A Confession

Readers, I have a confession to make. It is something I expect Society will disapprove of. It will certainly be frowned upon, if not judged very negatively, by most. I’m just going to spit it out: Little Bear still has a dummy.

I suspect this is controversial for two reasons. Firstly because Little Bear is 5, on the nearer to six side of things, and typically children give up their dummies whilst still pre-schoolers. Secondly, because I, his mother, am a Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT) who not only should know better but should be militantly opposed to dummies full stop.

It may make me a rubbish SaLT (I’ll take the chance) but I am not opposed to dummies. I certainly think they have their uses. Big Bear had one (ok, about nine) and was particularly attached to them, often sleeping with one in his mouth and one in his hand.

Initially, I tried extremely hard not to give him one, thinking it would make me a bad parent (as well as a bad therapist) if I did. However, after about 7 weeks of following the NHS guidance to demand feed, I had been feeding Big Bear around the clock and when I wasn’t doing that he was latching on to anything and everything (my arm, Grizzly’s nose etc.). I had to acquiesce to save my sanity, as well as my nipples.

Looking back, there are so many things to beat yourself up about as a new parent that I genuinely don’t think a dummy should be one of them. There are two main risks with dummy use: the impact on the infant’s teeth and the impact on their speech. Unless a child is plugged in constantly (wrong on many levels), an average amount of dummy-use is really only damaging to speech if a child speaks with the dummy in their mouth*. I have found that fairly easily solved with a ‘no talking with your dummy in’ rule, which I do stick to religiously. It hasn’t hampered either Bear from being a chatterbox. The dummy hasn’t stopped them talking, they have just got used to taking it out of their mouths to do so.

As Big Bear approached three years of age, his speech was developing well but I began to notice a change in his teeth. They were starting to angle outwards a little. It was obvious it was the dummy and it had to go. Although I knew he didn’t need it, I did know that he liked it A LOT and I was pretty trepidatious about the big withdrawal. Exactly how many nights would he scream for?!

I knew cold-turkey was really the only way but I wanted him to be as prepared as possible. We talked about dummy fairies and invented some sort of fable about what good purpose they put discarded dummies to (I can’t quite remember the details). I’m not ashamed to say we also used a good portion of bribery – those dummy fairies give a good reward! We left all the dummies outside on a plate on the allocated day (because clearly the fairies live outdoors) and the next morning a Lego truck had magically appeared in their place. The deed was done.

In reality we had one or two nights of Big Bear struggling to get to sleep but there was none of the fuss and palaver I had imagined. The big dummy withdrawal was, dare I say, pretty easy.

Several years later when we were in the process of Matching with Little Bear, it transpired that at the age of three and a half, he still had a dummy. Tut, tut, we said. How awful! He really should be rid of it by now! Just give it to the dummy fairies: how hard could it be?!

In our naivety I think we even suggested the Foster Carer’s should do the deed before he came to us.

The outrage! A three and a half year old with a dummy!

Yet, here we are, over two years later, the three and a half year old is now nearly six and he still has the dummy. So what has gone wrong?

Have I been too chicken this time?

No. Not too chicken. A little older, a little wiser and a LOT more tuned in. I haven’t taken Little Bear’s dummy away because he still needs it. Along with his blanket, it is the only thing that is guaranteed to calm him.

Usually the dummy and blanket live in his bedroom and Little Bear only has them after his bedtime stories when the light is going off. Most of the time he half forgets about them and can fall asleep without them. However, there are still days when he pads sheepishly downstairs with them, lays curled in the foetal position on the sofa and disappears off into his calm place for a couple of hours. If I didn’t let Little Bear have his dummy on that sort of day, he would prowl about, itchy, discontented and ill at ease. He would seek trouble, struggle with instruction and generally have a very difficult day. The relief and release when he gets the dummy is almost palpable.

When Little Bear was younger/ newer to our family we daren’t go on any car journey without the dummy and blanket secreted in my handbag “just in case”. There were months when they were literally the only way to calm him (though there was also a risk he’d lob it at your head).

We have many more available and effective calming strategies now and don’t take the dummy anywhere any more (apart from on holiday). However, when Little Bear starts wandering around the house with it, it is the equivalent of a red warning light. It means that Little Bear is not feeling good. We might not know why and neither may he, but it alerts us that he needs something different today. It generally means he needs few demands, lots of TV, cheesy pasta for tea, somebody to feed it to him and an early night. As yet, Little Bear can’t communicate this to us any other way so we have to rely on the medium of dummy interpretation. He has a wide enough vocabulary now but I don’t think he can pinpoint how he feels, let alone interpret the feeling enough to be able to voice it.

Although these are all valid points, there is something else, more fundamental, that is holding me back.

The dummy and blanket are the only things I can think of that Little Bear has always had. They have travelled with him (one assumes) from his birth family to foster care and from there to us, providing him with a reliable and consistent source of comfort along the way. Perhaps I should say that they are the only reliable and consistent source of comfort he has ever had. You would usually anticipate that the reliable and consistent source of comfort would be your Mum or Dad but as Little Bear has had three different ones of each and not one of them has accompanied him on his whole journey, he has had no choice but to seek an alternative source.

How can I, hand on heart, take away that consistent and reliable source of comfort? I genuinely don’t think that I can or, more importantly, that I should. Having had so little control over what has happened in his life I think I can hand over the reins of this one to Little Bear himself.

