Thursday, 26 February 2015

Halo

There appears to be a determined and almost immovable halo around adoption.

Believe me I've tried to knock it off and I've tried to present my own lived adoption experience as relatively normal but I see the same enthusiastic determination in the eyes of prospective adopters that I had in mine. Aaaaaah, adoption.

In social circles eyes well up and hearts swell with sympathy at the revelation of my children's status as adopted.
Aaaw, look they're fighting. Aaaaaah, Adoption.

It rubs off on at least two sides of the adoption triangle.

So, regardless of my insisting, and Mrs C's confirmation, people refuse to believe that I'm generally a grumpy old git. How could I be, aaaaaaaah adoptive dad. Bloody halo.


I don't get asked to volunteer on adoption preparation courses. Now it might be because I talk too much but it might be because I might put them off. Don't be stupid, they've all been touched by the adoption Halo. You can almost see them think:
"It's all gone wrong for him, he must be doing something wrong. I've seen Annie, it's a doddle. Adoption always works out ok in the end"

That's the halo.
Aaaaah, Adoption.

Sometimes it's a pain, when we ask for consideration or understanding then the halo blinds people. In their minds they're thinking 'Those children have been there for years, they should be fine now. I've read Oliver Twist and he did ok'. In their eyes I'm just over an over fussing type. Aaaaaah, adoption.

If I was a cynic I'd suggest that politicians have worked this halo out.

Politician 1: 'Nasty Social Workers are slowing down adoption approval.'

Newspaper: 'Aaaaaah Adoption. Those nasty Social Workers.'

Politician 2: 'Aaaaaah Adoption. Those nasty Social Workers.'

Man on the street: 'Aaaaaah Adoption. Those nasty Social Workers.'

Politician 1: (Halo)



But I'm not complaining we managed to get money off our last family holiday because the salesman 'found out' we had six adopted children.

Aaaaaaah, adoption.







Sunday, 22 February 2015

Off grid

After an eight and a half hour conversation with @TheOpenNest and @UKTransracial it felt like we'd just about got started.



Mrs C and I had been invited to the remote secret lair of The Open Nest and nestled in the northern woodland we shared stories and caught up on all the latest comings and goings. We'd given the 'massive' the slip and having assured their wellbeing with a subtle blend of bribery, threat and a crack team of babysitting ninja's we revelled in the 'off grid' day.

But the meat was in the conversations we shared, the kind that you can't have in 'nice' company. I often worry that my blogs focus on the negative, with limited reflection on the positive elements of the adoption experience. I shy away or draw a veil over some topics for fear of compromising my children and myself or opening cans of worms, allowing the worms to wriggle off into unfriendly corners of the internet. Similarly when I meet adopters or prospective adopters I try to be careful and sensitive to their experience, hopes and location on the adoption journey as not to be perceived as a bitter or cynical old salt.

But in this not so polite company, sat around the open fire, we opened the cans of worms and shared thoughts, experiences and worries.
Conversations about violence, harm, destruction, love and shame.
About balancing control against risk.
About family, fears and hopes.
About safety and danger.
About power, control, social work and money.
About politics, personality and policy.
About race and culture.
About the future and the past.

Stuff that needs to be talked about, but with limited safe forums.
Rich soil for blogs.

We talked right through the day and into the night. I believe we all need friends in the woods.


Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sorry

I'm sure the words 'I wish you were dead' are not that uncommon in many households. But the words were spat with a calculated venom, aimed for maximum hurt and pain. Repeated carefully to reinforce the certainty of the intent. Much more had happened to get to this, a bit of argy bargy and a touch of fisty cuffs. But this is the bit that stuck.

The thing that stung me the most then was not the words or the intent but a sadness for her that at this moment the feelings were real. Emotional overload. Frustration. Defiance. Anger.

Of course it stinks to be unjustly 'hated' but that stuff comes and goes, a good nights sleep and I usually feel a lot better but it still hurts. I've resigned myself to a bumpy road with this child.

For her the feelings brood over her long after the moment had gone with her struggling to feel reconciled even a day later.
I was still a little stung a day later but pushed through my own unforgiving inner 10 year old and was working hard to draw her in, jokes, playfulness, affection, talking about her hobbies.
All fail to penetrate the brooding cloud around her.

