Childhood Challenging, Violent & Aggressive Behaviour (CCVAB)

The title of this post is a fairly new suggested term, if you like, proposed to replace what used to be known as CPV – Child to Parent Violence. This post isn’t so much about what we call the thing though, but about the thing itself.

I want to be open about CCVAB because hiding it behind closed doors doesn’t help anybody. I suspect many people feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit it goes on. I know many families have a much larger and more frequent struggle than ourselves but there have certainly been times when I haven’t known what to do and when I’ve felt deeply worried about the future.

When Little Bear first arrived in our lives he was three and half. He was somewhat prone to getting a bit fighty from the get-go but, newly thrown into the maelstrom of adoption, I wasn’t too sure what to call what we were experiencing. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about CPV, because I did, but more that I didn’t really know if the fairly low-level violence we experienced counted. My confusion was two-fold. Firstly, I think it took me a long time to fully admit the level of challenge we were living with to myself. I read many accounts of adoption and saw that what some other families had to deal with was horrendous. I would never have described our conditions as such and certainly felt that any aggression we saw was milder or less extreme in comparison. It would only be later that I would see that I was comparing us to the extreme end of a minority group. If I compared us to the majority of typically developing families, I would see that aggression and violence from children is not most people’s ‘normal’.

Secondly, I wondered whether a bit of hitting and biting and the like was ‘normal’ (ish) as a part of toddler development and typical boundary testing.

Last week, when I tried to deliver nearly seven year old Little Bear to school and he decided he didn’t want to go in because the ice looked more interesting than his classroom and when I tried to suggest otherwise, he punched me and kicked me and tried to head butt my face and when I asked him to stop hitting me, he looked me in the eye and hit me again, I had to concede, that, yeah, we most likely do experience CCVAB at our house.

Thankfully, it is not a regular visitor, as it is for some. It was, in the early days. It was kind of par for the course – it’s bizarre how quickly you can accept these things as ‘normal’. But, now, it’s rare. In fact, up until last week, I would pretty much have said it had been eradicated. When it re-appears, it can be quite shocking. I mean, what exactly are you supposed to do when your little darling tries to batter you in the playground? I’m still considerably bigger than him, thankfully, so he didn’t hurt me but I felt acutely embarrassed that other people were around to see. When it isn’t something you are practised at dealing with, it sends you swiftly onto the back foot. I probably wasn’t as therapeutic as I could have been but I didn’t give him a clip around the ear (as I quite fancied) either. I have never and would never hit him (just to be clear) but God, I’ve felt like it – and who wouldn’t? I suppose anyone under attack goes into fight/flight/freeze/flop and as you can’t exactly run away from your child on the school run, fight comes quite naturally. I think, as a grown up in charge of child with CCVAB, the hardest thing is quelling your natural urge to defend yourself.

As the incident occurred I was livid: that kind of behaviour is not acceptable, even if it has a very valid reason behind it. For me, no matter what else is going on, if there is violence or aggression happening, that immediately becomes my priority to sort out, with everything else becoming ignorable. I have no doubt that if we didn’t make sure we put a stop to CCVAB, Little Bear would feel less and less safe and more and more out of control and it would only perpetuate his need to be aggressive. I know there is a lot of talk about consequences and whether we should give them to children with developmental trauma/ attachment issues or not. But for me, personally, violence is not something I can ignore and we do give consequences.

Preferably, that consequence would be a natural one. I was pretty certain that when Little Bear had been able to calm down, he would feel bad about what had happened and sometimes, that is enough. A few times, Little Bear has hurt me and immediately I have seen his little face change and almost read the thought passing through his mind of ‘why on earth did I just do that to Mum?’ On those occasions, I’ve barely finished yelping when he apologises and starts to cry. In those situations, nothing else is needed, apart from an ‘it’s ok, I think you might have done that because of x or y’, a ‘Mum still loves you’ and a cuddle.

However, on this particular occasion, Little Bear wasn’t sorry. He was still annoyed that I hadn’t let him play in the ice and apparently he hated me. That did little to assuage my annoyance, which had coloured the entirety of my day (CCVAB has a way of doing that).

It was time to step it up to a logical consequence. I like a logical consequence because it matches the incident and often, I find, taps into the underlying reasons that have caused Little Bear to feel the need to lash out in the first place. That probably makes little sense as a standalone statement so I’ll try to explain.

Because I was so mad and because it was the biggest incident we’ve ever experienced at drop off and I wanted him to understand the severity of it, I very kindly came up with three logical consequences. The first was that Little Bear was no longer allowed to go to school on his scooter. This fed into two which was that as Little Bear evidently wasn’t coping with having freedom in the playground or on the school run, he would now need to hold my hand throughout that time. He was showing me, through his behaviour, that he couldn’t cope with the demands of having to come back when asked at the moment so I would help him with that by keeping him close. Whilst he wasn’t going to like this and would far rather have gone on his scooter, the consequence was designed to make the situation easier for him – it was both unwanted (by him) and therapeutic if that makes any sense at all*.

The third consequence was both natural and logical. As Little Bear was causing a spectacle with the hitting and the refusing to get off the ice, I had looked across the playground to where Big Bear was standing, alone, patiently waiting and I realised that not only was Little Bear’s behaviour unpleasant for me and him, but it wasn’t fair on Big Bear, who routinely pays the price of having to walk around to his classroom on his own because I am too busy trying to wrestle Little Bear into his. I didn’t ask for CCVAB, but Big Bear certainly didn’t and I was guilty of getting things wrong if the one who wouldn’t behave appropriately was getting more attention than the one who always quietly gets on with what is asked. Therefore, the third consequence would be that we would drop Big Bear off first every day, instead of theoretically taking turns (I say theoretically because Big Bear’s turn is often sabotaged by Little Bear). That way, there would be no impact on Big Bear even if Little Bear continued to behave as he had.

Little Bear was not pleased with his consequences and he was not sorry. However, the next morning, he accepted the new arrangement and has arrived at school willing to enter his classroom without a battle every day since.

Although I am clearly not averse to using consequences (carefully – what would a banned IPad or grounding have achieved?), I do not believe in using consequences alone to tackle CCVAB. I don’t believe that any child wants to hurt their grown-ups or siblings and no matter how annoyed or upset we are, we need to look beyond the hurting to understand what’s causing it. As last week’s behaviour was so out of the ordinary for Little Bear, I knew something must have triggered it. It came within a wider picture of increased aggressive incidents/fighting in school and tricky episodes of behaviour at home. Nothing specific had happened or changed so it was difficult to figure out, but I knew I had to keep wondering.

Eventually, after being woken several times in the night by Little Bear and noticing he was struggling to fall asleep and waking earlier and earlier, we figured out he was having a recurring nightmare. Apparently it was about a monster that killed us all. Everything began to make sense: Little Bear was frightened of losing us and all the old attachment issues had been well and truly triggered. He may as well push us all away because we’d leave anyway – that whole joyful scenario.

We have tackled the nightmare issue head-on with the help of Neon the Nightmare Ninja, a fabulous book by Dr. Treisman. It really seems to be helping and though Little Bear is still finding it hard to fall asleep, the CCVAB seems to have disappeared again and he is sleeping much better when he finally drifts off.

