How my fears make me a better adoptive mum

This blog is mainly about my two adopted boys who came to us at age 5 & 6 following a very horrific adoption breakdown and here I try to document our challenges as we navigate through our new reality together. Recently I wrote about the Weight of Adoption on my children. However, in this post I will write a bit about one of MY biggest fears because that has helped me better understand where my traumatised children are coming from and enabled me to be a more understanding parent towards their needs and their approach to life.

First I need to give you a quick scientific background information. I haven’t studied medicine and I did not know any of it before we went on a Full Circle training course designed specifically for adopters and foster carers who welcome traumatised children into their life. So, in short and in a very simplistic way (please feel free to correct me if I misunderstood something):

How the Limbic system controls fear?

The Limbic system (see picture*) in your brain supports a variety of functions like emotion, behaviour, motivation and long-term memory and it includes among others the hippocampus, hypothalamus and the amygdala, which is responsible for emotions and emotional processing. Because of their un-nurturing environment in early ages my boys didn’t receive enough cuddles, care, soothing and therefore didn’t /couldn’t learn to regulate their emotions themselves. They still don’t know! Cortisol is a stress hormone that fills their brain when they experience danger, which pushes them to flight-fight mode. The cortisol overload makes them hyper-vigilant and they perceive everything a threat and once they are there their ‘rational brain activity’ shuts down and they are in survival mode. Basically they get into panic mode in less than a second! They don’t hear what I say, they are not able to perceive the environment around them, they can’t recognise danger, they don’t remember routines or what is acceptable behaviour…etc.

These things happen inside their brain, but on the surface you might not see anything! Sometimes 8 keeps smiling and his usual nonsense chatter fills the air and it’s very hard to recognise that he entered PANIC MODE until something triggers a reaction. Then I realise what I should have recognised 30 sec ago and then we begin operation ‘minimalise damage‘ and we start some calming tactics. Sometimes it takes only a minute, sometimes it can drag out for hours.

My irrational fear makes me appreciate their rational fear

This all makes perfect sense when you read it in a book or hear a lecture about it. But to remember it when you have a kicking screaming child running towards danger instead of away from it for seemingly no reason is entirely different! Yes, it makes no sense! Yes, it often catches me off guard, because I couldn’t in my sane mind imagine that this scenario would ever take place. It’s completely irrational, it’s completely stupid! And yet, here we are more often than not.

And now let’s move onto my fear. I am in my late 30s and consider myself an accomplished and intelligent woman with a good understanding of who I am, what I am capable of, how much I did already achieve and generally I would say I am quite adventurous and brave. But none of that matters when it comes to driving! I have an irrational fear of driving. Recently I think I figured out the reason (without attending a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy session that I was advised to take), but that’s a different story. Sufficient to say I have been taking driving lessons on and off for the last 12 years without much success! Yes, it’s stupid, yes, it’s completely irrational.

My only goal is to be able to drive to the shop and back alone when there is not much traffic, therefore my driving instructor (bless him, very patient and very professional) keeps making me drive the same route every week. Still, at the beginning of each session he asks me if I can drive there without him giving me directions and the answer is still no! I genuinely can’t remember which turns and roads to take to get there. I, for the life of me, just can’t remember! It’s very sad indeed. He simply can’t understand how is that even possible. But I can!

Parent's fear makes her a better mother to her adopted children.

Concentration and memory vs. panic and fear

As soon as I have to sit behind the wheel my brain is overloaded with the very same cortisol that pushes my boys to be hyper-vigilant and to perceive everything as a threat. Before I can start the engine my brain is already in panic mode. It takes all my energy and concentration to remember how to do the usuals (clutch, mirror, indicating, gear, handbrakes off…did I leave out something?) I can’t even do them in the correct order, let alone remember how to assess my immediate environment or, heaven forbid, prepare for the first junction ahead of me or see the road signs further down the road.

This week apparently I did something textbook style and I can’t even remember doing it! According to my instructor I joined a big mad roundabout beautifully, but I have zero recollection of it. The only thing I remember is ‘I don’t want to die!’ and ‘I don’t want to cause an accident’ and ‘what do I have to do to get out this as soon as possible’. Instead of looking at the road I am concentrating on the clock in the car counting back the minutes till my torture is over. At the end of each session he asks me ‘how do you think today went?‘ and all I can think of is ‘thank God I am still alive‘ and I really need to sit in the car for a few minutes before I can get my body under control again. I don’t want him to see me shaking so I wait till he drives away and then I stumble to the house, sit down on a chair and it usually takes an hour or so before I can say I am OK.

