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This week I was asked to give my opinion on a dilemma discussed on our local radio show BBC WM. Whilst I don’t like to make judgements on other peoples lives I have thought a lot since about this particular dilemma and how the essence of it impacts most adopters I know.

The basic outline of this couples dilemma was this – they had adopted a boy about three years ago I think and it had put a strain on their relationship as a result. The man in the relationship said how the woman devoted her time and energy to the child and as a result he had an affair. They since worked through that and seemed to be in a better place. The wife now wants to adopt again and the husband doesn’t as he is frightened of the same thing happening, in terms of the stress and strain on the marriage.

There was a torrent of opinion on this dilemma, as you can image, from people on both sides of this argument – some saying the husband was in the wrong and others saying the wife was in the wrong. I was asked to comment as an adopter. Many of the other people who were commenting, whilst I’m sure they can understand the pressures any kind of parenting can have on a relationship, very few of the people passing judgement on this family were adopters and in a position to identify with some of the issues concerned. And I must point out every family is different – I certainly don’t have the answers or the monopoly on this kind of subject – but I do have my own personal feelings and can identify with the complex issues involved.

So for any of you out there thinking about adopting – especially couples – here’s my observations and experiences. Also for those with children placed who can identify with this – please know you are not alone – there is help out there – with no judgement and no condemnation.

  1. Start healthy patterns and habits now. It’s easy to say “we’ll make time for each other once the child arrives, we’ll make sure we spend time together and focus on our relationship too”. I’d encourage you to do that NOW. If you are waiting for a child to be placed then start building in habits that will keep your relationship a priority. Establish a date night. Line up a babysitter for that night each week or every other week. When you’re tired now and don’t want to go out – go out anyway. I can guarantee once the child comes if you don’t have healthily habits set up it will be so much more difficult to set them in place later.
  2. Be honest and real with each other. I know you probably try to do this now but it will be so much more important later on. If you have doubts about any aspects of adoption talk about it now so there are fewer surprises.
  3. Find a trusted friend to be accountable to. If you have someone you can talk to now then cultivate that relationship to be one where you can be truly transparent and get them to make you accountable. It’s easier sometimes to talk to a best friend then to your partner, but they can help you stay on the right track and hopefully encourage you in the right direction when things get difficult. If you don’t have such a person now then find one.
  4. Commit to see the best in each other. You may feel your relationship is rock solid now and that’s great, however children who’ve experienced early trauma have a way of splitting adults. Due to their lack of trust and insecurities they may very well be different with one parent than the other and this can make things difficult between couples. Notice that and commit to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
  5. First sign of trouble get help. If you sense things are starting to become difficult in your relationship seek help. Very early in our relationship we had a few sessions with the counselling service called RELATE and it really helped us. This was even before we had our children and since they have arrived I certainly have had counsel from many wise people who have helped me keep things in perspective when needed. There is no shame in asking for help.

One thing I have found that seems to be quite common for us adopters is guilt. The adoption process can be such an arduous one that once we have a child placed with us any feelings of anything but gratitude can leave us with strong feelings of guilt – “how can we find it difficult when we wanted this so much?” “how can we be resenting the love or affection our partner has for this child when we know their background?” “why can we not just get over ourselves and have the empathy and compassion needed to raise a vulnerable child?” – very difficult questions and ones we may have to wrestle with daily sometimes.

Know that you are now alone – the dilemma couple local to me whose story was heard on the radio, others like them and sometimes my own experience – there are many of us who know all too well the light and dark shades of adoption. As with anything worthwhile in life there always seems to be a positive and negative side – that’s just life. I hope this helps you in your journey and my heart goes out to that couple in their dilemma. 

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Microphone

Sing…..I’ve sung all my life in different places and it’s one of those things that always makes me feel better. Whether I’m disappointed, downcast or disillusioned with life singing somehow makes me feel that there is joy and hope. Sounds quite dramatic as I read it back but I know it’s been true for me. When I was a little girl I apparently sang all the time – I didn’t even know I was singing sometimes and even as an adult in different jobs people have always commented “do you know you’re humming?”.

What is it about singing that has this effect on people? For me it’s the sounds of making great harmonies together with others. The freedom of escaping into someones imagination as well as you sing the lyrics. My husband never listens to lyrics, it’s the music for him. But for me it’s both – I love a great happy, driving tune and I also love clever, sensitive and inspiring lyrics.

I’m part of a choir at the moment working towards a presentation on 27th July nearby. It’s been such a blast practicing with friends but also people I’ve never met before. The songs are great, the choir master is brilliant and it’s just nice to be part of something that I know will bless others when we do perform. Each week when I’ve gone to practice even if I’ve been feeling a bit down or tired it’s lifted my spirits and connected me again to my love of music.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this about music, but of course it may be very different things for each one of you – sport, films, family and being with friends – maybe that’s what keeps you grounded and centred. For me it’s many things some of the list above (except sport) but definitely music – listening to it and singing.

So this week think about what would be your keep calm and…..and do it – don’t only recognise it but make sure you make time to do it. I’ve found that often we know what will help us feel better but we don’t do it….we just plod on with the stress and expect others to help us calm down, but we have a responsibility to do that ourselves. I’m talking to myself here too. I made a promise to myself a few weeks ago that if I was feeling down I would listen to a favourite song – of which I have many, but I’m sorry to say I’ve not always done that. So I’m re-pledging to do that this week.

Here’s a few of my favourites at the moment:-

Louise Petie – Safe and Sound

Keith Urban – Little bit of everything

Rend Collective – My Lighthouse

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It’s been a hectic week this week – lots of travelling, speaking and training, meeting new people and catching up with old friends – lots of time away from my children and not much sleep. All in all I feel quite shattered, in a good way but also being marooned on a desert island doesn’t sound like a bad idea right now! This is the theme for our blog buddies post this week – If I were marooned on a desert island…..

Before we had our children I always considered myself to be someone who was energised by others. For many years the thought of being on my own scared me a bit I think. Now however…..just the opposite. I do still get energised by being with others and love to throw ideas around and spend time with like minded people. But I also need much more time alone with no noise, no tasks or work and definitely no people! So maybe the desert island is the place for me sometimes.

What can we learn in those times of quietness and aloneness?

1) We can cope without other people telling us what to do all the time. For many of us the tendency to ask other peoples advice or their opinions on things is a daily habit. When thinking about changing jobs, who to marry or even what to have for breakfast we assume others know what’s best for us more than we do. When you’re on your own on that desert island there is only you to answer to and only you to make the decisions. I wonder if I had made more decisions about my life on my own without other peoples influence whether it would have been a straighter path to where I am now, or indeed a more rockier one? Questions that can properly never be answered and there is something very valuable in asking for other peoples help at times. I’ve heard many people say they were persuaded to do something they didn’t want to do and regretted it. So on my desert island (my occasional days of solitude) I will listen to my gut and trust my instincts more.

2) There is power in the now. I’ve seen this so many times over the last 9 years since I’ve been involved in coaching and since we’ve had our children. Being able to concentrate on what is in front of me and not obsess about the past and the future is so freeing and very powerful. On my desert island I want to be able to experience everything and not miss the tranquility and peace that can be found in just settling into what’s going on right now.

3) There is a time and a season for everything. There is a time for busyness, action and noise and there is definitely a time for quietness, silence and stillness. Without one we can not appreciate the other. We need to know what it feels like on the hamster wheel of life to feel the benefit of getting off and if we never got on the wheel then our lives would not move forward and we would miss those opportunities all around us to make a difference to others.

4) Life is about people. As much as we need those times of solitude and quietness – without people life has little meaning. I’ve learnt some new things about how our brains are wired up recently, namely that we are built for relationships. There are parts of our brain that respond to reciprocation from others around us. As we interact with others our brains receive signals that make us feel good. Also when we are very young our brains develop and grow through interaction – repetitive patterned activity with the people around us. What happens when we don’t get that? Relationships are vitally important. As much as I might want those times of no people and no demands I know that I need them – I need my family, friends and the world around me to thrive.

So whether you are on a desert island in your experience or indeed the hamster wheel remember without the one you can’t have the other – but you do need to take a step back occasionally, get on that desert island and find refreshment to get back into life again.

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I heard this quote as part of a talk about poverty – a very complex, serious and devastating issue for many people in our world today. However as I’ve been mulling it over as our blog buddies title this week I’ve not been able to get away from some very much more mundane thoughts on this.

For those parents amongst you – you will recognise this scene I’m sure. You’re sat on your sofa after a long day enjoying a cup of tea (or whatever beverage you drink) and watching the TV (or whatever makes you relax) and you hear a loud voice in the distance somewhere “Mum, Mum, Muuuuuum” now you think well I can either raise my voice too and scream the place down in response or I could get off my backside and move my feet. If you’re anything like me you eventually are the one who has to move to go to the calling voice – why is that? Why do we feel that we always have to go to others? The problem is that you know even if you answer their call by shouting “what?” back you will probably end up getting up anyway.

As parents we have a role to meet our children’s needs – their basic needs and much more. When you become a parent through whatever means, you’ve very rarely given a comprehensive guide on what to do – how to meet the ever increasing needs and demands of children. Do you go to them every time they cry as a baby? What kind of food and when should you feed them? How do you make sure they learn to not be bullied or in fact not be a bully? When do you talk to them about relationships and sex? How do you protect them from all the things you wished hadn’t happened to you – and can you? Should you? Aaahh I can feel the stress building up in me as I write this….it is the most challenging, perplexing, demanding, exhausting, rewarding, exhilarating and important job you will ever do in the world. Creating, influencing and raising a child to become a well-rounded adult who in turn can contribute to society in their own way. Amazing and terrifying at the same time.

For those who read my blogs regularly you will know that adoption is very close to my heart, not only because it’s our experience of parenting but also as it’s my work and passion right now. It can be a sobering job sometimes. I sit on a local adoption panel which can be distressing – when you read the lives of these very vulnerable children and their birth parents who have very often had difficult childhoods themselves, and then what a privilege to be involved in that moment when a family is created through adoption – when parents raise their voices in celebration and move their feet along an incredible journey that I know will take them on a roller coaster of emotions.

So next time I hear my children scream “Mummmmm” I think I will try and remember that whether I raise my voice too or move my feet I would not be without them and the incredible privilege it is to be involved in this wonderful experience of adoption.

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Balloons in sky

As a nation we seem to be very down on extreme emotions – it’s not the done thing to be too sad and certainly not cool to be too happy! Melancholy, stress, exuberance, crazy singing and dancing in the street – are all signs that we obviously can’t handle our daily lives and need some help to flatten out our emotions so that we can fit in and not make anyone else feel uncomfortable.

This weeks theme is ‘Happiness – is it all it’s cracked up to be?’. For me I’ve thought about this for many years actually (I know, too much time on my hands). When I started the coaching journey 9 years ago I came into contact with the concept of really experiencing our emotions. We tend to want to live without too many radical ups and downs but just a steady even keel bundling along the middle range of our emotions. I’m not talking about those who suffer extremes clinically like depressive illnesses – but the every day emotions we experience like sadness and joy.

I’ve found that as people we very often are uncomfortable around other peoples emotions. When people are sad we want to make them happy, and conversely when they are happy we sometimes want to contain their happiness and bring them down to our level of unhappiness! What is it about this phenomenon? Why is it so hard to sit with people in their emotions however extreme they are?

If you have ever felt a strong emotion such as grief or incredible joy and then been with someone who doesn’t validate that emotion, it can feel completely dismissive, that what you feel is not important and that there’s something wrong about staying there for a while.

One of the parenting models we are encouraged to use when parenting adopted children is by a Child Psychologist called Dan Hughes. Part of this model talks about truly accepting where the child is at in their inner world. Something I wish we would all do more of. So when they come in from school upset saying “no-one likes me” and we say “that’s not true I like you”, or “I’m sure that’s not right, everyone can’t dislike you” – those expressions just make the child’s feelings wrong – we are saying that what they feel is not valid. It dismisses some very strong emotions that doesn’t allow them to really share those emotions with us. The feelings certainly don’t go away with our words of wisdom. They may still feel paranoid and lonely at school and now they have no-one to really share those incredibly strong feelings with.

Instead Dan Hughes recommends you stay with them in their emotions – linger a while. This is something we learnt in coaching also and I have seen it work in powerful ways with clients and also have known it for myself. So in the example above you might say to the child “wow, that’s awful to feel like that, you know if I felt no-one liked me I wouldn’t want to go to school either, tell me more about how that feels”. I know this is counter intuitive as we desperately want to move them out of their low feeling and for them to be happy again – but they need to really experience the emotions, delve a little deeper to know how they truly feel and then some solutions can come from a much deeper place, where they are heard and understood.

So my plea for you (and me) this week when you’re out and about with your family, friends, work mates whoever is to just linger a little bit with their emotions – whether they are happy or sad that’s ok. For some people being round happy people is hard too. How many times have you succeeded in something and then moved on straight away to the next thing without really experiencing the joy of accomplishment?

Happiness IS all it’s cracked up to be but then so are the full range of emotions – let’s not be too scared to experience them ourselves and to let others experience their emotions too.

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Footprints

Sometimes when you’re in the thick of things it’s hard to see any progress – how far have you come? Has the journey been worth it? What difference have you made along the way? In our blog buddies title this week – tracks or footprints, a few areas have popped into my mind.

Firstly when I think about our children and how far we have come I can honestly say there have been huge tracks left in the ground. This week my daughter did something very sweet for me and it made me realise that even though there are many times when we don’t see eye to eye and that she finds it hard to accept what has happened in her life, there are also times when the tracks stand out. Hopefully the times of attunement, however few and far between, are making a difference in her life. That she is healing slowly but surely.

We’re coming up to the fifth anniversary of my Dads death. He was and still is a huge part of my life. It’s funny how you don’t really appreciate that until they are gone. I know that however many years go by and however many mentors and good people I have around me, the Dad shaped hole in me will not be filled by anyone else. His footprint in my life is huge. He was such an unassuming man that I know he wasn’t going all out to change the world but he did have a massive impact on many people and the legacy of that continues. We just never know what an impact we have on others – whether they are huge footprints or tiny tracks doesn’t really matter – without them the landscape for others would be different.

I have been reflecting on my business today and where I am right now. If you just focus on what’s in front of you sometimes it can seem small – that the work you are doing doesn’t matter – whatever you job is. When you compare yourself to others it’s very easy to see your tiny tracks as somehow insignificant to those giant monster footprints – BUT I don’t believe that’s the case. I believe we all have a job to do that is just ours – that if we didn’t do it – it might not ever be done. My job as a Mother to my children is unique, my job as a wife to my husband is unique and my role in this work is unique. It’s the same for us all….

Finally in my own personal growth when I look down at my feet I can only see where I am right now. But if I look back I can see just how far I have come. We all have thorns in our side, traits that are hard to shake and problems that seem to follow us wherever we go. I can say that when I take my eyes off my own feet and focus on where I’m going and who I’m going there with it’s a whole different story. 

So whether you consider your prints to be tiny tracks or huge footprints today just remember that they are making an impact on the world around you. Without you the landscape would not be the same. And be encouraged that the legacy you create will live on in others when you are gone.

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Friends chatting

When we started on the adoption journey I really did believe I was resilient enough to do a good job. Like most people I’ve had my ups and downs in life but nothing really major I guess – I’ve been very fortunate. Of course the journey to adoption for people (us included) is usually a rocky one thwart with loss, pain and anxiety BUT the end result – three amazing children – is incredible. Over the last year I would say I’ve been slowly trying to change my focus in my parenting and my thoughts about adoption in general. When you see the programmes on TV (like the current Finding Mum and Dad series) they are sometimes quite one sided – they either show the horrendously difficult decisions and lifestyles people have that impact on children, or they show this very unrealistic, twee view of a lovely dreamlike family coming together and living happily ever after. In reality it’s somewhere in the middle.

I’m sick of hearing the statistics that come out about the outcomes for children who’ve been through the care system. They are shocking and can be very soul destroying for those of us trying to make a difference to children’s lives. However you can’t bury your head in the sand and pretend all is well when it isn’t. A recent study I heard talked about three thirds within adoption – a third of people apparently are doing well (however you quantify that), another third are struggling, and the final third are in crisis i.e. disruption where children have to go back into the care system. This doesn’t surprise me as it probably reflects my experience with those around me. It does worry me though that we concentrate so little on post adoption support and that is the single most important thing that will move you from one third to another.

I remember a few years ago having a meal with some adoption friends – two mothers, both struggling and probably moving from the second to the final third if you go on the study above. Both Mums really finding day to day life difficult, striving to manage their own emotions and this was impacting on how they felt about their children too. I said at one point “I’m not where you are YET” – when I was driving home I thought – you know I never want to be there! I never want to be in that place where every day is a struggle and it’s difficult to see the good in anything about adoption. I understand how we can get to that point and hold no judgement for those who find themselves there. I do however hope to help others not reach that point themselves.

This year I’m looking at focusing on helping and supporting other adopters in whatever way I can. I know that one of the main areas I’d love to influence is this weeks quote – I ask not for a lighter load but broader shoulders – I would love to make that my mantra and others I care about in this arena – that we would not just accept our family circumstances but be grateful and relish what it can bring us. In order to do that I know we need much broader shoulders – for some of us that means relying more on a God we believe can sustain us throughout whatever life brings, for others that means finding strength in people around us and within ourselves. Either way I know that this is the road I was meant to tread – it may not seem like that sometimes but this is where I am meant to be – so I just pray for the capacity to thrive in my circumstances and to be that shoulder for others when I can.

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For years now I’ve been conscious that I want to thrive in all areas of my life – not just survive. As an adoptive parent (any parent that is) there is a tendency to just feel satisfied at getting to the end of the day in one piece. Sometimes that is quite an achievement in itself! But as I’ve been thinking about this theme more this week another thought has occurred to me. Once you get to a place where you feel you are surviving we can then tend to go straight to striving to keep things good. Surviving is hard work but striving is too. I know for myself and many of my friends we spend a lot of our time striving to spin all the plates and hold everything together for our children, our work, our marriages and ourselves! 

So what is the difference between striving and thriving? When I think about plants or trees thriving it seems to be effortless for them. As long as they are rooted in the right place, have the right sort and amount of food and water, be true to what they are then they grow – they thrive.

The term used for a child who struggles to grow is failure to thrive. That is such a powerful phrase. I wonder what areas in my life there’s a failure to thrive? In my work I know that when I’m doing what I love, what I’m good at and what people want it just seems to flow – there’s no striving just thriving. When I try to force things or do things in ways that are not congruent with my values then it’s hard work feels like striving not thriving. With my children when I am in a good place emotionally our times together seem to flow – there’s fun and laughter, and a connection between us that is lovely.

There’s a song I’ve been listening to for a few weeks now and part of the chorus is very inspiring to me:

We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

For those out there who are struggling to survive each day at the moment I’d say hang in there. For those who are surviving but find themselves striving each day I say take courage that when you can get yourself grounded and look after yourself then you will find times of thriving. And for those who are thriving then live in that moment. The part I love about the chorus above is that for me it’s time to do just more than survive and definitely more than strive – it’s time to actually thrive!

Click the picture below to hear the song …..

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Being an adoptive parent can be a lonely business sometimes. When you feel that very few understand the pains involved and the challenges. When your child tells you they just want to be with their ‘proper’ mum or that they wished you would have a heart attack and die or that they wished they never came to live with you. Even though you know in your mind that they are speaking out of hurt and anger it’s very difficult to put your own feelings aside and try and help them deal with their confusion. I heard this morning someone say that if there was a photo taken of you at any given time it may show a bad story – when I shouted at my children tonight out of frustration and anger if there was a snapshot of that moment I would have looked like the worst Mum in the world. But if you took a video instead of a still it would show a different story – the frustrations leading up-to the event – the aftermath of tears, hugs and hours spent in reparation. I have to hold onto that sometimes – that even though I mess up as a parent I am trying my best to make things right for my children. Even as I write that I know how crazy that sounds – I can’t make it right for them – nothing will make it right. My eldest has been in a safe environment more years than not and she still does not feel safe enough to let us in!

As all the chaos ensued tonight I just thought how lonely this life is! Even with a partner (who’s not here at the moment) it can feel like you are holding the weight of the world on your shoulders. I think through the adoption process they should do more on personality types and attachment styles in us adults. To know how we cope with stress, what triggers us, how resilient we are and what values we have would be really useful – in fact that is part of why I started working for myself as a coach helping other adopters as I know we spend little time on ourselves. Without building ourselves up before placement and then continually throughout parenting I can’t see how we can remain therapeutic and really help our children heal. In fact I know that for myself I need to find better ways to build my own resilience constantly so that when moments come like tonight I can step back – not take it personally and be the person my children need me to be in that moment.

I know this post is quite honest and real tonight and I hope it resonates with others – if it does please let me know – connect me on my Facebook page – braveheart education or on twitter @braveheartedu or email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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What comes first the chicken or the egg? This is a well known conundrum and one I will not aim to solve in this blog but it has been going around my mind as our title for this weeks blog buddies post is ‘eggs’. When I spend more concentrated time with my kids the temperature seems to rise within us all – the kids start bickering and arguing with each other, I get stressed and irritated by tiny things and it becomes overall quite intense. It’s reminded me of something I heard some time ago about how the most dominant emotion in a room sets the temperature.

Many times children who’ve experienced early trauma struggle with their emotions – with self-regulation, with feelings of paranoia in relationships and with fear of the unknown like being in a peaceful environment. When you’ve lived in chaos, even though you may know chaos is not good for you, it’s your comfort zone – it’s what you know and so will push to create chaos wherever you can.

For us as adults life can be really stressful – relationships, job pressures, money worries, health concerns, meaning of life and purpose questions and that’s before you throw children in the mix. Before we had our kids I had what could be considered a stressful job at times – targets, redundancies, dealing with difficult staff but nothing prepared me for raising children. Nothing does prepare any of us I don’t think – even when you have children naturally there’s no training that happens, no test and exam to sit. One day there’s just you to consider (and your partner) and then all of a sudden you have this tiny person relying on you, depending on you to have the answers and to make things good.

When you have children through adoption you do at least have a bit more training and preparation – not anywhere near enough though. Of course the children have already had stressful lives themselves and bring that along with them. I’ve come to believe that to go down this route of parenting you need to have built up so much resilience and inner strength before hand because once they arrive that will be tested to the max.

What is the difference between a thermostat and a thermometer? I may have said this before on a blog as the thought of this comes back to me time and time again. A thermometer reads the temperature in a room. When my kids come home from school I can sense straight away what their mood might be like. From their bickering, or their smiling it can be easy to see what the next few moments might be like. However a thermostat sets the temperature. I know that many times I set the wrong temperature in our house. My tiredness, moodiness, impatience and stress levels impacts on the children and theirs impacts on mine. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I know that as I’m the adult and the one who needs to set the temperature that it has to change with me. Not that it’s easy at times but if I don’t turn that dial down and start to bring calm and peace into the house it will remain hot and tempered.

So this week when your temperature begins to raise remember that picture – the thermostat or the thermometer. It may be of course that you need to step out of the situation if you can’t turn the dial down but the most dominant emotion in the room will impact everyone else. Chicken or the egg – me or my kids. It’s hard to tell but I do know that only I can make the difference.

 

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Two tone tree

I bought myself a Mothers Day present this year – a necklace with an engraving of a tree on it. Around the bottom of the tree the names of all five of us in our family are engraved, myself my husband and our three adopted children. There’s also my birthstone hanging from the top of the necklace. This was something I saw online and thought what a nice way to show my family and remind myself of our family tree – not in the traditional sense but a tree that we’ve chosen and sometimes need to remind ourselves that we are a family however challenging it might feel at times.

When I think about family trees I have mixed emotions about them. My own family is a mystery to me in many ways as all my grandparents died very young in their 50’s – the last one died when I was about 4 and I have a vague memory of him lying on the couch and smoking! But not having that first hand knowledge of my past does bother me sometimes – I would have loved to have had grandparents there to talk about their lives and to spoil us. I tried to trace our family tree once but the names don’t seem real to me, I need the people interaction and connections for it to mean something and make sense.

When I think about my children’s experiences of their family trees it saddens me. They don’t so much have a family tree but an orchard of trees – our two family trees and of course their birth parents family trees that even-though we have them written down they will never be able to connect in the same way not having the people to talk to. It must be so confusing to have all these branches of your life that shot from you but you have little knowledge of them. It’s easy for me in some ways as I can look at my parents and see myself in them, I can look at my brother and see something of myself which helps with identity and belonging. For my children they have each other, which I know will help them in this way, but other than each other they can’t link themselves to anyone else at the moment.

Why is it so important for us to belong? We all seem to have an innate need to belong to a family and for some people that family is not through blood – whether through adoption, marriage or community – a group that we choose to call our family – we feel a sense of fulfilment in community. As if we need to be in that orchard of trees and not a lone tree.

Trees have always been a strong picture for me and something that comes back time and time again. Recently I was reminded of just how much I need to feel grounded and strong as a person – whose roots are steadfast and sure. Where we plant ourselves is important, the environment we choose to grow in is important and the food we choose to eat is important too. Without the things we need to grow we look good on the outside but underneath it all – at the roots we are unstable and can be tossed around by any passing wind. I know that when things get difficult for me as a parent, a wife, a friend or at work I need to be so securely rooted, know exactly who I am and where I belong so that I can find the strength I need to.

