Why I hate fun.

I used to love fun. It used to be fun.

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Image: flickr user Anders Sandberg (2008)

But then we adopted two children with early life trauma, and now fun is, well, not so fun!

Yesterday our church held a family fun day. We spent a lot of time preparing the boys for it, explaining what would happen and when. They were already familiar with the people running it, and the venue. We made sure that I didn’t have any responsibilities on the day, and my husband only had half an hour bouncy castle duty. We didn’t go early to set up as we would normally have done. We were all set.

The boys loved it! We had so much fun! We discovered Spiderboy has an aptitude for archery, and Batboy for Splat-the-Rat(!) We let them lead our activities so they felt comfortable and enjoyed themselves. We stayed close so they could see, and touch if needed, us at all times. We even split up for some of the time and both boys got some one-to-one time so that they knew their needs were being met, and that they were constantly being thought of.

When it was time to go, Batboy said “well that was fun.” and Spiderboy said “when can we go back?” It had all gone so well and the boys were so calm that my husband decided to stay and help clear away for a little bit. I drove the boys home and they chattered about everything they had done.

Sounds fun, right?

Woohoo for fun!

Except, the moment we stepped back into our house, BAM! Meltdown Central. I quickly rang husband to come home too. And then, with occasional, short breaks, Spiderboy screamed, shouted, spat, raged, punched, kicked (no biting – small victory!) for four hours. We took turns to hold him and reassure him, we took turns to lose our tempers, we took turns to try and keep Batboy calm (only one short meltdown there!)

The thing is, when children experience, trauma, neglect or abuse in their early years, their little brains flood with cortisol (stress hormone). This activates survival mode, sometimes called fight or flight. The amygdala is the part of the brain linked to our emotions. An infant has not yet learnt to regulate their emotions, and so in those early years the amygdala is more vulnerable. While most infants are taught to regulate their feelings from birth by parents cuddling, rocking, soothing; children who are abused or neglected in those early years don’t learn this skill. And so instead of their amygdala learning, it is constantly being flooded with cortisol. This overstimulation leads to the amygdala becoming overactive, which leads to hypervigilance whereby anything and everything should be considered a threat.

I’m not a scientist, so feel free to correct any of my attempt at a scientific explanation. but what I am an expert in is my children. So let me explain what this looks like:

We went to a familiar place with familiar people. But it isn’t our safe home, and it isn’t just our safe family. And so Spiderboy is already overstimulated and hypervigilant. His amygdala is activated and his brain is flooded with cortisol. In other words, his brain is in panic mode.

There are people and things that are not normally there. We do things we don’t normally do. Cortisol level increasing. Now Spiderboy is able to enjoy the day seemingly like any other child. But even when he feels happy or excited, his brain is still pumping out cortisol. Remember, he wasn’t taught as an infant that he can control his emotions, and so his brain responds to any and every feeling with – PANIC!

And so over the two hours we spend there, his amygdala is working away up there. New smells, new sounds, new sights. All of these things could be dangerous, and why wouldn’t they be? Everything needs to be checked, assessed and then held in mind in order for Spiderboy to keep himself safe. Amazingly, he manages to do this, participate in all the activities, and remember most of his social graces at the same time.

Now by the time we get home, Spiderboy’s brain has been switched to panic mode for two hours. He is exhausted from assessing all potential dangers. And so as he steps through the door into his safe place, he no longer holds all of that inside his little body. The anxiety and the excitement burst out in fists, and kicks and shouts – how else is it supposed to get out?

And so for two hours of fun, we had four hours of rage, and then fallout into the next day too. Now let me ask you this – is fun really so fun anymore?

So please excuse me if I no longer say “Woohoo for fun!” But instead grit my teeth, don my body armour and try to be as boring as possible.

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Image: flickr user jon hayes (2007)

 

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)

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)

One year on…

Well, a year and a day ago was a very special day. That was the day we first met our social worker and our adoption journey officially began with Adoption Matters. A year and a day later (today) we met with another social worker and a family finder to discuss two children who will probably very soon be our children.

What a year!