I am no longer complacent about CCVAB. I don’t suppose it has gone forever. There are times when the idea of it recurring when he is 10, 15 or 20 terrifies me. There will clearly come a time when he can hurt me and I’m not quite sure what I should do about that, other than hoping that all the therapeutic work that we do on an ongoing basis will be enough to take away the need for CCVAB. I may be fooling myself, but where’s the use in fretting?

I have never been on a course about NVR (non-violent resistance) but when I’ve read about it, I think we use quite a few of the principles of it. I have always been conscious, since my days working as a SaLT with children with complex needs, meeting families who experienced CCVAB for non-adoption related reasons, of not allowing Little Bear’s more challenging behaviours to frighten me. Some families were completely ruled by it: CCVAB powered over everything and left parents tiptoeing around their children. I have always known that, as much as possible, CCVAB needs to be kept in check and not allowed to rule. I think that if Little Bear sensed fear in the grown-ups around him, he would feel more out of control and the behaviours would worsen. It’s a very fine balance between being present and therapeutic and not standing for any nonsense. I don’t think that being therapeutic should equal accepting CCVAB (something I sometimes get the impression happens) because in my mind, it isn’t acceptable.

I understand where these behaviours come from and I hope that I’m sensitive and inquisitive about that, but I don’t want Little Bear growing up thinking his background leaves him with no other choice but to behave in this way. There are other choices available to him, as there are to everybody else, and though I acknowledge it is likely to be harder for him, he needs to know that he can make different choices and he can learn to control himself. If I were to leave his CCVAB unchecked and not explain to him why it isn’t okay and not try to shape his behaviour differently, he would never learn this.

Sometimes, even if there is no physical aggression, Little Bear attempts to threaten us in other ways. He might say, “If you don’t do x or y, I’m going to get really mad” or “if you don’t let me have so and so, I won’t do anything you say”. We make a point of never giving in to such threats because I don’t want to reinforce the idea that that’s how you get what you want in life. A child who threatens and hits is one thing; an adult quite another.

More than anything, Little Bear is not a violent or aggressive boy and I don’t want him growing up feeling the CCVAB defines him. He is complex and cheeky and gorgeous and kind and gentle and so many other things that are belied by the label of CCVAB.

I’m not arguing about the labelling of the thing (the thing is there whatever we call it). I think I’m just saying that though it exists, we shouldn’t have to accept it – for ourselves or for our children.

 

 

*I should say that I also think children deserve second chances. If Little Bear is sensible in the playground in the next days, I will give him another chance to have more freedom and even go on his scooter. I’ll only do that if I think there’s a good chance of success – I don’t want to set him up to fail.

 

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Childhood Challenging, Violent & Aggressive Behaviour (CCVAB)

Pressing Pause

Christmas, as usual, was an exciting time in the Bear household, as I’m sure it was in houses up and down the land. Christmas Eve was punctuated by frequent bursts of dysregulation – I remember it being so last year too. Christmas Day was good and Little Bear even managed to spend the afternoon with my brother’s lovely but crazy dog without getting overexcited. Before we knew it we had stayed out until 9pm which is unheard of for us (Little Bear usually has an early and set bed time with good reason).

In hindsight, our Boxing Day plans were overly ambitious. We had booked tickets to take the boys to their first ice hockey game in the early evening. When we did that I suppose we didn’t anticipate being out so late on Christmas Day but as it ended up that way, it meant us asking two late nights in a row of Little Bear which proved too much. We all enjoyed the game but Little Bear struggled with the transitions to the toilet and between the arena and the car. You’d think not much could wrong in those short intervals but you’d be wrong. Trust me, it’s surprising how much can be achieved by a dysregulated/over-tired/non-compliant child in a short period of time. If it weren’t so stressful I’d be impressed at his efficiency for hell-raising.

The following day I knew we needed to re-group. We needed to hunker down, rest, re-set. After sporting events on a Saturday morning (horse-riding and football respectively) we usually have a period of rest at the weekend. Both boys need it but Little Bear seems to get particularly tired from a week at school. The horse-riding is a good outlet for some pent up energy, allowing him a satisfying rest when he gets home.

Over the first days of the Christmas holidays we struggled to achieve that type of proper rest. Everything was too exciting. There was too much anticipation; too many things to look at and think about. By the 27th we were starting to manage it. It was as though we had popped a balloon: Little Bear just kind of deflated and withered into a heap on the sofa. We watched films, played games, built Lego. That little rest turned into two days and then three and now we are on the fifth day of pressing pause.

Admittedly, neither boy has been feeling well. On Christmas Day, there was a huge cardboard box at my parent’s house from a chair my Dad got for Christmas. Big Bear got inside it, fell asleep and slept through his Christmas dinner. Whilst the location of the nap was notable, more so was the fact that Big Bear was sleeping in the day time – something he never does even on 7 hour car journeys. He hasn’t been well since and over the past couple of days Little Bear has also grown increasingly pale, culminating in middle of the night vomiting last night.

Obviously it’s rubbish for the boys to be poorly during their Christmas holidays. However, I have to admit to secretly liking being holed up together. I am loving the fact we have gone back to basics: quality time spent together. Because no one has much energy, I am not inundated with complaints of boredom. We have several ongoing Lego builds. Big Bear has completed a big superheroes set and Little Bear is slowly working his way through a mammoth Ninjago one. Santa evidently thought it was time to challenge him beyond a set which can be built in a day. So far, his perseverance and resilience have been impressive.

We have played Pit, Uno and Mouse Trap altogether several times. Grizzly and I have watched a few films while the children have been in bed but since then we have played games too: Boggle, Dobble, Bananagrams, Countdown.

We have done some excavating (with a new set that has buried dinosaurs and all sorts in a faux volcano), coloured the table cloth and shot at Big Bear’s new target machine that blows polystyrene balls in the air. I like the idea of getting things used. It can be tempting to buy a whole stack of presents then be so busy going out and about that nobody has time to take them out of the box. I want to see children playing with toys, books getting worn, games getting tired from use.  

We have tried to master the boys’ new UKick thingamabobs; we have read our new books; we’ve tried to get a little fresh air when children have been up to it. Although it does sound like we’ve returned to the 19th century, there has been screen time. Not too much, but enough that we haven’t had to get up too early. There has been a lot of pyjama-wearing, stove-lighting and eating.

There has been next to no socialising, planning or organising. I have not concerned myself with diets, step-counts, homework or to-do lists in any form. I know that our Interscotia has not been at all rock’n’roll but I honestly believe in the power of a pause. Doing nothing has been restorative on many levels. In fact, great swathes of time can be passed simply snuggling one’s children. Nothing gets done: the house is a hard-working tip, but it’s lovely. The children need it and we need it.

I’m not sure if everyone’s home is like ours but we are usually stuck on a hamster wheel of school – washing – shopping – organising – school – football etc. It never really ends. Grizzly works ridiculously hard and I’m not exaggerating when I say there are weeks when we barely speak to one another. It has felt more important than ever this year to just pause for a little bit. I know many people will be out tonight – all dressed up, going to an expensive venue, drinking cocktails. They probably look at us stuck in the house for the fifth day in our pyjamas with pity. I’m filled with JOMO though (Joy Of Missing Out) because our pause is lovely. I wouldn’t swap any of it for uncomfortable shoes, alcohol and a noisy venue.

