PMS and Adoption

It is hard to know where to begin with this topic and as I have had so many half-musings about it I’m worried I won’t make much sense but I’m going to give it a go.

I have PMS. There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean that I feel a bit off when I have my period, I mean that I feel really shit: physically and crucially, mentally too. The majority of the time I am a calm, patient and pretty controlled person. However, for about 4 days every six weeks or so, I’m really not. I become short-tempered, rage-y, impatient and very fed-up. I do not enjoy this version of myself and work extremely hard to appear “normal”. I try my best to react as I usually would even though I have burning desires to scream expletives and throw things. It is very tiring.

I try to warn my husband that I’m feeling a little crazy so that he can avoid winding me up/ lessen my load but as I still seem to appear pretty calm on the outside I don’t think he fully understands the depth of my potential wrath. We have been together 15 years and married for 10 of them and he has never witnessed me fully lose it until this month when I kind of did. Although it wasn’t an enjoyable experience for either of us I think it has given him a greater understanding of how I do feel and the effort I’m expending every cycle to keep a lid on it. This is good because in this mix there is also Little Bear who has the ability to try the patience of a saint, let alone a woman suffering PMS.

The last thing I need when my patience is already frayed by my pesky hormones is greater than normal provocation, less than usual compliance and a near constant requirement for attention. Yet, after two years, I’m now seeing a pattern emerging. When I have PMS Little Bear’s behaviour is definitely more difficult to manage. I am certain this is not just because I’m finding everything harder to manage as I can observe others becoming more frustrated with him and we have discussions about why he is behaving the way he is. It is not only this but I’ve observed physical changes in him at these points too. He is more tired, lethargic and generally appears under the weather. All of which makes me wonder: what is my PMS doing to him and why?

Evidently, consciously or not, Little Bear is hypervigilant to the changes in me. Despite putting all my efforts into trying to act normally, am I actually acting differently enough for him to notice? What is it that I’m doing? Is it the short temper? Am I quicker to react? Do I react to things I normally wouldn’t? It is very hard to say with any accuracy because clearly my slightly addled brain is not the best judge at these points. I know I certainly don’t feel serene inside so I’m guessing he can notice something different in my parenting. Why does this cause him to up-the-ante though? Most children, well Big Bear anyway, figure out that Mum is grumpy and do their best to placate, please and stay out of the way. Not Little Bear though, oh no.

I fear that it is because I go from being very predictable to not-so-predictable in my behaviour and this causes him anxiety. He usually knows exactly where he is with me and what I’ll do in any given parenting situation but what I might do on these days blighted by PMS does include shouting and losing my temper, where usually it wouldn’t. Am I scaring him?

Clearly I don’t want to frighten him or push him back to a place of fight/flight but I really am putting in 110% effort to contain myself. I don’t mean to lose my temper with him but in my defence I do have PMS, I feel totally rubbish and he is pushing every single one of my buttons. The other day he was driving me right up the wall and back again at tea time so in order to avoid shouting (or harming him) I took myself out of the room to calm down. I told him I was leaving the room and why. I told him I would come back, I just needed 5 minutes. Most children would be quiet, eat their tea and try to get back in Mum’s good books. Not Little Bear. I had been gone about a second when he started shouting. Mum. Mum. Mum. Mum. I’ve eaten some more, Mum. Mum. Mum, come here. I want to know if I can have pudding now. Mum.

He doesn’t know when to stop. He can’t read the pragmatics of the situation. He cannot control himself. He doesn’t want me to be away from him because he feels safer if I am close.

I know all this and yet I am being driven slightly mad. Every time he shouts “Mum” it is like a virtual peck to my head. I just need some peace.

Given that we are both trying our best but I am failing at the keeping my temper part it is clear that I am having a negative impact on the little guy’s behaviour. What impact are my failings for 4 days every 6 weeks going to have on him long term? Is the fact that I’m pretty consistent in my calmness the rest of the time enough to wipe out the impact of the bad days? Or am I, due to the blasted PMS, an inconsistent carer?