At times it has been frustrating, exciting, exhausting, mostly all at the same time. Looking back I can see that the process has helped to prepare us for what is to come in lots of deliberate and undeliberate ways. Here are three big things I’ve learnt:

919395814_b86b34dee2_o.jpgFirstly we’ve had to practice patience. I am not a patient person, I hate having to wait for anything (especially Christmas). But the nature of the adoption process involves a lot of waiting – waiting for forms to process, waiting for appointments, waiting for letters, emails, phone calls, waiting for social workers to come home from (well deserved) holidays. There is a lot of waiting for other people to do things. Often it can be frustrating because to you, your case is the only thing that matters; but for a social worker, they must balance several cases, while making decisions based on experience and knowledge instead of emotion. Learning to let go and not need to be in control of everything will help us in the chaos of parenthood. Learning to be patient while people do things at a different pace than you would like will help us step back and allow our children to grow. Learning to trust God’s timing and plan will help us parent with joy instead of anxiety, knowing there is a loving heavenly Father in control.

Secondly we’ve developed persistence. We’ve heard stories of people who gave up on adoption because the process was too hard. Often people remark how this is a shame, but I’m not sure it is. Parenting will not be easy. It will certainly not be easier than the journey to get there! But I do believe that if it is something you really want and are committed to, you can get through much more than you know to get there. We’ve stuck at it because we want to be parents. And once we are, we will not be giving up, despite the challenges that will come. I think in this past year we have learnt that it is easier to give up, but not as rewarding. We’ve learnt that if something is worth having, it’s worth hurting for. We’ve learnt that a parent will sacrifice and suffer to protect their child, just as our heavenly Father gave His own Son to make us His children.

Thirdly, this year has been a great time to work on relationships. First and foremost our relationship with each other is stronger. We’ve been through quite a journey together this year and we are closer because of it. We’ve learnt to lean on and support one another; to talk more honestly about our feelings, our weaknesses and our fears; and to care for one another better. We’ve also begun to discover the importance of relationships with others. Before this year we had kept our struggle with childlessness quite private. But this year we’ve been able to open up and draw strength from the wonderful family and friends around us, growing relationships that we will no doubt need more as we become parents.

We are very thankful to God for this year of waiting, of trusting and of growing. We know that he has been preparing us for the wonderful job of being parents. We know He has been guarding our children, and preparing them to join our family too.

Most of all, we look forward to what this next year will bring!

Image: mat_n (2007)

Let your yes be yes…

lmI’ve struggled to know what to write over the last few weeks, hence the Blog Silence. Since being approved we have been on a complete emotional rollercoaster. Looking at profiles on the website Link Maker was both exciting and upsetting. Every profile we looked at we wondered if they might be our children. And yet as we looked at more and more we began to despair at how many children were looking for forever families, and how on earth we would ever find ours. We are constantly aware that the fact that we have the privilege of adopting means that there is something very wrong with the world. And as we read profiles, phrases jump out like ‘non-accidental injury’, ‘inconsistent care’ and ‘used drugs and alcohol daily during pregnancy’ that make your blood run cold.

But as we looked over profiles and discussed whether or not we could offer the home those children deserved, it all became a lot more real. During the approval process we often talked about ‘our children’. We talked about taking them to school, playing Lego, sleepless nights, pretty dresses. We talked about everything, because we had no idea what to expect. Boys, girls, black, white, babies, toddlers, children, twins, big age gaps. We had no idea. And so we talked, and we imagined, and we dreamed about them all. Our criteria was two siblings under 5. That didn’t limit it too much!

Last week we had a phone call from our social worker to say a family finder had identified us as a good match for two siblings under 5. She quickly sent over their CPRs (Child Permanence Reports) and we read all 100+ pages. As we did we got more and more excited. We thought it was a good match too! We decided that we’d like to go ahead with this profile and suddenly we had an appointment to meet the children’s social worker and  dates for matching panel were being batted around! Like I said, emotional rollercoaster.

Anyway, on Friday our social worker, their social worker and family finder are all arriving at our house to discuss the match further and decide whether or not to proceed. We are unbelievably excited, we talk about ‘our children’ all the time. Only now they have names, and faces. They are specific ages and genders. They have particular likes and needs. They are real children. And now the dreaming and imagining is so much more exciting, scary, and in a way, sad. Because when we said yes to this profile, in effect we said no to all the others. We said, we want to commit to these two children for the rest of our lives, to love them, nurture them and sacrifice for them. But that means we’re saying no to all those other children we talked about and imagined.

Now, that’s not to say at all that we aren’t happy with how things are proceeding so far. We are unbelievably excited and we really hope that they will still like us on Friday! It’s just that all of the feelings that come with this process have taken me somewhat by surprise. And I’ve realised that the nature of saying ‘yes’ to one, means you are saying ‘no’ to everyone else, a little bit like marriage.

And that makes the ‘yes’ all the more special.

