Being a Human Parent

<Peers around at empty blog>

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged (obviously). A long and very difficult while, in which my DD2 has had to leave home and I have been trying to pick up the pieces since, and deal with my own depression and post-traumatic stress/secondary trauma.  I’m not ready to talk about that yet, but I have finally had that ‘spark’ of an idea for a post, had it stick and develop into motivation, and am finally ready to put finger-to-keyboard again, and so I’m pleased with this bit of progress.

I do feel like writing about something a group of adoptive parents (including me) have been talking about and supporting each other with recently.

It’s the internal voice that can go something like this when I make a mistake or do something I later regret. My interal voice says this:

“I can’t believe I just did that. I’m such a terrrible parent. Anybody else would be better than me”

“That wasn’t a “therapeutic” reaction. That was the opposite of therapeutic. How do you expect her to make healing progress when you do things like that? How? I’m so useless at this”

“She’s already suffered through years of significant neglect and any kind of abuse you could name, so she deserves nothing less than perfect parenting from here on out. Oh, you just failed to do that. Useless mother. It’s so unfair on her”

“I’m a failure”

“I just can’t do this. I’m not cut out to be a parent to my child”

“I feel so guilty”

Often it’s a less extreme version of that. Same principle, less intense emotion. But I’ve been to all the phrases above, in my head. The voice has said them all.

It’s true that it’s a common feeling in parenting, but I’ve found that some adoptive parents, like me, manage to heighten it to extremes more easily.

Why?

Well, for me:

- I’ve spent a long time trying to find ‘better’ ways of parenting my children, and become committed to parenting them ‘therapeutically’. Because I can see it works for them. But in doing that, I managed to internalise an expectation that to do it right, I must do it 100% of the time. If I mistakes, or if I do something I could have done differently, or even couldn’t have done differently because by that point I had reached the point of no return (so to speak), then I must be doing something wrong. Therefore to respond by yelling my head off at extreme provocation is a complete failure that no reasonable person would do, just failure old me.

- It doesn’t help that when explaining these techniques and methods, few books or resources really cover the fact that it is not possible to always aways remain calm and therapeutic.

- It also doesn’t help that becoming an adoptive parent, requires a long and challenging journey to ‘prove yourself’ to the people who decide whether or not you will be allowed the privelege of parenting, and parenting this particular child. I felt and I suppose still feel to some extent, the desire to continue proving myself, but this was an especially heightened feeling in the first couple of years of the adoptions. I have to justify even when it’s finalised, why I’m better than anyone else for my child. And then suddenly I do something I regret, and feel I haven’t lived up to what I was trying to prove.

-  And the knowledge of what my children have gone through created a real heightened expectation on myself to make sure they constantly experience perfect parenting, and that if I make a mistake, well, then they deserve better than that, and when I have a terrible week and am feeling rough anyway, well my internal voice of insanity is prone to saying “well they deserve better than you”

The thing is, rationally I know exactly why my thinking is really problematic and unhelpful.

I’ve internalised an ideal which isn’t workable. I am not physically or mentally capable of responding in a therapeutic, or un-angry, un-very-stressed, un-distressed way to every situation my children throw at me. I am not capable of never really losing my temper. Obviously my explosions have natural limits, but still, it is not my nature to be calm, thoughtful and in control of my emotions all the time.

The thing is, it’s not just not MY nature…it’s not human nature. We humans have not evolved to be calm and collected and able to react in this way all the time. It’s not possible (also from an evolutionary point of view, constant calm is a stupid idea). To parent like this ideal of therapeutic parenting I managed to internalise…that’s some kind of supernatural, superhuman thing. But I’m just a normal bog standard homo sapien. Of course the guilt I feel and the internal voice of insanity is also a very human thing in itself. I’d have to be superhuman not to question myself or beat myself up sometimes I think.

I know that even making mistakes is really a part of good parenting. To be human is to make mistakes. To accept other humans for who they are is to learn to live with their mistakes. To love myself I have to accept my mistakes, and my children need to do the same to have good self-esteem. So how is this ideal superhuman parenting going to help them do that? How will it help them understand the world? How will it help prepare them for other relationships than the primary caregivers relationship? I have to model normal human mistake-making and crucially, how to respond to mistakes and make it up to people. They have to know that they aren’t alone in feeling bad about stuff they’ve done. And so on. They need parents as human as they are.

The issue is not my parenting.