So whether you know much about your own past, whether you are struggling on this adoption journey or you just need to be reminded to be securely planted I hope when you look at a tree this week it will remind you that you have a place where you belong and as long as you are grounded you will be able to weather any storm.

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Sunflowers

So we’re supposed to be in Spring apparently – clocks have sprung forward, daffodils are springing up all over, people’s moods are lighter as the days are longer and there’s that general feeling of a new season emerging. However just like our unpredictable weather it’s struck me this week just how surprisingly fast that can change – as the clouds appear, wind builds up and then of course the rain falls – our moods can change as quickly.

I was surprised myself this last week by the feelings that Mothers Day brought into our house – I started to write a blog that I wasn’t going to post but in the spirit of honesty and authenticity I will include my thoughts here, in hope that others can identify with it and maybe feel that sense of solidarity and community on this sometimes isolating journey of adoption:

Mothers Day was a surprisingly difficult day for me this year. I’m not sure exactly why it was a surprise. When I think of all the emotions associated with Mothers Day – for me personally being a Mother through adoption has very mixed emotions. For most Adoptive parents it probably wasn’t their first choice, that doesn’t mean to say it hasn’t been a good choice but still there is some loss associated to it. Not just how I’ve come to be a Mum but also the nature of the kind of parenting we have to do as a result of my children’s early start in life and what an impact that has on them now. When I look around at other Mums it’s hard not to be jealous sometimes of the things that are different. It’s always the case of course – that we look at others and think their lives are so much easier than ours – of course someone may be looking at me and saying the same!

Then when I think of how difficult this day is for my children as well that hurts. I know as they are getting older that their thoughts run to their birth Mum – where is she? Is she OK? Does she still think about them? Does she still love them? I so wish I could take that pain away for them and I can’t….it will be with them for many years I know. 

What struck me this year was that every other day of the year (well most days) I can cope with the fact that my children have so much going on inside of them that my needs as a Mum go to the back of the queue. On Mothers Day, because of the hype and expectations I guess, we assume that they will be able to turn off the needs they have every other day and miraculously be aware of our needs and wants – bring me tea in bed, stop fighting with each other, make a big fuss of me and tell me what a great Mum I am! Of course for them even though I know they do love me there are mixed emotions about treating me as their Mum. Mothers Day is probably a big trigger of loss for them and the realisation that in acknowledging me as their Mother they are somehow being disloyal to their birth Mum.

The emotions are still quite raw as I write this but I do know that we will get through this as we seem to with most things. It’s all part of the process of growing as an adoptive family. One thing that did make me smile was my children had to speak on a video saying what I did for them as their Mum – one said “She’s embarrassing”, another said “she helps me know the things I can watch on TV and the things I can’t” and finally “she helps me grow”. So at the end of the day whether they can show it in the ways we would like them to or not it doesn’t really matter. I have decided though that next year I will meet with other adoptive Mums and do something special to acknowledge what we do as Mums and accept the fact that we are doing a good job.

There are many seasons still to go through as a Mum and I know there will be unpredictable weather at times but I will take time to bask in the sun when it comes out and to remember when it rains that eventually the sun will be out again.

Happy Mothers Day and Happy Spring!

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Game pieces

I’ve been mulling over the word risk this week. There are many things in life that require an amount of risk and I’ve discovered that it’s actually everything! Getting out of bed in the morning there’s always the chance of stepping on a randomly discarded toy, eating breakfast can result in the breakage of a tooth, walking children to school does occasionally end in dog poo on the shoe – everything we do has an element of risk associated to it. So why is it then that when we look at the big decisions in life the risks seem to frighten us so much?

They talk about us all being either risk takers or risk adverse and I did a little study with a group of 5 ladies this week and there was only really one who would call herself an all out risk taker. I think I probably verge on being a risk taker – when I look back over my life I know that I’ve taken some huge risks – some have paid off and some haven’t of course and some you never know the outcome as they are ongoing like having children….the risks are never ending!

I’m about to go to hospital this afternoon to have a general anaesthetic to have a wisdom tooth taken out – now that’s a risk. Something we know hospitals doing hundreds of a day all over the world but you still think about all those horror stories you’ve heard about how wrong it can go. It’s only natural to worry about things that you’re actually told have risk associated with them. I remember when my husband and I learnt to scuba dive – it was classed as an extreme sport and it made it slightly harder to get insurance, that added to the nerves when submerged under water – it didn’t however detract from what an amazing experience diving is.

So one thing I have realised this week about risk is that it’s everywhere and in everything we do. Relationships particularly are a risk – should I be myself with this person? How fragile is this relationship if I say how I really feel will it all crumble? If I step out and challenge someone at work what will be the outcome? If I made the leap and really committed to someone will I get hurt? Well yes you probably will at some point. But the other thing I realised this week is that you can’t  experience great adventure and growth if you don’t take a step, a leap of faith into the unknown. There are many people who play it safe all their life, and that’s fine, but for me I want to be able to look back and say I really did live.

Being an adoptive parent is a challenge at times, heck being a parent through any means is a challenge sometimes, but if we don’t teach our children how to fail as well as succeed they may never step out and take a risk. If they don’t then they could find themselves bored and unfulfilled in life. My children particularly struggle with friendships – which are riddled with risk. I just hope they can continue to step out and make a move towards others, that even when they feel unwanted and lonely they will find the strength within them to take a risk and reach out.

So whether you’d say you are a risk taker or risk adverse have a think about all the risks you take each day and if you didn’t take them you’d never get out of bed (not a bad thing somedays!) – if you never took a risk what would your life look like? And if you did take that huge risk that’s staring you in the face today – what difference would it make to your life? How much more fulfilled and happy might you be if you could take that step towards something that could be the turning point for you?

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Woman sitting on cliff med

There’s not much peace around me at the moment. Many of my adoption friends are finding life particularly challenging with their children and the general pressures of life. I too am finding that those moments of pure peace are few and far between. That’s not to say there aren’t other positive emotions such as laughter, fulfilment and hope but peace is something I’ve long sought after. Many of you know I pick a one word goal for each year and one year peace was my word. It was strange really because as I looked back over that year I was acutely aware that there hadn’t been much peace in the year, actually I’d learnt a lot about trying to find peace in very stressful circumstances.

So what about now as I think about peace today? Well I think there are many forms of peace – the absence of noise (very difficult with three children), the presence of happiness (moments of this with three children) and the inner contentment of being in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing – now this one I can engage with a bit more. I’ve come to realise lately, probably over the last year or so, that my life circumstances very much have prepared me for what I am doing and for what I believe I will do in the future. Even though it’s very often stressful, personally demanding and stretching I know there is a greater purpose for it.

My children very rarely seem at peace. They have had difficult starts to their lives which make feeling safe and content a little bit more challenging. My aim (not achieved some of the time) is to create a peaceful, stress free environment where they can learn to connect with others and feel safe enough to be themselves. That is not always an easy task when they are hardwired for chaos. Relationships are often stressful too. I’m convinced the older I get that all of us have control issues to one degree or another – being in control, out of control, general angst around control of our lives, our emotions and our circumstances.

I think acceptance is a great thing. If you can accept where you are in life and find purpose in it then peace is easier to find – the piece of peace that seems so illusive will appear. I’m not saying we give up on making things better, or changing our lives if we want them to change, but when you are forever fighting against what your life has become it’s very difficult to move on and find peace. My daughter particularly struggles in this area. She is 13 and very aware that her early life with her birth family was rocky to say the least. She does not want her life to be as it is, and why should she? but unfortunately it is. There’s little either of us can do to change that. She knows she was not safe in that environment but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. I pray in time she will accept her lot and find that piece of peace she so desperately desires.

So whatever your circumstances are today – look to the thing you can accept and find that piece of peace and purpose that will make all the difference. It doesn’t mean you say whatever has happened is ok – but without acceptance you will miss whatever piece of peace you may be able to find.

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‘The toughest thing you ever did could well be the best thing you ever did.’ 

Our blog buddies title this week and one I could write on from a few different angles but I’ve decided on one. This week in my business I took another new step – a new service that I want to deliver to schools and something that scares me more than any of the other things I’ve done. It’s made me consider all those first steps I’ve made in the past on some scary, big adventures. Leaving home and country at 20 to live abroad, adopting three children, and finally starting my own business. There have been many other tough things I’ve done in my life when I look back but those three stand out to me as being the biggest. They are the biggest because they still have an impact on my life today.

Some things we do that may seem tough at the time afterwards feel like nothing – they kind of disappear from our memories (they are still there just overshadowed by other things). Other experiences however stay with us and shape us, our futures and our characters. Without these experiences our lives would be poorer. I’m not saying of course that everything about those life changing experiences were easy – they very often may have been the toughest times. However they had such a deep impact on us that they become part of who we are now.

For me I always want to be stepping out and stepping up – putting myself in situations where I need to stretch, sometimes where it feels that I really can’t do it – then I know it will change me in some way. Of course many times we don’t know until hindsight that it was the best thing for us, and sometimes maybe it isn’t. Just because you step out it doesn’t mean it will always go well of course. There are many times in my life when I’ve stepped out and it’s not gone the way I planned but that’s ok….the times that have impacted me were a mixture of good and bad, success and failure. My time abroad was wonderful but also challenging, upsetting and demoralising at times. Being an adoptive parent is the biggest roller coaster ride I’ve been on – the success and failures are many in one day!

Starting my own business was probably the scariest thing I’ve done on one level but also the most fulfilling on another. I would not want to go back now as the freedom to create something that makes a difference to others is incredible. Each day it seems that I have to step out and up again – to forever be fighting with those gremlins that say “I’m not good enough” or “who will want to listen to me” – we all have those – come on admit it! The toughest thing I think any of us does in our life is to overcome the negative thoughts in our heads whether they’ve get there through the repetition of others words or our own making – they stop us from taking that first step every day and enduring to carry on walking in the right direction.

So whatever you may be facing today – I hope you will take that first step with boldness, aware of the fear and the excitement at the same time. Keep walking because it may seems like the toughest thing you’ve ever done but who knows it may actually turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done!

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Direction

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything”. Unknown

I’ve heard this phrase many times over the last few years since I’ve been working for myself and every time I hear it I think “yes that’s right”. However as we’ve put this subject out as a blog buddies title I’ve thought much more about what it means and how I feel about it.

Is the way I do anything the way I do everything? Am I the same in all circumstances? Do I show the same side of myself wherever I am? And should you do that anyway? Some things we do seem to do the same in all circumstances – I am generally impatient, usually act on my feelings first and then think later and more often than not I on time with my deadlines.

My husband in his ever helpful manner just made a very apt comment as he’s watching me try to write this post which is actually a few weeks late – when talking about the way you do anything is the way you do everything – “like this post you mean?” – hmmm procrastination may be something I do more often than I’m aware of.

Recently I went on a trip to Albania with a team from our local church and we had a brilliant time. One of the lessons I was learning throughout the week was about being myself, letting the real me out. We have so many different facets to who we are and sometimes we hide those traits that we think are not valued. I’m not talking about those less desirable aspects of our characters like our impatience, frustration and anger, but the strengths and gifts we have that for whatever reason we seem to feel will not be valued by others. If you are a leader then lead, if you are creative then create, if you are musical then make music and if you are a comedian then make people laugh! Surely all of those things are needed and valued in the world and if you don’t do them then they will be sorely missed.

There’s also a down side for me in this phrase – the way you do anything is the way you do everything and I may have mentioned this before. I do believe we all have little voices in our heads that hold us back by doing whatever it can to keep us playing small. One of my gremlins is called ‘HARD WORK’ feels like it even needs to be in capitals as it’s all about choosing the hardest path and making a meal of everything. If somethings worth doing it should be as hard as possible otherwise surely it’s too easy. That’s rubbish! Sometimes things can be easy, sometimes I can take the easy option and it all works out ok and sometimes the path of least resistance is the best path to take. Of course this gremlin has served me well in the past – I don’t believe I would have adopted three children without this gremlin – it makes me step out big sometimes when I maybe wouldn’t ordinarily.

So what is my summing up of these ramblings this week? Well I think there are strong traits within us that drive the way we behave and react so that in whatever circumstances the way we do anything is the way we do everything. However there are also times when we need to step back from our patterns of behaviour and ask “is this the way I want to be doing this”, maybe there’s a better, easier, more beneficial way of doing something – and then maybe we can step out of our normal ways of doing things and make a change for good.

 

 

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IStock 000018620194SmallWorking for yourself can be stressful at times, it can also be exciting, invigorating and down right fulfilling. Since I left the Corporate world six years ago to adopt our children it’s been a roller coaster of emotions with varying degrees of success along the way. One thing I have noticed many times is that it’s very easy to focus on getting things absolutely how you want them and in doing that you end up not getting anything finished at all!

Three years ago I embarked on taking my business into the area I am passionate about – adoption. I had toyed with the idea of niching my coaching business but was frightened of the jump to niching – feeling that I may narrow my client list too much and that no-one would want the services I had to offer. The reality has been much further from that. I’ve been amazed at the way my business has taken off these last few years as a result. The main reason for that is that I have actually got things out of my head, onto paper and into the world. Training schools in working with vulnerable children has been the best thing I think I’ve ever done. The most fulfilling, not the most perfect in lots of ways but if I’d not taken this step then hundreds of vulnerable children would not have been helped.

It all sounds a bit grandiose as I read it back but I really do believe that we all have a message that needs to be out in the world. The more you ponder over whether it’s what the world wants, whether you are the right person to give it and whether it is the perfect way to deliver it the less likely it is to get out there – if you keep it to yourself you will never get the message out and the impact of that could be great.

I’m sure many of the great people throughout history who have made a huge impact on the world worried whether their work was perfect. That’s not the point. The point is that we all have a gift, experiences and skills that are not perfect but they have great value to others. We are not finished yet also. We are growing every day – we are not perfect and never will be but I’m encouraged that I am not finished yet – but what I do have, however imperfect it is, I will make sure it gets out there so that others might benefit. After all it’s better for something to be finished than perfect.

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IStock 000006472565Small“Fair is not everyone getting the same but everyone getting what they need”

“It’s not fair” must be the most well used phrase by children all over the world – along with “why”, “I’m bored” and “are we there yet?” of course. Whilst it’s annoying and our response very often is something like – “life’s not fair” which probably doesn’t satisfy their inbuilt need for equality, it does seem to shut them up for a while.

The phrase above ”Fair is not everyone getting the same but everyone getting what they need” was told to me recently at a workshop with schools. It’s a moto that a Catholic Primary School use and I think it’s really true and has great value in it. We seem to have this enate drive within us for what we believe to be fair – whether children or adults actually. Many times our dissatisfaction as adults I think is more to do with our belief that we all deserve and should have the same. We should all get on in life, have a good job, have a loving, respectful relationship with our spouse, have adorable, well behaved children and generally go through life unscathed skipping to our death at a very old age (although of course still very active and with it before we go).

When I look back on my life and many others around me I can say it’s not been like that – sometimes it has of course to some degree and I’m not complaining about my lot but I can say with all honesty that sometimes things have not seemed equal. However, without a shadow of a doubt I can say that I have more times than not received what I’ve needed in life. Sometimes of course it’s only with hindsight that we can say that but when I think about the most basic desire to have a family and the rocky road we had to achieve that I know that it was what we needed in life.

For those who have been through infertility and the decisions surrounding it the feelings of unfairness can be huge. When I think of my children and other children like them whose parents many times have lots of children that they struggle to care for and then the many couples who would love to have children and can’t – it seems not fair.

One thing that is definitely unfair is what happens to children who don’t receive what they need in their early years. The impact of not getting basic needs met in the first two years of life can be devastating. The attachment cycle that happens when baby has a need and they cry out for help – someone comes and meets that need – baby can then relax and the cycle continues – that process creates trust in babies. They understand that the world is a safe place and that they will be ok. For children who don’t get what they need i.e someone coming and meeting those basic needs in a loving and attentive way – they don’t develop trust but rage instead and a very intense deep feeling that they are bad.

When I see my children now and the daily impacts of not getting what they needed early in life it upsets me. To think that they did not get the same as all the lovely babies I see around me with my friends today upsets me. And I know that the result of them not getting the same has meant that their needs now are complex. It feels hard to please them. Things are never enough sometimes. They cannot articulate what their needs are and when they do get what they need they somehow sabotage that experience as if to say “I don’t deserve it anyway”.

One thing I have noticed very much with my children is their need for equality – it’s like a radar that beeps every time one of them gets something. If I say someone can have a sweet the other two appear in seconds. If we are sharing chocolates it has to be exactly the same numbers. We try to teach them that life just isn’t like that but it seems unbearable a lesson to learn, maybe even more so than with typical children. Maybe the fact that they’ve not received those basic needs early on means they are more acutely aware of their need and that if they don’t have that thing something really bad might happen.

In schools on the workshops I run we always get onto the subject of treating children the same – but they are not the same – all children from whatever background are not the same. Our system is not set up for treating children as individuals, I wish it was – then maybe we’d be able to give children what they need and not some vanilla approach across the board that actually meets no-ones needs.

So what can you take from these ramblings today?

Children need their basic needs met in early years or the long term impact is huge.

Whatever lot you have been given in life – there will be parts of it that are what you need in some way – however difficult that is to accept.

Finally ponder on this quote ”Fair is not everyone getting the same but everyone getting what they need” and read the other blogs on this subject from our blog buddies group:

Wendy Sims

Luke Strictland

Phil Thomas

If you want to join our blog buddies group contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Contemplation small

I seldom end up where I want to go but I always end up where I need to be’ is the title of our blog buddies challenge this week and it made me think of a blog I wrote a few weeks ago actually but never posted. Hopefully you’ll see as you read through why I made the link in my mind.

What is it about being in a different city on your own? It feels mysterious – that no-one knows you – you could be anyone! You could have a completely different life – I’m a famous brilliant writer travelling the world wowing people with my insights, I’m a fashion designer looking for the next big thing, I’m an actor or singer just recovering from my latest performance – ok so maybe my daydreams are a bit grandiose but you get the idea. There’s something about being able to re-invent yourself, start again with a clean sheet of paper. It’s not that I don’t like the sheet of paper I already have but it’s a well used, well worn, crinkly piece of paper that seems so familiar to me sometimes I don’t recognise the uniqueness of it.

So I wonder if there’s someone out there daydreaming about my life? Ha that’s a strange thought. But maybe there is. Someone who wishes they had an amazing family, a job they loved, a future that looks exciting and a hope in an all powerful God who can transform anything into a beautiful work of art. Wow when I look back on what I’ve just written about my life I’d like to live that life too!! If you could describe your life in a few sentences or phrases I wonder what it would be?! But not from where you are now looking at the crumbled, worn piece of paper but imagining someone else wishing they had your life – what are the unique aspects of your life? When you look at yourself from outside of yourself what do you see?

I’m in London today and I love travelling to other places and I love to shop. However today I had a few hours to kill so I started to look around the shops but there was nothing that I wanted to buy – and I realise that’s because I don’t need anything else. That’s right, I know that every time I go shopping I hear that in my head but normally I reply “well I know I don’t need it but it’s very nice and I’d like it”. However today I felt like the voice was saying “you know you don’t even want anything else – you have everything you need and want”! Wow for those who know me well you will know that’s a bit of a revelation. There’s nothing else I want in my life right now. Nothing money could buy and actually nothing money can’t buy. I know all the things I said about my life above are true.

Of course this feeling may not last longer then it takes me to write this but I’m content that I can be content at times. That when I look at what I do have I know it’s more than enough. I hope I remember this feeling for a long time to come! And the times when I wonder how I ended up where I am in my life I will remember that many times what I want and what I actually need are very different things.

This blog post is written as part of a ‘blog buddies’ group, the idea being that we each write a weekly blog post on a chosen theme. To read the other posts on this week’s theme, please visit:

Wendy Sims

Luke Strickland

Phil Thomas

If you would like to join our blog buddies group and share in this writing adventure (no obligation to write each week, just join in when you are able), please e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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These lyrics to a song by The Feeling always jump out at me when I hear the song – why is that I wonder? Well I’m always amazed when I hear stories of people who’ve overcome horrendous pasts to become generous, giving and big hearted people. They have every right to become bitter, twisted and angry but somehow they manage to not do that but instead use their adversity to make things better for other people.

My friend Wendy is one such person – she has written her blog about this title and I can say her life today is one that gives to others all the time.

It’s not just people who’ve had neglect and abuse in their lives but I think about my Dad as well who came from a family of grafters – working middle class they would probably have been called. His father started the family business of which my Dad then carried on with one of his brothers, cousins and uncle. When he used to tell stories of those early days – when it was like they had come from nothing, they had to work really hard to get to a place of security and comfort. My Dad sadly passed away nearly five years ago now but one of his legacies to me was his generosity – he was always a giving man – if he saw a need and could fill that need he would. Maybe because he could remember being in need materially himself as a young sibling of four, maybe because he also had a relationship with a giving God, possibly because he never lost sight of the blessings he had and didn’t focus on the things he didn’t have – I don’t know but I do know that example stays with me and I hope I can be like that too.

This phrase also makes me think of my children. Born in want, neglect and abuse their starts could be considered as nothing – the love their birth parents felt for them was overshadowed by their personal needs and inadequacies.  When I look at them now, 6 years on from then, my daily prayer is that they will be able to use their life story for good, at some point. That once they can make sense of their lives, that they will know how to reach out to others in need and not just look after themselves. We all have a story that can benefit others. The hardship we all go through whether you consider it to be small or large, in the scheme of things, there is always someone else who is going through a similar thing and the lessons you’ve learnt or the support you needed they will also need.

So whatever your start in life – whether in need or plenty, whether you knew the security of a nurturing family or you didn’t let’s try and reach out to others and show them that they are valued individuals and that we care enough to notice where they’re out and be as giving a person as we can be. 

For two more blogs on the same title click here for Wendy Sims blog, Phil Thomas’s blog.

If you would like to join our blog buddies group and blog on the same title each week send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – you don’t have to enter each week you can dip in and out as you want to.

This weeks title is – ‘I seldom end up where I want to go but I always end up where I need to be’ – Douglas Adams quote.

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Boy with megaphone

Stomp, stomp, stomp up the stairs, bang goes the bedroom door, crash go the toys as they fly around the room……a familiar sound in our house I’m afraid. Of course this is following a load of shouting and screaming about how unfair their life is and how they hate this family! Those of you who have children, especially approaching the teenage years, will know these sounds too I’m sure. If you have adopted children whatever the age this will be a sound your all too used to as well.

We’ve tried to teach our children the ‘right’ things to say – you say please and thank you when you want things, sorry when you’ve done something hurtful towards someone else and whilst they will say these words sometimes their actions don’t exactly back up those words. For children who’ve experienced trauma  it’s very difficult to feel empathy for others and to be able to take responsibility for your own actions. When you say sorry for example I always have thought that means if you are truly sorry you’ll try not to do it again – however with our children they will use the word sorry but do the action again and again and again because many of their actions are not premeditated they are impulse reactions to other things.

So should we look to the actions or the words our children say to see what is really going on? I once heard Bryan Post talk about this – that if children don’t get their feelings out in words then it comes out in attitudes and eventually in their behaviour. When I’m talking with schools about traumatised children we often talk about their behaviours communicating the need they have, they don’t have the words to express themselves so you have to watch their behaviour, their actions, to try and understand what they need. So a child who always needs the bathroom in the middle of Maths, or a child who constantly clings to the teacher, a child who won’t get changed for PE, or a child who is frequently upset around lunchtimes – they all may be trying to tell you something through their actions not their words.

One of the aims I believe we have as adoptive parents but also as educators to any children is to help them become emotionally resilient as they grow up. If they can understand what’s going on inside themselves then maybe they can take control and find the solutions themselves in time. Eventually they will be able to say what they need instead of relying on their actions and whether we see those actions and can interpret them properly. It’s a slow, gradual process but as we show them what it means to feel the different emotions then they will start to know what their body is telling them – i.e. when they feel hot or their fists start to clench they are becoming angry. 

So are their actions so loud that you can’t hear what they’re saying? Well take a closer look – their challenging behaviours may actually be masking a much deeper need for acceptance and empathy from you. Try to look beyond the actions, get close enough to hear and you might just catch the whisper of a cry for help.

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See saw

The balance between unrealistic expectations and hoping for the best is sometimes had to strike with adopted children. I am forever trying to temper my expectations of what my children can do with the reality of their difficulties. This week whilst we were on Christmas break this struggle hit me hard on one of our outings together. Our children are doing remarkably well and after 5 years together Christmas break was really calm and relaxing in many ways. This in itself lulled me into a false sense of security and I forgot that actually some things are always going to be difficult for them. The incident that happened wasn’t really their fault – a combination of not being able to tell the time (at 10, 11 and 12 years old) and not willing to ask for help from others meant that they did something that again made me remember that they are not like typical children their age.

