Our Father in Heaven

The Bible says that God is a Father. But not just any Father. The Bible says that God is an Adoptive Father.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father.’
Galatians 4:4-6

I was very blessed to have wonderful parents who I knew loved me. My Dad always used to tell me that God loved me even me than he did! I couldn’t quite understand it because how could anyone love me more than my parents did?! But the description of God as a Father was very helpful to me. For children whose first experience of a father or parent is very negative, this could be a hard thing to accept.

Since becoming an adoptive parent, I’ve learnt more about what it means to call God Father. You see, the Bible says that God chose His children, just as I chose my boys. I chose to bring them into my home, to care for and love them for the rest of their lives. But they didn’t have much say.

Now of course, the Social Workers thought very seriously before deciding adoption was the right move for our boys. And we thought very seriously about if we could give these two boys the home they needed. The decision was made for their good. But they didn’t see it like that at first. Yes, they were excited to have a new bedroom, and lots of attention and cuddles. But when they were tired, or ill, or in trouble they started to realise they weren’t going back to the foster carers they’d lived with for 2 years.

As the boys dealt with their Big Feelings, we would every so often (and sometimes still do) have a big meltdown on our hands, where the boys would become overwhelmed with the anger or grief of what they’ve been through. At these times, we soon  discovered the only thing we could do was to hold them gently and safely and let them rage. We kept them and ourselves safe, stayed close and spoke truth to them until it passed. We tell them over and over, “you are safe.” “I l love you.” “I won’t ever leave you.” “You are special to me.”

15578992897_952eec4a48_o.jpgIn return, the boys would punch, kick and bite whilst screaming, “I don’t love you.” “I don’t want you.” “I don’t live here.” “You’re not my Mummy.” It hurts a lot. But it doesn’t change the fact that I am their Mummy. Forever. And I love them. Forever.

In those moments, when I hold my little men close and try somehow to absorb all their pain away from them; I get a glimpse of what it was like for God to adopt me. The Bible says that all people turned away from God, it’s in our genes. I did not love Him. I did not want Him. And yet God chose me. By His Spirit and through His Son, He made me His daughter.

IMAGE: RENE ADAMOS (2014)

A little lesson from last week

6749689975_6c43852f0a_oAs with all things, my reasons for wanting to be a mum were mixed. One that I might not have admitted before the boys arrived was the desire to feel loved, needed and special to somebody.

The constant demands of a 3 and 4 year old mean I feel needed most of the time. As for loved and special that can come and go! For the most part our boys are very cuddly and loving. One night Spiderboy told me “Mummy you’re beautiful, I want to marry you.” But there are also times when nothing I do is right, “I didn’t want you to get married/stand there/speak/touch that/move my drink/cut my toast” are fairly regular complaints.

The more we get to know our boys, the more of their hurt and pain we understand. And the more I realise that being a Mummy isn’t about being loved or special. It’s about making sure my boys are loved and special.

And so last week when Spiderboy ran out of the kitchen and screamed “I don’t love you anymore,” my first reaction was to want to remind him why he should love me – I wash his clothes, cook his tea, wipe his bottom. I wanted him to know that it upset me and it wasn’t kind. But for a moment I paused. And then my instincts kicked in and I did what I needed to do. I went to him gently and told him that I would always love him. I held him close until the fear and anger that had overwhelmed him began to subside. I wished that somehow all the pain inside him could somehow be inside me instead.

Because being Mummy to my two boys means that suddenly how I’m feeling doesn’t matter. I am needed, yes, and putting aside my own feelings each day to meet those needs is what makes me special to these extra special boys. And when they rage and scream and tell me that they don’t love me, I know that is only because they do that they feel safe enough to show me how they feel.

I suppose what I’m saying is that the biggest rewards of being a Mummy isn’t being cuddled or kissed and the way that makes me feel; it’s helping my boys slowly overcome their anxiety and pain and learn to manage their own Big Feelings. It’s knowing that they feel loved, safe and special.

IMAGE: Stephan Hochhaus (2012)

Extraordinarily Ordinary

Our boys have been with us for ten and a half weeks. They’ve settled in remarkably well and have made a lot of progress in a short space of time. We’ve celebrated our first Christmas together and life is starting to feel ‘normal’.