Or, is this nothing to do with my predictability; is it something to do with regulation? Usually, I help Little Bear to stay calm and not over-excited or angry and upset by co-regulating with him. If he’s getting more and more excited, I don’t get excited with him. I stay calm and through my body language and manner, help him to calm down too. When I have my period I don’t think my own regulation is good at all. I’m furious, whether I’m acting it or not, so my ability to co-regulate is probably rubbish. In fact, is it possible that we are co-regulating, just that he’s coming up to join me in dysregulated land not the other way round?

And how do I explain the physical changes I’ve noticed in him? There is more than regulation at work there. It is as though he is feeling what I’m feeling. The PMS Bible by Katharina Dalton says: “Children who cannot understand their mother’s mood swings, may react by developing psychosomatic or bodily symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, endless crying, temper tantrums or vomiting” but there is no real explanation as to why.

Could it have something to do with Mirror Neurons? Apparently we have neurons which fire not only when we feel something but also when we observe someone else feel it e.g. if we see someone gag because they have eaten something gross, our own stomachs can turn. I can’t find any research on it but is it possible that Little Bear is so reliant on me and tuned in to me because having a reliable parent is still a bit of a novel concept (and actually we are very close) that when I feel rubbish his Mirror Neurons make him feel rubbish too? Is this empathy at work?

Or is there something hormonal going on? I know that one woman’s hormones can affect another’s. In fact one of my friends’ cycles always goes completely awry when she comes to stay with me, probably because my hormones are so crazy there is some sort of hormonal force field surrounding me. Has Little Bear been sucked in? Again I can’t find any research on whether mother’s hormones can impact on their children or not but I’d be really interested to know. There must be a very clever person out there who knows more about such things (if there is I’d love to know your thoughts).

All I do know is that adoption and PMS are a less than desirable combination.

An adopted child needs calm, consistent parenting. When Bruce Perry said “the parent’s mind needs to be the child’s safe base” I don’t think he meant ‘excepting every sixth week when their mind is all over the shop’.

Despite my rageful state, I feel guilty when I lose my temper and I do try to do the repair part. I say that I’m sorry; I try to explain that I’m not feeling good and I try to give him lots of love. We muddle through. I congratulate myself at the end of each hormonally contaminated day that we have survived and that I have not harmed him. Then I collapse in an exhausted heap.

This month has been particularly bad. Note to any fellow PMS sufferers: never start an exercise regime around the time of your period and certainly not in the middle of the summer holidays. It is extremely foolish. Also, when feeling this rubbish, it is wise to abandon usual functioning (who cares if you haven’t tidied up or taught your children anything all day?) and the best and only solution is snuggling on the sofa.

I have been looking for a way to end this post that leaves me with hope rather than despair and as I should have learned by now, the way to turn in these situations is to Dan Hughes. He says this (not specifically about PMS but he might as well have): “You are not a robot. You have ‘bad hair’ days. Accept it, own it, and don’t blame your child for it. But let him know that you have less patience on that day and you might be a bit grumpy”. He goes on to say “if this grumpiness is the worst behaviour that your child will experience from you – and you have not abused, neglected or abandoned him – he is likely to feel more safe rather than less safe after such days”. I’m not sure this is totally true in practise but I shall cling on to it as they are comforting words.

Anyway, by next month the apparently amazing benefits of exercise will have kicked in and no doubt I will float through my period like some sort of serene goddess with nary a frown to blight my glowing complexion.

Advertisements
PMS and Adoption

First and Lasts

Just to be contradictory I will talk about the Lasts first.