However my reaction far outweighed the incident itself. Again I had forgotten just how stressful parenting is and let the fact that we had had such a brilliant Christmas together cloud my judgement and my expectations of their abilities to do ‘normal’ things. Because their learning difficulties are so well hidden, unlike other special needs, I forget sometimes that they are there. I hope as we go into another year together that I can hold this tension in balance – the unrealistic expectations against the hope and trust that they will progress and change as time moves on. That’s all we can do I guess – take each day as it comes and try to make them aware of their limitations but also their great potential to succeed in life.

And when these incidents happen – the power to have self-control and react in the best way possible is my hope. I know to go easier on myself as we are all only human after all – but I want to strive to react in a better way next time – to be able to step back and see what’s really going on, not what they’ve done but why they did it – the fear and confusion that seems to be at the root of all their behaviours. The more I can see that and not react to the behaviour the more they will be able to understand and make sense of their fears. 2014 will be another challenging year I’m sure and I’m looking forward to looking back this time next year and saying that I did better and that the kids are even more settled then they are now.

 

 

 

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Christmas is all about presents isn’t it? How many you have, how much people spend, whether so and so bought you a present or not? – No …… maybe not. I wonder if there’s more to gift giving and receiving then meets the eye. My favourite Christmas film is the Grinch and there’s a scene in there late on in the film where the Grinch realises that Christmas is more than gifts and the commercialism – it’s actually about love and family, hope, joy and peace.

I’ve come across a group recently called Pentatonix – they are an acappella group from America. They have a Christmas album out and their version of Little Drummer Boy is stunning – click the video below to hear. It’s made me think some more about what we give to each other and how we show how much we love our friends and family. It’s often said that it’s the thought that counts and I think that’s true – when you consider whether you will buy someone a gift or not you are thinking about them and what they mean to you. It shouldn’t be about ‘will they buy me a present or expect me to buy them one’ it should be more about do I want to show someone I care by giving them a gift.

The nature of the gift doesn’t matter. In the Little Drummer Boy he plays his drum for the King – fitting? – Definitely as it’s from the heart. He brings what he has and what he values and lays it before the king. With money being such an issue for people these days I think it’s given us more reason to really think about what we give others – hand-made presents are brilliant as they say that the person was thinking about you and went our of their way to do something nice for you.

As you get older you get less presents. It seems to be that we focus on the children when people say things like “christmas is for kids” – I understand where that sentiment comes from but I disagree. I believe Christmas is for us all and giving and receiving of gifts is for us all. Whilst I understand if you have five children it becomes difficult for people to afford to buy everyone a present – they don’t have to be expensive in fact gifts between people are brilliant too. I think it’s the act of thinking about the person and what to get them, taking the time and effort to buy or make the gift and the joy of giving and seeing  that person appreciate the gift that counts.

Another gift we can give each other of course is our time and talents. There are certain things we are good at and others we’re not. I have a Christmas do with some friends tomorrow and we’re doing a biscuit exchange as part of the evening, which means you all bake some biscuits and then give them to others. This is a brilliant idea unless you are culinary challenged as I am. Baking, actually any kind of cooking, is just not my gift and certainly not fit to give anyone. However if I received beautifully baked biscuits on Christmas day from someone I would be very pleased. If someone offered to sell our old things on ebay for a present as they’ve been sat in the garage for three years I’d also be very pleased. It’s about showing our appreciation and love to those we care about in whatever way we can.

So as you listen and watch this brilliant song think about the art of giving and receiving gifts this year – whether you give time, talents or wrapped up presents it doesn’t matter – what you are saying is that you appreciate them and care about them – thats the greatest gift in itself.

Little Drummer Boy

 

 

 

 

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Friends

Friends are really important to most of us. Being able to spend time with someone who makes you laugh, understands where you’re coming from and supports and encourages you when things are tough is amazing. Over the years I’ve been blessed to have many different friends from all walks of life and I’m very grateful to them all. How do we learn what friendship is about though? When I look at my children struggling with the maze that is friendship I so want to help them – to reach out and make things right for them.

For those of you with adopted children, or any children for that matter who struggle in this area I want to open up some thoughts on this. It’s a common struggle we know for our children for a number of reasons. Due to their early experiences many times they are at a lower age emotionally than their peers which makes it difficult for them to connect. Also our children feel bad about themselves and can very often misunderstand others feelings and intentions. Trust is also essential to be able to build relationships and when you come from a place of mistrust as a result of being let down so much by others, then trust is very difficult to build.

My heart aches for my children in this area. All of them seem to find it so difficult to just relax, have fun and take things as they come. There is always something missing or something to worry about – so and so doesn’t want me in the group, so and so says I’m rubbish at sport, so and so hasn’t called me back each time I’ve rung and left a message. Of course it doesn’t help that many times they choose the other vulnerable children to try to build relationships with. As they gravitate towards each other you can see the minefield of paranoia, unhealthy tactics to receive love, behaviours demonstrating just how ‘damaged’ they all are. I know each time a new child’s name is mentioned that eventually there will be something different about that child – fellow adoptees, living with Great Grandparents, parents absent for a number of reasons. It’s like they can sense that in others – that they too are different to the norm.

Normally in my blogs I try to leave people with somethings to do or think about but I am at a bit at a loss on this subject. I know so many ways I should help my children with their struggles when I am with them but once they go through those High School gates into the battlefield I am lost as to how I can help them overcome their fears and anxieties towards other people. I know what we try to do to build them up as people is vitally important. The more they can know they are loved and special to someone, the more they will be able to treat others with respect. The more they can see friendship and love displayed through us the more they will understand how it’s meant to be. And the more we can build their emotional resilience at home the better they will be able to deal with all the trials of everyday life at school. 

Ultimately I hold onto the fact that most of us struggled in this area at school too if we’re honest, to one degree or another. Some experiences stayed with us and shaped our lives others just fell away and had little impact. I can’t remember much of my school days – which is probably a good thing. I just hope and pray that my children will be able to find friendships that will help them in these coming years not hinder their development and take them down a rocky path. All we can do at the end of the day is hope and pray. If you have found any resources that help in this area of friendships, especially for adopted children, please contact me as I’d love to know – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Boy hiding

I have been overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness and grief these last few weeks. Not for myself actually but for my children. A few things have happened that have really brought it home to me just how deeply saddening their lives have been and still are as a result. Sometimes we need to step back and just feel where they’re at – it’s so easy to get caught up in the angst, the challenging behaviours and the dramas and miss that at the core of who they are is a deep sadness and grief at what their lives have become.

I’m convinced the older I get that there aren’t many people who are actually living their first choice lives. In fact I’ve noticed over these last few weeks just how demanding life is – people have so much to cope with in their every day lives. Even those of us who have had a good childhood – trauma, rejection, loss and difficult times do come to us all.

Even though it’s been difficult feeling the sadness and pain my children feel at their 2nd choice lives it’s opened me up once again to the compassion needed to walk this road of adoption. Without it I wouldn’t be able to cope with the controlling behaviour – to know that without compassion and empathy my heart might become hard and unfeeling towards their circumstances. I wish I could fix it for them I really do – if I could air lift them out of the terrifying high school environment I would, if I could mend the broken heart and wave a magic wand so that they would have friends, fit in and be popular I would. There’s so much that feels out of my control sometimes – that I have to sit on the sidelines and watch them suffer – sometimes that’s so difficult!

So I wonder just how useful my compassion really is to them? I suppose if it drives me to act on their behalf (again and again) then it’s good. If it causes me to feel softness and warmth towards them then it’s good. If it propels me to learn more about them and how to help them then it has to be good. I know I’ve felt a feeling of hopelessness recently over some situations with one of our children but as I write this I realise that maybe there is more hope there than I thought – and that has to be good. Once you lose hope it’s a dangerous place to be.

 

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IStock 000020564863XSmallWhat’s your story? I love hearing people’s stories on the radio or on TV. To hear what’s happened to them in their life and how it’s significant to them, i.e. that it’s changed them. I wonder why that’s so interesting and inspiring to us? It must be that it resonants with our own experience or it’s something we would like to happen to us. What events or experiences in my life have completely changed me? That if I’d not done them my life would have taken a completely different course.

The choice or decision I made early on in High School to not bother to work…..I don’t remember this conscience decision but I certainly had the report cards “could do better” every year. Why did I not try to do better I wonder? I certainly wasn’t really interested in the subjects which didn’t help and the social side of school overshadowed the work. Of course when you’re young you don’t think about how it will effect your life in the future. However I can’t imagine I would have ever been a brain-box but my career may have had more direction and intention I suppose if I’d have focused on the work.

My decision to leave England at 20 and go to Poland for three years was a huge decision and one I have never regretted. The experiences I had and the person I became as a result I believe has had a huge impact on my life. It’s hard to believe that was over 20 years ago now as I can remember it like yesterday, and that’s maybe because the transformation in me was so great. Becoming my own person away from my brilliant family, experiencing the ups and downs of living in a foreign country, and most importantly feeling that I had a mission and purpose.

Having an emotional breakdown at 23 years of age changed the course of my life. If this hadn’t of happened my plan was to still be in Poland. Who knows what my life would have been like if I had stayed?! I’ll never know. But I do know the things that happened after set me on a course that has such variety and richness in it – I know it was the right thing to come home.

Eventually going into management for a large corporate IT business. This was the time when my ‘work’ skills began to be honed. Unlike most people I guess that I went to school with who knew what they wanted to do early on – this experience refined the desire in me to help others grow and develop. My coaching courses and certification was life-changing too. For the first time probably I found something that seemed to fit me. Again having a purpose and a way to express that purpose was amazing.

Having my children through adoption. Of course infertility was a journey in itself that’s probably the hardest thing I’ve had to face so far (which isn’t bad to get this far without anything mega bad happening).  Being an adopter has again given me purpose and vision. The most challenging job I’ve ever had but also the most life-changing. Marriage of course is up there too with the life-changing moments along with my father passing away. Moments in time that have a lasting impact.

What I do know looking back over my life – there has been good and bad in every event and experience in my life. You can’t separate them out so easily. But what they all have in common is that they have influenced the course I’ve taken and that I know I’ve been present in every one of those experiences. That sounds a funny thing to say, as of course I’ve been present – it’s my life – but sometimes things happen to you and around you and it can feel like it’s happening to someone else. I know I have fully lived. What a great thing to be able to say I guess? Even if I died now at 43 I know I have had a full and rewarding life with lots of challenge, lots of failures and successes and plenty of adventure.

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‘Life is a series of problems that we must solve – one then the next then the next until we die’. – Downton Abbey

A very depressing quote from the Grandmother in Downton Abbey last week – for those who watch it you’ll know she’s renowned for her one liners and never very encouraging or uplifting. However this one I thought summed up adoption quite nicely! At least how it can feel sometimes – not how it maybe has to be…

Sometimes it can feel like it’s a never ending cycle of problems, solutions (or semi solutions), bit of light at the end of the tunnel, darkness again and on and on. If you have more than one child you’ll also know they tend to take it in turns so that cycle is the same but times 3 in our case or times however many children you have.

We’re often told to compare ourselves to other families with birth children – people try to normalise things by comments like “all children do that” or “other parents manage to go back to work and have children too” and whilst I understand these well intended comments, to make us feel better, it doesn’t  - certainly not for me and many others I know. Even if it were true it still doesn’t comfort me – to know others feel the same isn’t an answer to the questions I may need answers too. I do know that there are many parents who struggle with their children for lots of other reasons than adopters too – children with other special needs, struggles in parents lives that impact on the children’s behaviour, circumstances beyond anyones control – and I recognise that life can be hard for all of us at some points in time.

However for vulnerable children it can seem like a constant struggle to navigate the rocky shores of the different stages of childhood. Just as one wave subsides another even bigger one rears up to threaten to drown you. Two of ours are now in adolescence and we know that’s a turbulent phase. For children who’ve had a good, nurtured childhood adolescence is about pulling away from the solid foundation you know to find your own identity – you want to test things out – do I want to live like my parents? have their beliefs and ideals? or do I want to try something else for myself? But for children who haven’t had a good start, for whatever reason, that pulling away can be much more difficult – they’re pulling away from something that is like shifting sand – it isn’t a solid basis to work from.

So what can we do as parents on this seemingly bleak adventure? I believe there’s a missing part of this quote – a vital aspect to life that without it all would seem bleak and dark.

‘Life is a series of problems that we must solve, and joys that we must acknowledge and celebrate, one then the next then the next and then we die’.

As I’ve said many times in my blogs being able to see the good things – however small sometimes – is a treasure we must search for. If we don’t all we see is darkness – we must look for the chinks of light – it only needs a tiny glimpse of light to dispel the darkness. What is the light you can see today?

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I’ve realized lately that this year has been the year of the new. There are so many things that I’ve done for the first time or that I’ve been so connected to it’s felt like the first time. What I mean by that is that sometimes we do something we’ve done many times before but because we actually stop, look, listen and experience it then it’s like the first time.

So some are actually new experiences:-
  • Speaking at an education conference
  • Front page of a national newspaper
  • Preaching at our local church
  • Leading an adopters 24 hour retreat
  • Being coached by a horse (yes)
  • Humming through a straw (ok may need some explaining if you’re interested ask me)
Some big, some not so big, but all are brand new experiences for me and have been great.
 
However those other experiences where they feel new are great too:-
  • Listening to brilliant music whilst starring out the window of a train
  • Sliding down a bouncy slide with my kids
  • Celebrating with friends our 5th anniversary as a family
  • Writing my second book
  • A lovely cup of tea at the end of a harsh day
  • Hearing the rain bouncing off the windows (all too familiar sound in England)
I’m just about to publish my second book ‘how to reach the hard-to-reach child’ and I’m very excited about that. I thought I would take another look at my first book ‘relentless life…how to find he extraordinary in the ordinary’ and I’ve been reacquainted with the wonderful observations of life that are around us in everything we see and do. I do love this life we live with all it’s challenges and joys – it’s so vibrant if we can only see all the colours.
 
So what have you done for the first time this year? Take some time to appreciate that, whatever age you are, and to celebrate the newness of experiences. Maybe it’s more about seeing familiar things as new for you – what can you step back and really see as if for the first time today and be thankful for all the small and big experiences life brings. 
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Our youngest had a birthday this week – all three children now in double figures and don’t we know it! I just had to reflect on it all this morning as how my children react to things sometimes fascinates me. The birthday boy woke bouncing around the house saying “it’s my birthday, it’s my birthday” and didn’t stop doing that all day – even at school apparently. However I did notice when the extended family came round for coffee and cake as is the tradition in our house, he resorted to his toddler talk that he does on occasion. Talking in a toddler voice and acting much younger than his 10 years. I remember a fellow adopter telling me once, before we had our children, that if you take the years they were at home before they went into care off their chronological age that is what their emotional age is more like. I didn’t believe her and thought that can’t be right. They also of course regress even further when they are stressed, anxious or frightened. And as I looked at my 10 year old talking and acting like a 3 year old I have to reconsider – he had certainly regressed.

The reactions of the other two were interesting too. The eldest was totally unimpressed with her brothers special day. As it doesn’t really relate to her it comes and goes without impact. Fortunately she was at a friends house for tea, which meant the youngest could enjoy the attention without interruption from his sister.

The middle son was up and down all day – as is the norm, but underlying all his reactions was a jealousy and little empathy for the fact that it was his brothers special day and not his. I know from the reading I’ve done that being able to empathise is a complex skill and emotion. I used to think you either had empathy or you didn’t – like a character trait or part of your personality. However I now know that empathy starts to develop very early in life through the stimulation and repetitive patterned activity with others around you. When you look at a baby and it’s parent the whole world revolves around that baby – all eyes are on him, all love and attention is showered on him (and so it should be). How must that feel for a baby? To know they are the centre of someone’s world must be amazing and is essential for future development.

Our children and those thousands who’ve been through our care systems haven’t had that affection and attention showered on them. As much as we try and do that now the fact that it wasn’t done in those early years makes it very difficult for them to comprehend now. There’s too much underneath the feelings. Why should they trust that our intentions are good? How do they know we won’t be cruel and hurtful towards them if we focus on them fully? What if when we’re giving one of them a special treat for their birthday we forget about the other one and they become invisible? The need to be seen is a strong drive to survive and to be loved. The behaviour they demonstrate is representative of the immense feelings bubbling up underneath – the jealousy shouts out “What about me?” the toddler talks screams out “I don’t want to grow up coz the worlds too scary – I need to be loved like a baby is loved”, the detachment to others happiness says “why should I be happy for others, it doesn’t affect how I feel about myself and I must protect my own feelings at all cost”.

Wow how exhausting must it be for them? It’s relentless for us trying to care for them and show them we do love them and wish we could have given them more when they were younger, but for them struggling with the complex and powerful emotions every day must be overwhelming.

So next time you see their behaviour regressing or being difficult take a closer look – I know there will be more going on underneath. And when we can step back and see the anxiety and fear that propels their behaviour to another level we can at least acknowledge that they need us to be stable and consistent and to just hold them close so that they do know how much they are loved – whether they can accept that or not.

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Is there a silver lining to loss? Could there be something good that comes out of the losses we face in our lives? When I think of my children and the loss they’ve experienced already in their short lives, can I give them any hope of gains that might come from their loss?

I’m not sure of the answers to these questions but they are questions I’d like to ponder. When I think about some of the losses I’ve experienced they are bitter sweet actually. Jobs I’ve lost or left – all had good and not so good elements to them. Friendships that have changed over time have given me the gift of friendship, if only for a season. My Dad passing away 4 years ago was the biggest loss I have experienced but without that loss I wouldn’t be able to appreciate how much he meant to me.

Of course the kind of loss children experience who’ve been adopted is a different thing altogether, but I do wonder if we can find some hope in those losses – something that would be a silver lining to their loss. We have to understand of course the depth of that loss and just what an impact it has on them and how they feel about themselves. I know mine can’t really articulate the feelings of loss and sadness but I know it comes out in their behaviours and in their interpretations of the relationships they have. Will people stick around whatever happens? Are we really ‘forever’ families? How much will we put up with before we send them back? – What a terrifying way to live, to have thoughts like that in your mind?

Loss can be a devastating emotion that triggers lots of other emotions – Bryan Post talks about the two main emotions we have – love and fear. Most other emotions seem to stem from those two. Many times what our children experience and live daily is fear based. The fear of loss once you’ve really experienced it must be tremendous. It’s not difficult to see why they struggle so much with trusting adults when they’ve lived the loss of respect, dignity, promises, love, protection and presence of the people who should have been there for them the most.

So not seeing much of a silver lining at the moment. Is there one for our kids? Well I believe there’s always one to be found – it may take a long time and it’s not to say we would ever have wanted them to experience the things they have in order to find a silver lining – the clouds are still huge but the tiny silver lining is some small glimpse of something good that might be found. Here are a few suggestions (and these were really difficult for me to see):

  • One day they may be able to use their loss to help others in the same situation.
  • One day what they’ve experienced may help them to push through other painful times in their lives.
  • One day they may be able to see the blessing of a community of people who have helped them when they most needed it.
  • One day they may be able to understand forgiveness in a way I could never understand it.
  • One day they may see the strength of the relationships they have kept throughout their lives – like the siblings who’ve stayed together.

Wow I must admit this has been a very difficult blog for me to think about and write – is there really a silver lining in such horrible circumstances? And it feels like just saying that is dismissing the depth of the loss BUT that’s not my intention. The loss has happened and as much as we’d like it to not have we can’t do anything about it. My daughter sometimes talks about wishing her life had been different – that she could start all over again and I desperately wish that for her too – but she can’t. My pray is that someday she will be able to see a silver lining to her loss – however small that lining might be.

 

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When you see new born babies with their Mum more often than not there’s an instant bond, an invisible cord that seems to bind them together. The goggly eyes from the adults and the response from the baby. This is not always the case of course and we hear much about bonding and not bonding in birth parents. However we don’t talk much about bonding in adoptive parents. We talk a lot about the child bonding to us, feeling safe with us and knowing they are with their forever family now. But we don’t talk much about our feelings of bonding to our adoptive children.

The whole world of adoption is surreal. The fact that you can not be a Mum one day and then the next have a child or children descend on you overnight who are calling you Mum and looking to you to meet all their needs. Of course with natural childbirth it’s a shock I know to have a baby rely solely on you to meet their needs, when you have just come into this role with not much preparation. It’s a steep learning curve however you come to parenthood!

Whilst I’ve been thinking about this whole bonding process I’m aware that for some of us we might feel that same instant bond with our children as birth Mums do. However for others it may take time and still for others it may never come to the same degree. It’s one of the more difficult aspects of adoptive parenting I believe, that you are expected (and you expect yourself) to feel an overnight bond, love, protectiveness, that you would die for your child type feelings and sometimes they take a lot longer to appear.

Due to the nature of what some of our children have experienced in their early lives, the pathway to bonding can be rocky. Children with an avoidant attachment style for example have developed a defence mechanism that keeps people at a distance. The fear of rejection and hurt from adults is greater than the need to bond, so feeling a bond with these children can be difficult. Children with ambivalent attachment styles can be so demanding, as for them the fear of not being seen is greater than anything else – their attention needing behaviours can be exhausting which in itself makes it difficult to bond.

Sometimes we don’t know how much we feel for our children until they are in difficult situations. The first time I really knew the bond between me and my son was there was when he had to go under anaesthetic to have his broken bones fixed when he broke his arm. We’d been in the hospital together all day and night and then in the morning we wheeled him down and I held his hand as he went under. When I came out to wait I just burst into tears – seeing him so vulnerable really touched me and I knew I loved him. More recently when I see any of my children in difficulties the pull on my heart strings tells me just how much of the motherly instincts are there. It’ not easy all the time but I know that I want the best for them and will protect them as much as I can.

One of the areas around this whole bonding though that I think is really important is that we don’t judge ourselves and beat ourselves up about how we feel. It takes time and some times are better than others. These children have complex coping strategies that make bonding difficult for them and for us. I guess the trick is to notice the times when there is that bond there – when you feel protective or compassionate or love towards them. They may be just moments in-between the challenging behaviour – but they are moments worth noticing and celebrating. Our children need those moments as much as we do – to see love in our eyes, or to know we will stand up for them, to see us being proud of them or speaking out for them is a powerful thing.

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Communication

I was at a wedding last week and the Preacher used a phrase that has stuck with me since. I don’t think he intended it to be such a profound message, as it was a bit of a throw away comment but it has really been buzzing around my head all week in two different ways. The phrase was “everything communicates something” and the two ways are this:

1) My children are always communicating – from the moment they wake up to the moment they shut their eyes to go back to sleep. With every sigh, rolled eye, punch of their brother,  tut, smile, words and body movements they are communicating. Sometimes the communication is so loud I have to say “turn it down”. There are times when the attention-needing, demanding behaviour is unbearable and I have to try and stand back and say – “what exactly are you trying to say to me but not using words I can understand?”

Bryan Post talks about the two places we come from are either love or fear. When our children are tugging at our clothes and saying “mum, mum mum” continuously, what are they afraid of? What are they so anxious about that they need us to see them all the time? On the other side of things when they disappear to their room and cry silently in their beds what fear is there? Maybe the fear of approaching us with their anxiety is more overpowering then the anxiety itself?

Many times throughout the day I miss their little signs of communication. Maybe I’m more focused on my own needs, or the needs of the other children that I miss the side ways glance to see how I react to the tapping noise that says “I’m here too – see me please”. Of course none of us can be so focused on someone 24/7 that you see and in turn respond in the right way to that need – that would be impossible. However it’s reminded me to look a bit closer when there is silence or a sigh and a tut – maybe there’s more to it then just stroppy teenager attitudes?

2) What does my body communicate to me and what do I communicate to others? If everything communicates something then when I’m so shattered I can’t open my eyes anymore, or I flare up at the slightest disappointment during the day – what is that communicating to me? Maybe I need a rest, a break, a change of pace? Maybe the pressures of being an adoptive parent, running a business, holding down a life is just too much sometimes?

I’ve tried to be healthier the older I’ve got – to no avail sometimes. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise (hmm), laugh a lot (do that) and enjoy life. All good things and activities that will promote a healthier family life. If I can look after myself better then maybe I would see the things my children are trying to communicate to me more often.

Also what am I communicating to others – to my husband, my children, my friends and family? Am I honest in my spoken communications? “How you doing?” – “Fine thanks” (when actually I’m not fine). Or when people say – “let us know if you need anything” and we don’t because we don’t want to seem needy or impose on others. Instead we’d rather soldier on and crumble under the strain of life! 

What we communicate is vitally important and what this phrase has made me consider is – even if we don’t communicate in words we are still communicating – everything we do (or don’t do) communicates something.

So what are your children communicating to you at the moment? What is your body communicating to you? And what are you communicating to others right now?

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Regret can be a crippling thing. Whether it’s regret over something you did or didn’t do, whether it’s pain over things that happened to you or didn’t happen to you – looking back and wishing things were different doesn’t help in the here and now. Things in our past do effect us though in terms of who we are and how we think and make decisions. I know as an adoptive parent that there are things in my own past that impact the way I parent my children as well as what has happened to them that of course effects how they think, how they receive messages from others and how they behave.