As parents Mrs C and I have placed great stock on apologies and forgiveness.  They draw a line behind events and help us to move on. We place them in high regard for the wellbeing of all concerned and I believe in forgiveness without apologies, a loft ideal I'll grant you.

We've had a broad variety of 'sorries' through the years; forced, begrudged, petulant, angry, defiant and insincere apologies.
The freely offered sincere ones seem to work out the best so we aim for those. We gave up squeezing them out of children like toothpaste.




So, much later, we sit together in the car after football practice. And out of the cloud.
A soft and gentle voice confesses "I'm sorry dad"

"It's ok, I love you"

The cloud dissolves. Visibly relieved the last 24 hours is cast aside and relationship is restored. She chatters all the way home.
We all feel better.

Did I say I don't mind what she said?
Did I say I'd resigned myself to a bumpy road with this one.
I don't think I'd need to forgive a child with a broken leg for limping so I'm not sure what to do with that feeling.






Thursday, 5 February 2015

Post Adoption Support

The question 'What do you want from adoption support?"  has been bandied  around the Twittersphere a few times lately by different people. It's something that I've thought hard about but found it difficult to pin it down to one thing. We could all list many things we need and want all unique to our circumstances and needs.

I guess the primary functions of PAS is to support adoptive parents and to support adopted children. Added to that is the service offered to birth parents of adopted children as they try to reconnect post 18.

In the last few weeks we as a family decided that we needed to access our local authorities Post Adoption Support (PAS) services. It is over 7 years since we had our last significant contact but the purpose of this recent call has been to document some of our current experiences and initiate a formal assessment of our need. We have clear shopping list of what we need to enable us to remain safe and stable at this point in time. Realistic, pragmatic and achievable. We don't want parenting advice or referrals to therapeutic services as Mrs C and I have forged our own route in regard to this. Through our GP, LAC Paediatrician and the fearsome Mrs C's dogged determination we have very good therapeutic input.

We opted out of the whole Post Adoption Support system in 2008 for several reasons. The main one being the support we were given was the exact opposite of support, undermining our confidence and invalidating our experience and intuitive concerns for our child and ourselves. Secondly, we sought out a group of supportive, wise and experienced friends and drew them around us for support and lastly we had appropriate therapeutic support for the children.

In view of the above and the suspicion that we could do just as well as the SW we met we took it upon ourselves to learn all we could, however we could, from anyone who made sense.
Free training, bought training, Adoption Panel Training, Psychotherapist training (Mrs C) and Social Work Training (me). Books, internet, anything.
Sucking up everything we could that was helpful, and it was.





But considering what we want and what I hear people asking for the underlying principle is the need for validation.
Not to be dismissed with stock phrases we've all heard, "every child does that" "they're picking up on your anxiety". Words that undermine our perspective and invalidate our judgement.

Whether you're stumbling and anxious after 2 days into a placement of a 12 month old 'bundle of joy' or on the ropes after living 8 years with a child of 'pain and hurt'. Validating your experience, worries, concerns and anxiety is first step in meaningful and effective support.

The conclusion of all the training and experience that Mrs C and I have acquired is that we have validated our opinions, not only to ourselves but to those we meet.

However,  on hard days sometimes all that dissolves and we falter. But to hear kind and gentle words of validation can rekindle hope. Every day on Twitter and Facebook I see the words of validation that are as affective support as you'll find anywhere.
The mutual support found online and in support groups is seeped in validation, sweeping away self doubt and questioning.

One of the most profound piece of support that we were ever given was during the days Gracie left home:

 "Well done, you managed 15 years"

Words that validated and acknowledged our experience. Words that we hung onto and still do a year on.

I believe that validation is the foundation of support that we as adopters need.
Acknowledgement and giving value to our words, thoughts, worries, hopes and expectations seems rather cheap.
Odd that it seems in such short supply at times.








Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Stuck in the middle with you.

I understand that normal is a relative term and we all classify things, people and experiences as 'normal' based on our own knowledge and experience. Clearly, it represents a spectrum of experience and perspective.

However, I increasingly realise that as a family we have strayed from the accepted ‘normal’ and into a place that is anything but that. Of course that is not exclusive to adoption, but many friends and acquaintances that have adopted have made this journey and testify to this. 

