How NOT to do Life Story Work in Adoption

After many months of asking on our side and promising on the Social Worker’s side the day finally came; she brought the complete Life Story Books with her for both boys. I knew about it of course, but the boys were unaware and were very secretive about it and didn’t want me to come into the room. So, I waited outside for the inevitable crying that was sure to follow…

For birth children parents can fill in the gaps, tell stories and show pictures to their children from the time they were babies and through pictures they can help the children create early childhood memories. I know they are not really memories as we wouldn’t remember things under 2 anyways, but with the help of pictures and anecdotes repeated enough times they become ‘real’ to the children. Except if you are adopted… Then you don’t have your birth parents around to help you build these memories. That’s when the Life Story Book becomes invaluable.

Feelingmumyet How not to do Life Story Work in Adoption two boys lying on the floor reading with Social Worker

My boys reading their Life Story Book for the first time…

Life Story Book

I think you can imagine what might be (should be) included in such a book. This article titled ‘Life story books giving adopted children memories of their past‘ describes some of the challenges adopters face when it comes to using these books. Normally it should have photos of their very first days (that is if the SW can convince Birth Mum to give some), pictures of where they lived, some people who were important to them. There should be a section about Birth Mum, Birth Dad, some nice things they said or did and the children’s favourite things, toys, food…etc. There should also be a section that describes why they could not take care of the children, how the SW was concerned and why they have asked a judge to let the SW find the children a new mummy and daddy. I would also put in a part that explains it is normal for some children not to live with their birth parents…

The second big section should include life with the Foster Carer(s). During this time many children continue to have some kind of Contact with their birth family and hopefully there are some pictures to document these supposedly happy moments. It is common to move to a different city so – especially if the children are older like ours – pictures of friends, school, class uniforms and class photos should be included, too. Then the section about a Family Finder looking for the new family… with the good news that the new family is found, then Introductions, first meetings and moving in. Perhaps some photos of the ‘Happy Ever After’ with new mummy and daddy and BOOM, it’s done.

How to start Life Story Work?

I have spoken to my SW friends and also sought wisdom on Twitter about what to expect. ‘Not much when it comes to quality‘ was one comment. Somebody else said ‘Done well, it should be a non traumatic process really. Good practices will go slow, let children lead and let them take the narrative. A good practitioner would also not be mentioning scary names in a first session and would have mummy in the session too!’ I suppose from this last comment you can deduct the fact that I wasn’t invited to attend the session! 😦 (PS I am still livid about this!)

It is also good practice to show the book first to the adopters…

SW practitioners also agree that depending on how much a child can manage in 1 session, it should be limited to a few pages (life stages) per session. Well, you guessed it! Our SW just rushed through the entire bloody book for both boys in 2 hours! (more on this later)

The whole point of this is to help them process all the bad things that happened to them! Sufficient time should be allocated to each life event so the children have time to take it all in; to cry and grieve about the terrible facts they hear, to understand the circumstances, to help them understand it was NOT their fault that their first family couldn’t look after them properly. It is expected that lots of memories will rush to the surface with each mention of an old house, an old name, and old picture… Trauma that is not dealt with can and will cause distress again and again. I am realistic in knowing it is a deeply distressing experience for any child and tears, sadness and some level of dysregulation is ‘normal’, but ultimately this shouldn’t be a traumatic event!

How did it go for my boys?

Well… in short: not well! On the surface they were happy to see some pictures and have an entire book just about them. But right under the surface their distress grew minute by minute. I wasn’t in the room when they started. I was sitting in the kitchen listening. Very early on I heard 8 crying. His younger brother was puzzled and asked SW why was he crying. Then I heard the SW say ‘he is  just upset… it’s ok… oh, look at this picture’. I was so upset that I couldn’t be there to comfort my son! Luckily he came out to show me a picture of him as a baby and invited me in.

That was the first time I saw the complete Life Story Book. On the outside it looked lovely! Lots of pictures, drawings, funny font, stickers, glitter…etc. But on closer inspection it was a different story! I had quite a few problems with it, it’s hard to know which one bothers me the most…

The entire album has 30 pages. 26 of them are filled by the Social Worker. What’s shocking is that out of the 26 pages, 10 pages are filled with things I HAVE SENT to her. Pictures I took, memories hubby and I created with the boys!!! The book should have had information up till the placement with plenty of room left for us to select pictures and memories together, as a family of four!

I have seen and read a few Life Story Books plus I know pretty much everything there is to know about the boys’ past so I had a general idea of what will be included. Since we do indirect contact (letters) with Birth Mum with photos, I am not phased anymore by seeing pictures of her. For the boys, however, it’s an entirely different question!

For 7 it was great to see pictures of her, but when he found out one of the pictures were taken VERY recently he was shocked. He thought his birth mum was dead! In a way I can understand; in his head that’s how he made sense of the fact that he was not living with her anymore. To him, she was dead! So naturally it was upsetting for him.

For 8 it was a different experience. While he loved seeing photos of himself as a baby, seeing his younger self with that woman brought back many traumatic memories. He was shaking, lips trembling and suddenly he was transported back to the time those pictures were taken. It was heartbreaking to see it! SW was just looking at him without a word! I enveloped him into the biggest hug I could muster and my usual mantra kicked in (‘you are safe, you are loved, mummy is here, everything is ok’) Eventually he settled so the SW said ‘so, about this next picture…’

There were some very specific issues that I don’t want to discuss here, sufficient to say I thought it was very poor judgement on SW’s side to include some stuff. When I raised it afterwards she told me off saying ‘I can’t just pick and choose what I put in, if it’s part of his story’. True, in principle I agree. However there are different ways of saying things and more information is not always better, just the opposite!

When we got to the part about their several Foster Carers 7 was conflicted. He wanted to say ‘oh, I love them‘ but he caught himself mid-sentence and looked at me with worry in his eyes! He didn’t feel comfortable saying in front of me how he felt! SW was again quiet. I had to reassure him that ‘it’s OK to love more than 1 adult at the same time, I am not upset, I know you have a big heart and there is room for more than just me and daddy in there’.

Then we got to this extra part that most adopters don’t have: discussing their first adoption that ended with a nasty adoption breakdown. Again, 8’s brain was flooded with terrible memories and another traumatic distressed period followed. By this time I thought we had waaaaay too much for one day, but SW kept on pressing ‘here comes the good part’.

The next page was about their last Foster Carer and it included the very first photo we took together in her home when we had the first day of Introductions. It was indeed, a happy memory for everybody. According to the SW the last 10 pages were there to show them ‘their sad start had a happy ending’ and ‘look how many happy memories you have already made with mummy and daddy’. Again, I do not disagree with this statement per se, but this should have been our job to do together!

During the 2 hours she spent in our house I had the nagging feeling that she just wanted to rush through the whole book and treated this as nothing but a tick-box exercise. On one hand I understand she didn’t want to ‘linger’on the horrible events of their early years, but that is supposed to be the whole point of the Life Story Work and in my humble opinion that should be the very reason why you can’t do this in one go!

By rushing through the book she minimised the impact of those traumatic memories and didn’t give sufficient time for my sons to grieve. I feel that my boys are now not healed, just the opposite! She left them re-traumatised and as usual, we, adoptive parents have to pick up the pieces and live with the ramifications!

