Five ways to help an adoptive family at Christmas

You know an adoptive family. Maybe they’re a part of your extended family, or your friends, or neighbours. You want to help, but you’re worried about doing the wrong thing and putting your foot in it. But unless the adoptive family in question is quite unusual, they are likely to be delighted with any expression of desire to help out. So go for it.

Or maybe you haven’t given it much thought, but you are keen to treat adopted children exactly the same as all the other children in your life because you don’t want to discriminate or make them feel different. That’s great, and there will often be a few adoption-friendly tweaks you can make to make your efforts even more helpful for this particular family.

1. Simplify. Keep things as straightforward as possible so as not to overwhelm the children. One present, not five. One small family gathering, not a tour of the country. Predictability, not surprises. Many adoptive families have enough internal stress without adding any external pressures. Keep things relaxed and low-key. Think chilled-out gathering at home, not formal restaurant where impeccable table manners are required.

2. Give experiences, not stuff. Many adopted children break things exceptionally quickly. Mine have been known to break Christmas presents before they were even out of the wrapping paper. They are just not very good at being careful with things. Sometimes they don’t feel worthy of nice things and so they break them to restore them to their idea of normal. Others (including our girls again) feel enormously overwhelmed by presents from all and sundry, and opening a huge pile of things sends them into a cycle of extreme highs and hyperactivity followed by a big crash into a meltdown. So it’s helpful to give them an experience instead: a homemade voucher for a trip to the cinema/theatre/zoo/planetarium provides an opportunity for you to give attention to the child and almost certainly helps out the adoptive parents at the same time. (Hint: all the adoptive parents I know would love this.) If you’re too far away to offer this, then you could get creative. Vouchers for things they can download to a tablet, perhaps, or cinema vouchers if you can’t take them yourself.

When thinking of gifts for adoptive parents, remember that they can probably buy their own alcohol and chocolates, welcome as these things are! It’s a cliché, but your time and friendship are priceless. Give them a list of dates when you’re free to take them out for coffee and listen to them/look after the kids so they can have some respite/be available to do DIY where the children have broken things. Or give vouchers for ironing/lawnmowing/dinner-delivery/whatever you can offer. You get the idea.

Adoptive parents are pretty much all constantly exhausted. Be gentle.

3. Lower your expectations of what they can manage, especially in terms of gatherings and parties. The children may not be able to sit still for very long, regardless of their age (children don’t ‘grow out of’ being neglected and abused and may be emotionally and/or developmentally ‘stuck’ at a lower age). They may be extremely attention-seeking and oblivious to the usual rules of social interaction. The family may not be able to arrive on time (because of meltdowns when getting ready, and/or leaving the house, and/or during the journey). They may need to leave early because they can see before you can the signs that a child is heading for a meltdown, which could be due to a new environment/too many people/Uncle Mike’s aftershave/being asked questions/something being not as they expected. Understand this and don’t take it personally. Assume they are all doing their best and don’t pressure them. Adoptive parents are pretty much all constantly exhausted. Be gentle. Don’t ask them to bring anything that requires hours of baking to the bring-and-share lunch. Do ask if there are things that will make it easier for the children to manage, such as specific foods they will eat happily, somewhere quiet for them to decompress, someone they feel safe with who can take them to the park for half an hour to burn off some nervous energy, etc.

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4. Think laterally. Give books about adoption and/or the child’s specific needs to other family members or mutual friends you know to be supportive. Ask the family for recommendations, or try some of my favourites:

No Matter What
The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting
Building the Bonds of Attachment
Why Can’t My Child Behave?
and for teachers, What About Me?

(For a more extensive list, just Google ‘adoption reading list’ and you’ll see lots to choose from. My advice would be to choose something down-to-earth and practical rather than an adoption memoir.)

Gone are the days of lying of the sofa for a week with a stack of all the books we got for Christmas, only moving to replenish our plates of mince pies.

5. Remember that Christmas may well not be downtime for adoptive families. When children thrive on the regular routines of school and predictable daily life, they can find school holidays hard to cope with. When you add it all the extra expectations and emotions that surround Christmas, it’s no surprise that they find themselves confused, overwhelmed, and stressed. Therapeutically parenting children in this state of dysregulation is very hard work, even if adoptive parents sometimes manage to make it look easy.

Gone are the days of lying of the sofa for a week with a stack of all the books we got for Christmas, only moving to replenish our plates of mince pies. Downtime only comes when the children are asleep, by which time we can barely keep our eyes open enough to watch the Doctor Who special. When you see an adoptive parent in January, better to ask ‘And how was your Christmas?’ in a cautious tone of voice than to launch in to ‘I bet you had a wonderful time with your children’ and make presumptions of yuletide jollity which may not be accurate. I believe it is possible to have an enjoyable Christmas with adopted children, it’s just that we are still waiting for it to happen here.


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8 ways to do self-care hygge-style

I’m reading a lot about hygge at the moment. You can’t have failed to notice that it’s everywhere at the moment, especially if you step into a bookshop. There’s a huge amount of overlap with self-care, with its emphasis on emotional wellbeing and comfort. So here are a few ways you can incorporate it into your own life to help stave off some of the pre-Christmas stress.

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Light a fire: If you have this option, this is possibly the best way to introduce hygge to your living room.

Grab a blanket: because there’s just something about a blanket that provides instant comfort. My favourites were knitted out of leftover wool in all different colours by my grandmother, possibly my great-grandmother. They are heavy and double-bed sized and we have two – one upstairs and one downstairs. All of us love them and fight over them.

Light candles (children permitting): candles are a huge part of creating hygge. I don’t use them much because my children are hazardous enough without adding naked flames into the mix, but if you can get away with it, they cheer the place up nicely.

Dim the lights: it’s about the cosy factor, not being able to see where you haven’t dusted.

Dress down: this is about comfort, not impressing people. Pyjamas are very acceptable, as are that scruffy but comfy hand-knitted jumper, your wooly socks and those tracksuit bottoms you’d never wear in public.

Play a board game: it helps create a feeling of shared enjoyment (unless you play it with my children who will strop if they lose, but let’s say they’re already in bed and you can play with another grown-up instead). Some of our favourites are Mapominoes and Punderdome.

Put the kettle on: hot drinks are a key part of hygge. And while it’s on, make a hot water bottle as well.

