Brothers

Little Bear made me chuckle this week. He has Show and Tell at school every Thursday and this week when I asked him what he wanted to bring he said “Big Bear”. He had hatched a whole plan about how he was going to find Big Bear’s classroom and get him out to bring to show his friends. Something really tickled me about it and in the end we were so busy talking about the imaginary plan that Little Bear forgot to take anything at all. The underlying sentiment was very sweet though: Big Bear is one of Little Bear’s favourite things.

A few other things have happened recently that have got me reflecting on the boys’ relationship. I have talked before about our anxiety over whether getting a sibling would be a good thing for Big Bear. I have also talked about how excited Big Bear was about the prospect of getting a sibling in advance and how disastrous the start of their relationship was when it happened (See Getting brother or sister). It took a long time (months) for Big Bear to trust Little Bear and to stop fearing what he might do to him. It took even longer for him to start to see the upside of having him. That said I have felt for quite a long time now that they have developed a good relationship and have had an extremely positive effect on each other.

When I wrote about my Reflections on Adoption One Year In I talked about how well their relationship had developed and how nice it was to see them together. At that point I think I thought that we had reached a happy balance and this was probably the best their relationship would be. There weren’t any negative connotations associated with that thought; their relationship had already confounded our expectations and hopes. However, recently, I have noticed some changes.

Although the Bears got on very well, Big Bear had quite a lot of parameters that were non-negotiable in the relationship. These rules mainly related to his possessions. His bedroom door remains resolutely locked and Little Bear is not allowed to cross the threshold. In the playroom Big Bear’s toys and Little Bear’s toys are separate. They each have their own boxes and drawers and it has always been clear that Little Bear isn’t allowed to open any of Big Bear’s, let alone touch anything in there. If Big Bear was given a present, he would not allow Little Bear anywhere near it, let alone allow him to touch it or play with it.

That description makes it sound as though Big Bear was calling all the shots in the relationship and that we were standing by and not teaching him about sharing. Right back at the start of the process we tried hard to listen to Big Bear because we knew that there was a greater risk of an adoptive placement breaking down if there was a birth sibling involved. We had been told stories about birth children who had had to give up their beloved pet or share their room when they didn’t want to in order for an adoption to happen. We could see how things may have started badly for the birth child in those situations and we were really conscious of the need to keep Big Bear as happy and undisrupted as possible. His main concern had always been his stuff and we had made assurances to him that if he didn’t want his future sibling to touch his things then we wouldn’t let them. We felt it was essential that he knew we would listen to him and we would respect his feelings. We needed him to trust us and we needed to keep the lines of communication between us wide open.

It is also important to consider how Little Bear presented in all of this. When he first arrived he had absolutely no conception that some things were his and that other things belonged to other people. In fact he used to frequently go around picking things up saying “mine” when they clearly weren’t and at the foster carers house we saw him going into the other children’s bedrooms and sweeping their things onto the floor. He also had no idea of how to look after items, frequently lobbing things across the room or slamming them down. Had he have been able to get hold of Big Bear’s toys he would undoubtedly have broken them.

Little Bear was also somewhat of a dominant force. He definitely thought that he was in charge and tried to assert himself by telling people where they should sit and by demanding they did or didn’t do various things or by hurting Big Bear whenever our backs were turned. Had we have allowed this to continue I have no doubt that we would have reached a point where Big Bear was terrified of him and where Little Bear was unmanageable.

Given the fact that we needed Little Bear to assume his place as littlest in the family and to have respect for others and his environment and that we needed Big Bear to feel safe and secure in his own home, it made sense to uphold Big Bear’s rules about his possessions. It was going to do everyone a favour in the long run.

In practice, upholding the rules was difficult. To start with we didn’t have a lock on Big Bear’s door, we just kept it shut. The rule was supposed to be that the Bear’s would knock on each other’s doors and ask before entering. This failed immediately because Little Bear had no concept of rules and the closed door was somewhat of a challenge for him; it just made him want to get in more. Also, he was very opportunistic and before I realised that in order to provide him with the level of supervision he actually needed I would have to be glued to his side at ALL times, he managed to lull me into a false sense of security and shut himself very quietly inside Big Bear’s room. This was probably on about day 2 or 3 and needless to say it went down extremely badly with Big Bear and I felt terrible. It was after this incident that the lock was fitted, removing chance from the equation.

If we had have left Little Bear alone with the toy boxes he would certainly have opened and explored them. On some occasions, when he did manage to escape our watchful eyes, even for a few seconds, we would find him having scaled furniture to reach something he knew he shouldn’t have.

It wasn’t surprising that Big Bear was reluctant to bend his own rules. He didn’t feel Little Bear could be trusted and in reality, he couldn’t.

