Review | Parenting in the eye of the storm

I often feel that storm analogies are an appropriate way to describe our family life. With two violent children rampaging about we lurch from one cyclone to the next. How much more so must this be the case when you find yourself parenting adopted teenagers with all the added hormones, identity issues and social pressures that this involves?

So to find out what we are in for in another few years, and to better understand my friends who are already in this stage of parenting, I read Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.

Parenting In The Eye Of The Storm: The Adoptive Parent's Guide To Navigating The Teen Years

What does it cover?

The author is both an adoptee and a therapist, which makes for a helpful combination. The book is written from the perspective of the American adoption system, i.e. mainly young people who were internationally adopted as babies. It therefore covers issues of transracial and cross-cultural adoption and the implications of those on an adopted teenager’s identity. This is outside of my personal experience but still interesting and helpful to read about.

But most of the book is not about those things, and much of it applies to the British context too. Subjects such as negotiating about behaviour and consequences, communication around life story work, helping the teenager to envision their future (including forging their sense of identity), and the issue of ‘responding’ rather than rescuing’. I found this last one especially interesting. There’s a chapter devoted to mental health for adopted teenagers which covers sucidial ideation and when to introduce a therapist. There’s also a (very short) chapter on self-care. I was pleased that this was included even if I did wish it was longer.

The Rescuing Dynamic

This topic is a key part of the first half of the book – the idea of ‘adopter as rescuer’ and how to acknowledge this and adjust it in your collective consciousness so that it becomes more about equipping and empowering teenagers to be responsible for their decisions and actions.

‘There are other ways in which the adoption narrative may reinforce the rescuing dynamic. You became an adoptive parent after your teen’s birth parents couldn’t. You picked up where they left off. That’s how the narrative goes. You were the one who didn’t abandon them and will stick by them from now on. And, although you probably didn’t rescue them in a literal sense, it is an aspect of your role. The opposite of rescuing is abandoning. You may also feel caught in this paradigm. To make decisions that may threaten your role as the good one may not feel like a worthwhile risk to take.’

‘In the rescuing dynamic, everyone ends up feeling disempowered to some degree. Adopted teens often perceive their role as the victim of someone or something. This means that the blame and responsibility is on another and that they lack a sense of agency in the matter. But you might also feel like a victim of your adopted teens’ entitlement and demands. It may feel like a lose-lose situation. If you give in, you feel like you’re enabling it, but if you say no, you’ve instigated an emotionally charged confrontation.’

To be honest, though we are trying to do in an age-appropriate way for our children already (they are 8 and 7), we feel a very long way from achieving it. It’s unclear how much leeway the author has allowed for emotional immaturity and other factors, such as FASD. Perhaps this is because I’m not in the target demographic yet.

Summary

Though (a) I’m not the parent of teenagers yet, and (b) the British adoption context is a bit different from the one on which the book was written, I found the book both interesting and helpful, and would recommend it to British readers. It is likely to be especially helpful to those who have adopted a child from a different racial and/or cultural background than their own, as this topic is repeated throughout.

The book is more about understanding and relating to your child than it is about behaviour and parenting techniques. The ‘storm’ of the title tends to be mainly in the mind of the teenager rather than in family life. It certainly doesn’t address violence, stealing, or other more ‘extreme’ behaviours as I had expected it might. Again, this may be part of the nature of American adoptive culture being different from that in the UK.

In summary, it’s well worth a read as long as you approach it without any preconceptions of it solving all known ills. If your storm is more of the outwardly violent kind, you may need something else to help batten down the hatches.

The Details

Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years
Katie Naftzger
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
£11.99 (Kindle £11.39)


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Home for Good, let’s talk long-term support for families

Home for Good, the Christian charity that encourages the church to get involved in adoption and fostering, has released a new, three-minute campaign video. It’s basically pretty good, but like many pro-adoption campaigns, it lacks a bit in addressing the longer term. And I think that’s a bit ironic, given the ‘for Good’ part of the organisation’s name.

Here it is.

What follows is a longer version of my comment on their Facebook post.

