Why I’m giving Mother’s Day a miss

What does Mother’s Day mean to you? Maybe it evokes one of the feelings in this film.
Or maybe not.

Around here, I’m trying to avoid mentioning Mother’s Day and am hoping the school will have kept quiet about it too. My experience of any occasions that aren’t about them is that they make our girls’ behaviour worse than usual, and as much as I love their handmade cards and Lego ‘presents’, I just can’t be doing with the stress this year. They are simply not capable of letting someone else have a special day without sabotaging it.

The meltdowns increase in frequency, duration and intensity (though such a concept hardly seems possible after the last few weeks). The bile will be directed as whoever is supposed to be being celebrated. Things will be said and unsaid and re-said. There’ll be apologies – some meaningful, many grudging and half-hearted. It will be a case of surviving the day and waiting for their bedtime before we exhaustedly congratulate ourselves on not defenestrating anyone.

This is true of Christmas and birthdays – so much so that I have often considered having a second ‘official’ birthday, like the queen, on which to celebrate without the children and actually enjoy it. That is definitely happening this year.

Tweet: Adoptive parents' Olympic-level therapeutic wonders should be sung from the rooftops, just maybe when the kids are out http://bit.ly/2nMjPyBSo I’m hoping to get away with Mother’s day passing unnoticed. I do think adoptive parents’ Olympic-level excellence in therapeutic wonders should really be sung from the rooftops, just, well, maybe when the kids are out.

Also, I have a larger chocolate budget than they do. And Hotel Chocolat deliver.

So, win-win, really.


Before you go…

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Review | 30 Days of Hope for Adoptive Parents

30daysadoptiveparents_n174113The title sounds promising, doesn’t it? We could all use a dose of hope, especially as we’re unlikely to be getting much from post-adoption support. Sorry, did that sound too cynical? We’ll come back to that in a minute.

The basics
This book is a 30-day devotional aimed at Christian adoptive parents and prospective adopters. But it’s not just that – it’s also the author’s own story of the adoption of her daughter from China. (She is an American living in Australia.) This narrative forms the foundation of the devotional and the Bible verses and pontification about the theology of adoption are slotted in around that. It works.

The back-cover blurb is encouraging, too:

‘You finally surrendered. You opened your heart when you said, “Yes, God, I’ll adopt.” But now, you’ve discovered that opening your heart to the idea of adoption is the easiest part of the journey. Now comes the reality of the emotional ups and downs that only another adoptive parent can understand.’

Security vs reality
The book does live up to the promises of realism in the first half of the book. I appreciated the author’s honest comparison of her expectations – of herself and of others – to the reality, from matching through to support. There’s also a lot of talk of living outside of comfort zones and secure predictability.

‘But is secure really the goal? Should it be the goal? “Live worthy to the calling you have received,” Paul instructed in Ephesians 4:1.’

‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13

‘God’s calling? opposite of the American dream, but surpassingly greater, don’t you think?’

Fair point. I like this acknowledgement of difficulty and struggle and discomfort. This is what looking after the marginalised and vulnerable is supposed to look like. Jesus didn’t do flower-arranging in suburbia. He got his hands dirty.

Sharing potential
The book also weaves in a lot of other people’s experiences, which could potentially make it a great way to share the reality of adoptive parenting with others. I’m thinking particularly of the sorts of Christians who instantly want to assume if your child still has issues then you’re probably not praying hard enough. They might benefit from reading sections like this.

‘Here’s what a few adoptive parents said they wish others understood about their lives and their children:

  • “I wish they understood that I love my adopted children as much as they love their biological ones.”
  • “I wish they understood that we are still the same people. Having adopted children doesn’t mean we no longer like or do the things we did with our biological children prior to adoption. We want friendship and support more now, not less.”
  • “I wish they understood it hurts when someone asks questions about our children compared to ‘normal’ children.”
  • “I wish they understood that we aren’t adopting because we just have to have more children! I’ve heard people say, ‘Well don’t you have enough already?’ But what they don’t understand is that it’s not about having enough. It’s about answering God’s call to care for the fatherless and love our neighbor. It’s about love for God and for others.”
  • “I wish that they understood that our family is different from their families.”
  • “I wish people knew that when they tell us how awesome we are or how they could never do what we do, it takes away our ability to say how hard it is.”
  • “I’m a single mom to two Chinese princesses and sometimes I feel like I have to keep my thoughts and struggles to myself because I’ve had comments made to me about how I chose to be a single parent to two. Actually, the Lord chose me. I never dreamed I’d be a single parent once, let alone twice.”
  • “I wish people realized we don’t need answers or advice; we just need a listening ear, a text, a phone call, a meal, or a coffee date—something to help us feel connected to the outside world when those first few weeks and months home are hard. And sometimes the years are hard and we need people to understand that we are the same, but different. God took us on this journey of adoption and that ‘yes’ has changed us in many ways. We have new opinions, goals, and priorities. We may forget to call you back or text; we may parent our children differently now and some of that looks weird. We need grace and understanding as we navigate this new world we ventured into.”’