Last week we were sitting at the table having our dinner. I had let Big Bear spend some pocket money ordering one of those fancy pencil cases where you press a button and a container pops out. It had arrived on the day in question and Big Bear was super excited about it, fiddling with it while he ate. Little Bear was also interested in it and kept leaning across the table to get a better look. Big Bear dropped something on the floor and bent down to hunt for it. Little Bear immediately saw an opportunity to touch the pencil case while Big Bear wasn’t looking and his hand shot across the table, his pointy finger poised to jab a button. However, about a centimetre away from the button Little Bear stopped himself and withdrew his hand, looking at me sheepishly. “You were really tempted to press that, weren’t you?” I said. He nodded. “Well done for stopping yourself” I told him. Big Bear reappeared above the table. “Well done mate” he said, “here, press this” and proffered the tempting button.

That interaction summed up everything that has changed between the Bears. Little Bear has learned to respect other people’s possessions and to control his impulsivity. If I leave Big Bear’s door open (which I do every day while they’re at school to let it air), Little Bear tells me off and shuts the door. He never attempts to go in even though he must be really tempted. If he wants to play with one of Big Bear’s toys he always asks him and more often than not, Big Bear says yes now. We recently exchanged very belated Christmas presents with some of our friends. Big Bear got a particular toy that both of them really liked. I was amazed that Big Bear allowed Little Bear to play with it that day and to wander off with it out of his sight. Little Bear was careful not to lose any pieces and brought it back when Big Bear asked him to. Quite a few of the toys in the playroom also seem to have become universal. Big Bear knows how hard Little Bear is trying and is very good at encouraging him and rewarding his good behaviour by letting him have things without any need for an adult to prompt him to.

I’m surprised that 20 months in we are continuing to see these types of changes. I’m glad we didn’t force the toy issue because evidently this is the length of time they have needed to reach a happy compromise. We could have allowed Little Bear to rampage around touching whatever he wanted and we could have forced Big Bear to share all of his things but I think it has had a much more positive impact on their relationship, and in fact their wider life skills that we didn’t.

I have also noted recently that Big Bear seems to have stopped pretending that it is a nightmare having an adopted brother. The relationship seems a lot more straightforward now. Although Little Bear still attempts to boss his big brother around, Big Bear has found a very calm and friendly way of standing his ground. It is extremely rare that they fall out and even rarer that anything ends in violence.

I suspect that we have intervened far more in their budding relationship than you typically would between two birth siblings. I think the ‘normal’ way is to let them figure things out between themselves, even if that means the odd fisticuffs. However, we have put so much emphasis on the success of the adoption being related to the success of their relationship that we have felt it necessary to intervene and control things from the word go. We have had a zero tolerance policy on physical aggression so they don’t tend to engage in the pushing and pulling and scrapping that siblings usually do.

We can’t engineer everything though and you can’t force people to like each other if they don’t. The fact that they are so tuned in to each other and have so much fun together is all them. Becoming brothers hasn’t been easy for either of them and they have both worked tremendously hard at it. I suppose it should have been obvious that it would take a long time for their relationship to bed-down and for all the creases to be ironed out. I didn’t think it would take this long or that what seemed a perfectly good relationship at 12 months in could have become even better still 8 or so months later.

I wonder how things will change as time goes on? I hope they remain as close because it’s lovely to see, they are great friends and we are extremely proud of both them.

 

 

Brothers

A Grown-up Weekend Away

I can’t honestly remember the last time Grizzly and I went away for a night without children. Certainly not once in the 17 months Little Bear has been with us and I think we had only been away a handful of times before that. Grizzly is away fairly frequently with work (though I’m not sure that really counts) and I have had one night away for a friend’s wedding reception.

The main reason we haven’t been away before now is because asking the grandparents to have our boys feels like a big ask. We know they don’t mind but we also know how much energy is required to look after them and keep them entertained. Little Bear’s behaviour can be unpredictable and if he’s having a bad day he can be really challenging to manage. Also, Little Bear tends to test the boundaries more with the grandparents so there is every likelihood that his behaviour could escalate when he is with them. Having never been away we also didn’t know how he would cope without us being there and whether that in itself might cause some issues.

However, recently I’ve been craving a night off. I have friends who do it all the time and I was getting a bit envious of the peace and quiet and lie-in they would be having. I find first thing in the morning the most challenging part of the day with the boys. I’m not a morning person and ideally need 5 minutes to lie in bed quietly before I get up and face the world. However, Little Bear always wakes me before my alarm and always with incessant chatter. He begins work on trying to get me out of bed immediately and if that doesn’t work makes other insistent demands such as asking me to get something or make something speak. I try all the tricks to get him to entertain himself for a few minutes or just lie quietly with me but I know that in reality he will keep this up, without pausing for breath, until I get up and feed him. Though I love him dearly the thought of one day off, one morning without the incessant chatter, was becoming increasingly appealing.

