Alone Parenting

I’ve written plenty before about the challenges of adoptive parenting or parenting a child with SEMH needs (Social, Emotional or Mental Health needs) and the different ways it can impact you. I’ve written about the need we have, as parents, for affirmation – for someone to tell us now and again that we’re doing a good job. I’ve written about CCVAB (Childhood challenging, violent or aggressive behaviour) – the taboos around this, the terror of it, the ways it can keep you awake at night. I’ve written about external factors like the impact of school and professionals who come on the journey with you, and even how you can feel judged by random members of the public. There are times when I have written pretty frankly about the hard bits of our parenting journey, my anxieties, our messier moments.

This morning I have been reminded that I have revealed and discussed all of this from within the comfort of my supportive marriage. My marriage in which I can be brutally honest with my husband, and him with me. My marriage in which I have a place to off load, to discuss, to compare notes, to problem-solve, to rant, to moan, to cry, to celebrate the tiniest success, to despair, to have a hug. In my marriage, I have a co-pilot who I can switch with and who helps me navigate and make this journey.

Outside of my marriage, I have parents and a parent-in-law and a brother and soon to be sister-in-law who are all there, supporting our journey.

Outside of that, I have good friends who I can talk freely to, who bring their own knowledge to the table, who listen, counsel, support.

I’m very lucky.

This morning, I realised that even cocooned within all those layers of support, there have been times when I have felt desperate and despairing. I don’t think I’ve experienced those things too much on a prolonged basis but there have been times that I’ve felt them. I think all parents do, sometimes.

Then, I thought, what if all those cocooning layers were stripped away? What if a person didn’t have friends who understood their challenges or their child’s challenges? What if their family – their parents, their siblings, their cousins – whoever they have – didn’t understand their challenges? What if – even worse – their partner wasn’t supportive? How desperate and despairing would that be?

What if their partner not only wouldn’t work in partnership but actively avoided things that might help (such as engaging with any external support offered or reading helpful books)? What if their partner were critical or didn’t offer affirmation or a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear? What if their partner refused to co-parent or use therapeutic strategies or just didn’t bother to get their hands dirty with the business of parenting at all?

What if a person had to walk this journey truly alone?

I suspect many of us are guilty of seeing that a person has a partner or spouse and assuming they provide them with the support I talked about above. But what if they don’t? What if their relationship is a lonely place? What if they have polarising view points on parenting or discipline or how to manage CCVAB? What if they can’t even talk about how to parent anymore? What if every chat ends in an argument? What if one of them mentally (or even physically) checks out, leaving the other to deal with everything alone? What if their differences lead to inconsistencies and unpredictable boundaries? What if the children feel this and it further discombobulates them? What if the CCVAB becomes directed to one parent only? What if the other turns a blind eye? What if one is made to feel it’s their fault? That it’s their bad parenting doing it. What if that person’s confidence has become so eroded they think it’s their fault too?

I know you can adopt as a single person. I think the hope would be that the next layers of support – the wider family, the close friends – would step closer, ensuring you are still well cocooned. And this can work as beautifully as a good partnership. But what if it doesn’t? What if they don’t step forward? What if a parent is left with an empty moat where the support should be? What if they experience external judgement and criticism to such a level their confidence is eroded to nothing?

How desperate and despairing would they be then?

I guess it’s hard to speak out about it if you’re trapped in it. You think it’s your fault or just what you deserve anyway. You fear what the speaking out or the being honest could do.

This post is for you. I see you. I see how hard you’re trying. How you’re giving parenting everything but you’re exhausted. And worn down. How you think everyone must be doing it better than you are. How scary the future is. How alone you feel. How difficult it must be to have the courage of your convictions or to make choices about which way to manage challenging situations for the best. Alone.

You do deserve to be heard. You do deserve support. This parenting alone thing – its fucking rock solid, not just hard. It’s hard enough with the support but without it? I don’t know, but I’m upsetting myself imagining it. Please believe that what you are doing is a great achievement, in the most trying of circumstances. You’re doing it. You’re persevering. You’re getting up every day and doing it again and again and again.