I heard someone speak about pain this week. It was a difficult thing to hear as it was a very powerful, moving story of a family who lost their eldest daughter when she was only a child. Listening to the parents talk about how you deal with such immense pain made me think about my own daughter. Regret is something my daughter lives with every day – not regret over things she does as most of the time I’m not sure she’s aware of the things she does or doesn’t do – more about her past and what has happened to her. She talks occasionally about wishing her start in life had been different, that she hadn’t experienced what she has in her young life already. And those are the times when my heart really goes out to her and others like her who have this pain to carry around with them.

The Mother who spoke about her pain over losing her daughter talked about a metaphor someone shared with her that has helped her. It was that the pain is like a big ball that you try to squeeze into a glass. The ball is just too big to fit in. The pain of what you’re experiencing now is too big to fit into your life, it seems. What we think should happen is the the ball will get smaller as time passes BUT it’s not necessarily the case – the ball may never get smaller but the glass gets bigger – you have to expand your life to incorporate that pain – it will not go away and in some cases you may not want it to as it represents the loss that is so important to you. However your life can expand and grow – you can let other things in and use the experience of the pain to expand your life. Seeing where that family is now is incredible and knowing a tiny bit of the journey they’ve been on is amazing.

So back to our adopted children. When I heard this analogy I thought of my daughter and thousands of others like her who actually carry that ball of pain around in front of their eyes sometimes so they can’t see anything else. Sometimes she tries to hide the ball but it just pops up again. My job and our job as society is to help these children to expand their lives so that the ball is manageable within their lives – not to eradicate it but to help them to incorporate it into their lives and build a big life around it. My daughter often says she wants to adopt when she’s older or look after children, and I know this is what many young adopted girls feel for many different reasons. I pray that someday she will be able to look back, not so much with regret, but with understanding, acceptance and with the strength to know she can use that pain for good to help others.

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Why are we so bothered about being the odd one out, the person who hasn’t experienced what others have, the one who can’t relate to the story or the one who actually hasn’t got a clue what people are talking about. Have you ever been in a room (I’m sure you have) where you’ve just felt so uncomfortable and maybe even isolated? That the fact you can’t enter into the conversation is overwhelming and you need to leave? I’m wondering whether it’s actually the fact that you are confronted with the thing that you wanted the most and couldn’t have.

I went to a baby shower last night and I’ve not been to one since we were trying for children ourselves which I don’t remember feeling so bad about at the time. Now 8 years on and three adopted children later I was surprised by the depth of my feelings – not really that I wanted to have given birth and experienced what the other Mums in the room had but that I was different – abnormal, strange, alien even. And the biggest question that was going round my mind was – why does it matter?

Every other day of the week it doesn’t cross my mind that I’ve not given birth to my children – I still get them up in the morning, make their breakfast, take them to school, worry about them at school, pick them up from school and do all the motherly things the other Mums do. Doesn’t make me any less a Mum because I didn’t give birth to them. What does strike me as I think about it now is actually the feelings of loss not because I didn’t have my own baby but that I didn’t give birth to my children – that I didn’t experience that bonding with them, that I didn’t change their nappies and see them smile for the first time. My daughter sometimes says she wishes she could have her life over again – a ‘do over’ as the Americans would say and all I can say is I wish that too!

So we are different, so I’ve not given birth and experienced what it’s like to carry a baby around in my tummy. There are many other experiences I’ve had that others haven’t and it’s not a competition. At the end of the day however we came to be Mothers – we are Mothers. I guess focusing on what we can share instead of what we can’t is the lesson for me. I wouldn’t want the birth Mums out there to feel awkward around us Adopters, to feel that they can’t share their experiences with us – in the same way that I wouldn’t want to not be able to share my experiences with them. I’m coming to accept and actually cherish how we’ve come to be parents – and the next time I feel those feelings of difference I will try to remember to look for the sameness instead.

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It is 5 years since we had our children placed with us and we are having a party tomorrow to celebrate. This week I’ve been mulling over the party coming up and the question going round my mind has been – why do I want to have this party?

To mark the occasion – as an adopter you don’t get much chance to celebrate openly with people – you don’t have baby showers or parties when baby arrives. You don’t get a chance to really celebrate the fact that you have become a family. 5 years is a big deal – not so much when you have your own children I guess but it feels like a milestone to us. For one thing it’s now the longest time the children have lived anywhere.

It also feels like the right time to celebrate. I am grateful for them and for our family. It’s not been easy to say the least – many times it’s taken me to breaking point but I know that it’s the right course in life for us. I know these children are my children. I feel protective towards them and want the best for them. I struggle sometimes to understand them and to meet the very overwhelming, powerful needs they have, but I want to keep trying to get it right and that gives me hope each day that we are doing something to help them.

I also want to share this celebration with friends and family – people who have been with us on this journey, whether from the start or people we’ve met along the way – ALL have played a part in supporting us and helping us to get to where we are right now. Without people around us the journey would be long, hard and unbearable.

The final reason I want this party is to celebrate adoption. Many times when you’re in the thick of adoption it can seem intense and difficult and not much fun, to be honest. This day is about finding the fun and the joy in adoption. I hope that will be the case for us and for those who attend. 

So I really hope this day will be a good day to remember. I pray that the children will not sabotage it due to the over-excitement of the event or that they’re not overwhelmed by the memories and feelings it brings up. They are very excited about it and the fact that many of their adopted friends are coming too is a bonus. It is important to celebrate this incredible journey, as often and as much as we can, as it is such a privilege to be involved in changing children’s lives, and many times the relentlessness of parenting traumatised children overshadows that. So today when you look at your children take a moment to celebrate where you’re at – it doesn’t have to be a big party but it could be just a smile and an ice-cream!

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Young Boy  6 8 Sitting In Class With His Hand On His Face And Other Students Around Him

Less than a week left of the summer holidays and as ever there’s mixed emotions about going back to school and getting back into the routine of life. The summer is a strange time I think, everyone seems to slow down and be so much more laid back but there can be negative sides to that too. Certainly for adopted children and their families it can be a stressful time as well as a time to build more on our relationships. As I’ve gone through life (I sound so old now) I’ve noticed that in EVERYTHING there is a good and bad – a negative and a positive – and I think that’s how it should be. If you’re a glass half full person you probably always try and see the good but there is bad there too and vice versa.

So for our children the prospect of going back to the routine and certainty of school may be good. However for those changing schools or teachers it can also be unsettling and full of anxiety. For my three children there’a a mix of emotions there – for the youngest going back to his primary school there’s excitement and comfort in knowing his friends will be there, he knows what to expect – there may be a little anxiety as to what a new year will bring, especially as his brother leaves for high school so he’s the only one left in the school.

For fruit bat number 2 though it’s all change. From being the big fish (although he’s very small) at primary to now the tiny, weeny, little fish in a much bigger pond at high school there is much to be concerned about. To be honest I’m worried about it too! Will he make friends? Will he be able to cope with the work? Will the teachers understand him and be able to help him? Will he be able to adjust to the huge change in expectations and responsibilities? All unknown and for me it’s bad enough to think about all those things but for him, a child who hasn’t had the nurture he needed early in his life, these uncertainties are huge.

And for fruit bat number 1 going into year 8 – having barely survived year 7 will she be able to adjust to the change again? She seems calmer about going back but there will be more expectations of her ‘at her age’ which of course emotionally is not her age. Will she be able to cope with the increased work and the surge of hormones?!

As I write this I’m aware that these may be common concerns for ALL parents but I know for ours there’s more to consider. Not only the difficulties that growing up brings but also the lack of attachment and trust in adults makes their foundation shaky to say the least. This time of adolescence is supposed to be the time when children pull back from their parents, from the people who have protected and nurtured them – to be able to find some independence and a sense of who they are – apart from their parents. For our children they are pulling away from something that was never really sure and secure for them – as we’ve had our children for 5 years now – in some ways they are like 5 year olds and you wouldn’t expect a 5 year old to be able to pull away and be totally independent!

So what can we hold onto during this transition time from summer to school? Well, we know there are always good and bad elements in everything so whilst the questions may be there, we can also find the positives – there will be times when our children rise to the challenge – when they grow and progress and surprise us with how well they do. In the not so good times we can hold onto the fact that this too will pass – that the summer will come again – quicker then we think. Also for me though I want to focus on making sure there are times of connecting with them every day – that before and after school there are times when they are allowed to be themselves – no expectations – when they can be the age they want to be and need to be sometimes. In order to help that, one of the things we put into place last year with fruit bat number 1 and we will do with number 2 now too – is that they do all their homework at school, before and/or after in homework club so that when they come home they can relax and have fun at home. Also as they need more help with their work, doing homework where there are people who can help them elevates the stress and battles at home. A strategy I would highly recommend to others making the transition!

For those of you that work in schools or who would like your children’s school to understand your children more check out our workshops on Attachment & Trauma in schools. There are workshops all over the country and onsite training is available also. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more details.

 

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Sometimes the realisation of how different children who have been adopted are to other children takes you by surprise. On Friday I attended our Secondary schools awards ceremony for year 7 and 8 (aged 11-13 ish). I was attending as a Governor not as a parent of a child receiving an award. My daughter however is in year 7 so her peers were sitting there patiently waiting for their awards with their proud parents watching on.

Whilst I understand the importance of acknowledging when children do well, i.e. they work hard, demonstrate consistently their skills and abilities and generally focus on learning, it reminds me of just how different my children’s experience of school is. Instead of awards for excellence in Maths and English my child struggles with getting to the right classroom, remembering her equipment and being able to engage with the people around her. I know realistically she will not be receiving any of the traditional awards for outstanding achievement in academics, or even in the subjects that she does excel in. The reason she won’t is that even though she is good at music and loves to sings and has a good voice – she cannot consistently demonstrate her abilities in this area due to her anxieties and what is happening in her brain sometimes (whether she can access the front part of her brain that allows her to process learning).

When children who have experienced early trauma don’t feel safe in an environment their focus is not on learning but on surviving. For my daughter her awards would be very different – in fact as we walked back to the car together we talked about some of her awards for:

  • Getting through her first year in Secondary School relatively unscathed.
  • Building a friendship with another girl.
  • Getting a good report from her teachers about her behaviour, effort and homework being done.
  • Managing to learn something in each subject and retain that information.
  • Being able to walk home occasionally on her own.

Before we adopted children I was very much in the camp of aiming high, having big goals that will stretch you to achieve beyond what you thought you could,  thinking that nothing is impossible. Now however I feel that I have to lower my expectations all the time – not because I don’t believe my children can be and are great, but because they have some limitations at the moment due to their early experiences. It will take time and constant support for them to achieve and they are progressing greatly from when they arrived 5 years ago.

I feel the loss acutely at times, that our parenting experience is different as well as our children’s school experience is different to others. I am also very thankful that we can acknowledge and celebrate the seemingly small achievements that actually are huge in reality. So I’m sure there will be more times when I feel the gap between ours and other children – however I will focus on just how far they have come and as long as they are happy and can engage in the life around then then they are successful.

 

 

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My daughter has just started at High School…..what a see saw of emotions. For children who have experienced trauma, and as a result have attachment difficulties, big transitions like this can be very difficult. Whilst she seems to be taking it all in her stride I know adapting to the incredible changes in expectations and responsibilities will have an impact on her.

For all children the huge jump from primary to secondary is frightening and exciting. From being spoon fed everything, having most decisions made for you, being told where to go and what to do and think sometimes – to having to remember where you’re supposed to be, being responsible for your equipment and supplies to take in and out of school, from being the big fish in a little pond to the little fish is a humungous pond – all massive changes rife with anxiety and challenges.

Adopted children have all the more things to contend with. Most often then not they are operating emotionally at a lower age than they are chronologically. So a child of 11 moving up is actually more like an 8 or 9 year old (maybe even younger sometimes) which means they are no where near emotionally ready for the responsibilities and pressure. They also invariably have issues with processing information, memory difficulties, friendship problems and general lack of identity and self esteem. All these things combined with the hormone changes makes for a messy mix of emotions.

And what about us as their parents? The change from knowing the children they mixed with at primary and their parents, to having no clue who they are with and what they are doing! From going into assemblies virtually every week and seeing exactly what they are learning, having a relationship with the teachers to no clue what they are doing and who their teachers even are for each subject. It’s a messy mix of emotions!

So some things I’ve observed so far for my daughter but also for me:

Control – this is always an issue with everything and for everyone, I am convinced. For my daughter she has much more control now of what she does – I drop her off at the gate but does she go in on time? who knows….she is in total control to some extent. Of course if she doesn’t go in I’ll soon know about it. I’ve noticed though that the fact that she has more control, and not just her but my friends children are the same. they are more prone to getting lost, not coming home on time, forgetting what they are supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to be. For most children who’ve experienced trauma control is a huge area of difficulty. They want control as they haven’t had it in their early lives and they don’t trust others, but they also can’t handle the responsibility of taking the control. They haven’t built up the capacity and resilience needed to take responsibility and be accountable for the decisions they make.

For me control is also an issue. As I see her trot off through the gate I have to let go of what might be happening in there. I have to trust that she will be able to cope and also that the school will be able to help her. Of course there are things you can do to help the school in that – communicate regularly and try and raise their awareness to your child’s issues and anxieties.

Processing information – for my daughter she finds it incredibly hard to process instructions and information. So when she’s told to be somewhere for a singing lesson, and it’s something the rest of the class aren’t doing, there’s no way she can get there without help. Also really understanding what’s expected of her with her homework for example – written instructions from a teacher or teaching assistant are the best ways of getting this information home correctly.

For me as well there’s not such easy access to the school and my understanding of High School is so outdated now as it was 25 years ago that I left school and things are remarkably different now.

One of the tips for processing information is communication with the school. Make sure you know what is expected of your child and as far as possible get them to help in doing the task required. In our school they do homework clubs every day which is a great help for our daughter and us to be honest, it stops the battles at home over homework and it means she can get the help she needs.

Growing up – for my daughter she is desperate to grow up but terrified at the same time. High School means older kids, lots of swearing (of which she’s horrified at), make up, high heels, boys  - all the things that growing up brings. For our children though they are not really ready for this stage in their development – our daughter fluctuates between playing kitchens and teachers to wanting to wear high heels and make up, and having a mobile phone is the best thing that’s ever happened to her!

What about us parents too? Having our children go off to High School means we are getting older! Time to grow up maybe? maybe not! I certainly have to consider and remember how it felt to be at that stage of development – still wanting to be a child, protected, safe and cosy but also curious and excited about this whole new world of possibilities.

As I write this I guess I notice that it’s like a see saw – up and down, good and bad, scary and exciting for them and us. So we’ll have to just stay on the ride and see what happens – sometimes we’ll need to go with whichever side is the heaviest at that time, sometimes we may have to weight the side we want ourselves, other times we may have to take our hands off and let them decide!

 

 

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Concerned child

This expression is used a lot within the adoption world. Many times social workers comment on the importance of the childs’ needs within our care system – that everything we do throughout the process is supposedly about protecting the needs of the child. Whilst I understand the intentions behind these comments I’m coming to realise that this is not the case when you look at the systems involved. Many social workers believe that what they are doing is the best for these children and of course removing them from a harmful and traumatic environment is the right thing to do, however as a service user of these systems in the UK I’m beginning to be disillusioned by the bureaucracy and the seemingly adult centred approach.

For example there are lots of reforms going on at the moment within our system to speed up children going into care and becoming adopted. However at the same time services are being taken away that will support that family once a child has been placed. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in many local authorities are becoming very difficult to access and specialist teams in the area of Attachment are being de-commissioned due to government cuts.

As adoptive parents, certainly in the UK, we have to fight for many of the services needed for our children. Help with education, financial help, therapeutic services and general understanding and awareness, makes adoptive parenting a real struggle at times. This decision to close those already limited services means we will again have to fight to find help for children who are struggling with how their lives have begun, and the impact on that now for them.

So why this subject for my blog? Recently I heard a politician talk about finding a voice for these children and I thought “yes they do need someone to speak up for them” as I looked around the room of very dedicated, exhausted and disillusioned parents who were listening to this politician I thought “that’s what we’ve been doing all along, that’s what it feels like most of the time – that we have to advocate for our children as they cannot express their needs themselves”.

I do wish more than anything that someone within government would look at the picture for these children end to end – instead of within each area without looking over the wall to see how their decisions and actions will impact another part of the child’s journey. When social services make a decision how does it impact on education? When a therapeutic service closes how will it impact on adoption breakdowns and children going back into care? I’m not saying I could do a better job, or that it’s an easy job by any means but surely the way we are working now (short term knee jerk reactions) could have terrible long term impacts for these children, their families and the finances involved!

I’d love to hear other peoples views on this subject. I know it’s a controversial one and I may be opening a can of worms, but it’s so very real for me at the moment with my own children but also many other adopters I know who desperately need these post adoption services and they are inadequate at present.

 

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“He’s just attention seeking, if you give him attention it won’t do him any good” – this phrase and words to these effect are typical words we hear as parents  and professionals. When you see a child tugging on their parents clothes, demanding to be seen and heard it’s very often felt that the child is a spoilt child who should just be able to wait until the adult is ready to talk to them.

For those of you who work with vulnerable children you will know that those who have experienced trauma have a very different need for attention. It’s actually attention NEEDING more than attention seeking. The fact that they have not had their needs met sufficiently in the past means the need to be seen and heard is a much more powerful feeling for them.

One of the attachment styles theorists talk about is AMBIVALENT attachment. For a child who experiences this kind of attachment their whole purpose in life is to be noticed. They are the in your face children, chattering non stop, helping when you don’t want their help, constantly demanding that you give your whole attention to them and no-one else. This is like a primal instinct to them. The need for attention is such a strong driving force they cannot help themselves.

Behaviour communicates a need. It’s not that this child wants to be awkward and manipulative but the need for attention drives their every move. If they have particularly turned up the volume on the attention needing behaviour they are trying to communicate to you their anxiety and fear about something. It may be a trip coming up, the holidays coming, a visit with a sibling or a birthday/special occasion that reminds them of their birth families. It could be anything! The behaviour is a real indication that something is wrong.

I can hear some of you saying “his behaviour is constantly the same – always needing my attention” and that is true for many vulnerable children. It can be very draining and of course time consuming. Here are some simple tips to help you support a child who needs constant attention:

1) As much as you can use their name and look at them when you talk to them. Even though they may not be able to give you eye contact they will feel that your attention is on them if you look at them as much as possible.

2) Try to remember facts about them and ask them how things went. For example if they have a birthday party coming up or about to take a music exam or go on a special holiday. The fact that you remember and ask them will mean a great deal to them – showing them that they are important.

3) When you cannot be with them give them something to look after for you. I heard of a great idea at one school where a teacher had a cuddly toy that she put on the table of the girl when she left the room. The teacher told her that she had to look after it until she came back. That gave the child the sense that the person trusts them enough and of course will be back.

4) When the child interrupts you if you’re talking to another adult, instead of telling them to wait, turn your attention on them and ask them what they want. This is a difficult one for adults to accept as we tend to feel that we have to teach children to wait and respect adults as they speak to each other. I agree this is a social nicety but for children who don’t feel valued they need to know they are important to adults. When you do turn your attention to them for a second and let them speak many times they will ask a simple question or will actually say “nothing” – they just want to connect with us. The other adult you are talking to should be able to understand and accept the interruption.

5) Remember above all else no matter how much attention you give this child it will feel that it is never enough. It is like their bucket has a hole in it, as much as you fill it with water it will always run out. Don’t give up though – the more you can reinforce their self-esteem the more they will be able to relax their attention needing behaviours.

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What happens when you slow down? When you stop the running around, dashing from one place to the next, focused on what’s coming and what needs to be done. What do you see, feel and hear when you can slow yourself down enough to really take in what’s around you? Well as I write this I am sitting in McDonalds on a busy half term afternoon (my kids enjoying a few hours in an adventure centre nearby) watching the families around me and contemplating my navel – well maybe not my navel!

The practice of mindfulness is quite a buzz at the moment. Being able to be in the now – not worrying about the past or the future but just living in the now. I actually love this practice and try regularly to stop and look around me. What I might see today of course is not quite as relaxing as being in beautiful countryside by a lake, but it does focus the mind none the less. As I stop writing even and look around me I see lots of children and their families enjoying time together, hanging out, talking, eating, going about their lives.

I often wonder what my children think about. I know they spend much of their time worrying about the past and the future and even about what might happen in the now for them. Who might be a threat, what might happen next to them or around them? I wonder if there are many times when they can just relax and take in the surroundings they are in. 

I know that for many people when they do slow down – go on holiday or take a rest, they get ill. It’s like the body keeps going as long as we keep pushing it and then when we allow ourselves to stop the body just crumbles. This may happen to you when it’s holiday time and you find yourself with a bad cold, pick up a virus or generally feel run down. I wonder if we slowed down more often maybe our bodies would get used to the routine of slowing down for a few minutes a day to really let our bodies catch up with our minds. Maybe then we wouldn’t crash with an almighty bump when we go on holiday.

It’s only when you slow down and really look around that you find the gifts in the things around you. I’m doing a study at the moment with some friends called One Thousand Gifts – it’s about seeing the gifts in the small everyday experiences we have, really seeing the things around you, developing an attitude of gratitude so that when you hit really difficult times you can see the gifts even in the most awful of circumstances. I love this notion. That even in the most horrible days – and there are a few as an adoptive parent – the more I cultivate this habit of seeing the gifts the more I will be able to see through the bad things (not escape them) and be able to embrace the good and bad.

I saw a quote today on Facebook and I wasn’t sure what I thought about it:

‘One can either bend or buckle under pressure. One must stop waiting for it to end and accept it, because the only way to transform suffering is to embrace it.’
Robert Earl Burton

After contemplating this just now in McDonalds (instead of contemplating my navel) I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about seeing the gifts in everything – embracing is not about saying everything is great but it’s about accepting what is and embracing all that it teaches you – we learn more from adversity than we do from times of peace.

So whatever you’re doing today and wherever you are – stop, slow down and see what’s around you. What gifts can you find and how can you embrace what life is teaching you right now?

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Kids running

My kids love to run. They run from the bedroom to the bathroom, they run downstairs, they run to the car, they run from the car into school. All day they run. It struck me this morning as I dropped them off – when do we stop running? When do we think it’s inappropriate to run everywhere? Is it when we hit those dreaded teenage years where rushing to anything or showing any ounce of enthusiasm is uncool? Or is it when we leave school and notice that no-one else runs so we’d better walk, sedately and somberly.

The other day I ran with one of my sons somewhere and he turned to me and said “I didn’t know you could run!” – made me laugh but actually how sad – what else has he noticed in me that indicates I’m maybe not as fun as I could be? How many times have I sat on the floor with him to play a game, or wrestle on the rug, or thrown snowballs at each other (just the other week actually) but you get the point. It’s not even about physical activity I don’t think. When I see them run it looks freeing and spontaneous, full of anticipation for whatever it is they are running to. How do I show that to them? How can I keep that attitude alive so that when they are teenagers or adults they run at life with the same vigour?

Here’s my random suggestions:

  1. Be enthusiastic about the small things – watching a new film together, going to the same park you may have been to a million times, being excited about a party or family outing. Show that the little things all added up together makes up the big things.
  2. Reflect on what happens in the day – when mine come home from school I’ve given up on the “what did you do today” as you get no response. Instead I ask “what was the best thing about today, what was the worst?”. That way they have to reflect and think about the day. You can do the same with your day too – maybe talk with them about what was the best and worst part of your day.
  3. Think about the feelings involved in running; the energy, the lightness, the freedom. How can you bring that into everything you do today. Maybe just by focusing on the things you love to do – the things that naturally bring you energy, lightness and freedom.
  4. Finally be spontaneous. Although for lots of our children who’ve experienced trauma surprises are not so great, you can find safe ways to be spontaneous. What about picking them up from school and taking them to their favourite restaurant for tea one day, or tickling them when you walk past them, smiling and giving them a wink occasionally. I don’t know – you will know what works with your children best or maybe trying a new approach you never know what might happen.

So when you see a child run today remember this blog and I hope you find the enthusiasm, energy, freedom and lightness to have a great day and run after life.

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Cats birthday copyWhat is it about birthdays? They come once a year – just one day but they can hold so much in them – memories, anticipation, sadness, happiness, surprises and shocks sometimes! It’s my birthday today and as ever it’s got me thinking about life – the ups and downs, the uncertainties and the roller coaster of emotions we experience as humans.

Last week I went to a brilliant training day by a guy called Richard Wilkins – his whole ethos is about feeling – getting out of your head and being able to feel the full range of emotions. To be able to really live you need to be able to engage with emotions as well as intellect. Many times we have a feeling about something but our brain or the voices in our head tell us “that’s not a good idea, what would people think”, “who do you think you are to step out and do that” and on and on – you have your own voices stopping you stepping out and doing something new.