My birthday is in January and I made my wish to Grizzly that all I really wanted was 1 night off. Grizzly didn’t mention anything until a couple of weeks ago when he let slip that he had booked a hotel and started to make arrangements for the boys and that we would be away on the day of my birthday.

It was difficult to know what the best arrangements for the Bears would be. We plumped for splitting them up – Grizzly’s Mum would have Little Bear and my parents would have Big Bear. Big Bear would have a sleepover and Little Bear could stay at home where everything is more familiar. This should lessen the load for the grandparents though I was worried that Little Bear might be very unsettled by being away from us and from Big Bear. I felt he might pine for Big Bear but nobody lives far from anybody else so the grandparents could bring them back together if needs be.

I was also concerned that the boys might be upset that I was choosing to spend my birthday away from them. With that in mind we decided that we wouldn’t stay out long on the Sunday and would come back in time to have a bit of a party afternoon together.

My plan for the week leading up to the Big Weekend was to make the most of getting ready. I wanted to spend time trying on outfits, getting my nails done, having long pampering shower etc. It sounded idyllic and I’m sure it would have been had things gone to plan.

The week started ok. Both boys returned to school after the holidays and though I had a cold and felt under the weather I spent a productive day ticking things off my to-do list. On Tuesday I lost my temper with Little Bear before school as we were in a rush and he wouldn’t co-operate. I then went to meet a friend and the 5 minute journey took me 50 minutes. When I got home I attempted to wrangle with our intermittent internet connection to do an online shop when the phone rang. It was school. Big Bear had been sick could I come and get him?

As soon as I saw him I knew there was nothing wrong with him (daft look on his face) but it was the Head sending him home and as we went out the door he reminded me of the 48 hour rule. Bloody brilliant. I’m totally down with the rule but not when your child scoffs all their meals and is clearly fine.

On Wednesday I had to clear the front room ready for the builders. Later on, Big Bear and I walked the long way round to pick Little Bear up from school. The cat decided to follow us. At the furthest point from home she decided to stop following us. Figuring that her cat skills would lead her home we eventually carried on to school. What ensued was a missing cat situation and several hours of increasing concern, especially as the weather was awful. Grizzly and Big Bear finally found her much later, exactly where we had last seen her: clearly she has no cat skills at all.

On Thursday the shower broke.

What on earth was going on?! Would we even get away for the weekend at this rate? There certainly wasn’t going to be much pampering or trying on of clothes.

By the time I had packed for myself and Big Bear, got his football things ready and organised Little Bear for the party he was going to, made lunch for a friend and dinner for my brother, I was wondering how I would sustain enough energy for the weekend.

Saturday morning began badly because Big Bear’s football match was cancelled which apparently meant his weekend was ruined before it had even begun.

We were finally organised and child free by about 11 am on Saturday. I have to say that it was brilliant. We couldn’t really believe we were actually out together, on our own and we could do anything we wanted. We definitely made the most of it, including staying out past midnight. That last statement shows how little I get out!! I won’t bore you with the details, have a photo montage instead:

I loved every single second of it. I don’t think you realise how much you need some grown up time until you get it. I missed the boys though and enjoyed picking them some little treats and looked forward to seeing them in the afternoon.

Big Bear had been absolutely fine all weekend but his greeting to me was “the weekend has been awful!” He was fairly miserable all afternoon and unusually prickly with his brother. Little Bear had coped really well and behaved well too. Seeing us again seemed to unlock something though and he seemed a little overwhelmed. He was clingy and emotional for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t exactly the party atmosphere we had planned! I think perhaps that had been the wrong plan and maybe they just needed some closeness and 1:1 time with us.

Their reaction reminded me why we needed a break in the first place. We adore them but parenting is hard core and requires a significant commitment of physical, emotional and psychological energy. I don’t think I’ll wait another 2 years for a night off. Now, where’s my diary…

 

A Grown-up Weekend Away

A Grandparents View of Adoption

This week’s post has been guest-written by my parents. This is their account, in their own words, of how the adoption process has been for them:

 

When Mama Bear and Grizzly told us that they wanted to adopt, we weren’t altogether surprised. It had come up in conversation before. We were happy for them but had our concerns, which, of course we did not pass on to them.

How would Big Bear be affected?

Would we be able to accept a stranger as our grandchild?