I know that Society will stand in judgement, as I too probably would have done a few years ago. I know Society will consider him too old and my behaviour in allowing it to be atypical. I have decided that I care not one jot. Sometimes I make that type of decision quietly. What wider Society doesn’t know about won’t bother them. However, if I really don’t care what anyone thinks and I genuinely believe I am acting with the best of intentions, why should I hide it? Society needs to become accepting of the fact that not all children follow a typical pattern of development and therefore will not adhere to the rigid expectations we set out, whether anybody likes it or not.

Last week I read a blog on a similar theme, though it was about using a baby carrier with a three year old, and I realised this type of age-related pigeonholing is happening left, right and Chelsea (It was written by @LivingtheTheory and you can read it here: http://living-the-theory.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/thats-no-no-now-hes-getting-bigger.html ) Can we please quit it with the chronological age expectations and think developmental needs? So what if a toddler still needs to be close to his Mum when they are out and about? So what if my 5 year old still needs me to feed him sometimes? So what if a sixteen year old with severe learning difficulties still wants to carry a teddy around? So what if a ten year old still needs a pull-up at night? So what? All children have different needs. I’m not sure we need to get our knickers in a twist about it.

I have no idea how long Little Bear is going to need his dummy and blanket. I don’t think it is something I can set an age-related target for. Will he still have it when he’s a grown man? Somehow I doubt it.

 

*The main impact on speech of having a dummy is that children talk around it and inevitably start to form some of their speech sounds incorrectly. It is usually the tongue-tip sounds that are affected the most as the dummy prevents the tongue tip from reaching the alveolar ridge (the flat hard ridge behind your top teeth) , a place it needs to be in order to make accurate t, s, l, n, d, z sounds. A tell-tale sign of too much dummy use is the presence of a process called ‘backing’ in a child’s speech. The front sound ‘t’ is made at the back instead, so it sounds like ‘k’. Everywhere a child should use a ‘t’, they will use a ‘k’, so ‘tea’ sounds like ‘key’ etc.
Dummy use isn’t the sole cause of this process, it could just happen anyway, but it is not a process usually seen in typical development so can be a red flag.
As Little Bear has Developmental Language Disorder, with accompanying speech disorder, I would be stupid to allow him to speak around his dummy. Interestingly, although he has had many atypical processes in his speech, backing has not been one of them.
However long a child needs their dummy, I do believe that speaking with it in is a massive no-no at any stage.

For the record I do care about Little Bear’s teeth too. He has regular checks at the dentist and so far they are lovely and straight (as are Big Bear’s adult teeth).

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A Confession

Self-Care

For some reason I have been a bit reluctant to write about self-care, perhaps because it is well-documented already? I don’t know. Maybe because I haven’t always been brilliant at it and I have had to work at seeing the importance of it (for me). I suppose it can seem like quite an abstract, self-indulgent concept.

More recently the penny has finally dropped. Self-care is essential. It is not a pleasant add-on or luxury. It is crucial to our good mental health and to us being able to manage the myriad demands thrown at us in our day to day lives. I think when I spotted ‘Looking after yourself’ as one of the blocks in Kim Golding’s House Model of Parenting (an essential block, without which the house would fall down and upon which many other vital blocks sit) I got the message.

Self-care is a subject fairly widely bandied around by adopters (with good reason) but I truly believe it is a necessity for everyone. We are all busy, under pressure and juggling many-a-ball. If we are not mentally and emotionally well, we can’t function to the best of our abilities. We can’t support those around us who need us and we leave ourselves open to illness.

With my professional hat on I have been working with a young person who is currently under a lot of exam stress. A diligent and bright pupil, they are working extremely hard, leaving little to no time for rest and relaxation. As a consequence their stammer has worsened significantly. My main therapy has been around teaching the need for self-care, much to their surprise.

We are not designed to be under permanent stress, though modern life does tend to lead to it. We know, because of our children and how they have been impacted by their adverse starts in life that Cortisol (the stress hormone) wreaks havoc. A quick Google indicates it can impact on blood sugar levels, cause weight gain, suppress the immune system, affect the gut, damage the heart and even impact on fertility. Cortisol is meant for special occasions when we really need it, it is not something our bodies should be flooded with all the time.

We can juggle all the balls, work hard, play hard, look after others and achieve all we want to but, crucially, only if we look after ourselves. If we don’t make time for self-care activities, take the breaks, listen to our inner wellbeing voice, the consequences can be dire. A close friend experienced just what can happen when you forget yourself. I’ll let her tell you, in her own words:

“Self-care is life-saving. I do not say this lightly. Around ten years ago I had a very severe mental health crisis, resulting in me being in hospital for 7 weeks. It was horrible. It was caused by depression and exacerbated by me not taking care of myself. Forgetting myself. Putting everyone above myself. I worked solidly, because I felt so sad. If I was at work I was busy, if I was busy I wasn’t thinking. There is only so long you can do that, and then you crash. I crashed. When I was well again I had to make dramatic changes to my life, and the major one was how to actually look after myself.

The most life changing aspect of self-care for me has been learning to say no. Knowing my own limitations and not being afraid to voice them. You are not a bad person because you put yourself first. If you cannot take care of you, you can’t take care of anyone else.

Also, keeping lines of communication open. Keep talking to those around you, even when it’s a difficult conversation. Silence is a killer. When I was ill I was the most scared I have ever been, and had to have hideous conversations with people, which ultimately led to me getting the help I needed. It’s ok not to be ok. There is something incredibly freeing about being so open and honest. It was so hard to talk, but ultimately has only improved my relationships with everyone around me.