Don’t look at the rest of us and imagine we have everything sewn up and tickety-boo. We don’t. We lose our shit, our houses are messy, we cut parenting corners. I mean it’s winter – if you can’t be bothered to iron a school shirt, it’ll hide very nicely under a sweatshirt. Not managed to bath them today? So what? Give them a quick wet wipe.

Sometimes survival is enough, for all of us. It has to be.

I could have a separate rant about the standards we set ourselves and the random demands we think society expects of us, especially in the run up to Christmas – the mountains of presents, the outfits, the bloody elves on the shelves – but I’ll try to resist. Ignore it, if you can. Set your standards, stick to those. You’re doing your level best and at the end of the day, it’s all you can do and it’s all that matters.

I think what I’m trying to say is, if you are truly alone in this, I am truly sorry. Please look after yourself. It shouldn’t be this way, but if it is, be your own warrior. Don’t stop fighting to be heard. Don’t stop standing up for what you believe in. Don’t stop trying.

Twitter used to be an amazing place to connect and get virtual support but it is sadly not as safe as it once was. However, there are still those of us whose direct messages are always open and are more than happy to talk without judgment (@adoptionblogfox). We are all in this together, cocooned or not.

 

 

If you’re a person who sits in judgement, thinking how well you are doing and how good your parenting is and how lacking others’ is in comparison – stop it. Most of the time we have not a clue what does or does not go on behind people’s doors. Until you’ve walked a mile and all that…

 

If you’re the partner who has mentally checked out or withdrawn because it’s easier or because you don’t know what else to do, please talk to your co-parent. This sort of parenting isn’t easy for anybody. But it so much easier if you can find a way to do it together.

 

Apologies for my slightly bossy tone but I’m reaching the end of my third decade, my hormones are pretty fierce and I just cannot be doing with people being shit to one another. Life is hard enough, parenting is hard enough. SEMH parenting or adoptive parenting is next level hard. Doing that alone? Hideously difficult. Let’s have some compassion and look after each other.

Please reach out to someone if you can.

Virtual hugs,

xx

 

Alone Parenting

Social Life?

I think I might be turning into a hermit. Or we might be.

It’s weird because although I do tend more towards the introvert, I do love people. I’m pretty intrigued by others and love to chat and hear people’s stories. I’ll chat to anybody. I am a sociable person. Well, I think I was, some time ago.

We never have people over. I don’t mean our families – they do come over – I mean friends. We never entertain. We haven’t had a single barbeque this summer, which is unusual, because we do usually have those, for family at least. We haven’t had a games night or shared a takeaway or even drinks and nibbles. We’ve shut the door, battened down the hatches, closed ranks.

I know why it is. There are a few reasons really. One is that I have never been a huge fan of cooking for people (though I happily cook for my family) – I find it onerous and stressful; as though people are going to expect cordon bleu and find themselves disappointed. I can just imagine guests travelling home in the back of a taxi like they do on Come Dine With Me, flashing up cardboard 2s or 3s and tutting about the consistency of the rice. Of course I know that our actual friends won’t care what we serve up; that a takeaway would be perfectly fine if we got to spend some time together and in the olden days I would have got over myself and rustled something up anyway. I would have made an effort.

Because having people over, no matter how much you adore them, does require some effort, doesn’t it? I would clean up, I would think about the menu, I would make the table look nice, I would buy alcohol or other things that I wouldn’t usually. I’d make an effort so that the overall experience for them and us would be enjoyable and a bit special.

Recently, that effort required has felt like too much effort. I know that’s awful because we still love our friends and we still want to see them but we’re knackered. And that’s the honest truth.