Would we be able to be fair to both children or just favour Big Bear?
During the selection process I filled in the forms on behalf of the family (as a referee).  An onerous task! Naturally, we wanted the adoption to go through as all the Bear family were determined to become adopters. On the other hand, I needed to be as true to their characters as I could and not paint too glowing a picture. Surely nobody is perfect?! It seemed to be a long and arduous process. We felt very much part of it. Finally, the acceptance day arrived. Matching  followed. We were on tenterhooks. Who would arrive?

We knew Little Bear had arrived. However, we were not allowed to be introduced to him immediately. Very frustrating. Eventually the day came. We met in a park, a non-threatening environment. I don’t think I have ever seen such an angry bear. His behaviour was totally non-standard. Fortunately Mama Bear and Grizzly had decided that the only way to cope with him, was to have definite parameters. Not popular with Little Bear, judging from the scratches on Mama Bear’s hands.
We began to worry even more about Grizzly and Mama Bear. They had undertaken, what seemed to us, an impossible task. Big Bear was not happy and felt threatened. He had never seen such behaviour or ever heard the screams of frustration which emanated from Little Bear. The latter was confused and made sure everyone knew how unhappy he was.
After this initial meeting, we decided that the only way to gain Little Bear’s attention and affection was to leave him to make the first move when he felt ready. The first time he moved in for a cuddle, I felt as though I had won the lottery. The hugs were few and far between but amazing when they happened.
There were first times for many things:- putting Little Bear to bed; collecting him from pre-school; visitations to our home; taking him out on our own. Delightful times but also very stressful. We had to go against Gran Bear instincts of not being too bossy or prescriptive. Sometimes we had to shout!
Fortunately, those times have passed and Little Bear has blossomed. He shows his brother how much he loves him. Tantrums are few and low key. He has begun to make friends. Mama Bear and Grizzly are hugged and kissed and obviously loved. We, too, are accepted and hugged when he is in the mood.

As far as we are concerned Little Bear is part of our family. We are happy to be his Gran Bears. It has been a difficult journey but with incredible results. We are so proud of Mama Bear and Grizzly for wanting to adopt in the first place, but also of how determined they have been to show Little Bear that in spite of the hard times, they love him and he is staying with them. Big Bear has not been excluded but included in every step of the journey. Grizzly is constantly heard saying, “We are your new family. You are staying here forever.”
It makes me so sad to think that there are many children who could blossom like Little Bear, if they were given the chance. If they were in a stable home and loved.

 

 

 

 

A Grandparents View of Adoption

Adoption by Big Bear

This week’s post is brought to you courtesy of 7 year old Big Bear. I asked him to write about what it’s like when you get an adopted brother. Here, in his own words, is what Big Bear had to say:

When I got Little Bear as a brother, I hated it. Mum and Dad were paying no attention to me. Little Bear was always saying shut up, stupid and idiot to me.

When I play football with Dad, Little Bear always picks the ball up and runs off with it. It is hard to have a little brother.

When they get to 4 they grow and are a lot nicer and more sensible. They keep you company. They do get good.

Then I asked Big Bear if he has any advice for other children who might be going through adopting a sibling. This is what he wrote:

If you get one, be nice and behave well then they will be nice like you. You need to train them to be like you and do stuff properly.

 

I think it’s interesting to hear Big Bear’s perspective. I wonder how his thoughts will change over time. I will try to remember to ask him the same questions next year and see how he feels about everything then. Maybe at that point I will be able to ask Little Bear what he thinks too.

Big Bear’s perception of the early days differs from ours: for one we felt we were bending over backwards to make sure everybody had all the attention they needed but Big Bear evidently felt the difference between getting all the attention and having to share it quite keenly. The first weeks are definitely a time when siblings need extra support.

I also think it’s interesting that Big Bear sees himself as having quite an influential role in shaping Little Bear’s behaviour. I think we have probably encouraged him to feel that being a big brother is an important job but I didn’t realise he approached it so earnestly. It is true though that he has never responded to aggression with aggression or to name calling with name calling. He has risen above it and shown Little Bear that there are other ways to behave. Little Bear absolutely adores his big brother and does look up to him now. He wouldn’t ever purposefully hurt him anymore and is often very upset if he does so by accident.

I definitely think that adoption is a family undertaking and everyone has a role to play in its success. Siblings often bear the brunt of the changes taking place and amidst the chaos we still need to give them the space they need to air their thoughts and concerns.

Well done Big Bear, you really are a fantastic big brother.