The issue is really my expectations. The humungous pressure I put on myself. My feelings are the issue, not my actions in all their human glory and flawedness. It’s true what wiser folk told me years and years ago – when you are emotionally struggling, your expectations should be one of the things you ask yourself about, because they might be one of the things that are actually a problem.

HOWEVER, despite all this wonderful, clear, well-thought our rationality, take one guess what goes out the window first when faced with difficult situations in reality? Yep, this very same rationality. I’m not a robot run on logic and good old common sense.

I’m human. I try, I do things I regret, I scream, used inappropriate discipline, I’ve sworn, I’ve even lashed out, and the list goes on, and no amount of years of parenting have made me into a supernatural being who doesn’t continue to do things she regrets

And no I never have managed to shake this unhelpful ‘ideal’ from myself. I don’t know if I ever will because unrealistic expectations are human nature too. So I have to try to accept that I have this ‘ideal’ which will hurt me sometimes, and try and love myself anyway. To give myself realistic asks regarding my parenting. To understand that being superhuman isn’t what this therapeutic parenting thing is actually about. This is a long learning path.

And say that yes I am the best mum for my kids. I’m a good mum. My kids have done well with me as their mum. Try and tell myself that when I’m hurting because of a mistake (and not mange to believe that little voice of rationality). Because my children do need a human mum.

Standard issue homo sapien signing off!

She Needs a Loving Family

Don’t get me wrong, the children waiting for adoption need loving families! Families with commitment, strength, empathy, patience and open minds. And an ability to love unconditionally.

Today Kestrel wanted to see the edition of “Be My Parent” which had her profile in it again. She ran her finger over her profile and read it slowly. I found my eyes on the other children in there with her. So many children staring from those pages, needing adoption and fostering.They all needed a loving family.

They also need a lot more than “just” a committed adoptive family to be successful

They needed and need a committed, empathetic and invested society behind them to be successful. And I hope it goes without saying that this applies to all children in care not just the children up for adoption – they all need more than “just” temporary/long term foster families.

We (yes, everyone, society) need to committ in spades to our vulnerable children. And that child in BMP, my beautiful daughter, needed and needs more than what that description says she needs (an adoptive family with strength, a big support network and “some” therapy etc etc), like:

- A committed, educated, invested post-adoption support team

- A committed, educated, invested Health Service and CAMHS, which can meet developmental and emotional health needs

- An committed, educated and invested school support system, including teaching, support staff, EP’s etc

- A committed government who are taking an interest and putting money into above said systems

- Other committed support workers/teams, like the ones soon to be helping my DD with her transition to more independent living

- A whole heap of nice, helpful members of society, just Joe Public, who aren’t going around whining about children in care and adopted children getting priority in school admissions, or not wanting their children to make friends with ‘those kids in care’, or generally perpetuating nasty stereotypes

You know, I’d hate to think how life might be for Kestrel right now had she not had the therapy she’s had, the special school she’s been too, the extended family and family friends and support they give to her, and so on and on.

“Just” me isn’t enough. Yes this home is a solid foundation, support system and source of an unending pool of care, committment and unconditional love.

But it takes a village to raise a child to their full potential. A whole society. Not just a loving family.

That BMP description of what Kestrel needed is rather incomplete. She agrees with me by the way. She’s leaning over my shoulder right now reading everything she can understand and offering a couple of thoughts as I’ve written. She says she agrees because kids “aren’t at home all the time, we’re at school loads, we need nice teachers”. She also wants to know “what is the government?” :D  And she wants to upload some holiday snaps, so now I’m losing the computer!!

A TV Program I Won’t Be Watching

We like TV in this house. And when there’s an adoption, fostering or care system program on, I’m usually right there in front of it. Whatever aspect of adoption/fostering/care it’s about, whether I agree or disagree with the arguments placed across, and whether or not it reflects my children and I’s views and experiences. I like programs from all perspectives. I like interesting, challenging discussions as well as personal stories, and whether “Finding Mum and Dad”, “Fostering and Me” or “Long Lost Families” is on, you’ll find me on my comfortable spot on the sofa with a glass of wine next to me (and as often as not, some handy tissues).

But sadly, there’s one upcoming program which I won’t be watching. Exposure: Don’t Take My Child is on ITV on the 15th July, from 10.40PM to 11.40PM (info from ITV and Radio Times. If you want to watch it, there’s when to set your recorder). The press release for it is here and is worth reading – http://www.itv.com/presscentre/ep1week29/exposure-don%E2%80%99t-take-my-child#.U7r6BrHtKCY

My eldest daughter and her husband, who also normally make a note of upcoming adoption programs, will also be avoiding this. Avoid is perhaps not the best word. Boycott? No, I’m not boycotting the whole channel.

