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

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?

 

Adoption was always Plan A

Since telling people that we’re on the road to adoption, one of the questions we get asked most frequently is “why aren’t you having your own?”

This hurts because we are! The children we adopt will be absolutely ours, our very own.

But it also hurts because the assumption behind the question is that adoption is somehow less than biologically conceiving and giving birth to a child.

Growing up, adoption was normal – my aunt was adopted before I was born. My parents did a lot of work with families where drugs and alcohol ruled. I saw firsthand how destructive these were, as well as spending time with children who were neglected as a result. And so from a young age, Adoption was always Plan A. When I met my husband we talked about this from the beginning, and he was always in agreement.

As Christians, adoption is a massive part of our faith.

The Bible tells us that we have been adopted by our Father God, that he has made us heirs with His Son, Jesus Christ. This is a massive deal! God, the Creator and Ruler of the world chose us in His great love to be His children, to share in all the good things He gives His Son (Ephesians 1:4-6, Romans 8:16-17).  And the Bible tells us that this was always God’s plan, we weren’t an afterthought, it says He chose us before the beginning of creation! Adoption was always Plan A!

DSCF4748.JPGOn our hearth we have a framed quote, it says:

“It’s important to realise that we adopt not because we are rescuers. No, we adopt because we are the rescued.”

Like all children, we mimic our Father.

Now this doesn’t devalue the beauty of conceiving and giving birth to a biological child. The Bible speaks very highly of this. It’s another way we can mimic our Father, who created people in His own image. There is something so wonderful about growing a child from nothing. Another beautiful picture of our God who created us.

When we got married we wanted to try and start growing our family straight away.

We started trying to conceive and contacted our local council to enquire about adoption within the first year. The council said that as we planned to have both biological and adoptive children, they would prefer for us to have the biological ones first. And so for three years we put our adoption dreams on hold and concentrated on that. How long do you wait before you wonder if there’s a problem? We didn’t know. But after three years we decided to stop waiting and to carry on with Plan A.

We haven’t had tests, we don’t know if we can conceive naturally or not. All we know is that so far we haven’t managed to, and that’s OK! We won’t be any less parents because our children are adopted. Adoption isn’t the consolation prize, it isn’t the last resort. It’s how we always planned to grow our family because it is a powerful and beautiful thing. Later we may adopt again, or we may continue trying to conceive. We may decide we have our hands too full to consider more children, or we may be rejected at panel and never be parents.

Ultimately, whatever happens to our plans we know that we can’t miss out on God’s Plan A for our lives. And so as our loving Father, we will trust Him with the future, whatever it brings.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” – Proverbs 19:21