Baby steps. Find what makes you happy. Do it a lot. It sounds simple but life is hectic. Work, family, kids, school runs. But you know what, that ironing pile will still be there tomorrow. The house looks like a bomb hit it but you’ve kept your kids alive and fed and so now you are going to watch strictly come dancing and admire the, erm, dancing skills of Gorka, and just relax. There will be time for the ironing. It is not tonight. Equally, if ironing is your happy place, then good luck to you!”

I’m very proud of my friend for being brave enough to write this for me and letting me share it. Having visited her on the mental health ward, hidden away down the interminably long corridor, I can vouch that it is not a place you would want to end up (though my friend did feel safe there for which I am grateful).

Self-care is life-saving. It is essential. But how the bloody hell do you do it? If it was that easy and straightforward, people up and down the country wouldn’t be ending up in crisis. I suspect the first challenge of self-care is knowing what you need. After that, you need to value yourself enough to allow yourself to have it and then actively make it happen.

Grizzly has recently moved to a more senior post which is highly stressful with long hours and quite a bit of travel. He shoulders a lot of responsibility at work. Thankfully, this was acknowledged during his induction and he was warned of the need to manage his timetable proactively to ensure it contains time for self-care. It is an ongoing challenge for him, as there are only so many hours in the day, but he is good at knowing what he needs at least (half the battle) and as long as he can run several times per week all is well. Running is not a negotiable activity: it is an essential part of his week.

Whilst running works its magic for Grizzly, I personally can’t think of a less desirable way to spend my down time.

Thinking about what works for me has been enlightening. I think it has taken me quite a long time to figure it out. However, it turns out that I’m a right unsociable so and so and find nothing more restorative than a day alone. Interestingly I don’t tend to stay at home for a self-care day (probably because it is good to escape the washing pile). I tend to find a coffee shop, sit with my back to the other customers (I know, miserable!) and read, write or draw, while consuming a massive cup of tea. I’ll generally write a blog post – in itself an act of self-care it turns out. Sometimes it isn’t just that I want to write but that I need to, just as Grizzly physically needs to run.

Blogging has certainly helped with keeping my adopter/ parenting worries in check – it gets them out of my head but doesn’t involve the discomfort of having to actually explain them to someone face to face (though I do a bit of that too).

The main self-care challenge for me has been identifying when I need it. Sometimes I can do a million and one things at the same time and be fine. At other times, one small thing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I have had to listen harder to the little voice inside that tells you when everything is getting a bit much. It turns out it is much better to heed the whisper than to allow things to get on top of you, as you will undoubtedly snap and lose your temper with the children. I don’t like to shout at them so I have had to get better at identifying the times I might (otherwise you get the joy of dealing with the guilt afterwards). I have to be particularly mindful of my hormonal state (see PMS and Adoption) and be a little kinder to myself at those points.

I think Mum’s in particular (sorry Dad’s and everyone else, I’m allowed a sweeping statement once in a while) are adept at ‘getting on with it’ – pushing through the home and childcare duties, work and the never-ending to-do list whether they feel like it or not. Things would quite possibly collapse around you if you didn’t. However, there is a skill in knowing when pushing through is ok and when you are rapidly closing in on your limit. I’m still working on it but after a busy few weeks of going from work to sorting out the builders who have been re-doing our bathroom to the children (especially Little Bear’s growing Christmas-related mania) to making Christmas decorations and selling them at craft fayres to Christmas shopping to planning & liaising over our next project (a pod in the garden since you ask) as well as a few other things, today’s yoga class felt like one ask too many. I usually love yoga but after a lot of rushing about and being in specific places at specific times, my little inner voice was asking in a stage whisper for a day off. There are times when I would have just made myself go anyway, ignoring that little voice, but I feel so much better for having listened. A whole day off, being unsociable, having some peace. Just what my inner wellbeing guru ordered.

As well as the crucial self-care we all need, there are also acts of self-kindness: finding ways to spoil yourself a little; ways to make life easier; adding things in just because you like them or they make you happy. Here are some of the things that work for me:

  • Wandering around my garden. It is not a big garden but I love looking at how my plants are growing, watering them in the summer and generally enjoying my little bit of outside.
  • I also like going to look at the fish in our tiny pond. I have no idea why that is so relaxing but it is.
  • I seem to be getting quite into the indoor gardening too. I also wander about the house tending my indoor charges.
  • I feel particularly happy when the sun shines in on the melon seedlings and I think they might just grow some melons.
  • Shopping. Sometimes you just need to buy yourself a little gift. I have to be careful though, shopping can lead to guilt.
  • A little taste of something carbohydrate-y as I’m not really eating them at the moment but a girl needs a treat every now and again.
  • All snuggles with my boys are lovely. Giving up on all jobs and lying on the sofa for a whole afternoon of snuggly TV can be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Any sort of gift that arrives in subscription form. My friend got me a Papergang subscription from @Ohhdeer so beautiful stationery landed on the mat every month. It was amazing.
  • A good book on the rare occasions I manage to read one. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan is a very wholesome and uplifting read.
  • A good rummage in a charity shop, especially if there are retro coffee pots to be found.
  • Low-maintenance hosting. I rarely bother killing myself preparing a fancy meal to impress people with. You are just as likely to get a takeaway here but I will sit and chat and pay you my full attention. I’d rather give my energy to you than to the cooking.
  • Ditto children’s lunches. No slaving over packed lunches every night – school dinners all the way.
  • A cheeky lunch out with Grizzly when he is working from home – dating without the need for babysitting.
  • When all else fails, putting on my fluffy onesie, lying on the sofa and watching an episode of First Dates.