So, if it takes me an hour to calm myself down and I did have a safe and secure early childhood, how much more difficult it is for my boys to ‘just calm down’? I am able to verbalise my feelings, I understand the biological and chemical processes that cause this madness in my brain and I am trained in how to reduce the tension / drama / panic levels in and around me. But my 7 & 8 year old boys don’t!

it’s really not fair!

Not fair on them, not fair on people around them, not fair on my husband, who tries his best to remember these when we are in the middle of a massive meltdown, not fair on the teachers who don’t grasp my boys’ internal processes and only see a ‘naughty boy misbehaving again’, not fair on me who needs to keep buying new… well, everything really as both boys keep loosing everything (PE kit, school jumper, book-bag, water bottle, shoes, backpack, toys, pencils, lunch boxes – just to mention the school aspect).

In a sense I experience similar situations as my boys do on a daily basis. Because I do, I remember it well and can relate much better to my boys’ needs. I don’t fully understand it, but we have found a common challenge and it helps me to be more patient, less judgemental and occasionally more therapeutic when it comes to dealing with a problem differently. I understand the vulnerable position they often find themselves in because I have been there. I know how it feels when you really want to remember and do the right thing, but you simply can’t recall the right actions. When you can’t rely on your own memory to make a judgement call or use your past experiences (especially the ones you learnt through punishment or negative consequences) to avoid making the same mistake again. When the causes and effects just don’t line up and actions and consequences are not connected so none of it makes any sense to you… It’s bloody scary! And then you just choose the path of least resistance, which often translates into ‘I am just too stupid’, ‘I can’t do it’, ‘why should I even try?’ and ‘I will never succeed’. I know because I feel all these every single time someone mentions the word ‘driving’. 😦

How a parent's fear makes her a better adoptive mother.

*picture source: Illustration from Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site. http://cnx.org/content/col11496/1.6/, Jun 19, 2013.

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Learning about learning

The boys came to us at age 5&6 with ‘instruction manuals’ and lots of (sometimes contradicting) info on them about their abilities, life skills and personalities. As we became parents overnight we had to learn that there is a natural time to learn certain skills ( and I am glad I didn’t have to do potty training, skipped teething, learning to walk or speak…etc).

We were constantly finding gaps in their ‘natural development’ and we found ourselves filling these gaps as and when we discovered them, not when they are expected to be learnt! We taught them how to shower themselves, how to change your bedding if you wet the bed at night and they learnt it’s no big deal if you wet, we are not going to get upset with you or hit you!

Learning about learning by Feelingmumyet is about separating the developmental delays, attachment disorder and life lessons we all need to learn.

One knew how to ride a bike and has good balancing skills, the other had a bike but had no balancing skills so once he fell off and now he hated bikes. Same with climbing up to trees or to a monkey bar; since with us he conquered his fear of hight – how glad I was I could witness his face beaming with joy when he climbed up the climbing wall the first time! How proud he was! 🙂

Due to their massive neglect and trauma and attachment disorder it was hard to know what life skills they have mastered already and what not. Lately 7 had all these meltdowns related to separation anxiety and his misplaced shame (thinking he is soo bad his mother didn’t want him). Lately we have a new issue, which is related to learning to listen to somebody who tells you something different than what you feel like doing. It took us a couple of weeks to figure it out that it is not the ‘same old same old defiance or lack of trust due to his attachment disorder’ we have seen before. It IS a new gap we have discovered in his socialisation skills!

I would imagine it is connected to learning to trust your parents or perhaps I should say for a child with healthy, safe and time appropriate development it is a given?  I don’t know, this is my first time being a mother to any child, biological or not. But looking at our friends with smaller children I noticed that some of them already mastered this skill, some were still learning it, but most of them had some understanding of the reasons behind mummy’s ‘don’t do it because it will hurt you’ warnings. They more or less got the idea that there is a GOOD reason why the warning has been given to them. Did they still continue? Sure, but that was due to their personalities, may it be adventurous, experimental or just willingly testing boundaries.