YES. A big amen to that.

Hold on a minute
And it was all going really well, but towards the end of the book, I thought a bit of idealism crept in again and I struggled to relate to the author. This passage in particular sent my eyebrows skyward:

‘My adoption agency has an entire staff dedicated to post-adoption support for families. As in, there are people on call, ready to help with any range of issues, from cocooning to attachment to caring for the mental health of their adoptive parents. In their preplacement training, the staff emphasizes, “Call us. If you say you’re not struggling in some way after your child comes home, then we know you’re not telling the truth.” I was given permission to admit that post-adoption life is challenging. I was told I would experience difficulties, that I could voice my struggles, and that I would be well cared for when I asked for help. Do you want to know how many times I’ve made that phone call? Once? Twice? A half dozen times? Actually, none. Zero.’

Wait. She has support on tap – including mental health services for adoptive parents! – and hasn’t called them? This is so many leagues away from my own experience of battering on a door that opens just enough to give me hope and then slams in my face again that I had to read it twice. It’s all very well to write about relying on God and whatnot, but he generally tends to work through Other People, such as the professionals who are trained in helping with this kind of thing. headdesk

I got the sense towards the end that the author was keen to conclude the book with a positive resolution and that was going to happen regardless of any personal struggles she or her contributors might be facing. And I understand why she would do that, both from a theological standpoint and an editorial point of view. It’s neat and tidy and provides some sort of soothing balm to the not-too-desperate-just-a-bit-frazzled Christian reader. I would just have found it that bit more helpful if it was a little more… raw.

Summary
The author’s experience is different from mine, her challenges are different, and if she has not yet been desperate enough to call on post-adoption support then (a) that’s great and (b) it’s unfair of me to expect this from the book. So I’d say to cynical British readers, or those elsewhere who’ve adopted older children via foster care and are dealing with major difficulties such as CPV: certainly read the first half. It’s good stuff. And then for the second remember the author’s perspective may be different from your own and she is allowed her happy ending, even if ours feels a while off yet.

The details
Professional Reader30 Days of Hope for Adoptive Parents
Jennifer Phillips
New Hope Publishers
£8.01 (Kindle £3.88)
Published 6 February 2017

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


Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please click the badge to vote for it and make me happy. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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A limerick for #WorldPoetryDay and #WorldSocialWorkDay

WSWD Limerick

By happy coincidence today is both World Poetry Day and World Social Work Day. I wrote this humble offering in the car this morning before returning home from the school run.

Social workers round here in the Shires
Just don’t like it when someone enquires,
‘What help is there, please,
to address CPV?’
They only talk at us about how we’re not allowed to restrain and there isn’t the budget for family therapy and ‘How about we have another meeting?’ and we still have to live in fear of our children’s violence and the whole thing never satisfactorily resolves.

You can read more about CPV (child-on-parent violence) – my story and others’ – on my CPV stories page.


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Hello, goodbye (part two)

img_5720

(If you missed it, or want a refresher, read part one.)

Note: there are lots of sets of initials in this post, so there’s a glossary at the end if you need it.

Hello again, Joanna’s therapist
You may recall that as part of the long saga that was our still-not-fully-resolved battle with PAS in the autumn of 2016, PAS fell out with Joanna’s therapist (who was a fantastic advocate for our family in the face of their unpleasantness). They refused to apply to the ASF for continued funding of her CBT, which the placing LA had put in place a year earlier. The lovely therapist continued to see her for free for a couple of months, but that eventually wound up and Joanna has been without therapy for two months, not to mention distraught at another goodbye, having built up a good relationship. We expressed our extreme dissatisfaction with this outcome and they are finally in talks with the therapist to see if they can come to some agreement. And so we wait and see.