And to top it off, she is now off for the next 2 weeks, which I frankly find totally unacceptable. Good practice says she should be available for the coming days to come back, spend more time with them and help them process it and taking it all in. I believe it was poor judgement on her side to do this piece of work right before her holiday! She delayed bringing the Books several times, surely it could have waited 2 more weeks in order to come back again very soon to continue with helping the children make sense of their past should they need it – and clearly they DO need it!

Today on the phone she kept on saying to me ‘you need to keep reassuring the boys‘ , but I can’t reassure them if they feel they can’t tell me every part of their past! I can’t continue looking at their Life Story Book with them if it causes them massive distress even just to hear certain names! Baaaah, I feel so helpless!

Needless to say, the boys had a difficult night last night with Night terrors (worse than usual) and presented with very challenging behaviours in school today…

I contacted SW’s manager, not to get her into trouble, but I recommended more training for her to avoid another family going through the same traumatic experience with disastrous outcome. I bet it won’t help our working relationships…

Feelingmumyet How not to do Life Story Work in Adoption

Night Terrors terrorise my family

Most expert say that Night Terrors isn’t something we, parents cause – in other words, we don’t do this to our children. It is often said that night terrors might run in the family. Perhaps. For us, adopters, this is something we can neither confirm nor deny. 😦

But I do wonder if my boys’ difficult past somehow plays a part…

My 6y old boy has night terrors almost every night.  Sometimes it’s ‘just‘ screaming, sometimes it’s screaming and sleep walking, sometimes it’s screaming and sleep walking with eyes wide open! I remember I freaked out so much the very first time it happened! I couldn’t believe he was not awake. I didn’t know why was he crying. I only saw that he  was trembling, his bed was soaked with sweat and his face was wet with fresh tears. These days we know what’s happening so we try to catch him before he comes down the stairs, we gently guide him back to his room, push his head back onto the pillow and he goes back to peaceful sleep in no time with no recollection of it the next day.

Night terror Feelingmumyet adoption

There are nights when we don’t catch him in time so he comes into the front room and starts talking to us. His eyes are open, he comes to the settee, sits down and says words or sentences that usually make no sense. Sometimes they do – once he and I had a proper conversation; I asked something, he responded, he asked back, I responded and he nodded. It was so odd! The only giveaway way the fact that his eyes weren’t focusing on anything. After a short chat I walked him back to bed. As expected, he had no memories of our conversation the next morning.

Night Terrors are scary!

Not for the child, for us, witnesses. I still struggle to accept that they are completely unaware of what’s happening to them. I looked around on the web to learn more about it, but it seems to be still an area that needs a LOT MORE research. I did find a website called the Night Terrors Resource Center that had some very useful information.

I have asked the children’s Social Worker several times about this, but her only response was ‘It’s no big deal, they don’t remember it anyways, besides, I used to have night terrors as a child and I grew out of it’. At this point I lost my cool and asked back ‘and how is that suppose to help me?’. Even the play therapist said that ‘since it’s not an experience the children remember it’s very hard to tackle it and help the children heal from it’.

Sometimes night terrors are scary even for the children!

A few nights ago 6 had an extremely violent night terror. He was screaming for over 30 minutes and there was nothing we could do about it! He was in his brother’s room – effectively waking and scaring him too – shaking and shouting ‘tell mummy I love her!‘ Both my husband and I ran upstairs and we took him to the bathroom. His whole body was shaking, his lips were trembling and he kept on saying the same thing to me ‘tell mummy I love her’. Now, this is the point where we, adopters get unsure: is he talking about me or about his first mum? There are good arguments for both…

Almost everybody agrees that waking a child in the middle of a night terror is not a good idea. Normally we don’t do it, but he was so distressed that I tried to wake him. I even put a cold and wet face cloth onto his face, but nothing worked. Husband was in the other room trying to calm down his brother. Once he came back he picked our little one up and carried him back to his bed. As soon as he put his head on the pillow he was back to peaceful sleep. The next morning he came to me and said he had a bad dream. He couldn’t recall any details, just a deep sense of worry and fear. My heart was breaking for him. We reassured him he is safe and well loved and said the lie parents often tell their children ‘it’s only a dream, don’t worry about it‘. And he didn’t waste any more thoughts on it. It was only my hubby and I who keep worrying that their past experiences somehow influence their dreams.

As I understand night terrors are not (bad) dreams per se and therefore are not connected to the subconscious mind processing the daily events. But then how do you explain the incident last night?

Night terror can be connected to daily events

Yesterday 6 had a small incident. We were in a park and he went from ‘I don’t need a toilet’ to ‘I am desperate‘ in 5 seconds (as most children would) so we started to walk home. Sadly he didn’t make it to the toilet and he wet himself in the porch. Needless to say he started crying. We kept our cool and told him ‘there is no reason to cry, go upstairs and mummy will shower you‘. He kept on crying. I thought it was because of the shame. It turns out I was wrong. He was crying mostly because he was afraid we will yell at him and be angry. (Birth father didn’t tolerate such ‘stupid behaviour’ and punished both boys severely every single time.) I reassured him we are not angry, but he kept on crying and asking ‘How can you not be angry?‘ We did the whole ‘look at my face, do you see anger’ routine while I try to give him my best smile, but he still wasn’t convinced.

Fast forward to bedtime, I put him to sleep without a problem. 30 minutes into  his sleep we heard a door open, elephant steps marching to the bathroom and then something falling onto the floor tiles. Hubby went up thinking the older one was messing about only to find 6 literally peeing into the washing basket!

He was so shocked for a second that he didn’t know what to do. Then he chose to talk to him. It became clear very fast that 6 was not awake even though he was acting so. Hubby was very cross because all our clothes were now smelling of his wee. I couldn’t stop laughing. Yes, it’s bad, sure, but if you take a step back and look at the big picture it’s pretty funny! It IS impressive for him to wee into the relatively tall washing basket, especially when you think he isn’t even consciously doing it! 🙂

While hubby took the basket down to do an emergency wash I walked my son back to bed. He kept on saying ‘I don’t want to race‘ which had clearly nothing to do with today’s events, but the fact that he took himself to the bathroom to relieve himself HAS TO BE connected to today’s events of him worrying about not getting to the toilet in time!

Do you guys think they are connected?

 

 

Night Terrors are common among children. Feelingmumyet is an adopter mum who writes about a potential link between terrible memories from the past and the intensity of the night terror.

Let’s Discuss CPV openly – Child-on-Parent Violence

Update: Al Coates has made a short part of his lecture available on his Podcast service. You can listen to it if you click HERE.

Yesterday 2 amazing things happened. One was that I was able to carve out some time for myself and I could actually travel to a different city for a conference – well, at least part of it I could listen to. The other, even more amazing thing was that a Social Worker was openly discussing CPV in front of a 200 strong crowd filled with current and future Social Workers, foster carers, university staff and adopters!

It was organised by CEL&T – Children experiencing loss and trauma. I knew one of the speakers will be Al Coates (The man behind the widely popular blog Misadventures of an Adoptive Dad tweeting under @NadjaSmit) so I was really praying the children will not kick off too badly in the morning and I can actually make it. Sadly I missed the morning sessions, but I could listen to his speech at least. Oh man…

Child on Parent Violence Conference Presentation CELT CPV Feelingmumyet

Child on Parent Violence Conference Presentation

Deafening silence from Social Workers – until now

I was genuinely surprised that a Social Worker was actually standing in a lecture hall openly discussing this secret topic! As with many things in life you don’t care much about it until you are personally get involved. But once it happens to you or somebody you care about you soon realise you have no other option but to become a somewhat expert on the subject and use your personal experiences to educate others. Al’s presentation resonated well with many of us in the audience and reinforced our personal experiences. When our 5y old boy moved in with us he was on full on attack mode pretty much constantly. When we desperately called our SW she just gave the useless  usual answers ‘you are not allowed to hold him down‘, ‘just make sure you are safe’, ‘walk away’ but also ‘don’t leave him alone‘ …etc. With other words, the professional Social Worker was clueless as to what to say so she chose the easy and frankly the worst way: ignorance!