On your birthday you tend to think, of course, about getting older. Maybe it’s too late for me to step out? Maybe the best is behind me? I know I’m not THAT old (43) but we think those things at any age don’t we. I have a beautiful friend who is 76 who is looking forward to this next stage of her life – what can she do? how can she influence and effect others in positive ways? What a great attitude to have! To be able to be content in all stages of life, not yearning for the past or for this part to be over so you can truly live. For me to think that I’m restricted by the age of my children and their complex needs at the moment would really hold me back from experiencing the wonders of this time – the innocence and curiosity they have and the uninhibited look on life is wonderful. There’s also loads for me to do in this stage too. The people I am around because of this stage means I can have a positive impact on them and start to build something for all our futures.

Another area I think we look at when we have birthdays is loss – what we don’t have or what we did have and have now lost. My Dad died over three years ago and I’ve been saddened again that he’s not here to share this day with me. That even though I have friends and family there’s one huge hole – something missing that only my Dad could fill. It’s a very small reminder as well to me of what my children may feel about their birth family around their birthdays. They think about them often of course but we tend to focus more on loss around this time, as if it brings it into sharp focus – that around the party table there’s someone missing. I guess all we can do is work through the loss – for me I will try to commemorate what my Dad means to me in some small way – not sure what yet but whenever I think about him I am warmed by who he was and the relationship we had. I hope my children feel like that about me someday!

The final aspect for me about birthdays is the anticipation and expectation they bring. That THIS day will be so much better than any other. That a fairy will have come and washed up and done the housework whilst I’m still in bed, that the kids will be rays of sunlight, grateful for all their Mum does for them and that my husband will be thinking about how to please me every minute of the day – HA. If we really did have those expectations what a downer it would be. It is a special day but it’s also the same as any other day. I’ve come to realise over the years that you have to make it what you want it to be. That as much as possible I try to do something for myself whilst holding it very lightly in my hands, knowing that other peoples lives continue. The challenges we had as a family yesterday are still here today, but you can step out of those challenges for a time – it may only be a few hours or minutes even but to make it your intention to do something for yourself is key.

So when it’s your birthday next remember you are not too old to do new things and to make a difference in your world. Remember those you have lost with love and gratitude, as much as you can and let the emotions come. Finally make sure whatever is happening around you that you carve out some time for yourself to celebrate another year and another milestone in your life. Happy birthday to me!

 

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 I’ve been thinking about change recently. With Christmas and the change in routines, then back to school and work and the readjustments again to the routine, and then this week with the snow that routine has gone out the window again and change rears it’s ugly head once more. Of course for us adults change can be as good as a rest. A snow day on Friday seemed to create a great sense of freedom, fun and family. But now three days later – another snow day – not quite the same reaction from others I see on Facebook.

For those of you who have adopted children or work with children who’ve experienced trauma you will know that change can be very difficult for them. Routine creates a feeling of predictability which in turns brings a feeling of safety – when you know what is coming next you can relax and enjoy the moment you’re in. For children who are anxious about what might happen next the unpredictability of change can trigger those stress responses within them which makes it difficult for them to then regulate their emotions. Mine are forever asking what is happening next. It’s like they can’t relax and settle into something until they know what is coming after it, to the extent that sometimes we have to have a daily schedule on the board so they know what is happening.

Predictability is the biggest thing I have found that helps alleviate some of the anxiety for my children. As much as you can, try and keep to the things you say you will do. I’ve realised with this that sometimes you have to withhold some information from your children until you know it will definitely happen, especially if you have friends who may change arrangements at the last minute. I tell my children something is going to happen only when it is within my power to make it happen, or that I know for certain things will not change. We had one example of this one day this week when we were expecting some friends to come round to play. One of them decided not to come at the last minute and I had told my children they were coming as the other siblings did come. The fact that one didn’t was quite disappointing for one of my kids, but with all the will in the world you can’t control everything and make things exactly as you would like it.

So how can you handle the unpredictabilities of life for your children?

1) As much as possible tell them what you know is going to happen. Only the things you are definite on and even then you may have to pre-empt some changes of plans (i.e. the weather).

2) Tell others about the importance of predictability for your children. When making arrangements make sure the other people involved are sensitive to the feelings of insecurity changes can bring.

3) When things do change or things don’t happen as you’d like (which is a constant reality), keep your children close, comfort them and reassure them that they are safe and that things will work out.

4) Have a back up plan. If you are arranging something you know they will love but then have to change, make sure you have a quick plan that you can pick up that they will love just as much.

5) Be as confident as you can about what it going to happen. Even if you’re not sure, try to remain organised, calm and collected. If you panic they will certainly feel the fear and join in the panic. When plans change, take it in your stride and move onto plan B.

Even as I’m writing this I know it sounds so much easier then it actually is. Life tends to throw us curve balls every now and then, like snow, and we have to steer a different course. Just remember our children need to feel the security of being with someone who is not phased by life’s challenges, someone who is strong enough to handle the pressures and make a safe and predictable environment for them to live in. For those who regularly read my blogs you know that I’m forever talking about going easy on yourself and taking care of yourself. No exception here. When you do enter the panic zone remember tomorrow is another day!

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I’ve found that sometimes it’s quite difficult to stay grateful. The times when you are so exhausted from trying to do the right thing with your children, when their issues are so great and consume your energy and thoughts, when you would just like to have a ‘normal’ day. Those times can make being thankful incredibly difficult. However, recently I’m beginning to see how amazing my children and actually my new life is now. 

We are coming up to 5 years next year of having our beautiful children with us and also 15 years of wedded bliss – well sometimes! Maybe that’s why these thoughts are becoming stronger in me. Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent time these last few months really going back to basics in my values and lifestyle. What is important to me? My faith, my family, friends, meaning, hope, being able to see how far I’ve come. If you read my blogs regularly you will know from my last blog ‘How deep is your guilt’ that my feelings of positivity are fleeting BUT I know that they are there as well as all the other feelings. 

The more you focus on the positive things the more positive you become yourself. Someone said recently, I can’t remember where, that sitting next to a healthy person i.e. someone who exercises a lot, eats well, sleeps well etc – just sitting next to them will not make you well. It won’t make you fit and healthy. However sitting next to a sick person may very well make you sick!

This makes me think of just how much I entertain the negative, unhealthy and damaging thoughts in my mind and the words of others too – that my situation will never change, that I am not doing any good with my children – in fact I’m doing more harm then good, that things are desperate and hopeless. If you entertain these thoughts and let them take root in your life they take over, consume your energies and in fact become a reality.

I’m not talking about ignoring the truth here but I am talking about seeing the positives instead of focusing on the challenges. When I look back over these 5 years there have been many times of challenge but if I just focused on that I would miss the real moments of joy, hope, peace, love, connection, belonging – all those moments come together to make a full life – the ups and the downs.

‘Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.’ Melody Beattie

So even though I know there may be many times of hardship – look to the good times too and the more thankful you can be the more good times you will see!

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How deep is your love is a great sentiment and it’s something that pops into my mind occasionally as an adoptive parent – how deep is my love and compassion for my children; with their pain, angst and general confusion at life sometimes? Well this week I’ve been struck more by another emotion that is just as powerful, even more so sometimes and which threatens to overwhelm me – GUILT.

I know I’ve written about this subject before many moons ago and am amazed to see it still raising its ugly head but it’s something that is always hovering in the background of my mind – that feeling that what I’m doing, or not doing, or how I’m doing or not doing something with my children may damage them even more then they are already damaged. That somehow my lack of understanding and more importantly lack of self control and calmness, could in fact hinder their development and healing is a devastating thought and one which I have to wrestle with daily.

I remember saying to a therapist once who was seeing one of my children (and me….moreso me I think) that I was frightened of making things worse for them and her response was “you couldn’t make things worse” and she’s right. My heart says – “no that’s not true I could really screw them up” but my brain tells me that because I’m even asking those questions shows that whatever I do or don’t do at this stage will not be worse than what they have already experienced in their short lives. Because I desperately want to make things right for them it drives me to repair the damage I may have done as soon as I possibly can.

Of course this doesn’t mean it’s ok to ignore the signs they give me that they need more time with me, or to shout at them when staying calm would be a much better environment for all concerned. But it does mean that as I strive to do the right thing, and fail at times, I can know that when I go to repair with them – that action in itself is helping them to develop. The fact that we can talk about things after they have happened and admit our failings as a parent and human being means they can see what it is to be human. That when they lose control and feel that they have no control over their emotions – they can see that they are not alone – that we all experience the full range of emotions. Of course how we choice to express those emotions is another thing and something that we are all learning and growing in.

So if you are anything like me and you have good intentions to be the best therapeutic parent you can – and you fail – take heart. You can repair with your child and you can decide to try again. Also of course there may be times when you need help to manage different emotions as our children are very skilled at pushing the buttons that get a reaction from us. There are places to go to get help. It may be that you just need rest and respite. Or maybe there are things from your own past that need resolving. Whatever it is – don’t ignore it but stare it straight in the face and decide to engage with the process of changing and you’ll be amazed at how much you will progress. Speak to someone you know who understands, a support group maybe or someone else within the adoption world. Don’t face it alone, guilt can be a very isolating feeling that makes us draw back from people when in fact we need to move towards others.

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I love Dr Seuss. Before I had children I loved Dr Seuss and now I have children I love him all the more. We went to see the Lorax this weekend and there were a few quotes that really made me think about this journey of adoption.

1) “A seed is not about what it is but what it can become” – I watch my children sometimes amazed at who they are becoming. The times when they are not scared. anxious and screaming – but the other times when they are confident, calm, self-assured – I can see something of what they could become. Those times may be few and far between, but they are more than they were. Every day is another opportunity to help them figure out who they are becoming. I have to remind myself many times of that fact – that they are like new seeds just planted – even though they are 8, 10 and 11 they are actually very tiny seeds that have been moved around in different soil before they have been planted with us. What they have experienced up to now with others has been a mixture but it’s not written in stone how they will turn out.

Many times we are told the outcomes for adopted and looked after children are so bleak. Whilst I understand statistics are important, I also know that just because the statistics may be bad – it doesn’t mean it has to be like that.

2) “Let it grow – you can’t reap what you don’t sow” - this carries on from the first quote really. Once the seed is planted it needs to have time to grow. Think of all the elements that need to be in place for a seed to grow into a strong, rooted tree. Good soil, water, sun, and above all time. I know as we grow as a family there will be, and are, many days of despair when it seems hopeless BUT there is hope. Every positive bit of input we give them nourishes them and gives them the strength to grow. Be encouraged that the little, ordinary, every day positive things you put into your kids is making a difference to their long term future.

3) “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lots nothing is going to get better. Its’ not” – this quote refuses to get out of my mind. The reason we came into adoption was a selfish reason to start with. We wanted a family and couldn’t have one naturally. However along the way it has become something bigger than that. To not be too dramatic about it – it has gripped me. I live and breath adoption sometimes – talking to others, researching ways to help the children and other parents, training others and working hard to get the positive message of adoption out there. I’m reading a book by Jeff Goins at the moment called Wrecked and it talks about discovering that thing that compels you to act – compassion is passion in action. I’d encourage you to look into your heart today and ask yourself that question – what moves you to act? It may be nothing to do with adoption. It will be to do with people though I can guarantee. If you don’t know what it is – start to ask yourself that question and then wait, keep your eyes open and something will appear.

So Dr Seuss the great philosopher of our time has again spoken to me, I hope to you too. I’d love to hear other Dr Seuss moments….connect with me on Facebook BraveHeart Adoption Coaching and let me know.

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Which brings me to my final question – what do we hope to achieve by rewarding children?

In the traditional sense with our reward charts and sliding scales of behaviour charts we are hoping they will tow the line and conform to the ‘right’ ways of behaving according to us. However you have to remember they have probably experienced a very different environment to other children and what they know as normal and acceptable is not what you or other children will think. For them it may be acceptable to hit someone when they can’t get their own way, or to demand food from other people. Don’t forget as well that they are very self-reliant and will do whatever it takes to get their needs met. That’s not behaving inappropriately if what they feel they need is the food someone else has or they will die. We cannot understand the depth of emotion they may feel around something that terrifies them.

Some schools I know operate a variation of a sliding scale. The children all start out in the green square at the start of the day then move to amber if they don’t keep the rules, then to red. This doesn’t send a great message to children. If a child is frightened and incredibly upset about something so much so that they can’t sit still or do their times tables our response should be compassion and support, not to move them down the scale. Also of course for children who need attention being in the red is what will give them the attention – they don’t care if it’s good or bad attention.

When I said earlier that these children are topsy turvy, upside down children – the ‘normal’ rewards and consequences don’t work with them, there needs to be a new approach. The main way we can reach these children is through relationships. Relationships are where things have gone wrong for them in the past and relationships are what can build their self-esteem and change the way they see themselves and the world around them.

I read an article recently by Bryan Post an American leading expert in the field of attachment and parenting traumatised children. He was talking about consequences at school and gave this example.

“Tim walks into the classroom in the morning loud and boisterous. A simple consequence you might provide Tim is a little shame and embarrassment mixed with classroom training. “Ah, Tim I think you’ve entered the big kids room this morning. Why don’t you try it again, or you can go down to the second grade where you might fit in better!” Oh, that’s a good one right there. All of the other students laugh. Tim’s face turns red, he storms out, and then storms back in without giving you even a look.

How about a different approach? Something that will shock Tim – he walks in being loud and boisterous and stops to talk to Gerry for a minute on the way. As Tim is interrupting the morning register you pause, take a big deep breath and feel your centre. Then, you just state in a gentle voice, “Tim”, Tim hurredly shuts off his morning meandering and replies, “What?” You look at him and smile, gesturing to his seat with your head. He sits. It happened so fast that the class doesn’t even know that it happened.

Then later you go over to him and say “Tim are you ok this morning? You seemed quite upset earlier, is there anything I need to do different? I don’t want you feeling like you aren’t getting enough attention. That would be terrible for you. In fact, because it seems like that’s what’s going on, maybe you and I could spend some time together in the morning before class. What do you think? That would help me make sure one of my favourite kids is getting the attention that he needs and I wouldn’t be worried that I might be messing up with you” Tim stirs. “Nah, you don’t have to do that. You give me plenty of attention really, I was just being rude and not thinking”. You respond with more compassion, “Ok I understand but if you come into my classroom feeling that way, it tells me this is not the safe place I want it to be for you. And that’s my responsibility – to make learning safe and enjoyable for you. I’ll see you in the morning ten minutes before bell rings”.

A very different approach right? And I’m guessing for some of you that raised more questions…but I know it works. When you can see their behaviour as a sign that something is bothering them then you can stay curious and compassionate – it’s not easy because they are skilled at the defenses they have created to protect themselves. They need the relationship with adults to be strong, and to help them rebuild what they so desperately need to develop and grow.

It’s a process of moving from one belief i.e. that we must reward specific behaviour for a child to learn that’s how to behave, to a radical concept that if we could build a strong relationship with the child, encourage expression and integration (knowing that we ALL struggle with the full range of human emotion) and find ways to help a child feel safe and feel good about themselves and their worlds – then I believe we would have really helped a child to grow to be a well rounded, resilient, functioning member of society.

If you want further information along these lines connect with @braveheartadopt on twitter or BraveHeart Education on Facebook. Also check out our website for training opportunities in your area.

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Yesterday we looked at what we reward children for …… today our second question – why do we feel the need to reward children?

We are told that what you focus on is what you get and I can see that. The more you comment on the negative things and complain about how awful something is the harder it is to get yourself out of that place. However for children who’ve experienced trauma especially we must always put their needs before ours. I think as adults we feel that if we don’t praise every single thing we’re not supporting and encouraging children. I’m not saying of course that we should pick on their difficult areas and make them feel rubbish. What I am saying is that we need to look at why we struggle so much with this whole area of rewards. Whenever I’ve spoken about this on training invariably someone struggles with this concept of giving low-key praise and not linking it to the action. We feel that the point of rewarding is so that they do the desired behaviour again – behaviour modification, but the key element to remember with these types of children is that their behaviour is communicating a need – they are not naughty children, they are scared and anxious children showing that in ways that we find difficult and that are unacceptable in our societies.

What I will say about praising children is that we need to make sure we are building up their self-esteem. This will take a long time and baby steps – when we go in all guns blazing and tell them how fantastic their singing is and they should be on X Factor you have no idea how that information will be received. They need small doses of praise and affection that builds their resilience and gives them a sense of who they are and who they can be.

One of the examples around rewards that all my children have found difficult is around fountain pens. In our school once a child can get their handwriting to a desired level they are given a fountain pen. This is the coveted price apparently which every child aspires to. I understand why this has been put in place and realise that for the majority of children it probably acts as an incentive to work hard to improve their writing. However for my children it only acts as another thing to be disappointed about, another aspect of schooling where they stand out as not being the norm. For my middle son who is now in year 6 he is one of three children who still don’t have their pens while all the others do. When I hear him talk about this it upsets me as there are reasons why his writing is delayed and that he struggles that are not down to him being lazy and not trying. He missed out on all those years of attention and stimulation when you learn to write. His fine motor skills have been impaired as a result of his early trauma – I know that the fact his handwriting is messy and not to the level of a ‘normal’ 10 year old is a result of his past.

Of course it does act as an incentive for him to try and improve but I also know he receives the message that he is not good enough (and may never be) to fit in with everyone else. That he has failed and he internalises that to mean HE is a failure.

So why do we feel the need to reward in this way? To encourage children to try, to improve, to succeed. And what of improving against your own standard? Maybe a better way would be to reward on improvement in writing, or effort to improve instead of reaching a level that is unobtainable for them. When we learn to walk as a toddler we are encouraged and praised every step and every fall and every wobble – you see adults with their children clapping and cheering as they stumble and fall. Then later on in life we just seem to praise on achievement – what happened to praising effort?

So whilst I understand we do have an inherent desire to reward and praise children I just want to challenge you to think about how that is received by a child who has experienced trauma. The messages they receive will be different to what a nurtured child may feel, regardless of how long they may have been out of that initial trauma environment. Think about how you can build a child’s self esteem based on who they are as an individual and not about meeting a standard of performance that is out of their reach. And be conscious of how your normal reward system may actually damage and hinder these children’s development.

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Something I’m asked time and again, whilst doing training for schools, is how can we use rewards effectively with children who’ve experienced trauma? Well there are a few fundamental questions we have to ask ourselves first:-

  • What are we rewarding children for?
  • Why do we feel the need to reward?
  • What are we hoping we will achieve when we reward them?

The whole concept of rewarding good behaviour is rife in our homes and schools but where did it come from? Is it a throw back to the harsher days of never praising children for when they did something well, of only reprimanding them when they stepped out of line? When I looked this topic up on the internet it’s littered with articles and techniques around how to reward positive behaviour in children and ignore the bad.

However what about when children have had a difficult start in life, they don’t have the strong foundation that nurtured children have had, they don’t have the safe base of a good enough parenting structure to come back to when they go off and explore. Their worlds in short are upside down to other children’s worlds. So why do we then insist on treating them the same? They do not understand why you are rewarding them for something and it gives them mixed and damaging messages sometimes.

For example our first question – what are we rewarding children for?

In a classroom we talk about good or appropriate behaviour. We want a child to sit in a certain way, do the tasks asked of them quietly, be polite with people, not hit other children etc. All things that we feel are acceptable and appropriate in our society – the niceties of how we interact with each other. So what about a child who struggles in these areas – they can’t sit still due to the hyper-vigilance they feel about whether they are safe or not, they have little impulse control, their cause and effect thinking is not developed and they have no empathy. To expect them to follow the rules when they haven’t been taught them, and many times don’t have the tools they need to be able to comply, is unrealistic.

Rewarding children (or punishing them by not rewarding them) for things they can not do sometimes sends the message that they must be so bad because they can’t control their emotions and actions. To see other children getting their stickers and sweets for something they feel is impossible for them to do only compounds their feeling of inadequacy and worthlessness.

Children who have experienced trauma feel at the core of their being that THEY ARE BAD – not that they do bad things but that they are bad! The toxic shame associated to this feeling is too much for them to bear sometimes. When we then reward them for something we think they have done well two things happen in them. One, they do not believe you so they will prove you wrong by doing something they know you will disapprove of like hitting another child. Secondly they think that you are lying to them as they KNOW they are bad, it’s engrained in them.

The way our educational system is set up these days is around behaviour modification techniques. Getting children to behave in the way we as society deem fit. But what happens in the midst of this is there are masses of children who don’t fit the mold – in fact I would go so far as to say no child fits a mold! They are all unique, different, individual and as such should be treated so.

I can hear the cries of “easy for you to say, you don’t have the teach a class of 30 children all with different complex needs” and of course that’s true but that’s my point – the system is set up in such a way to meet our needs as adults and teachers, not to meet children’s needs. I’ve heard recently of many schools that are going to open plan classrooms. I don’t see how this can help children’s concentration and attention. For children who’ve experienced trauma especially the noise and chaos will not help them to learn but in fact it will hinder them greatly. Why was this decision made to go open plan? Who knows.

What should we be rewarding children for then, if at all? Well I believe we need a different approach. Instead of trying to modify children’s behaviour and push them into a mold of what we think is appropriate maybe we should be encouraging them to explore their emotions and feelings more. Instead of being afraid of anger and aggression – find ways to help the child integrate that into their whole person. I’ve always been a volatile personality and have struggled for years with my temper, so much so that at times it makes me feel that I AM BAD – in who I am. I wish that I’d been taught how to face my feelings and deal with my anger in such a way that it was not swept under the carpet or seen as a nasty trait, but as part of the whole human experience.

Imagine what a child would feel like if they were praised for being able to express their feelings, or encouraged to wrestle with their failure and disappointments – how different would they be as adults I wonder?

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Parenting adopted children can be like a military operation. We have three children who actually like to be in chaos – ‘like’ may not be the right word but it is their comfort zone I suppose – the place that they are the most familiar with. So as much chaos as they can manage to create the better – although of course we know it isn’t better for them or us.

An example of this is first thing in the morning. Imagine the scene. You stayed up till 2am last night doing all the things you didn’t get time to do in the day so when the alarm rings at 7am you press that off button, turn over and go back to sleep. You are then woken with a start when a tiny hand nudges you to say they want their breakfast – AAHHHHH you spring out of bed look at the clock and realise you have half an hour to get the kids washed, dressed, fed, do all that for yourself as well, make the lunches, check the homework, read any school letters you forgot to read, get your own stuff ready for your days work, pile everyone in the car and set off. Of course if this were the scenario there would also be lots of shouting, hurrying children up who then insist it’s the right time to tidy their bedrooms, play with the cats and pick up any snails they see outside the front door, and then of course refuse to get in the car.

A familiar scene maybe for some of you – certainly it is for me. I’ve come to realise over the 4 years of having our children that as much as I hate the responsibility, my mood sets the tone for our day. If you take the morning for a start – if I am up and ready, done all the things I needed to do to make myself feel calm and relaxed i.e. had a cup of tea in the quiet before they got up, made the lunches, organised my own day – then I can calmly wake them up – set the tone of someone who is in control and organised – then the better all our days will be.

It is in fact like a military operation – where all the practicalities have to be done in the slickest of fashions whilst also paying attention to all the feelings and attitudes. This morning I watched a brilliant video to set me in a good mood whilst having my cup and tea – the change in how our morning routine went was amazing. Of course there were still a few flashes of chaos but I managed to keep order and move things along without a huge shouting match. Of course for our children as well it is vital that they feel that we are in control – that we can handle life’s pressures and can help them with their emotions. Not saying I get this right all the time as I don’t but I do know that looking after myself (e.g. going to bed early) and realising I set the mood has really helped me to create as safe and peaceful a place as I can.

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Family copyFamily pressures

Families are great aren’t they! We don’t choose them and we can’t get away from them (well we can I suppose). Whatever your extended family is like today I can guarantee having adopted children has changed that dynamic in some way or another. Whether they are finding it difficult to understand your children and your approaches to parenting, or whether they are fully involved and on board – there are always pressures that arise.

The thing I’ve noticed recently is around claiming and belonging with my children. It’s a very strange situation when you adopt – it’s like being in no man’s land. Certainly for us when we adopted our children who were 4, 5 and 7 at the time. It was like being a new mum with all the new mum feelings and challenges but with children going to school, talking, walking, expressing feelings and opinions. All my friends had grown into being a parent in the natural way – from pregnancy, birth, babies, toddlers to children at school. For us it’s more like being parachuted into this world of parenthood and having to get used to those emotions and experiences in 10 seconds flat.

Claiming and belonging is about your children knowing they belong to you and you knowing they are yours. With children who are ‘looked after’ there can be the feeling that everyone is responsible for them – the school knows best, the GP knows best, the social worker knows best – and what about you as the adoptive parents? Where do you fit in?

So how do you build that bond while dealing with any family pressures that may be there? Someone described it to me recently like a board game. Your core family is the board and how you want it to be played is up to you. So if you need people to back off, then you have to write those instructions in. If you need more support from your family and more understanding – then you write those instructions in.

Whatever you feel you need is in your control. This is the difficult part I know and for many of us those patterns of how we relate to our families are well entrenched. BUT this is your time to take control. For your sanity and the wellbeing of your core family you need to take this game seriously.

So if you would like more tips to maintain your sanity on this great adoption journey I have written a book ‘Relentless Life – How to find the extraordinary in the ordinary’, looking at many different aspects of life and how we can take a new perspective on things – available on Amazon.