Don’t worry, I’m not turning all hermit-y for 2019 (no more than usual, anyway), this is just a temporary intermission between the mania of the previous year and whatever is to come next. A time to rest and rejuvenate: ready to hit 2019 running. Naturally, all this pausing has led to some reflection too. I’ve been asking myself whether I’ll be setting resolutions or not. Last year, because I had recently left the NHS, I set myself some specific aims for the year because I was a bit lost and didn’t quite know how to measure my success (or lack thereof). I knew I didn’t want to measure myself solely against the ironing pile so I tried to be more constructive. Last night, I went back to those aims to see how I’d got on.

If you can’t laugh at yourself then who can you laugh at? Many of my targets are pretty laughable; as are the results. One was, ‘keep bonsai tree alive’. It’s dead. Another was, ‘grow baby melons’. You might have predicted this, but they’re dead too.

I set myself targets for monthly blogging figures which I didn’t meet and ones for increased annual figures which I did. One major aim was, ‘to get a publisher or a literary agent’. Well, I didn’t achieve that. And therein lays the problem with New Year’s resolutions – as much as I wanted that to happen, I didn’t really have full control over it. Maybe I should have made New Year’s Wishes instead. But that’s a bit airy-fairy and what’s the point? Refusing to feeling thwarted and as though my year was a waste of time, I considered instead the efforts I had made to work towards that wish. I considered the number of submissions I had made, the times I had put myself out there, the times I had picked myself up after rejection and tried again. I’m realising that writing success rarely happens overnight. It might not have happened in 2018 but I have made connections within the writing world, become more practised at writing itself, made forays into fiction and braved the world of writing competitions. I have taken some leaps of faith. There are some natural next steps – make more submissions, finish my novel, get braver with seeking feedback etc. Those things are my aims for next year. I’m not sure they really classify as resolutions and that’s fine with me.

The other thing is that New Year’s Resolutions don’t account for the unexpected things that might happen in your year. It doesn’t say anything in my aims about winning blogging awards but that happened and was very much a highlight of my year. It rather brings into focus things such as viewing statistics – I’d take my award over bigger numbers any day. It makes me wonder how we should measure our success, the pressures we put on ourselves and which are the things that really matter anyway. I have written myself a note which says, “don’t get hung up on viewing figures” as a handy reminder from Zen Paused Me to Cup Half Empty What On Earth Am I Doing With My Life 2019 Me (she will come, it’s inevitable).

Half way through the year of 2018, I stopped checking myself against my aims and started listing my achievements each month. I made myself write small things e.g. ‘submitted short story to x competition’ or ‘delivered successful workshop’. I keep it in a notebook that no one else is going to read so I can be free and honest and not worry about sounding boasty. I have found this extremely helpful because at the points where I start thinking I’m wasting my time on a career that will never be, I make myself read it back and remind myself that good stuff has happened. Us humans (amongst other flaws) seem to be programmed to remember all the failures, low-points and bad bits and somehow give them greater weighting than the successes. I’ve found my lists really useful for maintaining some balance and stopping catastrophising in its tracks. I shall certainly be continuing.

Anyway, I’ll end where I began. My main priority for 2019 is for my family and friends to be healthy and happy – stripped back, that’s all there really is. I’m also going to endeavour to reduce our plastic use further and stop distracting myself with shopping/Twitter. Family, friends, reading & writing. That’s where it’s at for 2019. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to doing nothing.

 

Loads of love for 2019,

xxxx

 

 

Pressing Pause

Stop. Collaborate & Listen.

No, Ice is not back with his latest invention, it’s just me, yattering on about relationships between home and school again.

Since Little Bear started school we have had our fair share of concerns (see School WorriesSchool-Parent Partnership and Dear Teacher ). We have worked hard to overcome them as best we can and around this time last year I wrote Alleviating School Worries about some of the positive practical changes that had been made.

A pattern seems to be emerging now where the first part of a new school year is hard work, stressful and leads us to the brink of crisis before we somehow manage to get school to listen and things improve considerably. The improvement part is fabulous and more of a relief than I imagine when it finally happens. The fact we have to go through the hard bit first, not so much.

We worked extremely hard on Transition this time so I don’t honestly know what else we could have done differently to avoid the tricky bit. It feels as though no matter how clear we are and how much we labour the specifics of Little Bear’s needs, the new teacher doesn’t hear us until they have experienced what we are talking about for themselves. It’s as though they need to approach him in the way they think (taking our information with a pinch of salt), using the strategies they usually use, only to find out the hard way that his behaviour will escalate. They then cynically have a go at the things we suggest, leading to a miraculous transformation. At this point, they seem to start listening a bit harder.

As you can see, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know (yet) how to prevent this pattern. However, along the way we have learned a lot about developing the relationships we need with teachers and making change happen. I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts and ideas:

