So Lucky

Today I was talking to my little girl about why she was going to dress up in spotty clothes and take some money to give to Children in Need at school. I told her it was to help children who were not as lucky as she was. She responded by telling me that she wasn’t lucky, and I explained to her that really she is. By this I meant that she has all the clothes, food, toys that she could ever need or want. We talked about the children who didn’t have all those things, and how donating some money would help them.

But, talking about being lucky got me thinking…..I know that some people feel that when children are adopted into loving families who give them everything they need and more are ‘lucky’ Lucky to be ‘saved’, lucky not to be in the situations they were in. Lucky to have a lovely Mummy and Daddy at long last. I want to make it clear that when these children are adopted, although they do have all the love and everything else a child needs, they are not lucky.

Many adopted children have backgrounds that no one would call lucky. Being adopted does not make them lucky, The very reason they are adopted means that there is trauma in their life. Even if they went to their adoptive family at birth, there is still trauma. Trauma can begin in the womb, and even trauma this early can have life long lasting effects. Adoption brings with it much sadness and confusion. Adoption often means losses for all the people involved. Adopted children are not lucky to have to come to terms with some of these in their lives. They are not lucky to have to live with the damaging consequences of others actions. I think that some adoptees are made to feel that they should feel lucky, or grateful for being adopted. From what I’ve observed, it’s when they’re pressured to feel like this but don’t really, when resentment and bitterness creep in. I think it’s really important to acknowledge and accept that some adoptee are not grateful, and do not feel lucky to be adopted.

I think it;s the adoptive parents that are the lucky ones in adoption. Because of adoption they have the chance to be parents, when they may have felt that they would never be one. It gives them a family, a hope, a future. But, I sometimes think that adoptive parents feel the pressure to be lucky all the time. I think that it’s sometimes very hard to feel lucky when its incredibly challenging. They might feel that they didn’t ask for this, but that they should be grateful because they are lucky to have children. The message that is sometimes given might be ‘they signed up for this, so they should get on with it’. I guess during the difficult  times it’s helpful to remember that yes, it is really tough for us parents, but whatever we feel, its probably even more tough for the child. I think it’s helpful to think back about what positives and good things the child brings to our family. To think about the ways in which we are all lucky together.

So, lucky, it’s a complex term in adoption. As an adoptee myself, I think I feel lucky for being adopted. I do know for sure that I am grateful for my adoption. I know I would not have had the love, nurture, opportunities and experiences if I had not been adopted. I don’t know how my little girl will feel about being adopted when she’s older, but I do hope that she she knows that I don’t expect her to be lucky for adoption. I hope she grows up knowing we try our best, and that we love her, I do hope she does understand that she is fact lucky to live a comfortable life, but that at the end of the day we are the lucky ones to have her as our daughter.

What does an OT actually do?

This is a post all about Occupational Therapy (OT), and why I love it! I wrote about it previously (here). Some of this post is the same, so apologies for some repeated content, there is new bits in this one too though, so keep reading! (please)

This week is Occupational Therapy Week, in which we celebrate and promote OT. Promotion is the hot topic this year as the main focus is all about how we’ secure the future of our profession’. In today’s health and social care climate, there is an every decreasing budget and services are having to really fight to continue. We as OTs need to prove why we are a valuable asset to any service. We need to demonstrate why we offer a unique service that is definitely not the same as other professionals. We need to stand up for ourselves to prevent us becoming deskilled and labelled generic workers.

Many people ask me ‘what is OT?’ It’s actually really hard to define as it is such a varied job with many specialties. It is not occupational health, and as my husband likes to think, it’s not just about measuring toilets. It’s essentially about ‘occupation’, not just the work variety, but ‘occupation’ that describes every single part of a person’s being. Anything, from eating, walking, talking (and everything in between) is essentially occupation. It is the tiny things such as flickers of movement in the fingers (which can enable function) to the bigger things such as feeding yourself or getting washed. I was trying to find a proper definition, and really liked this quote from the homepage of the Royal College of OT website ‘Helping people to live, not exist’ I loved it and feel like it sums up my job pretty well. See their website (here) for more details.

I have been an Occupational Therapist for 11 years now, and I think I love it even more now than I did way back then. I think this comes from personal and professional maturity, and from having so much more experience and confidence. I went to uni to study OT straight from school/6th form at 18, so was very young without the valuable life experience that I think is needed for this job. I currently work in acute stroke care which involves assessing and carrying out rehab with people who have just had their strokes. Despite its challenges, it’s an amazing job, and I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to share people’s journey to recovery with them.

I love stroke rehab, it’s fascinating. I am a bit of a geek and love learning about the brain, and what it can do, how it works, and what we can do to aid recovery. I love working with patients and seeing them get better and able to achieve more. We see some people with massive strokes, and it’s such a delight to share their recovery with them. To help someone learn to sit up again, to see some movement regained, and to see them feed themselves again makes all the hard work so so worth it. To help someone express their feelings, to watch them learn to talk again, to see them take their first steps is wonderful. To enable people to make their family a drink, or to do a puzzle with their grandchild is amazing. To be able to advocate and fight for a patient gives a huge sense of achievement. To have worked really hard and see a positive outcome after a tricky case is great. To watch a patient walk out of hospital when they were unconscious when they came in is pretty special. To see them when they come back to visit looking so well reminds us that there is life outside the hospital. We don’t do it for the recognition and thanks, but when we do get it, it lifts the spirits of the tired team members.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself since becoming an OT. I’ve learnt that I am a good leader and teacher. I never thought I would make a good leader, but I don’t think I’m doing a bad job now I’m doing it. I love teaching students and seeing them learn. I love seeing them achieve and enjoy what they’re doing. It was such a pleasure to see the last student we had slowly come out of her shell and increase her confidence. With a bit of nurture and encouragement she did really well and gave some really nice feedback. I also bumped into another student I’d had about years ago, and she told me that she still uses some of the skills she learnt with us now she’s qualified all these years later. It’s lovely to know what a positive impact we had on her. It made me so proud. I am actually quite a shy reserved person, but somehow at work I can speak out and up. I have been able to step way out of my comfort zone, and have felt really good for doing it. I volunteered to be the department resus trainer even though I always got really nervous when I had to attend the training myself. I learned to really enjoy this role and was proud of myself for having the confidence to give it a go.

This year I’m the department audit lead. I was representing my team leader in a meeting and said I might be interested in the role. My manager gave it to me there and then without any discussion, gulp! Now I’ve got my head around what the role entails, I’m actually loving it. It suits my enjoyment of organisation and analysis well. It has challenged my communication and logistical skills, but I’ve got some nice feedback, which has been a massive encouragement. It’s also made me realise that I really do care about the quality of work that we do. It’s been really interesting to really look at how well we are doing what we say we are doing. I am passionate about delivering a quality service that meets the needs of our patients. As I’ve grown in experience I’ve realised that its really hard to balance this with the needs of the service. I’ve also been able to understand a bit more about the challenges of delivering healthcare in the current social and economic climate. I’ve been able to think about how we overcome some of these challenges.

