Belly Buttons

One of the first things Batboy said to me was “where your belly button?” For the first few weeks he had a mild fascination with belly buttons, and would ask to look at new people’s. It seemed to be his way of shaking hands, it’s worn off now.

But belly buttons have remained significant for me. Everytime I see my boys’ belly buttons, I’m reminded of the woman who used to be at the other end. A woman I’ve never met. A woman who gave life to my boys. Whose body created, nourished and protected their bodies for 9 months. 

That physical bond was severed at birth, but the scar will be there always. It makes me wonder when exactly the emotional bond severed; was it at birth too? Or when the boys were removed to foster care? Or at Final Contact? Was there ever an emotional bond?! And what scars will be there always, under their skin?

This woman who I know so little about will be part of my boys, of my family, of me forever. 

Part of me will love her, because she is part of my boys and I love them. Without her, I would not have them. 

Part of me will always feel angry, that they were not cared for as they should have been, and the damage that has left. 

Part of me will always feel guilty. They are flesh of her flesh, and yet they are not hers. 

And part of me will always feel jealous. She created my boys. That was my job. At their most vulnerable, she was with them, not me.

I wonder if one day they will feel the need to find the woman from the other end. I wonder if I will feel rejected, insufficient, jealous. I wonder how she will feel about me. I pray that I will have the strength to love and support my boys, rain or shine.

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)

 

Grrr, Radio 4!

This morning there was a short piece on BBC Radio 4 about female engineers. The woman being interviewed said how it was a great shame that there were not more women engineers in our country and how they were actively working to bring more women into the industry. The presenter concluded by urging all female listeners to consider a career in engineering. Well I have considered it, and here follows my reasons for not pursuing a new career.

I am a big believer that if you set your mind to something, with enough hard work you could achieve it. Certain social groups will have to work harder than others because of prejudice and inequality (anyone who isn’t a white, middle class, able-bodied male). But I went to a modern girl’s grammar school where we were taught to break the glass ceiling, don’t be the same as men – be better, and all that feminist malarkey. So my views that follow are by no means coming from the position of an oppressed, uneducated or indoctrinated woman.

Since my teen years, there has only been one career I have wanted: to be a wife, a mother, a homemaker. C.S. Lewis supposedly described ‘the homemaker’ as the ultimate career. And I do believe to make a home is a very noble task. A place to grow and thrive, somewhere safe from which to explore the world. A place to learn what love is, what it means to care for someone, to sacrifice for them. Somewhere to be valued and respected. Somewhere where there is joy and laughter, where sorrows are shared and loneliness is eased.

5113200859_377d4ec976_o (1).jpgMy (engineer) husband and I are a team. He works hard to provide our house – he pays the bills, provides food to sustain us and financial security so we don’t have to worry about tomorrow. I work hard to make that house a home – I try to make it a welcoming, relaxing place to be, somewhere where there is nutritious and delicious food(!), a haven where he can relax and feel safe and loved after being away from it all day.

Soon my job description is going to expand! I will have two little ones to care for who need stimulation, education, love and reassurance. My job will involve providing them with opportunities to learn and grow, caring for them physically, emotionally and spiritually, teaching them what love is through daily sacrificing of my own wants and needs for theirs. My job isn’t simply childcare, it’s child-training! Preparing them for school, for independence, for responsibility, for adult life, for marriage, for parenthood, for life!

As I write this, the photos we have of our two little ones are playing on a slideshow on the second computer screen. As I think ahead to this new stage of our lives, this new role in my busy and rewarding career, my heart swells in my chest with anticipation, with love and with frustration at BBC Radio 4. I do not feel I should pursue a career in engineering, just because I am a woman. If there are less female engineers than male in our country, is that a disaster? Could it be that those women just chose other careers? Telling me I have to consider a job in engineering simply because I am a woman, is as bad as telling me I should stay home with my children all day because I am a woman.

With full awareness of my options in the world, I am choosing to be a wife, mother and homemaker because that is what I want. If other women choose to be engineers – great! But let it be because they want to engineer, and not because society says they should in order to appear more equal. I do not feel any less than my husband because he engineers and I homemake. I couldn’t do what I do without him doing what he does. Likewise, he couldn’t do what he does without me doing what I do! That’s what makes us equal. The freedom to choose your own path rather than being pushed down the one that best suits others. That’s what makes us equal.

In my third year of university I took a module in Feminism. I used to come home irate  after each lecture and every time I vented my feelings towards my husband, he would respond with a smile, “grrr, feminism!” Well that’s how I feel today. Thank you very much for the right to vote, but please stop telling what to do in order to feel fulfilled and free.