Things for teachers to think about

  • Parents of children with additional needs of any nature, but particularly adopters, are often a vocal and knowledgeable bunch. You might find we e-mail more, ask for more meetings and try to talk to you more than the average parent. I understand this is time consuming and potentially a little full-on. Please try not to run a mile or hide under your desk when you spot us coming. The best way to tame the over-involved-parent beast is to talk to us. If we see that you are listening and that you want to work with us, we will be a lot lower-maintenance.
  • (The little chat I’ve made a point of having with Mr. Teacher at the end of each week has made a huge difference to our relationship and to his understanding of Little Bear.)
  • Please don’t interpret our involvement and commitment as ‘over anxious parenting’. We think working in partnership is best and that laying the groundwork before problems arise is preferable to waiting for crisis (We’ve been there before, it isn’t fun).
  • Unfortunately, if you don’t respond to our e-mails and won’t meet with us and won’t consider other ways of doing things, we are left with no other options than to escalate our concerns to the SENCO/Head/Board of Governors/Virtual School. This isn’t meant as a threat. We don’t really want to do these things – it’s a hassle/it takes time/ it takes emotional energy we don’t always have – but we will because parenting is about being a voice for our child when they don’t have one and if we don’t fight for them, who will? We won’t be quiet and we won’t go away. It’d be so much better for all of us if we could do this the easy way: together.
  • When a child challenges you in your classroom with their behaviour, please don’t automatically assume it is due to ‘parenting’. Familiarise yourself with the child’s history; read their file, talk to other staff who know them. Is there trauma in their background? Do they have speech and language needs? Do they have attachment needs? All of these things could be the root cause of difficult behaviour.
  • If you are unsure how to support a child or your usual methods aren’t working, that’s okay. Parents are often experts in managing their children’s behaviour and we have many, many tricks up our sleeves. Ask us. We won’t think you’re crap at your job, we’ll feel valued and respected as the people who know our children best. If you are having moments of feeling out of your depth, we probably are too. Let’s work together.
  • Some of the strategies we talk about (especially for children with developmental trauma) might feel counterintuitive and opposite to the things you usually do. Please be brave and try them. Give them a good go, because once or twice isn’t enough. If you want to know more about the theory behind the strategies, we can point you to sources of information. Even if you don’t ask, there is a high likelihood we’ll be printing things off and giving them to you anyway. We’re sorry about that but getting things right for our children is kind of important to us.
  • If a child comes to your class with a visual timetable/social story/ communication aid/ calm box/worry monster/ chewy tube/ sensory diet/ other useful item, please get it out and use it. These things do not work in cupboards or drawers. If you’ve given it a good go and it doesn’t seem to be meeting its aims, talk to us about it. Maybe we could come up with a solution together.
  • Children will not learn in your classroom if they don’t feel safe and secure. This isn’t my opinion; it’s a fact. If a parent, or a child themselves, lets you know they aren’t feeling happy and comfortable in the classroom, try not to take this personally. Our children struggle to form relationships with all new people – it is not a reflection of how nice a person you are/aren’t (though I understand how it can feel like that). I understand why learning a child is unhappy in your classroom might make you feel defensive. Please see that it is not a personal attack. Also, if anyone understands how uncomfortable this feeling is, it’s us. Imagine how rejected and impotent you would feel if your child didn’t feel safe and secure at home, with your parenting. We’ve been there and felt that. We totally empathise.
  • However, it is a problem and in order to fix it, you will need to accept that the child isn’t feeling safe. Telling parents that a child is behaving in a certain way ‘for their benefit’ or ‘to get attention’ or ‘to manipulate adults’ isn’t okay or helpful. Instead, ask, ‘what could be done differently to help them feel safe?’ and be open to the suggestions that are made.
  • A child will feel safe in your classroom when they feel safe with you and in the relationship that you have. Get to know them and their individual likes/dislikes. Is there something you could bring in especially to show them? Could you give them a special job or responsibility? Could you find 5 minutes each day to spend 1:1 with them? Part of feeling safe in a relationship comes about when a child is really clear about what your boundaries are and knows what will happen if their worst behaviour spills out. Ideally they will know that you will be in charge even when they lose control; that you will be calm and that you will still like them. Often the only way they can find this out is by testing your boundaries. Expect some challenges. Don’t panic. Be firm. Consider your strategies carefully: avoid punishing dysregulation. Consider calm-down time and giving the child a break (in a physical sense of letting them use a quiet corner). Talk with them afterwards. Wonder aloud as to why they may have acted as they have. Empathise. Remember to separate behaviour from the child themselves – it is imperative we don’t shame children who already feel worthless. If in doubt, imagine you are them: consider the incident through their eyes.
  • (Little Bear’s teacher coming out of his classroom door in the morning and having a bit of ‘banter’ with Little Bear has made a huge difference to him going into the classroom. It’s a small thing but it’s completely overturned school refusal.)
  • I understand that it is difficult to cope with a child with social, emotional or mental health difficulties in your already busy classroom. You are already working hard trying to balance everyone’s needs with the demands of the curriculum, meeting targets etc. Our children needn’t be another challenge: with the right support they are pure potential. With the implementation of a few strategies and tweaks to your approach, you could be the difference in our child’s education.
  • (Now that Little Bear is back on track, he is on target for making more than a year’s progress in year 2. That’s amazing.)

Things for parents to think about

  • Be as quick to praise the good as to highlight problems. We are a vocal bunch and it’s only right that we expect a high standard of education for our children. However, let’s not be moaners or doom bringers. Let’s save our complaining for when it’s needed and be fair about it. Let’s balance our complaining with positivity: when school get something right, tell them. They need to hear the praise and affirmation as much as any of us.
  • As frustrating and upsetting as our interactions with certain teachers can be, always stay on the moral high ground. If we want to be respected as professional parents, we need to act professionally. I have sworn and cursed and badmouthed in the privacy of my own home but never anywhere else. I have been direct and I’ve shared my feelings but I have never been rude, raised my voice or been in any way offensive. If we hope to achieve good working relationships in the future (surely, always the aim?) we need to be careful not to do anything that would cause irreparable damage to those relationships. For that reason I think it’s wise to avoid venting our spleens in Whatsapp parent groups or Facebook groups or on the playground. Firstly, it’s not cool. Secondly, these things have a tendency of getting back to teachers and head teachers. Thirdly, why do anything to jeopardise the relationships we are working so hard to build?
  • (Note to self: be extremely careful when blogging!!)
  • I think the key to getting good relationships with school is communication. I’ve found that e-mail is not a great medium. Often you don’t get a reply which is pretty irking. When you write the email it is difficult to pick your words correctly so as not to leave anything open to misinterpretation. I certainly think I’ve caused defensiveness (totally unintended) with some of my attempts. I have now ditched email in favour of a face to face chat. I’m particularly partial to a playground ambush!
  • It is tempting to stop chatting when things are going ok. I think there is a danger in this that the teacher begins to associate a chat with you with a problem; further compounding their desire to avoid you. I think it’s good to keep up the chats and to be able to have really positive ones – they make everyone feel better.
  • Don’t be scared of spelling things out. I am an increasingly big fan of directness. Previously I have assumed it is obvious how I might be feeling but it seems it isn’t. I sent one email to Little Bear’s school team saying, “When you don’t ask our opinions or include us in big decisions, it makes me feel as though you don’t value our expertise as parents. This is upsetting because we believe that working together is in the best interests of LB.” This was swiftly followed by an apology from school and the penny seemed to drop about why I was ‘fussing’ again. People are busy; they probably don’t have time to stop, think or notice. It’s ok to explain how you feel.
  • Teachers are humans too. We need to remember that they don’t just have our little darling to think about but at least 20 others as well. They have ridiculous demands on them to meet this, that and the other standard and every professional who comes in asks them to do something else in addition to the myriad things they already do. I don’t think it hurts to acknowledge we are aware of this. It isn’t going to stop us asking them to put things in place for our children (they are our priority after all) or to give us their time but we can be thankful and empathetic when they do.
  • (I am genuinely grateful that Little Bear’s teacher found an hour and a half for me yesterday after being in school on Monday evening for a writing exhibition, having his class in the music afternoon yesterday and then needing to build a stage after I had gone for next week’s nativity, and I told him so. He has a home to go to too.)
  • As much as we want teachers to respect us and our knowledge of our children, we need to respect them. I’m not a teacher. I don’t know all the ins and outs of the curriculum or the different methods of teaching Maths. Ideally they bring their knowledge to the table and we bring ours – kind of like a bring and share work lunch. We aren’t aiming for us and them, we’re aiming for us.
  • I strongly believe that a consistent approach across home and school is the most effective way of supporting our children to feel safe and to reach their full potential. This is what drives me to keep politely approaching the teacher, keep repeating the same points, keep coming up with possible solutions even when I actually feel like crying or slapping somebody.
  • Remember to practise self-care. This whole managing school malarkey can be really bloody hard work. A bad drop-off can set a worrying tone to the whole day. You do need confidants who are safe to vent to (maybe people who aren’t involved with the school) and you do need to look after you. You can’t afford to run out of energy because who fights the fight then?
  • I also think it’s important to keep the Big Guns up your sleeve for when you need them. Don’t underestimate how exhausting this can be and how alone it can make you feel – like a tiny whisper standing up to the behemoth that is school. Sometimes it gets too big to do on your own. Don’t be frightened of bringing someone with you to meetings. I tend to wheel Grizzly out when I’ve had enough – he isn’t frightened of being extremely direct and sometimes that’s needed. I also know that we’ve got the post adoption support service there if we need it and we have called on them to be in meetings when things are going awry. Unfortunately, schools can be more likely to listen when the person telling them is a professional. That doesn’t make us feel good but as long as the message gets across, we need to not concern ourselves too much with how.
  • Equally, if you aren’t sure what is going on in the classroom and you have some concerns, getting another professional that you trust in there can be really effective. Many professionals (speech and language therapist/ OT/ educational psychologists) do school observations as part of their work. I know that when the speech and language therapist did an observation as part of her work with Little Bear, the feedback she was able to give me was really enlightening.
  • Ask for regular meetings and always book in the next one at the end
  • Make notes and keep your notes
  • Ideally have a home-school book for day to day information. We’ve had a few discussions about the type of information that is needed in there – “LB found it hard to sit still during the English lesson on expanded noun phrases” is a lot more useful than “good reading”.
  • Keep the faith. It is never too late to turn things around (though I totally see that in some situations the only solution is a different school or home-school. I don’t see that as giving up, but finding a workable solution)