 

I wonder what other people do to be kind to themselves? Feel free to share.

 

 

 

Self-Care

Pretend I’m In Your Tummy, Mummy

Most children go through a phase of imaginative play when they are developing. They pretend, they act and they direct you to take your role in the game. They often play the same game over and over.

I can remember when Big Bear was about 3 or 4 he constantly wanted me to “make the man talk”. It was usually a Lego man and there would be some sort of scenario panning out in which I would be tasked with a specific role. Often he would tell me what words I should say and would be quick to correct me if I was getting it wrong. There was one particular game that involved a Lego man waiting on a platform for a train. Every time the train got to the station I would try to put my man on. “No” Big Bear would say, “Wait for the next one”. The next one would come and the same thing would happen. It was a game that required a lot of patience!

There was also a lot of dressing up pretending to be Batman or a fireman or a doctor. I think sometimes he pretended to be a cat.

This was Big Bear, still living with the family he was born into, following typical patterns of development.

Recently, I have discovered that this type of play with Little Bear is not quite the same. There are similarities but trauma has added an extra layer of complexity. This is a familiar conversation at the moment:

Little Bear: Pretend I’m in your tummy, Mummy

Me: Ok (cuddling him on my knee)

Me: Ooh, I wonder what my baby is going to look like. I can’t wait to meet them.

LB: I’m out now.

Me: Oh look, he’s gorgeous. Look at those eyes! He looks like a …Little Bear. I’ll call him Little Bear (In reality I say his actual name – I don’t really pretend he is a bear!) I’ll look after you and keep you safe forever.

If I don’t do the naming part he whispers to me “tell me I look like a Little Bear”.

LB: Pretend I’m a dog

Me: Have I just given birth to a dog?!

LB: Yes, you are a mummy dog

Me: Oh right

LB: No! You’re a dog! You can’t talk, you have to bark!

And so the confusing tale continues. Little Bear keeps replaying the part where I meet him for the first time. I don’t know if this is because I keep telling him how much I want him and how I’ll keep him safe forever in an attempt to be therapeutic or if in fact he keeps coming back to it because I haven’t yet said what he needs to hear. Your guess is as good as mine.

I think it is fairly obvious that the game has to do with seeking a sense of belonging, of claiming (and being claimed)* and is due to him wishing he had come out of my tummy as his brother did.

Interestingly there is another version of the game that involves me pretending he is a puppy who has got lost. I have to pretend I am following his footprints and discover him buried in a heap of snow. He pretends he is lost from his owner and that I rescue him, taking him home to warm up and have some food. Does this symbolise me back in my role as adoptive parent, I wonder? Coming in where someone else has left off? I’m intrigued that he would see that as a rescue.

Sometimes, once I have rescued him from the snow, he talks about his mum and dad coming in and finding him again. I always wonder if he means his birth parents but when I enquire who he means, he says Grizzly and me. By this stage I’m fully confused as to my role in the whole thing and whether I’m quite possibly just overthinking it.

Little Bear is definitely at the stage where fantasy and reality are fully entwined and he switches from one idea to another moment by moment. One minute I’m rescuing a puppy, the next he is a gorilla. On one occasion the baby I had given birth to was in fact an egg and I was a hen. It’s pretty difficult to keep up. I suspect the games are an amalgam of several ideas floating around his head at any one time.

A couple of times, over recent days, the games have taken a darker turn. I rescue the cold puppy, who initially seems to want some love and cuddles but who then suddenly switches to wanting to bite me. This could just be the new version of the game but as I am permanently in analyse everything and look for hidden meanings mode, I can’t help but wonder if this is like reliving the early days of our adoption. We chose Little Bear, we were excited for our future with him but when he came home he hit, bit, scratched, kicked and threw things and was generally distressed. Little Bear was 3 and a half at the time and likely remembers it. Is he double-checking my response? Do I still want to rescue the puppy if it turns out to be aggressive? Will I still take it home and love it?

I know that I might be over-analysing but I am careful with my response just in case. “Don’t worry little puppy” I reassure, “I think you are a bit frightened at the moment. I think that might be why you tried to bite me. I won’t hurt you. You are safe”.

In the game, this seems to calm the puppy.

Little Bear has instigated similar games before; right from when he arrived he wanted me to pretend he was a baby. I would lay a large blanket out on the floor and he would lie in it and get me to swaddle him. I had to be careful in the early days because it was easy to cross an invisible line into ‘too much to deal with’ territory. He would let me coddle him a bit – stroke him and coo over him like a baby but often I would unwittingly overstep the ever moving mark and be rewarded with a bite or hit. It always felt like it happened when he had allowed himself to let go for a moment and then accidentally let me in a bit too much, so that it had felt emotionally weird or frightening and he needed to back off again.

It has changed over time. I have had to persevere despite the re-buffs and he has evidently slowly become more comfortable to the point where he seeks a lot of physical comfort now. I rarely feel that the line is even there.

