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.