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…..

’Mum Body’

Today I read a post about a mum who was talking about her ‘mum body’. It was about how in her eyes she wasn’t perfect, but that’s ok because her body had grown & given birth to babies. She celebrates all the ‘undesirable’ bits because having children was what gave her them.

It got me thinking about an adoptive mother’s ‘mum body’. Sometimes when I read these sort of posts on the one hand it makes me feel like the message is that those mums who have given birth to a baby are superior to those who haven’t.  On the other hand, it does remind me that growing and giving birth to a baby is truely amazing, so it should be celebrated.

I think adoptive mum’s sometimes feel that society views them as less of a mum because they didn’t give birth to their child. It makes them feel that they/their body is a failure because they couldn’t/didn’t get pregnant, or because they couldn’t keep that precious baby they did have inside for however long.

So, I would say to all adoptive mums,  be proud of your ‘mum body’. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t give birth to your child, they’re still yours. You’re still being a mum, just like all the other mums. Your body got you through all the ups and downs of the adoption process and long after it. It got you through the good times and not so good times. You can be proud of how strong you are, how determined you are, how resilient you are. Your body has loved a hurting child and may have taken many literal batterings, but it still stands and it still keeps going day in, day out. Celebrate you & your wonderfulness. Believe in yourself & remember you’re doing an amazing job. Look after yourself, be kind to yourself & remeber that your ‘mum body’ is worth celebrating just as much as all the other mums  out there….

 

Balancing Act

I was thinking the other day about how we parent our little girl, and I realised that it’s become a bit of a balancing act. Now all parenting involves endless balancing in numerous situations, but I think that adoptive parenting has some additional balancing going on due to our children’s backgrounds and needs.

One way in which we balance our parenting is between chronological age (e.g. when the child was born), and their emotional/social age (e.g., where they’re functioning at at this time) These ages are not always the same, as there may be delays in some areas, as well as advances in others. Generally adopters are told to ‘think younger’ in the way they parent their children, and I often have remind myself of this.

For us, I think our daughter is probably spot on or a bit ahead academically. She is very bright, and picks up new learning very quickly. She is able to recognise, read and write her name. She got her phonics sorted ages ago, and recently she started being able to sound out words to begin to read and write. She needs quite a lot of stimulation (e.g. reading books, puzzles), and we have lots for her to do. She seems to like doing these activities, and is very proud of her achievements, so we encourage them. Helping her to start to learn to read has been one of my greatest parenting joys, I just love seeing her world open up right in front of her. Her ability to learn amazes me, it’s fascinating!

On the other hand, she is functioning a bit lower than her chronological age of 4 in her emotional/social development. She often displays behaviour, and needs parenting more on the level of a young toddler/baby. This is where I find we balance parenting most. This is the reason we do some things that other people may feel she’s too old for. That other people may feel are unnecessary, and may be holding her back. I don’t think they are, I think they are helping her to fill in those possibly missing gaps in her development. We don’t really know much about her baby/toddler experience of life, we don’t really know what she had and didn’t have. So we kind assume she didn’t and we work hard to fill those gaps. Below are a couple of the ways in which we parent her (at a much lower chronological age than she is), and the reasons why we do what we do

Play/sensory: When our daughter came to us (age nearly 2 1/2) she brought with her a few toys. These were mostly aimed at baby/young toddler (e.g. musical toys, stacking cups) We still have all of these toys, and she still plays with them. She loves sensory toys, they seem to help relax and regulate her. Although she has plenty of age appropriate toys, she still needs these basic ones. They let her explore with her senses (sound, lights, oral) , which is exactly what a baby needs and does.

When the post adoption social worker came, she brought some fruity scented playdoh. Our daughter put a bit of each one in her mouth before she realised they didn’t taste very nice, and didn’t do it again. The social worker pointed out that thats what a baby would do, they explore their world orally. Our daughter is very sensory seeking. Anything and everything will go in her mouth, even if she’s been told a thousand times not to. To try to help this we have special ‘chewy toys” These are ones she’s allowed to chew, and most of them are made for babies (we are careful as she has teeth, so we watch closely so she doesn’t bite bits off). some are made specifically for older children/adults who need to chew, so they are more heavy duty. Chewing on these seem to help with her emotional regulation as well as satisfy her sensory seeking to some extent. Although she is capable of using cutlery, we have relaxed her table manners, so she’s allowed to fully explore her food as a sensory experience, The idea is that once she’s moved through that developmental phase, she should be able to catch up, otherwise she may be stuck in that phase for a lot longer.