When I showed some of the wounds on my body and mentioned ‘CPV is our biggest concern‘ she didn’t even pretend to know what I was talking about and asked me to explain CPV. If she was surprised to hear my black marks were caused by a sweet little tiny boy, she didn’t show! And that’s one of the biggest find of the survey Al conducted last year! I also filled it out with apparently many hundreds of other people.

Violent under 6 year old children are a reality

According to the survey a lot more violence is committed by small children than adolescents and it is poisoning families and contributes to placement and adoption breakdowns on a daily basis! When asked ‘who experienced CPV’ about half the hands went up. When asked ‘who had it from an under 6 year old child’ many hands stayed up! On one hand it is absolutely disheartening. On the other hand it is encouraging to know we are not alone! I think I wasn’t the only one who looked around the lecture hall with a sigh of relief and feeling ‘if I speak up now, people will believe me, people will not label me a bad parent who can’t control her own child and most people will understand our desperation for things to change!’ I assume most of us felt the same way!

Fellowshipping with people who understand

Al’s presentation included several personal experiences and as you look around the hall you can see people nodding. Some people were taking notes (I assume the SW students) and there was a general consensus that we understand where it comes from, we do NOT blame the children, but ‘a chair thrown at you is a chair thrown at you regardless of if it was a 30 year old or a 6 year old doing it‘.

It was very encouraging to hear from a SW who was sharing good practices from her LA and just in general to hear constructive discussions taking place out loud, in the open! We all know it is happening, that it has always been there and it will continue to be a huge problem, but this was the first time it has been discussed with SWs. I am thrilled this lecture has been accepted as part of SW’s CPD (continuous professional development) and it is my personal, selfish hope that in the future it will be compulsory for all SW to gain some understanding on this topic. And then the next step can come: How do we deal with it? I think it’s a great first step to admit that it is a thing. Now the clever people can get together and develop strategies and advise desperate parents that will hopefully lower the number of adoption breakdowns! See? It’s all connected!

Meeting Twitter friends in real life

Another advantage of attending such gatherings is to meet people I feel close to, although I have never met them in real life. I only know many of them by their Twitter handles and don’t even know their real names, yet, because of our shared difficulties we are quite close and we all know we can count on each other for support!

I do not want to write more on the lecture, I think Al will do similar presentations around the country, plus the link above should take you to some further resources. One thing that shocked me was the lack of research and literature written about this as of yet. My only hope is that with people like Al with the help of CEL&T and others who campaign hard for this topic, things will continue to move forward in the right direction. So come on people, let’s make some more noise, share stories (you can read and link up CPV stories at the wonderful Hannah Meadow’s blog ), spread the word and change perceptions one conversation at a time!

On a slightly related topic (yes, it’s a shameless plug) I wrote an article to Adoption UK‘s magazine about Hope After and Adoption Breakdown with some mention of CPV. It’s a print magazine, but I took a picture of the article – you can read it here.

The Giggles Behind the Pros and Cons of Adoption pt 2

This post started off as a rant on Twitter. I shared one of my earlier posts about friendships and my wishful thinking of how much nicer it would be if our friends also understood and cultivated therapeutic friendships instead of those unhelpful cliches of ‘you are amazing‘, ‘I couldn’t do it‘, ‘your children are really lucky to have you‘ …etc. Within minutes my Twitter feed exploded with fellow adopters sharing their frustration and the hilarious @emmaglsutton started this tag of Pros & Cons of adoption vs childbirth and our adopter friends kept on adding their own experiences. Our laughter grew louder with each new comment and Emma and I had the same idea: these are too good not to collect them into a blog post. To be fair to each other, instead of doing the same post twice we agreed to do a Part 1 and Part 2 – one for each of us to post on our own blog. This is my first collaboration, let’s hope it’s a successful one! 🙂

For Part 1 please go over to Emma’s page HERE. You will see she did some of the copy-paste and I will do the rest.

Apparently this is the sign of Adoption

Pros and Cons

Pro: Your children can be very close in age
Con: If they are close in age people ask if they were planned that way

Pro: you get to pick if it’s a girl or boy or one each or two of the same
Con: nobody is playing the gender guessing game

Pro – no one expects you to breast feed, checks their ‘latch’ or evaluates your nipples
Con – you don’t get to breast feed them

Con: you have no idea how old they will be, so decorating the nursery is hard
Pro: you get to pick if you have a girl, boy or more than one at a time

Pro: you don’t have to check they are breathing every time they are asleep
Con: no wait, you’re going to do that anyway

Con: you can’t send your partner out in the middle of the night for cravings
Pro: you never get an urge to eat coal or mud

Pro: able to get smashed at my baby shower
Con: everyone else in the restaurant thoughts I was drinking when pregnant

Con: you don’t get to flounce around in dungarees or shapeless moo-moos
Pro: see above!

Pro: no-one touches your belly like it’s open season on your skin
Con: no-one gets all excited for your upcoming arrival(s)

Pro: you miss out on hours of Teletubbies watching
Con: you go straight to hours of Fireman blooming Sam

Pro: adopting siblings gets you 2 all at once, they can play together, still in different classes
Con: more parent evenings to attend at once

Pro: no tossing and turning and trying to get comfortable in the last trimester
Con: there isn’t one! 🙂

Pro: missing child birth (pain)
Con: missing child birth (being there for them from the first minute)

People are clueless and/or ignorant

To be honest I also said similar comments to adopters and after having my very challenging boys I still mean some of them. I agree that adopters (me included) are brave to do this. We are indeed borderline crazy at times. I agree that we have our ‘hands full’, but for totally different reasons! I still believe our children are lucky to have us as new parents, but not because we are so amazing (or ‘saints’ as I have been called before), but because we are a tad bit better than their first set of parents!  I have said it many times and I am quite vocal about the fact that we could have birth children if we wanted to. Somebody once caught me at the wrong time with a ‘your boys are so lucky‘ comment to which I responded ‘aren’t your children so lucky you had strong and healthy sperms and your wife a willing egg?‘. He thought it was an inappropriate comment. Fancy that…

Adoption (and Foster care too!) are still a somewhat obscure thing that’s definitely not for everybody. BUT that shouldn’t mean the majority of people still don’t know what to say or how to say it? As one adopter pointed out we have our culturally acceptable pleasantries we say to a visibly pregnant lady (‘you are glowing’), but people are often clueless as to what to say to somebody who considers or have gone through adoption to grow a family. People who have birth children AND also adopted commented that they notice the difference in how people react – and here I am not only talking about the rude or straight out stupid comments like ‘was three of your own not enough for you?‘ or ‘didn’t you want another real child instead?