Since becoming an adoptive parent I’ve seen that there are many qualities and skills of an OT that make a good parent, although I’ve also learnt that it’s often much harder to use them at home than at work. I always thought I was quite a calm and patient person, but since my little girl came home I’m not so sure… However, I have been able to use some of my skills at home as well as work. We do quite a bit of DIY art and crafts, and I’m sure some of my OT identity to use everyday things as ‘therapy’ has been in use there. Being a stroke OT, I know a bit about the brain, so I’m fascinated about the affect of (developmental) trauma on a child’s brain development and use. I know that as the brain is the body’s ‘control centre’, any part of daily functioning/being can be affected by brain damage. I know that the pathways in the brain can be to some extent ‘re-wired’, and am really interested to learn more about how this applied to children with development brain damage (such as those with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or other ‘trauma’). A large part of my work involves working people with sensory (sensation, proprioception, visual) impairment, and helping them live with their impairment. I know that many children with ‘trauma” have some level of sensory impairment (may that be underestimulation or overload) I’ve explored sensory impairment more in other posts, (see Interception & Sensory processing for more info)

So, the focus of this week was what can we do to secure the future of the profession. I think we need to continue to be involved in research and leadership at the highest levels. But I strongly believe that we can use the most simplest of occupations/activities to have a huge impact on patient well-being. I think as OTs  we are very good at considering patients’ basic well-being and mental health, and that by addressing poor well-being we’re laying the foundations for positive engagements and participation. If patients engage in therapy because you’re working with them on something thats important to them, they get better quicker, which means they get discharged quicker, everyone wins! (Yes, I know that in reality it’s more complex). We can simply use our time, to listen to talk to problem solve together. We can address barriers to activities such as feeding, using the toilet, personal care. We all know that when we can achieve these activities, we feel so much better in ourselves. We can encourage someone to continue an interest or hobby in hospital which can lift mood and improve mental health. These are occupations in their most basic of forms, but they’re all what we normally take for granted. This week OT’s have been encouraged to make a pledge of how we will champion Occupational Therapy. Mine will be to try to use more well-being activities in my everyday practice. I hope that we never become too busy, or too advanced to forget that at the end of the day, our job is all about ‘Helping people to live, not exist’

National Adoption Week 2018 – It’s complex…

This week is National Adoption Week in the UK, a chance to promote adoption, and encourage people to consider it for them. From having a quick look through my twitter feed today, there is a lot of debate about this, and a lot of conflicting views and opinions. I’ve noticed that the fact it’s National Adoption Week is not always very popular, and have been thinking about why that might be.

I thought id think first about why we might need a National Adoption Week. I guess it’s to raise the profile of adoption, which is probably in itself not a bad thing. I think the more people who are aware of adoption and all that come with it the better it is. The more that services such as education and health are aware of adoption and how it affects all who are involved must be a good thing. Maybe if services are better informed, they’ll be able to provide a more appropriate service to those who need it. Secondly, it’s likely that there will always be adoption, and therefore there will always be a need for adopters. Sadly, society is not going to change enough to mean that all children are going to be safe to stay in their birth families. I know that some people think that adoption should be the last resort, but, for some children it will be their best option. Their best chance of a safe, stable childhood. If the publicity and campaigns attract just a few of the right people, then that must be a good thing.

Some people feel adoption leads to the ties to birth family being severed and so children are denied an identity. In some cases children are left in their birth families or returned to therm with support. These families are given support and second chances, but still do not change enough. I know there is much debate around this, and I’m not going to go into it, nor am I saying that all birth families are not willing to change. What I do know is that multiple moves, neglect, pre birth trauma cause massive trauma, and these children bring this to adoption with them. yes, adoption itself does cause trauma, but I don’t believe it’s the sole cause of some of the difficulties adoptive families experience. I know that some adoptees are very anti-adoption, and some blame their adoptive parents, and in some cases this is valid I’m sure. However, I feel that most modern adoptive parents understand the importance of concepts such as life story work and contact. They are honest and open with their children about their history, and do support their children in working out who they are.

Much of publicity around adoption this week will be very positive, and probably quite simplistic. It will imply that all these children will need is love and a warm, safe home. It often doesn’t touch on the other things they’ll need, and the challenges that might be faced by families. Some adoptive families will see this as unrealistic, and almost as if it fails to acknowledge the realities of modern adoption. I see where they’re coming from, but everyone needs to hear positive stories, they’re what give hope, they’re what keep people going through the tough times.

Saying this, I do hope that the agencies then make it priority to teach and inform prospective adopters about what they are likely to experience. I hope adopters learn about trauma, attachment and many other aspects of adoption. I would recommend that they read all the books, but so importantly they need to read and observe real life experiences. Blogs and twitter have been great. I think they’ll be so much better prepared as they’ll expect some behaviours and might even know how to manage them. I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for any type of parenting, but I do recommend that any prospective or new adopters learn about therapeutic parenting. We didn’t know a lot, have learnt as we’ve gone along, but it has made such a difference. A lot of adoption agencies will have an ‘experienced adopter’ come to talk at prep groups. Most of the time it will be adopters who have minimal difficulties who have had smooth time. But I think that it might be helpful for adoptive parents who have experienced difficulties to have a chance to share their story as well. Of course there has to be a balance, but I think most adopters would look back and say that they would rather they know what to expect than not. I hope that there is more teaching around other issues that might be experienced, such as sensory  and education difficulties.

A popular phrase that comes with national Adoption Week is #SupportAdoption. Yes, I think this is really important, but the vital word is support. I think that all parties in adoption need support. For birth families, for professionals, for adoptive families. I’ve heard it said that for some children they could have stayed with birth families if support had been in place from the beginning. Support is needed to prevent the cycles that mean successive generations of children are placed in care. Support is needed to for adoptive families to help them become a family, and then stay a family. Post Adoption Support is very varied, and often families are not helped soon enough which leads to serious difficulties and breakdown. This is why I think #ProvideAdoptionSupport is equally, if not more important. I think professionals need support too. They’re people just like everyone else, and some deal with horrific situations with very little support or thanks themselves.

To conclude, as an adoptee and an adoptive parent I’m very for National Adoption Week. I am glad I was adopted, I could not have had the life, or have achieved what I have without being adopted. I am grateful for the support that has enabled me to become a parent. I love being my little girl’s mum, but it’s not always easy. I am passionate about helping her come to terms with her story, and who she is. I know that adoption will not make her struggles go away. I know that there may be difficulties ahead to come. I get that adoption is not perfect or the solution for all children, and I’m not saying it is. All I’m saying is, sometimes lets stop looking for negatives in everything, and lets celebrate the good!