Eat cake: The Danes say this is definitely a part of creating hygge, and they should know. This is a good enough reason for me.

Further reading
I love these books on hygge and Danishness:

    

Review: Blurt Foundation’s Buddy Box

I’ve been curious about BuddyBoxes for a while. I’d seen Facebook ads and liked the idea, and had bought them as gifts for a couple of friends, but I hadn’t seen one first-hand myself. Thinking they sounded like a nice idea for a bit of self-care, I bought one.

What’s the idea?
The BuddyBox scheme is run by the Blurt Foundation – an organisation which supports people with depression. The boxes are available as a one-off or as a monthly subscription. They say:

Life is stressful.

With so many competing demands for our time and energy, there’s little left over for us. We come last. Our needs are side-lined, our wants are ignored: we’re too busy to look after ourselves.

But when our wellbeing becomes an afterthought, it impacts on our health. We feel frazzled, wrung out, and disconnected. And eventually, we crash.

The BuddyBox is a subscription box with substance, designed to counter the pressures we face in modern life. Packed full of thoughtful, mood-lifting treats, the BuddyBox comforts, delights and gives you that warm, ‘I’ve been cared for’ feeling inside.

In other words – it’s a hug in a box.

The contents are always a surprise, which is intended to make it feel more of a treat. But there will always be at least five things inside, ‘hand-picked to nourish, inspire and encourage self-care… All the items included in the box are intended to make you feel good: helping you de-stress, find calm, feel pampered, relax, get creative, or simply have fun.’

Sounds good, right?

What’s inside?
I bought the November box, which had a ‘Woodland Walks’ theme. The box itself is a bit smaller than a shoebox and has a pleasing picture of a squirrel on the top. I like a squirrel.

 

Does it help?
I confess that when I opened the box I initially felt a bit disappointed.

A sewing project to add to my collection of unfinished craft projects. A candle that smells a bit like my husband’s deodorant. A slightly twee keyring. The handwarmer is useful and the hot chocolate on a stick I quite like (of course), and the postcards and Blurt Zine are good. But there was an initial ‘oh, is that it?’ about the contents.

And then I tried again.

I read the eight-page Zine properly. It includes instructions (by Gabrielle Treanor) for taking a mindfulness walk, which I liked. There are also some craft ideas for things to do with pine cones, which would appeal to Charlotte, and collecting them might help give a bit of focus to a family walk.

I opened up the hedgehog cushion kit. It looks fun. It is doable in an hour or so in the evening. I resolved to make it.

I inhaled the ‘Autumn Nights’ candle again. It really does smell like Pete’s deodorant.

And then I tried to stop being a cynical whatnot and actually use the stuff and see what effect it had on my sense of well-being.

Using the Buddy Box
I made the cushion and gave it to my mum. The sewing was fun, though I felt it needed more stuffing than the amount supplied, so I cut up an old pillow that hadn’t agreed with being put in the washing machine and supplemented the insides with that.

I burned the candle. It still reminds me of Pete’s armpits. Given that I work from home in the same room, it’s a bit like sitting in a cloud of deodorant. Might as well take my laptop into the bathroom. So there’s that.

The handwarmer is great. Especially for standing in the cold at carol concerts, which I did this week.

Did these things help my stress levels? Yes, a bit. Sewing the cushion made me stop for a while and sit down and enjoy being a tiny bit creative. Reading the zine with a coffee was also a nice pause in my day. And I’m definitely glad I tried out the whole Buddy Box business having been curious about it for so long.

Summary
The box costs £21.50 including P&P. Is it worth it? Does it deliver Actual Happiness?

Well, yes and no.

I tried to analyse that twinge of disappointment as I opened the box. What was that about? I think it’s probably that I didn’t immediately ‘connect’ with any of the contents. There’s nothing in it that made me excited. If I was making a box like this for myself, it would probably contain a (non-fiction) book, a nice notebook (A5, hardback and spiral-bound, please), another piece of stationery, a few nice chocolates, and something silly, like a a bookmark with a Blackadder quote on it, or a whoopie cushion, or a unicorn sellotape dispenser.

npw-unicorn-multi-coloured-tape-dispenser-p2772-8411_zoom

(This is what it needs.)

Don’t get me wrong, I like the woodland theme a lot. I enjoyed making the hedgehog cushion. But the rest just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Would I take a punt on another box? Yes, though I don’t do the surprise thing very well so I might just mop up any spares in the shop. I did buy these sticky notes which amuse me.
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If you’d like to give next month’s box a try, get your order in by 30 November and it will arrive in the second week of December. The theme of the box is ‘A Merry Calm-mas’.

december-box-reveal

 

Self-Care Week, Day 7: Superfluities

Welcome to the seventh in my series of the Components of Self-Care. If you missed the previous parts in the series, the links are below. You can read them in any order.

If you missed them, here’s where you can find the previous posts:
1: Sleep
2: Support
3: Sports
4: Sustenance
5: Space
6: Spirituality

Superfluities

health, wellness, treats, self-care, adoption, families, adoptive, parents, parenting, adopted, children

Yes, I’m stretching the alliteration again, using ‘superfluities’ (unnecessary extras) to mean treats. Rewards, if you like. The fun stuff.

If, when I collect them from school,  I tell my children that I have got a treat for them waiting at home, their first thought is almost always that it will be something edible. I may in theory be a grown-up, but the word ‘treat’ also has the same effect on me.

There is an adoption professional of my acquaintance who delivered some training I was on last summer. In the part of the training on self-care we were all asked to identify a treat and draw it on our name badges. Mine (notwithstanding my limited artistic abilities) looked like this:



Several group members drew gardening-related things on their badges. I respect that. I’m not sure it falls into the ‘treat’ category for me, but I can see how that works as a relaxing activity. The course leader, however, said that her idea of a treat was a luxury shower gel. I’m sorry, but no.

I don’t care if it smells of unicorn breath and ultra-rare Himalayan orchids. It is soap. Thus, shower gel is not a treat. Tweet: I don't care if it smells of unicorn breath and himalayan orchids. Shower gel is *soap*, not a treat. @hlmeadows http://ctt.ec/f93Y4+

I get that a bath is a treat for some, mainly because it equals warmth, solitude and book-reading time. I can totally get on board with that even though I prefer showers myself. But a shower gel? I am still shaking my head in disbelief at that one.