I love Home for Good

I’m a vocal campaigner for Home for Good. I’ve run an event with them at our previous church as an ‘adoption champion’. I love their message of inclusion and care for the vulnerable. But my lived experience and the rhetoric fail to match up. I love and support Home for Good (the sort of support that involves talking, doing stuff, and parting with cash), and I’m thankful that this video addresses this issue of the wider church family getting involved. But let’s widen the discussion. Let’s go beyond the welcome and think long-term support.

Home For Good Let's Talk Long-Term Support

I think it’s wonderful that the Kandiahs’ church has supported them and that there are other churches that do likewise. For every family having this great experience, my conversations with other Christian adopters suggest that there is at least one other family really struggling with church. I’ve shared our experience, and others left theirs in the comments of that post. This weekend Starfish and Me shared hers. The conversation continues often on Twitter (click through to see the replies to the tweet below). It is a widespread problem.

It is right to give raise awareness of the needs of vulnerable children and to advocate for them. But it is equally important to give attention and help to those who step up to care for them. It is only in supporting adoptive parents and foster carers that their caring is sustainable long-term.

Not just welcoming

It’s not just about welcoming children.

It’s about supporting the whole family for the duration of the placement(s), not just a lasagne when a child moves in.

It’s about being there for the school exclusions.

The child-on-parent violence.

The battles to get professional help for our children and young people.

The exhaustion.

The relentlessness.

I speak as a burnt-out adoptive mum of two, in contact with lots of other adopters in a similar situation. Church can be the hardest part of the week. I am an adoption champion and would love to continue to encourage others to adopt and foster, but the reality is that is incredibly hard, and often very lonely.

Adoption And Fostering Guide For ChurchesThe leaflet Home for Good have produced for churches is a great start. I recommend it wholeheartedly. But it needs to be read by the whole church. Not just by the children’s workers, the leadership team, or the pastoral care people.

But by the people who tut at the child who can’t sit still and at the parents who do things a bit differently.

The people who serve the coffee and don’t understand why the adopted child takes six biscuits.

The people who think they are great at support because they showed an interest at the start, but haven’t spoken to the family since.

And then we need to see some action. Not sure what to offer? Try starting with my 10 ways to help an adoptive family. But also ask, because we’re all individuals and I don’t claim to speak for everyone.

Let’s Talk

Please, let’s keep having this conversation – in the comments below, on social media, and in our offline discussions too. It’s not just about homes for children. Let’s support the carers too, and do it for the long haul. Or in other words, for good.


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Eye contact in adopted children: attachment, FASD, or autism?

Charlotte (age 7) is struggling with eye contact. And therefore so are we. Is it an attachment issue, FASD, or even autism? How concerned should I be? And should I be starting the fight for yet another assessment? Where do I start to find out? What information is there about eye contact in adopted children? Here’s what I found out.

Eye Contact In Adopted Children: Attachment, FASD Or Autism


Not today, thank you

It’s hard to know what Charlotte wants at any given time, as she changes her mind a lot. Sometimes she demands that we look at her, other times she screams at us not to look at her. Sometimes she wants to look at us, other times she refuses to. On extreme days, our children even scream at us for looking in the car’s rear-view mirror while driving. Not because we are looking at them, just because we’re using it to drive safely! Argh.

Possible diagnoses

I’d like to find out what this problem is about so that I can respond appropriately. Is it primarily an attachment issue? Is it part of FASD? Could it even be a sign of autism? Without a diagnosis it’s hard to know where to start. Is the advice for dealing with eye contact within each of these diagnoses the same or different? I did a bit of research to find out.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. What follows is based only on my own experience as a parent and a bit of Googling.)

Eye contact in attachment disorders

John Bowlby (Mr Attachment Theory himself) lists eye contact as one of the critical factors in healthy attachment. His view is summarised by Psychology Today:

‘If the caregiver is responsive to the child’s signals and interacts with sensitivity, a secure attachment will be formed, reinforcing the child’s own positive emotional states and teaching him or her to modulate negative states. Deprived of the mother’s gaze, the area of the brain that coordinates social communication, empathic attunement, emotional regulation, and stimulus appraisal (the establishment of value and meaning) will be faulty. Such children are likely to develop “insecure attachment” along with all sorts of subsequent losses in self-esteem and feelings of belonging.’