Interoception

This post will look a bit about interoception. I will explain a bit more about what it actually is, and how/why it is relevant in adoption later, but wanted to explain a bit more about why I wanted to learn more myself.

It all started when I was looking at sensory processing, and learning about how it is relevant to adoption. I wrote about it (here).

I decided I wanted to look into interoception further when someone else on twitter said that they had looked at sensory processing, but wanted to understand it further, to help their children be more in tune with themselves. To learn how to listen to their bodies in order to help them regulate themselves better.

I bought a book from amazon that is specifically all about interoception. It has only just been published this year, so is full of up to date research and concepts. It is written by an OT, so being an OT as well, I was immediately drawn to her work. From reading the book, Cara has also considered interoception in it’s relation to trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which is very relevant to adoption. The book is a great read, and I really do feel like I understand interoception more now. It is quite technical and includes a lot of science. I do think this is relevant and helpful, and being an OT with some understanding of basic anatomy and neurology, I could follow most of it. The book also includes lots of helpful practical activities and exercises to try at home. The link to the book is (here).

What is interoception?

Interoception is all about the sensory system. It includes the sensory receptors in the skin and body, as well as raw processors and responses that are formed by the brain. Interception also acknowledges that responses depend on our past experiences, so it takes into account previous learning. It is essential our survival mechanism, without it we would not have the correct responses needed to survive. (e.g. temperature regulation, hunger sensations). Interoception relies on receptors inside our body which detect chemical changes. Eg, pressure receptors in the bladder tell us when it is full. This then sends a signal to the brain. The higher level brain function allows us to problem solve and we can decide that we can wait to find a toilet to empty the bladder. As children grow and learn, their responses become less reflex, and more learnt functional behaviours. When their reflexes do not develop along the normal routes, it results in incomplete sensory regulation. The child grows up not very well connected to their world. They do not learn to think about their actions, or the consequences of them. Sensory development is one earliest systems to develop. A strong sensory base is needed to achieve higher brain skills such as language, co-ordination.

Interoception is about how we as individuals feel, it’s about what makes us, us. It includes concepts such as hungry, thirsty, hot, cold, excited, anxious so feelings are important, and are linked. for it to work we need to have an awareness of how we feel inside ourselves as well as an awareness of emotion. Interoception is a skill that can be improved because practicing a skill builds and strengthens nerve pathways and connections. If we are aware of our body, we develop a sense of self. 

Interoception is partly managed by a part of the brain called the insular cortex, which is deep inside the brain. The insular has connections to the amygdala and hippocampus of the limbic system. This is the system that is responsible for making new memories. It also helps us to react emotionally to the environment around us and maintain a level of alertness. This is where we see that emotions and feelings are linked to interoception.

How does stress affect interoception?

Learning takes place when the amygdala (responds to emotions), the hippocampus (moves experiences to long term memory) and the cerebral cortex (where the information is stored) work together and interact. In an optimal learning environment the learner is relaxed and in a settled environment. This means the amygdala is relaxed, and will allow the hippocampus to to send information to the cerebral cortex. This is where the information is stored and ready for later retrieval. However, when the learner is stressed, it awakens the amygdala, which then blocks the access to the hippocampus. In addition, cortisol (stress hormone) is released and stops the hippocampus woking properly. New information can not be transferred across for long term storage. In terms of learning, stress inhibits learning because new information is never able to make it to the cerebral cortex, and therefore can’t be stored for further reference.

Cortisol (the stress hormone) as well as adrenaline then set off the fight or flight response. This the body’s physiological response to a real or perceived threat or dangerous/stressful situation. It will cause physiological responses such as heart racing, faster breathing and a burst of energy to literally ‘fight the danger or take flight’. Alternatively, they may also freeze and not be able to do anything at all.

When people are exposed to prolonged periods of stress ( such as childhood developmental trauma), their body has very little chance to relax and recover and is in a prolonged state of high alert.. The body quickly learns to accept the stress, and learns to live with it. Chronic stress will harm both the body and brain, as well as the links and connections between the two.

When someone is stressed, learning cannot take place. so we do not try to teach new skills whilst they are in this state. They need to have totally calmed down in order to attempt to successfully learn.

How is interoception linked to feelings/emotion?:

This was an area I found interesting, because feelings is something we can discuss and teach to our children. We can help them recognise feelings, and teach them how to respond to them.

Interoceptive awareness is developed in the insular cortex, which is the same area that controls emotional awareness and subjective feelings. The physiological condition of our body may affect our emotional and perceptions, and they can equally affect our physiological condition. When someone is more aware of their internal body processes, they may well have a better positive body image. We use our past experiences when evaluating new ones. Part of this learning will have included our feelings and emotions about an experience. When we have good emotional awareness we can adapt and react quickly, however, when we struggle to identify those feelings and emotions, we find it harder to adapt quickly. This can be demonstrated in rigid black and white thinking. When we feel more in control of our emotions and well-being we feel better equipped to adapt when we need to. If we experience a new experience similar to a previous one, we can access the long term memory store, we remember how we felt, and we can quickly respond. When we are stressed, we can’t access that memory, and we can’t store this new information for another time. We don’t learn or remember feelings.

How do we improve interoception?

There are several ways in which we can improve our interoception, however, developing it is a lengthy process that will require lots of work and practice. It is not an instant skill we can learn. It is important to begin at the level the child is at, this may mean teaching them the basics such as body parts, feelings and emotions before putting this awareness and knowledge together, We want them to be successful, and definitely don’t want to set them up to fail. A successful experience builds confidence, which is vital.

1) Naming Body Parts: The book suggests that we begin with simply naming body parts (e.g. heart, lungs etc). It suggests that you make it fun, and give the body parts a personality (e.g. ‘Billy Bone’) It gives a simple age/developmental level appropriate explanation of the job that body part does. It suggests feeling where appropriate (e.g. elbow), or looking/listening to what that part does (e.g. for the lungs, deep breath in and watching the chest expand, or for the heart, listening for lub dub beat if you have a stehescope handy). If it helps you can use pictures, or small models of body parts to give a visual aid. By naming and learning about body parts, it helps the child be more aware of what they have, what they do and starts to encourage them to be in tune with their bodies.

2) Body Scanning; Once you have body parts sorted, the book suggests having a go at body scanning. These are useful to help the child visualise what & where things are happening, and it can eventually help them link feelings and emotions to different parts go their body. By drawing round their own body, it becomes very personal to them. Everyone will have a different body scan. Alternatives you could just draw a generic body for a scaled down version. 

3) Emotional awareness/feelings: this is where you can use the body scan you’ve already done to start to think about and identify feelings and emotions. Encourage the child to identify common feelings and emotions that impact the body (e.g. worry, happiness, excited, needing the loo, tired, pain, hot, weak, relaxed). The list is endless, and can include anything we feel really. It helps us begin to link body signals to our emotions, which then mean we understand what or why we are feeling things.Discuss where/on your body you feel each emotion. If possible it can be helpful to discuss with the child how they feel when they mention emotions, feelings and physical symptoms in everyday life. For example, if they feel anxious you could ask if they feel like they’re hot, heart racing, sweaty palms, funny feeling in their tummy.