 

I’m very sorry for another lengthy post. I promise to write something short and sweet next week 😉

Stop. Collaborate & Listen.

Why Nativity Rocks is Not For Care-Experienced Children

This afternoon, we went along to the cinema with some friends of ours to watch what we thought would be a family-friendly film: Nativity Rocks. We’ve all seen the other films in the Nativity franchise which are funny, silly and worth a watch and just assumed this would be the same. However, I felt I had to write this post afterwards, to warn other families like ours that it might not be wise to take your children along after all.

The problems begin early on when Mr Poppy’s long-lost brother turns up trying to find him. The brother, who is a grown man, talks about not having a family and soon mentions that his mother “didn’t want him” and “put him in a children’s home”, before he ended up homeless and unloved and she died. There is so much to unpick in that sentence alone.

I sort of see where the writers were trying to go with this – I guess they were trying to acknowledge that some children who go into Care feel a sense of abandonment and as though it was their fault, somehow having driven their parents to ‘give them up.’ As we know, children are rarely ‘given up’ these days but aside from that, the narrative was such that Mr Poppy’s brother’s opinion wasn’t really corrected. Because the words about being put into Care come from a grown-up’s mouth, it makes the viewer feel as though they are true: that children really do go into Care because of something they have done. Were it a child saying it, perhaps I could forgive the film as trying to represent how looked-after children really feel, but it didn’t come across that way. For a young person viewing it, I think there would be a very real risk that they begin to question whether going into Care could have been their fault.

Not only this, but for non-care experienced children watching the film, the questions they are likely to carry away with them are, “When I meet an adopted or fostered child, I wonder what they have done wrong to have been taken away from their parents?”

Later on, the brother makes a throw-away comment about having been bullied and his Mum thinking he’d stolen something he hadn’t, leading to him, in his mind, going to the children’s home. Again this isn’t corrected and further perpetuates the myth that children go into Care through some fault of their own. The idea of being unloved and rejected continues throughout and is unfortunately portrayed as synonymous with being in Care.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the film proceeds to present a very glib picture of how adoption works. There is a side story about a young refugee who has travelled to Britain from Syria, becoming accidentally lost from his father along the way. A social worker appears to care for him (wearing a stereotypical rainbow jumper, obviously) and takes him to what I assume is meant to be a foster placement. This isn’t so bad but Mr. Poppy’s brother announces that as neither he nor the boy have a family or home, they will need to get themselves adopted. Aside from the fact that you wouldn’t family-find for a child who is looking to be reunited with their father nor for a grown man, the film’s handling of the next steps is insensitive to say the least. According to a very facetious scene, children get to interview potential adopters and ask them ridiculous questions. As we know, potential adoptees are not offered such a say, if any, in their future parents and to suggest they are and that the process is so superficial felt distasteful at best. One question asked is: “If you adopt us, who will be your favourite?” to which the potential adopters point to their birth child as if to say “obviously her.”

I couldn’t help feeling the whole idea of adoption was laughed at and demeaned.

To compound it all, the adopters all say no to the pair and Mr Poppy’s brother announces they are homeless and will need to sleep on the streets. I know that our Care system has its flaws but suggesting to fostered children that all potential parents could reject them and leave them to live alone and outdoors is at least triggering and at most the stuff of their nightmares.

By this point we have a picture of children in Care as being unloved, rejected at every turn and destined for a life on the streets. I suppose if the film were about being in Care and raising awareness of some of the issues experienced by care leavers, this might be appropriate but it would need to be balanced by success stories, permanence and safety. I definitely don’t think that the message we have received is the one we want to give to young people in Care at Christmas, of whom there are thousands who, like other children, will want to see the film.

I can see that Nativity Rocks is trying to be inclusive and representative of all different types of families, which is laudable, but unfortunately a great deal is lost in the execution and the refugee issues are somewhat conflated with the Care issues. The Refugee is eventually happily reunited with his father but as the storylines are so confused, the film rather suggests that any child who has been separated from their birth families could be reunited with them, if they try hard enough. Again, not an appropriate message for children grieving the loss of their birth families or an appropriate message for non-care experienced children who will go away thinking adoption is a temporary solution to having accidentally misplaced a parent.

Such inaccuracies are irresponsible, especially in a high budget production that will be seen by thousands.

At another point, Mr. Poppy’s brother and the young refugee go home with a little boy who has a very affluent background. They stay there without the boy’s parents knowing but once they’re discovered, the Social Worker asks if they can stay because, you know, who gives two hoots about paperwork or approval or checking adults are safe.

The problems come thick and fast. Not only do we have all the above to contend with but the Social Worker is portrayed as hapless. Her father refers to her having “lost one before” as though mislaying a child in her Care would be amusing. She goes on to ‘lose’ the young refugee (oh how we raise our eyebrows and titter) and then a dog, which is apparently similar to losing a child.

I know that as a viewer of any film I should expect artistic licence and the impossible to become possible. If you can imagine it, anything can become real in a film. I’m all for that and some factual incongruities or inaccuracies wouldn’t be enough to bother me. What concerns me is when something is so inaccurate or portrayed in such a skewed fashion as to become harmful. I fear that’s what happened in this film. I feel the potential for re-traumatisation or the risk of worry or upset is far higher than necessary, especially in a film which sets out to entertain and spread Christmas cheer. For those it won’t upset, it will do nothing to improve their knowledge and understanding of the Care process.

Aside from the clumsy content, there are themes of loss and separation running throughout the film which could alone be enough to upset our children.

For me, the handling of adoption and fostering themes was catastrophically bad. Grizzly is usually fairly immune to the odd inappropriate comment but he was pretty outraged too. We were genuinely bemused as to how the film got approved. I’ve no idea who researched it but I don’t think they tried very hard – I certainly don’t think they spoke to anybody even remotely involved with the Care System. In my opinion, this is not one for fostered or adopted children or children who are separated from their families for any other reason. It’s a shame because the film is quite funny in places and Big Bear in particular was pleased about the rock music aspects. Little Bear liked parts of it but there were several bits that made Grizzly and I feel very uncomfortable to be watching it with him. He didn’t say anything but he did ask to play with one of our phones half way through and we let him because of the content. Sometimes with him it percolates and the questions might come later or the worries might come out through his behaviour.

