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?

 

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!