3) Listening to your body: this follows on from the body scanning and emotional awareness. It helps us to start to listen more closely to our body signals. Once we listen, we can then learn how to respond. It can be helpful to ask the child some questions about specific aspects. For example, positional questions such as does your body feel comfortable sitting? does your body feel tired? what sort of seating do you prefer to relax? Think about sensory questions such as do your eyes feel tired/itchy/watery? Does your mouth feel wet/dry? Do you feel like you need to loo? What do you hear? Do the sound make you feel happy/sad? How do your clothes feel, soft/itchy?. Then it asks you to question how your organs feel. Can you feel Lub Dub beating? is it fast/slow? Is your stomach making a noise?

Sometimes it can be helpful to do some activities that make the body feel different so that the child can clearly experience how sensations change. For example, suggest jumping/bouncing up and down and comparing before and after. Or drinking a cold drink. Or laying under a weighted blanket.

By teaching children how to be aware of their bodies and how they react to stimuli, they slowly learn and build new pathways in the brain. This creates a response, and because they are learning, it can prevent the fight or flight response. They learn the perceived threat is not actually a threat at all, and they can deal with it calmly.

4) Mindfullness: This is being aware of the present moment. Being mindful helps us focus on the current body sensations, feelings and emotions as we feel them. It also helps us to appreciate the world around us, and take in the sights, smells, sounds. Relaxation can help practice mindfulness, ask the child to lay down (when calm), and close their eyes. They ask them to gradually relax and tense muscles, and to really take in how they feel . Ask them if they feel ‘heavy/calm/cool/floating etc’

5) Breathing exercises: Many of the functions of the autonomic nervous system eg heartbeat, perspiration are automatic, and we don’t have a lot of conscious control. However, breathing is one subsystem that we can change with conscious effort. The book suggests several breathing exercises that all encourage us to be aware of our breathing. if we are more aware of it we can do something about it. When stressed we tend to develop shallow breathing, with means that less oxygen is getting to the brain. The brain needs to be well oxygenated to work effectively. We need to learn to breathe out as much as we breathe in because breathing out will activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This counteracts the stress response that is activated when we breathe in. A helpful way to visualise effective breathing is to do rectangle breathing. Look at a rectangle, breathe in through your nose as you follow the first vertical line up. When you reach the corner, breathe out through your moth as you follow the line horizontally. The idea is that the out breath is longer than the in breath. repeat for the other two sides of the rectangle. With practice you will not need to be looking at a rectangle as you can learn to visualise it, and therefore do this activity anywhere, anytime.

Hyperventilation occurs when we breathe too quickly, and we breathe out too much carbon dioxide before more is produced. When we hyperventilate, the blood vessels constrict, and blood (and oxygen) flow to the brain is reduced.

6) sensory diets: This is recommended to improve sensory awareness and regulation. The idea is that you complete a sensory activity every couple of hours. This is useful if you are inactive or sit for long periods, or for children at school. It will provide consistent sensory input to the body. It is recommended that it includes heavy work such as lifting, pushing, carrying heavy items so that the gross muscles are worked, and the body generally feels grounded. Other activities can include jumping/bouncing/swinging/eating crunchy foods. Fidget items and restrict exercise bands are helpful as they can be used whilst sitting (e.g. in class), and provide constant sensory feedback.

If you are concerned about sensory processing, and feel that the difficulties are bigger than low level ones, then I would recommend getting a professional OT assessment and treatment plan. Otherwise, much of the activities suggest here and in the book should be fine to have a go at with your child. Hopefully they might just help them feel a little more in tune with themselves, which should help them feel more in control and content.

 

 

 

 

Two Years

This week will mark the second year anniversary of when our daughter came home. As I’ve written about before, we celebrate Homecoming Day’s in our family, so this is her 2nd Homecoming Day. There are so many adoption milestones to celebrate in adoption (panels, meeting each other for the first time, coming home), but because a Homecoming Day is familiar to us, and because when she came home for the first time, our daughter then never left, we decided to go for this one to be the main celebration. The date also happens to be the same date as our wedding anniversary, so we can celebrate two family ‘birthdays’ in one. It’s a very special date, the day we became 2, and 4 years later we became 3….. (see One Whole Year & Happy Homecoming Day for more about Homecoming Days)

I’ve been thinking about how we’ve all changed, and about how much we as parents have learnt in this time. We may not be quite the parents we imagined or pictured ourselves to be, but I think we’ve all done well to come out of the early days/years still standing strong. Below are some of the biggest areas I’ve been reflecting on. I’ve written about most of these before, so i’ve added links to previous blog posts if you want to read more.

1)  don’t expect to be perfect: In the very early days I think I thought I needed to always be perfect. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the perfect Mum, and of course I’d predictably slip up. I then felt like I’d failed, and it really knocked my self-esteem and confidence. I slowly learnt that it’s ok to be ‘good enough’, and no parent is perfect all the time. We’re human, and humans make mistakes. It’s good for children to see that parents don’t always get it right, but they always say sorry and make up. I’ve learnt that reconnection and repair as vitally important, and it’s helpful to model normal, natural relationships in families. Once I’d accepted I wasn’t perfect I was able to relax a little bit, and enjoy being a Mum.                                                                   (see more at: Pressure, )

2) You don’t have to love each other straight away: I think this is a really important one, and one that needs to be said more often. I think I did love her straight away (I mean who couldn’t?…), but it took several months for that love to really grow into what it is now. True love did come, but it wasn’t always easy at first. I don’t think she loved us straight away, she had just been taken away from everything she knew to live with two strangers so of course she didn’t. She called us Mummy & Daddy from the start, but I’m not sure she really knew what that meant. It was lovely seeing that love between us grow, and when she really meant Mummy & Daddy, and knew us as her’s, that’s when I knew she loved us too. Sometimes when it’s tough, and her behaviour is somewhat challenging, we tell that we might not like the behaviour, but we always always love her. I do try to see behind the behaviour, and assume that there is a reason behind it, and try to tackle that instead.                            (see more at: Love)

3) Believe in yourselves: I think sometimes I doubted if I was doing the right thing, or parenting in the right way, particulalry when others would comment or question why were or not doing specific things. I soon learnt that it’s ok to stick up for ourselves, we know our daughter and our family best, and we know whats best for us all. If we choose to do some things differently to others, there is normally a good reason why. We encourage her to play with toys that are aimed at a younger age, and we sometimes parent her at a much younger age (e.g. she sometimes has bottles and dummies). We still sing nursery rhymes each night and rock her. We normally dress her in the morning and at night. It almost seems wrong to ‘baby’ her, but if it gives her the nurture that she may have missed out on, and allows her to accept help and care, then this will hopefully help to fill in possible missed developmental gaps. This will hopefully set her up well to deal with the challenges that will come ahead. Getting that balance right for a very tall, very bright four year old can be tricky, but so far I think we’re doing ok                                       (see more at Balancing Act)

4) Continue to learn: I think parenting is a bit like learning to drive, you can train, practice and learn all you like, but once you’ve passed the test and can actually drive, you’re on a very steep learning curve of high intensity new learning. When our daughter came home, we’d read (some) of the books, attended extra training felt like we were ready. I don’t think we were remotely prepared for the reality of parenting a little person, who was also hurting and grieving. I think I was also grieving my old life to some extent.