Image: pbkwee

Santa Claus is coming to town?

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and tomorrow the new term starts. Before we know it, Christmas will be here (yay!!!) and it’s looking quite likely that this Christmas could be very different for us with the possible arrival of our 2 children! This has got us thinking about how we want to celebrate Christmas as a family, what traditions we want to start and what ground rules we want to establish.

One thing we’ve both always felt strongly about is that we don’t want to encourage our children to believe in Father Christmas. Please don’t condemn me until I’ve explained why.

  1. We don’t want to ever lie to our children. It’s not just the untrue claim that Father Christmas exists, but it’s all of the pretence that goes with it. Sending letters, visiting a man in fancy dress, sprinkling reindeer food and leaving out a mince pie and carrot. Parents often have to work hard to convince their children that Father Christmas IS real! And that results in quite a lot of deception that we aren’t comfortable with. We want our children to know that they can always get an honest, frank answer from us. We want them to know that we have never misled them. As adoptive parents, we are going to have to work extra hard to gain our children’s trust, we don’t want to make it harder. And as Christians, we don’t want learning about our Heavenly Father to be overshadowed by or confused with stories of a mythical ‘Father’.
  2. We want to teach our children grace. Father Christmas expects boys and girls to earn their gifts, but that’s not what gifts are. Gifts are given freely without condition or clause. Gifts are abundant and loving. If our children think they need to earn their Christmas presents by making it onto the list, how do they know anything good we give them isn’t conditional? How do they know our love isn’t? How do they know God’s love isn’t? Now of course children need to learn the value of hard work and reward. But not in the context of gifts. At no other time in life are we expected to earn gifts. The shame that is often attached to adoption means our children may find it hard to accept that we love them unconditionally. They may often feel they need to earn it, or that they never can. We don’t want to reinforce this through scaremongering tactics.
  3. Parents should be their children’s main authority. It drives me mad when I hear parents say things like “if you keep making a noise, the policeman will come and get you,” “if you don’t go to sleep, Father Christmas won’t come.” First of all, neither of those things are true. Second of all, do we want our children to be afraid of policemen?! And thirdly, why can’t we say, “don’t do that because I said and I’m your parent?!” When did being a parent not be enough to expect obedience?!
  4. We think the truth is more exciting! Christmas is the time of year that Christians celebrate God becoming human in order to be a  sacrifice by which we could know Him. That’s really exciting! It means gifts beyond any Christmas List that Father Christmas could ever bring.  Furthermore, Saint Nicholas, on whom the myth of Father Christmas is based, was an excellent man! He fiercely defended the gospel and apparently even punched a heretic in the face(!?) We want to teach our children the truth about Saint Nicholas, and still enjoy the myths, but knowing that they are myths. Most of all, we want Christmas to be about celebrating the real hero of the season, the greatest gift ever given, Jesus Christ.

3120969316_6ecdb66f97_o.jpgAs we’ve talked about this recently, we’ve realised that it is very likely that our children’s foster carers won’t have felt the same, and so it is likely our children will already believe in Father Christmas. We don’t want to shatter their fantasies as soon as they walk in through the door, we equally don’t want to go against our principles in order to keep up the pretence. We will probably try and play down Father Christmas, whilst having a really great Christmas, and eventually fade him out until he is just a nice character in books and films.

I hope, if you are big Father Christmas fans, that you won’t be offended. I love Christmas, and I always love it when people are enjoying the season, I do also quite like Father Christmas as an idea and I especially love all the films about him (Miracle on 34th Street, Santa Claus: The Movie, The Santa Clause…)  This is what we have decided after a lot of thought and discussion, it doesn’t mean it’s right for all families.

If you have any experience of this in adoption, or if you have similar or different views on Father Christmas, I’d love to hear them and to know your tips in general for surviving Christmas with kids!

Image :kennedyrox (2008)

Book Review 1: God Made All Of Me

Now we’re approved we’re really excited to get ready for the Big Arrival. The trouble is that we can’t buy clothes or furniture or start decorating because we don’t know what age or gender to be preparing for. One way we’ve found to start nesting is to start buying books! Books are fairly neutral and suit a wide range of ages. And so once a week I’m going to review a book that we’ve added to the shelf!

66675.jpgThe first one I’d like to share with you is called ‘God Made All Of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies’ by Justin & Lindsey Holcomb. It’s recommended for 2-8 year olds. This isn’t a story book that we’d leave out on the shelf, it’s more of a resource to help parents talk to children about their bodies, and how to keep them safe. It is written by Christians, and the message throughout is “God made every part of your body and God called every part of your body good.” But even if you are not a Christian, I do think this is an excellent resource, and a beautiful book.