Overall, an insensitive, badly-handled and ill-informed film that perpetuates harmful myths about children in Care. Nativity Rocks unfortunately doesn’t rock and I’m left wondering what on earth they were thinking.

 

Why Nativity Rocks is Not For Care-Experienced Children

Birth Siblings

In all my years of blogging, I haven’t really mentioned Little Bear’s birth siblings much (See Re-visiting the CPR for my most recent mention) but they are increasingly on my mind. As difficult as it to share this, I need to be completely honest: when we were going through the Matching process, the fact that Little Bear had several older siblings caused me a lot of worry. I worried that as they remained (and were going to remain) in the Care system that their futures might not be as sunny as one would hope. What if they fell into drugs or crime? What sort of impact might that have on Little Bear, or us? Did I really want to invite these unknown youths into our lives, even if just with letters? It literally kept me awake at night.

I look back and I’m embarrassed that I held those views. I’m choosing to forgive myself because I was very new to adoption at the time and the Matching process is incredibly stressful. It is important, at that stage, that you consider all the whys and what ifs. You do need to go into an adoption open-eyed and aware of potential issues and impacts. You do need to ponder the information you are given and think about whether you really can cope with any possible challenges within the context of your own life. I suppose I was right in some ways to think critically about the other siblings and how we would manage contact with them.

However, what I did not need to do was tar all looked-after children with the same brush. Just because they are going to spend their childhood in Care certainly does not mean that they will come out the other end in trouble with the Police or addicted to class A’s. I didn’t know these young people at all – a much better starting point would have been an open mind and a willingness to get to know them.

I suppose the spectre of them loomed large to me, as a terrified, new, prospective adopter. I can understand how it did and I can understand how other people might feel that way too.

It is strange how my views and feelings have changed in the three years since then. My overarching feeling towards them now is one of wanting to protect them – to extend my parenting arms around them as far as I can feasibly reach. That probably sounds equally as strange as my starting viewpoint, because they are not my children, biological, adopted or otherwise. However, they are Little Bear’s siblings and Little Bear is my son. There is, undeniably, a link between us and them.

I think at the start of this process, we used words like ‘birth siblings’ to keep them at arm’s length. We didn’t use the words ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ unless they had ‘birth’ before them, again making a linguistic distinction, indicating they were somehow different. The truth is that no matter what we call them, they are Little Bear’s brothers and sisters and should be referred to as such.

We recently had an update about them from their Social Worker. They had sent letters and pictures which were spread out on our kitchen table. I was still being ridiculously careful about what I called them. Big Bear walked in and said, “Oh, Little Bear, have you had post from your brothers/sisters? That’s nice.” In so doing, he cut through all my euphemistic crap and just called them what they are. I looked on and learned my lesson.

In this post I’m going to keep calling them “Little Bear’s siblings” to protect their anonymity but now you know that we just call them their names or ‘your brother/sister’ at home.

I think the fact that it was Big Bear who cut the crap (pardon my language) was particularly meaningful. Part of the reason I tiptoe around is for him. I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has a birth child about how they handle this. I find it difficult that Little Bear has several other full siblings as well as Big Bear, who is very definitely his brother. What relationship, exactly, does Big Bear have with the others? Technically, none. But it must be so weird for him that his brother has other brothers/sisters who he hasn’t met and who are a bit mystical in their absence. Little Bear figured it out for himself straight away – they are all his brothers and sisters, no quibbling. He doesn’t seem to struggle with the idea at all and I love it that he has taken Big Bear into that fold. In his mind, Big Bear has gained several more siblings.

I don’t think Big Bear feels the same though. It’s easy, with there being so many of them, for him to end up feeling the odd one out, something which I desperately don’t want him to feel in his own family.

I also don’t know whether he can feel part of them when I don’t really know whether the other siblings know he exists. I feel for them because it is already extremely hard for them to come to terms with the fact that they are all going to be in Care for their entire childhoods while just one of their brothers has been adopted. They must wonder why him? Why not them? They must also be really sad that they can still see each other fairly regularly (they are not all together) but can’t see Little Bear at all. It feels like an additional blow for them to learn that Little Bear not only has a new home and new parents but a new brother too. How come a stranger gets to be his brother and play with him and have fun with him when all they get is a measly letter?

I don’t know if they do feel that way – I’m projecting – but it would be understandable if they did.

My loyalties are divided because I want to protect them all. However, I rarely believe lying or lying by omission is the solution to anything, so as hard as it might be, I do think they should know about Big Bear. It isn’t fair to him to deny his existence and it isn’t fair for them to keep it a big secret that they might find out about when they are adults.

This feels like marshy ground and all I have to guide me are my instincts. When I write Letterbox I have made occasional mention of ‘our other son’ so they know there is a someone else. This time I have tentatively included Big Bear’s name. I haven’t made a big deal about it – just a little mention to (hopefully) help them get used to the idea little by little.

Previously when post has arrived from Little Bear’s siblings, we have ummed and erred over what to do with it – mainly because Little Bear hasn’t had much (if any) understanding of who they are and we knew it made Big Bear uncomfortable. We are thankfully now at a point of being able to announce the post’s arrival and leave it out for anyone who wants to look at it. I’m pretty relieved about this; it all feels a lot more normal. However, I do still feel that it is quite excluding for Big Bear and have been mulling over the best way forward. We have decided, rightly or wrongly and I’ve no idea if this is within Letterbox protocol, to give Big Bear the option of joining in if he wants to. I haven’t put any pressure on him to do so because I totally understand that it might feel uncomfortable for him but I have told him when I need to post the letters and invited him to write one if he wants. If anyone else out there has done this, please let me know.

A tiny part of me is anxious about drawing Big Bear in and exposing him to the unknowns of where these relationships might take us. However, when I’m unsure, I generally ask myself whether it is better to do something or to do nothing. Doing nothing keeps things the same but doesn’t allow for progress. Doing something is riskier but by reaching out, things could move on/improve/take us to amazing places. For the possibility of improving these children’s lives, the risks feel worth taking.

This is probably going to sound overstated but recently I have spent a lot of time wondering what our role is in the other sibling’s lives. Instead of us passively waiting to be impacted or not by how the siblings turn out in later life, what if we did our bit to support and influence them now? After all, we could be a constant in their lives, when so many other things change. I am unsure as to how much influence it is possible to have through a couple of letters. However, I have had really positive feedback about the letters we sent last year and the perceived therapeutic benefits of them for the children. So much so, that I recently had a phone call from the Letterbox co-ordinator asking whether we would consider increasing the frequency of our contact. It was a no-brainer and immediate ‘yes’. As they were asking something of me, I felt it ok to ask something of them: would they send me an update about the children before letterbox time so that I could write them a tailored letter, answering their questions or tackling their specific worries directly. This was agreed and we have received it in the last few days.