Emma wrote a book and it’s due to be released on Kindle soon (this is not a paid plug, I am genuinely very happy she wrote a book for non-adopters to educate them about our new reality) in which she gives good tips and Do’s and Don’ts for people to say or do when they find themselves in an awkward situation with an adopter. Scary stuff… I know! 🙂

Do you have any other Pros and Cons that didn’t make the list? We are always open for more giggles 🙂

Our First Family Day Anniversary

Yesterday we have celebrated our First Family Day! It means exactly 365 days ago we have become a family of four through adoption (hence the four turtles). The round number is raising the expectation of me coming up with something smart, something deep, maybe I should come up with some profound truths, give you a few points of why it was worth it despite the incredible lows we went through, how rewarding it is to know that the boys’ first adoption breakdown was not the end of their already sad story, that we are turning their life around…

Yes, these are all true and in fact, each point should deserve separate long posts. But right now all I feel is numbness. I am so incredibly tired and emotionally exhausted that I can’t think straight. So many things happened that the factual summary alone would fill several books. All the cliches that you hear from fellow adopters are all true. When I organise some thoughts I might come up with a skeleton structure onto which I can hang all the things that have changed…

A year ago we were getting ready to meet our future children face to face for the first time at Introduction Day. I wrote about that extensively, please click the link if you want to read the beginning… except, that wasn’t even the beginning, but for the sake of grammar let’s call it that.

Feelingmumyet Family Cake Ninja Turtles Adoption Forever

Our First Finally Forever Family Cake

Right now I am sitting
outside                                     – I have never really been an outdoorsy person before the children came…
in our garden                        – we were renting a fab house, but were told to buy one with a garden before the children came…
enjoying the sunshine     – well, this part hasn’t changed, I have always loved the sunshine…
as a stay-at-home              – I used to work in a job I loved, which I had to give up before the children came…
mum.                                        – this one never gets old! As much as I love them and would do anything for them I don’t think I will ever stop not feeling like an Impostor… Especially when the Other Mother writes to me

Family Cake

So, Familyversary, which demands a cake. A Family Cake. Last week 6 was telling everybody that he is so excited to have our first Family Cake. Naturally people were confused and asked what is a family cake. Duh… For Goofs it was a puzzling question because ‘don’t every family celebrate when the family grows by the arrival of a new child? Oh, that you call it birthday… Fine, but what’s the difference? Just because in your family the birthday and the family expansion happens to be on the same day it doesn’t have to be the same for us too, right? Poor you! You only have 1 cake! In our house we celebrate both dates so, obviously, one extra occasion to have a massive cake!’ There, that’s my son! (*saying it* with all the smugness and pride in my voice that you can imagine – and a little more!)

Adoption Review

We had a slice of cake for breakfast, maybe I should say instead of breakfast, but I am fairly certain both boys had some more food in breakfast club. It just so happened to be the day of our 4th Adoption Review so we brought the cake to school as well. During the meeting we met our fourth IRO (Independent Review Officer), but to my surprise she was totally prepared and was doing a wonderful job of actually looking out for the children’s best interest! We were so pleased with her attitude and dedication to children she hasn’t even heard of until 2 days ago!

It was a very efficient meeting. The Play Therapist gave a report in which they concluded that blablablablabla – lots of long words and specialised lingo. In simple English, and here I am paraphrasing a LOT, she said ‘the boys are fine’ and ‘they do not need such therapy any more so it has come to its natural end’. More pleasantries were shared like ‘nobody expected the boys to heal this fast or this much‘ and the usual ‘it wasn’t much of what we did in those weekly 20 min sessions, but what these superamazingwonderfulincredible parents do on a daily basis‘, there was a nod to Therapeutic Parenting, but ‘stability, consistency and unconditional love‘ were also mentioned. I apologise if I sound cynical, I know these experts meant it. Probably the problem is in my device…

School gave a fab report too. Both boys are super smart and now it’s starting to show. Snoops (7) still has lots of issues and he continues to be a challenging little boy who will continue to struggle, but it was a consensus around the table that eventually his struggles will lessen as we all learn to support him better and he learns to cope with this big evil world better, after all, it’s ONLY been a year…

Adoption Order Application Signed

We didn’t plan it as such, but I think with all our ups and downs we got to the point where submitting the AO application was the right thing to do. We knew from day one that the children will stay (that’s not to say we weren’t ready to throw in the towels on several occasions!) so during the meeting we signed the official paperwork to get the ball rolling. If everything goes fast we might find new Birth Certificates under the Christmas Tree this year…

But I digress again. After the review we had our Final Play Therapy Session. The Play ladies brought cake to celebrate. Ummm, more sugar, yay! Snoops was very happy to see them because he knows it means lots of attention on him. Goofs, bless him, just came out of his second SATS exam and while his classmates could go to the ICT room to play on the computers he had to endure a boring meeting and there weren’t even toys this time! Naturally, he behaved very poorly… We asked the boys what was their favourite memory and Snoops said ‘that one time when the session was in our house‘. All the adults looked around confused, but he went on, described the exact day (in was in last October) and all the details! We all forgot about it. But his little heart treasured it as the dearest memory! We were all taken aback…

After school the boys wanted to play outside with their new toys. In front of our house there is a set of council garages and children often play in that area. We have never let the boys play there unsupervised before. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just kind of happened. But yesterday I went back to the house and they played happily there for a while. Yeah, things are changing…

Family dinner out

The ultimate test. We have been out with them before, but it was either a buffet or a carvery where you get food right away so there wasn’t much room to be bored and start to be silly. We went to a Lebanese restaurant and these wonderful Arabs loved our 2 little blond boys so much they even let them go into the kitchen, touch things, they answered all their questions and we even got some free pudding at the end. The food was fabulous and all in all we almost had a pleasant time there.

We got home by 8pm. 6 was grumpy because he was tired so we looked past his attitude and tucked him to bed as quickly as possible. 7 also had a meltdown, but for him it was different. Poor little thing was working so hard to keep it all together that by the end of the day his tiny little tummy was so full of emotions that he exploded. He was calling me names and he refused to do anything. I had to do all his bedtime routine (teeth, change of clothes, tidy the room a bit so we can enter) for him. Once in bed he still struggled with big feelings so I just cuddled him as you do with a baby. Our usual mantra (you are safe, I love you, you are not going anywhere, you are my son forever) calmed him down enough to start crying. His tears were the tears of shame for his poor behaviour. I kept on whispering the mantra and eventually he calmed down again and fell asleep. He woke up with another dry night: 8 in a row now! His new record!

Conclusion

Yeah, we are a finally forever family of four (FFFF). No more,  no less! Good night!

What is an Age Appropriate Toy in Adoption?

There is a lot of talking about children growing up too fast these days and they don’t know how to play any more. A while back I wrote about the Power of Play and how difficult it was for our two adopted boys to learn to play. I also wrote about the screen addiction our boys brought with them following their first adoption breakdown and how that hindered them in their healthy social development.

If you visit our house for the first time and take notice of the toys we have lying all around the house you would easily make the mistake of assuming we have 2 toddlers. In reality, our boys are 6 and 7; in a few weeks time they turn 7 and 8. So, why don’t we buy them age appropriate toys??

Ducks In A Row Bathroom Feelingmumyet Age Appropriate Toy

Ducks in a row in our bathroom

How do you define age appropriateness?

While I was researching this subject I came across lots of websites that offer guidance and useful articles from Parents.com to WebMD.com (click on the links for the actual articles) just to mention the 2 biggest advocate groups. And because we live in the digital age I also looked at their rating system, which is called PEGI. With PEGI I was very pleased to discover that they emphasise ‘The age rating is not intended to indicate the difficulty of the game or the skill required to play it‘ I think this is the key to understand our children’s playing habits and to know which games and toys will be helpful in their development and entertainment and which will cause more challenges.