I find it interesting that over two years in, these acted games still feature and new ones are still appearing. I wonder if he wanted to play these recent ones before but his language skills wouldn’t allow him. Or whether he is only now reaching the appropriate developmental level. Or whether it is because he has a better understanding of his life story now. Or whether he is still seeking something I am not giving…

When I used to make the man talk for Big Bear I didn’t have all these extra things to think about. It really was about a pretend man getting onto (or at least trying to get on to) a pretend train. No hidden meanings. Little Bear’s play, on the other hand, is laced with them.

I am probably different too though – far more aware that there might be hidden meanings and far more attuned to looking for them.

What I want Little Bear to realise is that it doesn’t matter to me whose tummy he grew in, I love him just the same. But I guess they are only words to him; he needs to truly believe it and feel it within himself.

I guess we will be pretending he is in my tummy for a while longer yet.

 

*There is definitely a claiming element to it, not just biology, as Little Bear has also pretended to be in Big Bear’s tummy. Big Bear, being Big Bear, took it fully in his stride and ‘gave birth’ to Little Bear on the kitchen bench (!), before rocking him on his knee, cradled like a baby. I have no idea how an 8 year old came to be so instinctively therapeutic but he’s a natural.

** I’m very lucky to have two such lovely boys.

 

 

Pretend I’m In Your Tummy, Mummy

Credit Where Credit Is Due

When Little Bear’s Speech and Language Therapist and I met one another things could have gone either way. There was certainly a high risk of a strained relationship. As I had already made two formal complaints about the Service and she knew I was a Speech and Language Therapist too, she probably came to the first session with some pre-conceived ideas of how I might be. I imagine she thought I would be hard work, difficult to please and all-round a bit of a nightmare parent to have on your caseload.

I also came to that first session with some concerns. Our experience of the Service so far had been appalling (hence the complaints) and I was feeling embarrassed by association. I was worried that Little Bear wouldn’t get his needs recognised or met and that every session would be cringe-inducingly awkward.

Fast-forward seven months and I’m pleased to report that we have weathered the storm. Just as I felt it was important to speak-up when the treatment we received was poor, I also feel you should give credit where credit is due.

Things did go fairly well from the beginning because she (let’s call her Helen) listened to me and tried to anticipate what I needed from the sessions, as well as being lovely with Little Bear. We have now been working together (and I truly believe that is how we have done it) for some time and Little Bear has made a lot of progress. We have targeted three different vowel sounds in turn which he has learned to articulate and has successfully generalised into his everyday speech. Helen has also set language targets and provided materials for school to work on.

Helen has recently re-assessed Little Bear to decide on next steps. Her assessment showed that Little Bear has moved from the 5th and 16th percentile on two comprehension subtests to the 16th and 63rd respectively, both scores now within the expected range for his age. He has also acquired a 4th vowel sound which we haven’t targeted in therapy. He has made incredible progress.

At the session before last Helen wondered aloud whether Little Bear might be ready to switch to the school part of their service now. As he has top-up funding he is eligible (in our area) for speech and language therapy visits to school. As he had made so much progress she wondered whether the time might be right.

I didn’t say much as I knew we still had further assessment to complete but when I left the session I had some nagging doubts. If he got seen in school, who would the therapist be? I’d have to get to know them from scratch and crucially so would Little Bear. How much involvement would I be able to have? Would the session take place without me being there? Although Little Bear has done really well with therapy, his speech continues to be peppered with errors and he is by no means ‘cured’ yet. I’d have to voice my thoughts next time.

However, when it came to the next time, I didn’t have to voice anything. Helen was one step ahead.

She had gone away and spoken with the school therapy lead and almost had a supervision session about Little Bear. I think it’s a sign of a good therapist when you can go away and reflect and ask other’s opinions. She is a very experienced therapist but knows that another perspective and some time to think can be really useful.

She happened to have some students with her during our session and took advantage of having someone to entertain Little Bear, allowing us the chance to talk. She suggested we had an honest discussion about how we both feel Little Bear is getting on and what should happen next. We went through each area of Little Bear’s communication and I told her how he’s doing with it, in real life, outside of clinic.

She told me that on reflection, she has some concerns about Little Bear moving to the other part of the service. She is worried about how he will cope, given his background, with getting to know another new person. She feels that both she and he, and she and I, have developed a good, effective therapeutic relationship. She is wondering about the benefits of trying to switch this relationship to somebody else. I wholeheartedly agreed with both of these things. I think it made it easier for me to be honest as she was so direct.

We agreed that although it is not ideal bringing Little Bear out of school to go to a clinic environment it is working well for him, he is used to it and it is manageable. We agreed we would continue in this way as it is better for Little Bear. It is not the usual protocol but Helen sees the need to be flexible to best meet his needs, as good therapy should.

As Little Bear is entitled to school input, Helen and her Manager have agreed to some flexibility about school visiting and Helen can do a classroom observation if I think that would be useful (she is usually clinic based only). I definitely think it would be useful to have another pair of eyes in the classroom. I have been desperate at points to go and observe myself but obviously as a parent it wouldn’t be appropriate. However, I value Helen’s opinion and it would be useful to know what is going on communication-wise in school, especially with Little Bear’s TA.

We then completed the prioritisation system particular to our local Trust. Helen allowed me to be a partner in this. We were mostly in agreement anyway but where we weren’t we went for the middle of our scores. I think it must be extremely difficult for her having another SaLT in all of her sessions and I find it hard knowing what involvement I should/shouldn’t have. I’m so grateful that she has acknowledged my background and we don’t have to pretend I’m not a SaLT. Ideal or not I am one and I can’t pretend that I don’t have knowledge that I do (although initially that was my intention).

