Advice for prospective adopters

I’m an adoptive parent who is quite vocal on the subject. So every now and then I’m approached by friends, or friends of friends, asking about my advice for prospective adopters as they are starting the process. I’m always happy to talk adoption, don’t claim to have all the answers, but do have a few pieces of advice. I wish I’d had this stuff drummed into me when we started the process seven years ago. What follows is an adaptation of an email I sent to a friend recently.

In answer to the main question – should I/we do it? – my answer is yes. Yes, it is often incredibly hard and I regularly question my sanity, but I am still very much in favour of adoption. If reading about child-on-parent violence and the questionable delights of post-adoption support haven’t put you off, then here’s what I think you need to know.

advice-for-prospective-adopters

Gather information. Lots of it.

I recommend you take these six steps during your decision-making process, so that you have as much information about the reality of adoption as you possibly can. You’re not adopting a child who is a bit sad but can be cheered up with a cuddle and a multipack of Freddos. You’re inviting a small person who has been neglected and abused into your home, where they will process all that stuff for years to come and often be difficult to help. Regardless of what they tell you at this stage, your agency’s post-adoption support may or may not step up to help you as your child destroys your home/marriage/sanity. You need to be prepared for this.

1. Read all the books

Sally Donovan’s books are amazing. It should be compulsory to read No Matter What and The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting. While you’re at it you should probably get hold of Billy Bramble too, ready to put on your child’s bookshelf.

[If you don’t see a shiny widget here, containing my recommended reading list, click here to see a less shiny version.]

I’ve included a couple of books about FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) on my list. A huge proportion of children in care (some estimate 80%) have been affected by alcohol exposure to some degree. You can find out more from the FASD Trust, the FASD Network and NOFAS-UK.

There are also reviews of other adoption-related books on my blog pretty regularly, and there’s a Twitter-based book club for therapeutic parents that theoretically ‘meets’ at the start of each month but has fizzled out a bit lately. Search for #tpbooks or the organiser, @pedallingsolo.

2. Use social media

Get an anonymous Twitter account – anonymous so you’re less easy for birth family members to find. Follow adopters – I’m @hlmeadows and I’m usually about several times a day. Some other accounts to get you started are @sallydwrites, @mralcoates, @gayadoptiondad, @mumdrah, @frogotter, @mizzanels, @meandminimees, @suddenlymummy. There are loads of adopters and it’s a really friendly community. Several of these people experience child-on-parent violence (CPV) so that features in our conversations quite frequently. You might find this glossary of adoption-related abbreviations helpful.

There are a lot of adoption Facebook groups, many of them secret and reliant on meeting members offline. (I find all the drama and cliques there a bit exhausting and generally stick to Twitter instead.) This Facebook group for prospective adopters is good.

3. Follow adoption blogs

The two best places to start are Full-Time Tired’s Weekly Round-Up and The Adoption Social’s Weekly Adoption Shout-Out. They’ll give you a pretty balanced picture of adoptive families’ everyday life.

4. Lurk on the Adoption UK forums

They frightened the life out of me before we adopted but it was all good preparation! Find the Adoption UK forums here.

5. Listen to podcasts

Start with The Adoption and Fostering Podcast (Al Coates and Scott Casson-Rennie) and The Honestly Adoption Podcast (Mike and Kristen Berry). The latter is American but still very applicable to the UK experience.

6. Talk to lots of adopters

adoption-uk-conferenceYou could come to the Adoption UK conference in Birmingham in November to hear what’s going on for adopters nationally. It tends to be a mixture of discussion of government policy and AUK campaigns, discussion of child psychology and how to parent children with a history of trauma, and stuff that is helpful to adoptive parents. Pete and I will be there, and you don’t need to be a member to attend. (Everyone will look exhausted. This is the default setting.)

If you decide to go ahead…

Having made the decision to start the process, my main piece of advice is not to be in such a hurry to get through the assessment that you make decisions that set yourself up for problems later. Take your time in making these choices, because you’ll be living with them for a long time.

1. Investigate voluntary agencies as well as the local authority

We went via our local authority and support has been decidedly patchy.

PACT have a great reputation for support, but there are also Coram, Barnardo’s, Family Futures and others (First4Adoption has a full list). I’d suggest having conversations with several and getting a good sense of what post-adoption support they offer. Also be aware that all the adoption agencies are in the process of being regionalised – joining together to combine resources. This may be a bit of a shambolic business for a while but should ultimately be an improvement.

2. Think very carefully before adopting siblings

We thought we’d save the hassle of going through the process twice and be doing something helpful as siblings are harder to place, but it has been very hard dealing with that dynamic. Ours have different issues and drive each other crazy and fight All. Day. Long.

3. Don’t sign on the dotted line until you have a support package in place

We raced through the process in order for Joanna to have our surname before she started school and didn’t do this, so some of our concerns were put aside and it was then a fight to have them taken seriously. We’d probably still do the same thing. But if you have the option of waiting and getting everything ironed out while they are still the local authority’s responsibility, then that’s probably better in the long run.

4. Get your church involved with Home for Good if it isn’t already

home-for-goodAdoption and fostering charity Home for Good runs training for churches in how to support adoptive and foster families appropriately. Their booklet on support is also excellent – I give these out by the armful at every opportunity. Try to take people from your church to the Home for Good summit (annually in the autumn) to help them ‘get it’. Don’t do what we did and change churches during the process so no-one knows you and getting support is much harder.

5. Ask questions

No question is too big/small/silly when you’re making a life-changing decision. I’m happy to answer anything – leave your questions below or find me on social media.

Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

If you liked this, you might also like:

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Thank God it’s Monday: adoptive parenting at the weekend

Halfway Day (or Schedules, scones, and screaming)

Today marks the halfway point of the summer holidays for us: it’s day 20 of 40. It feels like much longer. The words I’m seeing from other adopters are ‘relentless’ and ‘incessant’. These words are used all year round, of course, but the summer seems to amplify those feelings because culturally it is supposed to be a holiday. It isn’t. It’s six weeks of dysregulated children being given nice things and days out and not appreciating any of it and telling you what a horrible person you are. All. Day. Long.

halfway-day

There are those parents who look forward to the summer holidays as a time to frolic in the sun with their little cherubs, picnicking on home-grown houmous and organic mini-quiches, unfettered by the constraints of the school run. Good for them.

I am not one of these parents.

As I have mentioned ad infinitum, I have a schedule. This is what keeps us all on the right side of sanity. (Just.) Anything remotely unfettered causes meltdowns for them and more stress for me.

Screaming: a day in the life

This weekend we tried the frolicsome picnic thing – well, as near to frolicsome as we get. We took our picnic to a National Trust place with huge grounds, headed straight for a picnic bench and got started on lunch. Barely two bites into her artisanal organic roll pizza bread, Joanna started a strop, saying she wanted to live on her own in the woods (a favourite idea of hers when she is overwhelmed by the idea of family). We had no idea what had triggered it, so I put down my quinoa salad pork pie and took her aside for a chat.

She continued. Suicide threats. Wanting to see what children’s homes are like so she could think about living there instead. Hating her sister. Being extremely jealous of Charlotte’s new second-hand-from-eBay bed. (Joanna was given a brand new desk at the same time, something she has wanted for ages. This was not enough, obviously we love Charlotte more, etc.) I listened and let her get it all out of her system. I didn’t have anything much to say apart from a bit of PACE-esque wondering about why she thought she’d be better off without us and what she thought that would be like.

Once she’d finished, we rejoined the others, and the meal continued, with regular ‘sensory breaks’ – ie sending them to run around a tree, push against a tree, do press-ups, etc. That worked really well for Charlotte, who is unable to sit still for long. But not Joanna. She was determined to stay angry.

Stopping and listening

After the picnic – which was curtailed after another dose of insults from Joanna – we carried on. The plan had been to do a ‘Gruffalo trail’ which was set up all around the grounds. But following someone else’s route and activities was not to madam’s liking, so we abandoned that for a while to let them run off and make dens in the hedges while we had a sneaky cream tea. Hurrah.

Eventually we finished the trail and got them into the car, where Stephen Fry’s reading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone worked its magic on them again. This has been one of the successes of this holiday. I thoroughly recommend trying Audible if you haven’t given it a go yet.

The Harry Potter books are particularly good value via Audible because they’re so long – on a monthly subscription each credit is £7.99, so it works out much cheaper than buying them without a subscription (and you still get to keep your books even if you cancel). The first one is nearly nine hours. The second one, which I bought today, is more than ten hours. HELLO, calmer journeys and mealtimes. I am sold.

(Yes, this is an affiliate link. To – if you choose Harry Potter – at least NINE FREE HOURS of audiobook. You’re welcome.)

The schedule: does it help?

There are a few places where we’ve deviated from the schedule – mainly because of the weather, which has meant swapping some of the days around – but otherwise it is working well. My definition of ‘working well’ means that the activities are happening and at least one member of the family is deriving a modicum of pleasure from them. (See how my standards have fallen!) The girls are used to consulting it to see what’s happening, and if that saves just a handful of meldowns and ‘Muuuuuummmm’s then it’s worth the effort. So yes, it helps.

What’s next?

This week we have five days of childcare, one day scheduled for shoe and uniform-shopping, and one initial visit to Joanna’s new psychotherapist (more of that anon).

Next week is a hodgepodge of days out with grandparents, bribing incentivising the children to help clean the house, a sprinkling of sanity-saving activities, and packing. On the Friday we are Yorkshire-bound for our ‘holiday’.

For the last week of the holidays we will be based in the Dales, where I will be spending a couple of days at self-care camp (exciting!) and the rest of the time with Pete and the girls. They usually find being away from home hard, so I anticipate plenty of dysregulation and stress all round. There should just about be time on the Sunday to squeeze in a transition visit to school before they go back on the Monday. Aaaaand breathe.

How is your summer going? Can anyone report back from the new school year and tell us it’s going to be OK? 😉 Let me know in the comments.

Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

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50 sanity-saving summer holiday activities

Now the summer holidays are well underway, are you running out of ideas to keep the children busy? Don’t panic! Here are 50 of my favourite sanity-saving holiday activities.

50-sanity-saving-summer-holiday-activities

  1. Visit the library.
  2. Build Lego models.
  3. Go hunting for new games in the charity shops.
  4. Make a den under the table/behind the sofa.
  5. Decorate the path/patio with chalk.
  6. Have scooter races.
  7. Write postcards to your family and friends.
  8. Make junk models from the contents of the recycling bin.
  9. Make pizza.
  10. Write Christmas wish-lists.
  11. Make a scrapbook of your summer with photos, tickets, and drawings.
  12. Design your own board game.
  13. Make Christmas cards.
  14. Make things out of holey socks.
  15. Design your own T-shirt.
  16. Go swimming.
  17. Do a garden treasure hunt.
  18. Blow bubbles.
  19. Make your own ice cream (whisked double cream + tin of condensed milk + extras).
  20. Fly a kite.
  21. Play musical statues.
  22. Have a board games tournament (play all the games you have and see who is Winner of Winners).
  23. Get brochures from the travel agent and plan a perfect holiday (cut out pictures of the nicest hotel, swimming pool, food, etc)
  24. Rearrange their bedroom furniture (if they will cope with the change).
  25. Home spa – nail varnishing, massage, give each other hairdos…
  26. Plant flowers.
  27. Use printable activity sheets (these Twinkl outdoor activity sheets are free to download).
  28. Make ice lollies.
  29. Play with Fuzzy Felt.
  30. Make people out of lolly sticks and washi tape.
  31. Go to the beach.
  32. Find a playground you haven’t visited before.
  33. Visit a pick-your-own farm.
  34. Make fairy cakes.
  35. Make models out of Plasticine or Fimo.
  36. Go blackberrying.
  37. Make your own animation (a friend gave this to Joanna and it is very fun).
  38. Visit a pet shop.
  39. Make a scene with gel art window decorations.
  40. Go litter-picking with grabbers.
  41. Earn a Blue Peter badge.
  42. Make an alarm to keep your annoying sister out of your bedroom.
  43. Make wax rubbings of coins, leaves, Lego bricks…
  44. Design a new pencil case for going back to school.
  45. Go birdwatching/tree-spotting/vehicle-spotting with an I-spy book.
  46. Create a mini-book about something you love.
  47. Put on an audiobook.
  48. Fill an in-car entertainment station.
  49. Create an animal footprint tray for your garden.
  50. Do a science experiment.