Is it too childish?

When I went into a toy shop recently the helpful shop assistant asked me right away ‘How old is your child?‘ so she could direct me to the age appropriate isle. ‘It depends‘ was my response and you can imagine the looks I got.

According to his birth certificate he is 2 weeks shy from being 8. So, naturally the type of toys he should be getting for his upcoming birthday include video games with moderate violence and mild-moderate language, medium level complicated Lego sets, archery kit with sharp projectiles, puzzles over 500 pieces, or board games that require medium complex logical or mathematical skills to be enjoyable. Needless to say, he can’t manage any of them! Just to give you some examples:

  • He came to us with a Nintendo DS game rated PEGI 7 called Transformers. It involves a lot of killing, shouting, bad language, burning people alive… He was so confused he didn’t even believe me that the Autobats were the good guys and all he could think about was ‘torching the welcome wagon‘ and ‘the bigger the damage the more points you get’. All his drawings included weapons and everybody got killed and everything exploded and was destroyed. He was so cross with us when we took it away from him and we were so cross with the Foster Carer who gave it to him, just because he asked for it (‘all my classmates have it, I am almost 7 after all, I promise to be quiet if you buy it…‘)
  • They also had a wii racing game rated PEGI 5+ so we thought that shouldn’t be a problem. Well, our 6 year old often had nightmares in which the ‘giant evil penguin from this game‘ was chasing him. Just between us, there were no evil looking penguins in the game, just some big inflated CUTE penguins to cheer racers in the crowd – but for some reason he perceived it as scary. So this game was taken away as well until later. Together with Batman and a few others…
  • We have a Christmas tradition of working on a puzzle together. For the boys’ first Christmas with us we bough them an age appropriate one; we thought they might be able to manage it with our help. Well, we were wrong. Not just in believing that all those tiny pieces will not be lost in no time, but also in expecting them to sit still for more than 5 minutes (‘it’s so boring, it’s too hard, I don’t understand how to find a match, but these 2 pieces belong together just by their cut out shapes…’)
  • A few weeks ago we visited another church family for lunch. They have an 8 year old boy who had some archery toys. Without going into details my 6 year old managed to shoot him in the eye and then was surprised when the boy was screaming in pain because ‘in ninja turtles they always do this for fun and they never cry’.
wii game PEGI age rating Feelingmumyet

PEGI rating on our wii game

According to his mental and emotional age he is only 4…

He is quite tall and when he is in a happy chatty mood he could convince anybody that he is a brilliant 8 years old young man who knows everything about space and has excellent deduction skills. But a toy, which is designed to entertain such intelligence is usually very hard for him to solve or enjoy and instead of educational fun moments we get deep frustration and angry outbursts, which put him in a state of panic and it almost always results in a massive meltdown.

Both boys have missed out on so many developmental stages and not having age appropriate toys is just another indication of the neglect they were subjected to. So, instead of going to the isle for young men, I headed towards the toddler section. It didn’t take long to find the ducks! 🙂

Until recently they never had regular bath times like normal children do due to the constant wetting and soiling (they got regular showers whenever they had an accident). But a few months ago 6 started to have dry nights so he can enjoy now a bath every evening he hasn’t wet. It seems to motivate 7 as well to listen to his body more and don’t wait till the very last moment so lately he also had some special bath times. I say special, because for these boys it is indeed very rare and special, although it is getting more regular now! So when I saw those colourful plastic ducks (see picture above) I knew my boys will love them! Those ducks came with an age recommendation of ‘under 2’, but since they have never had bath toys in their lives they embrace it now fully. In a sense when I am pushing the ducks towards them in the bath filled with bubbles we not only have a jolly good time, but I am also filling in the gaps in their development. I am sure soon they will think it’s childish, but for the time being they love it!

Colouring in Robot Feelingmumyet

Both 6&7 love colouring in and they love it even more when I work with them on the pictures!

When School and Adoption collide…

Professional blogging tips always include a Content Calendar Planner and I keep planning on creating one, but it seems life provides plenty of things to write about each week so I will just share with you our latest ordeal with school from this week.

The ordeal started last Friday, just as I was writing my post on My Child Might Look Normal, But…, but I didn’t realise it until much later. I will write it in chronological order to help you see how a ‘simple’ issue can all too fast develop into a massive problem and it can ripple through all walks of life and can linger for days for adopted children.

The Background

On Fridays my husband picks up the boys – every Friday. Snoops (7) was in a terrible mood when they arrived home. I was wondering if he had a bad day or if it was something that happened on the way home – it’s a big difference in terms of after effects, though for him every issue constitutes to End-Of-The-World disaster that justifies a massive meltdown! Upon asking he confirmed that he lost all golden time today (special play time they earn each day), he didn’t say why or what had happened. He refused to do anything we asked him to do (like take off your shoes or go wash your hands) and put up fights for everything. There is only that much Therapeutic Parenting one do within 1 hour so as a natural consequence I told him he just lost 5 minutes of his evening playtime.

Feelingmumyet Child Boy Doing HOmework

Child Doing Homework

Usually this is bad enough for him to stop whatever he is doing, but not on Friday. His behaviour and defiance got a lot worse, he was throwing things, destroying furniture so again, as a natural consequence he was told he lost the chance to watch a movie in the evening – this has only happened a few times over the last year; Friday family movie nights are a Thing in our house!

Behaviour not improving, just the opposite! He got very violent so in order to keep ourselves safe we had to take him to his bedroom and close the door. Inside he started to trash his bedroom and I was very worried that he would hurt himself so I went in and grabbed him in a super tight bear hug (meaning he was unable to move).

A call from School

In the very moment my phone rang; it was School, but I was too busy fighting him so I couldn’t take the call. I hoped they would leave a voice message that I can listen to later…

About an hour later Snoops stopped his destructive behaviour, he was still very agitated, but at least I could loosen my grip around him. I picked up my phone and listened to the message:

‘Hello, I am Snoops’ teacher. I didn’t see you and didn’t recognise your husband so I said nothing to him. I wanted to tell you that Snoops was disruptive all day today, after several warnings he started throwing chairs in class so I sent him out of class to calm down, but he kept trying to come in so I put my foot at the door to block him, there was a struggle, I clipped his finger into the door frame, but he is fine.’