In my eyes, the update is essential for me to be able to write them the best, most useful letter I can – without knowing what they need, it just feels like empty words on a page. We are also concerned about them and genuinely want to know how they are doing. The news about one child in particular was not good this time and it was upsetting to read. I am particularly concerned about getting their letter right and wonder whether we can impact how they feel, even in the smallest way.

It is a tricky line to walk, balancing the needs of all, their feelings, my perception of how they might feel, taking a positive tone and trying to therapeutically parent them from afar. It doesn’t feel like ‘just a letter’ this time. It feels like doing something. It feels like the beginning of a relationship; a relationship I’m keen to cultivate because if the writing goes well, maybe meeting up is not such a crazy thought.

 

Birth Siblings

The National Adoption Awards

When I found out that my blog had been nominated and then shortlisted for an award at The National Adoption Awards, I knew I was supposed to play it cool and act nonchalant about the whole thing. However, as truth-telling is my M.O. I can’t lie to you now: I was totally, child-level, excited. I have never been to an awards ceremony in my life (I’m pretty sure school prize night doesn’t count) and may never again so really wanted, as uncool as it may have been, to make the most of this one. Cue a lot of time thinking about dresses/shoes/make up and some accompanying squealing.

Not only that, but in my new portfolio career, I spend a lot of time on my own, writing, and I don’t really have a boss. I don’t have an annual PDR or get any kind of feedback, frequently sending my work off into the ether and either hearing nothing or ‘no thanks’ so to be nominated for an award, especially for my writing, genuinely meant a lot to me. It gave me a lot of encouragement and some much needed positivity.

There was one problem though – the awards were being held in London. I have a very good friend, of over 28 years now, who lives in London and is all too aware of my London-phobia as I have hitherto completely refused to visit her. As anyone who knows me or has been reading for a while will know, I’m a little unhinged when it comes to our glorious capital. In my morbid and fearful brain, there is a direct connection between the metropolis and terrorism and going there has always felt akin to risking my life. And yes, I can hear how crazy this sounds. Anyhow, I was so excited that I decided I would need to overcome my notably irrational fears in order to go (but only if Grizzly would go with me).

Like any parent, going away is not without its organisational/logistical/emotional challenges, especially when it’s the first time you have both left them on a school night. With the help of lists/timetables/grandparents and a bit of military-level planning, we were on our way.

My first priority was seeing my much-loved and neglected friend, who had recently had a baby who I hadn’t yet met. We spent a lovely afternoon, in unseasonably warm conditions, sitting outside a fancy brasserie near Kings Cross, chatting, cuddling the baby and catching up. I realised how infrequently Grizzly and I are in relaxing situations, without the boys or without wondering what the boys are up to or checking the time because we need to get back to the boys. I suppose due to us being too far away to do anything useful, we felt a little more relaxed than at other times when we have been out on dates. A little distance can be a good thing for getting some perspective on your day to day life and making that time to have fun as a couple is essential, especially when real life is so busy.

Soon, I was stepping into my first Uber (I live up North in the countryside, don’t judge me) and we were off to The Foundling Museum.

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Part of the reason I was excited about going to the awards was because I would get to meet some adoption glitterati. Grizzly isn’t on Twitter so I tried to fill him in on who was who. It’s quite a bizarre situation knowing someone’s Twitter handle but not their actual name or what they look like, yet still considering them a friend. It’s certainly not a situation I’ve been in before and it did take a few minutes to work out who was who and to find people I knew (in a virtual sense at least). It was great to meet @imperfectlyblog and @adoptionof2 whose blogs had also been nominated. It was strange to share photos of our children and use their real names when we are all so cautious about doing so in the virtual world we usually meet in.

There were canapes and bubbly and we tried not to make a mess on the surfaces that had signs saying “nothing on here”. We debated the seating arrangements for the ceremony itself – would it be theatre-style or round tables? It turned out, to our surprise, to be a standing event; a bit of a challenge while hot/nervous/wearing heels but soon the speakers began and we were distracted by their words.

Carrie and David Grant, of Fame Academy and also-being-adopters-fame, opened and hosted the ceremony. They were funny and set things off in a relaxed and friendly style. Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families was also there and delivered a speech, as well as giving an award. It was lovely hearing about good practise and social workers getting things right for families. It was great to see people being awarded for their efforts and hearing their teams/families cheering for them. Unfortunately I ended up being out of the room for much of The Adoptables’ speech which I was gutted about because everyone said they spoke really well and were the highlight of the evening. There was also an adoptive family there who had been voted ‘adopter champion of the year’ – their children stole the show, especially their 2.5 year old.

 

All too soon it was over and those who had won awards were ushered into another room to have photos and video taken.

After the ceremony, Grizzly and I and a group I refer affectionately to as The Twitter Strangers all went to a bar. I drank a pina colada and was thrust immediately into the most intense and challenging adoption chat I’ve ever had (in the best possible way). We talked about the future of adoption. We talked about contact and how it is mainly agreed on quite an arbitrary basis at the moment and how open adoptions could be more modern and appropriate. We discussed the issues this would raise about safety and how there are probably some children for whom this could never be safe. We talked about how social work would need to mould and change; become more understanding of the need for direct contact, have protocols in place to support it and be more reliable in sharing the requisite information with adopters. We talked about adopter recruitment and how this might/could/should change. We talked about trauma being broader than adoption; much broader.

We talked about National Adoption Week itself and in fact the awards themselves. I realised it was a much more complex and thorny subject than I had previously realised. I have thought lots about adopter recruitment and telling the truth. What I had not previously considered, to my shame, is that National Adoption Week is really only about adopters. It is not really for adoptees or for others who provide permanence such as kinship carers or long term foster carers. I suppose it is something that has been born out of the need for adopter recruitment and has good intentions. However, it does feel uncomfortable to realise that it is quite exclusive and excluding. Whilst I think it is positive to applaud good practice and recognise those who have gone above or beyond in some way, it would be even better to see those accolades shared across a wider population. @MrAlCoates has written about it already here: Al’s blog  I’m not quite sure what I want to add other than having an event which brought together birth families and all forms of carer/parent and had children at its centre would be the ultimate in inclusive, inspiring and uplifting award-giving.

The conversations were Big. I would mull on them and snippets would pop into my head for days afterwards.

It was fun though, we laughed and shared stories. I had to confess to Al and Scott that I have never listened to their Podcast (awkward) though I hope I slightly redeemed that situation with the fact I’ve never listened to any Podcast because I’m a Luddite. I have also since made myself figure it out and am now a proud listener. It’s pretty cool, you can wander around putting the washing on and stuff and still learn things at the same time – so much more practical than reading – who knew?

I was extremely grateful to my lovely husband for taking the time out of his own manic work schedule to be there with me. He wasn’t at all thrown by not knowing anybody and got stuck into the Big conversations too. He’s a good’un.

The whole thing was an adventure and I had a brilliant time. I couldn’t quite believe it when I found myself wandering the streets of London beyond my bedtime or when we made it home without incident or terror. And the boys were absolutely fine.