I did acknowledge this with Helen and she said she is very mindful that Little Bear gets what everyone gets and they don’t just rely on him getting what he needs through me. She also said that if a parent had learning needs, they would adapt their approach accordingly. I happen to have a little more knowledge about communication than the average parent but this needn’t be a problem, they can adapt their approach for that too.

I know that not every therapist would have been able to take my profession quite as in their stride as Helen has. It is because she is confident and experienced that she knows it needn’t bother her. I have also been very careful not to comment unless invited and have acknowledged things like how difficult it is to transcribe vowels and that I would have found this challenging. Helen is the therapist and I am the parent and generally we stick to those roles. However, we do seem to have found a comfortable place in the middle where we discuss Little Bear’s needs on a level and plan jointly, as two co-professionals would. I suppose she has allowed me the role of professional parent, the specialist in my child, in a way that many parents, particularly adopters, are often denied.

We went on to co-write aims for the upcoming sessions of therapy.

Helen was clear that she will not be keeping Little Bear on the caseload forever. I know this and I don’t want her to but I do hope we are in agreement about when the time is right to stop. The prioritisation score we agreed on indicated that direct therapy is still needed so we are in agreement at the moment that the sessions should continue. We have two more vowels in our sights as well as some updated language targets.

I came away from the session extremely grateful at the way things have turned out. It shows that you can stand up for your child, make complaints and still go on to have a great relationship with a professional. As a parent you can get your views heard and you can get your child’s needs met if you persevere. I think Helen has been surprised that I’m not the nightmare I seemed on paper, I am just a parent who wants the best for their child and I am fully prepared to work together to achieve that. I will say what I think and I will point out bad practise but if things are going well, I will acknowledge that and praise it. We have a good working relationship and despite the odds I would even go so far as to say we that we really quite like one-another.

When we have finished therapy I will be writing to Helen’s manager to thank her for the service we have received and to recognise the great job Helen has done.

 

I have written a lot about Speech and Language Therapy and our experiences. You can read more here if you are interested: Developmental Language Disorder, Communication Difficulties: Update, SaLT, EP & an Assembly, Another try at SaLT, A bit of a rant, Living with Speech and Language Difficulties

 

 

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Affirmation in Parenting

As usual I have a complex knot of thoughts in my brain that I am going to attempt to commit to my keyboard. My thoughts have come from a range of sources including a film, a meeting we had in school and some clumsy comments. It has taken me a while to figure it out but the theme running through them all is affirmation – the act of getting emotional support or encouragement.

More specifically, as parents, do we ever get any affirmation? What happens if we don’t and what difference does it make if we do?

I have written before about my lack of parenting confidence when I had Big Bear (see Goodbye Adoption Leave  ). I can remember those times well. Other parents can be very competitive and instead of taking a ‘we are all in it together’ attitude, they can make you wonder whether you really have made the right decision to feed your baby from a jar (from the shocked look on their face perhaps you really might be setting them on a straight course for Scurvy) or co-sleep with them (you might still be doing it when they are 18). Deciding not to use Controlled Crying caused many a shockwave and invited comments that suggested I was bringing my baby’s sleep problems on myself. Finding my own way was difficult. Whatever I did felt wrong and I rather suspected that every parent out there was doing the parenting thing better than I was (with the involvement of more organic butternut squash, more sleep, a tidier home and a brain that could actually think in a straight line).

Those suspicions continued into preschool and even the first years of school. Thankfully I have now stopped dragged around a heavy load of parenting doubt. I am by no means cocky or complacent about my parenting but I feel quietly comfortable with the way I’m going about things. I have Little Bear to thank for that. His constant development and flourishing have undeniably taken place since his arrival, not prior, so we must be doing something right somewhere.

Whilst I am no longer constantly self-flagellating for my inadequacies, I am not immune to self-doubt or being wounded by a careless comment. Neither, I suspect, is any parent. The thing is we are all just doing our best. We make the parenting decisions we think are right at the time. Crucially, we make the parenting decisions that feel right for our individual children. My own two children have very different needs and sometimes I make different decisions for each of them, because that is what I think will work best for them.

Most of the time I go about my day to day life, analysing, thinking and making decisions about how to parent my children without too much fuss. Grizzly and I might have a chat to decide whether x or y is better. We spend more time analysing and wondering over Little Bear because being adopted does add another layer of complexity. I suppose if I think hard about it we do put a lot of time and energy into trying our best for them but it is not onerous and I don’t think either of us feels we require praise for it. We just do what parents do, like everybody else.

However, there have been occasions recently when I have felt that my parenting is being judged and that the person doing the judging feels that Little Bear’s behaviour might be better were I to parent him differently. The examples I’m going to share are only little things, unfortunate comments, but they bother me, usually by implication.

One such comment was, “Are you going to send Little Bear to Beavers? You should get his name down!” (Made in the context of perhaps if Little Bear had something more exciting to look forward to, he would eat his dinner). It sounds innocuous enough but the implication that came with the comment was “I cannot believe you don’t send Little Bear to Beavers. EVERYONE who is ANYONE sends their child to Beavers. If you do not send him, he will have absolutely no future.” Clearly I exaggerate a little but this is exactly the kind of comment that really irks me because it is so passive aggressive and such a thinly veiled attempt at hiding the speaker’s real view that they are in fact a super-parent and if you don’t do what they think you should do, you are a rubbish parent.