I think everyone’s lives are hard these days. People work long hours, the planet is falling apart, politics has gone to shit and parenting is energy sapping for all. I suspect it is no coincidence that it is this year, the trickiest year we’ve had as a family for a while, that I’m noticing the decline in our social life. Having a child with SEMH needs is especially exhausting and we are aware that once work has had its share of our energy and we have given pretty much everything else and more to parenting, there isn’t really anything left. I just don’t have the je ne sais quoi to make the house look nice or rustle up some dinner or, if I’m honest, even speak to anyone. And Grizzly is the same, if not worse than me, as his job takes so much from him.

And it isn’t just that. There’s the fear over how any social event might go, if we could actually summon up the energy to organise it. What if LB is in one of Those moods? What if there is spitting and hitting and throwing while people are here? How will he get on with any additional children involved? Will we be required to referee the whole time? Will there be a Scene? If there are no other children, what’s the likelihood of him coping with our diverted attention while we try to chat with other adults? Sometimes the very idea of the possible scenarios makes it all too much to even contemplate. We’d rather just keep it small, keep to the formulas we know work, keep it to the four of us.

Some of this is with good reason. We don’t get much time as a four and the time we do have is precious. Grizzly works long hours and sometimes he travels, taking him away from home for a night or two or three. When he comes back, it is imperative he and LB have time to re-connect. That won’t happen if we bring others into the mix.

Some of it is about us being tuned into LB and matching our activities to what he can cope with – what’s the point of putting him in social situations which we know will challenge him when he’s in a state of survival and can’t cope with the most basic of situations?

Some of it is with good reason.

But some of it is because we are knackered.

I know that I actively avoid having children over to play because it makes life about a gazillion times harder to manage. BB is now at the stage where he’d have people over all the time but then he’d be in his room and LB wouldn’t so he’d be banging incessantly on the door annoying them and I’d have to try to distract him but that would be hard because he’d just want his brother and he’d be feeling rejected that his brother has chosen to play with someone who isn’t him and that rejection would come out as anger and that would be directed at me, the only other person in the scenario and the person he feels most comfortable expressing his difficult emotions to. And honestly, if I could have that or I could have a peaceful evening where they entertain each other, it feels like a no brainer.

I struggle with inviting children for LB to play with because all the children he’s attracted to are loud, boisterous and want to fight. So they will fight and it’ll go too far and I will lose my mind and we may all end up in A and E.

A possible solution is to let them both bring a friend over at the same time but then there’s four and do I actually want to lose my sanity? And clear up the inevitable chaos afterwards? Do I?

We get round some of the play dates thing by doing it on days when Grizzly is around so he can take BB and a friend out and I can have a 1:1 day with LB. That’s much easier.

There are other options I’ve mulled over such as meeting one of LB’s friends in a park and asking their parent to be there too but I have to confess that I have not yet taken the deep breath I need to and followed through on this. It would involve speaking to other parents of children in his class, something I do kind of avoid (see The Other Parents ).

I know I must dig deeper.

The other day, some friends brought BB back from a day out and came in for a bit. The house was a bomb site from a day of being in with a clingy LB – the dishes weren’t washed, there was stuff everywhere, some of which I had to move for them to even sit. LB was in bed but not really settled and still shouting and I had to go back and to a few times. I was a bit discombobulated to begin with but then he went quiet and I made cups of tea and we got playing and chatting and it was lovely. I had a moment of realisation where people saw my dirty plates but the world didn’t end. Nothing imploded. They didn’t run away screaming. I was just about capable of coherent conversation.

Instead of feeling ashamed at the state of the place, I just really enjoyed their company. It left me feeling that despite being knackered and all the potential challenges, it is worth making the effort to have people over. We are not natural hermits and I mustn’t start thinking we are. Admittedly our circumstances make being sociable as a family more difficult – I tend to spend quality time with my friends while the boys are at school but rarely bring our families together – but it isn’t impossible.