 Goodbye, counsellor
This week I had my eighth and probably final session with the counsellor I’ve been seeing since the start of the year. As I’ve said before, it wasn’t really going anywhere, but she has helped me clarify some of the things I’d been thinking about, namely that

(a) I love my work and it is OK to prioritise that as part of my self-care and life outside of parenthood; and

(b) PAS are likely to continue being a bit rubbish and it is going to be better for my sanity to stop trying to get them to do their jobs better and get on with finding and funding support privately, regardless of my strongly-held belief that this is unjust and wrong.

PAS offered to pay for my counselling sessions at a meeting in mid-January, but obviously haven’t, and the poor woman needed paying, so naturally I paid her. PAS are now moaning about how they don’t reimburse parents and they need to pay her directly, etc. Whatever.

Hello again, GP
Our GP is great. I went to see her again about the FASD assessment for Charlotte which was previously rejected by the paediatrician who clearly didn’t understand the difference between FAS and FASD. Argh.

This time I went armed with letters of support from school and PAS saying this is what needs to happen. She is going to apply again, and has asked me to supply any other evidence I can lay my hands on, such as an annotated version of the FASD behavioural symptoms chart, details from Charlotte’s CPR which point to the likelihood of birth mum’s drinking during pregnancy, etc.

I also told the GP about the increased CPV from Charlotte and showed her the door video. She got it. Really got it, in a way that PAS just haven’t. I asked about what help was available for us locally. She asked what support we had in place. I talked about Twitter and my friends whose children have autism. She asked what official support we have. I said none. She was appalled. She’s investigating what support there is for parents experiencing CPV. I’m looking into getting to an FASD Trust meeting (as usual with such things, my nearest is an hour away).

We finished the appointment with a discussion of our options if we were to pay for therapy of various kinds, what with the waiting lists being horrendous and PAS being somewhere on the scale between hopeless and abusive. She has recommended a local team of psychologists, including trauma specialists, who sound amazing. Their website claims they’ll get back to you the same day with an appointment for an initial consultation within a couple of days. Just like that. I still feel like it is a betrayal of my left-wing soul and I can’t easily reconcile it all, but nor can I do nothing when my children are suffering, Pete and I are dealing with the consequences, and all that stands in the way is some cash. (Don’t ask how much. I have no idea yet but the GP said ‘It’s not cheap’. The bank of Mum and Dad is on standby – sometimes being an only child of generous parents is Very Useful.)

Hello, new OT
Having been on the cards since the assessment was done in May, Charlotte is about to start seeing an OT regularly. It’s another one of the things that got shelved due to the handover between LAs when our three years post-AO was up and they decided they needed to do another assessment of our support needs, we told them what our needs were, they ignored that, faffed about telling us off, etc. Anyway, six months later, the funding is in and it’s happening. Joanna’s being assessed too. The word is that this OT is really good, so we’re hopeful that she’ll help us understand some of the sensory-seeking stuff and how to help the girls get what they need in the right way (ie not chewing blu-tack and toilet paper, for starters).

And so we wait a bit, push a bit, pursue things for ourselves a bit, and see how it all plays out. But after a pretty horrible six months, there are glimmers of hope.

Glossary
AO – adoption order
ASF – adoption support fund
CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy
CPV – child-on-parent violence
FAS – foetal alcohol syndrome
FASD – foetal alcohol spectrum disorder
LA – local authority
OT – occupational therapist
PAS – post-adoption support


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Adoption and the church thing

I feel adrift.

It’s 10.30 on a Sunday morning and, as a Christian, I would like to be at church. Building relationships. Supporting and being supported. Worshipping Jesus. Learning more about the Bible. Applying it to my life. That kind of thing.

So would my husband. So would our children (mostly).

But – and I say this without wanting it to sound as though I approach it as a consumer – church just isn’t working for us at the moment. And to say we are upset about that really doesn’t properly express the deep sense of disconnect we feel from the community that is supposed to be where we belong and can feel that we are fully ourselves.

Pete and I both grew up attending church – he with his family from birth, me as a teenager with Christian friends who let me tag along with their families. He and I met when we both worked for a Christian charity. So our faith is both a part of our individual identities,  and something we want to be a huge part of the foundation of our family.