 

 

Adoption by Big Bear

Ways to support your child through adopting a sibling

Big Bear (our birth son) was 5 years old when we began the adoption process. How to involve him and ensure that the adoption would be a success from his point of view as well as ours was one of our main concerns. Here are some of the things we did that seemed to help:

  • We were very honest with Big Bear and kept him involved right from the start. We discussed adoption with him before we met with any Social Workers. I’m not sure it would have been a good idea to persevere with the plan if he had been very negative about it.
  • We explained in very simple terms what the next step was at each phase to give him some sense of time frames.
  • Big Bear did some preparation work with our social worker and we worked through the BAAF leaflet called “Adopting a brother or sister”. We also read other relevant books such as Nutmeg Gets Adopted but that one does have a lot of text. I think these sorts of things helped with giving Big Bear an idea of what adoption was and why a child might need to be adopted.
  • I found that raising some of the possible issues of having a sibling in real life situations made Big Bear think the most. For example if we had been playing with a child and their sibling and an issue had arisen over sharing or hitting or turn taking, I would talk about it with him afterwards. I might say “did you notice how Bob snatched that dinosaur from Jane? I think lots of brothers and sisters do that. I wonder how you’d feel if your brother or sister does that?”
  • We tried to talk about the things that worried Big Bear and take them seriously so that he knew he could talk to us about anything. His biggest concerns were generally about his ‘stuff’.
  • We tried to draw up some house rules that took his worries into consideration e.g. his precious things could be kept in his bedroom and he didn’t have to share them; the Bears would need to knock on each other’s doors and couldn’t go in unless the Bear in question had said yes; toys that were downstairs needed to be shared.
  • We were very careful about not telling Big Bear too much about the potential match until after matching panel, as we didn’t want him to become attached to somebody we might not end up being matched with. We made sure he was first to see any photos after panel.
  • We involved Big Bear in all the preparation for Little Bear arriving. He helped us make a DVD, he decorated the front of Little Bear’s photo book and we went to Build-a-Bear workshop where Big Bear chose and built a bear for his brother. We bought Big Bear a “congratulations on being a big brother” gift so that he didn’t feel he was missing out. Big Bear helped us get Little Bear’s bedroom ready and we made some little changes to his room too.
  • Once Little Bear was here it became obvious that our preparation of moving toys around and plans to knock before entering were not enough. Little Bear couldn’t be trusted at that point to stay out of Big Bear’s room. In fact he tried to get in there the second our backs were turned. Big Bear couldn’t settle himself as he was anxious about the little one getting in when he was out or in the middle of the night. Whilst we knew Little Bear probably wouldn’t do anything much if he got in there, we felt it was important we listened to Big Bear and did what we could to lessen his stress. We put a lock on his door. It was too high for Little Bear to reach and it opened from both sides so we knew it was safe. I think it’s quite an extreme measure but it was the best thing to do in the circumstances.
  • If I accidentally leave the door open now, Little Bear tells me off and shuts it for his brother J
  • Luckily Little Bear goes to bed early so each evening one or other of us has special time with Big Bear. We have found that to be vital in making Big Bear feel as though life hasn’t changed too much and giving him the space to speak to us about anything he might be worrying about.
  • Big Bear has only said something negative about the arrival of Little Bear a couple of times. We didn’t tell him off: we wanted him to know that he can speak to us honestly. We decided to handle it by upping his special time, with help from the grandparents and he seemed much happier after a week or so.
  • We have always worked hard to keep the rules the same for everybody e.g. no hitting. We are clear on what behaviours will result in consequences and what those consequences might be. I think it has helped both boys to see that we are fair and that they are both treated the same way if they do something they shouldn’t.
  • Equally, we have tried to engender kindness. If Little Bear and I were out while Big Bear was at school, I might encourage Little Bear to choose a little treat or gift for his brother and then one for himself for being kind. I would make sure that Little Bear gave the gift, not me.

After a very rocky start, the Bears now have a lovely relationship. They make each other laugh, they are affectionate, they look after each other (each is always ready to defend the other) and I can honestly say they very rarely fall out. The bedroom door remains resolutely locked though!

Ways to support your child through adopting a sibling

September at Adoption: The Bear Facts

I am very pleased to say that, unusually for us, September has been a quiet and fairly calm month. The children are back at school, I have finished work and the nights are drawing in. There’s a chill in the air, the conkers are ripe and autumn is beckoning. I LOVE this time of year. I love the switch from summer brights to olive green, burgundy and mustards. I love boots and cosy cardigans. I love weekends in the woods crunching in the leaves then warming up with a hot drink. I love Saturday nights in with Strictly and X Factor. I love mid-week TV, thank you Cold Feet. I love the promise of what is to come, the burgeoning excitement of Christmas. And as always I love my Bears. Here are all the best bits of the past month:

What we’ve been up to:

The boys have settled back into school brilliantly (see School section below). I was a bit concerned that once they were both at school, we might struggle to give Little Bear enough 1:1 time. However, this term Big Bear has found several after school clubs he wants to join. I have signed him up as he’s never shown that much interest before and I think it will be good for him to try some different things. It means that 3 times per week Little Bear gets me to himself for an hour. Everybody seems to be coping pretty well with the new arrangements so far and I’m just about keeping on top of who needs what when – clean uniform, football kit on Wednesdays, a pound on Thursdays for a bacon butty, show and tell stuff, golden time stuff etc. Again, I have no idea how people cope with more than 2 children!