And if none of those will work today, my vote is for putting a new film on their Kindles and having a small doze on the sofa. How about you? Let me know in the comments.

Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

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Writing as self-care

This is a guest post by Emma Sutton, who has recently published her adoption story, And Then There Were Four. The book joins Emma meeting her husband at a Ceroc class, and follows them through infertility, the adoption process, introductions and beyond! Here she talks about how she finds writing to be a form of self-care.

writing-self-care

Blogging is my number one self-care activity

There is something about being able to express myself, openly, honestly, warts-and-all that makes writing and blogging my favourite form of self-care.

It might be online, it might be under 140 characters, it might be long and involved as a blog post or on my Facebook page, it might be secretly in my diary, but I write nearly every day.

A bit of a moan

I write when I am frustrated – just recently I started a bit of a moan about the division of household chores in my house, juggling working from home on Twitter. It may one day form the basis of a blog post, but it was just something I needed to get out of my system. By sharing it, and listening to the experiences of others, it didn’t fester inside, churning over and over until it grew into a horrible monster that then lashed out at my husband in a big stormy argument. Since he is not on Twitter, I felt able to say what I felt.

Something to work out

I write when I have something to work out in my own head – to try and order my thoughts, make sense of my experiences, to come to a conclusion about something that has happened. There is something about seeing the swirling maelstrom of jumbled thoughts put into sequence on paper that changes my emotional reaction to them. It is like untangling a web of Christmas tree lights and being able to stand back and see the bigger picture.

Too many feelings to handle

I write to blurt out emotion. Sometimes life can feel overwhelming and when I have too many feelings to handle, when it all feels ‘too much’ setting them down on paper is a form of release. At first it all comes out jumbled, like a child telling you about their exciting day, with no form or structure and rather random. Writing acts like an overflow, enabling me to channel excess emotion away and manage being a mum, wife, author, cook, housemaid, chauffeur, PA to two demanding kids and occasionally even being myself.

A new perspective

I write to gain a new perspective on my life or challenges. My sister and I were out walking a few weeks ago and we were pondering the cocktail of tiredness and boredom that leads us to watch too much TV and overeat. We discussed the programme ‘Eat Well For Less’ as an example of TV that’s not terrible but not very uplifting either (unlike for example DIY SOS which has us both reaching for the tissues and feeling inspired at the end of another house rebuild).

When we summed up the programme in a sentence as ‘spending an hour watching a family you have never met have their shopping habits dissected and rebuilt to save them £100 a week on food’, we looked embarrassed and felt sheepish. Then we laughed. We realised we had watched several series of this, so had spent over ten hours of our life watching people spend less on food. Why? Because we had never looked at it from this perspective before. (I may never watch it again.)

‘Blogging is like having a chat’

You might be thinking – what has a conversation got to do with this post? Blogging is a bit like having a chat. Sure, as the writer you are monopolising the conversation somewhat (until you start to get comments), but in my experience, I am a tad one-sided when it comes to conversations anyway, so I am not sure people would notice the difference. And you can always invite someone else to have a blog-o-convo or similar with you, as I did recently with @feelingmumyet and @thenewbytribe (with more in the pipeline). But writing prompts you to converse with your reader, as well as yourself.

More reasons to write

Here are some other reasons to write/ blog:

  • It’s an antidote to loneliness (or one strand of it). Since becoming more visible within the adoption community on Twitter and through my blog, I feel more connected and part of something, rather than lonely and isolated. I interact with more people daily now, and that feels good.
  • To get support. By sharing our experiences, our struggles, our problems with others, they join in the conversation, whether that is on twitter or our blog. Does it halve the problem by sharing it? It certainly feels more empowering to get ideas, even if it is just ways to jazz up baked beans on toast (which I asked on Twitter recently).
  • To express ourselves. As parents and especially as adopters, it is easy to feel that we are constantly censoring our experience and only sharing what our partner, friends, social workers or children want to (or are ready to) hear. Online, we can tell people how it really is, and there is such a relief in being truly and brutally honest about our lives. This is not another Facebook version of our lives, all sanitised and ‘isn’t it wonderful?’ like the over exaggerated hype of a Christmas letter. This is the getting dirty version where we share the tantrums, the two-hour bedtime nightmares, the exploding nappies, the vomit in our mouth type experiences that actually bind us together far more closely than the pretence.

Writing changes me

Sometimes I write things down, knowing that I may never publish them. Because they are too dark, or too personal, or because it might upset others. But the very act of writing changes my future, changes my day, and changes me. Because I am no longer stuck, no longer a hostage of that issue in my head. It comes out of my head and gets turned into a digital black and white sequence of letters and spaces.

And-then-there-were-fourOne of the best things I have ever done was learn to touch type (nearly 30 years ago) because it helps my fingers keep up with my brain (or nearly). But if you struggle to type, then look at dictation programmes that convert your voice into words – they are amazing now.

And you never know, you might even write a whole book of words, to share just what your life is like with others. I did, and in doing so, I spread love, hope and laughter to people I had never even met.