 

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Children laughing copyBelly laugh

My kids love to laugh. I’m sure you can remember those times when you were young and you laughed so hard your belly hurt and you thought you might have an accident! If you can’t remember that of course just watch children when they laugh uncontrollably – it’s amazing.

There are times around our dinner table when I’m not in a laughing mood! Kids never know when to stop – that’s the point I suppose – they are so uninhibited in that moment that they can’t stop themselves. I love that.

So my second tip is belly laugh – as hard as possible and as often as possible! Laughter is known to be good for healing – there are even laughter clubs now for those who need help with finding things to laugh about or ways to release their inhibitions.

So when thinking about how to keep ourselves sane laughter is a good component of that. How can you bring laughter more into your every day life? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Watch a funny movie or TV show
  • Go to a comedy club 
  • Read the funny pages
  • Seek out funny people
  • Share a good joke or a funny story
  • Check out your bookstore’s humour section
  • Host game night with friends
  • Play with a pet 
  • Go to a “laughter yoga” class
  • Act daft around your children
  • Do something silly
  • Make time for fun activities (e.g. Bowling, miniature golf, karaoke)

And have fun – if you don’t belly laugh that’s – you will certainly feel better for looking at the lighter things in life.

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Tip Number One – Quietness

Quietness is a rarity these days. When you have three children descend on your quiet life it does inevitably create noise and chaos. Not that I’m complaining about that – but in order to stay sane there does need to be some times of peace, quiet and a chance to find that still point.

We are all so different – some of us need more quiet and alone time while others thrive on the hustle and bustle of big family life. Whichever you might be there’s still time needed to slow down and stop, especially on the adoption journey. Our kids have a chaotic, complicated life inside them and it’s important for them to be able to regulate that inner noise. The same is true for us.

Nancy Thomas, a renowned expert in the field of extreme trauma in children suggests that you need at least 20 minutes of quiet every day! No music, No TV, nothing! This may seem unachievable to some, but I have personally found it essential to keeping my own sanity.

Along these lines also is about finding that ‘still point’ inside when you can feel calm and centered. I’m not much into meditation and such, but since we’ve had our children I do find my need to really connect with peace a lot stronger.

So how can we do this? – Here are a few ways: -

Breathe… Yes breathe some more! We all know how to breathe don’t we? Well yes of course we do, but we tend to shallow breathe much of the time, we don’t really concentrate on our breathing, deep breaths so that our bodies can relax and our lungs can really fill up with air.

Try big, slow deep breaths. You will soon see the difference and feel the difference between shallow, short breaths and deep, long, slow breaths.

Be in the now. We spend much of our lives in the past or the future. In doing this we miss the calmness and peace of now.

Take a look around you right now – what do you see? What can you hear? Smell? Feel? In doing this again it slows you down, grounds you and allows you to connect with what’s happening right now. Each minute changes – the line you just read is in fact in the past.

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“Isn’t adoptive parenting the same as any other parenting?”

“We all have the same struggles as you do”

“Just treat them like you would any child and they’ll be fine”.

If you’re an adoptive parent these are words I’m sure you’ve heard many times from friends, family and well-meaning random people you meet. Yes our children do have the same features, i.e. they run around like headless chickens at times, they cry and shout, they fight with their siblings, they respond negatively to the word ‘no’, BUT there are mayor differences. Children who have experienced early trauma, to varying degrees, are impacted by that trauma. You may not see it on the outside but the effects of their loss, neglect, and/or abuse are devastating to them.

So why am I saying all this? Well these next few days of blogs are about YOU as the adoptive parent. Your children get lots of attention, support, love and understanding, and so they should – but what about you? If you answer yes to the following questions then read on:

1. Are there days when you wonder why you went through the pain of the adoption process?
2. Have you felt exhausted by the relentlessness of trying to understand your children?
3. Has there been a strain on any of your meaningful relationships, due to the stress of bringing up your children?
4. Do you find it difficult to relax as you are always waiting for the next crisis to happen?
5. Do you wish you could explain to people around you how demanding your child can be?

Secondary trauma is a phrase used much in adoptive circles. It’s the effect of being around trauma that others have experienced. Charles Figley (1995) defines secondary traumatic stress as “the natural consequent behaviors resulting from knowledge about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other. It is the stress resulting from wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.”

The constant battles and demands that come from trying to help those who’ve experienced trauma can be very wearing. To the extreme it can mean a breakdown or depression, on a smaller scale physical effects might be lack of sleep, poor diet, low energy.

I have been an adoptive parent for four years now to three beautiful children. It was a baptism of fire to go from 0 to 3 overnight. When they came to us they were 4, 5 and 7, now 8, 10 and 11. I have learnt lots about them and how to help them. Read many books, been on training courses, support groups and generally immersed myself in the world of adoption. The one thing that strikes me that is missing is the essential element of how to look after you. It’s no good knowing all the theories and understanding what makes our children tick, but then having no energy, patience, compassion and self control to implement those things, in the heat of the moment.

So where do you stand today on self-care? How important is looking after yourself in comparison to caring for your child? My guess is you are maybe struggling to answer that question! Without being strong, grounded, peaceful and resilient yourself, you will find it incredibly difficult to help your child.

Look out tomorrow for tip number one on looking after yourself……

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IStock 000019855742XSmallBuilding trust

Trust is the foundation of relationships. We know that relationships have failed our children in many ways. They don’t feel the basic level of trust that other children do, so they constantly question our motives and are looking for us as adults to let them down. For teachers this is an essential understanding to have. To know that our children come from the place of mistrust and it takes a long time for that trust to develop.

For my 8 year old he constantly questions the fairness and actions of adults. With his teachers he watches them to see how they relate to him and others and whether they can be trusted to do the best for him. For our teachers what they say and do around our children helps or hinders this process of learning to trust.

An incident recently with our son illustrates this perfectly. He struggles with his handwriting and many times cannot be bothered to put the effort in, for whatever reason. His teacher knows that he can write well sometimes, but other times he chooses not to. My son takes a pencil case into school full of his beloved pens. The teacher told him that if he did ‘good’ handwriting then he could get to use his own pens. This was a constant battle for my son everyday for a while complaining about the injustice and unfairness of this set up.

So imagine my frustration a few weeks later when he comes home and says he did ‘good’ handwriting. To which I asked, “did you get your pens?” his reply was “no”. When I spoke to the teacher she had forgotten. Something said weeks before to motivate him to work was forgotten with the busyness of a classroom of 30 children.

For my boy there have been many seemingly small incidents like this that have contributed to his mistrust of his teacher, so much so that around that particular incident with the pens he didn’t want to speak to her again. He has of course spoken to her since then, but each time something similar happens he goes back to that disappointment and relives his feelings of being let down.

Of course we can understand the teachers overlooking something like this when they have so many children to cater for BUT we have to remind teachers again and again that unless our children can trust them and feel safe at school they will not be able to learn. Learning is not a priority for most of our children, surviving the day – with all the anxieties it brings, is the driving force for them.

So in summing up these three blogs – what are the lessons we can learn from my beautiful 8 year old son?

  1. Our children may appear to be independent or want independence but until they are truly dependent on an adult they cannot move towards real independence.
  2. We (and those working with them) need to be aware of their emotional age and treat them accordingly to help them build those early foundations.
  3. Trust is the bedrock of relationships – everything we, and others, say and do must be congruent for our children to begin to build trust.

A final word of encouragement to parents – however difficult you may find the relationship with your children’s educational setting you must keep pushing to get their needs met. It is exhausting at times as it seems to be an uphill struggle but our children need us to keep trying.

There are organisations that can help – your local Parent Partnership group will help you talk to the school and get the support you need, your local Educational Psychologist team will also help with support, assessment and training and I run workshops for schools and parents on education. I also have available on Kindle an e-book for schools on understanding Attachment issues in educational settings. I would also highly recommend Louise Bombers books ‘Inside I’m hurting’ and ‘What about me?’ as an aid for schools. 

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Boy shouting Small copyEmotional age vs chronological age

When we are stressed we all regress, but for our children that regression can be shocking. An 11 year old for example may regress to behave like a 5 year old under extreme stress. This makes it very difficult for them with their peers as the gap between them gets wider and wider as they grow up.

Within our mainstream educational environment it’s very difficult to treat children as individuals. There is pressure from all sides to get children to reach their age related targets. This makes things very difficult for our children, for us as parents and for teaching staff. If only we were freer to treat children as individuals, to be able to assess where a child is emotionally and to help them gain the elements they have missed from early childhood.

If you think about all the things children need at each stage of their development – food, water, sleep, stimulation, warmth, love to name but a few. If you wrote those all on pieces of paper shaped as bricks and then built a wall with them it would make a solid foundation for a child’s development. However, for our children many of those essential early blocks of development were missing.

As parents we strive to help our children fill those blocks again. To give them the attention and love they need as if they were that 2 year old again, even when they are chronologically aged 8 years old. For schools it is much more difficult to meet those needs BUT not impossible. There are things they can do to help us in this quest.

1) They can build it into their programme to give children opportunities to fill those gaps again. For example when children get into upper years they can then spend time in the early years – on playground duty or reading to younger children. These are age appropriate mentoring activities that upper years children all do, but for our children it creates a safe and easy way for them to build those experiences again.

 
2) Secondly schools can take the opportunities when children regress to meet them at that age, in that given moment. Instead of encouraging them to ‘act their age, and grow up’ we can in fact think if this child was actually 2 how would I respond to them?

Third and final message from an 8 year old tomorrow…..

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Education is a constant battle for most children who have experienced early trauma. My husband and I have three adopted children who all struggle to one degree or another with their school. Whilst it is a small, caring, understanding school that try their best to accommodate our children, there are still some times when they get it wrong. They just don’t get it – which is understandable as many times we don’t either.

Recently our youngest has had a few issues in his classroom, so I wanted to share some lessons from his experience, as I know they will be common to others. The first lesson for today is about:

Moving towards independence

As children move up in the years most school teachers seem to be obsessed with independence – “they should be old enough now to remember what to bring into school”, “they need to think for themselves and be independent in their thought processes”, “we can’t hold their hands all the time”. These and other statements, or at least the sentiment of them, are commonplace from teaching staff. Whilst you might believe that to be the case for children who have had a nurturing, stable background, for our children they are just not ready to be independent.

Independence comes from being truly dependent on someone else. In most cases our children have not been fully dependent on others. They have had to look after themselves sometimes physically, emotionally and mentally. They have come to believe through their negative early attachment experiences that adults cannot be trusted, at least the ones who should have met their needs! As a result they become self-reliant. They know to depend on themselves and this makes it incredibly difficult for them to ask for help and admit they may need other people.

So where does this leave us as parents and educators, in terms of encouraging independence? We need to help our children become dependent on adults first – to build the trust between the significant people in their lives so that they can become truly dependent again, and then slowly move towards independence. This means we will still need to help them remember things they need to take into school, to accept that our children may not retain the information given verbally, and to know that they need to be helped as much as possible with their work and in their relationships with others.

Lesson number two tomorrow….

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My daughter has just started at High School…..what a see saw of emotions. For children who have experienced trauma and as a result have attachment difficulties big transitions like this can be very difficult. Whilst she seems to be taking it all in her stride I know adapting to the incredible changes in expectations and responsibilities will have an impact on her.

For all children the huge jump from primary to secondary is frightening and exciting. From being spoon fed everything, having most decisions made for you, being told where to go and what to do and think sometimes – to having to remember where you’re supposed to be, being responsible for your equipment and supplies to take in and out of school, from being the big fish in a little pond to the little fish is a humungous pond – all massive changes rife with anxiety and challenges.

Adopted children have all the more things to contend with. Most often then not they are operating emotionally at a lower age than they are chronologically. So a child of 11 moving up is actually more like an 8 or 9 year old (maybe even younger sometimes) which means they are no where near emotionally ready for the responsibilities and pressure. They also invariably have issues with processing information, memory difficulties, friendship problems and general lack of identity and self esteem. All these things combined with the hormone changes makes for a messy mix of emotions.

And what about us as their parents? The change from knowing the children they mixed with at primary and their parents, to having no clue who they are with and what they are doing! From going into assemblies virtually every week and seeing exactly what they are learning, having a relationship with the teachers to no clue what they are doing and who their teachers even are for each subject. It’s a messy mix of emotions!

So some things I’ve observed so far for my daughter but also for me:

Control – this is always an issue with everything and for everyone, I am convinced. For my daughter she has much more control now of what she does – I drop her off at the gate but does she go in on time? who knows….she is in total control to some extent. Of course if she doesn’t go in I’ll soon know about it. I’ve noticed though that the fact that she has more control, and not just her but my friends children are the same. they are more prone to getting lost, not coming home on time, forgetting what they are supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to be. For most children who’ve experienced trauma control is a huge area of difficulty. They want control as they haven’t had it in their early lives and they don’t trust others, but they also can’t handle the responsibility of taking the control. They haven’t built up the capacity and resilience needed to take responsibility and be accountable for the decisions they make.

For me control is also an issue. As I see her trot off through the gate I have to let go of what might be happening in there. I have to trust that she will be able to cope and also that the school will be able to help her. Of course there are things you can do to help the school in that – communicate regularly and try and raise their awareness to your child’s issues and anxieties.

Processing information – for my daughter she finds it incredibly hard to process instructions and information. So when she’s told to be somewhere for a singing lesson and it’s something the rest of the class aren’t doing there’s no way she can get there without help. Also really understanding what’s expected of her in her homework for example – written instructions from a teacher or teaching assistant are the best ways of getting this information home correctly.

For me as well there’s not such easy access to the school and my understanding of High School is so outdated now as it was 25 years ago that I left school and things are remarkably different now.

One of the tips for processing information is again communication with the school. Make sure you know what is expected of your child and as far as possible get them to help in doing the task required. In our school they do homework clubs every day which is a great help for our daughter and us to be honest, it stops the battles at home over homework and it means she can get the help she needs.

Growing up – for my daughter she is desperate to grow up but terrified at the same time. High School means older kids, lots of swearing (of which she’s horrified at), make up, high heels  - all the things that growing up brings. For our children though again they are not really ready for this stage in their development – our daughter fluctuates between playing kitchens and teachers to wanting to wear high heels and make up, and having a mobile phone is the best thing that’s ever happened to her!

What about us parents too? Having our children go off to High School means we are getting older! Time to grow up maybe? maybe not! I certainly have to consider and remember how it felt to be at that stage of development – still wanting to be a child, protected, safe and cosy but also curious and excited about this whole new world of possibilities.

As I write this I guess I notice that it’s like a see saw – up and down, good and bad, scary and exciting for them and us. So we’ll have to just stay on the ride and see what happens – sometimes we’ll need to go with whichever side is the heaviest at that time, sometimes we may have to weight the side we want ourselves, other times we may have to take our hands off and let them decide!

 

 

 

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We’ve just got back from our summer holiday – a week in the sunny (sometimes) shores of Britain. With five of us camping (motorhome and tent to try and spread the chaos) it was quite challenging at times. For those of you who know the struggle of parenting children who’ve experienced trauma, you will know that holidays can be a very stressful time. I often talk about this adoption journey as a relentless roller coaster of emotions and this week was no exception. However what I want to talk about in this blog is more about something that really came as a revelation to me.

I saw many mothers with their children going in and out of the bathrooms, walking round the camp site and playing on the beach and I started to notice something that is quite obvious, but again gave me more insight into why parenting my children feels so difficult sometimes. What I noticed is this….for most other parents they have taught their children everything – how to do practical things – brush their teeth, take a shower, eat their food. Also how to think and feel many times – attitudes and opinions on life come from the parent initially. This means that as a natural parent you probably don’t even think about why your child brushes their teeth the way they do – as you taught them to do it that way!

But for me it really struck me just how different my children are to me – especially my daughter who is the eldest and also as a girl someone I probably would have taught all those girlie things to in her early years. Sometimes it surprises me why she does and says things the way she does – but it’s just a mish mass of things she’s been taught or picked up from her different homes and parents she’s had.

As we grow up we start to do things slightly differently to our parents and we question why – there may be many things you do differently to your parents now you’re an adult. For example I’ve never been able to emulate my Mothers orderliness and still insist on putting cream on the dining table in the carton and not in a separate jug (much to my Mums disgust) – but these are all things we develop as we grow away from our parents and create our own ways of doing things.
 
For our children though they’ve not had that strong foundation of being taught by one set of parents – rules, expectations, and practicalities of doing things all become jumbled and diverse. They become self-reliant instead of independent, as they have had to find ways to make things work if they couldn’t fully depend on those around them. This can create tension as you try to establish family rules and ways of doing things.

This revelation has given me new insight and understanding of why certain behaviours irritate me and as a result I’m trying to see things from a new perspective. I also realised today that all the lessons I’ve learnt since we had our children are 10 times more then the lessons I learnt in my previous 38 years of life!!! There’s nothing like parenting to really teach you things about yourself, others and life in general – the trick I guess is to learn, try to change and not  to give up!

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Over the summer holidays my kids and I have been around other children more than usual and a few things have struck me. The first is about just how different the family rules are we all make within our homes.  When you are entrenched in your daily routine you don’t realise that you do have rules and ways of doing things – what time kids go to bed, eating habits, how decisions are made – lots of little and big things that actually make your family work.  When you are then around other children you do realise the rules are there. It’s encouraged me really to know that we do have a family identity – right or wrong, good or bad, we have established a way that is unique to us.

The other area and the one that I’m still considering is the difference between us as adoptive parents and my friends who are birth parents in how we analyse our children’s behaviour.  Whenever my children ask something, say something, do something it makes me wonder “hmm what was that about?  I wonder why she said that?, I wonder why he did that right then?”.  It’s struck me that actually that’s not so normal – or is it?  Is it normal to be forever analysing your child’s intentions, feelings, wishes – their inner world?  I know from my friends that wondering whether you’re a good parent is normal, in that we all do that at times – “did I handle that well?, am I doing the best for my child?, am I showing them what a good parent looks like?” – those kind of questions all parents probably ask themselves on occasion.

BUT do all parents constantly think about why their kids do what they do?  I don’t think so.  So is that ok?  Is being a detective around our children harmful to us and them?  What I am considering is how much energy is expending daily in this activity – probably too much!  Do my kids feel the intensity of my wonderings and analysing them?   Am I in fact hindering their freedom to express by constantly looking for underlying reasons?  I have actually come to no conclusion as yet – but it’s opened a train of thought that I’m sure will continue.

So what about you?  What rules and identity does your family have?  Are you analysing their every move to the detriment of them and you?  How can you stay curious about their inner worlds, help them to make sense of their feelings and allow them to be themselves?

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Friendship

We all have the need to belong to something – whether that’s within our family and friends, or a group of people who understand the things we go through and experience. There’s a theory called ‘The Third Place‘ that psychologists came up with that talks about three environments where we get our sense of belonging. The first place is in our home, the second is in our place of work and the third is somewhere else – that used to be the village hall, the local pub, the church, the hairdressers, the street or neighbourhood. Nowadays it might be the gym, a social club, the pub, a church or for many adopters a support group.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject of belonging and just how important it is to us all. Before we had our children there were lots of places and groups where I felt that sense of belonging. I worked in a large company with many teams of people where I felt that to one degree or another. With my friends and family who really know me there were many times when I just didn’t have to say anything and people understood where I was at.

Since having our children however lots of those places have changed. The first place of within our home has changed, shifted in various ways – some good, some not so good – but everything is different. The same with my work – I now work on my own and I know for many adopters they have stopped work in the traditionally sense to be with their children – that’s a huge change as well. When the first two places of belonging shift in such a dynamic way it can be very difficult to adapt to that change.

Another aspect of belonging that has come up for me recently has been around where I get my validation from – whether that’s externally or internally. In other words do I look to others to make me feel secure and confident in who I am or do I look within myself? When you look to others to make you feel good you will be disappointed at times. People are people at the end of the day (you and me too!). People have a tendency to hurt others and to judge other peoples decisions and lifestyles. When you are swayed by the popular opinion around you it is very difficult to be true to yourself.  

During the adoption journey what other people think and feel can become very evident. Lots of people around you will tell you what they think about how you are dealing with your children and it can feel that you are constantly on show to others.

I’ve come to realise that finding those places where you truly belong is so essential to maintaining your sanity as an adoptive parent. Also being able to build your own internal strength and resilience is a must. So how can we do this? Ask yourself some hard questions if this is an area you struggle with:

1)  Where do I feel the most comfortable and can be myself?

2)  Who is there and what is happening?

3)  Which places do I feel that I don’t belong anymore?

4)  How important is it that people like me?

5)  How can I become more resilient and build my inner strength more?

I’d love to hear from others on this subject as it’s opened a whole can of worms for me!! Please comment if you have any tips or contributions to make on this subject of belonging.

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Balloons in sky

At a conference I was at recently Louise Bomber the author of ‘Inside I’m Hurting’ made a comment on how to help children deal with the difficult sides to their emotions – the anger, the frustration, the shame.  She talked about the fact that when we talk to children about them being ‘good’ or indeed ‘bad’ it sends the message that confirms what they already believe about themselves – that THEY are bad!  As much as we try to say “no that was a bad thing you did, not YOU are bad” the message they receive is that those difficult emotions are too hard for us to handle, and that means THEY are too hard to handle.

It’s started a thought process in me around this whole area of how we communicate with children who have experienced trauma.  As much as we can understand that behaviour modification techniques are not what these children need, we still struggle to get away from the need to make them behave, act and feel in the way we think is acceptable.

As an adult there are many parts of my personality and temperament that I struggle with – the things deemed to be the negative emotions – anger, frustration, jealousy, pride – I could go on.  BUT the problem with making judgements about emotions is that for these children the emotions are so intense and they truly believe they can not control their emotions, when we then make a judgement that being angry is bad – the message again to that child is that they are bad – as they can not control that ‘bad’ part of their character.

I heard recently of a member of staff at a school running a circle of friends group – they were looking through scenarios of when children fall out.  There was one where a child was upset by something that someone had done to him, so he then went and did something back to that child – broke their toy for example.  The member of staff then made the well intentioned comment “of course we wouldn’t do that though would we?”.  Whilst I understand her meaning, for that child steeped in toxic shame who does do those things as a result of intense anger, he would have received the message that he must be such a bad person to do something that no-one else would dare do.

So how can we help children to integrate all the different emotions they feel?  Again Louise Bombers brilliant advice was to use the language of ‘different parts’.  That a child may have an angry part, a frustrated part, a fun part, a clever part, an upset part, a giggly part – lots and lots of parts that make the whole person – just like us!  None are good or bad, they all make up the whole – a human being!

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When we were going through the matching process for adoption I held the belief that keeping siblings together at all costs was a good thing…..I haven’t necessarily changed on this belief but I have seen areas where sibling rivalry takes a new form! All siblings argue I’m told many times by others and of course this is true. I remember fighting and arguing with my brother and have seen many others families bicker and squabble together.

However for those of you who have adopted children, or children who have experienced early trauma in their lives, you will know that the squabbling and bickering can come from a different place. I thought our three children would be very protective of each other and be a tight unit together, which they are at times (if they believe one of them is in danger) but most of the time the need to survive and to be noticed the most overshadows the need to protect each other.

For example, there have been many times when one of them is being told off for something and one of the others will say “I’m being good Mum”, “I’m doing what I’m told Mum”. Even if they don’t say those exact words (which they do a lot of the time) the fact that they go out of their way in that moment to be ‘good’ breaks my heart as I know they are acting out of fear and a need to be liked.

This week we tried a new way to introduce jobs round the house and pocket money. It was something I heard on the radio and a concept we’ve been toying with for a while. So I thought I’d try this great new approach – that they get pocket money for each job they do around the house – BIG MISTAKE – at least the way we introduced it seemed to elicit a fear response in them. I announced the new plan and straight away it became a huge competition to see who could do the most jobs and get the most money. A frenzy ensued which left their father and me stumped at what had happened. Needless to say that plan has gone back to the drawing board.

This incident made me aware once again of how different our children are and the messages they receive from the signals we give out. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to figure out what is going on in their minds and of course they don’t know either. But I have come to the conclusion that the need to feel loved and more importantly liked is a tremendously driving force for them. They all desperately want to be in adults good favour and why shouldn’t they? Our job I guess is to try and alleviate their fears that whatever they say and do they will still be loved and liked, and that the more secure they can feel in their positions in our family the more relaxed they will be about the competition they feel.

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It’s sunny again today and for most people there’s a sense of lightness – spring is in the air and even summer if our past summers are anything to go by. However not everyone likes the sun! There are some of us who dread the days of constant heat headaches, grumpy children wanting to water fight every five minutes and the ice cream vans on every corner.

What a grump! Well my feelings about the sun have made me consider my kids again today. There are so many ‘normal’ children’s activities and events that everyone thinks kids will love – birthdays, rides at parks, trip to McDonalds and of course Easter egg hunts. Well for our children and others like them this kind of excitement can be too much. The rush of adrenalin they feel and the dysregulation it creates actually can be full of fear and confusion for them.

For us adults we can find that really difficult – “we tried to make this a special day for them and they go and ruin it”, “why aren’t they grateful for the treat we’re giving them”. It can create a response in us that actually takes us away from feeling the empathy we need in order to see things from their point of view.