Thank you to everyone involved at First4Adoption for all your hard work in organising it and of course, for this:

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The National Adoption Awards

National Adoption Week 2018

Next week is National Adoption Week – a big push from the industry to raise awareness of adoption and to encourage would-be adopters to pursue it. This year the theme is ‘the adopter’ – who makes a good adopter and, from my perspective, what support do people need to succeed as adopters?

This is the third National Adoption Week since I’ve been blogging and it’s tricky to have a fresh perspective each time (the first year I blogged every day and last year I wrote The Little Things ) so this time I’ve asked the boys for some help.

Me: What should I say to people who might want to adopt a child?

Little Bear: Do it!

Big Bear: Do it because you’ll help save lives of children. You might regret it for a bit but it gets better and better and better.

Me: Is it something everyone should do?

Little Bear: Yes, because if they’ve not got good parents, they have to send them to good parents.

Big Bear: No, because you might be too busy or dangerous people shouldn’t be allowed. Parents need to be approved as good. It depends on their environment and home. They need to respect the child’s values.

Me: Is there anybody who shouldn’t be allowed to adopt?

Little Bear: Named a lot of people we know! I think this question was too abstract.

Big Bear: They can’t judge a child on colour or how they look. You need training. It doesn’t matter about shape or size. You really just need to be able to protect a child.

I think you can tell Big Bear has been learning about values and diversity at school. Or perhaps he has a future in politics.

Me: Have you got any advice for people who adopt children?

Little Bear: You should be nice and take care of them.

Me: Was there anything we did that you didn’t like? That we should have done differently?

Little Bear: You guys were really bossy but now you’re just perfect.

I suspended the interview at this point to smother him in kisses and tell him he is perfect too.

Big Bear: You can’t give children everything they want, just what they need. Help them. Support them. Ask if there is anything wrong. Don’t be violent to your child. Take it easy to start with. Don’t talk about horrible stuff.

Little Bear: Yeah, don’t let them see scary things.

*

Between them, I think the Bears have raised some salient points. Firstly, adoption is not for everybody, they’re right about that. Adoption is life-changing. I don’t see the point of lying to people in an attempt to snare them, only for them to find out the realities when it is too late. Adoption is challenging in all regards – emotionally, practically, financially. It is rarely a fairy tale. Adoption requires you to open your lives, not just to a traumatised child, but to the wider birth family who inevitably come with them. If you think they don’t come with them or that a child can just forget their past once they’re with you, adoption is not for you. If you do not believe in attachment theory or the impact of developmental trauma on the infant brain, adoption is not for you. If you believe that a child’s needs can be resolved by love alone, adoption is probably not for you.

However, if you are prepared to educate yourself in ACEs, trauma and therapeutic parenting, and you are willing to put yourself in the shoes of your child and are prepared to try your best to look at the world from their point of view, you might find out how amazing adoption can be. Adopters need resilience, a willingness to learn, a preparedness to fight for their child if circumstances require it, an open mind and an open heart. An ability to persevere helps and so does keeping going, no matter what. If you have not yet turned away or come out in a cold sweat, maybe you could do it?

I think there are some members of the adoption industry who are unwilling to tell this truth through fear of the damage it will do to recruitment of adopters. My view is increasingly that if people are put off by a few truths, they are unlikely to be cut out for adopting. We need people to go in with their eyes open, because discovering you can’t do it or it isn’t quite what you thought it would be once you’re already in, causes irreparable damage to all parties.

I don’t mean to point fingers – to some extent there will always be unknowns. There is the unavoidable disparity between understanding something in theory and experiencing it in practise. There is the unpredictable impact of moving a child from foster care to their forever home and all the additional losses that come with that. There is the unavoidable risk of relying solely on the information that is provided to you.

Risk cannot be fully mitigated in adoption.

However, I truly believe there will always be people who are willing to take these risks; people who won’t see the risks but the possibilities. Those people, they are the ones who are needed.

Everything in life is a risk isn’t it? Conceiving and given birth is riddled with risk but we tend to err on the positive when we talk about those. Riding motorbikes is risky. Buying shares is risky. Extreme sports are risky. Debts are risky. Crossing the road is not without risk.

We decide where to put our risk; when to roll our dice. We choose which risks are the ones we want to take. Which ones feel like calculated risks and which are a risk too far. I am one of the most risk-averse people you could meet. I wouldn’t roll my dice on debt or drugs or bungee-jumping or extreme-anything. In truth I’m hyper-aware of risk, worrying far too much about terrorism, planes falling out of the sky or getting squished on the motorway. But I took the risk of adoption. I informed myself so it was a calculated risk. I embraced everything about the idea of it, risks and all, because, for me, I believed it would be worth it. I believed it would be more than its risk. And it has been. So much more.

Adoption has been life-changing for us, in every way. Big Bear has become a brother through adoption. He has grown stronger and more self-assured because of adoption. He was always going to be a kind and empathetic young man but adoption has made him even more aware of others – the ways in which they might struggle, the ways in which he has the power to change outcomes for them through his words and actions and the ways other people’s lives might differ from ours. He’s very emotionally astute for a nine year old and I think adoption has played its role in that.

For Grizzly and I there is the obvious impact: we have gained another son. A son who drives us up the wall at times, who has found buttons we didn’t even know we had and pushed them, then pushed them again. A son whom we love entirely, just as he is. A son who we are immensely proud of and who brings each one of us joy, every single day. A son who is the funniest, kindest, most determined young man you could wish for.

Adoption has completed our family. It has brought our parents another grandchild; my brother another nephew.

For me, adoption has taken my career in new directions. It has led me to writing.

And as for Little Bear himself, it’s kind of hard to quantify. I don’t want to perpetuate the myth that adopters are like superheroes, saving children from a lesser life. There are no capes or bulging thigh muscles here and we don’t wear our pants on top of our clothes too often. There is no heroism in losing your temper or the natural mess of our daily lives. But it is possible to think about Little Bear’s starting point and the ways in which being adopted have undeniably changed his trajectory. He has gone from being a three and a half year old functioning at a 16 month level to a keen, enquiring and capable 6 year old. He has gone from attending a special educational needs nursery to literacy, passing through and leaving behind the lowest group in his mainstream class. Expectations for his future have gone from zero/ worrying to certainty he will succeed in a field of his choosing.

Adoption means Little Bear aches for his birth siblings. It means he has a lot of questions and we don’t always have the answers. It means he sometimes feels different and wonders where he belongs.

Adoption has given Little Bear stability, safety, self-belief and certainty. It’s given him a forever home and a family who will fight wolves empty-handed for him, if necessary.

Adoption has been life-changing for us all.

I can’t tell you to do it and I can’t tell you not to do it. It’s your risk.

If you think you can do it, do your research. Know the type of risk you are considering; arm yourself with knowledge.

I can tell you this: you cannot do it alone. You can be a single adopter, of course, but you need your people for the days when you don’t feel well or when your little darling has driven you three times around the bend. You need an adoption agency with proper, robust, actual post-adoption support for the times when only a reassuring, experienced professional will cut it. You need to acquaint yourself with self-care; what works for you, how much and how you will know when you need it, because adoption relies fully on you being okay.

Adoption is not the right route to parenthood for everybody. But if you like your risks with a high likelihood of progress, satisfaction and pride, it could well be the route for you.

National Adoption Week 2018