However, I think since she’s been home I’ve learnt so much more. I’ve learnt about me. I’ve been surprised in some ways. I thought I was patient and I’ve learnt that I’m really not. I’ve also leant that I am quite creative, and have loved making some arty projects with my daughter.

I’ve also learnt more about adoption and some of the subjects surrounding it. I’d heard about therapeutic parenting before, but it makes so much more sense when you have a child to use it with. One of the things that has had the most impact and positive effect was learning that it’s ok to let some things go in parenting. It’s similar to picking your battles. It’s really helped me to relax a little bit, and enjoy parenting more. I’ve learnt more about sensory processing, and have successfully implemented some strategies which I think have helped. I’ve loved reading others blogs and experiences of adoption. I’ve used lots of their advice and experience to help me become a better parent. I’ve learnt about other adoptee’s experiences and views. I’ve tried to use these as preparation for parenting our daughter as she grows up. It’s not always been easy to hear what other adoptees have to say, but it’s opened my eyes to how she may well feel when she’s older.                                                                                              (see more at VoicesSensory Processing, &  Let it Go!)

5) Surround yourselves with support: Before you adopt they say that you need to have a good support network to help you raise your children. It made sense in theory, but I’ve since learnt that is is so important in practice. Our support network has changed and grown in the last couple of years. I’m really grateful for friends that ‘get’ adoption, but also for those who have nothing to do with it. I’ve learnt that its ok to use those who support us to help us, it’s ok to let them look after our daughter to give us a break. We’re all better people when we have a break. It’s only really in the last year that I really felt connected to new people in our support network. I think the first year was actually quite lonely, so having more ‘support’ has made a massive difference.                        (see more at Our Village)

6) Self Care: Again, this was something I’d heard a lot about before adoption, and it only really made sense afterwards. I have tried to make sure I do things for me. I make sure I keep my mind and body active. I also remind myself that it’s ok to just sit and relax too. It’s been helpful to set goals, and running a 10km (on a very hot day) was a massive achievement because it meant that I could still run. It was something that I’d enjoyed doing before I became a mum.  (see more atWhy I love being an OT &  Favourite Things)

7) Chase, chase, chase: We’ve learnt that if you want or need anything from professionals, then it’s really our responsibility to chase them regularly. They are so stretched that sometimes they need a little prompt to remember to do something they said they would do. We’ve been waiting now nearly a year and a half for some low level post adoption support. I think part of the problem was that we initially didn’t chase enough. We felt that we understood that professionals are busy, so trusted that they would get round to us, eventually. We’ve since learnt that it’s in our daughter’s best interests to get the support she needs and is entitled to. Regular (polite) emails seem to be helping, although it is hard not to get frustrated. I know that in my job if I kept people waiting without any communication as long as we have, that would be unacceptable and I’d be expecting a complaint to come my way. i guess we’re maybe reluctant to complain in case it delays getting what we need….Some professionals have been great, and I did want to acknowledge and thank them. (see more at Thank You)

8) Savour the time when they’re little: Our daughter has just started school, and it’s made me so grateful that we had two full years together before we’ve had to let her go a bit. The first year I was off work on adoption leave, and the second year I was back at work part time. Looking back it wasn’t always easy, especially in the early days, but now I’m so glad that we were lucky enough to have the time together. We were able to really take the time to get to know each other and strengthen our attachment. Husband initially worked from home, so was around the whole time, so we had 6months all at home together, learning how to be a family. Once we were more settled, we were able to get involved in some great local groups and more recently we’ve had some amazing days out. We’ve been able to play, to read, to explore, to learn together. Our daughter has changed so so much in the two years she’s been home, and I’m so glad we’ve been able to spend so much time together. Now she’s at school, I look back and I’m very grateful for what we’ve had.               (See more at Starting School & Starting Nursery)

9) Life Story Work: This is another area that you learn about before adoption, but again, it makes much more sense once you have to do it in real life. It’s always been our aim that it is not a surprise to our daughter that she is adopted. We want her to know from a young age the basics of her story, and to build on it as she gets older. We have been able to have some very informal discussions as and when she brings it up. we’ve talked quite a bit about her birth and foster families, so she knows why she couldn’t live with them long term. She’s started asking more questions now, so it may the right time to get her involved in letterbox contact. We have shared the Life Story Book, but she hasn’t asked to look at it again. so we’ve not pushed it. She has photos of both her birth and foster families, so they are always there to prompt discussion is she chooses. We talk about why we went to see the judge, and also about the significance of her homecoming day. I think that as she becomes more aware in the next couple of years, we’re going to need to do more work around this, and probably have some more support too. We have made an effort to keep in touch with the foster family and have had a couple of successful meet-ups. We’ve also had very positive meet-ups with a member of her birth family.     (see more at HelloGive me back to MummyLife StoryLife Story. Pt 2Family Meet Up, Take Two)

 

 

 

Starting School

Dear Darling,

Tomorrow it’s the big day, and you start school. We’ve been counting down to school for what seems like forever, and it’s finally here, I can’t quite believe it.

So, you’ve finished your year at nursery, and have had such a good year. I’m so proud of how you’ve got on. You settled in easily, and quickly made friends with the other children. I loved hearing about the day you’d had, and especially hearing you singing the songs you’d learnt. I don;t think I’ll ever forget the current bun song ’round and round with a cherry on top’ As usual food has been a highlight of yours, and I don’t think there was anything you didn’t eat. I was however very proud when your report mentioned that you no longer needed to eat seconds at lunch and all the snacks. I think this just shows how comfortable and settled you became, and how much you’ve grown and progressed these last few months. Your pictures, paintings and drawings have been amazing, and I’ve loved seeing your skills and imagination grow over the year. I’ve saved a few for your memory box to look back on when you’re older. Your nursery photo was such a good capture of your personality. We don’t share identifiable photos of you online, but these photos made me really sad we can’t, because you’re gorgeous and I want to show you off.

You’ve learnt to start to read and write, and it’s been amazing seeing you learn new skills. To see a whole new world opening up in front of you. I love that you love reading and writing, and I’m so excited to see you earn more. We’ll always have books for you to read, I hope you’ll forever enjoy reading.