This week has been Little Bear’s last in Reception class. As of Monday he will be taking part in two transition weeks in his new Year 1 class (and ditto Big Bear in his new Year 4 class). I think many children who are Care-experienced find goodbyes difficult: they tend to stir up lots of emotions about loss, lost relationships and missing people. Goodbyes can be pretty anxiety provoking and hard to find a way through. Little Bear has been lucky this year in that the goodbye is really only to his classroom as his teacher is moving up with him. We are very relieved about this as it should definitely ease the anxiety and I’m hoping it will mean a smooth run into Year 1 without any need to play catch up while a new teacher figures out all his quirks. Likewise all the same children will be in his class.

However, there is still the finality of last shared reading sessions, last days in Reception and on Friday a last day afternoon tea for parents. We nearly didn’t make the last shared reading session as I had caught a bug and had succumbed to sleep on the bathroom floor (yes, grim indeed). Thankfully Grizzly was working at home and reshuffled everything to make it. He was really glad that he had as Little Bear was over the moon to see him and had been anxiously waiting for one of us to appear. He was well aware that it was the last time we would have the opportunity to go to it.

Although still a little green around the gills I made sure I was there for the afternoon tea on Friday (I just pretended that the children hadn’t really made the scones and that they wouldn’t be at all contaminated by sticky fingers and that mine didn’t really have a hair on it!!). Little Bear was so happy to see me and was more clingy than usual. We spent a lovely 20 minutes or so building a Duplo house. Little Bear was not keen on sharing the Duplo or me with any of his peers. He didn’t really want to come away from me to join his class in singing to us, even though I was right there watching.

The parents all went outside for a few minutes whilst the children did final registration. I must have been slightly out of Little Bear’s eye line while I ferreted around in the ‘jumper dumper’ (a depressing wasteland of sloughed off sweatshirts) and he must have panicked that I had left him, though I never have disappeared before. He tried to distract himself with another scone but the TA said he couldn’t have one. This was the final straw in what was evidently a simmering pressure cooker of emotions. Little Bear made his last exit from Reception class by pelting his toy at the waiting parents and screaming.

Thank goodness for the emergency KitKat in my handbag.

The emotions continued to be untameable on the walk home when Little Bear insisted upon balancing alongside the roadside curb edge despite me telling him several times to walk on the path part as it would be further from the cars and much safer. Little Bear was unable to heed my instructions and I eventually had to move him to the safe part of the pavement. This resulted in a hit and a scratch which I chose to ignore.

A few seconds later Little Bear said “I just scratched your hand” in a small sad voice. “Yes, you did” I replied “but I’m ignoring it because I think you’re feeling a bit sad”. I suggested that when we got home it might be a good idea to have a rest in front of the TV. When we got in Little Bear wasn’t particularly up for that plan. Nor was he keen to go to the toilet when I asked him to and was starting to get offensive.

Usually at these times you can talk, reason, cajole, shout, fully lose it to your hearts content and Little Bear will not heed your words. However, somehow he got onto my knee and must have listened to what I was saying (though it didn’t look or sound like he was listening at all). I did some wondering about how he might be feeling and maybe it had something to do with it being the last day in Reception class. I gave reassurance about his teacher going up with him and Big Bear chimed in, in that instinctive way that he has, about how Year 1 is not scary and will be fun. I suggested that Little Bear was likely to head towards getting himself into trouble if he continued as he was and that I was trying to help him not to do that by giving him a rest. By some miracle something resonated and he asked if I would sit with him on the sofa.

We spent the next hour or so with Little Bear wedged between my thighs, his legs atop mine, the back of his head pressed into my chest watching Paw Patrol. I didn’t think it was a coincidence that the programme he chose to watch was one he used to choose when he was a bit younger.

Lasts are so hard for our children. Evidently the last day had brought all sorts of other things into question for him, most basically, was he still safe with us or were we leaving him too? I wonder how long he will need to be here before he can stop asking that question.

 

The First that I wanted to talk about is much more positive, though it has been hanging in the balance for most of the week. Little Bear was meant to be going to stay at my parent’s house this weekend. It would be the first time he had slept out since being with us (23 months now) and when I thought about it, I realised it was a pretty big deal.