What constitutes a treat?
So having established that shower gel does not qualify, what is a treat? And what types of treats work best as forms of self-care?

Though I like to talk about chocolate and obviously like to eat it (duh), it’s not the greatest example of a treat because it’s not overwhelmingly healthy and therefore undermines the idea of taking care of yourself (see this post on sustenance). I guess if you’re the sort of person who is good at stopping eating chocolate after a couple of squares then fine. I admire your self-control. I am rubbish at that, so I’d go for safer options. Things I’d put in the treat category include massages, haircuts, spa days, trips to the cinema, books, CDs/music downloads, things that make you happy and won’t have a negative impact on your health, your amount of sleep, etc.

Hardcore parenting needs proper hardcore treats. Ideally whole weekends of treatfulness at a time, like taking up residence in a spa, but I do live in the real world, so maybe spending a few quid for someone else to do a chore you hate (ironing, cleaning the car, etc) while you sit in Starbucks and read would work for you (it does for me, every time).

The point is that self-care shouldn’t be the light at the end of the tunnel that we’re going to reward ourselves with once we get through the current struggle. It should be something we build into our daily/weekly/monthly routines as part of the process of dealing with the challenges of adoptive parenting. I know this doesn’t come easily to many people. We are told repeatedly during our training as prospective adopters that the children come first and it is all about them. This is right and proper and appropriate, of course. But if their care is paramount, then their carers’ wellbeing and ability to provide the well-regulated, loving care that the children need is also vital to a healthy adoptive family life.

[Update: could someone maybe mention this to post-adoption support?]

The best post-adoption support recognises the needs of both children and parents and helps the whole familyTweet: The best PAS recognises the needs of children *and* parents, and helps the *whole family*. @hlmeadows http://ctt.ec/LcgUq+

Why treats matter
Adoptive parenting is a long haul. It’s not possible to live in full-on therapeutic wonderparent mode all day, every day until your child leaves home aged 18/21/30/whatever. It is vital to build in self-care as a regular ‘way of being’ in order to avoid burnout, and treats are a helpful part of that. And by, treats, remember, we don’t mean shower gel. Or lunch (unless it’s a really nice lunch, perhaps). Writer Kristin Wong explains it succinctly:

‘Rewarding yourself with an indulgence is one thing. But using your basic comfort and sanity as a reward can be problematic, and many times, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. For example, when I’m in the middle of work, I’ll often postpone eating lunch, even if I’m very hungry. I don’t call nourishment a “reward,” but that’s what it becomes. The carrot at the end of the stick. But if I took the time to refuel myself, work would probably come a lot easier.’ (Source: Lifehacker)

Kristin’s point applies to parenting as much as to writing. If I am looking after the girls for a weekend when Pete is away (as I am at the moment), I will make sure I build in a trip to a soft play place where I can get a decent coffee and read a book, for example. Little oases of sanity-saving self-care help me to regroup and come back to the task of parenting with a clearer head.

Gretchen Rubin (one of my favourite authors, whose book Better Than Before I’m reading at the moment) explains the importance of treats:

‘Treats give us greater vitality, which boosts self-control, which helps us maintain our healthy habits. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which in turn boosts self-command. When we don’t get any treats, we feel depleted, resentful, and angry, and we feel justified in self-indulgence.’

Summary
So giving ourselves treats helps us feel in control. Feeling in control, as adoptive parents all know, is helpful to being emotionally regulated, and being emotionally regulated is a vital part of therapeutic parenting as we try to pass that state on to frequently dysregulated children. Therefore treating ourselves is a really helpful part of parenting our children well. Showing ourselves that care and respect is also a great model for our children of everyone’s intrinsic value and ‘treat-deservedness’.

Works for me. Pass the shower gel.



I would love to hear your thoughts on the importance of treats to your own self-care. Are they something you are making a deliberate part of your life, or an ad-hoc afterthought?  Are there particular treats you find helpful as an adoptive parent? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag.


Sunday self-care blog badge
You’ll have noticed that this was the seventh of the seven components of self-care. You may be throwing up your hands in dismay that we have reached the end of the series (unlikely, but play along for the sake of my self-esteem, if you would). Fear not, for next week is still a self-care Sunday. I’ll be reviewing the Blurt Foundation‘s November ‘Buddy Box‘. And I’ll be self-care Sunday-ing every Sunday after that, too.

Don’t forget, if you’d like to join in the conversation on your own blog, you can grab the blog badge here.

Have a great week.

Further reading
Gretchen Rubin on the psychology of rewarding yourself with treats
The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner (about self-care in general)

Self-Care Week, Day 6: Spirituality

How have you found Self-Care Week? I hope it’s been helpful.

I’m continuing this series of about the seven components of self-care which I first published in early 2015. I’m using the hashtag #selfcareweek on Twitter and Instagram and would love it if you’d join me. Self-Care Week continues over the weekend and it’s a subject I love talking about.

If you missed them, here’s where you can find the previous posts:
1: Sleep
2: Support
3: Sports
4: Sustenance
5: Space

And today, it’s…

Spirituality

God is our refuge and our STRENGTH

Photo credit: Taz + Belly


Do a Google image search for ‘self-care’ and you see a lot of yoga and meditation pictures. It seems lots of us recognise that there is a spiritual element to taking care of ourselves. I’m a Christian and not keen on yoga (which is strongly linked to worship in Hinduism and also forms a part of Buddhist spirituality). I am into music and prayer and being community and reading the Bible and trying to apply my faith in really practical ways, hence the whole adoption thing, à la James 1:27 (NLT):

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

So. This post isn’t about bashing anyone over the head with my faith or singing platitudes about how Jesus will make all your child(ren)’s trauma and attachment issues disappear. It’s just an honest outline of the ways in which my faith helps me parent my children.

Why it matters
Why bother with spirituality? When many people tick the box marked ‘none’ when it comes to describing their faith, why should we add spiritual practices to our already over-full to-do lists?

The UK’s Mental Health Foundation describes the benefits of spiritual activities:

‘Being able to express and explore our spirituality is a basic human need and a universal human right. This right applies to everyone and is enshrined in European and UK law, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. …

Spirituality can help people maintain good mental health. It can help them cope with everyday stress and can keep them grounded. Tolerant and inclusive spiritual communities can provide valuable support and friendship. There is some evidence of links between spirituality and improvements in people’s mental health, although researchers do not know exactly how this works. …

Spirituality can also help people deal with mental distress or mental illness. Spirituality can bring a feeling of being connected to something bigger than yourself and it can provide a way of coping in addition to your own mental resilience. It can help people make sense of what they are experiencing.’