Of course there have been a few memorable events, including ‘the big nursery escape’ Funny now we look back on it, but not so much at the time. Trust you to be the one child to outsmart the teachers…Also the hairbrush bristle in the ear incident. That ended in a trip to A&E, oops.

Thank you for putting up with me rushing you out the house in the morning, and hurrying you up the hill. But we made it through the year, and Mummy was never late for work, so the threat of “Emma (Mummy’s Boss) will be cross” must have worked, haha. I’ll miss the early morning sunshiny songs we sang, especially ‘you are my sunshine’, and your own ‘we’re walking in the sunshine’ you’ll always be my sunshine my sweetheart.

I’ve loved the day’s off that we’ve had together. I’m so so glad I opted to work part time. We’ve been up to all sorts, and It’s been great taking you to new activities and make new friends. You did so well ay gymnastics. It was lovely to see your strength and confidence grow over the year. Our Wednesday groups have been so beneficial to both of us. To finally feel like we belong somewhere and to get to know some lovely people a bit more. We’ve had the best summer. You’re such a sunshiny girl, so we’ve enjoyed some great days out in the sun. I’m so glad we got to experience some of the things we did, and I’ proud of us both for trying new things. I’m really going to miss our days off together, and particularly our lazier midweek mornings. I’m not sure how we’re going to get up early every weekday, but we will and it’ll soon become our new normal.

But, I think my favourite memory of the year at nursery has to be picking you up each day, and hearing you excitedly shout ‘Mummy!” with a huge big smile. I don’t think I ever saw any other children be quite so happy to see their Mummy. It made me equally as happy, and immensely proud of what we’ve made of us.

I’m so grateful that we’ve had these two years together. Although it’s not always been easy, it’s been so precious. I do wish we didn’t have to move on, that I didn’t have to share you quite so much. But, my darling, you need to grow your wings a little more, and you will fly. When you came home nearly two years ago, school seemed like a lifetime away, but there’s no denying it, it’s here now. You’re so ready, and you’re going to love it. You’re going to make some great friends, and all you need to remember to do is smile, and the other children will want to be your friend. I know it’s going to feel a bit strange at first, and it might be a bit scary, but thats ok, it’s normal. I’m pretty sure a lot of the other children will be feeling the same as you. You’ll always have Mummy or Daddy dropping you off and picking you up. School actually finishes a bit earlier than nursery did, so we’ll have more time together in the afternoon, which is great!. You’ll soon settle down, and get the hang of school, and then I think you’ll be just fine.

So, all the best my sweetheart, have the best time, and remember, although you’re our big grown up school girl, you’ll still be our little girl, our baby, always…

Love,

Mummy x

Happy Homecoming Day – To Me!

Today is my Homecoming Day, number 31. It’s the day we celebrate that on this day 31years ago, my mum and dad brought me home for good. The day I became their daughter.  It’s a day we mark and celebrate privately as a family, and when we were little it normally included a card, cake and often a small present. Now it’s usually an extra special text or hug. Although we don’t physically celebrate any more, it’s a date thats always stood out in my mind. A chance to stop and reflect, and above all to be thankful.

As an adopted person, and now an adoptive parent, I am very keen to listen to other adoptees. To hear their stories, to understand their thoughts and feelings. I hope it will make me a better parent for my little girl. I hope it will help me to support her as she grows up and starts to explore her own story. I have come to see that people’s adoption experiences are hugely different. I have heard some positive, but more often than not a lot of negative. Now, I don’t want to dismiss those seemingly ‘negative’, because they are those people’s stories, and their thoughts and feelings are very valid. We should listen, and we should learn so that others don’t have to experience and feel the same.

I also want to highlight that there are some ‘successes’, some ‘positive’, and I want to encourage everyone that adoption can be a hugely positive and worthwhile. I don’t really know how you would/should define ‘success’ in adoption. I guess it’s very subjective, as one person’s success could probably be seen by another person as their failure. I would say that my adoption has been an overwhelming success. I admit that this massively influences my view of adoption. I know that my adoption is very very different to most of the children adopted in the UK today, so it’s not fair to compare really, but I do see adoption as a positive option for some children. Adoption can give them the opportunities and permanence that not being adopted would never give them.

I want to show others that adopted people can and do turn out to be happy, well adjusted people. They are capable of having and sustaining meaningful relationships, and they can achieve just as much as the next person can. I know that saying ‘all children do that’ is really not helpful to say to adoptive parents, but I want to say to them, yes, really, all children do do that (of course we need to consider why they’re doing that, and the frequency/intensity for some behaviours). What I’m trying to say is that adoptees can and will behave like other children too. They will push our buttons, they will wind us up, but they will be equally lovely and charming too, just like other children.

I want to say to those considering adoption, and those being assessed, there are positive stories out there. Do read around, but don’t feel too disheartened. Do be prepared, and do try to understand the realities of modern day adoption, but remember as with everything, there is balance. To adoptive parents, don’t give up hope, be encouraged that there are and can be positive outcomes in adoption, so keep going, hang in there. Your hard work and perseverance now will be having an impact. You may not see it, or feel it, but maybe one day that child will be able to look back and see that you tried as hard as you possibly could. To professionals working with adoptive families, please please do try to provide the help that is so often needed. Parents will always try to do what they can, but sometimes they need a bit of help. As someone told me, the struggles they are having are not their fault, and it’s not that they’re bad parents, but they’re parenting traumatised children. It’s also not the child’s fault. These children are not ‘naughty children, and they come to adoption with the ‘damage’ already done, and sometimes only professional help will ease the difficulties. It could help the child develop their own sense of self and identity. It could help them be able to express themselves and come to terms with their experiences.

So today, we’re celebrating adoption. We’re celebrating the journey we’ve all been on, and celebrating the positive impact it’s had on all our lives. Today I’m grateful to be adopted, and thankful it’s made me the person I am today….

A few of my favourite things…

When you become an adoptive parent (actually any parent) all the advice is that ‘you must look after yourself’ ‘you must practice ‘self care’. I’d seen a few people go on about it before our Little One came home, and wondered what it was all about. Wondered why it was seen to be so important.

Since our daughter came home, I totally get what they were all talking about, and it does make sense. Before I was a parent I thought I was pretty good of taking care of myself (I think that’s what I thought self care was) I ate ok, I slept ok, and did some exercise to keep active and fit. I had some hobbies that I enjoyed and was reasonable good at. I had good friends, a great family and I was doing ok at work. I now know that it’s so much than these things. Yes it is taking care of yourself, but it’s also about sometimes prioritising taking care of yourself. It’s about doing things for you, to benefit only you. Things that help you switch off, to relax, to de-stress and recharge. The knock on effect of taking care of you, is that you’ll be in a much better place to take care of others. Everyone’s perception of what self care is is different, and that’s ok, because it is individual to them. What one person might love, another would really not. Some people see having a glass of wine and chocolate as their self care, and thats fine. For me, I’d much rather go on a random run and watch the sun go down. The end result (you feel calmer, more present, more in control) is the same, I guess it doesn’t matter how we get there.