My 7 year old somehow navigated his short life without this particular life lesson until now. It is very possible due to his many other ‘issues’ this one got overlooked. Or maybe the professionals knew about this gap, but felt there were more pressing problems to tackle first. It’s also a possibility that until now he didn’t feel safe to ‘let it all out’. Either way, we finally recognised what it is so now we can teach him.

How do you learn to accept suggestions?

For me and my intellectual brain I need to know first who is the person giving me the advice. What are their ‘credentials’. Have they experienced it personally? Do they have a masters degree on the subject? Are they older and therefore wiser than me? (this is a cultural thing, if you don’t share it, never mind). Secondly I want to know why are they giving me this information. What do they know that I don’t? What would happen if I don’t follow it? Yes, I know my rebellious side coming up… 🙂

It so happened that we went out for a family breakfast. Daddy told them not to eat too many ‘freebies’ as the main food is about to come. Did they listen? 8 did, 7 was convinced he can eat a whole lot more so he disregarded daddy. Full English breakfast arrives, 7 ate a couple of bites and declared himself full. Daddy didn’t even have to say a word, 7 knew! He should have listened! He should have done the clever thing and follow the advice. He chose not to and now he finds himself in this odd predicament. We weren’t angry with him at all, but we knew he was very cross with himself. Of course he said nothing, but his faulty internal processes went into overdrive and he started throwing food, jumping up and down on his chair and doing all the ‘naughty’ things. Hubby grabbed him in a super tight bear hug and held him for quite a while.

An hour later we went to get him new shoes (his last pair of new trainers lasted a month and it wasn’t for the poor, cheap quality, but that’s a different story). He was bored so he started throwing shoes off the racks. I told him why it was a bad idea (‘you might hit somebody accidentally’) and what will happen if he continues. Naturally he didn’t listen and didn’t stop until he was told some of the consequences that might follow. He was about to stop, but before he did he accidentally bumped into another shopper and knocked down a display unit. Again, his faulty internal processes kicked in and he was extremely ashamed of his actions. Until recently we would just tell him off, grab him and keep him close until we leave the shop. His mind is already in overdrive he didn’t know how to break the cycle and how to get out of those big feelings so his behaviour got worse by the second.

We just about paid and got back to the car. 2 minutes into the car ride out of nowhere he said: ‘Mummy, daddy, I am sorry for my poor behaviour in the shop. I should have listened to you.’ And Bad Mother reacted without missing a beat: ‘Yes, you should have!’. Good Daddy jumped in with ‘Thank you for saying that. You are forgiven!’ And then the most amazing thing happened. 7 informed us with a wonderful and happy smile that ‘it wasn’t that hard at all!’

Suddenly we realised that he has learnt another lesson(s)!

  1. Saying sorry is an excellent way to kill those big feelings!
  2. Listening to your parents is (sometimes) a good idea!
  3. You don’t need to feel ashamed for not listening.
  4. You CAN break the cycle!

A successful day in Parentville.

Learning about learning by Feelingmumyet is about separating the developmental delays, attachment disorder and life lessons we all need to learn.

The Time We Said Enough

Disclaimer: This is not a happy post. This is an honest post because I wanted to show how the constant pushing, emotional and physical abuse from a CHILD directed at the adopter can really push you over. Before you jump to (false) conclusions let me tell you the SWs know about these from us so you don’t need to play Concerned Citizen…

We have the children now for  over a year and yes, it has been bloody hard work. About a month ago we thought we turned the corner, but then Life Story Book happened, we also got to the end of the school time so the familiar structure went out the window and these two together pushed all four of us into disaster mode.

My Twitter friends know we are having VERY rough time with the boys lately that involved running away, being abusive, defiant, aggressive, violent, destructive and probably I could come up with a few more negative  adjectives, but I realise unless you lived it through yourself, these words will not convey the true misery we find ourselves in. When you get to the point of not caring about it anymore… now THAT’S a scary place to find yourself in! I know myself and believe me when I say, over the last year I found out a lot more about myself (and my husband). We are genuinely kind and understanding people, we both worked as volunteers in Africa for years and we both saw enough horror in our lives to develop a good sense of compassion and the ability to look beyond the surface and focus on the real issues deep below. We are very familiar with the boys’ very difficult start in life and how that impacts their very being; their everyday thinking, their motivations, their self image, their preconceived expectations, their improperly wired brain…etc all of it. But as my grandma used to say (not in English) ‘Even slow rivers can erode the bank eventually’!