10 Top tips for writing as self-care

  1. Don’t think. Don’t judge. Just open a blank document and write (or speak).
  2. Close your eyes and get in touch with what you are feeling on the inside.
  3. When you feel ready, start.
  4. Write as if no-one will ever read it.
  5. Write from your heart without stopping, without worrying about punctuation and grammar.
  6. When you have finished (you’ll know when it’s done), save it and close it.
  7. Read it later whenever you are ready (it might be minutes or months later).
  8. Publish if you want, or not.
  9. Tell others about it, or keep it secret.
  10. Or delete and repeat.

About Emma

Emma blogs at nibblesandbubbles.co.uk and has recently published her book And Then There Were Four, which details the pass-the-tissue highs and the pass-the-gin lows of creating her family through adoption. It’s available now on Amazon. You can also find her on Twitter (@emmalgsutton) and Facebook (@nibblesandbubbles).


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Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

10 things to pack for holidays with adopted children

Clothes… suncream… weighted blanket? What are your essentials when taking anxious children away from home? As the school holidays get underway, here’s an updated post from the archives for those about to embark on holidays with adopted children.

10-things-pack-holidays-adopted-children

Here goes…

We’re off on holiday this weekend and the packing is underway. It’ll be our fifth holiday with the girls and I have a mental list of things we need to take to keep things as calm as possible.

1. Pictures of home

Though they’re prepared for seeing the holiday cottages we stay in and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the area’s amenities well in advance of our arrival, the girls still tend to have pangs of homesickness (I think this is generally a good thing  in terms of feeling rooted in our home). So on the morning of departure, we go around the house saying goodbye and taking photos of them in all the rooms on my phone. Then I can whip out my phone when required, and show them it’s still there. This works a treat.

2. Postcards to colour

Any old postcards will do, but the colour-in ones provide an extra keep-them-occupied activity. These can then be sent to friends, family, and teachers. Teachers are especially important to Joanna and Charlotte because of the between-classes limboland that the summer holidays represent. If we send postcards there’s a chance it will remind the teachers to reciprocate, making the transition in September a bit easier. I like these ones and these ones. Another alternative is to use the Postsnap app to create postcards. (Use code 3D04BE to get £2.00 of free credit on the Postsnap app after you make your first purchase.)

Postcards to colour

3. Social story books

Being away can sometimes stir up transition anxiety relating to school, so we take the girls’ social story books with us in case we need to talk about how their day will be the same and how it will be different next term. The school produces these books for us each June (with a bit of a nudge from us) and they are helpful. (If you’re not familiar with this idea, it’s a photo-based book that talks them through the day: ‘I go in through this door, I hang my coat here, I say hello to Miss X, I sit here, etc’. More about writing social stories here.)

4. Favourite toys

10-things-pack-holiday-adopted-childrenMainly a teddy of their choice and a few portable games we play as a family at home – Uno, Dobble and Qwirkle. These help to provide a bit of normality.

I’m not sure what it is about these three games in particular that really engage our two – possibly that they are very visual and quite tactile, so there are things for them to hold, which helps to keep their attention as sensory-seekers. They are definite favourites though.

 

5. Kindles

I’ve already written about my love of the Kindle. In our family, they are a sanity-saver in the early mornings when the children are Very Awake at an hour when we wish to remain comatose. Providing access to their Kindles at 6am might help them manage not to start swinging from the curtains or mooning passers by from their bedroom window (yes these things have happened on holiday before). Worth a try.

6. A new DVD

Yes, more screen time. This year, we’re introducing them to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and I am possibly a bit overexcited about that. Joanna is desperate to see it, having read the book at school. I have also bought her the book of Chamber of Secrets. I think that’s the rest of the holiday sorted.

[Update: recent favourites in our house have included Sing and The Lego Batman Movie. Both are highly recommended, though as ever, check out the reviews at Adoption At the Movies to get an idea of what’s right for your particular child(ren).]

7. Lego

It’s a bit of a holiday tradition for us to have new Lego on holiday. Last year we had a campervan holiday and made a Lego campervan to match. I also made Lego boxes (lunchboxes full of Lego with the green Lego mats glued to the lid as a building surface) based on an idea I saw on Pinterest, and they were a hit.

  

8. Bubbles

Great for regulating breathing and therefore for calming down – we tend to use bubbles several times a week at home, so they will definitely be coming with us on holiday, where there are often plenty of ‘opportunities to calm down’ (a.k.a. meltdowns).

9. Medical kit

While a first-aid kit is probably a good plan, I pack a medical kit that is probably at least 50 percent placebo: plasters for putting on scratches that are imperceptible to the naked eye (cartoon ones for bonus points); E45 cream (our go-to placebo); hayfever medication (actually necessary some of the time, when we dispense it at bedtime to make full use of any drowsy-making side effects); and Calpol (ditto).Enchanted unicorn plasters

10. Sensory stuff

Because the new environment is endlessly fascinating/potentially overstimulating from a sensory perspective, with all kids of new textures in soft furnishings, different sounds,  different smells, etc, I try to anticipate this by being on high alert the second I step in to the place. Knick-knacks are moved out of harm’s way, windows are locked, things that are supposed to be fiddled with are put in their room(s) to try to divert them: fidget toys, chewy toys, a body sock… and my bag of transition toys comes into its own.

Other ideas

  • Pillowcases from home – for familiar smells to help them sleep
  • Portable blackout blind – to help with early rising
  • House rules – a reminder of consistency
  • Schedule for the holiday – to help with anxiety about unpredictability

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BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

Blurt BuddyBox: a review

I am a long-term fan of The Blurt Foundation. I love their dedication to self-care and the way they seem to genuinely enjoy brightening people’s days. The Blurt BuddyBox is one of the ways they do that. You can buy them as a one-off or by subscription, and as long as you place your order by the end of the previous month, it turns up in the second week of the month, filled with self-care surprises.

blurt-buddy-box-review

I like self-care, and I like surprises. #Win.

This month’s box is on the theme ‘All at sea’, and it’s a great one. For starters, it includes a book, which is one of my favourite forms of self-care. There’s also a little sewing project for crafty types, a candle for self-care traditionalists, and the monthly Blurt Zine which is a fab little booklet to encourage and inspire self-care.

