Mother knows best…

At the start of the adoption process we were very keen to take all the help and advice we could. We were aware that a lot of people are experts in this area, and we are not. We attended a lot of training courses and tried to absorb as much wisdom as possible.

Even after our boys arrived, we would ring or email our social worker often to ask advice and check in. It felt wrong to make decisions or do ‘parenting’ without permission.

When we were first matched with our boys, we were told that the Family Finder thought we were just the right fit, we were flattered. (We’ve since found out that she’d only met our boys twice at this point, so we’re not sure how she knew that.) Despite concerns that we are Christians, and that we didn’t want to send our children to nursery, their social worker agreed that we were the best parents for them.

When we first met our boys’ social worker, we were keen to glean as much information as possible. She was obviously going to be the expert on our boys(!!!) One questions we asked at that first meeting was who are their favourite superheroes. She confidently told us Hulk and Iron Man. Then we met the foster carers and we started to doubt if the social worker knew our boys that much! The foster carer told us that their favourites were Spiderman and Batman! At this point we had already ordered our introduction toys – Hulk Bear and Iron Bear. Grrrr.

And now, six months in, we are at a very different point in our journey. We have asked for some extra support to help us manage the boys’ anxieties, big feelings and the resulting CPV. For a long time our (agency) social worker has been trying to arrange a meeting with the LA to review the Adoption Support Plan and apply to the Adoption Support Fund.

Suddenly, the same people who picked us as the best parents for these children no longer think we are capable of knowing what they need. It’s our fault because we are too intense and should have sent them to nursery. There isn’t a problem because the foster carer (who didn’t ‘believe’ in attachment issues) never felt there was.

Fortunately, through we our agency we have access to CFAS and were able to have a consultation with a therapist. Just as I was beginning to doubt myself we met with a lovely lady who talked everything through with us and reassured us that we were doing the right things to help our boys, and that we were right to ask for support.2242240802_8aaa5f0845_o.jpg

It was a wonderful meeting for another reason too. It taught me to have confidence in myself as their Mum. I know my boys better than any social worker ever will, I am their Mum. Yes, we need expert advice and input at times, and we are so thankful for our wonderful social worker and all of her help. But there is a certain intuition that comes with the unconditional love of a mother for her child. And no social worker will ever have that.

Image: Flickr user Malay Maniar (2008)

 

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?

 

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!