The time Feelingmumyet, an adopter of two older boys said enough is enough when her adopter children kept on pushing the boundaries.

The slow, but constant pushing and testing, name calling, back chatting and verbal abuse (‘shut up you stupid ****’) together with physical acts like purposefully breaking my flower pots or trashing the house, kicking the rubbish bin to tip over, breaking his bedroom door to prove a point (that 7 is not sleepy at 11 pm) and of course the CPV when all else fails. He is doing all these to gain attention; to release some tension in his body or just simply to let us know in the most unlovable way that he needs love.

Compassion fatigue is real!

We know they don’t do it TO us, they don’t consciously want to sabotage their own future happiness and generally they are not horrible little monsters by default. BUT! And here lies the key. Eventually everybody breaks! Some sooner, some later, but we all get to a point when you say: Enough is enough! The hardest thing I found in my life (and I have been through some pretty awful situations in several continents!) is not giving in! 7 and 8 are constantly testing our patience, our resilience, our willpower, our self control.

When he is attacking you it would be so easy to hit back.
When there is verbal abuse, it would be so easy to remind him of some nasty stuff to make him shut up.
When he shouts ‘he doesn’t love/want me’, it would be so easy to shout back ‘I don’t love/want you either’.

But instead you keep reassuring him you love him, he is safe, you don’t want him to go away, you will never send him away, you are not like Birth Mum. And out of nowhere the moment suddenly comes when you think ‘that’s it, I had enough! I can’t lie any more! I don’t have to be OK with being abused in my own house regardless of what’s causing it. It’s not OK to not feel safe in my own house!’

A few nights ago I was so broken by 8 pm that I got VERY close to do all the above. I was so livid I had to go to my bedroom or else the hurt animal attacks back! Hubby recognised my mood and the shift in my behaviour and that pushed him over the top, too. He was so cross for seeing his wife so torn and out of character that he picked 7 up, threw him in the car and took him straight to the police station. All the way 7 kept on screaming ‘I hate you, you are a f**** s**** b****, I hate this stupid house, I don’t want you to adopt me, call my SW right now to take me away’ and such. Hubby managed to keep his cool and told him ‘you can say all those to the nice police man inside and he will sort this out for you. Good bye.’

As you can imagine that got his attention. 7 immediately started crying saying ‘I want to go home now, I want mummy’ (a few minutes ago I wasn’t and would never be ‘mummy’, but would always remain a f**** s**** b***, but never mind) so hubby made one thing very clear:  Talk  is cheap! We are both fed up with them constantly changing their minds every five seconds (I hate you – I love you) so from now on they need to prove with actions if they want to stay with us. He said this to both boys the next morning.

I was still too angry and upset about the night before so I didn’t even want to see them in the morning. Before hubby took them to holiday club he told me to look in their bedrooms. Both tidied their respective bedrooms without a single word! I was so amazed! 8 especially, always puts up a big tantrum that usually lasts for hours and includes ‘too much, I will never finish, I don’t know where to start, not fair, I will not do it’. But not today. I even mentioned ‘now we have learnt one thing, you ARE able to decide what to do first and you DO have the will power to do the job properly, well done, son!’

Of course both boys apologise after each incident and of course they always promise it will never happen again. Last night 8 gave us both a gift. He hand painted some fridge magnets one for me, one for hubby (see picture above). When you see them you’d think ‘aaaaaaaaaw, how precious;  how lovely; focus on these not on the bad moments; see, they love you’. All I can think now is ‘I am so effin’ tired of this emotional roller-coaster they drag me through several times every day. I will keep them and maybe in the future I will treasure these gifts, but for now I am so emotionally drained that I can’t even acknowledge them’. And it’s not good…

The time Feelingmumyet, an adopter of two older boys said enough is enough when her adopter children kept on pushing the boundaries.

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 🙂

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!

5 Love Languages in Adoption

Caring for children is one of the most powerful expression of love I believe. But just as with birth families and birth children, love has many faces. Love can be classified along countless lines. For now, I will focus on the 5 Love Languages. It’s a concept that helped me over the years to become a better person, daughter, sister, friend, girl friend, wife… and now, mother (all in progress). It’s a never ending process of course. For us, adoptive parents (especially if you, like us, adopted older children) it’s extra hard, because we didn’t have ‘years and years to find out’ nor can we say ‘he takes after me in this regard’.