So are they any good for stressed-out adoptive parents? Should you get one yourself? What sort of stuff is inside? Here’s what I found when I lifted the lid.

Sea Air Yankee Candle

sea-air-yankee-candle

Was it going to smell of seaweed? Fish and chips? Seagull? I popped off the glass lid and wafted it into my nostrils. To me, it smells more of flowers than the sea – I’m thinking the gardens on the seafront at Eastbourne rather than the wild Pembrokeshire coast or the salted and vinegared delights of Whitby. On balance, the flowers might be what more people want to smell in their bathroom. If you want your bathroom to smell of fish and chips, you can always eat fish and chips in the bath. (Why have I not done that before? It sounds fun.)

Conscious Water Serenity Water Enhancer

conscious-waterI admit, a water enhancer is a new one on me. That’s what squash is for, isn’t it? But I’ll try most things once, so gave it a go and added the sachet to my glass of water. It’s basically a cordial, and needs a good stirring in to stop it all sinking to the bottom of the glass as mine did. To start with I didn’t taste anything, and then there was a subtle orangeyness at the end. It might take a bit of getting used to if you usually have more strongly flavoured drinks. For regular water-drinkers though, this makes a nice change to add to the occasional glass of H2O.

Mapology ‘How to Make Better Decisions’ map

how-to-make-better-decisionsIf you have teenagers, this would be a great one to put on the wall where everyone in the family can see it. It’s perhaps a bit complicated for younger children, but many of the principles are good life lessons – making lists of pros and cons, working out what your guiding values are before a big decision comes along, asking advice from people you trust.

I’m not so sure that if still undecided after all that I’d want to toss a coin or consult my horoscope for a final decision on something important such as ‘Which school should I choose for my child?’, but other than that, it looks helpful. I also like the look of ‘Let’s Negotiate’, another booklet in the series.

Sew-on fabric badge

A sew-on octopus badge? What’s not to like? If I had a denim jacket I’d sew it on to that, but I don’t, so I had to give this one a bit more thought.

I opted to sew it on to a towel for Joanna to take to camp with her – I think it will make her smile.

Stacey Swift Postcard

I think I’m right in saying that Stacey does all of the postcards for Blurt, and she’s consistently great. I love the artwork for this month’s box, which includes rather marvellous seagulls, otters and lighthouses.

Even the tissue paper inside the box has them on – this is another example of the attention to detail that’s great about the Blurt kits.

 

 

Blurt Zine

blurt-zineThis is always one of the best bits of the BuddyBox. It’s a little 8-page booklet on the box’s theme, containing self-care inspiration and encouragement.

Highlights of this one include ‘5 ways water soothes the soul’ a short article on the benefits of visits to the seaside, listening to water, watching fish, having a bath, and staying hydrated.

There’s also a great piece on surviving (metaphorical) storms. The Zine is deliberately small and easy to stash in a bag or pocket for a portable pep-talk whenever you need it.

water-soothes-soul

‘I want to be calm’ book by Harriet Griffey

I-want-to-be-calmThe title won me over straight away – what adoptive parent doesn’t want more calm and sanity in their life? (And an aside: there’s an I want to sleep in the series too. HELLO.)

Short version: this is a brilliant little book about stress and self-care. Clear, practical, and easy to read in one sitting.

I was impressed that within a few pages there was a helpful description of the function of the amygdala and how long-term stress can ‘re-set our internal stress thermostat and it takes less and less to set off our red-alert reaction… It begins to feel “normal” to be functioning in a constant state of stress’.

If you’re thinking that this perfectly describes your child, I’m with you. But it may well also apply to you, the adoptive parent who juggles it all. Yes, me too. I enthusiastically recommend this book. it would make a great gift for any other stressed adoptive parents of your acquaintance if you’re buying; if not, then put it on your Christmas wish list.

Details: I want to be calm: How to de-stress by Harriet Griffey, published by Hardie Grant.

Summary

I’ve had a few BuddyBoxes now, and this is my favourite by a long way. The book has a lot to do with that (it really is excellent), but I also enjoyed sewing on the badge, because it meant I had to sit still for a few minutes. I liked sniffing the candle (even if there wasn’t the slightest whiff of fish and chips), and reading the zine. I may well be buying a few copies of the book for friends for birthdays and Christmas presents.

So, should you get a BuddyBox? I’d say that if you have a spare £21.50 to spend on your self-care you should certainly give it a try. (Unless you really dislike getting parcels of surprises, in which case, maybe not so much.) I  like the way each of the boxes I’ve had has make me try something I wouldn’t have thought of in terms of self-care: I only buy candles at Christmas, I wouldn’t have discovered this book, and our household would not have a towel with an octopus badge on it. So it has definitely added a bit of cheer to the Meadows household as we batten down the hatches for the end of term.

If you’d like to try the next one, place your order on the Blurt Foundation website before the end of the month. August’s theme is ‘Summer Camp Adventure’ and there are woodland animals in the picture so I’m all in.

August-buddybox-summer-camp-adventure


BEFORE YOU GO…

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6 sensory activities for summer

The end-of-term transition anxiety has kicked in here this week. The dysregulation has moved up several notches. Both the girls are tired. There have been lots of tears and slammed doors and shouting about how terrible we are followed by apologies and more tears and cuddles and a bit more wailing and then calm (more-or-less). Time to break out a few more of my tried and tested sensory activities to see us through to the end of term and into the holidays.

6-sensory-activities-for-summer

Note: this is an update of a post I wrote last summer. This stuff works really well for us, so I’m sharing it again.

Around here, as in many adoptive families, holidays are hard work, especially the first few days of adjustment to the different routines. Joanna (8) and Charlotte (7) both have sensory issues caused by their early experiences: Joanna’s are primarily aural (oversensitivity to sound and a fear of loud noises), while Charlotte’s are mainly oral (she likes to chew things – toys, clothes, books – and is very fussy about food and will not countenance the idea of a raw tomato within five feet of her plate). Both are also quite fidgety and love to fiddle with things – to self-soothe because of attachment-related anxiety.