Abstaining in protest? Yes, that’s it. We’re abstaining from watching to express our displeasure at the decisions of the program producers.

Why? Not because of the subject matter. I can see some interesting things in their press release, some good discussion points, some things very worth saying. Of course I have no idea how the program will be presented, and they may just cut out some great discussion points or anything which illustrates the complexities involved in the system, in favour of click-bait style sensationalisation. I hope not but this seems to be the direction current affairs programs are going in nowadays. Nevertheless, to make my position more clear:

- I do believe that there are cases of poor decision making caused by incompetence, unwillingness to admit mistakes, overwork etc, within the care system. I am sure there are miscarriages of justice. I am sure we should be having a conversation about why these happen, and how to prevent them happening.
– I do believe that there aren’t enough resources and help for vulnerable families out there, especially with the government cutbacks. We should talk about the impact of this.
– I am interested in what several of the contributers have to say. I am interested in how the governments new adoption policy and 26 week time limit thing is linked to their general ideology on welfare etc. I am interested in how events like the Baby P case impact on the system and actions of professionals within it
– And quite obviously, as an adoptive parent, it is important to me that all adoptions granted are necessary for the childs welfare, and that it was not possible for the child to have been reunited with their birth family. This is what we all want, despite what some might have you believe. We’re not interested in adopting children whose birth parents can be supported to keep them. Therefore of course we adoptive parents have a keen interest in being sure the system is making these decisions correctly.

With that in mind, it’s unfortunate that we don’t feel able to watch this program. However the reason my daughter and I are unhappy is this:

“Multimillionaire Ian Josephs, now a resident of Monaco,tells Exposure about his work advising and personally funding the travel costs of expectant mothers to leave Britain because, he believes, they have nowhere else to turn”

We are very disappointed and somewhat depressed to see the program makers have chosen to include such a person as Ian Josephs in this program. We feel it is an irresponsible decision to take, on several levels, and it comes down to the fact that by allowing Ian Josephs airtime in such a program, the program are giving him and his advice an air of authority. The viewers, including parents who are or may become involved with social services, will naturally feel that his advice must be good, otherwise he wouldn’t be profiled like this on an ITV program. This is what we, the viewing public, expect from this kind of program. It is inevitable that following this program he will be approached by more parents. One would think this would give the program makers a sense of responsiblity about ensuring he is the kind of person parents should be approaching, before broadcasting.

To explain this, it is necessary to quote him (direct quotes in bolded italics). I absolutely fundamentally disagree with what he says, and so my quotes are obviously not an endorsement. They are accurate quotes as of today, the 8th July 2014, with screenshots if anyone wants them.

To start with, my daughter has been profoundly affected by what she suffered prior to being taken into care, which inlcuded being sexually abused. She and I object to and are digusted at Ian Josephs advising parents to “think very carefully” about reporting “a stranger who sexually assualts your young child” to the Police. Yes, that’s right. He cautions parents to be wary of reporting the rape or sexual assualt of their children to the Police (be the perpatrator a stranger, or the child’s father etc.), in case social services think their involvement is necessary. He feels that it is neccessary for the parent to have cast iron “proof” of sexual abuse if they wish to go to the Police. This is profoundly disturbing. It is especially inexplicable in my opinion, to promote this man and these views in the current climate. Neither of us are willing to watch this program if it includes people who promote this kind of action (or non-action), and makes out like these people are good people to take advice from. The impact of abuse not being reported when it should have, is far too close to home over here.

Some more of Ian’s advice, which also demonstrates an appalling lack of concern for a child’s welfare. “If you find your adopted child ‘s address or school MAKE FACE TO FACE contact immediately !Do NOT SEND EMAILS OR CARDS IN ADVANCE or make any phone calls that could warn the adoptive parents and send them to court for an injunction !” and “Once adoption proceedings have finished there is no more confidentiality ,so plaster your children’s names and photographs all over facebook and the rest of the internet together with names of the social workers and so called “experts” who have stolen your children !Make it hard for adopters and ss alike as that’s your best chance of eventually seeing your children again !” (well that’s the best way to jeapordise contact, which can be very helpful for a child) and of course “Make sure you hold them tight to stop interuptions when you tell the children that “wicked people have stolen them for money and that you will never stop fighting to get them back” ! Whisper this in their ears or calmly make the statement out loud in spite of horrified supervisors who may then try to shout you down !Even children as young as 3 will remember all their lives such a brutal but necessary message. Vital however it is, as it will eventually make a stable adoption impossible to sustain !”