No. Why does she think it is ok to do that? She doesn’t know my reasons for not sending him. She might want that for her children but why do I have to do it for mine? Little Bear is blooming exhausted after trying so hard at school all day and goes up to bed at 6pm. I can’t contemplate sending him to a club after tea yet. Also, I don’t know any of the staff at Beavers and I don’t feel comfortable sending him somewhere he doesn’t know anyone yet and where no one knows him and what he needs from them. I know that I don’t actually have to explain myself, what with my parenting being my business, but comments like that make you start to question yourself.

The same person has also made comments about the snacks I give the boys when I pick them up from school (it’s chocolate, shoot me), why I didn’t send Little Bear to football club earlier and how Little Bear always chooses a baked potato for lunch.

Grizzly says I should just ignore it but I can’t. I think what really pushes my buttons about it is the judgement and inference that I ought to listen to her because her parenting is in some way superior. It’s so unhelpful and a good job I am no longer lugging about my parenting doubts because I would now be feeling very bad about myself. I’m sure she does it to other people who are currently feeling like failures.

No. We are all parenting and doing our best. We should be supporting and affirming one another. People do things differently and that’s ok. Perhaps I should write her a Social Story!

I don’t think loads of gushing compliments are needed but certainly less of the judgment. I think you just need to know from time to time that you’ve got this. You’re doing ok. You are not breaking your children. People can see you are trying your best.

When we have meetings about Little Bear at school, I sometimes feel that there is a suggestion that it is something we are doing that makes him behave as he does in the classroom. There have been comments about him “coming in not ready to work” as though I’ve spun him around 50 times on the way in or laced his breakfast with sugar. As lovely as school are (and they genuinely are mostly lovely) I think there is something in the culture that leans towards blaming parents.

This week, someone from our post-adoption support service came to one of the meetings. It was surprising how good it was to have somebody there who not only values our opinions but made some positive affirmations about our parenting. She made sure school knew that adoptive parenting is hard and that we are putting a lot of effort into this. She made it clear that what will change things (and already has been changing things) for Little Bear is our therapeutic parenting (as well as a therapeutic approach from school). She affirmed our approach, our strategies and that these match Little Bear’s needs.

I think having those things affirmed by somebody who is so knowledgeable was really powerful for me and was something I didn’t know I needed until I got it. It made me feel more confident to fess up to some things I didn’t feel so sure about and to ask for help with them. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable to ask for help if I had felt judged. I came away from the meeting feeling a little lighter and with a little spring in my step.

I suspect the reason so many of us adopters like Twitter is because there is a very safe and supportive community of other adopters on there who don’t judge and are quick to give positive re-enforcement and affirmation. We are probably all very aware of how great a need our children have for affirmation and are therefore fairly natural at dishing it out in general.

During today’s chats I came across a blog by @mumdrah about the difficulties in getting affirmation as a single adopter and the impact this has on how your child views you. As well as making an eloquent point, it includes some pointers about how you can make positive statements to support your partner/ others in their parenting. You can read it here: http://www.mumdrah.co.uk/ducks-in-a-row/

The film that got me thinking (and laughing) was Bad Moms. It’s very far-fetched but illustrates perfectly how negative and harmful a lack of affirmation mixed with competitive parenting and one-up-man-ship can be.

We are all in this together. Let’s stop with the judgement and pat each other on the back now and again. We’re doing our best but the doubt can creep in. Sometimes it’s hard and a little positive comment on those days can go a long way.

 

 

 

Cuddle Fairy
Affirmation in Parenting

The Little Things

This week is National Adoption Week. Last year, my first year of blogging, I was all keen and wrote a blog post for each day of National Adoption Week. I’m not doing that again because it nearly killed me, and also because my feelings on the subject have grown more complicated. Last year I was happy to use any small influence I might have as a blogger to raise awareness and potentially encourage others to consider adoption.

I say ‘potentially’ and ‘consider’ on purpose because although I was less knowledgeable then I still wasn’t naïve enough to think that everyone should be happily hopping out to round up some children.

The theme last year was ‘support’ and I did take the opportunity to point out some support needs adopted children and their families may have – specifically around blending birth and adopted children and speech and language therapy ( Speech and Language Therapy Support for Adopted Children, Ways to support your child through adopting a sibling)

In the year since then I have continued to read voraciously around the topic of adoption. I read lots of blogs. If there is a new article or TV programme I am keen to have a gander. I read the Adoption UK magazine and order books that pique my interest. I have met many adopters through my workshops and always love to hear their stories. The more I learn and the more I reflect the more complex the adoption landscape seems.

Are we considering adoptee’s voices enough (or at all)? What exactly is the birth parents role in all this? Do they get any support? How should I feel about them? Are there alternatives that could be better? Do we really need alternatives? How would they work? Should we consider more direct contact with birth families? How would we keep it safe for our children? Why is post adoption support so variable? How come I am able to access excellent support but Twitter friends are left to fend for themselves? Why don’t schools get it? How could more people get the speech and language training and support they need?

I could fill this post with questions. I don’t know the answers by the way, but it makes National Adoption Week more complicated. I can’t really just say “do it! Adopt! It’s brilliant!” It is brilliant (for us) but while I have all these questions floating round it would seem a bit disingenuous to encourage others to be doing it.

Which leads me on to wondering what role I should be playing in promoting adoption anyway as an adoption blogger?