I certainly find all that to be true.  And this stuff matters to me. It is a huge part of who I am and how I hope to parent our girls: teaching them unconditional love and endless grace and hope and honesty and integrity (and, here’s hoping, perhaps a bit of self-discipline one day). So here’s what it all looks like in practice for me at the moment.

Music
Even before I was an adoptive parent, I was tired a lot of the time. Now, on less sleep and more stress, some days are a bit of a fog. I just don’t have the mental capacity, let alone the free time for reading the more academic theology books that I used to love, so I now feel that I ‘connect’ more through music. My current favourite albums are:

    

I have these CDs in the car and I have the MP3s on my phone and computer. They help me calm down, cheer up, and generally regulate and get a bit of a broader perspective on whatever’s on my mind. It helps that (with absolutely no coercion on our part) the children love them and will sing these songs with gusto when they wake up in the morning and are ‘playing quietly’ in their rooms. I think they find them helpful too.

Prayer
I’ll be honest. Making time to pray and try to stop thinking about my to-do list sometimes just doesn’t happen. We pray with the girls at bedtime every night. We pray at church. Pete and I pray together when we remember and are both in the same room at the same time. We have previously had an arrangement that we pray together after lunch on the days he works from home, but his schedule has been crazy recently and we have forgotten a lot. I rely very heavily on God’s grace (knowing that he’s not keeping score) and on what some people call ‘arrow prayers’ – things like ‘Please help me not mess up this important conversation’ and ‘Please let them be asleep before the babysitter arrives’ and ‘Thank you that that revolting stain on her school uniform came out in the wash when I was expecting to have to make an emergency shopping trip’. That kind of thing. But I do find prayer helpful. It isn’t always answered in the ways I would like, of course, but if God always did what I wanted there wouldn’t be much point in him being God, would there?

Community
I love the church when we get it right. It can be the best kind of support network – if there are people there who ‘get it’, it can be a place to offload, to find excellent childminders, to find people who like ironing way more than I ever intend to and are willing to take yours on… there all kinds of ways  they help. Yes, there are also those who are less helpful, but with a bit of determined explaining and teeth-gritting, even those can soften eventually.

It’s through the church that we have organisations like Home for Good, encouraging more Christians to get involved in adoption and fostering and explaining to the rest of the church that these families often need extra support.

The Bible
This one’s kind of a big deal to me. From where I sit writing this, I can see 16 Bibles on a bookshelf in various translations, including Scouse. I also have the Bible on my phone and my Kindle. I have BibleGateway bookmarked on my computer for looking up passages I have only half-remembered or topics I want to investigate.  I try to read it every day, though I don’t manage it all the time. I use all manner of different resources to help me understand and apply it, though my current favourites are the She Reads Truth app and Beth Moore studies which are either a DVD or download, and a workbook (I have done the ones on Esther, James and Knowing God).

[Update: My favourites at the end of 2016 are now Wordlive and Rob Bell’s podcast, The RobCast.]

Though I rarely live up to my own desire to read more (I set an alarm to be Mrs Spiritual Bible-reader at 6.00am, but it often gets ignored), when I do, it helps me focus on what is important, and reminds me that I am not, and don’t have to be, in control of everything that happens to every member of our family (I need reminding of this a lot. I have control-freak tendencies. Ask my husband, or, well, anyone who knows me). Anyway. The Bible is full of advice on how to life ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10) and how to get on with others. Also good adoption-friendly advice for families, like

‘Children, do what your parents tell you. This is only right. “Honour your father and mother” is the first commandment that has a promise attached to it, namely, “so you will live well and have a long life.”

Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.’

(Ephesians 6:1–4, The Message)

Applying faith
The book of James is one of my favourite parts of the Bible. I love the way the author is delightfully blunt.

‘What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,  and you say, “Goodbye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.’

(James 2:14–17, NLT)

Mine and Pete’s faith is a huge part of why we adopted. It wasn’t from a deep yearning to be parents, but a deep acknowledgement that we couldn’t not adopt, having become aware of the need of children for families. More of that story another time, perhaps.

[Update: that story is now here.]

Summary
Though I practise my faith very imperfectly (imperfection and grace being part of the deal), I get a huge amount of strength and peace and guidance from it. In terms of self-care, these are big pieces of the jigsaw.

If you have questions about any of this, I’ll gladly answer what I can if you leave a comment below. If you want to know lots more, I’d also recommend you find an Alpha Course near you (see ‘further reading’) where you can ask all your questions in person (and usually with free food – there is almost always a pasta bake involved).

What are your thoughts on the importance of spirituality to your own self-care? Is it something you are making a deliberate part of your life, or are there reasons you prefer not to? Are there particular practices you find helpful as an adoptive parent? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag. Tomorrow’s topic – the last in the series – is treats, or, for the sake of alliteration, superfluities. Hurrah.



Spirituality: further reading
The Alpha Course
Home for Good by Krish Kandiah
The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner (about self-care in general)

Self-Care Week, Day 5: Space


Welcome to the fifth of my Self-Care Week posts. I’m revisiting this series of about the different aspects of self-care which I first published in early 2015. I’m using the hashtag #selfcareweek on Twitter and Instagram and would love it if you’d join me.

If you missed them, here’s where you can find the previous posts:
1: Sleep
2: Support
3: Sports
4: Sustenance

Space

Photo credit: Istvan

Photo credit: Istvan

Space
I am an only child, and I am an introvert. I need regular, lengthy doses of time on my own in order to feel balanced. Pete, who grew up in a family of extroverts, is the same. Thankfully we tolerate each other’s company really rather well.

Our children are extroverts. They thrive on being with others and think being alone is some kind of punishment. How much of this is due to having been neglected and how much is just their natural personality type I’m not sure, and in practice this distinction is irrelevant, because it just is. They need vast amounts of attention and jabber constantly about nothing in particular (to make sure I haven’t forgotten about them); I need vast amounts of silent headspace. This combination takes quite a bit of working out.