It opens with an introduction to parents: “children need to know about private parts.” It explains how giving children the language and confidence to communicate about their bodies can help protect them. As I read this book, my eyes are full of tears – tears because this book has had to be written, that we have to teach our children to protect themselves from adults. And tears because our children, who we haven’t yet met, may already be bearing the pain and shame of being mistreated by adults. As adoptive parents, how we use this resource may be slightly different; if we know of sexual abuse in our child’s past, or can’t be sure, we will need to think about how we use this book alongside other therapy and discussion.

The book is overwhelmingly positive. The narrative is of a family talking openly about their bodies. I feel strongly that this is where children should be having these conversations, rather than in a classroom, and so I love that this book is set in a family home. The family are relaxed and warm towards each other, and their conversation celebrates their bodies, and their ability to protect them. We don’t want our children to feel embarrassed or ashamed of any part of their body, and this is the message of the book – every part of your body is wonderful. It uses anatomical words for ‘private parts’ instead of childish nicknames to empower children to know and own their bodies, and to give them the words to use to ask for help if and when they need it.

It goes on to say “some parts of your body are for sharing and some parts are not for sharing” and uses the swimming costume illustration to explain about sharing parts and private parts. One thing that struck me was a part about sharing hugs or high fives. At our adoption prep groups we discussed acceptable and unacceptable parenting. One of the examples we were asked to discuss was ‘is it acceptable to make a child hug or kiss a relative if they don’t want to?’ At first I didn’t see a problem with this, I imagine for parents it can be embarrassing when a Grandma wants to kiss their darling grandchild who refuses to be touched. But letting our children decide how their bodies are touched empowers them. It lets them know that they’re in charge of their own bodies. The book suggests just to say “no, thank you,” and as parents to respect our children’s wishes immediately. This will teach them that they can say No, and people will listen.

I used to work as a martial arts instructor, we went around schools teaching self defence. The first thing we always taught children, from 4 years old, was to say with confidence: “stop, please leave me alone.” Now we were under no illusions that a molester would turn around and walk away, but using your voice helps to regulate your breathing and so keep control of your body which might otherwise become frozen in panic. It also means that somebody nearby might hear and be able to help, as attackers often rely on their victim’s silence. If our children see this works in non-threatening situations, such as a tickle fight with Dad, or a big kiss from Nan, then it means they are more likely to use their voices in threatening situations. We want to teach our children: “you are in charge of your body.”

The book talks about safe touching – at the doctors, or parents helping young children to bathe. And it asks children to think of safe people who they can go to for help: “Who makes you feel safe and strong?”

The book also talks about the different between secrets and surprises. We should never keep secrets if somebody asks us to, especially from our parents. But sometimes it’s OK to have surprises – surprises are always revealed, and always bring joy. “Secrets make people feel confused or sad.”

The book finishes with the family talking about how much they love each other, which is a great chance for parents to tell their children how special they are! “That is why we talk about our bodies so we can help keep each other safe.”

Then there are 9 tips to help parents protect their children. I think they’re all great, but if I tell you everything in the book you won’t buy it, and I might get into trouble! There were two that especially made me. “Don’t ask your child to maintain your emotions” – that’s not their job! If our children feel responsible for how we are feeling, and we ask them to use their bodies to cheer us up (hugging or kissing) this might leave them open to abusers who could use similar language to manipulate how our children use their bodies. I’d never thought of this before, I thought using cuddles to cheer each other up would always be a good thing. But even on a less sinister level, I don’t want my children to feel responsible for my emotions, that’s not fair!

The second helpful tip was to “clarify rules for playing Doctors.” Children often use their own bodies in these games to be the patient, this is so normal and innocent. But teaching our children that we don’t play games with our bodies, they’re not toys, could protect them from an abuser who would use this same language or a ‘game’ to hurt our children. Again, I’d never thought of this before, but playing doctors with dolls or teddies is just as fun, and helps children to understand boundaries with what they do with their own body.

In summary: I love this book. I hate that it is necessary though.

This is a massive post, sorry, but I feel really passionate about this subject, and I really believe this book is a very powerful resource. If you’d like to get your own copy (I haven’t done it justice, and the illustrations are gorgeous) you can get it  here or, of course, on Amazon!

I’d love to know if you’ve read this book – or any others on this topic – or if you have any other tips for talking about bodies in a positive way with our children.god-made-all-of-me-holcomb-01.jpg

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!

 

 

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!