Most can see why doing such a thing is a terrible idea for the child’s sake, very damaging to a child, and unlikely in the extreme to help the situation – except some vulnerable parents of course. Suddenly, this terrible advice, all about the parents and utterly thoughtless towards the childs needs, might seem appropriate.

And yet, as shocking as this advice is, it is the tip of iceberg. More worrisome than his post-adoption advice to my mind, is his advice to parents in the midst of care proceedings who would be able to parent their child. Whilst I can’t go over every single thing he has ever said, it is always mightily depressing to me, to hear a lawyer explain how reading this kind of advice (never co-operating at all with social services, for instance) has harmed their clients cases in court and worked against them getting their children back.

And so, we won’t be watching next Tuesday. Perhaps a 3 person “avoidance to express displeasure” is pointless. And yet, we can’t quite bring ourselves to watch the program makers do this. So when I don’t contribute much to the during and post-program disucssion on here, or Twitter, or Mumsnet, you’ll all understand why. I’m not asking anyone else to not watch either, let’s be clear. I think people should be aware of what I’ve said here, but I’m not asking people not to watch.

I have only this to say to the producers – you really need to think carefully about who you choose to give public exposure to, in such circumstances as these. You don’t want to share in some indirect responsiblity for harming a parents case in court, or harming a child, do you? I hope not. And yet you could, easily, by doing things like this. I would perhaps think about only selecting conrtibuters who act in a responsible fashion and care about children’s welfare in future. It doesn’t, as a member of the viewing public, seem like too much to ask of you.

………………………………………………………….

It’s probably also worth mentionning another reason I’m kind of glad I will be avoiding this. And it’s this – trolls and other assorted not-very-nice commentators. I understand people lashing out because they are angry with the system, I do. But I am so worn out by being subjected to abuse for no reason. On here, Twitter, Mumsnet, whatever. I am not interested in being told that MY children shouldn’t have been adopted (their adoptions have been a good thing for them, and that’s all there is to it), I am not interested in being personally insulted purely because I am an adoptive parent. I am not interested in people insinuating or outright claiming that my daughters haven’t been abused or suffered the mental health effects of their difficult early years. I find people who deny abuse and accuse innocent children and adults of lying, to be infuriating, and I’m not engaging in it. It’s sad that this kind of thing gets in the way of actual interesting discussions. It’s downright depressing actually, especially as the majority of us all want the same things, like adoption only where necessary for the childs welfare etc.

With this in mind, I’m glad I’ll be looking after myself and avoiding some nastiness this time around, and my God I’m glad my eldest daughter will be doing the same. She doesn’t deserve to be insulted or attacked for talking about her own story.

I’m also not going to publish or even finish reading ANY comments which have personal insults, or abuse denial or whatever, in them. My blog, my rules. Don’t even bother writing it.

Little Miss Shoeless and the Amazing Red Socks

Kestrel and I had a laugh about this little memory of ours yesterday, and she and I both thought I should share for this weeks “Memory Box”! It may not be “Shout it from the rooftops” news, but it’s a good memory for us, something we love to giggle about sometimes and it never ever fails to make me chuckle.

 

Kestrel, on certain days, used to be (and still is sometimes!) the living embodiment of the word “opposition”. It would take forever to go into all the things she’s ever tried, and the myriad of successful, so-so or totally useless things I’ve tried to make life easier for us. However, one of my more successful strategies has been turning her opposition into something amusing! You can’t overuse this strategy but it’s been a magical diffuser at times, as you will see…

So, one of the battles she wanted to have some years ago was over shoes and coat (and gloves, and scarf if necessary). NO, NO, NO, I WON’T. Not putting her coat on, no way was she going to put her shoes on. Arguing or punishing only escalated it into a proper screaming aggressive tantrum. Ignoring didn’t help because Miss I-don’t-wear-shoes would refuse all day, until school was over, and the shops were shut. Several times, she walked to the nearest newsagents shoeless.The first time, the newsagent took one look and went, “what’s happened to your feet, duck?”. And yesterday this whole conversation kickstarted when we saw that newsagent crossing a road. “Hey mum, that’s that man who called me a duck and asked me what happened to my feet!”, “Oh yeah…Kestrel, do you remember when…?”