We accidentally bumped into some children we know from school today and both boys played happily with them without issue. It assuaged my guilt a little – they do get to play with others – but I’m keen to do more. We’ve become those people who aren’t even reliable when a date is in the diary – sometimes an event gets close and we just don’t feel we can anymore; like the effort of it will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

I don’t want to be socially flaky. I don’t want to be the parent who can’t be bothered to support our children’s friendships. Or the friend who never invites you in.

I’m going to have to eat my Weetabix, lower my standards and just get on with it. So, feel free to come visit but expect mess and a takeaway. Ok?

 

 

Social Life?

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

The Other Parents

I realised the other day that I am completely unsociable when it comes to the parents in Little Bear’s class and, unfortunately, I think it has to be that way.

Having already done the school-mum-thing with Big Bear I know that it can be fine. It’s all very awkward to start with as everyone tries to get the measure of each other and you try to suss out who might be potential friends. Now that he is in year 4 I have reached a comfortable place with the other parents from his class. I have one proper friend, who I hang out with outside of school events but if I happened to be sat next to pretty much any of the other parents for some reason (excepting one or two) I would feel comfortable chatting. I would know a little about their family and vice versa. There wouldn’t be any awkwardness. I don’t think there would be any topics I would be actively avoiding.

I’m probably not the most sociable of parents within the playground in general – I don’t like playground gossip or competitive parenting. I also don’t drink so I’m not fussed on a boozy night out. But I have been to quiz nights, craft fayres, meals, make up and jewellery parties along the way and have built up comfortable alliances. I suppose I know where I’m at amongst that group of parents and everything is tickety-boo.

Now over a year into Little Bear’s schooling, I am finding things with the year 1 parents quite different. I haven’t really built any friendships and tend to keep myself to myself. I realised it the other day when standing alone, feeling a little conspicuous, waiting to pick the little dude up. Why? I wondered. Why am I holding back and purposefully avoiding eye contact? Why aren’t I even engaging in a bit of chit-chat?

I mentioned it to my friend when I was away at the weekend and she said “I think its self-preservation love”, in that way that old friends who know you better than you know yourself can. I’m pretty sure she’s right. I don’t think it is just because Little Bear is adopted, though that is part of it. I think it is also a lot to do with the fact that he has emotional and behavioural difficulties and is not without his educational challenges. Relationships with other parents are certainly more of a minefield when it is your child who is disrupting the class.

I have been in the playground long enough to know how these conversations go. You start chatting about the one thing you know you have in common: school. Inevitably someone asks someone else how their child is getting on. You can try to be generic: “they’re tired” you can say, “It’s a big jump to year 1”. But it is never long before things get more specific. “Yes, it’s a nightmare trying to get all their homework done now they have phonics books isn’t it?” And already you have a problem because your child doesn’t have a phonics book yet. You are faced with the choice of lying in a nodding and smiling kind of way or ‘fessing up. But if you go down the fessing up route it is inevitable that you have to start talking about your child’s needs and how they got them.

I don’t want to discuss Little Bear’s needs with all and sundry. I don’t want parents of children he is in class with to know about his difficulties in any detail. I don’t want to tell them he’s adopted.

However, if you go down the nod and smile route you can never move beyond the superficial.

I am not against discussing Little Bear’s needs per se – I talk to many of my friends about them and obviously I blog about them for the whole internet to see (it’s different, its anonymous) but I want to build up a certain level of trust with somebody new before I go into that kind of detail. I need to know that I can trust them to be discreet and not make Little Bear the talk of the playground. It is very difficult, I am finding, to develop that level of trust with the parents in his class prior to the types of discussion I outlined above. It’s all a bit chicken and egg so I think the easiest thing is to hold back and not enter into these situations in the first place.

All of this is notwithstanding the behaviour. Little Bear tends not to come home and tell me all about what has happened at school, though I hear the most sensational bits when I get called in by his teacher. However, I’m sure that most other children in his class have more advanced language skills and are only too happy to inform their parents of what antics the other children have been up to. I’m also pretty sure that Little Bear’s name, amongst a couple of others, will feature fairly frequently.