Enter the list of sensory activities to help them stay regulated, happy little sausages during the holidays. You’ll note that all of these are of the uncomplicated ‘buy it and get on with it’ variety, rather than Pinterest-worthy creations that require you to spend a week crocheting the shoelaces of elves first. The only one that requires any advance preparation is number 4, but that’s just putting some stuff in the freezer overnight. Job done.

1: Beads

The beads are a great calming activity – the sorting and threading and concentrating works beautifully to help them stay regulated. Seriously – it’s amazing. I have rarely seen them so calm! As long as there are enough of each type to go around and sibling rivalry doesn’t kick in, all is well. This particular set was £6.00 from Tesco and has kit for four necklaces with lots of beads left over. I haven’t been able to find it there this year but there are similar kits on Amazon (try the WINOMO Alphabet beads or Melissa and Doug Deluxe Wooden Bead Set).

2: Playdough/Plasticine/FIMO

An oldie but a goodie – give them a supply of dough, cutters and rolling pins and let them do their thing. (All you have to do is watch it get trodden into the carpet.) Nice and tactile for those who enjoy that sensation and/or the creative possibilities. Alternatively, our OT recommends the gloop made by mixing cornflour and water. It’s great for making fingers work harder and giving that feedback their muscles need.

3: Baking

Basically an edible version of the previous idea – adding an extra sensory experience into the mix. Use a simple biscuit recipe and let them go mad with the cutters, or for a treat try my chocolate cake recipe. (This cake is EPIC and also completely foolproof.)

chocolate-cake-small.jpg

4: Frozen archeology

A great idea for hot weather. Take some of their plastic toys and freeze them in a big container of water (with food colouring or a bit of orange squash in to hide the toys if you want), then give them a spoon to perform their archaeological dig! This activity provides new tactile experiences to keep sensory-seekers interested and can be combined with playing in a paddling pool for extra entertainment! Joanna and Charlotte love this.

sensory-activities-for-summer

5: Water

Charlotte completely lights up with joy when she’s in a swimming pool, and it’s a full-on immersive sensory experience, so our girls have a fortnight of swimming lessons every summer. But if that’s not an option, then a middle-of-the-day bath can work, especially if you colour the water with food colouring. In hot weather, the classic run-through-the-sprinkler game reliably produces a lot of shrieking and giggling in our garden. In hot weather we sometimes peg out a tarpaulin on the grass and squirt washing-up liquid or bubble bath on it. We then put the hose at the top end (our garden is on a slight slope). The girls love to slide down the slope and get covered in bubbles, then rinse off in the paddling pool. (Don’t have a tarpaulin? Grab one from camping shops or from Amazon here for under £6.50.)

Our garden bubble-slide.

6: Masking tape racetrack

This one needs a roll of masking tape (washi tape works well too) and some Matchbox-type cars. The first time we did it I designed a course for them myself, but Joanna added her own modifications. I like to include plenty of obstacles to make it more of a sensory experience. We have cushions to drive over, maybe a beanbag mountain, a cardboard tube tunnel, whatever we happen to have in the recycling box at the time. I find that the girls’ attention span increases when they can use the tape themselves after I’ve done the basic layout. They also enjoy using lots of props (e.g. people, trees and buildings from their train set and toy farm).

Racetrack

An early prototype

I hope you find these helpful during the holidays. If you you have other sensory play ideas I’d love to hear about them. Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

BEFORE YOU GO…

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6 ways to help an adoptive family in the summer

For many parents, the idea of filling a six-week summer holiday with endless activities, day trips, the library’s summer reading challenge, and new-school-shoe-shopping is enough to make them want to hide under a large beach towel for the duration.  And if you’ve been in the vicinity of an adoptive parent whose child(ren) struggle with end-of-year transitions, you may be aware that they have more holiday apprehension than most. Our children’s behaviour is often less predictable, more volatile, and especially when they are struggling with the ‘all at sea’ feeling of being out of routine, they can just lose the plot. It’s very demanding to parent these children, who need specialist therapeutic techniques to calm their oversensitive, maladapted fight/flight/freeze responses. How can you support them appropriately? Here are my six ways to help an adoptive family in the summer holidays.

6-ways-to-help-an-adoptive-family-in-the-summer-holidays

1. Don’t mention the transition

When talking to adopted children, remember that they are more likely than average to struggle with the end of term, the summer holidays, and the prospect of adjusting to a new teacher, new classroom, and the added pressure to keep up at a higher academic level. They may be missing friends, upset at saying goodbye to a teacher they have become attached to, and generally feeling sad and wonky. A jolly ‘I bet you’re excited about the end of term/the holidays/being in year X’, while well meant, might not be tremendously helpful. Unless they initiate that topic of conversation, stick to something safer. Remember that although they might be fine with you, any stress may be hidden and stored up for release when they feel safe at home later, ie, a meltdown aimed at their parents.

Statements, rather than questions, often feel safer when a child is getting used to being around someone new or a new place. Something along the lines of ‘Hi Joanna, it’s good to see you again. The biscuits are here, you can help yourself, and George is on the swings if you want to play’ is the sort of thing that would put my children at ease. Even a simple ‘I like your T-shirt’ is a good way to avoid talking about school and school holidays.

2. Offer childcare

Offer to take the children out for a day. Or for an afternoon. Or just to the park for half an hour. A little bit of breathing space to mentally regroup is likely to be very welcome. If you have more cash than time, maybe offer to pay for a holiday club, or swimming lessons. If it’s not appropriate for the children to be separated from the adoptive parents at the moment, maybe you could bring an activity to the house – a craft to make, or a game to play, so Mum/Dad can have a lie down in the the next room, for example. Or all meet up at the park/for a picnic/at soft play/etc. Just having an extra adult present can sometimes help children contain some of their more ‘exuberant’ behaviour (and sometimes not, so take your cue from their parents).