It’s not just Sundays. We miss being part of a community of Christians who look out for each other, see each other during the week, support each other when things are hard, celebrate together… all the stuff that ‘community’ implies. We haven’t really had that in a meaningful way since very soon after the children arrived. We were previously in a lively Anglican church, with whom we had been very engaged – playing in the worship band (Pete), writing Bible studies (me), and even spending more than a year overseas as missionaries. We left that church before the children arrived because (a) they seemed to forget about us when we were overseas and didn’t handle our early return (long story) very well, and (b) we told a few people in confidence about our plans to adopt and found ourselves asked about it by a different member of the congregation every week. But we still kept hosting our small group which comprised other people of our age who attended the church with varying degrees of regularity.

Once the first couple of weeks of placement had passed – and with them some excellent lasagnes and shepherd’s pies from our friends – the dynamic changed and we had to stop our weekly Bible study gatherings due to a combination of our exhaustion and a lack of commitment from the others which meant some weeks no-one would turn up.

We’ve tried different churches. We went to a Baptist church in the next town for 18 months, but ultimately left because (a) we weren’t getting to know anyone on a meaningful level and (b) they voted to change the constitution so that the leader of the church couldn’t be a woman – in combination, a dealbreaker for us. Our last service there was Christmas Day 2015. Although we’d written to the leadership to resign our membership, no-one else noticed we’d left until the following March.

Lately we’ve been going to an independent church which is an offshoot of the one I attended as a teenager. I know some of the people there from 20 years ago, but most of my generation have moved away, and those who might recognise me are a generation older and never really knew me well. We’ve spent six months trying to settle there, and it’s hard going. I’ll explain why.

A typical Sunday morning goes like this:

7.30 The girls go downstairs to watch TV or play on their Kindles.

8.30 Pete and I go downstairs to make breakfast. At least one of the girls will usually find something to complain about and may refuse to eat breakfast. There may be a tantrum at this point.

9.15 We try to cajole them upstairs and into clothes. There will usually be an argument about whether they wish to get dressed and/or what they propose wearing, e.g. a summer dress in midwinter. Often I try to preempt this by putting out clothes on their beds, with varying degrees of success.

9.45 Teeth-brushing is suggested. This is a prime source of wailing and flailing. We offer help. It is rejected, then wanted, then rejected again. Loudly. There is often a meltdown like this one.

10.10 Time to leave. Putting on shoes and coats and the endless refrain of ‘Can I bring something?’ (I already have a bag full of somethings – colouring, sensory toys, – to keep them entertained). There is almost always a strop at this point. Sometimes it is so intense we give up trying to leave.

10.20 If we make it to the car, and manage to get them into seats and seatbelts, we have ‘I’m bored’ within two minutes. And then ‘Can we have the music on?’ Pete usually has a splitting headache from all the screaming by this point and is understandably reluctant to have music playing while driving. I usually try to persuade him to put it on, just for a quiet life in terms of whining from the back seats. Failing that, I play I-Spy for 20 minutes.

10.40 We arrive at church with 10 minutes to spare before the service starts. There are drinks and snacks available so we have to negotiate that with the girls which normally means I forego coffee so I have enough hands available to steer them and all the accoutrements to a suitable seat. Obviously Pete and I have neither time nor capacity to hold a conversation beyond ‘hello’ with anyone else.

10.50 The service begins. Joanna settles reasonably well, reading her Bible or colouring. She might join in some of the songs. Charlotte struggles to stay still or quiet and changes between activities every few minutes – colouring, writing, stickers, showing me things and wanting conversations about colours and spellings and Things She Needs Right Now. I am unable to concentrate on the service, sing a song uninterrupted, or focus on the prayers. I give her cuddles and back scratches and whatever other sensory input she seems to need.

11.20 The children go to the front for ten minutes of singing and Bible story. Sometimes  they are happy to go with the crowd, other times I need to go with her. Both girls fidget throughout.

11.30 The girls go out to Children’s Church (Sunday school). If I haven’t already been in tears of exhaustion they tend to kick in now, as the sermon starts. I am unable to take much in. I feel rubbish.

12.15 The service ends. Others make bee-lines for each other to catch up and plan social engagements. We troop to collect the girls, who are reluctant to leave the room where they have been making little craft projects and deal with another transition. Once the girls are with us, conversation with others is impossible again.