We still do tummy time, which you’re meant to do with very young babies. This is to try to encourage her undeveloped vestibular and proprioceptive systems. I wrote about this specifically before, see (here).

Nurture: As with play, we do some things with our daughter that you would normally do with a baby/young toddler rather than a pre-schooler. Again, the idea is that it helps to filled in missed development gaps and nurture activities. It is also so important to encourage and improve attachment between a parent and child. We missed out on 2 1/2 years of giving our daughter nurture, and developing an attachment to each other, so anything we can do to help this can only be a good thing.

Nurture is a lot about meeting the most basic of needs, so if you can show a child you want to and can do this, it goes a long way in helping them to trust and believe that you will look after them and meet their needs. Some children come to adoption having missed out on these opportunies to be ‘babied’, and almost seem too independent or grown up than their years. On a selfish note, it allows me as a mum to to have some of those experiences I didn’t have because I never had a small baby.

One way we’ve fairly recently started to do this is offering our daughter a bottle. She can choose if she wants it, so she’s in control of if she wants to receive  nurture in this way or not. Actually, despite being 4, she normally does choose to have it, and loves it. If you think how feeding a baby promotes nurture, then it’s exactly the same with an older child. It’s a chance to have that special 1:1 quiet time. It promotes eye contact and closeness. It’s meeting one of the most basic of needs. I wrap her tightly in a blanket and cuddle her close. The first time we did it I found it quite emotional as it felt so special, and I really wished we’d done it so much earlier. We tried to introduce a dummy (I know against all mainstream advice),, but she hasn’t really taken to it as she tends to chew instead of stuck. She does however know its there if she want or needs it.

We still sing her lullabies (rock-a-bye-baby and special version on twinkle twinkle little star) at bedtime. She sleeps with a nightlight and soft music. She has a baby monitor if we’re away from home. This way, we can quickly respond to her if she needs us. She needs to know that we are there to comfort her if she needs, and we do go back to re-settle her after bedtime. Sometimes she needs to be close to us at night, so we have a mattress on the floor in our room. If she needs she can come to sleep on it, and she usually settles back off happily. These all make us readily available to her, and she learns to rely on us.

As she gets older and bigger it may get harder to mentally put aside the thought of ‘she’s too old/she shouldn’t need that anymore’, but as long as she needs us to parent in the ways that we do, we will. She’ll make it clear when she doesn’t want or need them anymore. She’ll be able to move on in her own way and time, but not until she’s ready, and it’s important we give her the chance to be a really little girl still.

 

 

 

There’s a first time for everything.

We have just had our first holiday as a family. It took us 19 months after becoming a family to feel ready to be brave, step out and actually be organised to book a holiday.  The day we came back marked 21 months of us being a family since our daughter came home. The end of a first successful holiday was a great way to remember how far we’d come from those very early days.

The holiday was filled with lots of firsts and thankfully no lasts (as in ‘we’ll never do that again!). It had its fair share of ups, downs, and everything in between. As parents it was our first holiday with a child, and as they all say, “I think we need a holiday to get over the holiday’ certainly rang true at times. We did however really enjoy slowing down, spending time and having some fun together. We were able to give each other some moments of time out, so we came away feeling we had at least had some time to relax.

The first ‘first’ we did was actually go and see our daughter’s foster carer the day before the holiday was due to start. It was a first meeting them nearer to their home, and the first at a neutral location. We drove down, spent the afternoon with them, and then stayed in a hotel that night. We’d never stayed in a hotel with Little One before. I don’t really like sharing a room with her (she’s a noisy sleeper). But, this time it worked really well. She was tired from the travel and long day, so feel asleep quickly. I think it actually helped her having us right there as she went to sleep. We were close by as she may have been feeling a bit more needy after seeing her foster carers for only the second time since she’d left them. She slept through, and in in the morning. Many wins! She coped really well with the whole day considering it was all new, and seeing them probably gave her quite a bit to process. She had fun with them, but didn’t find saying goodbye to them overly difficult. I think it shows how secure she is in our family, and how well she is settled. She did miss them the next day, but also wanted to let them know that she was ok and enjoying her holiday. I think the distraction of the holiday the next day actually helped shift the focus from missing them, to being excited about what was to come next. We went to Center Parcs, (yes, it is spelt that way, I checked) and some of her nursery friends had been recently, so she kind of knew what it was. I’m really glad we initiated this meet up, it was a really positive thing to do. Now we know that we can go down to see them, and stay overnight to make a weekend of it if we want. It means that hopefully we can maintain at least yearly (if not more) contact, which would be great.