Big Bear has slept out quite a few times now (sometimes because he needs a break) and on the last few occasions Little Bear has felt quite left out. Up until recently we would not have considered it all, being as though it would only have been fair to the grandparents if we could have sent Little Bear with some Valium and a flak jacket for them. As that wasn’t possible, we really couldn’t have inflicted the task on them.

However, apart from one fairly bad occasion, my parents have put Little Bear to sleep at our house successfully several times and sometimes he can be angelic at bedtime these days. The problem is that bedtimes are still very variable and we couldn’t guarantee what kind of night he might have if he went there. Irrespective of all that, my parents were feeling brave and we had pencilled in this weekend to have a try.

Bedtimes throughout this week have not been good. Things have been thrown, pulled, poked and spat on. Grizzly and I decided that if Little Bear could not show us that he could be sensible at bedtime, at least on Friday we couldn’t allow him to go. It just wouldn’t be fair and could go really badly. Of course we wanted the first attempt to be successful. However, we were pretty keen on it going ahead because Big Bear was super excited about getting some Mum and Dad time and as always we would have to balance both of their needs. Little Bear really wanted to go and has been excited about it for ages and my parents really wanted him to go.

I was very clear with Little Bear last night that he needed to get into bed and try to sleep. He shouldn’t be standing on the other end of his bed or pulling his door or shouting or throwing things. I was clear that if he couldn’t be sensible he couldn’t go to his grandparents. I know he understood this because he explained it back to me.

Bedtime did not go particularly well. It wasn’t horrendous but he certainly wasn’t trying to sleep and I did get called an idiot. It took quite a long time.

This is where adoption gets complicated. Although I know that Little Bear understood the rules I don’t honestly think that he can control himself enough yet to stick to them (not all the time anyway). This is where giving a consequence is unfair – is it really right to punish something he cannot control? Well, no. However, I could not have re-iterated and reinforced the rules more and as I had been clear about the consequence in advance, would I now be undermining myself and the rules if I didn’t follow through? How would Big Bear feel if his plans were scuppered by his brother’s behaviour? How would Little Bear feel in the morning when he found out that the consequence was really happening? Would it damage his self-esteem that I didn’t trust him to try the sleepover? Another day a fresh start and all that…

It is very easy to tie your brain in a knot of over analysis.

In the end Grizzly and I reached a compromise we were both happy with and I ran it by my parents to check they were on board too. Little Bear did get a consequence for his bedtime behaviour: he was not allowed his I Pad today (we are consistent in our use of this rule and feel it does have a useful impact and has helped with sorting the bedtime behaviours in general). However, we agreed to let him try the sleepover. If things went awry and he did not co-operate my parents would bring him home. Big Bear would get his evening out and I would keep everything crossed that Little Bear could manage.

This morning Little Bear woke me before 6:30, already half- dressed and asking me for a “packing bag”. I was pleased that I wouldn’t be dampening his enthusiasm. He was fully dressed and packed by 7am.

Although Little Bear was excited, he seemed a little nervous too. He wondered if my parents would come if he shouted them. He was upset Big Bear wasn’t going too. He would miss him. He needed reassurance that it was just one night and he would be back tomorrow.

It is not just Lasts that are complicated – Firsts have their fair share of issues too.

I have purposefully waited until this evening to blog because I really didn’t know which way things would go but I’m very happy to say that Little Bear has managed to get to sleep at my parent’s house and though I’m sure there will have been some shenanigans they were not sufficient to end the mission. I’m so pleased that we will be able to tell him how proud we are of him tomorrow and that we have missed him (the house is strangely quiet) and that he can sleep over again another time if he wants to because he behaved himself and my parents enjoyed him being there. Well done Little Bear, another fabulous first to celebrate.

Also well done and thank you to my parents as the three of us have had a lovely time going out for a grown up tea and seeing Despicable Me 3 and Big Bear is very happy.

Phew. I wonder what next week’s first days of Year 1 will bring?

 

 

First and Lasts