12.25 We get in the car: the girls are hyper and teetering on the brink of strop; Pete and I are deflated after hoping again that this might be the week we have a conversation that helps us start to build Actual Relationships with someone. We brace for the journey home.

Two weeks ago, it was at this point that we looked at each other and said that we couldn’t face doing this any more. We have told the one couple we know well enough to explain to (adopters with children who are now in their 20s). They told one of the leaders, who left us a voicemail, and we’ve invited him for a coffee. We are trying, we really are. But we are feeling… adrift.


If you’re involved with a church – or would like to be – you might find this leaflet for churches about supporting adoptive and foster families helpful (it’s also available in PDF form here). You might also like to contact Home for Good who can put you in touch with other adoptive parents and foster carers near you.


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9 favourite toys for sensory seekers

When you mention that your child is a chewer and a world-class fidgeter (in polite company, a ‘sensory seeker’), there are a lot of people queuing up to advise you how to handle that.

So this post isn’t that. It’s just a list of the things we use around here to help the girls (mainly Charlotte, age 7) with their sensory issues, with links to places to get hold of them if you’d like to try them yourself.

(1) Some parents and OTs talk about the Chewbuddy as though it is magic. It’s a silicone chew that comes with a lanyard so it can be worn around the neck. We tried it, but Charlotte doesn’t like the texture of it all that much. I don’t blame her. It’s basically like a dog toy, very rubbery and not satisfying to get your chops around. It squeaks on your teeth which might disturb people who are bothered by that kind of thing. You can do a fun trick with it though: tuck the legs inside the head and wait for it to uncurl and jump in the air. It’s strangely compelling.

(2) The Cubebot is a fidget toy which we thought might help the girls to concentrate on whatever it was they were supposed to be doing in class. Um, no. He is very fun to play with, and I quite like having him on my desk when I’m writing, but I think he was thrown in the classroom and was generally not a welcome addition at school.

(3) The Tangle toy is available in a variety of colours and textures and is another great fidget. It’s probably not recommended for chewing because it breaks into sections and pieces could be swallowed. I suspect Charlotte sucks on it more than chewing it – I haven’t yet found any bite marks! It’s very fun and tactile, and another one we’ve sent in to school with her. Again, I like playing with it too if it finds its way onto my desk.

(4) When Charlotte had her sensory assessment, the occupational therapist suggested a body sock would help to provide the proprioceptic feedback that Charlotte needs. You can buy them online, but we made ours (thanks, Mum) from Lycra fabric and elastic. It’s probably a bit bigger than is ideal, but she loves it. We call it the calming-down bag. She gets in and we call out the names of objects and she makes their shape – banana, tree, football, star, etc. We encourage her to hold the large shapes which require her to stretch against the resistance of the bag for a count of ten.


(There is a child in there somewhere.)

(5) Not a sensory-specific toy, but one that has a a texture that Charlotte enjoys using. We used to call them Sticklebricks when I was a child, but these Bristle Blocks, along with Lego, encourage fine motor skills and visual planning.


(6) Another chew toy – this bracelet is a slightly more discreet wearable option. The disadvantages are that they can flick saliva at people sitting nearby (ask me how I know), and that they are very easily dropped on the floor and then put straight back in the mouth (nice).

(7) A solution we use most days at the moment is this combination of a safety lanyard and hard plastic chew. I should make very clear that these chews are intended to be sewn inside fabric toys, not to be used on their own as we do. However, we examine them frequently (every day or two) and replace them as soon as they are starting to reach a point where small bits of plastic might come off and be ingested. Use this with caution and take note of the safety warnings.

(8) In an attempt to make the cuffs of her school uniform less attractive as a chewing option, we gave Charlotte a box of cotton hankies for Christmas. They have her initial embroidered with flowers on one corner, which she loves, and they’re much cheaper to replace than school jumpers, can travel with her to school or live under her pillow at night, be sprayed with my perfume if required, and generally provide a soft chewing option.

(9) This teething chew has been a long-lasting favourite. I found ours in Sainsbury’s but you can also get them on Amazon. It provides several different textures and is one of Charlotte’s favourites (she likes the squishy green section best).

Do you use any of the same toys, or do you have more recommendations? I’d love to hear your comments.


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You Baby Me Mummy

 

Rage and me, the human sponge

beware-children

‘Beware children’ by David Howard on Flickr. Creative Commons licence.