So….

 

I needed to go shopping for toilet paper, because a certain someone had flushed the lot down the loo. As in every single roll in the house. And the cardboard insides too. But Little Miss Shoeless was more than prepared to stand sulking for ever and refuse to put them on. Being in a calm mood, I said:

“Oh, we’re not wearing shoes today? That sounds fun! Everyone will be able to look at my amazing red socks”

I was more than prepared to go shopping shoeless. But funnily enough, as I tried this for the first time, I got all of two steps up the front path before a furious child put her shoes on (because it’s not defiance if your stupid horrible mummy wants to be shoeless as well, is it? Mean evil mummy)

The second time I tried it, when by complete coincidence I was also wearing my amazing red socks, Little Miss Shoeless came out with me and still refused to put shoes on. I think she may have cottoned on that I had ‘won’ last time and got her to do what I wanted! I think she was calling my bluff. But Evil Mummy was more than prepared to follow through on what she had said, because this was the very last day to exchange some clothes which didn’t fit and come hell or high water, Evil Mummy was going to get an exchange.

So, we got in the car and when we parked and started walking, the passing pedestrians gave us funny looks. Little Miss Shoeless (who was only wearing boring old white socks) demanded to know why people were looking.

“Oh that’s easy” I replied, “They’re looking because they love my bright red socks. They probably wish they had some too”

“But they’re looking at me too!”

“They’re looking at me more though Kess. Because my socks are brighter and cooler than your socks. Mine have love hearts on them”

“No they are NOT!”

“Well, we’ll see who everyone else looks at more”

The shoppers at the store were surprised as well. Kess was not happy to realise that they were indeed looking at me more (to give me “Seriously? You’re a bad mother” eyebrows, but lets not go into that ;) )

In the customer services queue, Little Miss Shoeless demanded to compare socks and found many faults with my amazing red socks, which just proved that her (boring old) white ones were superior.

Imagine, if you will, you are a shopper bored and standing in a boring slow moving and even more boring customer service queue, and there’s a girl who looks around 8/9 (she was 10) but acts a lot younger (very emotionally and socially delayed), along with a woman who is clearly her mother, and they are both totally shoeless, wearing only by now filthy socks. They are arguing about whose filthy socks are prettier.

Then, if you will, imagine your reaction when “Well these are better at walking” is followed by “Really? These are better for dancing in though” is followed by “Prove it” is followed by a clearly very weird woman doing a mini (feet only) tap dance and rubbish ballet toes demonstration in her dirty red socks.

“I’m better” says the girl, and starts a proper mini crazy dance in the queue. Imagine your instinctive reaction.

I did not even attempt to copy Kestrel’s version of a ‘dance’, because even I’m not that crazy! I said “hey, hey, Kess. Okay, you know what, you’re better at dancing than me”

“YES! I know! My socks are better dancing socks”

“Okay then” and we started giggling together in the queue, the earlier tantrum and sulk forgotten about. And then she let me give her a ‘you win’ high five and a little hug. I was so pleased and relieved. And I tell you, I could have sat on that floor and just laughed at myself for hours. What a weird pair we were. What had I just done in the name of therapeutic parenting? What kind of a crazy mother was I? It’s making me chuckle right now.

No “Seriously?” eyebrows could phase me now I had successfully navigated this situation with no aggressive tantrums and even got a hug out of it. On the way back, she even admitted that her feet were cold and stones hurt, which she certainly wasn’t willing to do on the way there (because that makes horrible mummy right about why shoes are a good idea). Sadly, my amazing red socks and the boring but good for dancing white socks had to be thrown away. The latter got chewing gum stuck to them on the way back. Grim!

Yesterday, when we had finished laughing and Kess had finished “oh-my-God’-ing, I got the best late gift of all…

“Mum….I think your socks were actually cooler than my socks”

VICTORY AT LAST for the (dearly departed and much missed) amazing red socks! Hahahaha! I earned this victory :D

 

 

 

 

For birth families, there are many questions without answers

I’m dedicating this blog entry to “A”, whom I greatly respect and admire for her courage and strength. I wish her all the best, as always.

I think I can safely say that the best thing about being part of an online community (whether that’s on a forum, or on Twitter, or blogging) is the support and friendship that you give and receive. I always try and give as much support as I can at the time, to whomever asks me for it, and I have always found that whenever I need a hand hold, kind words or advice, there are people giving me support. Most of the people I talk with are other adoptive parents, and sometimes adoptees, lawyers, social workers etc. However, I feel priveleged to have also been able to talk with several birth mums in the last few years.