Solitude and self-care
For good mental health, we all need time away from our work. There is no doubt at all that parenting qualifies as work, and parenting children who have experienced trauma counts as really very hard work indeed.

For some, me included, self-care and solitude are definitely linked. For others, restful time away from parenting is more fun with other people involved. The important part is not so much the what or where as the how can I have some time for me? I read a lot of adopters’ blogs and tweets and a common refrain is that making time for ourselves as adoptive parents is really hard. Our children are not just ordinary-level demanding. Often, adopted children are bouncing-off-the-walls, need-constant-supervision, attention-needing levels of demanding, regardless of age-appropriateness. Add in enhanced levels of separation anxiety, or unwillingness to leave them with babysitters who don’t get it or might not handle an outburst … and time away from children can be really hard to arrange.

But it can be done. Enter the support network.

Six months ago, me and Pete were feeling really stuck in terms of childcare. His parents are older and do what they can for his sister’s family, and we are reluctant to make more demands of them. My parents are caring for my 90-year-old grandmother as well as having all kinds of commitments to friends (helping on a farm, taking neighbours to hospital appointments, fundraising for local charities, etc). They do a huge amount for us already, and we wanted to increase the number of people we asked to help in order to be fair to them.

So we sent up a distress flare.

By this I mean that we wrote to the leaders and pastoral care team at our church, with a little package including two books (Home for Good and No Matter What) and Home for Good‘s support booklet (available to read online here or by post here). I explained that despite having been members there for a year, we hadn’t managed to get to know people because we had to whisk the children outside to run about straight after the service rather than mingling merrily with a coffee and a smile as is expected in their middle-class utopia (OK, I might have phrased it slightly differently in my letter). Could they help us, I asked, by facilitating some friendships?

I felt so self-conscious doing this. Asking for help making friends felt a bit weird, like a child telling the teacher no one wants to play with them. We are supposed to be functional, responsible, sociable adults. But we were too mentally and emotionally exhausted to do it without help. Anyway. It worked. The church leaders actually read the books and talked to us about them. I was prepared to be fobbed off with claims of busyness, but no. People – including other adoptive parents I hadn’t known were there – started to talk to us as we milled about outside, watching the girls climb trees and roll in the mud. I started meeting up with one of the adoptive mums for a Friday morning coffee every few weeks, which is something we’re still doing. It’s great. But we also started to get offers of babysitting. Particularly from people who were involved in the children’s work at church and so knew the girls. Bingo! The holy grail.

Recently, we’ve been going out every Monday night, with a rota of five different babysitters who have happily (I think) come and put up with ten minutes of separation-anxiety-induced wailing from Joanna and then enjoyed three hours of quiet knitting/reading/TV-watching/biscuit-eating. The feeling of freedom as we walk away from the house, sans enfants, is really quite blissful. We’ve been doing The Marriage Course for a second time, not because anything is wrong, but as a preventative MOT-type check-up. (Also, there is good cake.) It’s lovely to have time set aside for the two of us, and doing the course means that we talk about us, not school or childcare or behavioural issues.

[Update: Since writing the above, we have had a period of six months where we stopped going to church, and are now in another church. The babysitting arrangement lasted the duration of the course and then fizzled out. We found ourselves back at square one, where we needed to be so focussed on the children that building new friendships in those minutes before and after services became incredibly difficult. We are now trying again in our new church to build those sorts of relationships and start asking for help, but it is slow and difficult and we are tired and introverted and mainly want to run home and hide after a couple of hours’ public parenting.]

Why? How? When? Where?
All the above is great, and I am thankful for supportive friends and family. But I strongly believe that respite care should be part of a statutory package of post-adoption support that adoptive families can access whenever it’s needed. Foster carers are entitled to a certain amount of respite each year, in recognition of the challenges they face. Why not adopters? American adoption organisation AdoptUSKids  facilitates respite care for adoptive families.  In their booklet ‘Creating and sustaining effective respite services‘, they write:

‘In 2007, AdoptUSKids launched a targeted effort to increase adoptive, foster, and kinship families’ access to respite care. Respite care is defined as a program or service that enables adoptive, foster, and kinship parents to take a safe, rejuvenating break to energize and regroup from the often challenging task of parenting children who have experienced abuse, trauma, and neglect. In many cases, respite programs provide children with the chance to build relationships with other children in adoptive, foster, and kinship families, and to participate in meaningful activities that increase their skills and resources. Respite care is a key part of the post-placement services often needed by adoptive, foster, and kinship families to help support placement stability and permanency.

Research has demonstrated that respite services can:

  • Reduce risk of maltreatment and risk of an out-of-home placement
  • Achieve statistically significant reductions in reported stress levels of caregivers and improvements in the quality of their relationships
  • Improve caregivers’ positive attitude toward their children
  • Improve family functioning
  • Help caregivers meet their children’s special needs
  • Improve relationships between parents and children
  • Decrease the risk of child abuse
  • Prevent placement disruptions
  • Increase families’ ability to provide care at home for children with disabilities’

The reality for most UK adoptive families, though, is that respite is not available as an official resource from post-adoption support, but has to be patched together by adopters with help from family and friends, perhaps with some paid childcare if the budget allows.

One of the UK organisations that ‘gets it’ is The Open Nest. They have a helpline staffed by people who listen and understand. But, crucially, they also offer respite breaks for families. With appropriate childcare. It all sounds amazing.

I wish I could tell you about others like them. I look forward (with naïve optimism?) to the day when I can re-write this post with a list of UK providers of respite care for adoptive families. Maybe the Adoption Support Fund will help. We’ll see.

[Update: It hasn’t. But you probably knew that.]

What are your thoughts on the importance of making time for yourself to your own self-care? Is it something you’re managing well or struggling with? Do you have strategies that work well for you? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag. The next topic is spirituality – that is, the role of faith in self-care and what that means to different people. Please come back tomorrow and join in that discussion too.



Space: further reading
The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner
Where’s the post-adoption support for traumatised children? (Louise Tickle in The Guardian)
The Marriage Course

Space: further viewing
The Open Nest’s new animation – great for sharing with family and friends to help them know how to help.

Self-Care Week, Day 4: Sustenance

To mark Self-Care Week, I’m revisiting my series The Seven Components of Self-Care, which first ran from February to April 2015. Nearly two years on, I’ve re-read and updated it a bit, and am reposting it every day this week. If you missed them, you can catch up with part one (sleep) here, part two (support) here, and part three (sports) here. Join in the discussion in the comments or on Twitter using #selfcareweek.