Emotions are powerful things. I know this, as my temper is something I’ve struggled with most of my life too. As much as I know I can control my behaviour the feelings are still very overwhelming and can surprise me sometimes in their intensity. How much more frightening must it be for children who have no skills of regulation, and can not tell the difference between what is designed to be exciting (something pleasurable) to the debilitating strength of the emotions they feel when they are scared.

The other thing that happens of course when we have festivals like Easter is that the normal routines of life disappear. Schools have Easter bonnet parades, Easter egg hunts, Easter services and generally no real lessons as such for the week leading up to the end of term. And Christmas don’t get me started on school and Christmas! For our children of course the change in routine (which can be very difficult for them in itself) combined with the added excitement of presents, chocolate, cake etc., can just be too much to handle and they have a meltdown. That may show itself in screams and rage, it may also be extreme tiredness and grumpiness, it may also be in refusing to take part in the lovely event you’re put on for them and finding ways to sabotage the day.

Just remember this Easter time that for them the excitement can actually be a very scary thing – something that takes them back to places of chaos and confusion. Not everyone likes the sun (or any other thing we’re supposed to like) and for our children sometimes it’s better for them not to take part in the crazy ‘normal’ children’s activities – if it means they feel safe and more at peace! After all what are they missing if they don’t do that thing, when all it means to them is fear and anxiety?

Have a lovely, peaceful, relaxed, fun Easter and stayed chilled.

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Healthy eating

I’m on a new eating plan at the moment – quite a radical one for me actually. It means I have to change my whole approach to food which has been hard. It’s made me think once again about my kids and how many radical changes they have had in their short lives. The fact that the decisions made for them are intended for the best (like my eating plan) it doesn’t mean they are easy for the children.

We say on our training with schools - if you could imagine your life now – where you live, the people you live with, the job you have, the car you drive and imagine someone plucked you from that life one day and dumped you somewhere else the next. The new place is bigger, a better paid job, maybe a more loving relationship, kids that do what you ask them BUT you cannot see or have contact with anything or anyone from your old life. The impact would be long lasting. Of course the decisions to move children are in the main the best decisions for them, but we can never underestimate the impact it has.

Like my new plan, new rules and expectations are difficult to adjust to for children as they move on. Imagine being in different houses with such different rules, characters, personalities, expectations. It must be confusing to say the least! My kids often talk of their other homes and how they did things there – they are aware that we work differently and whilst they have adjusted after nearly 4 years there are still struggles for them to deal with the loss they feel from leaving their other homes.

So how can we help them? Well I’ve come to realise that every time I try to adjust to new ways of eating and living there are times of great resolve and commitment, other times of falling off the wagon and giving in. Our children will go up and down in their struggle to make sense of their lives and why this has had to happen to them. We need to be patient and recognise the immense loss they feel.

We also need to go easy on ourselves. We will get it wrong at times but we can admit our failings and try again – anything worthwhile is worth striving for. The more times we can give our children a healthy view on life the more times they will be able to accept the way things are now – they may never lose the feeling of loss, but they will hopefully be able to see what they have gained as well.

 

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Tug of war

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on” – Henry Ellis

There are many decisions we have to make every day.  What breakfast to eat, what to wear, what to do with our time, where to go, who to see – loads of things that seem quite small and insignificant. There are also the decisions we take about our attitudes, feelings and perspectives that we will adopt for that day or in any given situation.  There are many decisions on what to let go of and what to hold onto.

Since my life changed dramatically when our children came nearly four years ago there are decisions daily that I have to make and this quote has made me reflect on what those things are – some small and some quite huge and very difficult to do – so here’s some of my list:

Letting go:-

Of the expectations I had of fitting in with my other Mum friends.

Of having time for myself and being able to do what I want to do.

Of my inhibitions and laziness – so that I can enjoy my kids.

Of being a perfect Mum.

Of having perfect kids.

Of being able to control how each day turns out.

Holding onto:-

The hope that what we are doing now will be the right thing in the end.

The new positive relationships through adoption.

The precious moments of each day when my kids make me smile.

The sense of rightness about being a Mum.

My sense of humour.

The understanding that I can control my reactions and responses to their anxiety.

 

I could actually list a million things I’m letting go of every day and holding onto everyday – what about you?

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Selfregulation

There are times when I would love to scream I’M A MOTHER GET ME OUT OF HERE, when my three demanding and needy children can not leave me alone, when they insist on squabbling with each other all day, when they are screaming or singing at the top of their voices, or like yesterday when we are at a restaurant and they can not settle so we can have a nice meal together. Of course a lot of this they can’t help and it is part of the challenge of parenting I guess!

What has struck me today though is about my expectations. The difference with whether I can cope with being a Mum one day and then the next it seems unbearable is my expectations. Yesterday was my birthday and I wanted just for one day to be able to say what I wanted to do and be able to do it. They are high expectations actually when you’re a Mum and especially if you’re looking after them on your own that day. My kids can’t really understand the concept of putting their feelings aside for the sake of someone else – even just for a day. My very unrealistic expectations were that they would be able to put aside their issues for one day!

It’s made me realise of course that they can’t do that, if they could that would imply that they can help how they feel and behave at all. They can’t a lot of the time. They react from their trauma and attachment difficulties not out of spite or malice. They can not control their reactions at the moment. Sometimes I believe they can, but that’s very unrealistic – especially for them to be able to on the exact day I’d like them too. It can be very exhausting though always being the one to have to put your own feelings aside and be the parent they need you to be.

I am more and more convinced that looking after yourself as parents is essential in the therapeutic parenting role. There’s so many day to day issues that demand your energy, patience and putting your needs aside. If you don’t take the time to have your own needs met occasionally you will burn out and become resentful of the needs your children have.

So to avoid getting to the point of having to shout “I’m a Mother get me out of here” take the time regularly to get input yourself, to relax, to watch what you want to on TV, to go shopping – whatever it is. The more often you can do this the more chance you will be able to endure the trials of parenting and gain the prize available through parenting your wonderful children.

 

 

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Cats birthday

It’s my birthday tomorrow and …….. I’m sure I won’t cry. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve reached the ripe old age of 42 – not ashamed but I am a bit sad – I am now well and truly in my 40′s…half my life gone already. What it has made me think about though this week is my children.  When I look back on my life I have been blessed. I’ve had a great family upbringing, relatively good school life, bounced around jobs until eventually found my passion. I’ve done many things I wanted to do in my life – travelled, lived abroad, married etc. I can wholeheartedly say I’ve been blessed.

Of course there have been struggles – the road to adoption being one and there are others too. BUT on the whole I know I am fortunate. My Dad died a few years ago now and around this time I think of him more. He was a brilliant man – a big, warm hearted man who loved to laugh and was generous to those around him. I miss him deeply.

Anyway enough of me – I read a blog from a lady I follow – Sherrie Eldridge an author and adoptee. There was a sentence in this blog that I can’t get out of my head – she was talking about other adoptees and their experiences and she said that the majority of them think about their birth mum at least once a day! Not all adoptees feel like this I guess but a huge number do and what might they be thinking? I can think about my Dad often too but the thoughts are good thoughts, they are real thoughts because I had a relationship with him for 38 years. He wasn’t perfect of course but we both knew how we felt about each other. For my children that is not the case.

When our adopted children think of their birth Mum I wonder what feelings it evokes. For me when I think of Dad there is loss and a deep sadness. For my children I’m sure there are many conflicting emotions – sadness, loss, guilt, shame, confusion, frustration – the list could go on and go. Birthdays are especially a difficult time for our children. We know that around that time there will be a struggle for them to deal with all the feelings it brings up, that will change their behaviour greatly.

For us as adults when we feel loss we can rationalise it in some ways and find ways to deal with it – it still hurts but for the most part we can cope with the pain. For our children they need us to help them do that. So if they have to say – “it’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to” – let’s let them!

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“I’m not like other 9 years old”, “I don’t have a normal family”, “I’m not a normal parent”……on and on – our children may say it, we may say it but this week this concept of being ‘normal’ has struck me in two different ways.

Before I mention what those two ways are let’s explore the word normal. It’s always grated on me when I hear people use that word – What is normal?? I heard Jairek Robbins speak last year (son of the American famous coach and personal development guru). Jairek talked about growing up with his father and from a very young age going to his meetings and watching people achieve great things. To him it was normal to see people overcoming their fears – walking on fire, breaking boards and generally attacking life. For him to hear people say “I can’t do that” or “that’s not possible” was abnormal. It’s amazing what we get used to – traits become states and we think that what everyone else experiences is abnormal, when to them we are abnormal!!!

So maybe a better way to look at it is – what’s typical for…..children of a certain age, parenting, families. What’s typical in specific cultures of course is different too. I’m actually not sure much is typical either. When I think about our children and attachment styles for example. You could say they have a tendency towards avoidant attachment but of course they then do something that is much more reminiscent of an ambivalent attachment style! Maybe trying to label children, or say what is normal or typical is irrelevant to their development?!

So the two areas that I wanted to mention in terms of feeling and being ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ are:

Firstly from my children’s point of view. One of my sons has started noticing that he is different to his peers. Whether he has picked up some terminology from adults or whether he really does sense this – he seems to know he is different. I’ve heard many times people say – “don’t treat them differently because it will make them feel different” – BUT I hate to break the bubble on this – THEY ARE DIFFERENT! and they feel different. Is there anything wrong with feeling different?

I have a friend who has a brilliant approach to her children around this area of being different and an individual. Her daughter dresses in the most unique way – whatever way she feels and her Mum lets her express that which I think is ace! That little girl will grow up to know her own mind I’m sure, and not be embarrassed to express her personality.

But for our children they have so many differences about them it must be hard for them to see that as a positive thing right now. They have a complicated history with different sets of parents and experiences that typical children can not identify with. More often then not they are struggling with catching up at school and trying to fit in with their peers when they really want to be playing with the younger children or being at home with us.

The other side of this for me is how I feel about being an abnormal parent and also about my children being different. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me and I can see the positives of this great adoption lifestyle. But sometimes the starkness of the differences being my friends who have given birth to their children – who in the main are at the right developmental stages – is overwhelming. To my great shame this week I heard myself say (it was actually only in my head!) – “I just want to be normal – be a normal parent and have normal kids”. I am embarrassed to see it written down….but it’s the truth. This is not to down play the fact that ALL parenting is challenging and I’m sure those with birth children have their own exclamations they are ashamed to admit to….but for me sometimes the feeling of being different stares me in the face and threatens to destroy my connections with others – especially with my children.

So what can we take from this? For me I know that are no ‘normal’ situations – whether parenting, children, marriages, friendships whatever – we are all different and all our challenges are unique to us. At those times when the reality of how different my children are to their peers is evident I’m going to try to step back and count my blessings – that they are in my life, that I get the chance to help them make sense of things and to trust that I am growing and learning what I need to on this journey. It is tough. There are times when I want to bury my head in the sand. BUT how can we make the best of our atypical family? Definition of atypical – not conforming to type; unusual or irregular – isn’t that us as adoptive parents? It doesn’t make us better or worse than others just different. Let’s embrace those differences, not cut ourselves off from others but be at peace with how our families are made up and encourage our children to grow in the best way they can.

 

 

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Since I’ve become a parent I’ve been aware of the feeling of being under scrutiny from others. Whether this is a ‘normal’ feeling as a parent or something unique to adoption I don’t know. Of course none of us as parents know what we’re doing most of the time, at least we feel like we don’t. We may have had great role models in our own parents but still struggle with the confusion that is parenting. Should we let them watch TV or not? Is shouting allowed or must we always be calm? How honest can we be with children about our lack of wisdom on what to say and do? A million and one dilemas we face every day.

So how does this feeling appear? Well as an adoptive parent, when you become a parent overnight as such – scrutiny is everywhere. Friends and relatives look on as your dreams come true of having a family. Well meaning wishes that you will bond as a family, that the children will settle, that they will be happy and that we as parents will be too. Of course that’s great, that people want the best for us as a family but recently I’ve thought of the other side to this surreal journey of adoption.

The decisions we make as parents are often looked at closer then if we weren’t adoptive parents. People see our struggles more maybe. Others think they understand our children and what kind of parenting they need. We ourselves feel our own inadequacies every day and doubt our own decisions. I wonder if the fact that we know the devastation our children have already felt in their young lives adds more pressure to ‘get it right’?

This could also be absolute rubbish and in fact the scrutiny I feel under is all in my imagination?! Whatever it is, it has made me wonder what I can do to feel at peace with the decisions I make and the constant process of trying to parent my children. Do I just ignore the microscopes around me and get on with what I think is right? Or should I take note of what others say and think? Or is it maybe something in the middle? As you can tell form my ramblings the answers are not there yet.

However if you too feel the scrutiny of those around you then here’s some questions that may help you:

  • Is the scrutiny external or internal? In other words are others really watching and judging your decisions or is it your own feelings of inadequacies and doubt?
  • If external how important are those people to you? Are they people you respect and whose opinions you value? Do they know and understand your children?
  • If the above is true then take a step back and ask yourself is there some truth is what they say?
  • If there is then can it add value to your parenting? (we need to be open to change as we grow as parents)
  • If the scrutiny is internal – are you beating yourself up for being human? Or are there things you can learn from your own doubt…..how can you change in the future?

Either way – whether external or internal scrutiny, think about who understands you and can support you on your journey? Find those people who empower you when you spend time with them, not who bring you down. Especially in those moments of doubt – make sure you talk to people who can identify and empathise, but also challenge you to grow and develop as a parent – for your own sanity as well as for your children’s sake!

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Christmas gift copy

Generosity – you either have it or you don’t, it can not be acquired.

I heard this statement on the radio today and it made me stop and think – is that true – can you learn to be generous or is it something you are born with? Actually you could say that about most attributes we have as humans – can you learn them? Are there things you can do that will cultivate good practice and generate the kind of person you want to be?

They do say we’re a product of our past and whilst I believe our past has a huge impact on us, does it really mean we are stuck with the scars of our past for the rest of our lives? I’ve had a personal experience this last week that has shook me greatly. It’s made me look at myself with a more critical eye than usual – if that can be possible! And whilst I know my flaws and shortcomings, I do know that my heart is in the right place. I try to be the best person I can and deal with the things I say and do that may hurt others – whether with my kids (which I have to repair all the time) or with other adults – which is a bit harder to repair at times.

Also Christmas is just around the corner and generosity is something I always think about when Christmas is here. My Dad was always a generous person – it was something we grew up with – that habit of seeing the need others have and meeting that need wherever we could. Now as an adult and parent myself I want to instil that into our children. But what does it mean to be generous? Is it just about money? Of course there are many ways we can be generous to others – our time, energy, making allowances for where they’re at, thoughts and prayers in difficult times, practical help when needed, and most of all forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a huge thing.  Holding onto bitterness and hurt from the past, whether years ago or last week, affects us in many ways and holds us back from really experiencing life. There are times in my past where things have happened that were very hard to forgive – it is NOT easy and forgiveness does not mean that we are ok with whatever that person did to us. It does mean however that you can accept what has happened, take responsibility for your part if needed, let go of the pain and move on. I have to say being a Christian has helped me with this, as without God I know being able to let go is near impossible – BUT it can be done.

“Holding on to anger and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” – Unknown

So this Christmas time think about those traits you would like to practice more of this year – that may be generosity, it may be patience, kindness, contentment. Whatever it is let go of the things that hold you back – resentment, anger, unforgiveness and move on. Be generous this Christmas time and you may be surprised at what an impact it has on your life too!

 

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Christmas Tree copy

Peace on earth. goodwill to men….I’ve been listening to a brilliant song this week ‘I heard the bells on Christmas day’ – with a great chorus – “Peace on Earth”. I’ve included a link to this song as I hope it will give you the same feelings of hope it gave me.

Every year I have a one word goal or intention for the year. Last year is was ‘belief’ but for this year it was ‘PEACE’. I’ve found it much easier than setting 20 resolutions or goals that I never keep and feel guilty about not keeping. With one word it’s easy to remember and amazing what happens when you do this.

I was driving to work this morning listening to Peace on Earth and the thought struck me that my one word intention of PEACE has been the main focus of this year – without me really noticing it! It has been a stressful, emotional roller coaster of a year actually, where on the surface little peace has been evident. However when I’ve looked closer I’ve realised that everything I have been learning and struggling through is to do with peace. Here’s what I mean:

Peace for my kids

For those of you who have adopted children you will recognise this – Peace is very rare for them. Ours have struggled with their dysregulated emotions, fears and anxieties, everyday trying to make sense of things they don’t understand. I have learnt an awful lot this year too about my kids through great teachers such as Bryan Post, Peter Littleford (a local child psychologist) and our involvement with CAMHS, to name but a few. All have talked about the great fear and anxiety children who have experienced early trauma feel in their day to day lives. Things that to us would seem tiny and silly can be a great source of stress for them – change in routines, too much excitement, lots of people and noise, overstimulation, incredible rage and anger as well as crippling shame and despair at times.

My aim for our kids is to bring peace in as much as I can, to all of them in whatever way I can – so for us Christmas may be a much toned down affair – where Peace can reign as much as possible, where we can get back to basics of enjoying each others company, being in the beautiful wintery countryside (away from the shops!) and hopefully finding as much peace as possible.

Peace for me

It has also been a stress filled year for me – many changes and emotional processes to work through – the pain of losing my Dad still lingers, the change in relationships, demands and responsibilities weighs heavy sometimes and the constant relentlessness of parenting has taken it’s toll. I’ve tried to set boundaries for myself, be more aware of myself and look after myself more. With that of course has come some conflict and difficulties but I know in the pursuit of PEACE there will be times of courage and stepping up to say this is what I need!

So if you are like me – this Christmas take the time you need to find PEACE, reconnect with whatever it is that gives you PEACE and make sure you live in the moment – fear comes from worrying about the past and the future – the more we can live in the present the more PEACE we will find.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7670CXvPX0

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Children laughing

I absolutely love watching and hearing my kids laugh! Children know how to really laugh. Something happens to us adults after a certain age where we become respectable with our laughter – we smile, make a short sound like “huh” or even a giggle BUT when you see a child really laugh from the bottom of their bellies it’s a different thing. I remember laughing so hard when I was a child that my stomach hurt and no sound was coming out my mouth – in fact I laugh that hard as much as I can now too!

So what’s this got to do with adoption? Well I’ve heard it said before how therapeutic laughter can be. For our children they need to have those moments of feeling like a child again – many had a very short childhood (if at all), they may have been looking after siblings or just having to handle things no child should have to handle. Now the times when they can kick back, laugh and be a child again are essential.

What about you as an adoptive parent? Well again it’s essential to be able to laugh, see the funny side of life and not take ourselves so seriously sometimes. I know parenting in this way can seem heavy at times and the things we think about, read and experience can be heart breaking – all the more reason to be able to see the humour in life to keep ourselves balanced.

In his book A Laughing Place, Christian Hageseth noted that “humor is essential to the enterprise of being a parent. It may be the single best antidote for parent burn-out. Humor plays a central role in parent/child attachment.”

I saw this on the internet recently:

Please read the following: “The opportunity for attaching isnowhere.” Did you read “The opportunity for attaching is no where” or “The opportunity for attaching is now here”? We all saw the same thing but we might have made of it something completely different. You have a choice: you can look at routine situations, particularly those in which your child’s action leads to an embarrassing moment, either as attachment experiences or as its opposite. Whether the experience is an “attaching is now here” opportunity or an “attaching is no where” opportunity is completely up to you.

Laughter is one of those opportunities – the chance to be silly with your children, to be a child again yourself and to connect with them in a way that shows them we understand them. I truly believe this can play a large part in our attachment and our bond together.

The internet is a wonderful source of inspiration – I also found this:

Here’s a letter written by a young adult whom I placed with a single mom. Mom had been so proud when her daughter made it to college. She so much wanted her to succeed good grades that she would get very upset when her daughter’s grades weren’t so good. One day this mom got a letter from her daughter:

Dear Mom:

I am sorry that I have not written, but all my stationary was destroyed when the dorm burned down. I am now out of the hospital and the doctors says that I will be fully recovered soon. I have also moved in with the boy who rescued me, since most of my stuff was destroyed in the fire.

Oh yes, I know that you have always wanted a grandchild, so you will be pleased to know that I am pregnant and you will have one soon. The wedding date is set for the middle of the month and I hope you can make it.

See ya soon.

With Love, Carla

PS. There was no fire, my health is perfectly fine, and I am not pregnant. In fact, I do not even have a boyfriend. However, I did get a D in French and a C in Math and Chemistry. I just wanted to make sure that you keep it all in perspective.

Let’s try and see the funny side this week, laugh with our children and make more connections! Not only will you feel closer but you may also see the benefits to your stress levels as well!

Nicola

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Judgement

Being a parent is really difficult at times. There are so many people who have their opinions and you can be swayed so much by what others think. Being the parent you believe you should be and especially what your children need is SO important but very elusive, kind of like the scarlet pimpernel – you seek it here, you seek it there, you seek it everywhere – but can you find it? – that special ingredient that will enable you to just be yourself?

What is it that makes the way you parent unique and the right way to parent your children? You may be able to write a list right now – compassionate, boundaried, fun, calm, engaging – lots of things that make you and your child the perfect match. And you are! You may feel sometimes that you’re not, that you don’t know how to deal with your children, that everyone else has the answers and not you BUT you are their parent.

Of course I’m not talking here about being blinkered and narrow minded – believing that you have all the answers and that your way is the only way. Of course there are times to ask for help, times to learn from others and change the way you do things if it’s not working.  What I am talking about though is that nagging feeling of guilt when others say how much fruit their kids eat. When you see other families playing joyfully in the park and you struggle to get yours to play together for 5 minutes. That feeling of not matching up, not being good enough for your kids can be debilitating to say the least!

I often wonder also what makes people feel they can pass judgement on how others parent their children?! We all do it to one degree or another and I guess it makes us feel better about our own inadequacies if we can pick on other peoples. We all have different values and beliefs on how children should be brought up – maybe from your own upbringing or in deed opposite to what you experienced, Of course times have changed as well – even in my short 40 years of life things have changed unrecognisably. When I was young you would go out all day with your friends playing in others houses, the street or the nearby woods, only coming back when hungry. Now my kids have to be taken everywhere, closely supervised and entertained.

These ramblings this week come from some struggles in my own life with navigating through the parenting journey I am on. I love my kids and want to do the best for them and I am realising that above all I want to help them to grow up guilt free, able to make their own decisions and be in control of their own lives – without feeling pressured by others. My parents were (and still are) wonderful and wise. They knew the things to let me find out for myself and the things to shield me from. I am forever grateful for the freedom and independence they gave me that now means it’s easier for me to take responsibility for my decisons, my failures and my successes.

‘I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed: and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying’. Tom Hopkins

So whatever others feel of my parenting choices and decisions I know I will fail many times and succeed many times – BUT above all I will keep trying to do the things I feel are right for my children. They have experienced so much in their short lives – they deserve to have the best I can give them, and hopefully something of what I experienced from my parents will rub off on them!

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Boy with mother

Having not had birth children myself I can’t say I understand parenting in the sense of how most people have a family. They conceive, have the wonderful (and painful so I’m told) experience of giving birth and then of course going through the normal stages of development with their child. They know their child and the child begins to trust them – through the reinforcement of daily needs being met by their Mum, Dad or primary caregiver the child comes to understand that needs do get met and the world is ok.

I’ve heard many times people say to me “all kids are the same”, “all kids go through ……tantrums, difficulty with toileting, food issues, friendship problems etc etc”. I know where those comments are coming from – very often from a place of trying to identify with us as adoptive parents – endeavouring to normalise what we are experiencing – “all parents lose it sometimes and don’t know what to do for the best with their children” – whilst I’m sure this is true, adoptive parenting IS different.  It’s not better or worse, harder or easier – it’s just different.

Even if I hadn’t read lots of books, spoken to lots of other adopters and spent time with therapists understanding the impact of early trauma on children – I instinctively feel that what they have experienced changes them forever! Children who’ve experienced abuse, neglect, insecurity of lots of moves, initial separation from their birth Mother and Father – have scars and wounds that make them different. I know we don’t like to consider this as humans, we like to believe we are all the same, all have the same chances in life, opportunities, challenges, obstacles BUT we don’t.

Some of us had the amazing privilege of a good childhood with solid parents and a relatively pain free upbringing. Of course it’s all relative – we all feel our own pain and I’m not down playing the effect life can have on any of us. What I am saying is that if you imagine being a child who lives in constant fear, chaos, unpredictability, confusion and can not process any of that – too young to understand and rationalise your experiences, with no-one to comfort you or make sense of it – what impact would that have? How long would it take to ‘normalise’ your feelings? How different might your perspective be to the next child who has not experienced any of that?

And what of us as adoptive parents? Well hearing people trying to ‘normalise’ my experience as an adoptive mother is very difficult to hear. I’m sure actually all Mothers feel that others don’t really understand – how could they? All our situations are unique. BUT when you find people who do seem to understand it’s amazing! I have a few people like that in my life who I don’t really need to explain things to – I can just ring and say I’m really struggling today – they don’t tell me “all kids do that”, they listen, empathise and tell me I’m doing a good job.

