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 Voices, Sensory 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 Hello, Give me back to Mummy, Life Story, Life Story. Pt 2, Family Meet Up, Take Two)