I can’t help but wonder, while standing alone in the playground, what the other parents must think of me. Unless they are particularly well-informed about trauma and speech and language difficulties I can only assume that they think Little Bear is naughty. I imagine that most people would then make the not very big leap that his behaviour could well be due to our parenting. Perhaps I am being a little paranoid but I don’t think so, its human nature to wonder and cast aspersions. I can only imagine the conversations that have gone on behind closed doors.

Though I am well-informed about behaviour and the whys and wherefores, if I’m very honest, I don’t think I am entirely comfortable with being the mum of ‘the naughty boy’. I think if the truth be told no parent would want that, for them, or their child. It feels very exposing.

In fact, my avoidance of the other parents has fanned out from the playground and now incorporates out of school events such as parties. I hate taking Little Bear to parties. To start with I was all keen and dutifully took him along to everything but I have quickly lost my enthusiasm.

The problem with parties is that because I am all too aware of Little Bear’s behaviour challenges I don’t take my eyes off him. Other parents pay little heed to their children though and therefore don’t witness what I witness. They don’t see their little darling goading Little Bear or winding him up. They just hear A LOT about it when he finally snaps and thumps them. The children themselves see fit to come and tell Grizzly or I what Little Bear has done and deny their part in the event, even though we have seen it with our own eyes. The children are quick to blame him, too quick. They know he gets himself in bother and therefore it is easy to blame him. People (their parents?) think he’s naughty anyway.

We went to one party and I had to leave in the end because steam was practically coming out of my ears. There was nothing enjoyable about seeing my boy in such a no-win position. I didn’t want him in that situation and I didn’t know what good would come of it.

Grizzly thought I was a bit mad and over-reacting so I suggested he be in charge of taking Little Bear to the next party. He was and suffice it to say that we haven’t agreed to any invites since.

The no-show at parties is probably doing little to help my position with the other parents. No doubt they think I’m aloof and unfriendly, as well as bad at disciplining my child.

I do try to smile at people to balance things out.

In Little Bear’s class there are (strangely) 4 other sets of adopters. You would think that I might find solace in that group. I am friendly with one of those Mums but that relationship grew because we are neighbours and knew each other way before the dawn of the school situation. I began to get friendly with one of the other adopters when the children first started school and although his child does also have some difficulties with his emotion and behaviour regulation, he does not struggle academically, something which his Dad likes to make clear to me. I find competitive parenting difficult at the best of times, not least when you haven’t a chance of being in the competition.

I don’t want it to sound as though I am only able to be-friend other parents of adopted children with SEN. That certainly isn’t the case. Many of my friends who have grown their families through conception and whose children have no difficulties at all are extremely understanding and supportive towards me/us. In fact, you don’t need to have had children at all to understand that navigating Little Bear’s school life could be hard. You just need to be human and empathetic.

The thing is that many of the parents in Little Bear’s class could be just that. If I tried to talk to them and make them understand, they might well. They haven’t done anything wrong. Although I’m not breaking up with anybody, I do feel the urge to say “it’s not them, it’s me”.

It is me. I’m holding back. It’s self-preservation. Because having a child with a range of needs is tough enough. I haven’t the energy to test the relationship waters or overcome the myriad of possible issues with the other parents. It is bad enough standing there with baited breath at the end of each day wondering whether I will hear the most feared five words from a teacher in playground history: Could I have a word? And if I do hear that, I need to steal myself for whatever issue has occurred now, pretend that no one has noticed I’ve been called in again and gather my thoughts so I can respond in a contained and constructive way.

I’m like the playground armadillo – I look cold and unfriendly but my shell is just for protection.

 

 

 

 

The Other Parents

Support Networks in Adoption

There is good reason why a significant amount of time is spent checking out your support network during the assessment phase of the adoption process. It’s because, well, you really need one.

We are very lucky because the boys have 3 grandparents and they all live close by. They are certainly the key players in our support network. They have provided emotional support every step of the way through the adoption process.