I read an article recently about peer pressure – it’s seen as a negative thing but the article was talking about the positive side of peer pressure – peer support. Finding those who understand and who can be there for you is essential. I found a few good resources lately that I’d like to share and hopefully they will help you. Also don’t forget that your friends who you feel don’t really understand, they are trying to most of the time – but how could they really understand? Being an adoptive parent is a different and a unique experience, so is birth parenting – let’s try to remember that and support each other as much as we can – whether birth parents or adoptive parents.

Check out Bryan Post he is a brilliant man from America – many years of experience as a social worker and therapist for children who’ve experienced early trauma. Also, and more importantly, he was adopted himself and is now an adoptive parent. He has lots of free resources as well as a monthly membership to his inner circle where you receive lots of great content to help understand your children and build your own support system.

The other resource is a website called Adoption Voices – it’s a forum, social media site, network of people involved in adoption and provides a great place to read other blogs and connect with other adopters.

I hope these resources prove helpful for you too – let me know if they do and please comment or pass onto others who may benefit from this blog.

 

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Summer flowers

 

I’ve heard it said many times that those children who have experienced early trauma in some way tend to find the relationship with the ‘Mum’ figure the most challenging.  Due to the strong bond with our biological Mothers we, as humans, feel the impact of that separation greatly.  Of course separation from any parent is devastating and that impact is all the more if there has also been neglect, abuse and trauma associated with it.

Why do I mention all this now?  Well we’re two weeks into our summer holidays in our home and I am finding it particularly tough this year.  This will be our fourth summer together – the first was a case of survival, I felt quite proud that we got through the summer relatively unscathed (apart form a trip to A&E with one broken arm from a trampoline incident!).  The second year I felt more prepared and organised and it went more smoothly.  Last years again was ok – I don’t remember much about it so I’m assuming it was fine.  This year however is taking it’s toll already.

Why you may ask?  Well I’m beginning to see the point about how children like ours play out their anger and frustration on the Mother figure.  They are different with the Father figure and with other family members and friends.  The expectations they have on me (and probably I put on myself too) are greater.  The need for me to be present, be what they want, be able to show them the world can be safe, is apparent every day.

Maybe as they’ve been with us for more than 3 years now they are eventually letting their guard down enough to really let their anger out with us, maybe the feelings of stability are setting in a bit?  I don’t know and that’s the challenge isn’t it – we don’t know a lot of the time what is going on inside them – and of course neither do they!

So why am I sharing this here?  Well I guess I just wanted others to know out there, who may also be feeling battered and bruised by the relentless journey of adoptive mothering, that they are not alone.  At times most of us feel the struggle of trying to be a parent for the present as well as the past and the future for our children.  I have to remind myself constantly that their anger is not necessarily about me – it’s more likely about the injustice and unfairness they feel about their past before they even knew me.

How can we help them deal with this?  We can of course acknowledge their pain.  We can validate their feelings as much as we can.  We can help them with strategies of how to integrate their experiences, and we can go easy on ourselves when we get it wrong.  There are many times when I reach the end of the day and wonder how much forward we have moved today – or in fact have we gone back 20 paces?  Either way over time we are moving in the right direction.

I will endeavour to take each day at a time during this summer – that was my aim originally – not to think of the whole 6 weeks but a day at a time.  Yesterday was a bad day, today was a fairly good day, tomorrow we will see!  After all the present is all we have real control of.  How we respond in the moment to those expressions of anger and frustration from our children.  Each moment is a chance to do it better.  But again remember if in that moment you didn’t handle it well – then there’s always the next one!

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Baby and mother

As an adoptive mother I’ve struggled for years with the feelings of loss that come from not being able to give birth to children.  Today though I started to re-think my feelings on this whole subject.  Unlike people who experience the devastating tragedy of losing a child to death, or having a miscarriage – when you go through infertility – how different is the loss you feel?  For some adopters they can say without a shadow of doubt that they felt, and still feel, the grief and loss of not having a birth child – even though their adopted child has all their love and attention – the inexplicable feelings of loss are still there and are difficult to understand at times.

In some ways we all experience loss in different areas of our lives.  Those when we have physically lost something we had – like a job, a relationship, an opportunity to develop something in our lives, and other losses are more about the expectations we had of something that has not come about – the potential of something not realised.  Is it more painful to have something and then lose it, or to never have experienced something we desperately want to?

Of course loss is not a rational emotion.  There are many times when I still feel the pang of jealousy and loss when a friend tells me excitedly of their pregnancy, or when someone talks of the joys of babyhood. Even though I was never really desperate for a baby – I wanted a family – those feelings still creep up on me.  Maybe it is the fact that it’s something out of my control, or that there is a deep sense of loss that will always be there.

But what of the gains of adoption?  Whilst I may never know the highs and lows of babyhood, I know too well the pains and joys of the adoption journey.  There may be times when I can’t honesty say our kids have our genes, but there are many times I can see our traits in them.  Whilst we may never be able to pass on our family line, my kids will have all we can give them – now and in the future.  There may be losses that we will never be able to heal from, but the gains outnumber them in so many ways.  I can’t fully understand the loss we feel and may feel in the future, but I can certainly notice and appreciate the gains we have right now.

Maybe for you today – wherever you are on the loss journey – whether you are acutely aware of your loss, it’s hovering under the surface, or well hidden even from you – you can acknowledge the gains – name them if you can and hopefully they can help in negating the loss you may feel.

 

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Child begging

 

I used to love Oliver Twist and so do my kids!  They especially like the part where Oliver bravely approaches his keeper to ask for more of the disgusting gruel they give to the work house children. Food is one of those things that seems to unite adopted children everywhere.  Many times I hear adoptive parents talk about their children’s struggle with their relationship to food. Stories of fussy eating, gorging, hoarding, stealing, anxiety around when food will appear, that inner drive to get food whatever the cost.

I’m sure this topic is a familiar one for all of you involved in the adoption world – recently I’ve started to really think about this whole area more. I’m forever bewildered by the immense hold it has on our children, the depth of anxiety at the core of their being. Whatever their early starts in life we can assume food was inconsistent, lacking at times, or inappropriate to their ages. However for many, even after years of receiving three meals a day, they still have that anxiety deep down inside.

I recently read a book that I’ve mentioned to most people I’ve met as it’s had such an impact on me. ‘The Kid’ an autobiography written by Kevin Lewis speaks of his horrendous start in life. Born into poverty to an abusive father and mother, Kevin struggled all his childhood with the stigma of poverty, the pain and horror of domestic violence to himself and those around him, and the harrowing existence of continuously being hungry. Not the kind of hunger we feel when it’s an hour past our normal meal time, or even the hunger pains of missing a day of food – but the emptiness of constant lack of food – never feeling full. Kevin talks in the book of days when he and his older brother would creep downstairs in the night to steal whatever food they could find in the fridge – cramming it down so as not to be caught.

This has made me consider more the basic needs we have as humans. The need for food, water, shelter, air.  Without these needs being met it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible to concentrate on other things such as making friends or being able to learn at school.  Kevin Lewis also goes on to say that in later life he develops bulimia from gorging on food and them making himself sick. The speed at which he ate food as well was a throw back to those days of being afraid to be caught! Even after many years of being able to eat what he needed and wanted, the hold food had on him was still so strong.

So today I’m asking for comments on this blog – the specific questions are – What can we do to help our children come to terms with food?  What will help them know they will be fed? How can we help them have a healthy relationship with food now and in the future?

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It was three years last week when our children moved in with us. Those three years have been a real roller coaster of emotions but one thing is sure – it takes time to adapt to this adoption journey for all concerned. When I think of our children – how they have moved around and now have been with us longer than anywhere else, but they still show signs of being unsure that they will stay. For our extended families who have taken our children into our family so well. And for us of course – for me I still feel like a new Mum. It’s a very weird experience adoption – to think that I’ve been a Mum for three years but my eldest is 10 years old is very strange! So what of this journey then……how do we adapt to this surreal way of parenting?

Guiltymum

Well for me it takes a lot of noticing – the times when I am aware of the differences between parenting birth children and adopted children. When you are not aware of the differences it can feel very isolating and you can feel like a neurotic parent. There is something different about parenting adopted children – however much you may want it to be the same, and for their lives before you to have not happened – it has.  It takes time and lots of help for children to be able to process what has happened to them in their lives. And for you as an adoptive parent.  It is not the same as giving birth to children. We have taken on a great challenge and opportunity to help children who desperately need help.

Also noticing that this journey of parenting IS surreal. There are many times when I have to laugh at the situations that happen in our home. When our children amaze us again by their ability to adapt and to take on our traits. Sometimes it feels that they do have our genes – but of course they don’t. They do however learn from us – for good and bad! They watch us constantly to see how we handle things, how we adapt and react to things. I guess it must be very confusing as they have had many sets of rules and ways of doing things, that it’s difficult to know what is expected and acceptable here!

Another way to adapt for me has been to make some good connections and friends within the adoption community. We all need lots of support on different levels and as good as family and friends may be sometimes they can not understand the pressures of parenting adopted children. Other adoptive parents do!  It doesn’t take much but it’s great to be able to talk to others and for our kids to meet with other children they can relate to – where we all don’t have to explain or apologise for anything – we can just accept each other and support each other.

The final way to adapt is to realise that this is a journey and that it all takes time to adapt and grow. We can be in a rush to get somewhere and miss the scenery along the way. When I feel that I am losing my mind I just take a step back and consider where I am on this journey, do I need to take a break and re-focus, do I need to just keep going or do I need to take a different direction? Each part of the journey is important and we can learn from every moment.

So three years on and I am beginning to feel like a Mum, I am certainly used to the name now as “Mum, Mum, Muuuum”  I hear many times each day! A sound I am happy to hear some days and other days not so. But here’s to the next three years on this wonderful journey.

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Contemplation small

‘What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us’. Henry David Thoreau.

I heard this quote recently on TV and it raised a question in me – how true is it?  Does what has happened in our past or what will happen in our future not matter?  Or is it just that what happens inside is – how we respond, learn and grow from things matters more?

Many times I find myself consumed with what’s going on inside me on any given day – too much so.  Some people are not great at self-awareness, whilst others maybe miss the glaringly obvious as they are focusing on those tiny things that really don’t matter.
Since we’ve had our children my life has been turned upside down in many ways.  My lifestyle has changed, my friendships have changed, my priorities have changed, everything has changed.  You’re getting the pattern here – CHANGE!

It’s so easy sometimes to try to hang onto the past when those relationships and circumstances have changed.  Maybe we don’t want things to change but they do. We can also look too much to the future – what would it be like if….?  Again that can consume our thoughts and actions.

Not only does this quote apply to us as parents but also our children.  I’ve been reading ‘The Primal Wound: Understanding the adopted child’ the last few days which talks about that scar that adopted children have.  The deep, profound mark left by separation and loss from whatever the circumstances.  It is a harrowing thought but essential to consider.  Our children have a scar from their past that will always be there – the impact of that scar will change I’m sure but it will never disappear.  However, being able to help them come to terms with their lives, the past, future and what is going on inside them is vitally important and part of our job as their adoptive parents.

So as you think about your past, future and how you’ve learnt from those experiences, also remember your children – they need help to process the biggest part of this quote – to be able to make sense of what lives within!

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Mirror

If you had your time all over again what would you have done differently?  We had this topic at our adoption support group last night and it was a really interesting and beneficial night.  It’s got me thinking what a great process it is to take the time and reflect on your adoption journey.  What went well?  What would you advise others to do?  What do you wish you’d have done/not done?

There were many similarities between peoples answers – the main themes seemed to be around taking more time together once you get the children, before you let them out in the world, as it were.  For example some would advise keeping the children out of school for a few weeks when you first have them to spend the time bonding together, take time to introduce extended family members instead of the big party thing and to take as much time as possible to build your relationship together as a small family unit.

All good advice.  So it got me thinking about my journey – what would I do differently?

Well before we had the children, during that long wait, I thought all the power was in the social workers hands.  We waited and waited and waited.  However once we realised that actually we have some power too as adopters, we started to push and find ways to move the process forward – this really helped and without it I think we could still be waiting for children now!

Something else that has surprised me is the amount of time it takes to get used to being a mum.  It’s a very strange process, we have had our children three years now – so it’s like being a mother for three years but our children are 7, 8 and 10.  They have their own little personalities, can talk back and have different needs to a three year old.  But for any of you who have birth children, or have friends who do, the feeling is different – you grow into the role as your baby grows and develops.  Being a mother is a gradual feeling but adopting means you get thrown into it without the time to adjust.  There’s nothing to change in this – but just to realise that is the situation, and that it takes time to feel and act like a mum.

The final thing I reflected on was just how different parenting adopted children is to parenting birth children.  People often ask me “is it what you expected?” and I can’t really answer that as I don’t know what I expected.  Sometimes I’m surprised and disappointed by things, other times I’m amazed at how easy it can be.  I do know though that understanding the issues for adopted children will be my life’s work now.  There are always new things to discover and realise about their challenges in life and I want to be the best parent I can to them.

So what are your reflections?  What would you do differently and what would be your nuggets of wisdom for others on their journey?  Above all I want to say what a brilliant experience adopting is.  My kids are great – I love them and have the greatest compassion for them and their lives.  I only hope we can help them break the cycle they have come from and be the best adults and parents they can be in the future.

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Firy tale

 

Fairy tales are brilliant – I love them…but one of my children was talking about them today and said the well known phrase “they all lived happily ever after”.  It made me think about this journey of adoption we go on and how through all the different and difficult stages there’s always that hope that all will turn out well.  That once we have your children, once they feel more settled, once you get some therapy for them, once schools start to understand them – that life will be grand, a bed of roses, a fairytale ending.  Maybe we believe that from the way society views adoption sometimes.  These children who had a rough start but once they come live with you then everything turns around.  We want to believe that of course, that’s partly why we do it – that we want to try and make things better for these children – and in lots of ways we do.  BUT I guess the niggling question for me is ….will there ever be a happy ending?

When all is said and done fairy tales are not real – you never see the mundane, drudgery of life in fairy tales.  In real life good does not always prevail.  The frog does not turn into a prince and the weak do not always overcome the strong.  Life is messy – there’s no airbrush and animation artists to make things look good.  We are what our children have now – for good and bad – we’re not perfect but hopefully we can show them what love is about.  We can demonstrate the realities of life – how to be content with who you are, how to achieve the things you want in life and how to give to other people in real relationships.  At the end of the day there’s not much more we can do.  We can’t fight their dragons for them.  We can only give them the skills they need to face the battles in their lives and to overcome the beginnings they have had, so that they can make sense of life.

Of course fairy tales have things to teach us too.  If we can see beyond the fantasy we can see the hope and persistent that we and our children need.  The messages in fairy tales, whilst they may be more optimist than we are at times, they do point us to characteristics and skills we can teach our children.

‘Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten’. G.K. Chesterton

So wherever you find yourself on your journey today – whether you’re waiting for the story to begin, whether the characters are all in place but the show is yet to start, remember this …..happy endings are for fairy tales – real life is so much more fulfilling!

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Are you ever confused about what your children want or need?  Sometimes it’s difficult to know as they don’t know themselves and if they do can’t articulate it or communicate in a way we can understand.  I found a cartoon clip recently that sums it up for me – the cat is the kids – they seem to want or need one thing but when it’s offered they then seem to not want it!  And of course the punch line for the cats owner at the end is typical!  Click the picture to watch – enjoy it and find the analogies in your life….at the end of the day like cats maybe it all comes down to food!

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IStock 000001106149XSmall

On holiday last week we were driving down a steep road and I noticed the sign for an ESCAPE LANE – one of those little slip roads you can go down if you lose control on the road.  That phrase and the concept of that escape lane really stuck with me.  Probably partly because we were having a particularly difficult holiday (as you do sometimes) where nothing seemed to please the kids and constant shouting and screaming seemed the order of the day.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to slip into that escape lane, I thought.  Just for a few minutes (well maybe hours!) where you could just escape from everything in your life.  Of course we all do this is lots of ways without calling it an escape lane – waiting for the kids to go to bed or back to school, the sign of relief when someone can look after them for an hour or so, a glass of wine maybe, your regular soap on TV or a completely unrealistic fantasy film.  There are loads of things that help us escape for those few minutes.

So is it good to escape from life?  Is it a necessity to be able to function?  I don’t know.  It certainly feels like it at times.  But how would it be to be able to stay on the road and still find what you need to have that feeling you get from escape.  What is the feeling actually that you get from escape?  Lack of responsibility and pressure, peace and quiet, sense of not having to face anything painful and difficult?

Well for me it’s a combination of all those things.  And I guess I’m now wondering if it’s a good thing and what would it take to be able to face up to the things I want to escape from?

So what do you want to escape from today?  How would it be to face it head on?  What would you gain from doing that?  And what will it take to stay on the road without using that escape lane?

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I will say nothing more this week other than this video and Mums have a great Easter with your kids!

Mum Song

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Trust is a difficult area for adopted children.  Why should they trust adults – we’ve not been a great example to them I’m sure – whether they’ve experienced a neglectful, abusive and/or inconsistent start in life – they have then been moved around adults like old worn old clothes.  This may seem a harsh way to start a blog but sometimes their realities are harsh!

Trust

So what of us as adoptive parents?  How do we fit in the trust dilema?  Well one of my sons helped me see this recently in a strange way I suppose.  Every time he has a bath we get to the point where he has his hair rinsed.  I use a bowl and mix the water from the taps in the sink and then pour over their heads.  Every time for the last 3 years he’s asked to feel the water before I pour it on his head.  This always is a reminder to me that he really doesn’t trust that I will do the best for him!

Then one day he said he wasn’t going to test the water – I nearly fell off my sit!  Wow I thought we are making progress and for that day he didn’t put his hand in the bowl – he just let me pour it on his head.  It was a defining moment for me!

Of course you may be thinking great now I bet he trusts you completely?  Well it’s not that simple I guess – he went straight back the next time to asking to test the water and has continued ever since.  So what’s the message?  Well there is a glimmer of hope – there are moments of connection and trust – you just have to look for them and be aware enough to notice.

So if things are difficult in this whole area at the moment for you – if trust is a dirty word in your house – persevere and look out for the signs – they will be there – maybe more hidden for some but dig around and you may just be surprised!

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There are many times when I ask myself why we took on this immense journey of adoption.  I’m sure there are those moments for you all!  When no matter how much you try to follow the therapeutic parenting route you just lose the plot and realise just how difficult parenting can be at times.  Of course it’s the same for parents with birth children – there are those days when parenting seems like such a crazy choose to make in life!

However, I’ve been considering recently the WHY in what we do with our kids. WHY did we feel the need to have a family in this way?  WHY do I want to make a difference to these children?  WHY does getting out of bed sometimes seem so difficult yet it has to be done….WHY, WHY, WHY?  I heard someone say recently – on a different theme but it’s stayed with me – that we all have big BUTS!!! Shock, horror I know you thought you didn’t BUT there are many times I know what I should be doing for my kids BUT I’m too tired, BUT it’s too difficult, BUT I don’t know what I’m doing, BUT what if they never appreciate it!

You get the picture – if our BUT is bigger than our WHY then we’re in trouble!

I know one of my WHY’s when it comes to our children.  I never thought myself a compassionate person before and I don’t think people would have described me as such BUT since I had our children compassion for them and their lives overwhelms me sometimes.  It keeps me trying to be persistently consistent with them. It drives me to learn more and help others learn more about our children and how we can help them.  In short it’s my WHY.

So my challenge today is to consider your WHY – are your BUTS too big and does the WHY need to be bigger for you?

Whenever I feel that the WHY is shrinking I find a way to connect to that value of compassion that breaks my heart for my kids – that softens any hardness I may feel.  I found a video today that did just that – it broke my heart – it is hard to watch and listen but if you can watch it – see what it stirs in you.  We are all different – your WHY will be different to mine but find it and hold onto it when the BUTS are looming!

Adoption Video

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I’ve heard the phrase positive parenting many times before and thought I understood what it meant. However recently I’ve started to re-think how I feel about this.  Whilst we do need to be positive about our children and in turn make our parenting a positive experience – are their dangers in being too positive?

What do I mean by that question?  Well over the last few weeks I’ve heard of two sad stories around adoption and people I know.  Situations that have led to the children being placed elsewhere and possibly going back to the cycle of destruction they came from.  I know for me, and many others, adoption is about trying to help break the cycles that people find themselves in, due to poor parenting and/or bad choices.  We see it many times – that without something different happening the children will go on to be unable to function well enough with their own children, and so on.

This all feels pretty negative to me – not so positive maybe.  And those stories have stuck with me.  So much so that I worry sometimes how much good we are really doing for our children!  Of course we won’t know that for years to come yet and its the same with birth children – you never know what choices they will make and what life will throw at them in the future.  You just have to do all you can with the knowledge you have and strive to be the best parent you can be.

So back to my original question – are there dangers to being too positive?  Does being positive mean you ignore the signs that things may not be going well?  And if you major on the negative signs does it mean you miss the positive progress thats been made already?  I was on a course this last weekend where we were asked to draw out how our daily lives are, or how they feel, with our children.  It may feel like a roller coaster, a river, a skydive – whatever.

My daily journey made me think of a holiday I took about 20 years ago in Poland. It was a kayaking holiday with friends where we kayaked all day then camped over night.  Not my kind of holiday actually – dirty, smelly, uncomfortable and hard work!  BUT there were moments of simple pleasure, times when the comfort of warm clothes, a hot fire and food were amazing.

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That’s how my daily life feels sometimes with our children – it’s hard work, can be uncomfortable, muscles ache where I’d not known I had muscles before – and then there are those moments in the day of shire joy!  When the simplicity of children having fun, being comforted and needing their parents, is like a hot fire when you’re freezing!

So an interesting question maybe and one I have no answers to yet!  It’s a journey with our children and I hope you will travel on that journey with me…..let me know your thoughts.

 

 

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I sometimes feel like I’m in no mans land in terms of my parenting experience. When you adopt (without having birth children first) it is a weird place to be. You don’t have the stories of pregnancy and childbirth to regale.  You can’t say honesty “ahh she looks so much like her father”.  And if you adopt older children as we did – already school age, you then don’t have the friendships built with other parents through the years of nursery, pre-school and that all important first day of school.

Of course it’s not all negative – some of those sleepless nights and nappy changing stories from my friends I’m quite pleased I missed!  And of course my friends who didn’t struggle with conceiving find it hard to understand the loss surrounding childlessness.  This is something I never would have been able to relate to either.  I knew people who struggled but of course we are never as sensitive to others when we don’t share those experiences ourselves!

So why these ramblings you might ask?  Well I’m always mindful of this no mans land we live in where our children are like other children, but not.  We are like all other parents, but not.  At times it’s not a problem and at other times it is.  Over the few years I’ve been in this no mans land I’ve learnt (and am learning) to enjoy the scenery here.  There are good things here.  New people and now friends I have through our adoption journey that I would’ve never met otherwise, resilience and compassion I have found in myself that I never knew I had and a brilliant purpose of trying to make something good for my children out of something bad.

So wherever you are today – whether you feel the depth of no mans land acutely or not – look around and see the gifts there are here for you, as well as acknowledge the tough places.  It’s much easier to find help and support when you can accept that things aren’t always a bed of roses.  Who knows you may even find a rare gem here in no mans land!

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I’ve heard many times on adoption training that we need to be patient, calm and understanding to our kids – of which I totally agree. However recently this is becoming harder as we’re faced with a screaming child desperate to push us away in whatever way they can!

I found this video awhile ago that made me laugh – especially the younger child who seems to be unaffected by the noise. Click the picture to watch.  You may want your sound turned down!

Screaming Kids

I’m sure this is common to others as well – those with adopted children and of course birth children also. BUT when is it ok for us to scream? Controversial thoughts these may be, but there are times when screaming is a therapeutic act, a release, a sense of freedom and damn the consequences! Of course I can hear all those voices out there saying “you can’t do that, you’ll only make the child worse” and of course I’m not advocating we all scream our heads off when we don’t get our own way or when we want to hurt others, or just whenever we feel like it!

So when is it legitimate to scream and let off steam? We all have coping mechanisms I see it in my friends, adopters and non adopters – some may shut out the noise and disappear in their own existence, others may demand the child complies to their way of thinking, whilst others will be able to stay calm and patient and follow the Dan Hughes method of being playful, curious, loving and accepting.

So what of you? How do you cope with the screaming and constant pushing of buttons? I have to confess this is not my strong area – at times I can be calm and understand where my adorable kids are coming from and feel the compassion they need, at other times I can’t and can feel the buttons being pushed as if I have no control on them!

There are so many ways to respond once the screaming is over. We can either ignore it, wait for a new day to dawn, or we can embrace the ups and downs of our emotions and feel where our child is at. We know they need us to be strong – and that can be hard in itself BUT we can do it – to take on children in this way is a strong, brave thing for which we should be proud. Their screaming calls us to see the hurt child in them and to love them wholly and compassionately. All parenting is challenging – the most difficult job in the world!

AND when YOU need to scream find a safe place to do just that!

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