Last week marked the anniversary of us meeting Little Bear for the first time. Today is the anniversary of him moving in to live with us forever. I’m not quite sure which anniversary we are meant to celebrate but I like remembering both of them (and the anniversary of first seeing his profile). It’s greedy I know but it’s nice to look back and see how far we’ve come.
So what are my thoughts one year in? Has it been how I imagined it would be? Is there anything I would change with the benefit of hindsight?
Although I never thought adoption would be easy and I was fully aware of the potential challenges, I’m not sure I expected it to be so unrelenting and such a test of endurance.
I expected that bonding would take time. I do feel that I have a good bond with Little Bear but at the same time I’m aware it can be brittle. He needs A LOT of 1:1 time. If I have a busy couple of days or have to be at work I can start to feel the fractures forming. Even though I see him every day and we eat breakfast together and have cuddles and I’m home for bedtime, it is not enough. You can’t back off for a few days and still expect to be where you were before, as you could with a child with a different background. Adopted children tend to need a high level of you all the time. Without you there are usually wobbles.
These wobbly moments tend to lead to a deterioration in behaviour. I guess it’s the whole you aren’t giving me enough attention so I’ll behave in such a way that you have to notice me thing. At these points adoption can feel emotionally counterintuitive: I know intellectually that he needs more of me but emotionally it can be the last thing I feel like doing. This challenging little person who is so adept at pushing your buttons and who is behaving in a defiant, negative and sometimes aggressive manner needs you to get close and stay close to them. They also need you to seem as though you genuinely want to, which, to be brutally honest, given their behaviour, can require a lot of getting over yourself and some Oscar-worthy acting.
These sorts of days are hard.
The first few months of adoption consisted mainly of these days, along with some even worse nights. As time has gone on thankfully the numbers of days like this have significantly reduced and they now tend to be outnumbered by good days.
I have been surprised by how quickly family life with Little Bear started to feel “normal”. It definitely didn’t initially and it was like having a stranger under our roof for a while. I wasn’t keen on him getting into our bed to start with as it seemed quite odd and a bit of an invasion and I tended to dread what the morning might bring. Social Workers warned that it can take years to achieve the “normal” feeling. However, in reality, it only took a few months for us. Suddenly I was happy to see his cheeky little face first thing in the morning and only too happy to scoop him into our warm bed for a sleepy cuddle. Well, sleepy for me anyway, he’s usually wide awake and not keen to stay still for long.
Despite now knowing Little Bear well, having a fairly good understanding of his behaviour and having read widely on attachment theory, I can still struggle not to lose my temper. Remaining calm in the face of barefaced defiance is a work in progress for me. I fully understand why I need to and that there are other far more effective strategies in my tool box. However, I am also human and anybody who spends any prolonged time with Little Bear will also attest that staying calm is easier said than done.
Adoption is not for the fainthearted.
I hope that when I look back in another year’s time I will have further honed my calm (no matter what) skills.
Although adoption clearly has its challenges, it is no myth that it is also extremely rewarding. I have talked about Little Bear’s difficulties and the progress he has made in Living with Speech and Language Difficulties, Developmental Delay and Mischief. When I reflect on the past year it is impossible for me not to marvel at how much Little Bear has achieved. It is such an honour to be able to support his development and witness his progress. Little Bear is quite the little sponge when it comes to new information and I take a lot of pleasure in providing it for him and helping him to understand it. Being able to take part in a child’s developmental metamorphosis is one of the many huge positives of adoption.
Another massive positive for us has been seeing the bond between Big Bear and Little Bear develop and go from strength to strength. It is no secret that their relationship had a very turbulent beginning (you can read about it in Getting brother or sister) and we often searched our souls about whether the risk we were taking was too big. However, their closeness now has surpassed our expectations. I wouldn’t have dared to wish that they could be as affectionate or respectful or proud of each other as they are.
Big Bear still pretends to himself that he doesn’t like having a brother and that adoption is a negative thing but it is plain for all to see that really he has fallen for Little Bear hook, line and sinker.
I’m not sure there is anything that makes me happier than seeing them cuddle each other (which they do a lot). Biologically they are unrelated but they are truly brothers.
Talking of family ties, something I have been reflecting on recently is the role of grandparents in adoption. Both my parents and Grizzly’s Mum live close by and I would consider us to be a close family. All 3 grandparents have always been very involved with Big Bear and have provided child care for us when I have been at work. When we decided to adopt they were very positive and supportive of our decision. If they had any reservations they kept them to themselves. They were excited about having a second grandchild. They were keen to understand what an adopted child might need and read everything we sent their way. They are all around model grandparents and we know we are very lucky.
It can be difficult therefore to witness Little Bear being less than civil towards them. He is not always rude: sometimes he is loving and pleased to see them. At other times he makes it quite clear he would rather they weren’t there. Grizzly’s Mum recently came on holiday with us (something which Big Bear has always loved) and Little Bear was pretty persistent in making her feel unwelcome. I guess he didn’t want our attention to be diluted. He was also somewhat reluctant to accept her authority and do anything she asked him.
He definitely tests the boundaries more with the grandparents. I guess it is because he is not yet completely secure in those relationships and strong bonds will take longer to form because although he sees them often, he does not spend all day every day with them as he does with us. Perversely there is a positive in it: it shows he is able to form different levels of attachment with different people, rather than attaching willy-nilly to anyone he meets, which is healthy.
I have seen adoptive parenting described as “extraordinary parenting”:- requiring something more than typically expected when having a child. I don’t think I had been fully cognisant until recently of the implication that extraordinary grand-parenting would also be required. Typical grand-parenting involves all the best bits of having children around – having fun, sleep overs, treats and of course being able to give the children back at the end of the day. Extraordinary adoptive grand-parenting means sometimes having to deal with the sharp end of anxious behaviour as well as verbal and physical aggression. For our grandparents it has meant having to employ a lot more discipline and behaviour management techniques than they could have imagined. It means that sometimes (despite not wanting to feel this way) I suspect they can’t wait to give the little darlings back and lie down somewhere in a darkened room.
They cope admirably but I think adoption asks a lot of grandparents.
I think adoption probably asks quite a lot of your entire support network. We have been very lucky because everyone has taken our decision in their stride and I have been touched by how quickly our friends and their children have accepted Little Bear, just the way he is. It is particularly lovely to see the children at Big Bear’s school interacting with him. They all know who he is (I reckon Big Bear talks about him all the time) and they consider him to be one of them. I think the warmth and acceptance they have shown him has helped him to settle in quickly.
I have no idea whether we have influenced people’s reactions or if it is just because we know lots of thoughtful people. We are very open about the adoption though and I don’t mind people asking questions at all. We haven’t shared the full details of Little Bear’s history with anybody (including our parents) but I’m not bothered if anyone asks. I think it’s natural that there is a curiosity about adoption because it is not something that everybody does. I think it can be hard for people to know what they should/ shouldn’t say. I consider questions to be a good opportunity to help them become more informed about adoption and I’m quite happy to explain that we purposefully withhold some information.
I remain very much pro-adoption. I’m not somebody who tries to get everyone they meet to adopt though as I really don’t think it is for everybody. However, if someone is interested I enjoy being involved in supporting them and hope that I can do more of that over the next year.
I think that adoption is hard but so is anything that is worth doing.
If I could turn back time would I do it all again? Absolutely, without any doubt. I love my Little Bear.
I’m very proud of how we have all survived the first year: things could have turned out so differently. I wonder what year 2 will bring…