So, before we continue, lets just digest this message for a minute

  • From this message it doesn’t sound like the teacher tried to help him at all! I do not know WHY was he disruptive, what had set him off, if it was his own fault because he was daydreaming and therefore missed the instructions, or somebody said something to him, or he just didn’t want to do the work, or he became anxious about something… SO many things can (and usually does) go wrong with him every day!
  • Ok, fair enough, throwing chairs is NOT OK! But, children don’t just start throwing chairs for no reasons!
  • Although I appreciate that she gave him several warnings, but sending him out of the classroom ALONE is a really bad idea! For once, being alone is the worst thing that can happen to him, he already feels alone, isolated, rejected. TIME OUT DOESN’T WORK FOR LOOKED AFTER CHILDREN. End of! Time IN is the way to help him!
  • Not to mention her idea of ‘calm down’. Have you ever met a person who was very agitated, brain in a Fight Mode, but when he heard the word ‘calm down’ they thought ‘Ok, good idea. Boom. I am calm.’ Yeah, me neither…
  • She was blocking the door with her foot to stop my son from entering the classroom! It really bugs me, because I have spoken to her several times about this and explained why this approach does NOT work, yet, she keeps doing it!
  • I appreciate she has 20+ other children to worry about, but then what on earth the TA is doing??? It is in my boys’ PEP (Personal Education Plan) that he shouldn’t be left alone, especially when he has a meltdown! Once his brain is in that ‘foggy mode‘ as he likes to call it, there is no room left for clear processing, he can’t think straight, he doesn’t hear words, logic, what is logic?, he just keeps repeating the last coherent thought in his head! In this case it was ‘I want to go in!’ So, naturally he kept trying to get back into class! Of course there was a struggle…
  • I clipped his finger… FFS, how can she just mention it so casually? While it would be a very unpleasant experience for ANY NORMAL child and while I appreciate the fact that it was an accident (I have to believe that she didn’t intentionally wanted to hurt him), for Snoops it was so much more! It was a confirmation in his mind that grown ups do hurt children! It was a shock to realise his beloved teacher is not safe to be around! It brought back memories of his own abuse! (we can’t know for sure, but  he had dropped some hints before about his first parents hurting him in similar ways)
  • And my ‘favourite’ part: but he is fine! No miss, he is anything, but fine! He might present as fine, but I can assure you HE IS NOT FINE!

Back to the story

At least now we know why he was so cross. When I asked him about the incident, Snoops kept on lying to us; said he didn’t do any chair throwing so according to our house rules, he lost all his playtime for that night. Naturally he unleashed on us so, again, to keep ourselves safe, we put him to his room. As you can imagine, he was screaming for about an hour, incoherent screams and shouting filled our house…

When the turn happens

My husband and I were sitting outside his door waiting for what comes next. Eventually his screams started to include words and it began to make sense. I don’t think he knew we were right outside, so he was clearly not talking to us! I think he was just processing his thoughts out loud. First he said to himself ‘Snoops, you are not safe here, everybody hurts you‘, but then he started saying he loves it here, I am his ‘bestest mummy ever and even daddy is really the best I ever had’ and he is happy here and he knows his behaviour was bad, he needs to apologise, ‘but I can’t go out, I need to wait till the morning, I wish I could go out to say how sorry I am...’

It was incredibly sad, but also fascinating to hear his monologue. I really wanted to go in to reassure him, but my husband suggested we wait. After 20 min of hesitation, of touching the door handle, but not having enough courage to press it down,  he took the plunge and came out! Right away I pulled him into a big hug and he pretty much said the same things to me.

I kept on reassuring him he is safe, we love him, he is not going anywhere and eventually he stopped sobbing. He was still sad that he missed the movie and snacks, but he understood that it was fair and didn’t fight it. I took him back to bed. We expected a  difficult night, but strangely it never came. He slept through the night and to our utmost surprise he didn’t wet the bed that night!

Sadly though the ripples carried over to Saturday where we had a very rubbish morning with very similar moments like a day before. Sunday was slightly better, but he was anxious about going to school on Monday. I wasn’t surprised! First thing in the morning I called school and had a word with the Head. She promised to investigate. When I picked them up on Monday afternoon the first thing his teacher told me was ‘he had a really bad day‘.  ‘I am not surprised! He is still not fine and he doesn’t feel safe with you any more!‘ She didn’t take it well, got upset and told me I have to discuss it with the Head. I assured her I will.

Long story short, it took him 6 days to get back to ‘normal and yesterday was his first day when he had an OK day. And it all happened because he didn’t finish a sentence in class…

 

My child might look normal, but…

How would you finish this sentence? I know it can be a tricky question even for parents raising their biological children let alone for us, adopters, because, well, how do we define ‘normal’? If my son is not attacking other children in school then he is described as a normal child? Who decides what is considered normal these days? If my son is having a meltdown in the playground and another mother says ‘oh, it’s normal, my son does that too‘ is enough to overlook the underlying issue?

According to the Oxford dictionary  Normal is

a.) Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected
b.) The usual, typical, or expected state or condition
c.) (of a person) free from physical or mental disorders
d.) A person who is conventional or healthy.

Dear me, so much to unpack here, I am afraid this could be another long post! Where do we start? I think we can all agree that if a child experienced abuse and/or neglect and therefore had an early life trauma then that child is probably not normal (if you follow the above definitions). To keep this post at bay, I will try to demonstrate through 4 recent examples what is considered normal in our family and how far from normal our children really are.

Lego in Soap Feelingmumyet

Lego in Soap Dispenser

Example for (not) reacting like a typical child

I saw a lovely idea on Pinterest; a creative mum put some Lego pieces into the soap dispenser to make it ‘magical’ and to encourage the children to wash their hands. I thought it’s great, my boys love Lego and often forget to wash their hands so let’s do it, what could possibly go wrong here? Well, pretty much everything! When the boys came home from school and saw it they were not pleased. One started crying saying ‘you are so nasty, that Lego was mine, how dare you touched it, my previous FC gave it to me, you took it away from me, I hate you!‘ The other boy was more confused than angry, he was wondering why I ruined the soap dispenser and was worried he will be told off, because ‘I always get blamed for everything’. Needless to say hubby wasn’t thrilled either, he was worried the kids will just think it’s another toy to play with and will waste the soap completely (he wasn’t wrong, 500 ml was gone in 2 days)… A normal child might have enjoyed it, a normal child might have believed that it was magical soap, a normal child might have been tricked into using said soap more often, but for my traumatised children even something innocent as a soap dispenser created massive meltdowns and evoked strong and painful feelings that lingered for days.

Exhibit B – behaving age appropriately or in the expected way

I must confess until I had first hand experiences I did struggle to believe the stories. I had adopter friends way before we started the process ourselves and I got to meet some adopted children over the years. In one particular case the child presented as a lovely and kind person who didn’t mind grown up company. I even looked after said child as a babysitter for a short time once and I thought we had a fab time. Next day the parents told me after I left they had a 2 hours long massive meltdown of shouting, hitting, spitting, name calling and more hatred towards them than ever before, because the child was upset; was terrified of me, was scared of the new situation, was angry for the parents to leave, was worried the parents won’t come back… I was puzzled and didn’t quite believe the severity of the incident. Now, with my two lovelies in my life I repent daily for my ignorant attitude and since we are on the subject, can I just ask everybody who is in contact with adopted children to:

Please believe the adopters when they say their children are NOT ‘normal’!
Once the door is closed and they feel safe they unleash on their parents!
Adopters don’t just try to raise sympathy when they describe the challenges,
they don’t exaggerate to make their work sound more heroic and
they are definitely not ‘just too negative or enjoy complaining’.  

I few months back I wrote about Therapeutic Friendships if you would like to read more on this point and find out what are the not helpful comments that well meaning friends use to drive adopters mad.

Exhibit C – being free from a physical or mental disorder

When you call your child’s name or extend your arms (for a cuddle), does your child pull his neck in and starts shaking like a leaf? Mine does. He was conditioned to be afraid whenever his name is mentioned, simply because the only time he heard his name from his parents was when he was blamed for something so the punishment was imminent and inevitable. Even after years of therapy and almost a year with us his mind is still in Flight Mode whenever somebody lifts a hand or an arm towards him may it be a stroke on the face, buttoning up his uniform or take out a plate form a cupboard behind him.