The common denominator being that we are the parents of children who’s view of themselves and the world they find themselves in is not comparable to their peers’ views. Nor does it align with the 'normal' views of their families or the adults that they interact with. From this they act and react and as they see it their behaviour is a natural and justified response to the world they live in. 


eg.
In many parts of the known universe if you drop something on my toe it would be 'normal' to say sorry and I'd say it's fine.
However, in my little corner of the universe things run to a different 'normal' order. If you drop something on my toe it's my fault for having toes and actually I should apologise for being hurt and while we're on I'm an idiot.

Living at the intersection of these two ‘normals’ is challenging. Managing the needs of our children, families and the world we interact with.

Either clearing a way ahead, having a quiet word in the football coach/teacher/family member/visitor/friend/schoolyard parents ear. Asking to not be invited to the roller disco, sleepover or birthday party. Not to win the prize or act in the play.

Or


Sweeping up behind, giving palatable explanations, saying sorry or asking if we could not be invited next time. Getting shouted at, screamed and spat at and bearing the bunt of the fear and pain. 

We balance the needs of these opposing world views, whilst embracing them both.
I raise a glass to the men and women in the middle. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Aim Higher

We are bereft, undone and broken.
We did our best and resisted the authorities but they will have their way.
We know it’s in her ‘best interests’.
We stalled as long as we could postponing the inevitable.

With a heavy heart we announce that Peanut is going to Nursery.
Yes, she’ll look cute on the first day, but that is no consolation.
I know peanut and her story, though crestfallen, I’m confident Peanut will do fine.

I cannot say that for all my children.

The recent Twitter feed from the @BAAFAdoption conference on education was interesting to follow.
Stark facts on the educational outcomes for children in the care system that are shadowed, varyingly, in adopted children’s lives.


The # for the twitter feed was #aimhigher and being honest I could not help but reflect on the aspirations that I have for my children.

We have had a spectrum of experiences with schools good, bad and everything in-between. By the time Peanut leaves school we will have been at the school gates and parents evenings for 28 consecutive years, we've seen a lot.

I confess to having different priorities for each of my children and they reflect each of children’s unique experiences, view of themselves and the world they live in.

Generally:

I want them to be and feel safe.
I want them to be at school not marginalised/excluded.
I want them to have a few good friends
I want them to feel able to do their best.
I want them to have hope and aspiration.
I want them to participate positively in the world around them and enjoy it.

I want them to be literate and numerate but not at the expense of the above. 
Being honest I'm not sure what my child can learn when not feeling safe. The terror that gripped Sarah when being asked to read a word to me aged 6 shut her down for 10 minutes, unable to speak for fear.
Reading didn't seem so important after that. 

Maybe I’m out of step with the government, school league tables and the parents next to me at the school gate.

So be it.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Come that day

I've never felt insecure about my status in my children's lives, I'm not their biological dad but I am their dad.

I'd earned my dues.
Wiped backsides, cleaned up the aftermath of projectile vomit, suffered hours of homework, crap TV & an eternity of parents evenings. Blue light hospital trips, nights on hospital wards, dentist traumas and hours in casualty.

I've had my nose broken, accidentally she claimed, by Sarah.

My leg bitten til it bled, she was a tiger she explained, by Gracie.

Two black eyes simultaneously, I was a duvet monster in his defence, by Ginger

All in the line of dad duties. I admit to not being a Waltons type dad, no sage words whilst sat on the porch, I'm not their 'bestie' and I don't want to be,  but I took the good from my childhood and we did ok.
Then this summer for a fleeting moment all seemed lost.

Birth family stepped out of the words in case notes and became flesh. Sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and dad...........and DAD

What if they make their future exclusively with them?

I thought I was secure, I thought I was progressive, open and forward thinking. I thought all that history counted for something.

It was a like the sensation of being winded and for what seems like an eternity you can't breath. You forget how to, and something that you've done countless times suddenly is forgotten and outside of your control. Straining to draw air, panic rises.

I floundered, what if they were going to leave and put the last 15 years behind them. All my dues counted for nothing, faded away, those experiences did not make me a dad. The years of being there suddenly meaningless.

All that 'stuff' meant nothing because I love them. I couldn't consider them not being part of my life.
For a few hours the threat of loss enveloped me and permeated me,

Then you breathe. You catch air again.
They are not leaving just exploring, broadening, rediscovering.


They are my children and I am their dad.