3. Send postcards

You don’t have to be on holiday to send a postcard. One from your home town will be fine – if the children have been there and recognise the picture, so much the better. It’s lovely for them to know that others are thinking of them when they are elsewhere, and especially when they’re out of their routine. If you want to go a step further, you could seek out the postcards that are also jigsaws (my children love these), or use a company such as Photobox to create your own. Pete and I use the Postsnap app to send postcards to the children when we’re away – you upload your own photos and it creates and sends a postcard from within the UK, meaning that it arrives sooner than a traditional postcard from overseas. I recommend it. (Use code 3D04BE to get £2.00 of free credit on the Postsnap app after you make your first purchase.)

4. Check in with the parents

While the family is out of their term-time routine, they might not have their usual support systems in place – people at the school gate, teachers, social workers, others, to talk to. Offering them a chat, either in person, on the phone, or by text, can give them a place to offload. Just send a message to say you’re thinking of them. Offer to get the coffee and meet them somewhere the children are occupied.

5. Offer resources

They may not have the time or energy to use all of them, but there are some great resources online. Keep it simple – stuff they can print and do rather than things that need a lot of preparation. For example, you could point them towards the excellent downloads on Twinkl for summer holiday activities and for transitions. Twinkl membership costs £48.99 for a year, which sounds a lot but is good value if you make the most of it. We get our money’s worth by using the printable sheets for practising tables, the visual timetable cards, colouring sheets, games, labels, telling the time – it even has child-friendly mental health resources. Some other alternatives can be found on Pinterest (but beware ‘Pinterest perfectionism’), and I have a few of my own humble offerings, including the summer holiday schedule.

6. Read a book

If you’re planning some summer holiday reading of your own, you might consider swapping one of your novels for something that explains a bit more about the realities of adoptive parenting. Some suggestions:

Sally Donovan’s No Matter What
Dan Hughes’ Building the Bonds of Attachment
Amber Elliott’s Why Can’t My Child Behave?

All of these will equip you to support your friends with a greater understanding of their experience and parenting techniques. (Read these already? Check out my reviews to find something else.)

Thank you

Many adoptive parents say that friends who support them are few and far between. Your willingness to help an adoptive family in the summer, in sensitive and appropriate ways, is very much appreciated. Thank you.


If you liked this post, you might also like to read:


Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

Create your easy-peasy summer holiday schedule

That long expanse of summer holiday fills some with joy and others with horror. For those of us with children who thrive on routine, the summer can be a difficult time. They find it hard to adjust to the differences and anticipate September transitions to new classes and new schools.

Enter the summer holiday schedule.

creatre-your-easy-peasy-summer-holiday-schedule

Using the summer holiday schedule

This is an easy-to-edit Word file that I update every year. It’s not complicated, just the dates from the end of one term to the beginning of the next, with an activity or two marked on for each day. a the moment that tends to be about as much detail as they want, though we also have a Twinkl visual timetable on hand for days when they need a bit more clarity about a simple day at home (‘But what are we doing after lunch?’).

I use them in the Christmas and Easter holidays too, because Joanna and Charlotte thrive on knowing what to expect. If I could add a meal plan for the entire holiday that would make them happier still.

Here’s ours for this summer (click for larger version).

How I fill the summer holiday schedule

This is Joanna’s first year at a residential summer camp (I’m not sure which of us is most excited about this prospect) so that was scheduled first (purple). Charlotte will be spending a few days with my parents so we can have some time off (pink). Then the SEN activity club the girls love – I booked as many slots as i could for that (yellow). Then because I’m talking part in the self-carecamp in Yorkshire at the end of the holidays, we’re turning that into a family holiday by hiring a cottage nearby, which fills out the last week (green). We’ve just renewed our national Trust membership and are determined to recoup the cost, so I scoured the magazine for local child-friendly activities (brown).

Being outdoors is great for Joanna and Charlotte, so, weather permitting, there are also a smattering of days where it simply says ‘park’ and ‘garden fort’. (Note: this is an excellent garden fort kit that keeps them occupied for ages, especially when combined with an old shower curtain for the roof. Highly recommended.)

The rest is filled in with things like a ‘jobs and rewards day’. This is code for ‘get them to tidy their rooms, do the hoovering and clean the bathroom, which is pleasingly endorsed by their OT, in return for a small supply of Freddos, new crayons and those awful magazines with plastic tat attached’. There’s also a pyjama day. This basically means ‘you can watch DVDs while I do all the laundry from the holiday and if you stay in your PJs it means you’re not creating any more for me to wash’.

Your own summer holiday schedule

Of course your family’s schedule will look different from ours. You may not have childcare. You may have exotic holidays. Maybe yours involves a lot more time at the beach, the swimming pool, or the ice cream shop. (We can but hope, hey?) But scheduling your holiday in advance takes a huge amount of stress out of the whole business. It gives children a sense of certainty about what to expect, and it helps parents not to flounder in the face of weeks of nothingness.

To make your own, I’ve produced a blank template. You’re welcome to download and edit it to suit your family’s needs. Some people do a text-only one like mine, others like to add clipart or their own drawings. Whatever works for you.

blank-summer-holiday-schedule

Download yours here:  HLM Blank summer holiday schedule 2017 (MS Word)

More tips

If your children struggle with the back-to-school transition, you might like to try a couple of things we do. First, schedule a school visit to the new classroom for the end of the holidays, to go and say hello and refamiliarise them with where everything is. We arrange this with the headteacher in July (so it’s not yet on our schedule above). Second, plan something fun for the first weekend of term, and include that too, so that it doesn’t look like the fun stops when school starts up again.

I’d love to hear how you get on with this summer schedule – or summer holiday planning in general! Leave me a comment or let’s talk on social media.


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Review | Neurodiversity

Barb has autism, and Lois is her therapist. Neurodiversity is their story. And it’s great.

