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…..



These last couple of weeks I’ve been reminded a lot about the importance and power of listening. I’ve been on both sides, of being both the listener, and the person who has been listened to.

I work in the health service, and it generally involves a lot of listening to get the job done. I have to listen to many voices, and I have to try to make sense of them all to achieve a positive outcome. I have to balance all that information I’ve gathered to make a plan. I have to listen to know how to communicate and carry out that plan. The other day I got sent a thank-you card from a patient’s family. They were thanking me for all I did for them whilst he was on the ward. I had a think about what I’d done to deserve such thanks, and I remembered that actually I’d done very little at all. The patient was too poorly to do very much assessment or therapy, so it got me thinking what did I do? And then it came to me, I took the opportunity to spend the time listening to them as they talked about the man their husband/dad was before he got ill. I listened to them as they described about their hopes and dreams for the future. I listened to them as they told me what was important to him/them. This helped me devise a plan to help him achieve some of those things. The patient sadly passed away in hospital, but his family went away feeling valued and listened to. It made me stop and think about what I need to do to make sure I listen more at work. Yes, time is precious and I am busy, but I hope I’m never too busy to listen when people need me to.

This week I had a post adoption social worker come to see me. I initially felt anxious about why she needed to come and see me alone as she’d already done our assessment. Was she coming to test me?, to trip me up on my parenting? Actually no, she was coming to try to understand out situation a bit more so she could make a fully informed recommendation of what our family needs. It was really valuable to me to have that 1:1 time for me on my own to talk, to reflect and  for her to my validate feelings as ok and pretty normal. It was almost like a little counselling session, and she left me feeling so grateful that I’d had that time to be listened too. It left a powerful mark on me because it reminded me again of how important it is to listen. Sometimes people don’t want or need you to talk (although she did in response to what she’s heard), they just want you to hear, to listen. Sometimes saying nothing at all “speaks” louder than words.

This week a twitter debate I was drawn into was all about do adoptive parents listen to their children?. Initially I initially felt that the debate was a little one sided (basically adoptive parents don’t listen), and I commented how sad I found this. I do not have this experience, and feel very grateful that I do feel listened to by my parents. I’m sure that’s part of what makes me very content as an adoptive person. It did make me think  that although I have a positive experience, I do need to listen more to those who have different views and experiences. If I listen and acknowledge that it can be different, I am in the best position to be prepared for what I need to do as an adoptive parent. The last thing I want is for my little girl to grow up feeling not listened to. For her to be hurt and angry because of something I did or didn’t do. If I can learn what to do (or what not to do) from others who’ve been there, hopefully she’ll grow up a more content person too. It reminded me again that adoption is, and always will be a very complex situation. There will always be different voices that need to be heard. As adoptive parents, we have a duty to listen to them all, however hard it may be to hear them. This particular “discussion” that I had on twitter actually turned out to be a positive one. It could have gone either way, but I’ve come away grateful that I was listened to, and my views valued. I was also proud that I was able to listen to someone else, and use their expertise to help me be a better mum.

All this thought about listening reminded me that I really need to try to listen more to my daughter. Not just what she says, but to listen to what she’s trying to say/communicate in what she does. After all, we all know that communication is not all speech. I realise that I need to be more in tune with what she’s trying to tell me in how she behaves. It reminded me that if I listen more to her (e.g. get off my phone), I’m less likely to miss all those precious moments of growing up. This week I’ve loved listening to her play, and watching her really start to get into imaginative play. I’ve been amazed listening to her start to learn to read. To see that world opening up in front of her is such a privilege. By listening to her better I can hopefully better help her manage her feelings, and I can help her navigate the ups and downs of everyday life. It’s challenged me to stop. To think. To listen. And to soak up what I hear as a result…….