Every mother I have talked to has made a big impression on me, but I think “A” was the first mum to really open my eyes and give me a new perspective.

“A” has a child, “B”, and at this time, “B” was in foster care. Whilst “A” was obviously desperate to have her child returned to her care, and fighting for it, she was also facing the possibility that she might not succeed, in which case “B” would be adopted. That prospect was only made worse and more confusing, by the fact that “A” really didn’t know much about adoption, or how it would work for her and her child. What kind of people would adopt her child? How would they make up their minds to adopt “B” instead of another child? What were her options for contact, what exactly was normal? Could it be that her child might never be told they were adopted? And would her beloved child be told that their birth mum loved them? That was very important to her.

These are far from the only questions I have been asked, or seen being asked. But “A” was the woman who opened my eyes to how little many families know about adoption, and how little they are told by professionals. This is all information that is freely available online if you know where to find it, but I see no reason why a family should have to do that instead of just being told the answers to such simple questions as “do adoptive parents get paid to adopt?” or “how do I know that the people adopting my child have been assessed properly, how does the assessment even work?”

“A” chose to ask some adoptive parents her questions, which to this day I think was a brave thing to do. She didn’t know us, or what we would think of her, whether we would judge her or whether we would help her. We were just random strangers on the internet.

And so I read “A”‘s questions and saw her confusion and her love for her child which shone through her writing, and I cried for a start, but I certainly did my best to support her by giving her answers to all her adoption related questions.

Now, I can say that in the end, she succceeded in having her child returned to her, which I was utterly thrilled to hear. But there are of course several thousand adoptions a year, which likely means a lot of unanswered questions for birth families. I think this is something which could be improved – it can only help if there is more correct information out there for families. I would never want a family to be left thinking that adoptive parents pay to have whatever baby they want, or that anyone could get approved to be an adoptive parent in two weeks flat, or that adoptive parents only adopt because they want “accessories” and don’t treat children well. And yet, I see this happening. I see people (who aren’t even parents/grandparents/family members themselves) telling distressed mothers and grandparents these totally untrue things, and it makes me angry. I’m glad “A” never encountered these little nuggets of distressing misinformation.

“A” told me that by answering her questions and by supporting her, we had helped her. I never really felt I deserved the thanks she gave me, for doing something which I would have done for anyone in her position. But, by having my eyes opened to how confusing the adoption process must be for a lot of families, I resolved that I would try to do something for other mothers like “A”.

I wondered how much my children’s birth parents knew about adoption? Kestrel and Parrot’s birth mum told me after meeting me that she was pleased I was going to be the one to adopt Kestrel. We hugged, we cried. Now I wonder whether she knew how thoroughly I had been vetted? I doubt it. But what a bigger leap of faith it is to try and support (not oppose) your childs adoption when you don’t even know how the new mother was assessed, when adoption is something you really know almost nothing about.

I believe that a bit more dialogue between adoptive families and birth families can only be helpful. A bit more support can only be helpful. If I can help one more “A” get some answers to their adoption questions, that can only help.

So, finally after a bit of work, I compiled a list of questions I had been asked not only by “A” but by other mothers, and things I had seen being asked online, and I wrote out answers to those questions. It’s now online at http://www.childprotectionresource.org.uk/answering-birth-parents-questions-about-adoption/

If it helps even one more family member out there, I will be very happy. It’s something I wish would have been there for “A”, for Kestrel and Parrot’s birth mum, and for the other birth mum’s I have spoken to.

Anyone can comment on CPResource posts, so I’m sure another adoptive parent input to answer questions or provide an alternative spin on my answers would be helpful and it would certainly be welcomed by the site administration.

If you have a child who is being adopted (or a grandchild, sibling, cousin etc.) and you have a question about adoption and you think I might be able to answer it, please do comment on the site piece I wrote. I will do my very best to give you an answer.