So for Charlotte, whose birth mum wasn’t able to provide this for her, attachment looks like a possible contender. She probably didn’t have consistent doses of eye contact in her first few months of life. As a consequence, it may just be too threatening for her now.

Side note: though we were taught as prospective adopters that attachment theory is basically gospel truth, I am increasingly hearing of respected professionals calling it into question. I’m hoping to cover that in a future post.

Eye contact in FASD

It was harder than I expected to find good information about eye contact in FASD. One helpful resource is produced by psychology students at McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario. They have a blog, ‘Live and Learn with FASD‘. There’s also an associated YouTube channel on which they have a series of videos for young people with FASD to help them improve their eye contact. They say:

‘It has been shown that some children with FASD experience problems with maintaining eye contact, and will typically look elsewhere on someone’s face when they speak. Their amygdalas, which play a role in processing emotions in the brain, tend to be less dense than in children without FASD. … While individuals [with FASD] tend to look at the centre of a picture of a face that is not moving, when a person’s face who is talking appears they tend to look at the mouth instead. This is because when the mouth is not moving, the eyes are more of a stimulus than the mouth in general, but when the mouth is moving, the mouth is a more important stimulus for the proposed pathway along which the information is processed’.

Eye contact in autism

Eye contact is well-known as a symptom of autism. An article from the charity Autism Speaks, ‘Why is it so hard for someone with autism to make eye contact?’ explains:

‘The act of making eye contact is extremely stressful for some people affected by autism. There are many books and articles written by adults with autism who describe the terrible stress they felt when well-meaning parents and teachers tried to force them to make eye contact during conversations. In many cases, they describe being further distracted and unable to focus on the conversation because of this insistence.’

This does sort of sound like Charlotte at the times she screams ‘STOP LOOKING AT ME!’ She has a few other behaviours that I’ve seen described as autistic traits, too. She loves pretending to be a dog, she likes lining things up, and she has sensory issues, especially around food, which can lead to massive meltdowns. Tomato on her plate? Salad leaves? She’ll scream, push the plate away, and either hide under the table or leave the room, slamming the door behind her and shouting. However, there is also a lot of overlap between FASD and autism, which leads to the question…

Which is it?

This helpful printable chart summarising the overlapping behavioural characteristics in FASD and other diagnoses indicated that FASD and autism are both possibilities. (I took this to our GP and it was a really useful tool to discuss it.) As Charlotte’s behaviour ticks all the boxes for FASD, I think it highly likely that she has it. Autism, though? Though I occasionally wonder about it when she exhibits certain behaviours, I don’t think so. This chart from MOFAS (below) is helpful in explaining the differences.

Differences Between Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Autism

Source: Dan Dubovsky MSW SAMHSA, FASD Center for Excellence

FASD Autism
Occurs as often in males as in females Occurs in males 4 times as often as in females
Able to relate to others Difficult or impossible to relate to others in a meaningful way
Restricted patterns are not commonly seen Restricted patterns of behavior, interests, and activities as a core area
Verbal communication may be slow to develop but is not commonly significantly impaired Difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication
Difficulties begin at birth Difficulties may begin after a period of normal growth
Difficulty in verbal receptive language; expressive language is more intact as the person ages Difficulty in both expressive and receptive language
Spoken language is typical Some do not develop spoken language
Spontaneously talkative Robotic, formal speech
Echolalia not common Echolalia-repeating words or phrases
Stereotyped movements not seen Stereotyped movements
Ritualistic behaviors not commonly seen Ritualistic behaviors
Repetitive body movements not seen; may have fine and gross motor coordination and/or balance problems Repetitive body movements e.g., hand flapping, and/or abnormal posture e.g., toe walking
Social and outgoing Remaining aloof; preferring to be alone
Difficulty with change and transitions Inflexibility related to routines and rituals
Can share enjoyment and laughter Lack of spontaneous sharing of enjoyment
Can express a range of emotion Restricted in emotional expression
Funny; good sense of humor Difficulty expressing humor
Microcephaly more common Macrocephaly more common
Considered a medical disorder in the ICD.  Not in the DSM-IV Considered a mental disorder in the DSM-IV

