Sorry seems to be the hardest word…

Yesterday morning, as usual, I was at a ladies’ Bible study at our church. There is a group for the children in the room next door, Batboy usually stays in it, I’m still working on Spiderboy! That morning he chose to join in and stayed until the end. Then, as we were finishing, he came running in to me in tears. My friend, who was running the group, was with him. She explained that he’d accidentally hit her face during a game, and when he was asked to say sorry he’d gotten very upset. She then said, helpfully, how hard all children find it to say sorry, which is true. And for children who already struggle with shame and self esteem, it can be almost crippling to apologise. And in Spiderboy’s case, it can lead to more and more negative behaviours in an attempt to avoid apologising for the initial offence!

Most children approach life with the opinion that they are important, and the world revolves around them. It is normal for children to feel pretty good about themselves, most of the time. This is important as children explore the world because it gives them the confidence to try things. It’s also important because it allows them to develop relationships and trust. They can believe that people would love them – why wouldn’t they?!

5111553020_121a71a7ec_o.jpgFor children who have suffered trauma and loss at an early age, as most adopted children have, it is more normal that they approach life with the idea that they are bad and they are not worth loving. They often feel ashamed of themselves, and blame the neglect/abuse/rejection on themselves, rather than on the adults who should have been caring for them.

Spiderboy has a very low opinion of himself. His first (birth) family did not care for him properly – he hears “you’re not worth it.” His second (foster) family favoured his brother, and so Spiderboy was often left to his own devices in the background – he hears “you’re not good enough.”

He works very hard to try and hold our attention because if he loses it, he might not get it back. He constantly asks for reassurance that he is doing a good job to make sure we are still pleased with him. When he does ‘bad things’, he assumes we no longer love him – his first experiences of love were not the unconditional, selfless, caring love that most infants experience. In fact, often when he misbehaves his first reaction is to hide; then his second reaction is to hit, kick, shout or spit. I think it’s a survival technique. He thinks if we tell him off, then we don’t love him anymore and we are going to send him away. And so he does all he can to prove that he isn’t lovable.

As we get to know our wonderful little man more, we’re changing how we deal with his challenging behaviour. But we still always insist on saying sorry. It’s how we repair relationships, it’s how we show we still love each other. It’s very difficult for Spiderboy because it gives him more evidence that he is a bad person, and he isn’t worth loving. But every time he does something wrong and we love him anyway, every time we make him say sorry but don’t send him away, we’re proving him wrong. We show him he is worth loving, he is special, he is important, he is ours.

And maybe one day, he might start to believe us.

Image: Flickr user Tjook (2009)
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Guitars and Waistcoats… two very different boys.

It started this morning, almost as soon as we woke. Spiderboy had specific breakfast instructions, what bowl, what spoon, whether the spoon should be in the bowl or not. Batboy devoured whatever I put in front of him. Spiderboy needed a wipe for each little splash. Batboy seemed to be cleaning the table, and himself, with milk.IMG_20170312_212054409.jpg

Then we went upstairs. Spiderboy chose a shirt, tie, waistcoat and jacket with skinny jeans that matched his tie. Batboy wore jeans and a t-shirt. Spiderboy wanted to check the sometimes, always, never rule as he did his buttons. Batboy’s t-shirt was back to front. I combed their hair, Spiderboy’s is fine and silky, it won’t go out of place. Batboy’s is thick and fuzzy, it won’t go in to place.

The boys packed a rucksack for church. Spiderboy packed lots of books, and a game to play with his friends. Batboy packed only his guitar. When we got there, Batboy charged in while Spiderboy held back. Spiderboy read his books and then found some other children to play pairs with. Batboy chatted with adults and watched the music practice, standing as close as humanly possible. When it was time to go to their groups, Spiderboy clung to me and protested. Batboy went happily with the teachers.

I won’t go on, you get the point!

We adopted a ‘sibling group’. But we also adopted two individuals. They came as a pair, but they are also separate. And they both have very distinctive natures! When we went to Matching Panel, one of their questions was about how we would meet their individual needs. I’m not sure what we answered, but it must have been good enough. I remember thinking at the time that it wouldn’t be so tricky. We’d only read their CPRs (Child Permanence Report – basically everything there is to know about a child before you commit to being their parent), and they didn’t sound that different.

It has since become apparent that while the CPRs were accurate and detailed when it comes to medical and family history, it did not give a very good picture of who our boys are. There was clearly a lot of copying and pasting, and also guessing on the part of whoever wrote it!

We were told that both boys loved superheroes. Not true. We were told that they both loved dressing up. Not true. We were told that both boys loved Stick Man. Not true. We were told that they both watched CBeebies. Not true.

Our boys share many things. Biological parents, early life experiences, foster carers, hair colour, eye colour. But they do not share temperaments, preferences, challenges.

When they first arrived, we did not know them so well. We tried to maintain a standard, therapeutic parenting approach. We quickly found that something that worked for one boy, would not work for the other. Although they have lived through the same things, the fears, anxieties, anger and happy memories that they took from them are very different.

We are still getting to know our boys individually, and our family as a whole. But I wonder if the phrase ‘sibling group’ is very helpful in the preparation and matching stage. It makes it sound like one thing. But adopting two children instead of one isn’t just an extra mouth to feed or needing another bedroom. It’s a whole person’s worth of extra feelings and challenges to overcome.

It’s also a whole person’s worth of extra fun, cuddles and laughter. Everyday I am confused by their differences, but in awe of their shared resilience and courage. Every day I am amazed that God has blessed me with not one, but two amazing, wonderful little men.