Grizzly’s Mum had to come with us for introductions because we were staying far from home and we needed help with Big Bear who wasn’t meeting Little Bear straight away. As introductions were very stressful and eventful for us, we leaned fairly heavily on her for emotional and practical support. Meanwhile, my parents were in constant text/phone contact and made sure we had food in the fridge to come back to.

Once we were back, the grandparents tried hard to stay away until we felt Little Bear was ready to meet them. During that time they continued to check in and make sure Grizzly and I were ok. They brought food, took away washing and were on hand to give Big Bear a bit of quality 1:1 time whenever his new brother got a bit too much for him.

As time has gone on and Little Bear has formed bonds with them, the grandparents have been instrumental in our childcare arrangements. Sometimes they have taken one Bear out so that we could spend quality time with the other one. We always swap over another day so that they both get the same. Sometimes they have looked after them both so that I could do practical things like go to work or get us ready for holidays. They have received several phone calls asking for unplanned child care help when I have needed to be in two places at the same time e.g. take one to school and the other to the doctor or when I have needed to be in a meeting and Grizzly has been stuck in traffic. They are basically always there, at the end of the phone and will unquestioningly appear if we need their help. We are very lucky because not everybody has parents on hand and have to rely on friends or neighbours for this type of help.

Having a reliable source of childcare available is crucial for adoption to work in my opinion. Sometimes you need a break. Sometimes you and your partner need to get out of the house on your own and have a bit of grown up time.  It helps you to be better at the parenting bits.

Early on in our adoption, we had some support from the Centre for Adoption Support. We had some consultations with a very experienced post-adoption support worker. We were able to speak with her openly about our worries over Little Bear’s behaviour and sleep issues. I remember her asking me if Grizzly and I were getting out enough. I don’t think we had been out at all at that point. She told us we should and that even if we came home and both boys were crying and so were the grandparents, it wouldn’t matter because we would have been out! Her directness meant that we felt able to do just that and not worry too much about how things were at home. Thankfully nobody was crying in the event and we have tried to get out on our own every now and again since.

We have also drawn on support from our friends, both locally and further away. I think the biggest thing we have asked of them is their understanding and acceptance. We have not asked directly but through our choice to adopt and through trying to stay in touch with them and do normal everyday things with them. In the early days this meant them having to accommodate routines we were sticking to rigidly and dealing with any behaviour meltdowns they might witness. It is with credit to our friends that they have just got on with it and accepted Little Bear for who he is right from the start. They have welcomed him into the fold as they would a new-born baby.

I have used several friends as a listening ear at times (you don’t want to keep harping on at the same person!), mainly to regale them with tales of what he’s done now but sometimes because something is worrying me and I need to talk it over. I’m lucky to know other Speech and Language Therapists, an OT and teachers, who I do approach for more specific advice if I need it.

Finally, another source of support for me is other adopters. Usually there are issues we have in common and I find the online adoption community very friendly and supportive. If you are having one of those days or you aren’t sure how to get the wee smell out of school shoes or you want some tips on helping Little Bear to count when you feel you have tried everything, there is always somebody out there in the Twittersphere who will respond, advise and reassure.

I have previously written about the support provided to us by our social worker. You can read that blog post here: Our Social Worker

Support Networks in Adoption

September at Adoption: The Bear Facts

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

What we’ve been up to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Bear’s Mini Projects

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

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Snapshots:

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

Project home improvements:

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

September at Adoption: The Bear Facts

August at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Another crazy, busy and fun filled month has passed. Its round-up time!

Events:

The first week of August was a combination of us being at home and me returning to work after my Adoption Leave (see Goodbye Adoption Leave for my musings on how the year went). I eased myself in gently with only two days of work before disappearing again on annual leave for our holidays.