A quick rundown on the 5 love languages from their website:

  • Words of affirmation (uses words to affirm other people’s worth)
  • Acts of service (actions speak louder than words)
  • Receiving gifts (what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift)
  • Quality time (giving the other person your undivided attention)
  • Physical touch (nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch)

When the boys moved in and we became a family of four after meeting and ‘dating’ only for 2 weeks, we were thrown into the deep end and survival was the most important target. Now, several months later when feelings and emotions don’t run that high any more and all 4 of us accepted the fact that ‘this is how it’s gonna be from now on’ we can look closer into this topic. We have spent now a significant amount of time together so I feel I have a good understanding now about their personalities so I feel I am in a position to narrow down their love languages from 5 to maybe 2?

I say ‘maybe 2’, because in the beginning the situation was way too complex to get a clear picture. It still is. Our family roots still run shallow. With Looked After Children (LAC) who suffered loss, trauma, neglect and separation several times in their short lives, it’s often impossible to get a clear read. They don’t fit into any category, or more accurately, they tick all 5 boxes! Their self esteem was ‘under the frog’s arse’ as my grandma used to say. They were not used to being treated nicely! No gifts, no hugs, no attention to their interests or worries, no time to play with them… They were deprived of all aspects of love!

So, naturally, Well Meaning Ignorant (WMI) people kept on advising us:

‘All they need is love!’

<style=”text-align:left;”>But what kind of love? For the sake of staying focused and keeping the length of this post under control I will only mention some of the most obvious obstacles:

  • lack of trust towards new parents
  • fear of the unknown
  • loss, separation, trauma and their ‘fruits’
  • staying in constant fight/flight mode thus not being in a position to just BE
  • not being in the state of mind to act rationally / age appropriately / ‘normally’
  • having the need to feel safe, secure, settled, attached as overriding emotions
  • not being optimistic about their own future
  • self blame or believing they don’t deserve love or any good in their lives

When I look beyond these massive challenges and occasionally, when I am able to provide a minute or 2 of calmness where the boys feel safe, their lovely personalities start to shine through. I get a glimpse of the real Snoops and real Goofs; the ones they could be 24/7 had they not have their rubbish past that locked those personalities away…

Elimination process?

A few months ago I started to experiment a bit. Following the approach used in play therapy when they have a hypothesis and then they test it, I also assumed Goofs’ primary love language is Gifts. This is a tricky one as children do want lots of things and can nag us for a new toy. But I have never really met any 6 year old who would do a happy dance when I told him I have bought his favourite spinach leaves…

I noticed that whenever I bought them new socks or a treat or new colouring books he was always more excited than his brother. Often he would say ‘you got this for me because you love me, right?’ Well, yeah, but I also do colouring in for hours with you or give you praises or wash your clothes because I love you. But apparently, those seem insignificant in his eyes. Deep down he knows we love him, but for him to feel loved, he needs to receive gifts. So now I try to make a point every time I buy something to reinforce it with words and say it back to him ‘I got this to show you I love you’. You only need one glimpse on his beautiful face to see it light up like nothing else… 🙂

His secondary love language might be physical touch; it’s hard to know as even grown men would put this first when asked about their love language and only after careful consideration are they willing to admit that actually words of affirmation are, for example,  more important than an (intimate) touch. But my 6 year old Goofs loves sitting in my lap or play with my hair or come up with new ‘clever’ game ideas that would somehow make me wrap him in my arms. He can concentrate on basically any subject as long as my arm is touching his or we sit very close to each other. He often insists on a play when he is ‘a baby who just came out of you and is so cute you want to cuddle me and feed me‘, but again, this might just be his way of trying hard to attach to me and not an actual representation of a certain love language.

Different children – different issues

Snoops is (as with everything) less straight forward. He was often used as a scapegoat and he truly believes that he is ‘stupid, worthless and beyond hope’. He said these words so many times we are certain he is repeating what he was told regularly, proving that affirming words (or the lack of it) can linger for a lifetime. Even though those words were said quickly and in anger, they will not be forgotten anytime soon.