Sustenance

Photo by Michael Stern

Photo by Michael Stern


I’m using ‘sustenance’ to mean all things foody because it alliterates with the previous topics, and I love a nice bit of alliteration.

(I am now going to write an entire blog post about food while sitting in Starbucks, worryingly close to a tempting stack of paninis, with my beloved caramel macchiato in my non-typing hand. OK. Let’s do this.)

Food, stress, self-care and me
I really like food.

But also… I know that I eat as a response to stress, and my children’s behaviour is often a trigger. Once they’ve been home from school for half an hour five minutes, the bickering has begun, and the listening to me has stopped, I head to the kitchen for something else to do. At this point I am usually thinking that I need to (a) save my sanity and (b) model an appropriate way to deal with frustration. (The eating part might not be a great example, but removing myself from a situation rather than yelling at them is positive, so let’s go with that.)

This is why, as I mentioned last week, I can be found at my local Weight Watchers meeting every week, checking in and soaking up inspiration as I aim to lose 4st in 2015.  I’ve now been doing Weight Watchers for just over a month (without the accountability it provides, I fall off the wagon). I’ve lost 7lbs, so I’m on target so far. And the sense that I’m in control of this aspect of my life feels good, especially when the kids are off the scale and we live with a lot of unpredictability in terms of how they feel like behaving on any given day. So, me doing Weight Watchers is me doing self-care. (As I would say if I was American, go me.)

Why it matters
As we all know, food is fuel and a good balance of the healthy stuff (protein, carbs, fibre, vitamins and what-not) equips our bodies to run well. This is especially important for people who experience high levels of stress on a day-to-day basis (such as those parenting children who have experienced trauma), because the combination of stress and unhealthy eating can lead to severe long-term health issues, such as diabetes, heart problems, and depression. As the Stress Management Society says, ‘Lack of nutrition will inflict a greater stress on the body, plus other problems that pose a threat to your physical and mental health’. They elaborate:

‘One of the main issues with stress is that it can cause unhealthy eating habits. This applies mainly to people who are always on the go and lead a busy lifestyle. People that fall into this category often endure large amounts of stress and have no time to fit a balanced nutrition around their busy schedule. Additionally, stress makes the body crave foods that are high in fats and sugars. This flaw in eating, in time will inflict a greater stress on the body, plus other problems that pose a threat to your physical and mental health.

‘When a person becomes overwhelmed with stress, a common reaction is a sudden urge to eat food. The majority of the time, foods consumed in this situation will be ‘convenience foods’ that are considered a quick fix to nullify stress. The theory of a quick fix is entirely false however, as these foods/drinks only worsen the problem. Consuming foods that are of a ‘junk’ nature actually increase the volume of stress on your body.’

(Their guide to eating to combat stress then goes on to talk about the perils of sugar and caffeine, and, well, as I read it I start to feel that I am being nagged. At this point I am finishing my caramel macchiato and concentrating on the bit about not smoking where, having never touched a cigarette, I can feel virtuous. Ahem. Shall we continue?)

How? When? Where?
So what should we be doing food-wise to help us cope with stress, and how can we add taking care of our nutrition to an already overwhelming to-do list as adoptive parents? Exactly what should we be eating to help our bodies cope with the relentless stresses of adoptive parenting?

  • B vitamins: These help ease stress, depression and anxiety, as well as other physical benefits. (There’s a helpful list of exactly which B vitamins do what here.) They’re found in Marmite, eggs, wholegrain bread and fortified cereals. So eggs and toast and Marmite takes care of that one.
  • Vitamin C: Protects the immune system and lowers the amount of cortisol (a ‘stress hormone’) in your body. It’s in many fruits and vegetables, with particularly high levels in oranges, red and yellow peppers, blackcurrants, strawberries, broccoli and brussels sprouts. Making sure you get your five a day and include some of these sorts this one out.
  • Magnesium: Helps with muscle relaxation, fatty acid formation, making new cells and heartbeat regulation, and is found in green leafy vegetables, meat, fish, nuts and dairy products. So a dose of salmon and spinach and few more almonds, and you’re done.
  • Protein: Helps with growth and tissue repair. Good sources include meat, eggs, nuts and seeds. So a handful of almonds mid-morning will do that one.

(Obviously a multivitamin pill could take care of all this for you, but isn’t it more enjoyable to do some actual eating?)

If you’re the sort of person who can look at at a list like that and go off and put it into practice without gaining an ounce, good for you. I am not. I see a a list like that as a licence to eat brazil nuts all day ‘for my mental well-being’, and add in a bacon sandwich with thick slices of granary bread and magnesium-rich margarine at lunchtime to make sure I have enough of the good stuff in my system. Hmm. So to manage it all appropriately without looking like a hippo in a T-shirt, I need a plan.

As I’ve said, Weight Watchers is a large part of the solution for me. I commit to spending 45 minutes in a meeting every week, weighing in, talking about making the right choices, and reminding myself that I need to invest in my health as a fundamental part of my self-care, rather than reaching for a quick fix in the moment. I can work all the healthy stress-proofing foods into my points allowance, so I snack on grapes and bananas and (very tiny) Marmite sandwiches when I’m feeling wound up, and try to skip the nuts most of the time (because I am very bad at stopping eating them) and go for eggs instead.

I also have a Fitbit (bought in the sales on Boxing Day) which syncs with the Weight Watchers app on my phone, and basically converts exercise into more food. Excellent.

The Fitbit app
The FitBit app
2015-02-25 11.53.34
The WeightWatchers app

Related to this is my need to stay hydrated to help with my self-regulation, as I was saying on Twitter recently:

…which speaks for itself.

So, hands up who’s joining me in the land of Marmite sandwiches? Or do you have other ways of getting all these stress-beating foods into your diet while still having a life (and maybe a sneaky coffee or two)? I’d love to hear your comments.



Further reading
The Energy Diet (NHS)
Combating Stress with a Balanced Nutritional Diet (Stress Management Society)
Weight Watchers

What are your thoughts on the importance of making good food choices to your own self-care? Is it something you’re managing well or struggling with? Do you have strategies that work well for you? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag.