At the weekends the boys are continuing with their Saturday morning swimming lessons. They are both enjoying it and doing well. I’m not sure Little Bear knows any technique but he seems to like spending a lot of time under the water and manages to propel himself along somehow.

The rest of Saturday usually involves chilling out as both Bears are shattered from school and maybe a trip to the park later on. On Sundays we have been going to our local country park for a bike ride. Big Bear has been *able* to ride his bike for a while now but has not actually been riding it as he lacked confidence and was pretty paranoid about falling off. We kept saying we must get him on it but due to general busyness we hadn’t. A couple of weekends ago, out of the blue, Big Bear announced that he was going to ride his bike that day. We seized the moment and trooped off.

We spent a lovely morning in the park. Big Bear tried really hard and although he needed help to get going, he was soon riding around in a fairly straight line! The fact that he was now riding his “big bike” meant that Little Bear could ride the smaller bike. It is a Police bike with a siren and a storage container on the back which is clearly the stuff of dreams for small boys. Little Bear is a pro on his balance bike so we had never really anticipated him needing the stabiliser stage but he loves it so we have let him get on with it. They were both very happy and we got to walk around behind them, enjoying the early autumn colours and having a modicum of adult conversation.

Last weekend some friends and Grizzly’s Mum joined us for the cycling trip and we all went out for a spontaneous pub lunch afterwards. The pub has a garden and play area so we sat outside afterwards and the 3 children played without incident. In the end we only moved because it started raining. It was lovely.

The rest of the time the boys are at school and as I have now finished working, I am left to my own devices.

Although leaving work is definitely the right decision for me, it was sad to say goodbye to my colleagues and the buildings I have considered my work home for the past 13 years. I will still see everyone though and they have promised to keep me in the loop about any meals out etc. In fact I’m popping back in for lunch next week.

At home I’m still getting used to being off. It’s hard to slow down and acclimatise to the break being indefinite and not time limited like an adoption or maternity leave. I have a very long list of all the things I want to get done now that I can. I seem to be attacking the list with some vigour and relishing getting things done. People I chat to seem to think I’m probably sitting about reading all day and though I find this slightly irking I think they probably have a point. There is certainly a balance to be found between tackling “the list” and having some relaxation. Nevertheless, it is quite sad how much pleasure I’m getting from jobs such as clearing out my spice cupboard (nobody needs things that went out of date in 2005!), tidying the top of the wardrobe or organising all the photos! I’m having a true spring clean (in autumn) and I think the people in the charity shop pretty much know me by name now.

I feel that once my home is in order, I can move on to other things that are a little more career focussed. I did meet with our VAA yesterday and have agreed to run some more Communication Workshops for them later in the year and next year which is great and a start to moving things on career-wise. Hopefully watch this space for further updates…

It has not been all work and no play though. It is a fairly unique situation to be in – 5 free days between the hours of 9 and 3, so I do feel the need to celebrate it. There have been quite a few shopping trips (all those new season clothes and colours…) and I have been catching up with friends. I have a couple of friends off on Mat leave so it’s nice to spend time with them.

I spent a lovely day out with Grizzly’s Gran. She has just had her 86th birthday and it has become a bit of a tradition that we give her M and S vouchers then Grizzly’s Mum and I take her to the big M and S for a spree. She absolutely loves it and we always have a laugh. This time, she had to admit that the walking was a bit much and we borrowed a wheelchair. It’s the first time she has allowed it, having always been too proud. However, it made the trip much easier for her and by the end she was practically doing stunts! I’m glad that she saw the possibilities wheelchair use could afford her (more trips out, not more time stuck at home) and that she faced it with her usual good spirit and humour.

This month we have also had our First Experience of Letterbox.

School:

You can read about Little Bear starting school here: Little Bear Starts School.

He continues to be settled though we are having a lot of wetting incidents. Although I am not pleased about the constant washing of school uniform, I am happy that this is the only ‘issue’ we are experiencing at the moment. I can deal with wetting if behaviour and everything else is good.

Little Bear is making friends, which is lovely to see and hear about. Interestingly he has gravitated towards the other 3 adopted children in his class. He seems to play with 2 of them as a trio and separately with the 4th boy. It is such a positive thing for him to have specific friends whom he talks about at home and who he is able to play constructively with. A year ago, when he started pre-school, Little Bear played alone. I think this was mainly out of choice, because he didn’t trust others and probably thought it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Maybe he thought he would leave them soon. It took a long time for him to even learn anybody’s name. I’m so pleased that he is now forming relationships, playing with others and being kind to them.