(Love this capture of their goodbye cuddle. It’s beautiful & bittersweet. Love & loss (again) all at the same time)

Staying at Center Parcs was another ‘first’, and I’d say for a first family holiday in the UK, it works well. Yes, it is pricey, but I think it;s pretty good value for money. Actually apart from the pottery painting (we only did this because we bumped into some friends and they suggested we do it), we didn’t spend any additional money on site. We stuck to the free things, which as we were only there 3 full days, was plenty in between downtime at our lodge. We did lots of swimming, some play on the ‘beach’, and some play in the play parks. For our family it worked well as we could do what we wanted, when we wanted, Our daughter loved the swimming. It was lovely to see her confidence growing each day in the water. She really enjoyed the slides, and by the last day was whizzing down most of them. A massive breakthrough was when she was brave enough to put her head fully under water. She was so proud of herself, and she’s been telling everyone about it all weekend. She is still terrified of letting go of us, so she was stuck to one (or both) of us the whole time in the big pool. So, still some progress to go there, but baby steps…. We did take her scooter, which although we didn’t use loads, it was helpful for the longer walks between our lodge and the car park. Hopefully she’ll have more road sense next time, as taking her out on it is a bit stressful, even with minimal traffic on the roads.

Managing the structure of the days whilst we were away was a learning curve for us, and we’ve come away with an understanding of what does and what doesn’t work. Our daughter is actually very easy going when it comes to a change in routine, so we’re pretty lucky in that at the moment she can cope with a fair amount of spontaneity. However, I think having a structured day, with set times for set activities does help, and i’ll try to remember that in the future. She did seem to struggle a bit more in the first couple of days whilst we settling into our routine, but once she got it, she seemed more relaxed. It was a shame that as soon as she got settled, we were starting to think about coming home. What we did find out was that she finds ‘down time’ quite difficult to cope with. She struggles to pick something and independently do that activity. Something we do see at home too. What worked well was giving her something specific to do e.g. colouring, and she’d happily do that for a short while. I had thought quite a lot about what to take to entertain her, as the only other place we’ve stayed overnight was my parents, and they have lots of toys. With suggestions from others, I decided to take quite a few different activities for her, all carefully chosen. Some were old favourites, like books, toys, stickers, colouring. Some were new activities. Some were comfort items (e.g. blanket, cuddly toys, chewy toys). Some other things to make it feel more like home, such as the baby monitor and night light. The iPad came too, pre-loaded with her current favourite programmes. She was really into nursery rhymes, so having that for ‘rest time’ was amazing. It meant we all relaxed at the same time. I forgot the blackout blind, luckily she actually slept really well so we didn’t have any problems.

(These are some of the things we took with us)

Of course a first holiday comes to an end, and you have the first holiday comedown/fallout to deal with. I  thought she’d be more upset about leaving than she was, especially as she’d had such a good time. She was actually really happy and excited to be home, which I guess is a really good thing. To prepare her for coming home, we read a great book about a little girl going on holiday and not wanting to come back, but when she got back she was happy to see all the familiar things again. We talked about what we were looking forward to doing, who we were looking forward to seeing. It wasn’t planned, but we had bought a box of Duplo the day before we went on holiday, but didn’t get round to opening it, so she was really excited to get home to open and play with it straight away. I’m going to try to remember that one next time, to have a small treat that she knows about waiting at home, so that going home seems more appealing. The next day she really wasn’t herself, very grumpy and tearful. Although I knew it probably would happen, because she was initially ok when we got back, I guess I didn’t expect it. I must remember to manage it a bit better next time, and plan a really quiet day for her to re-adjust to being back. I think she was also really tired, as she slept nearly 12hours that first night we were home. She woke up in a much better mood the 2nd day back.

Overall, the holiday has been a great success, and we’d definitely go again. There are some bits we’ll do the same, and now with a bit of experience, some bits we’ll do a bit differently. Planning is definitely key, and routine is still important when you’re away. She only knew we were going a couple of days before, which worked well this time. We kept her busy the day before we went, and packed when she was in bed, which also worked well. The gamble of meeting up with the foster carers paid off (although we only did it because we know our daughter and felt she would cope). The pottery painting she did will be a lovely physical reminder of the great time she had on her first holiday with Mummy and daddy. I’m really proud of her and how she coped with the whole trip. I’m really proud of us all for ticking off a big family first so successfully. Here’s to the next holiday…..