Self-Care Week, Day 3: Sports

To mark Self-Care Week, I’m revisiting my series The Seven Components of Self-Care, which first ran from February to April 2015. Nearly two years on, I’ve re-read and updated it a bit, and am reposting it every day this week. If you missed them, you can catch up with part one (sleep) here, and part two (support) here. Join in the discussion in the comments or on Twitter using #selfcareweek.

Sports

sport-927762_1280

I say ‘sports’ because it alliterates with the previous topics and I’m in to that kind of thing. By it I mean exercise in general, not necessarily of the organised variety. My exercise of choice is a mix of walking and swimming. I do not run. I tried a ‘couch to 5K’ running programme once and got stuck at week three, which hurt both my knees and my lungs. I decided there had to be a better way, because I certainly wasn’t experiencing the ‘runner’s high’ I’d been promised.

I have friends who have fallen in love with running and now take part in distance-running events for fun. I’m not in that place, and I definitely speak as a bumbling numpty with no great athletic ambitions. If you’re not currently doing any exercise, please know that I get it. I’m not a lycra-clad gym enthusiast. I’m a bit of a fatty who finds that a swim or a walk with my husband help me manage the stress of adoptive parenting. That’s it. No preaching here.

I have come to my current schedule of a couple of half-hour swims a week and the occasional weekend walk through a concerted effort to prioritise my own self-care. I’m overweight and it is impacting on my health, so I have set myself the target of losing 4 stone. But I’m not just exercising for weight-loss purposes. I have discovered for myself the stress-relieving power of exercise. And those are words I didn’t imagine I’d be writing.

Why it matters
It’s widely recognised that exercise reduces stress. Getting your heart rate up releases endorphins, also called ‘happy hormones’, helping to lift your mood. In  ‘The Total Destress Plan’, Beth MacEoin says:

‘When we exercise rhythmically and aerobically for a sustained period, naturally occurring, feelgood chemicals are secreted into the bloodstream. They are called endorphins. It is widely believed that these endorphins are responsible for the sense of elation that is known to follow a stint of aerobic walking, swimming or cycling. Endorphins are believed to be naturally occurring antidepressants with a calming, sedative effect.’

She also discusses the long-term benefits of exercise in counteracting stress:

‘Enjoyable, regular exercise is a strong ally in any struggle for effective stress-busting ­­– for two very different reasons. Firstly, vigorous, rhythmic physical movement gives our bodies a chance to ‘burn off’ excess adrenaline and any additional stress hormones that may be circulating in our systems as part of the fight-or-flight response.

‘Secondly, exercise will help to reduce the tension and stiffness that builds up in muscles, particularly in the muscles of the face, neck and shoulders if our lifestyle is overloaded with negative stress and pressure. If this tension were allowed to become established, the stage would be set for the frequent and regular appearance of stress-related tension headaches and other such debilitating chronic complaints.’

How? When? Where?
For a long time I argued that I was so exhausted and had so little spare time that the idea of using my precious lie-in time to Actually Move About really didn’t appeal at all. It wasn’t until my weight hit an all-time high that I decided things were getting out of hand and ordered a new, enormous swimming costume and dragged myself off to the pool. And you know what? Without children in tow it is a really enjoyable experience. I have time to think. I feel in control of this aspect of my life, even if things on the domestic front are still at the mercy of my children’s behaviour. And the combination of these things feels really quite good.

I fit in my swimming first thing in the morning, leaving the house to be at the pool soon after it opens. Leaving a nice warm bed at 6.15 is not my favourite part of the experience but after a few weeks it is getting easier, especially as the mornings get lighter. I come back home just as the rest of my family are eating breakfast and can carry on with my day with that feeling of having accomplished something for myself.

I use our local council-run sports centre, but have friends who’ve poshed it up and join private gyms. When I lived in London I did this too, but now I’m out in the sticks the council’s one does me fine, even it doesn’t have the free towels and shower gel and all that business. I also haven’t bothered with membership. I know from previous experience that if I pay upfront I waste my money. Some part of me seems to think that paying is half the work, and I slack off. So I’m a pay-as-I-go non-member, with none of the frills of Swimtag or any of that stuff. I just look at the clock and get out after half an hour. Done. The time out from childcare is benefit enough.

The walking does normally feature the children – we’ll try to fit in a walk in a local park or the woods most weekends. They benefit from the opportunity to run about and shriek; me and Pete benefit from them having somewhere other than the house to do that. I have a Fitbit (bought in the sales) which syncs with the Weight Watchers app on my phone, and basically converts exercise into more food. Works for me. So while they are poking mud with sticks and building dens, we get some exercise on the sly, while also having the opportunity for a conversation during daylight hours. Win-win.

I am still a bit baffled by people to whom exercise comes naturally. I’m not sure I’ll ever reach a stage where I voluntarily wear lycra or go to exercise classes for fun rather than watch Bake Off... but what I’m doing is working for me right now and it genuinely is making me a bit less stressed than I would otherwise be. And that has to be good for the whole family.

Tomorrow I’ll be writing about food (though for the sake of the alliteration of this series I’ll be calling it sustenance, naturally…). I can promise there will be chocolate.

Also, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend this 90-second video as motivation to find a form of exercise you enjoy. I love it.

What are your thoughts on the importance of exercise to your own self-care? Is it something you’re managing well or struggling to get enough of? Do you have strategies or schedules that work well for you? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag.



Further reading
Weight Watchers
The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner (about self-care in general)

Self-Care Week, Day 2: Support

Welcome to the second in my series on self-care. Every day this week – Self-Care Week –I’m examining a different aspect of self-care, specifically as it relates to adoptive parenting. (This series first ran in spring 2015.) I’ll be using the hashtag #selfcareweek on Twitter and Instagram and would love it if you’d join the conversation. If you missed it yesterday, part one (on sleep) is here.

Support


Today’s topic is support, which is so vital to adoptive parents that proving you have it is a big part of the approval process. When we went through the process, several of our friends were interviewed, either in person or on the phone, not just to gather information on us but to see if they’d be up for helping us through the challenges. Our families went on a special one-day course for relatives of adopters, too. Yet the reality post-placement often looks very different from any documents given to the social workers.

Our support comes – in theory, at least – from four sources: family, friends, online, and ‘official’ support. I’ll run through each in turn in a moment, but first of all, let’s look at the reasons adoptive families need help.