A side effect of Little Bear be-friending his fellow adoptees is that I have met 2 new sets of adopters (I knew one of the families already). It’s strangely comforting to know that there are parents nearby and in the same class who get it. And who might experience similar issues to us.

Little Bear has started bringing a book home now and learning his phonics. The book only has pictures and he is supposed to talk about what is happening in them. So far, he’s finding it pretty hard due to his language skills. Sometimes he just manages one word. As always, I am trying to see it as a language-learning opportunity and am doing a lot of sentence modelling for him.

Big Bear is happily settled into Year 3 and so far we are not experiencing the anxiety issues that we did last year… I’m keeping everything crossed.

Big Bear’s Mini Projects

We are still doing them whenever we can though we don’t manage one every evening now that we are back in the school routine. We are still in quite a major Hama bead phase and Big Bear has been making flags with them. Today we got creative with pipe cleaners and made this wacky bouquet:

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Snapshots:

  • At tea time on the first day of school I asked Big Bear if he had seen Little Bear at school. He said “yeah, I saw you in the dinner hall, didn’t I mate? We had a big hug. You were eating your dinner really well weren’t you mate?”
  • Seeing Little Bear try really hard at swimming and get moved up to the next group
  • Seeing Big Bear master confident bike riding
  • Little Bear seeing his friend at football pick-up and offering him a turn on his bike without any prompting

Project home improvements:

Our planning permission has been granted which is great. We are now getting quotes from builders etc. and choosing everything. I am particularly obsessed with choosing the right front door. I’ve never had a new front door before and it is a lot more complicated than you might think!! Hopefully more news soon…

September at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Reflections on Adoption One Year In

Last week marked the anniversary of us meeting Little Bear for the first time. Today is the anniversary of him moving in to live with us forever. I’m not quite sure which anniversary we are meant to celebrate but I like remembering both of them (and the anniversary of first seeing his profile). It’s greedy I know but it’s nice to look back and see how far we’ve come.

So what are my thoughts one year in? Has it been how I imagined it would be? Is there anything I would change with the benefit of hindsight?

Although I never thought adoption would be easy and I was fully aware of the potential challenges, I’m not sure I expected it to be so unrelenting and such a test of endurance.

I expected that bonding would take time. I do feel that I have a good bond with Little Bear but at the same time I’m aware it can be brittle. He needs A LOT of 1:1 time. If I have a busy couple of days or have to be at work I can start to feel the fractures forming. Even though I see him every day and we eat breakfast together and have cuddles and I’m home for bedtime, it is not enough. You can’t back off for a few days and still expect to be where you were before, as you could with a child with a different background. Adopted children tend to need a high level of you all the time. Without you there are usually wobbles.

These wobbly moments tend to lead to a deterioration in behaviour. I guess it’s the whole you aren’t giving me enough attention so I’ll behave in such a way that you have to notice me thing. At these points adoption can feel emotionally counterintuitive: I know intellectually that he needs more of me but emotionally it can be the last thing I feel like doing. This challenging little person who is so adept at pushing your buttons and who is behaving in a defiant, negative and sometimes aggressive manner needs you to get close and stay close to them. They also need you to seem as though you genuinely want to, which, to be brutally honest, given their behaviour, can require a lot of getting over yourself and some Oscar-worthy acting.

These sorts of days are hard.

The first few months of adoption consisted mainly of these days, along with some even worse nights. As time has gone on thankfully the numbers of days like this have significantly reduced and they now tend to be outnumbered by good days.

I have been surprised by how quickly family life with Little Bear started to feel “normal”. It definitely didn’t initially and it was like having a stranger under our roof for a while. I wasn’t keen on him getting into our bed to start with as it seemed quite odd and a bit of an invasion and I tended to dread what the morning might bring. Social Workers warned that it can take years to achieve the “normal” feeling. However, in reality, it only took a few months for us. Suddenly I was happy to see his cheeky little face first thing in the morning and only too happy to scoop him into our warm bed for a sleepy cuddle. Well, sleepy for me anyway, he’s usually wide awake and not keen to stay still for long.

Despite now knowing Little Bear well, having a fairly good understanding of his behaviour and having read widely on attachment theory, I can still struggle not to lose my temper. Remaining calm in the face of barefaced defiance is a work in progress for me. I fully understand why I need to and that there are other far more effective strategies in my tool box. However, I am also human and anybody who spends any prolonged time with Little Bear will also attest that staying calm is easier said than done.

Adoption is not for the fainthearted.

I hope that when I look back in another year’s time I will have further honed my calm (no matter what) skills.