Whether this match is The Match, or it is another profile we’ve not even seen yet, I can’t wait to meet them, and to say ‘Yes, we want you. Yes, we love you. Yes, you are ours.’

 

Book Review 2: The Otter who Loved to Hold Hands

20152312This week’s book review is one of my new favourites! We got it from The Works online, where there is currently an amazing offer: 10 kids books for £10!!! Some of them were classics that we recognised and some we’d never heard of but took a gamble, because you can’t really go wrong with £1 a book!

This was one I’d never heard of, but even reading the blurb brought a tear to my eye! It’s by Heidi and Daniel Howarth and it has really beautiful illustrations.

The story is about a little otter called Otto. Every night his family all hold hands when they go to sleep so they don’t drift apart. In the morning, they let go of hands so they can go about their business. But Otto is too scared to let go. He knows he will float, but he’s too worried he’ll drift away and get lost.

Many children who are adopted (and many who aren’t) can find it really scary to be away from their primary caregiver. After all, that is their source of food, comfort, shelter and love! Children who have been removed from their first parents and had that bond of attachment broken may well have repeated this experience with one or more foster families before finding their Forever Family. And so it is understandable that these children may often be afraid to be away from their parents, or even out of sight.

Poor Otto misses out on a lot of fun – he can’t play with the other little otters if he’s holding his mum’s hand. He can see what he’s missing, but he’s torn. The very nature of fear and anxiety is the separation of rational thought from our emotions. What Otto knows and what he feels are very different. It’s only when Otto’s mum helps him to see himself swimming on his own, and smiling, that he realises he can do it!

My favourite bit of the book is the end, when Otto and his family come back together to hold hands again when they sleep. Gaining a bit of independence doesn’t mean he’s any less part of the family, or that he has to miss out on the things he enjoys.

I think this book is a brilliant opportunity to help anxious children think about when they are afraid and to talk about their own anxieties. And particularly in relation to separation. At the back of the book is a section of conversation starters and activities to help parents explore the story a bit more with their children.

Attachment issues or not, I can’t wait to read this book with our children. In the meantime I’m reading it a lot to myself as I think I need to stop crying everytime I do before they arrive!

Paper Pregnant?!

I do not like this phrase. I’ve read lots of objections, and none of them are the reason I don’t like it. I just don’t. If we have to have a label, I’d prefer ‘expecting’ or ‘parents in waiting’! But recently I have started to feel pregnant. Not paper pregnant, but actually physically pregnant. (Don’t panic, I’m not.)

We were approved as adopters earlier this month, and then on Friday we met with our social worker for the first time to discuss the next stage. She had already been working very hard to find us matches and showed us several profiles of children whom she was ‘pursuing’ on our behalf. It was a very exciting and stressful meeting. Exciting because we may have seen the faces of our children for the first time. Stressful because we don’t know! There was one profile in particular that we can’t stop talking about, and are praying might be the children God has chosen for us.oblivion16

Since Friday I have been overwhelmed with excitement and nerves at the same time. Years ago I went to Alton Towers and there was a rollercoaster called Oblivion. At the start you get to the very edge of a vertical drop and the car stops, you are left hanging over the edge for no longer than a couple of seconds before the car drops into ‘oblivion’. Those couple of seconds feel like hours, you hold your breath and brace yourself for what’s coming.

I feel like we’re hanging over that edge at the moment.

But when we have massive feelings in our hearts/heads, our bodies are affected too. And the effects of the excitement/nerves looks more and more like pregnancy! I’ve found myself needing to rush for a wee more and more, I think because my body is so tense. I find these big feelings sometimes leak out of my body in tears, so I seem to spontaneously cry for no reason. Sometimes I feel so nervous and excited I think I might be sick. I’m physically tired, not from growing a human but because I can’t switch off my brain at night to get enough sleep. I’m eating more to try and feed the butterflies in my tummy which often feel like hunger, and so now I’m starting to look pregnant as I grow my tummy with cake!

The difference is we don’t have a due date. I don’t know if this will last for weeks or months or years!

And just because my children aren’t physically in my tummy doesn’t mean I don’t carry them everywhere with me. They are constantly in my thoughts and my heart as I love them more each day without having met them.

There isn’t a word I like to describe what’s happening, and I hope and pray that it doesn’t last long enough for someone to come up with one!

In the meantime we are praying that God will be preparing us and our children to be a family; that He will help us to trust Him and His plan more each day and that we manage to get some sleep before they arrive!

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

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!