This was our bedroom door at 9.45 this morning (Saturday). We were locked inside. Charlotte (age 7) was on the other side.

We’d just told her (after the usual five-minute warning) that her TV programme was over and she needed to get dressed. She went from calm to this in about 20 seconds, and none of the recommended calming strategies made the slightest difference. We’d tried kneeling down on her level, using very calm and quiet voices, offering cuddles and labelling her frustration, rocking her like a baby as she was obviously regressing… but she wasn’t having any of it. After receiving a particularly painful pinch in the chestal area (yes, OW), I gave up on the therapeutic approach for a bit and just locked the door, because I was very much on the verge of becoming dysregulated myself.

I only filmed one minute, but this lasted 40 minutes. It then took another 20 to get her from curled in the corner of her room, nonverbal, to calm enough to dress her (while she stayed under a blanket).

And then, slowly, gradually, we started to get on with our day. But although there was some relief in my having remained regulated (just), prevented any breakages, and come out the other side, there was – is – still a deep dissatisfaction with the situation in general and how we are equipped to handle this.

Is this really the best we can do for her? Is this really the best PAS can do for us as a family? Just telling us to walk away while she rages? It doesn’t sit comfortably with me that there isn’t anything else we can do to help her. No therapy. Not even a diagnosis yet, despite my firm belief that this is ARND we’re dealing with and there ought to be some professional help available.

I feel like a human sponge. All jaunty and squishy when looked at from afar, capable of absorbing all the rage the children throw at me, soaking up Pete’s grief and frustration at not having the family he envisioned because this is not something he can fix with firm boundaries and refusing to give in. But I am at capacity. I can feel it leaking out. I do a lot of crying when I have the house to myself. Or in the shower. Or wherever else I feel I have ‘permission’ to show it. I can’t keep on mopping up everyone else’s stuff unsupported.

I have a counsellor. I’ve had five sessions with her now. She’s very friendly and everything but I can see that what I tell her about our reality shocks her. I was hoping she’d be more robust. I don’t really feel I can fully offload there, either. So it’s stuck. Is the solution another counsellor? Perhaps. But is the energy I’d expend on the search likely to be worthwhile? I’m hoping, as she gets the measure of it all, she’ll move on from saying ‘Try seeing it as a mental challenge to get what you need from post-adoption support – a sort of game you can enjoy’ to ‘Let’s look at ways you can avoid having to deal with them at all and get your family the help you need within the next six months rather than the ridiculous cycle of requests, funding applications, waiting lists and rejections.’

To be fair, I did start to have this conversation with her this week. I said it would be easier to swap my freelance work (which I love but isn’t especially regular or well-paid) for a part-time job with a regular salary in order to reliably fund the therapies our family needs and avoid the need to engage with the LA’s gatekeeping of the ASF cash (and, ideally, avoid our hopeless PAS full stop). I hate the fact that I have to choose between going private (which as a lefty, I have fundamental objections to) or sacrificing my family’s wellbeing and waiting for the state services to kick in – if they ever do. That’s a whole other blog post. But for now, I am job-hunting. I’m hoping that this way lies sanity.

Note: if you found this interesting, or have your own CPV experience to share, you might like to visit my new CPV stories page.


Diary of an imperfect mum

Today at school: a saga of shouting, shambolic communication and a sneaky toffee. So there.

SONY DSC

7.45 Dropped the girls at school for breakfast club. Joanna’s class teacher wasn’t in yet so I left a message asking her to call me about something that had upset Joanna yesterday. Another teacher (the one they are sent to when their own teacher’s tellings-off are deemed insufficient) had come into her classroom and shouted and it had frightened her. Every child whose name was on the board for bad behaviour SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES AND WOULD SEE HER AT BREAKTIME TOMORROW.

Joanna had come home feeling physically sick, and at 5.00 we finally discovered what had happened. She had been so upset and scared by the shouting that she had wanted to punch the shouty teacher in the face. But she hadn’t punched her. (This is progress. I pointed that out.) So. I waited until registration time for a call from her class teacher, who is usually very good and seems to ‘get it’. Nothing.

9.30 Joanna’s class helper called me. Joanna was struggling, couldn’t calm down and was being disruptive. She was anticipating being shouted at again. Told them I’d anticipated this and that’s why I’d asked to speak to her teacher. The message hadn’t been passed on. And ha ha ha, all the children are scared of Miss X, ha ha ha. Er, no. Not good enough. No child should be frightened at school, but especially not one as emotionally vulnerable as Joanna.