For some, National Adoption Week gets a bad rap: it is accused of using perfect-world pictures and stories to ‘trap’ would-be adopters; to lure them in, naïve and unawares, into an imperfect, tumultuous and unsupported world. I am aware of the responsibility incumbent upon me, as a blogger, to be balanced. I do think it is important to be honest and to get real stories into the public domain, so potential adopters know about the realities and risks. I certainly try to be frank when I’m writing.

Then there is the other side of the coin: if we are too honest and too vocal about the difficulties, are we going to cause some serious publicity damage? Are we going to terrify the pants off prospective adopters to the point where no one wants to adopt anymore? And what then?

I feel a real affinity with prospective adopters as it is not so long since I was one. I have never had as many sleepless nights as when we were engaged in the Matching process. It is a worrying enough time without hearing all the scary stories too.

As a blogger I certainly don’t want to frighten anybody. While I feel my responsibility to inform, share and wear my heart on my blogging sleeve, I hope I do it in an accessible way that allows others to see that whatever the challenges are, I love my son, I am 100% happy with our decision to adopt him and that he completes our family.

The thing is that for us adopters there are many big things to fill our thought-spaces: developmental trauma and how it is manifesting in our homes; any additional needs our children may have and how they are being met; whether our children’s educational establishments truly understand them and can meet their needs appropriately; any sibling issues or family dynamics that might be going on; any contact arrangements we might have with our child’s birth family, to name but a few. It is no surprise that adoption bloggers spend most of their time writing about the Big Things. Perhaps, when I think about balance, we can be guilty of omitting the Little Things.

Any respect you did have for me is about to evaporate as I turn to One Direction to illustrate my point. They sing about the Little Things and I could easily steal their words for Little Bear:

 

Your hand fits in mine like it’s made just for me

But bear this in mind it was meant to be

And I’m joining up the dots with the freckles on your cheeks

And it all makes sense to me.

 

You never love yourself half as much as I love you

You’ll never treat yourself right darling but I want you to

If I let you know, I’m here for you

Maybe you’ll love yourself like I love you oh

 

I’ve just let these little things slip out of my mouth

Because it’s you, oh it’s you, it’s you they add up to

And I’m in love with you (and all these little things).

 

The song (as most songs are) is really about a bloke singing to a girl about how he loves her with all her perceived imperfections but the words really resonate with me. There is nothing lovelier than Little Bear’s warm hand in mine; than his drainpipe laugh (that is no longer restrained by self-imposed limitations); than his huge brown eyes wide with mesmerisation. And there are all the Little Things Little Bear does that fill me with such pride and happiness. It is the Little Things that show me his progress.

Little Bear has always favoured the colour black and would only draw or paint with black. He has recently started using “mix-y colours” and making things look “bootiful”. It’s a Little Thing but it’s a lovely thing.

IMG_9174

Little Bear, despite having Developmental Language Disorder, has started having spelling tests at school. He has achieved full marks 3 weeks in a row. It’s a Little Thing but it feels HUGE.

I have tried to up the therapeutic part of my parenting recently. I have been wondering more. When I get my wondering right Little Bear often bursts into tears. I know this sounds like a bad thing but it’s good because previously he would have hidden his real feelings behind anger. Now he lets it hang out. We couldn’t have verbalised his feelings before but now we can. Little Bear might say “I still feel upset mummy” and let me comfort him a bit. It’s Little Things but these sorts of Little Things can really help with the Big Things.

Big Bear was feeling unwell recently so he lay on the floor on the landing. Little Bear went to him and sat beside him, gently stroking his hair. It is a Little Thing but it shows me what a lovely little human he is.

Last night Little Bear said, “You know Van Gogh Mum? He painted Starry Night and The Potato Eaters”. It sounds like a Little Thing but this is a boy who used to struggle to talk about the here and now. He didn’t know his own name or a word for TV but now he can tell me about a famous artist and name 2 of his paintings. It’s phenomenal.

A few days ago Little Bear told me about Venus Fly Traps. He couldn’t quite remember the name but he gave such a good description and gesture that I knew exactly what he meant. It’s a Little Thing.

Everyday there are Little Things.

If I’m thinking about whether others should adopt I can’t lie about the Big Things. There are Big Things in adoption and you need to know about them and be as ready as you can be. You need an Agency that will be there for the long haul and that will truly support you with the Big Things as and when you need them to. The variation in post-adoption support is, frankly, criminal. Do your homework about any adoption agency, choose carefully, they are not all the same.

I would say that if you feel you can handle the Big Things (bearing in mind living it is not the same as imagining it) then know you will get the Little Things too.

The Little Things are amazing. For me, the Little Things make everything worth it.

I guess there have been times when the Big Things have taken over but a Little Thing will always have popped up from nowhere and made me smile.

Adoption is complicated. There are no straight answers with good reason. There are many viewpoints and voices to consider. Personally, I will always be grateful to adoption because it has brought me my second son and all his Little Things.

There is an unparalleled joy in having a heart full of Little Things, even if your head is full of Big Ones.

 

PS. I’m very sorry, One Direction, if you happen to read this and notice that I’ve wantonly quoted bits of your song to suit myself.

PPS. I do wonder how Little Bear is going to feel if he reads my blog when he is bigger and sees that I talk all about him and his life. I hope that he won’t see it as a misappropriation of his story. I hope he sees that he has a Mum who loves him very much indeed and spends an awful lot of time thinking about the best ways to help him.

PPPS. I fully appreciate the need to hear adoptees voices and I can’t wait to be able to include Little Bear’s once he is able to contribute.

 

The Little Things

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