Confession of a Mummy by adoption…

7233048434_f9c0099a23_o.jpgWhen somebody has a baby, my first reaction is an overwhelming flood of grief. My heart aches, my stomach feels heavy and empty at the same time. My ears burn and my head spins.

Not because I am not happy for them – I am absolutely delighted, and so excited to meet the new arrival, and so relieved that everything went smoothly.

And it’s not because I regret how my own journey to parenthood has gone. I am grateful to God for those years of infertility – for how I learnt more to lean on him, for how the journey brought me the long way round to just the right moment when my path would cross with these wonderful little boys and they would become mine. I would not swap my boys for 10 babies from my own body.

It’s just that every time I hear that news, the memory of the feelings I had when it was painful, when I was bitter, wash over me. I don’t know if that will ever not happen. So I brace myself, I grit my teeth and I pray.

And the feeling passes, it always does. Then I give myself a little shake, dust off the self-pity and go shopping for baby clothes.

But please bear with me, while I wait for it to pass; because I am truly happy, but it is not easy.

Photo: Flickr user Harald Groven 2012

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.

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)

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!

 

 

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!