During that first week we had a couple of really good days out. One was to a family fun day at a local park where the boys had a donkey ride and tried archery and Grizzly had a go on a Segway. The second was to an adventure park that is actually very close to where we live but for some reason we have never tried it before. It has go-karts, more archery, hay bales to climb on, a huge inflatable pillow to bounce on, tractor trailer rides, massive zip wires and loads more. We spent a very enjoyable day there and two boisterous boys got plenty of sensory stimulation and burned a good quantity of energy.

Grizzly ended up being off work the day before we went on holiday which meant he could entertain the boys whilst I did the packing. I usually find that part of the process pretty stressful and am usually exhausted by the time we fall into the car the next day. However the fact that we were both around meant everything went a lot more smoothly. The holidays themselves were generally a success too. You can read about them here: The Bears go on holiday.

On the way back from our week at the seaside we stopped in to see our friends for a night. We have stayed there before so we knew Little Bear would be fine with it. The 5 children had a brilliant time together as they always do. I got a little carried away chatting with one of my friends (who going forwards I am going to refer to as Aunty Giraffe as she is a big part of the boy’s lives and it seems weird not to refer to her more specifically) and stayed up way past my bedtime, then ended up having a mini party in the bathroom at 2am as Little Bear had woken for the toilet and my mum-in-law was awake worrying that she had broken the blind cord!

As soon as we were back at home again, our attentions turned to our upcoming Adoption Celebrations which took place later that week. The weather caused us a bit of stress but both our court celebration and the party we held 2 days later went brilliantly. I have very happy memories of both events and will definitely be getting some photos printed soon. The Bears loved it and Little Bear coped surprisingly well with having a house full of people. We had the bouncy castle all weekend which made them very happy and in fact they were still bouncing on it when the guy came to pick it up again.

Four days later Aunty Giraffe came to visit. The boys were very excited about this as she hadn’t been able to make the party and they both love it when she stays. Always one to think of everything she had adopted an animal each for them as an adoption celebration present. Big Bear had a gorilla and Little Bear a Lion, their respective favourite animals. I’m not sure that Little Bear really understands the concept of it because it isn’t the same as his adoption: he won’t ever meet the lion. However, he has the cuddly toy lion which is tangible and which has come to live with him and of whom he is now very fond.

Aunty Giraffe stayed for 4 nights. On Thursday she had a day out with Grizzly and the boys while I went to work (groan) then on the Friday we did a bit of baking and took the boys for a walk and a picnic in the park.

On Saturday one of our University friends was getting married so we left the boys with my parents and had a grown up day at the wedding. Thankfully the Bears were on their best behaviour and my parents did not look exhausted or dishevelled when we returned (big bonus: they might babysit again!).

It was nice to see how well Little Bear got on with Aunty Giraffe as he hasn’t actually met her that many times. He was very friendly towards her and was desperate to go and find her each morning when he woke. It was also good to compare his behaviour this time with when she stayed last time back in January. Although that visit had gone ok, we had had quite a few issues with him wanting to play on her Tablet but then not give it back, which had led to several big meltdowns. He has certainly learned a lot about other people’s possessions and doing what you’re told since then.

That brings us to this week. My attentions have turned to making sure we have all the right uniform and are vaguely organised for the imminent return to school. I have tried to make the most of my days with the boys before they disappear off again. It’s a tricky balance between getting them a bit rested ready for the new term (they both seem tired) and not allowing boredom to creep in. Today turned into a fairly long and busy day but we’ve had a lovely time. I didn’t have a pre-decided plan and I’m thankful that we are now able to allow days to evolve and just see where the fancy takes us. We started off at a park (we have a few different ones that we circle between) then tried out a nearby bakers for a take-away lunch which we ate in the car. I kept the windows closed as the boys spent the whole time pointing out bald people!! Afterwards we drove to an ice-cream farm which turned out to have a maize maze at it. We had to find hidden words then if you got them all you won a free ice cream. They boys basically just ran round and round inside the maze for ages whilst I struggled after them in my flip flops trying not to lose them! At least I got some much needed exercise.