I’ve added colour to indicate where Charlotte’s behaviours fall definitively on one side – and that is mainly on the FASD side. She does have some language issues, such as becoming non-verbal at times of stress, using a made-up language and babble, and often preferring to communicate through grunts. (Some might say that sounds like a typical teenager.) But in other areas her social skills are generally OK. Yes, her level of empathy is a bit lower than I’d like. But she certainly prefers to play with others rather than alone, and she is very, very talkative. She also has a fully-functioning GSOH. Hmmm.

Conclusion

Problems with eye contact in adopted children are not desperately unusual. People have discussed the topic in a couple of threads on the Adoption UK forums, for example. It could ‘just’ be a consequence of early neglect. I’m aware that neglect in the first 18 months of a child’s life has a massive impact. (This was the age at which Charlotte was taken into care.) But my gut feeling is that it’s more than that. This is partly because I have Charlotte’s sister Joanna to compare her to.

Joanna was in the same birth family for even longer (nearly 3 years). Eye contact is occasionally an issue for her, but not to the same extent, and with Joanna it is almost always shame-related. Charlotte’s seems to be fuelled by something else: I get the sense it comes from overwhelm of some kind.

Meanwhile, we’re pressing on with trying to obtain an FASD diagnosis, and I’ll ask these questions when I’m finally face-to-face with someone who knows about this stuff. And as I find out more, I’ll update this post. If you have other sources of information on this topic, please leave them in the comments.

Further reading

I recommend these two books about FASD, both of which contain very practical advice and strategies, including a bit about eye contact.

You might also like to visit:


Have you experienced eye contact issues in your child? What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments.


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Review | The selfish pig’s guide to caring

The Selfish Pig's Guide to CaringCaring for a family member is often hard work, usually unpaid, and can be overwhelming. This book is about having a life outside of that role so you don’t spontaneously combust under the pressure.

How it started
A colleague of Mumdrah’s read this book, Mumdrah put a photo of the cover on Twitter, and twenty minutes later I had seen some reviews, bought a paperback copy, downloaded a free sample for Kindle, and read two chapters. And yes, it is fabulous. I suggest you do likewise as soon as you’ve read this.

Self-care for carers
The premise of the book is that there are hundreds of books about caring for people and doing a better job of it and all the things the person being cared for needs from you, but this book is about looking after yourself and not becoming swamped by caring and losing sight of who you are outside of that role. In short: self-care for carers. With a sense of humour.

Of course I liked it. It ticks all the boxes: darkly funny, relatable, empathetic, often sarcastic, and a bit political (with a small ‘p’.)

The pig thing
The author sets the tone early on by announcing that he doesn’t know of a good name for the recipient of care, so he invents a pleasing acronym: ‘Person I Give Love and Endless Therapy to’, or Piglet, making the carer the pig. The ‘selfish’ bit comes in when we dare to think about doing something for ourselves and feeling bad about it. We shouldn’t feel bad. Self-care is a healthy a survival strategy.

Excerpts

‘What’s so hard to take is not the reality of having to be self-reliant. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that. It’s the failure of expectations which catches you out. It’s like reaching for a banister on the stairs, discovering there isn’t one, and almost falling over the side. If you knew there wasn’t a banister in the first place, you wouldn’t have had any trouble climbing the stairs.’