My approach with him at this stage is still the same as on day one: to show love in all 5 languages, because, frankly, he needs all the messages he can get! I do buy his favourite things and both boys get told the same thing. I also make a conscious effort to grab him randomly for a nice long hug and we play the ‘tickly game’ a lot (and to be honest this does require lots of effort on my side as this is not my love language!). As part of our therapeutic parenting we give compliments and recognise little things in excessive ways. Extended comments like ‘wash your beautiful face so I can see how handsome you are’ go a long way with him! Even though he is 7 he really enjoys colouring in with me and I noticed he is much better at staying within the lines when I am working on the same picture with him. So, is it quality time then? I so hope so as this is MY love language so for me this would be the easiest way to show him how much I love him. The fifth one is acts of service; I think at this age they take it for granted that mummy does everything for them (make food, clean their room, change their wet sheets, wash their favourite t-shirts, fix their broken toys…etc), but because of their complex history it’s hard to see clearly and this might develop into a dominant language in the future!

As a mother my job is to fill my boys’ Love Tanks because if it’s full, he can truly develop into his Best Himself, which will translate into better behaviour, higher achievements, healthier self image and a more hopeful future for all of us!

Time to Say Goodbye

As Andrea Bocelli sings his heart out my two boys react very differently. One is crying, the other one is looking forward to it. I am sitting in the middle of their bedroom surrounded by piles and boxes and we try to negotiate our way through the problem.

The matter at hand: removing outgrown and unused clothes from their respective wardrobes.

Why would this be such a big issue, you ask.
Why did it take the whole day of Saturday to go through a small number of torn trousers, holey socks, permanently marked jumpers, all too small onesie pyjamas and stretched t-shirts?

How do you relate to your clothes?

What memories have you attached to specific clothes? How do you pick which is your favourite item? Most of my clothes are just what they are; clothes that cover my body and keep me warm. I have a few that I bought because I liked the colours or because they looked good on me. Some are non negotiable and follow the work dress code, some I got for specific occasions like a wedding so naturally when I look at it I remember all the fun I had at that specific party.
But when it comes to our children, each clothing item carries extra added attributes. At this age the boys are not too bothered about how the items look on them. They often don’t remember why they got them at the first place (unless it was a Reward for something) or where they wore them first. What they remember is WHO gave it to them.

Sitting among piles of clothes both boys were able to piece together a pretty accurate timeline of their short lives purely based on who gave them which t-shirt and from that they were able to estimate the dates. We did have a few clothes from birth mum (BM). I never, for a second, suggested we get rid of them, but still it was extremely difficult to convince the boys to put those items into their Memory Box instead of their wardrobe.

We did find a few t-shirts that were given to them by Andy / Adam / Alan / Andrew*. Who are they, I asked. ‘Well, other children we stayed with in the various foster placements.’  I understand all the emotions and memories they have attached to those clothes: for them they are not just clothes; they are part of their life story; some of the few tangible memories they have left from their tragic past! How can I ask them to just throw those away? Most of them are too small already and all of them had marks on them. I have bought tons of nice, new clothes for the boys that fit them. Still, they really struggled to part with the old ones… As a compromise I suggested they each pick the 2 most precious ones (whatever makes it precious for them) and we put those back in the bottom of their shelves. The rest will ‘go to charity’.

When it came to the way too tiny trousers Goofs (6) showed a little more understanding and reluctantly agreed to give them away to children who need it more. Some of Snoops’ (7) old trousers fit his brother now. I got to the typical parental dilemma: is it good parenting to give older brother’s outgrown clothes to the younger brother and buy new clothes for the older one only (thus save money too) or treat them equally and buy new clothes to the little one, too? Just another thing to consider when you have same gender children…

Thank God it was easier to get rid of broken socks and very old underwear. I was not in the mood to negotiate on this matter so as a preemptive strike I had bought them lots of new and cool stuff. It worked! 🙂

There were confusion about some hoodies that I know I have bought for them. Yet, Goofs argued that his last Foster Carer has purchased them. It was no point arguing about it. Instead, I asked why did he think she had bought it? ‘Because she loved me!‘ What can I say to that? He is projecting feelings into clothes! ‘Oh course she does! You know what, you are probably right, silly mummy got it confused…’

At the end we managed to put only a small amount of clothes into the ‘give away’ pile, much fewer than I hoped for. For me, it was only a practical exercise to reduce the mess in their wardrobes. For the boys, it was a highly emotional experience that stirred up lots of memories. This was their first ‘culling’ and I promised them we will do this only once every year. I hope and pray, in time they will be able to see it as a painless, practical exercise and nothing more…

*names obviously changed