12.15 The SENCO phoned. Joanna is un-calm-downable and I must come and get her. Well, I’m working. I tried to have this conversation at 8am. Joanna is frightened and being punished for showing it. I will come and see her because it sounds like she needs me to but I am very disappointed about the way this has been handled. *assertive voice*

12.30 Got to school. Joanna had calmed down and was back in the class. I said they could either formally exclude her, which might help our case with CAMHS but wouldn’t help her learning, or keep her in school, in which case I’d still like to see her and make sure she was OK.

I saw her. Snuck her a toffee from my bag when the staff left the room in flagrant disregard for their policy on such things, because it helps her. Told her she was doing really well not to have hurt anyone. Promised her no one was going to shout at her or hurt her. Generally listened and reassured her for ten minutes. Then she went back to class. I spoke to the staff and said I’d come and see Miss Shouty with Joanna after school.

1.00 Came home. Photocopied six pages of a book I know the school owns (because I told them to buy it) to remind them what is going on for Joanna when she is being disruptive, and that she doesn’t need punishing, she needs help. And actually, she is doing amazingly well at not being violent, and at articulating her thoughts and feelings to me.

Haven’t got much work done today. Quite fancy a little sleep but have to go back to school in an hour.

*sigh*

Evening update

I went to collect the girls as usual after school. Turned out Miss Shouty wasn’t available to see us after all, so I’m not sure whether that will be rescheduled for tomorrow or not. It hasn’t really been properly resolved, and we have half term next week, so that feels decidedly unsatisfactory. I did speak to the class teacher, who told Joanna she just needed to focus. I didn’t want an argument in front of Joanna, so I handed over the photocopies I’d taken with me, all labelled for various members of staff, and didn’t pursue it. Yet. It will be coming up again at the next meeting though. Oh yes. You don’t trigger her and then punish her for reacting while telling her to ‘just focus’. That’s cruel.

I took the girls to the park so they could run about and let off some steam, then we came home and Charlotte had a strop because she wanted to go on her Kindle and I said it was dinner time. She threw a toy at a light and the lampshade broke. That’ll make a fun story when our new social worker comes round tomorrow. Still, I was in full therapeutic mode and asked if she wanted to come and have a sit down and a cuddle. She calmed down beautifully. If only it was always so easy.

After dinner the girls were both in massive regression mode, both wanting to be treated like babies and be rocked on my lap. So that made for a logistical challenge. We did that, I gave them an age-appropriate explanation of the function of the amygdala – ‘the emergency bit of the brain’. I told Joanna hers was too sensitive because her there was too much danger in her birth parents’ house so she’d learnt to keep the emergency bit switched on but now we needed to help it learn to switch off more because she is safe. (I think she understood it at least as well as some of her teachers. I look forward to reports of her explaining it to them.)

Therapeutic wonderparenting wound down and they went to bed two minutes before Pete walked in the door. Typical! He’s now gone back out for fish and chips (hurrah) and I am skiving my exercise class, which is emotional self-care if not physical. Needs must, eh? This blog has been verified by Rise: R0d53078ddb83f210db0b1272d1febeb7

Self-care: medicating and pontificating 

I’ve spent quite a chunk of this week under my duvet dosed up with half a pharmacy. I’m inclined to call it flu rather than a cold because I usually battle on through colds but this whatever-it-is has floored me. I ache in weird places (not just sinuses and gums but also knees and toe joints). Bleugh.

But while I’ve been otherwise out of action I have been writing a short guide to self-care that I’m going to be giving away soon. I need to give it a final once-over and take care of the technical stuff once my brain’s fully back in gear, and then it’ll be a freebie for everyone who signs up for my email list.

The emails will be monthly and include my favourite recent posts (mine and other people’s) – on adoptive parenting, self-care, helpful adoption-related resources, and other Good Things. That should all be up and running very soon. Hurrah.

Edited to add: A Week of Self-Care for Adoptive Parents is now available.

How knowing your personality type can help adoptive parents

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I love personality tests. Always have. Turns out they also come in handy for adoptive parents when you’re trying to suss out your own foibles and how they affect the way you relate to others (spouses, children, friends, professionals…). And you can find hints about each type can best manage their self-care.