Review Neurodiversity

It’s not a word I use often, but I think it’s fitting here. This book is a romp through the authors’ various neurodiverse experiences, both personal and professional. These include autism (this is the main focus of the book), ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia, and being gay.

It doesn’t sound like hilarious subject matter, and at times it was deeply moving, but it is also very funny. Their sense of humour is on display throughout the book. They have a lot of fun with tales of their experiences, anecdotes from therapy, brilliant success stories from Lois’s other clients, and just being generally amusing.

How is this book useful to adoptive parents?

First, a disclaimer. There’s nothing specifically about adoption in the book. But keep reading! Obviously if you or a family member have autism, ADHD, anxiety or dyslexia, there’s something here for you. It covers all these topics with both realism and wit. There’s also a pleasingly political bit about the fight for same-sex marriage legislation in the US.

The focus of the book is Barb’s autism – ‘the really bad kind’ – and the way she has overcome many people’s expectations of her to become a writer and podcaster despite being mute and only able to communicate using one finger to ‘peck’ at the keys of her laptop. She describes herself as ‘disguised as a poor thinker’ – a brilliant description of what it must be like to have her intellect and creativity stuck inside a brain and body that won’t cooperate in a typical manner.

Some days the words won’t come, because she doesn’t think in language.  Some days she bites her own arm until she draws blood. Sometimes she attacks others. But she refuses to let the autism win. It’s inspiring stuff. It’s encouraging to those of us with neurodiverse children. I’d say that it’s worth a few hours of your time to read it. And it’ll make you laugh.

Also, there’s some useful stuff about the therapeutic techniques that have worked for her. Things such as

‘I am not in the penitentiary today because I have a swing in my front yard and I know how to use it.’ 

See? Useful. Practical. Stuff we can work with.

Neurodiversity: what’s it about?

The book’s blurb describes it as follows:

A candid, practical, and defiantly funny guide to embracing neurological differences – from a bitingly witty autistic mute and her dyslexic, ADHD-wired, lesbian therapist.

Shattering the conventional notion of disability, Neurodiversity sheds light on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD), dyslexia, and other neurological differences as natural human variations with their own challenges and strengths. While backed by brain science, the authors write from personal experience. Speechless (literally) due to severe autism, Barb Rentenbach communicates by typing one letter at a type. (Though “disguised as a poor thinker,” she’s imaginative, dedicated, and exceptionally patient.) Her therapist and friend, Lois Prislovsky, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist whose distinctive traits include dyslexia and ADHD. (She’s also married to a woman, a mom to a teenage son, and enjoys any new challenge – the wackier the better.) In alternating chapters, Barb and Lois share real-life stories, mind-opening insights, and down-to-earth advice to encourage everyone to see beyond labels, treat others with respect, and help each unique person become his or her highest self.

Written with honesty, compassion, and ribald humor, Neurodiversity offers reassurance and practical tips for parents, educators, employers, LGBT families, and anyone who loves someone who is different. Readers will discover:

  • The payoff of presuming competence and listening well (even to non-verbal people).
  • Do’s and don’ts for managing anxiety. (Do facilitate optimism. Don’t overprotect.)
  • Ways to help ADHD children excel, without medication. (Tips: Limit access to video games but don’t make unrealistic restrictions on movement.)
  • …and much more.

“Autism is my prism, not my prison,” Barb Rentenbach declares. A fun take on serious issues, Neurodiversity presents two wonderfully different perspectives on understanding how different brains think and maximizing our collective human potential.

Excerpts

These are some of my favourite parts of the book.

‘The truth is, aggressive outbursts have always been a part of my autism.

The frequency of my aggression has decreased significantly over the years, as I have become able to communicate more efficiently and REGULARLY. I don;t think I can report the severity of the attacks has waned. But to be fair, I bite my own self more than I do others. I find that makes me more popular.’

‘The brain automatically responds to threat. The limbic system can;t discern if danger is physically real. Despite orthodontic differences, a saber-toothed tiger and the cruellest popular girls in school heading your way may elicit the same physiological response. In The Fear Cure, Rankin classifies these as “True” and “False” fears. True fear is triggered when life and limb are threatened, and False fear is in your “imagination”. Both types of fear are bad for your health if sustained, as our bodies are not designed to be frightened often. Chronic reaction to stress is toxic if unrelenting. The good news is that both True and False fears can be beneficial, if you learn how to filter the messages.’

(The authors signpost readers to a lot of other useful and relevant books. I love this.)

For parents:

‘Children need to practice handling stress, fears, deadlines and mistakes. The acceptance of “not always getting it right” is a lesson we need to demonstrate and teach. It promotes brain growth and life-long learners.’

‘Persevere and remember to laugh. Laughter is like cross-fit for the brain. It engages and strengthens multiple regions across the whole brain and promotes flexibility.’

‘Don’t be too permissive. Letting children do whatever they want, whenever they want, does not “take the pressure off”. In fact, too much freedom may cause a child anxiety. Children become fearful and overwhelmed when given too many choices and denied limit setting. Set boundaries. Provide structure and clear, consistent rules so your children may concentrate on learning, growing, and exercising self-control, leaving the responsibilities of mature decision-making to you.’

Summary

Though not adoption-specific, there’s a lot here to encourage those of us parenting neurodiverse children who struggle with living in a neurotypical society and conforming to its rules and expectations. Those of us whose families are a little (or a lot) unconventional will find no condemnation here, just a useful collection of ideas to try, anecdotes to laugh and cry with, and the feeling of having connected with two authors who are immensely relatable and engaging. I recommend it.

The details
Professional Reader

Neurodiversity:: A Humorous and Practical Guide to Living with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Dyslexia, The Gays, and Everyone Else
Lois Prislovsky and Barb Rentenbach
Mule & Muse Productions with Sojourn Publishing
£20.33 (Kindle £7.62/FREE on KindleUnlimited) (Audiobook £14.60)
Published 1 June 2017

Disclaimer: I received this book free via NetGalley in return for my honest review.


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  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
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