‘Asking politely doesn’t always work. Hang on, maybe I should re-phrase that. Asking politely only works when you’re not dealing with Officialdom. In the case of Officialdom you have to insist, insist again, carry on insisting more and more loudly, bang the table and stamp your feet. It may be something you can do easily, something that’s completely in character. Or it may be the kind of thing you’d sooner die than do. Whichever, it’s almost certainly something you’re going to have to get used to doing. There’s almost nothing more likely to make you feel alone and isolated than attempting to communicate with a government department. So for your own protection, it’s best to develop a thicker skin. And for the sake of your piglet, ie if you want to get help for them, you’re going to be a more effective carer if you really concentrate on being a shameless, practised, determined, strong-minded, and utterly SELFISH PIG.’

Screenshots of bits I particularly liked from the Kindle version

pig 4

pig 1pig 2pig 3

Especially helpful
Chapter 19 is a list of potential sources of information and help. As this is a general book about caring, written from the perspective of a man caring for his wife (who has Huntingdon’s disease), some of it requires a bit of lateral thought to apply it to the adoption context and to your child(ren)’s specific needs. But beyond the usual triad of social services, the NHS, and the education system, it discusses the founts of knowledge and help that can be accessed through occupational therapists, carers’ support groups, the Citizens Advice Bureau, and a lot of creative Googling. I would also add ‘get active on Twitter‘ because there will be someone else who has been where you are and can share resources or at the least, make you feel less alone.

Summary
The core message of self-care for carers is a vital one. Carers of all kinds should read this book. Adoptive parents will find a lot to relate to. The stuff on dealing with ‘Officialdom’ is especially helpful (and amusing, assuming you share a rather cynical sense of humour about such things).

The Selfish Pig's Guide to Caring (self-care for carers)The details
The selfish pig’s guide to caring
Hugh Marriott
Piatkus
£9.98 (Kindle £6.99)
Second edition published June 2009

 


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Review | The Secrets of Successful Adoptive Parenting

The Secrets of Successful Adoptive ParentingI recently reviewed The Secrets of Successful Adoptive Parenting for the current issue of Adoption Today, the magazine for members of Adoption UK. (If you’re not a member, I recommend it – helpful magazines, local meet-ups, and an excellent conference.)

Space is naturally limited in print, so here is a longer version of the review than the one I submitted.

About the book
This is a thorough guide to how to manage many of the challenges of adoptive parenting, primarily aimed at helping adopters who are still pre-placement to prepare appropriately for the task ahead of them. And it does this job well.

Summary
The book covers a wide range of topics under six main themes: the emotional journey, empathy, compassion, communication, child development and preparations. It includes explorations of parents’ values, children’s memories and grief, and the provision of structure and consistency. The sections on support, brain plasticity, and introductions are particularly helpful. The chapters are short and manageable and it is a straightforward read.

Going deeper
The author bases her advice on her own experiences with her daughter Lucy, who joined their family aged 4, and on six other children whose stories are briefly used for examples throughout the book. These sections bring the theory to life and help to make it relatable and tangible. I would have liked to see more emphasis on these children (though they were anonymised composites) – what challenges did they present to their carers, and how were they resolved? It seemed to me that the author extrapolated from her own experiences with her family to imply that all adopted children can behave as beautifully as her own daughter if parented appropriately. I struggled with this implication, particularly in the context of CPV (child-on-parent violence), which isn’t really addressed. I have no issues with the strategies – in fact we have used the vast majority of them ourselves – but in our case they haven’t all worked as well as the book suggests, because our lives are just not as neat and tidy as that.

Conclusion
In summary, this is a good ‘general overview’ book to recommend to prospective adopters once they’ve started on the assessment process. Perhaps those who are at the ‘still considering their options’ stage might benefit from reading something that talks with a little more unrestrained forthrightness about the challenges so that they know what they’re getting into (such as Sally Donovan’s books which I cannot praise highly enough). Those who are more than a year post-placement are likely to have encountered much of the content already, and to be researching information more specific to their child’s needs. But for reading during the preparation stage, this is just the job.

The details
The Secrets of Successful Adoptive Parenting
Sophie Ashton
Published July 2016
Paperback £12.99/Kindle £8.96


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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.


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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.


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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)

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(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.


You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter, containing my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.