When you first become a parent (whatever way you become one), it’s a massive shock. One thats takes quite a while to start to settle. I don’t actually remember a lot about the early weeks now nearly two years on. What I do remember was that it was hard, really hard. I struggled to come to terms with the change in roles I had. I missed work, I missed my friends. I missed most of the activities that I would class as ‘self care’ For a while I didn’t do any of my favourite things, and I think I felt a bit lost. My sole aim was to keep my new little person safe and happy, and I think I forgot a bit about me. It wasn’t that I didn’t look after myself, I did eat, sleep, wash etc. What I didn’t do was continue with most of those activities that would have helped me to switch off, to feel more myself and content.

Next month we have another big change in our life, one that will change everything about our current routine. Our Little One will be starting full time school. She’s absolutely ready, I’m not so sure about me though. Anyway, the plan was that her being at school full time would mean I could increase my hours at work. For a number of reasons I have opted to actually stay at the current hours, which will mean a bonus 1/2 day to myself every week. This is on top of the full day each week I already had planned. So the prospect of all this time to myself got me thinking that I really want to use it to up my self care activities.

It got me thinking about a few of my favourite things, and I’m going to try really hard to do more of them. Not just in the day, but the evenings too. I tend to be very unproductive in the evening, so I feel like I’ve wasted it all. I want to make better use of my time. I’m not going to start doing all of them at once, as I’d never have time for anything else. But if I can make more of an effort to prioritise myself, then hopefully I’ll be a better version of me for all the people who need me. I thought about how my favourite things make me feel, how they help my mood and well-being. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Running: I’ve run for years now. I used to be able to run quite well and did my first (maybe only) 1/2 marathon the week we met our daughter. It was a massive sense of achievement, and made me very proud. I was the most unfit person at school. I hated PE and felt it was only for sporty people. I think doing ok at running just proved to me that people can change, and people can start to like sports later in life. It helped me to have a goal to aim towards, and something to motivate me to achieve. I do struggle to get out for a run, but once I’m out I very rarely regret it. I love being outdoors in the fresh air. Some days a run is the only time I get to myself, so it’s precious me time. I am an introvert, so I don’t mind my own company. It gives time just to unwind and think, or not think. It’s peace and quiet. Exercise does make you feel good.
  • Gym: Before our daughter came home I was a member of the gym, but gave that up when she came. I’ve recently just gone back, and am so far loving it. I guess I go for all of the reasons I go running. But, it gives more opportunities for a range of activities in a comfortable temperature. Im quite a goal/numbers driven person, so the stats on the equipment are a great motivator to work hard.
  • Baking/cooking:  If i’m left on my own to cook or bake I find it quite relaxing and enjoyable.  I rarely actually eat the baked goods, but I I like making food for others, to give them something they’ll enjoy. I feel like I should do this more, I know lots of people who will happily eat my baking. I’ve recently discovered that I like taking pictures of tasty food I’ve cooked. Sounds a bit strange I know, but i guess the achievement of knowing I created/made something that looks really good feels great.
  • Reading: When I was younger I used to read for pleasure so much. I rarely do it now, and I really need to make more effort to read. Getting lost in a book is so good for you, and one way I can really switch off, if I let myself.
  • Sewing/knittng: I used to do quite a bit if very basic sewing/knitting. Again it used to be a good way to do something productive in the evenings that wasn’t just staring at my phone or the TV. It was a chance to create things, and be proud of my achievements. I would really like to progress from the basics, but will only do so if I commit and make time to learn and practice. These sort of activities are also really relaxing.
  • Time with friends: This last year I’ve been able to make some great new friends through the local adoption group and church. Both groups tend to meet on Wednesdays, and Little One and I have loved going along to both. It’s been amazing to have adoption friends who ‘get it’, and who I can chat things over with as well as friends who just want to ‘do life’ with you. Having all these new found friendships this has massively improved my well-being because for the first year with Little One I don’t think I made any new meaningful friendships, and that made me feel very lonely. I pushed to continue to have Wednesdays off because it means that I can continue to go to and be apart of these groups without Little One. For me, that’s really important, and I’m so grateful I can.

So, the challenge is on. It’s time to prioritise some self care, and start looking after me a bit more…..

Family ‘Meet Up’ – Take Two

Today we attend our second ‘family meet up’ This would be more commonly known as ‘contact’. I now prefer to try not to call it that as to me that sounds to formal, too clinical. I see it more as an informal family get together. Ours was certainly not formal or clinical. It involved getting soaked in the rain, cheese toasties, puddle jumping, ice cream, whistling and giggles. I don’t think most people would call meeting up with their family ‘contact’, and nor shall we….

The concept of family meet up’s or ‘contact’ is quite a difficult one for people who don’t know adoption to get their head around I think. They may wonder ‘why would you meet up with the people who the child was remove from?” I think it’s important to understand that face to face meet ups would never be considered if there was any safety risk to those involved. Also, if it would cause psychological distress or harm to anyone.. I think the majority of families who have face to face meet ups have them with Birth parents or siblings. Ours is with another Birth Relative, one who was very involved in Little One’s life pre and during care. Kate (*not her real name)  is not her Birth Mum, but is someone she did live with before care, and someone who is an important part of her story, her life.

This was our second ‘meet up’ Read all about the first one (here)

It went pretty much the same, and was just as successful. We told Little One the day before as like last time, we didn’t think she needed too much time to think about it as too much time could make her anxious. She was fine. She went off to sleep nice and quickly at bedtime, and woke up very excited to see Kate. She was excited before we left and kept asking when we were going. She was excited on the journey, and kept asking if we were there yet. It was not anxious or distressed asking, just excited to be seeing someone she loves.

It was really interesting to see how Little One was this meet up compared to the last one, which was almost exactly a year ago. I think it helped that it was in the same place, so she knew where we were going and what to expect. When we got there, Kate got out the car and waited for us to get out. Little One was much more confident this time. Very keen to get out, was waving and smiling happily. Last year she was quite shy and reserved and clung to me. This time she was straight in, and was happy to go ahead with Kate holding her hand and they walked along and chatted in the pouring rain. It was like we’d only seen each other yesterday. I think both reactions were appropriate, and show how much she has changed in a year. This year she took great delight in telling Kate a few times ‘that’s my Mummy & daddy’ and pointing to us. She clearly feels secure and confident in her identity for now. I think she understands a bit more about her story now. She told Kate she couldn’t live with her because she was ‘too old’, which is true, and what we’ve told her previously. We’ve been talking quite a bit about when she came to us, and what life was like for all of us before she came. She  understands she wasn’t always our daughter, but also understands that she is absolutely ours now. Bless Kate, it maybe wasn’t easy for her to hear us referred to as Mummy/Daddy, but to her credit she totally backed that up.