My best wishes to all

Giving Without Receiving

One of the things I’ve been asked to do a few times is to help people interpret the language and phrases in children’s adoption profiles. Adoption profiles are funny things, supposed to give a small and honest snapshot of a real child, whilst maintaining their privacy and generating interest in the child from prospective parents. Some profiles are more successful at this than others, but nearly all of them are written in a funny “social-worker-ese” way – no jargon as such, but they DO require some interpretation and require the person looking to be able to ‘read between the lines’. It’s easy for those who haven’t encountered many profiles before to not realise this or notice the unwritten. Profiles frequently include phrases and words which hint at certain issues, or phrases that can be read in one way but really mean something else. Since I’ve helped some American prospective adopters with this, I think in comparison the American profiles have a bit more of this kind of thing than the British profiles, but they are similar in most ways.

A great example from my Kestrel’s intitial information would be “Kestrel loves her food”

In standard English, “Kestrel loves her food” pretty much means –  Kestrel enjoys eating, is not very fussy, has big portions and likes snacking. The kind of child one would find it a pleasure to eat with and cook for, right?

In Profile-ese, “Kestrel loves her food” actually means – Kestrel has serious food issues and is obsessed with food. She is not fussy, but she gorges on food, steals it, hoards it, and will eat herself to the point of throwing up sometimes. She can’t stand it when other people are eating food and she hasn’t got any. Expect a meltdown. Also, her eating so much in no way means she actually enjoys the food – eating is often a compulsion for her, we’re not sure how much she really notices the taste.

Note – I’m not saying that “X loves his/her food” always means this. A feature of wishy-washy profiles language is that the same phrase can mean two completely different things in two different profiles. But it does provide a useful example, which helps illustrate why reading between the lines and being aware of what certain phrases/words may be used to hint at certain issues, is very useful.

Learning to read Profilese is a frustrating experience as a prospective adopter, but at this point I’m finding it second nature. When I read a profile now, as soon as I see words, I’m seeing alternate interpretations of them. I read the written and the unwritten simultaneously. Though I don’t claim to be an expert, let me be clear. I’m sure I miss things often enough, or interpret wrongly. And sometimes it’s so wishy washy that you think “Huh? Could mean A or B or C or something else entirely”.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a profile, and I saw a sentence. It’s one of those sentences, that an adoptive parent of a child with certain significant issues, would read entirely differently than most other people, be they other adopters, prospective adopters, or people with no adoption connection at all. It seems such an obvious thing to say, but in actual fact this is Profilese and so you have to read the implied along with the stated. And to be honest, I think you also need experience to really comprehend what is being said.

I’ve reworded the sentence, so it says the exact same thing, but I hope gives the child more privacy, because this is a real profile and child:

“Parents must be able to give without demanding anything in return?”

(Aha! I hear adoptive parents of kids like my Rhea and Kestrel making noises of mild amusement already!)

Standard English speakers reaction – Well, yes, of course to be a parent you have to be able to give without demanding. I mean, kids aren’t naturally mature, grateful, loving and well behaved individuals 100% of the time (or even insert-very-low-percentage of the time!). You have to love, nurture, discipline and care whether they’re throwing a massive tantrum and hitting you, or being mean, or whatever else have you. Kids don’t give you time off when you’re desperately tired, or suffering depression, or throwing up either. You give your all, but you can’t expect good behaviour all the time, or good achievement in school, or x,y,z in return.

All very true.

But this sentence is in Profilese! In Profilese these sentences, which call for parents who can give without demand, or “love unconditionally” (it means the exact same thing), imply that the child has significant issues.

I have adopted two children whom this sentence, with all it’s implications, has applied to at different times. It still applies to Kestrel actually.

Giving without receiving, in this context, means:

Can you pour your love into a child who may never be able to form a strong bond with you in return? And can you live with this, seeing other children love their parents so much, and not having it yourself. Not now, not in five years time, not in ten years time, perhaps not ever?

Can you give your all to a child who has significant emotional/behavioural/attachment issues, and know that your all may not be enough for them to ‘heal’, or make progress or achieve?

It’s very difficult to explain what this is like. If you’ve parented children with these kind of significant issues, you already understand. If you haven’t lived it, it’s harder to get to grips with.

Let’s take the lovely 1999 (!) again as an example, or the first few years of Kestrel’s adoption.

When I get up every morning, I know that 3 years into adoption, my daughter Rhea doesn’t love me, though I love her so much, and I ache for her to love me back. Love is not good behaviour, or whatever else…I just ache for her to have a feeling inside of her of “I love my mum”. I learn to love without expectation of love. I learn to live in a wholly one sided relationship, in a way that parents of most children cannot understand because their kids love them unconditionally, and entirely without realising it, indeed taking it for granted, their kids love impacts on their relationship in a massive way. That kids love their parents (who care for them day in, day out) is a societal expectation, the natural human condition, and you know it unconsciously, you’ve absorbed this into your understanding of the way the world works. When this doesn’t hold true for you as a parent, it really impacts on you.