What others see is a child who is very friendly. Professionals would describe him as overly friendly – especially with strangers. What onlookers or casual acquaintances don’t realise is that this is a preemptive move on his side: he runs up to people to give them a hug, desperate for getting into people’s good books immediately as a way of protecting himself. In his mind if he is lovely and cute and kind, chances are good people will not hit him like his parents used to. It took me months to re-train his brain that instead of hugging strangers just extend his arm and shake hands. There is no telling if I will ever be able to re-train his first instincts…

Exhibit D – a conventional person

Get a glimpse into our new normal through a dead flower in Snoops’ (7) room. After about 6-7 months with us we thought they were ready to manage a quick trip to a shop – before that we did all our shopping either online or during school hours. So we went to B&Q to look at some flowers. Snoops was amazed that you can buy pots of flowers to take home to grow (should have been my first clue) and after I explained that flowers not exclusively grow outside he was begging me to buy him one. I thought a pound might be well spent here, especially if I can teach him to take responsibility for something (would be the first in his life – should have been the second clue) and make sure the pot is protected (as in not broken – third clue) or that the bulb will get watered so we eventually see the Hyacinth. Long story short, he promised the moon, but before we got home the pot was thrown to the floor twice because he didn’t like being told to wash his hands; the bulb never got watered by him because trashing the room is more important; the pot got knocked down on several occasions, well, just because. However, despite all this ordeal, the flower started to grow. And grow. And grow. at the end it was over 40 cm tall! It was beautiful and smelled amazing! Snoops was so proud of it! He told everyone in school that he is a master gardener because nobody can grow such huge flowers as he can.

Dead Flower in Feelingmumyet blog

Dead Flower in Snoops’ Room

Weeks passed by and the flower started to fade. Naturally, it was MY fault for destroying his flower and he hated me for it. I tried several times to explain these flowers don’t stay pretty forever, but he wouldn’t have any of it. A few more weeks passed, but I was still not allowed to touch it, because ‘it’s mine, you are not taking it away form me!‘ So, the dead flower is still in his room. Removing it would just remind him of the many times he had to say goodbye to familiar things/ faces/ places and before I know it, his trauma is back in full swing. On the grand scheme of things he believes that he is not going away from us ever again and this is his finally forever family home, but his horrendous past keeps haunting him and finds ways to torment him in seemingly insignificant ways.

As I said, this is our new normal…

How (not) to do Sibling Contact well

It is not uncommon to have siblings placed in different foster or adoptive families. The reasons vary widely from practical or logistical to special needs or complicated family structures or – like in our case – after their first adoption breakdown the children’s placement plan was changed.

Even though the siblings are developing new roots and creating a new history in separate adoptive families it is really important to facilitate regular contact with each other to deepen those all-so-important first roots. We have facilitated a few already (the last one a few days ago) so I thought I jot down a few observations.

My 9 point list is:

Regularity
This is usually agreed upon in the new placement plan with keeping the children’s best interest in mind. Ours was originally quite a lot; 6 times a year. That means every single school holiday! However, when Sibling was placed they needed more time to settle so the first few meetings were cancelled. Then our boys came to us and we embarked on our own turbulent adventure and it was decided that meeting up at this time would not serve the boys’ best interest so a significant time passed before the siblings saw each other again.

The other factor was, of course, the feelings of the children. 1 boy was missing Sibling a lot and kept asking for a meeting, while the other boy hated the idea of meeting up because it reminded him of their chaotic past. He was quite vocal about it and his behaviour deteriorated a week before the meeting and lasted for days after Contact. Eventually their SW agreed that direct contact wasn’t in his best interest so he didn’t have to attend any more and could just write a card instead. Logistically it was a nightmare to take only one, but not the other. Not to mention the fact that even though he didn’t come, he was still thinking about it and then he would end up with a meltdown anyways…

Sibling Contact

Distance
Distance was also a deciding factor in reducing the number of contacts. It is not easy to coordinate 2 families’ diaries for every single school holiday or agree to a location that is acceptable to both families. Sibling’s family has already moved once since we started meeting up and there is no guarantee we won’t end up at the opposite sides of this country before our children turn 18.

Location
So, we finally nailed down a day that works for everybody and even agreed on who will drive more. Now, onto the next challenge: should we meet in a park or a playhouse; indoors or risk the British weather; should we go to a place with free entry or is it ok for both families to pay entrance fee to a place? Luckily, we both have annual passes with National Trust so it was one less thing to worry about, but for the last contact we went to Beamish open air museum with a family entrance fee of £50 (you can only purchase yearly passes).

Duration
For the first meeting we just met in a park for about an hour. We knew there will be challenges and meltdowns and we didn’t want to prolong the time. On the other hand I was trying to put myself in their position; how would I react if I could only see my closest relative for a short time every 2 months… It’s very difficult to plan, especially since most of our children don’t do well with unpredictability so you can’t ‘just wing it’.

For our latest contact we (as in the 2 mothers) agreed to spend the whole day in the same place and meet up a few times, but also allow time for each family to enjoy the day separately. This seemed to work really well for our 2 families and it also gave us opportunities to put some distance between the siblings when they were getting close to being overwhelmed. I think all in all we spent about 3 hours together and 2-3 hours apart.

Activities

We planned to meet at the gates and go in together;  with 4 adults and 6 children it is quite a task! We laughed when all four adults said it almost simultaneously ‘Toilet first‘ before we went outside. We took the train to the old town and sat on the hill for a joint picnic. It was interesting to see the children were excited to see each other, yet they kept their distance and it wasn’t a question in their minds weather they should sit with their ‘old family’ or ‘new families’. After lunch the kids played tag together so the grown ups could catch up and compare notes.

In previous meetings we tried to ‘push the siblings together’ to play a ball game or in the sandpit, but eventually we had to conclude that it will not work. We have to give them space and time to get used to the idea that they are together again after a long break. Even after the ice is broken it takes time for them to actually invite the Sibling to join in whatever game they are playing. Snoops (7) is perfectly happy playing alone and can entertain himself for hours while shutting the outside world out completely. He learnt over this last year to let Goofs (6) join in, but Sibling really struggled to break in and join them. Consequently, Sibling played with new siblings instead, where at least Sibling was familiar with the children and their playing habits.

Naturally we took lots of pictures and before we said good byes we posed for the compulsory group photo – again, the children stood close to their new respective families. To onlookers it seemed two families, who are friends, decided to hang out together. In reality we don’t know much about each other and frankly we don’t force the friendship too much either. We are polite and kind to each other, we know the names of all their birth children (whom our two boys refer to as cousins!), but that’s about it.

Build up

Once everything is sorted the question comes: ‘When to tell the children about the upcoming Contact?‘ For Snoops I said it as soon as we agreed to it because I knew he was very much looking forward to it. I also made him promise not to say it to Goofs. I even tried to reason with him ‘you know he always gets upset and we don’t want him to be upset for  days...’ but Snoops just can’t keep a secret and he really enjoyed the power dynamics of ‘I know something that you don’t and I am not telling you haha…’ As you can imagine, it didn’t go down well for anybody; I was cross with him for saying it, Goofs was cross with him for saying it; Snoops was (at the end) cross with me for telling him in the first place… Needless to say we didn’t have a lovely drive to Beamish. The only thing that made it bearable for Goofs was that I promised him he didn’t even have to say ‘Hi’ to Sibling if he didn’t want to and we told him we will do lots of discovering without the other family.