Normal is a strange word, and one I hear a lot at the moment. As we introduce the boys to more and more people, one thing I keep hearing is “aren’t they so normal?!” It’s meant as a compliment, and I completely understand what they mean. To the outsider it could seem like the boys have been here forever. We look like any ordinary family, and for the most part the boys act like any other 3 and 4 year olds.

But recently I’ve realised just how wrong that assessment is. My boys are not normal, they’re definitely not ordinary. My boys are extraordinary little men. Let me tell you why.

My boys didn’t have an easy start in life, although they also haven’t had the hardest. They were removed from birth family aged 1 & 2 and placed in short term foster care. For 2 years. They were fortunate to stay with the same foster carers until they came home to us, and that has been a massive factor in building their resilience and their ability to form attachments. But it also means that in their short lives they’ve been ripped away from the centre of a familiar, close knit family unit. Twice.

2173588_99e699aebf_oHowever, from Day 1 the boys have called us Mummy and Daddy. They have called us a family and they love to chant our surname! It hasn’t been easy, and on more than one occasion they’ve both screamed “you’re not my Mummy,” “I don’t want you,” or “I wan’t *foster carer*.” But on the whole they have attached to us really well, and we have to them!  Our little boys lost everything they knew, twice, and yet they opened up their hearts to us and trusted us with them. That takes incredible strength.

Given everything they’ve been through, it’s not surprising that our boys have some pretty Big Feelings to deal with for such little people. Spiderboy in particular carries a lot of anger. And I don’t blame him. And yet, for the most part he is able to control it. Normally he saves it for home, where he feels safe, and then will let it rage! As he calms he is often able to talk through his anger, what sparked it and what might be a better way to handle it. But he isn’t one to dwell on it, and once he’s raged through it he will seek comfort and attachment and move quickly on. He is also a highly anxious child, who spends most of his waking day on high alert. And yet he is able to talk through and rationalise his anxieties in a way that I know I couldn’t do without a lot of CBT! He will often ask for reassurance at times when he’s feeling most vulnerable, “if naughty boys come and get me, will you fight them?” Batboy also has Big Feelings, and for a 3 year old he has incredible insight into them. Often he will tell us “I’m feeling sad because…” He’s able to recognise his feelings and the reasons for them, and express them.

Not only are they learning to process their feelings, they are also able to recognise what they need. Spiderboy in particular has very low self esteem, when he meets new people he likes to dress as Spiderman “then they will like me.” Shame and low self-esteem is common in children who have been adopted, and what he needs is a lot of reassurance, encouragement and praise. He knows what he needs, and so he asks for it! “If I eat my cucumber, will you give me a clap?” The other thing they both need is to be “babied” sometimes. For children who missed out on the nurture most babies experience, it’s important they fill those gaps. Our boys love to be rocked like a baby, or carried around like babies, and so they ask! This was especially noticeable after our first contact with their half brother who was adopted elsewhere. This obviously unsettled them massively, and for days after there was a lot of big feelings, as well as a lot of requests to be rocked or carried.

Given that our boys missed out on early nurture experiences, they are both incredibly gentle and nurturing boys. At their youngest and most vulnerable, our boys were not shown nurture or compassion, and so we expected them to struggle with these things.
We weren’t sure how they would react to meeting their 0 yr old cousin, but we didn’t need to worry. They adored him, they loved to watch him, bring toys to make him smile, stroke his face, and especially share a bath with him! They are also very gentle with our cats.

In fact, they are two of the most loving, caring toddlers I’ve met. Most mornings Batboy asks me at breakfast, “you well?” They give the best cuddles and often whisper, “Guess what Mummy? I love you!” Everyday they make my heart melt with their cuddles and kisses and giggles. And everyday they stretch me to the limit of my patience, energy and emotional strength. Most of all, everyday they impress me with their incredible strength and resilience. So when you look at my boys and think they are ‘normal little boys’, know that it is precisely because they are extraordinarily strong, brave and compassionate little men that they can appear so ordinary!

Image: Marcia Cirillo (2004)