Although adoption clearly has its challenges, it is no myth that it is also extremely rewarding. I have talked about Little Bear’s difficulties and the progress he has made in Living with Speech and Language Difficulties, Developmental Delay and Mischief. When I reflect on the past year it is impossible for me not to marvel at how much Little Bear has achieved. It is such an honour to be able to support his development and witness his progress. Little Bear is quite the little sponge when it comes to new information and I take a lot of pleasure in providing it for him and helping him to understand it. Being able to take part in a child’s developmental metamorphosis is one of the many huge positives of adoption.

Another massive positive for us has been seeing the bond between Big Bear and Little Bear develop and go from strength to strength. It is no secret that their relationship had a very turbulent beginning (you can read about it in Getting brother or sister) and we often searched our souls about whether the risk we were taking was too big. However, their closeness now has surpassed our expectations. I wouldn’t have dared to wish that they could be as affectionate or respectful or proud of each other as they are.

Big Bear still pretends to himself that he doesn’t like having a brother and that adoption is a negative thing but it is plain for all to see that really he has fallen for Little Bear hook, line and sinker.

I’m not sure there is anything that makes me happier than seeing them cuddle each other (which they do a lot). Biologically they are unrelated but they are truly brothers.

Talking of family ties, something I have been reflecting on recently is the role of grandparents in adoption. Both my parents and Grizzly’s Mum live close by and I would consider us to be a close family. All 3 grandparents have always been very involved with Big Bear and have provided child care for us when I have been at work. When we decided to adopt they were very positive and supportive of our decision. If they had any reservations they kept them to themselves. They were excited about having a second grandchild. They were keen to understand what an adopted child might need and read everything we sent their way. They are all around model grandparents and we know we are very lucky.

It can be difficult therefore to witness Little Bear being less than civil towards them. He is not always rude: sometimes he is loving and pleased to see them. At other times he makes it quite clear he would rather they weren’t there. Grizzly’s Mum recently came on holiday with us (something which Big Bear has always loved) and Little Bear was pretty persistent in making her feel unwelcome. I guess he didn’t want our attention to be diluted. He was also somewhat reluctant to accept her authority and do anything she asked him.

He definitely tests the boundaries more with the grandparents. I guess it is because he is not yet completely secure in those relationships and strong bonds will take longer to form because although he sees them often, he does not spend all day every day with them as he does with us. Perversely there is a positive in it: it shows he is able to form different levels of attachment with different people, rather than attaching willy-nilly to anyone he meets, which is healthy.

I have seen adoptive parenting described as “extraordinary parenting”:- requiring something more than typically expected when having a child. I don’t think I had been fully cognisant until recently of the implication that extraordinary grand-parenting would also be required. Typical grand-parenting involves all the best bits of having children around – having fun, sleep overs, treats and of course being able to give the children back at the end of the day. Extraordinary adoptive grand-parenting means sometimes having to deal with the sharp end of anxious behaviour as well as verbal and physical aggression. For our grandparents it has meant having to employ a lot more discipline and behaviour management techniques than they could have imagined. It means that sometimes (despite not wanting to feel this way) I suspect they can’t wait to give the little darlings back and lie down somewhere in a darkened room.

They cope admirably but I think adoption asks a lot of grandparents.

I think adoption probably asks quite a lot of your entire support network. We have been very lucky because everyone has taken our decision in their stride and I have been touched by how quickly our friends and their children have accepted Little Bear, just the way he is. It is particularly lovely to see the children at Big Bear’s school interacting with him. They all know who he is (I reckon Big Bear talks about him all the time) and they consider him to be one of them. I think the warmth and acceptance they have shown him has helped him to settle in quickly.

I have no idea whether we have influenced people’s reactions or if it is just because we know lots of thoughtful people. We are very open about the adoption though and I don’t mind people asking questions at all. We haven’t shared the full details of Little Bear’s history with anybody (including our parents) but I’m not bothered if anyone asks. I think it’s natural that there is a curiosity about adoption because it is not something that everybody does. I think it can be hard for people to know what they should/ shouldn’t say. I consider questions to be a good opportunity to help them become more informed about adoption and I’m quite happy to explain that we purposefully withhold some information.

I remain very much pro-adoption. I’m not somebody who tries to get everyone they meet to adopt though as I really don’t think it is for everybody. However, if someone is interested I enjoy being involved in supporting them and hope that I can do more of that over the next year.

I think that adoption is hard but so is anything that is worth doing.

If I could turn back time would I do it all again? Absolutely, without any doubt. I love my Little Bear.

I’m very proud of how we have all survived the first year: things could have turned out so differently. I wonder what year 2 will bring…

 

Reflections on Adoption One Year In