Later on our friends came to meet us and ended up coming back to our house for some tea. Their little girl is Big Bear’s age and I’m always a little bit amazed that the 3 children play so well together. The bigger 2 are very good at including the little dude. It did make for a very raucous tea time though!

Milestones:

Little Bear had his first proper play date. Regular readers might remember that when Little Bear finished Pre-school I left my phone number for the Mum of his friend. I didn’t know if that was weird behaviour or how she would feel about it and whether or not she would get in touch. I was very pleased when a couple of weeks later she sent me a text and we arranged a meet up. It wasn’t awkward and we chatted easily while the boys played (I was muchly relieved). The boys were very happy to see each other and called each other’s names and ran to one another as though they were on a film set. The only problem was that there was a constant exchange of rude words between them which was quite difficult to quell. Words were had afterwards. However, my overriding feeling was positive. I was pleased that Little Bear had been able to leave his Preschool without a complete severing of ties. Hopefully this would help him to see that attachments are worth making and you don’t have to go through life constantly leaving people you like and love behind, as he has had to so far.

This month we have celebrated the anniversaries of meeting Little Bear and of him moving in. You can read about my Reflections on Adoption One Year In here.

Last month I talked about Little Bear showing a budding interest in Lego. This has gone from strength to strength and he got a couple of sets as presents when we had the party. He now has a couple of different superhero figures and some vehicles. He absolutely loves them and I can’t believe how long he has managed to sit still and play with them. He seems to have discovered the joy of small world play and it is as though he cannot satiate his hunger for it. He pretty much wakes me up every morning with “Mum, can we go downstairs? You play with me?” and I seem to be getting bored before he does.

It is different playing with Little Bear than it was when Big Bear was the same age. Big Bear had very strict rules on his games. If we were playing Lego we couldn’t mix in a bit of Playmobil. There was no way he was up for that. He also went through a big phase of demanding “make the man talk” which used to give me performance anxiety! What should the man say? What if I didn’t want to make the man talk? The games were detailed and Big Bear had very clear ideas about should happen in them.

Little Bear is much more of a play maverick. He loves a mash up: a plastic anteater with Duplo men; Lego men in a Playmobil Police Station; dinosaurs with superheroes. It is brilliant to see him engaging with toys so positively and persevering and letting his imagination run wild. It is such a contrast to the boy who used to spend all his time flicking switches on and off and fiddling with taps.

Little Bear is also becoming more independent with his dressing and toileting which I’m pleased about with school just around the corner.

The fact that he has also started to recognise some letter shapes blows my mind.

Big Bear had a first this month too. He went to his first live football match. He went for his birthday instead of having a party. He absolutely loved it (apart from the noise: “Mum, they had noisy horns, people were horning everywhere”!) and cannot wait to go again.

This might seem like a strange thing to mention but this month the Bears had their first bath together in a year. Oddly, they did have a bath together on the first day they ever met as they had both got wet and both needed to get warm and put dry clothes on. In retrospect it was a huge error as the day ended up being a disaster and Big Bear was totally overwhelmed by Little Bear’s wild bath time antics. Since then I would have liked to bath them together for practical reasons but I haven’t insisted on it as Big Bear really didn’t want to. For quite a while he wouldn’t change in front of Little Bear and wanted the loo door firmly closed. As their relationship has developed things have changed drastically on this front – recently they were both in hysterics in the bathroom together while Big Bear was on the loo. I have no idea what was so funny (Grizzly was there too and couldn’t shed any light on the matter) but apparently privacy has gone out the window for now. I was still surprised though when Big Bear suggested they have a bath together the other day. I think it made Little Bear’s day and really shows how far they have come in their first year as brothers.

Snapshots:

  • Little Bear saying “I want to live with them forever” at the court celebration
  • The three bears playing a very lively and laughter-filled game of swing ball in the garden
  • Playing Uno Attack with both sets of grandparents

There are no Project Home Improvement updates this month. Hopefully there will be next time.

August at Adoption: The Bear Facts