Here are some of my favourites and how I use them.

Myers-Briggs
I’m an INTJ: Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging. This type is sometimes labelled ‘The Mastermind’ – we like plans and theories and date-gathering and testing hypotheses. Pete is the same, which makes life easier – we are pretty much on the same wavelength about most things and tend to approach situations in a similar way: by weighing things up, having discussions that pull in all the evidence and work toward a conclusion and a plan of action, and then getting on with it.

intj

In terms of our parenting, this generally works in our favour. Yes, the introvert thing is a pain in terms of a support network (I’ve written more about this in my post about the need to have support to facilitate self-care). The intuition is great for tuning in to the girls, the thinking is great for the analysis of why things happen, and the judging means we are big on boundaries (read: strict) which Joanna and Charlotte really need so that they don’t get themselves into a spiral of hyperactivity and then crash into a meltdown.

Take a free Myers-Briggs type test.

Enneagram
With the Enneagram, you’re given a main number which represents your type, with a subordinate ‘wing’ number. I retook a version of this test (here) before writing this and came out as a type one with a two wing.

enneagram

Type one is labelled ‘The Reformer’. The website where I took the test says: ‘People of this personality type are essentially looking to make things better, as they think nothing is ever quite good enough. This makes them perfectionists who desire to reform and improve; idealists who strive to make order out of the omnipresent chaos.’ So, well suited to adoptive parenting then!

Type two is ‘The Helper’, which might sound a bit more appropriate. ‘People of this personality type essentially feel that they are worthy insofar as they are helpful to others. Love is their highest ideal. Selflessness is their duty. Giving to others is their reason for being. Involved, socially aware, usually extroverted, Twos are the type of people who remember everyone’s birthday and who go the extra mile to help out a co-worker, spouse or friend in need. … Because Twos are generally helping others meet their needs, they can forget to take care of their own. This can lead to physical burnout, emotional exhaustion and emotional volatility. Twos need to learn that they can only be of true service to others if they are healthy, balanced and centered in themselves.’

Interesting. The type one stuff does sounds like me. I like a plan and a system and I love looking for ways to make things better. I am very easily cheesed off with systems that are inefficient or poorly thought-out. During the adoption process I kept thinking of ways to redesign the system and computerise large swathes of it on a secure site like the one you use to do self-assessment tax returns. (Yes, that is my idea of a fun way to spend an evening.) And as for the type two stuff, I’m definitely not an extrovert, but hello, enormous need to remember self-care. That fits.

So this test is useful in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each type, and it’s not difficult to look at this with your therapeutic parenting googles on and apply your type to your family relationships. For me – no surprise here – the perfectionist/efficiency thing is both an advantage (multitasking? No problem!)  and a source of frustration when others are not wired in the same way. (‘What do you mean, you can’t sort laundry and cook the dinner and supervise two lots of homework simultaneously? You just need a better system!’) It’s useful to be reminded of that.

Take a free Enneagram test.

The Four Tendencies
This quiz, devised by Gretchen Rubin and linked to her book about habit-forming, Better Than Before, divides people into four types: Upholder, Obliger, Questioner and Rebel. She says:

‘In a nutshell, it distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).

Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.

Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%).

Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations.

Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.’

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I’m an obliger, which means I’m great at meeting other people’s expectations of me (such as work deadlines) but not so great at keeping commitments I’ve made to myself (such as diet and exercise). Pete is a questioner, so he is perpetually desperate to know why the children are making daft choices: ‘Why did you cover your bedroom wall with lip balm/hide a week’s washing down the side of your bed/steal things from your teacher’s desk?’ – which of course are the unaskable questions if we want to avoid meltdowns, so he is often exceptionally frustrated. Knowing this helps both of us to back off a bit. Sometimes.

Take Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies quiz.

Hogwarts
Also, I’m not sure this is good for more than a bit of fun, but according to The Guardian’s Sorting Hat quiz, I am in Ravenclaw, Pete is in Hufflepuff, Joanna is in Slytherin and Charlotte is in Gryffindor. (If you’re not a Potterhead, see this explanation of the Hogwarts houses.) Make of that what you will.

What type(s) are you?
I’m curious to see whether adoptive parents are more strongly represented by particular personality types. How do they affect your parenting and/or your self-care preferences? If you take any of these tests, I’d love it if you’d leave the results and your thoughts in the comments so we can compare notes.