It was really helpful for us to find out a bit about how Birth Mum is (she didn’t reply to any of the letters). What we were told was not a surprise, but still desperately sad. I think I was more shocked/sad than I was expected to be. I’m glad we know as social services have not said anything to us. Having as much insight and knowledge as possible can only be a good thing I guess, It makes me very sad for her future. It also makes me very glad that Little One was removed when she was, and that the plan was adoption. I hate to think what could have happened if she’d not been removed, or if she’d been returned. I think events have shown exactly why adoption was the safest and best route for little one. I think that Kate realises this too. She told me she could see that Little One was very happy, very settled and doing brilliantly. I hope that this reassured her that adoption was the right thing for her. She did tell me previously that she was relieved that Little One was no longer in that damaging environment.

The Support Worker who accompanied Kate to the meet up told us that there is a high likelihood that meetings in the future would not be ‘supported/supervised’ Now they do not need to be supervised from a safety point of view, but having that support/supervision has been helpful and reassuring. I think for Kate more than ourselves. We have each other, and Little One. She has no one, and obviously has to go away without Little One. I can’t imagine how that must feel. The support worker feels that she needs this emotional support, and that she’ll continue to need it. It makes me so cross, that something that a vulnerable person, (yes, I think she is) needs will probably be taken away. Our Meet Up’s are so positive, and are so valuable, to risk losing this is scary. I think people need to understand that it’s not just the day that will be affected, it’s a little girl’s whole life. I think these meetings will do a huge amount to help her make sense of who she is, where she comes from. She’ll have questions when she’s older, if Kate is not supported properly, she may not be in the position to be able to meet up, which would be terrible. I’m going to make sure we push really hard to ask for supported meetings in the future. We’ll do all we can to make sure she’s supported. I think people sometimes forget the people left behind in adoption (e.g. Birth family), but to make these sort of events work, everyone needs to be supported. Birth Family have feelings and needs too…

So, another meet up has been done, and again I’m so proud of how Little One has coped. I guess it’s just another reminder to me of how different she is to most children, and how she has to deal with events, feeing, emotions most adults would struggle to get their head around. I know I’m not supposed to say she’s ‘lucky’, but I do think she’s very lucky to have Kate in her life, her family. To all of us she is our family. I know we wouldn’t have Little One without her selfless love, and so for that I’ll be forever grateful. So, from one very proud, emotional Mummy, Thank You Kate!

Let it go!

As Elsa famously said, I’ve been learning more about ‘let(ting) it go’ these last few weeks. Let me explain a little bit more…..

Ever since Little Love came home we’ve worked hard to create a well structured predictable routine. We worked hard to have strong clear boundaries, and we worked hard to try to be consistent between us. I think it worked, and Little Love settled quite quickly. I think those things we worked hard to establish helped her feel safe. They helped her to know what to expect and when. She learnt that whichever one of us was in charge, she would be treated much the same. I think it helped us to settle into the job of parenting. I think the routine and structure helped us too.

I know that I am quite a strict parent, and I often have to tell myself to lower my expectations of her. She’s only 4, so I really should not expect her to behave perfectly the whole time. I know that I should try not to care too much about what other people think about how she (and us) behave, or how we interact with each other. It’s really none of their business, and they often don’t know anything about her background. I know that some other people think we should lighten up and chill out a little. To relax and not be so hard on her. I get where they’re coming from. I do feel that compared to say this time last year, I am so much more chilled and relaxed. I might not always show it, but I think it is slowly coming. It’s all a learning journey they we’ll be on forever…..

A few weeks ago we had a post adoption social worker come and see us, and we talked a lot about parenting Little Love. It initially felt like we were being told to ‘improve our parenting’, and I came away feeling really overwhelmed and like I didn’t know where to start. However, with a bit of reflection time I was able to see that it wasn’t that at all. She said we were doing a good job, and that it was the things that Little Love brought with her (e.g. attachment, sensory) that we needed some support with. We did also talk about ‘letting things go’. In this she meant that maybe it would help us to relax a little if we were able to let some behaviours go. To let Little Love regress a bit, and to parent her as you would a younger child. She said this might help some of those attachment and sensory areas where we were struggling. For example, ignoring some of the behaviours we would normally find annoying (e.g. eating the bubbles in the bath). Or letting her explore her world led by her sensory seeking needs. (eating with her hands instead of cutlery). She also suggested that if Little Love is doing something that winds us up, then we should try to distract her so that she doesn’t get the response she might be looking for, but we still connect and she gets some response. I tried this today. She was crying, so instead of telling her to stop, I tickled her, and she laughed. it totally defused the situation and stopped it escalating. Success!

This idea of letting go fits in quite well with the theory of non-violent resistance (NVR), I think anyway. Some of the idea around NVR is that a parent cannot possibly try to change their child’s whole behaviour. If you try to do this you’re seeing yourself up to fail. It instead suggests that it can be helpful to prioritise a few behaviours you most want to change, and it suggests serious behaviours first (e.g. hitting). The rest of the behaviours, including those ones that are not serious, but just simply wind you up (e.g. eating bath bubbles) you are meant to try to ignore & ‘let them go’. Once you’ve tackled all the high priority behaviours, you can move onto the lower priority ones, but these often spontaneously reduce as you start to connect better.

You can read more about  NVR and connective parenting (here) In Sarah Fisher’s book. I’ve read it, and although we haven’t actually got round to naming or agreeing those high priority behaviours, just having a knowledge around the theory behind it has helped me. It’s helped me to be able to attempt to ignore some of those annoying behaviours. It’s actually helped me to relax a bit, and to not to feel I have to comment on or manage every bit of her being. It means I no longer feel like I’m telling her off every few minutes. I think it’s helped us connect a bit more. She hopefully feels less “got at’, and things feel much more relaxed. I definitley think things feel calmer here. Things escalate much less now, and we’ve not had quite as many tantrums because I’m not constantly telling her ‘no’ At times I feel that when I “let it go’, I’m loosing my control on the situation/behaviour. Letting go can be really hard, especially when you want to feel (or appear) in control. It’s harder when I’m tired or in a rush. It’s harder when the behaviour is relentlessly difficult. It’s harder when you feel you have judging eyes on you the whole time. It’s hard when despite letting go, it still ends with someone loosing it. It’s hard when your partner finds it more difficult to ‘let go’, and you feel like you end up arguing about how to parent your child.

In conclusion, I’m really glad I was brave enough to step back and ‘let it go’. It has really helped me and I do feel better connected to my daughter. It’s not been easy, but it has totally been worth it. Now, if we could finally get the additional help we need to compliment what we’re doing, that would be great too. But that’s for another day, and another post…..