And daily, I am dealing with controlling behaviour, and PTSD, and often verbal or physical aggression, and I realise that this may be a permanent fixture, that these issues might always be here. I give my all every day, but know it may be a hopeless excercise in many ways. I live without seeing “progress”.

You wonder if you are really making a difference, even though you can’t bear the thought of your child going through what they were going through, with frequent moves etc, and you know that stability and your care gives them the best ‘chance’. But you wonder, has my mothering changed anything? And you realise maybe it hasn’t, and won’t.

And it really changes you. It really affects you emotionally. I wound up with depression and secondary traumatic stress, unsurprisingly

That’s what it means. That’s what kind of adoptive parents that profile is likely really searching for. Utterly committed, and understanding these kind of issues.

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

I had a little laugh with Kestrel recently, about how social workers told me that she “loved her food”. She giggled, and she said it’s not food she loves, it’s chocolate!! She said that she didn’t really love food then, but she did feel the need to gorge on it all the time.

I no longer Give Without Receiving. I know that Kestrel loves me, and it’s a very unconscious thing, but has a really big effect. I’ve seen her achieve, make huge progress –  emotional progress, social progress, academic progress, everything really.

But I started out with no guaruntees, only hope. But from 8 years of experience from parenting Rhea,

I had the knowledge that I could Give

Daughter, Missing

Monday-Tuesday night was a long night for me

 

Kestrel stormed out after an argument in the early evening, with nothing but the clothes on her back. Didn’t take any money, didn’t take her mobile phone. Things that most teenagers needing a few hours break from home would indeed think to take with them.

Occasionally she does want a time out, which is pretty much never more than about 2 hours. But as 3 hours ticked into 4, and the sky turned black (and believe me, she does not like the dark), my restlessness turned to anxiety turned to outright worry then fear. Vulnerable teenager, mentally and emotionally much younger than her years, scared of the dark, all alone, with no phone and no money.

I phoned round her friends and spoke to their parents as well. I phoned her birth mum, not there either. Phoned a couple of nearby birth siblings, still a no. Had to check with them all, but felt very guilty for worrying her mum, who texted me about every 10 minutes from then on to see if she’s been found yet. Every call, every no, and my stomach tightened a bit more, and the slightly sick feeling spread a bit further. My daughter was missing.

Midnight came and went.

I prayed Kess was coping in the dark

Half midnight.

The Police arrived.

One in the morning came and went

The Police left

One thirty

I turned to others for a hand hold, and sat on the sofa staring at the clock

Two in the morning

 

I thought about how Kess might react if the Police were to find her. She’s frightened of them, won’t go near Police officers if we encounter them out and about. Would cross the road to get away. Her awful experience last year with the Police and her birth mum and then the admission to hospital because of her mental state, has made it a lot worse

Two-thirty

My best friend came round to sit with me.

I got a call shortly before 3AM to say Daughter, Found (wandering the streets quite a way away from home). That tightness in the stomach was immediately replaced by a really hot feeling which started in my chest and travelled through my abdomen like swallowing a mouthful of mulled wine. Then the shaky legs and hands feeling started.

My friend stayed in the house with Parrot (asleep) and I drove to pick her up. Unsurprisingly, she refused to let the Police officers too near her and certainly wouldn’t get in their car, much as she wanted to come home. Turns out after wandering for a few hours, she realised she was very lost. And of course, no money for a cab, no mobile to ring anyone on. So she wandered around on her own till she was found, getting scared and panicky.

When I got to her….I wanted to hug her tight and not let go. I wanted to cry with relief. I wanted to shout at her for putting me through this. I was shattered and angry and so so relieved I was light headed with it.

She just wanted a drink and her medication and bed.

I know parents who have been through this so many times they can’t feel these extremes of emotion any more, unsurpisingly. But it’s the first time Kess has gone missing and it was awful.

Kestrel was sound asleep soon after getting back, slept like a log and snored annoyingly loudly and distractingly, while I was still suffering the effects of stress and was only able to sleep fitfully for about an hour. I doubt anyone will be surprised to hear that there was fallout on Tuesday, as Kestrel showed the effects of the stress she went through, by being extra controlling and needing my presence a lot more than usual

Daughter, Still here

And mum hoping neither of us have to go through this again.