take it in.

And then a new waiting game started. Now, we were linked. We were the only link they were progressing but they needed to find out more about us and we needed to find out more about Star.

Which really makes you think. How much do we really know each other and ourselves? How should one judge themselves? Should we present our best, cleanest, neatest, politest version of us? The person we hope to be and wish other people…

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This is your life…

Last week we received our Prospective Adopters Report (PAR). A 21 page long document about us and our abilities to parent. It made for very strange reading.

Young, vibrant couple in their mid twenties.

Our social worker did a great job. I would definitely give us children! Hours and hours of interviews meant she could give really detailed accounts of our lives and significant experiences. She included anecdotal stories that make us seem like real people to someone who’s never met us. She made observations about us as a couple that we were oblivious to, like how we interact together.

DSCF4832.jpgAnd yet it made for uncomfortable reading too. Very personal memories are suddenly written in black and white and handed over to strangers. I felt comforted that the document she emailed to us was password protected. Not because it contains secrets, or because I’m worried who might want to steal it. But somehow it felt respectful.

Since our assessment interviews finished and we didn’t have any more homework, I’ve naturally started worrying about panel. I bought myself a new dress (actually 3) to wear on the day to give me confidence. However now I’m wondering if I’ve wasted my money. Sitting in a room full of strangers who have all read this document, I’m pretty sure I’m going to feel completely naked.

White British, heterosexual, able bodied, Christians.

And as always it comes back to the fact that a room of complete strangers get to decide whether or not I can be a mum. They will know my medical history, how I got on at primary school, how my husband proposed. What they won’t know is how long we have longed for our children. How much we already love them. The way our hearts break when we pray for their safety. It doesn’t feel fair that these strangers get to make such a massive decision. That we have to be prodded and poked and investigated inside out. But this is how our children will come home to us. and so we trust and we wait.

We are thankful for our social worker and the hard work she’s put in, as well as the PAR she’s written. We’re thankful that there are procedures in place to protect our children, and that that room of strangers are there because they want the best for our children. We’re thankful for a God who is in control, who has a plan and who loves us.