Before previous Contacts we noticed a definite build up of Big Feelings in his little body. He was feeling all sorts: happiness to see Sibling; sadness of not seeing Sibling for so long; sentimentality when he remembers the happier days together with Sibling; anxiety that the all too familiar chaos will return too if he sees Sibling; anger that he and Sibling are separated; gratefulness that we take him to see Sibling and confusion because all these feelings didn’t make much sense. No wonder he felt his tummy was exploding… These are the moments when a  small sweet treat works like magic! To alleviate some of his worries I always go through the same mantra: ‘We are just going to meet up for X minutes. We will all be there trying to have a good time. When the X minutes are up, you, your brother, daddy and I will go back to our car and go back to our family house. Nothings is going to change. We love you very much.’

Hello

We arrived to the car park almost at the same time by coincidence. Sibling and Snoops almost got ran over by another car; they just couldn’t wait to hug each other so they ran across the car park. It was a very sweet moment. Goofs was hiding behind me, but as soon as Sibling came over he was over the Moon – so much for him not wanting to be there…

In the past we tried the formal greeting etiquette and say hello to everybody properly. These days we just enjoy watching the children hug each other. Each time I am reminded how complicated their imaginary family tree must look like in their heads and how bittersweet each meeting is. It’s really heartbreaking to see how happy they are to see each other if  the long and tight hugs are anything to go by.

Goodbye

Nobody likes saying good bye. Especially when you don’t know when will you see them again. For children even ‘next week’ seems light years away, let alone ‘in 2 months time’. Not to mention they are still not trusting us that there will be a next time at all! To help them prepare for the departure I keep giving them warnings ‘you have 10 more minutes to play’, ‘we are leaving in 5 minutes’. I always discuss with the other mother ‘who is leaving first. It’s important so one family can pack up and start the goodbyes and eventually walk away, while the other family very clearly will not follow them.

In the beginning we made the mistake of lingering around for one last photo / a group hug / a quick chat to discuss the next meeting and it just created lots of prolonged anxiety. Now we just look at the time, say our quick byes, the children hug each other and we very swiftly disappear from each other’s view.

Aftermath

Naturally not all feelings get to be processed while the meeting is on so the car ride home is always a time of reflection. I usually asks them questions like ‘What was the best part about meeting up?’ ‘What made you happy / angry / sad / nervous today?’ We also go through the pictures on my phone, while I keep verbalising happy thoughts like ‘how wonderful it is to see Sibling’ or ‘today was a good day, because you got to play together with Sibling.’ Sometimes it takes days to recover from seeing Sibling and move on from those stirred up emotions. Goofs’ behaviour is a good indicator of where is he with processing. I usually give the teachers the heads up of what happened over the weekend and so far they have been very understanding in managing potential meltdowns, which normally would be very difficult to explain otherwise. During these days we try to spend even more time together as a family, eat their comfort food for dinner and keep repeating our mantra.

Well, these are some of my experiences. I would love to hear what works for you guys!

The best 3 adoption messages from Kung Fu Panda 3

For adoptive parents – especially if your children were old enough to remember their Birth family like our two boys – it’s getting tricky to go to the cinema as most films nowadays seem to have some kind of adoption related theme, which may upset your children or your delicate family balance. For a long time we were resisting our children’s nagging to watch Kung Fu Panda 3 (trailer here), but today we decided it was time. It came out a while ago so I don’t think I am spoiling it anymore by mentioning the story line and linking it to our adoption story. Roll on a rainy Good Friday and here is what happened.

Goofs with 'his'roots

Goofs with ‘his’ roots

We always knew the boys remember all the bad things that had happened to them – lots of it were inflicted on them by their own birth family themselves so neither boys harboured any positive feelings towards them. But watching the panda’s father just show up one day in Po’s new home made us all pause and think… For me personally, this is my worst nightmare: anybody from their birth family showing up at my door! For the boys, naturally, it evoked a few positive memories of their first dad sharing his coke with them or first mum watching tv with them. As much as I personally don’t like hearing these stories I know for my children they are very important so I listened carefully. I even made comments (compliments even) on their dad being kind in that instance. When we got to the end of the story I hit play on the movie again. The story progressed and we got to the adoption messages:

Adoption gives MORE for our children!

When Po discovers his panda daddy is back in his life, Po’s adoptive dad is not happy, but eventually he comes around and says: ‘First I thought it will be less for me, but now I know it will be more for him!’ Adoption gives my boys more of pretty much everything! More parents, more grandparents, more opportunities, more exposure to different life style, food, religion or world views, more memories, more love! What a positive message!

I must confess though, I am dreading the day when my boys turn 18 and can legally look for their birth family. I hope they won’t, for selfish reasons… But as a mother who wants the best for her children, I hope they will find the courage in their hearts to look for them one day, to ask all those questions that keep them awake at night, to learn more about that side of their family history and perhaps to find nice blood relatives whom they can develop an adult relationship with. All these will add more to their lives!

Adoption helps the children discover who they really are!

During the final battle Po is wondering about who he really is. ‘Am I a son of a panda? Am I a son of a goose? A student? A teacher? It turns out, I am all of that!’ When it comes to my boys they do have their birth parents’ DNA; Snoops has his mother’s face, Goofs has his father’s eyes. But Snoops also has OUR love for everything geeky, Goofs has MY love for music! All these together makes them who they are! We create their personalities together! We guide their interests, encourage them to pursue their talents and open new windows to their lives. They are not defined by their past as we are changing their story. They might bring a certain set of cultural views and social values with them from their first home, but the string of Foster Carers and finally us as their Forever Family also bring in our own sets and as a result the boys are presented with a much wider perspective on everything! We do challenge a lot of learnt behaviour they have brought with them from a dysfunctional home (like hitting and shouting is not a way to resolve problems) so at the end they will hopefully have a more balanced attitude towards life.

Adoption shows what a Family really is!

Po’s panda dad and goose dad had nothing in common, nothing to do with each other prior to the adoption. It’s the same with me and her! But as part of the adoption process we had to sit down and meet Birth Mum last year, shake hands, even take a picture together that was supposed to go into the children’s Life Story Book. It didn’t for the time being, but that’s a different story.

Recently Goofs (6) told me that in his head there is a big house with lots of people living in it. ‘What kind of house is it?’ I asked. ‘It’s called a Love House for all my mums and dads and me!’ He went on to explain that in this very special house his birth parents, one maternal grandmother who was nice to him, a few of his nicest Foster Carers and my husband and I live there in harmony and ‘our job is to love each other and love him!’ What a beautiful representation of how he was able to reconcile the fact in his head  that he cannot live with his birth family any more!

We also talk a lot about their sibling who was adopted separately into a family who already had children. ‘Naturally’ we explained that those children are considered my children’s cousins! Again, before our boys moved in with us, we didn’t even know about this family and now I am sending cards to them, we talk on the phone, share personal stories about our own lives… just because we consider each other now as our extended families!

When we were searching for a school for our boys many of our friends recommended a particular school. We checked it out and although it did seem like a great place for children, we knew it wasn’t the best place for our children, because it was too perfect! Their current school has a lot of broken families, classmates with half siblings here and there, complicated family structures so my boys don’t stand out! If anything, they stand out for being a ‘regular’ family with one mum married to one dad and all four of us live in the same home!

Our children know sometimes things don’t go as they should; sometimes bad things happen to good people. But they also know the hope that things can get turned around and adoption made this hope into a reality. They also know it’s perfectly OK to have 2 dads (like Po) because there are many types of families!