Why it matters
Adoptive parenting is an extreme endurance event. It’s a 24/7 job, and even when our little treasures are at school for around 30 hours a week there is a higher than average chance of being phoned and asked to retrieve them for a misdemeanor of some kind, not to mention all the meetings with teachers, educational psychologists, behaviour support advisors, and whoever else is involved. We therefore need respite: time away from caring for our children to attend to our own wellbeing. Without it, we will be much less able to do a good job of therapeutic parenting, because our own mental health is impacted and our ability to self-regulate reduced.

In ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, Erica Pennington comments:

‘Without support, many families either struggle in isolation or become one of the adoptions that disrupt or break down before the child reaches adulthood, resulting in the child being returned to the care of the local authority – creating further trauma for the child and for the family who so wanted to love and care for that child. Finding appropriate support can mean the difference between a child thriving in a secure and loving family and a child potentially living their childhood in the care system, which while it does its best for the child, doesn’t offer the individual therapeutic family care these children need.

‘…Adoptive parents, along with foster carers, special guardians and kinship carers are caring for and parenting some of the most traumatised children placed from the care system. They need all the support they can get.’

The type of support you need will depend on the specifics of your situation, of course, but could include childcare, time with friends, specialist professional help of various kinds, and other adoptive parents to talk to (in person and/or online). Don’t forget that adoptive families are legally entitled to an assessment of support needs, and this should include support for parents as well as children (though getting parental support funded is a whole other issue).

And now to our sources of support.

Family
Our primary support comes from my parents. They are incredible. Emergency childcare at the end of the phone? Yes. Household repairs where the children have broken door handles/toilet seats/gates/etc? Yes. Staying over at our house occasionally so we can have a night away without the children? Yes. They are the most dependable, unflappable part of our support network. I am an only child, so I have the advantage of there being no other grandchildren to make demands on their time. I try to make sure I supply them with flowers, chocolates and cakes at regular intervals to thank them for their marvellousness, and am careful not to be too demanding, but the kind of support they give us isn’t something we can adequately thank them for.

On Pete’s side, his parents are occasional childminders – maybe one afternoon every three months, something like that. They are reluctant to drive to our house (about 45 minutes away) though they are very much a several-times-a-week fixture in Pete’s sister’s childcare arrangements, for those are the wonderchildren. Moving swiftly on…

Friends
I am not the first adoptive parent to say that our circle of friends has changed since the children joined us. There are those friends who ‘get’ adoption and attachment, and those who don’t, and fairly soon you work out which is which and proceed accordingly.

Pete and I have never been especially outgoing, gregarious types, so we have a fairly small circle of friends, many of whom are long-term friends from school or university days and are scattered around the country/planet. Locally, we have a grand total of three friends who have babysat our children on one or more occasions. One of our goals for this year is to double that number so that we can have regular evenings out as part of our own self-care strategy without becoming a nuisance to just a couple of people.

We have found the business of finding people to ask a real challenge. We moved churches a few months after the girls were placed with us, wanting to find somewhere that suited us better as a family. After a year we were still struggling to make friends, because we were so preoccupied with meeting the girls’ needs on a Sunday morning (for which, read ‘taking them outside to run around and let off steam immediately after the service’) that we just didn’t have much opportunity for conversations. Church life has always been a major part of our social scene, so to be without it for a long period has been difficult.

In the last nine months things have improved as we have started to ask for help (not something that comes naturally to us in social situations) and to befriend other parents who have expressed an interest in looking after the girls for the occasional afternoon. Even if they don’t understand attachment, they’re willing to read a book and get stuck in trying to help us, which is about as much as we can ask of anyone, really. There are also a few other adoptive families at church, and another mum and I meet up every three weeks or so for a natter about how things are going. It’s lovely not to have to explain the whole attachment thing, or FASD, or how hard it is to get professional help… and it’s great to be able to help each other out with books and sources of information.

[Update: we really tried with this one, but two years later we haven’t really broadened our circle of babysitters at all. We stopped going to church for six months because Sunday mornings just became so stressful. No-one there noticed for three months. We’ve recently started attending another church and are trying again but it is SO HARD to meet people in a meaningful way when you also need to give attention to very demanding children. I’ve also recently written this post about what to say when people ask how they can help.]

Online
I love online support. I love the relative anonymity, the ease with which we can share similar concerns and experiences in the adoption community, and the sense of camararderie that I sense in our interactions. In the right places online, we are surrounded by others who ‘get it’, who live it, who empathise and advise and seek solutions alongside us. Twitter is my main source of online support, but I also use the Adoption UK forums and a couple of private Facebook groups for adoptive parents.

I spent a huge amount of time lurking on the forums before the girls were placed, scaring myself witless with all the tales being shared. Some of them I now see played out in our family, others I am waiting to experience when the girls are older, and (thankfully) some I think we might have dodged. The forums are great for group brainstorming about problems and researching issues you have now or want to prepare for.

[Update: Twitter continues to be the best source of emotional support and advice, and a place where I can talk relatively freely about things without needing to explain all things adoption.]

Official
It would be fair to say that our official support is patchy. There are adoptive parents’ support groups within our local authority, but none very local to us or very conveniently timed. The LA is good at running courses, most of which we attended during the approval/matching process. But we don’t feel there is much for us at the moment, either for the children or us as parents. I don’t even feel as though post-adoption support know quite how to help us as parents when we’ve read all the books, been on all the courses, and are just wearily enduring all the behaviour and meetings and extra stuff that is adoptive parenting.

My list would look something like this: some decent mental heath work for the kids, some proper gritty counsellors available on demand for us to offload, regular respite childcare or cash to arrange this ourselves, and a modest allowance to replace/fix all the stuff the kids break (doors they have kicked through, that sort of thing). And chocolate. Chocolate would help.

What we actually get is a bit of waffle about not having the funding and some ‘Have you tried doing X in their life story work?’ and then ‘Well, you’re doing everything right, it just takes time…’

I disagree. I takes time and hard work by all of us in the girls’ lives and the provision of specialist services like CAMHS, which basically comes down to cash. It shouldn’t, of course, but it does, every way you turn. And this is frustrating beyond measure, especially when you know that many, many adoptive parents are working reduced hours or have given up paid work entirely in order to meet the needs of children who were once in the care of the state.

It shouldn’t be too much to ask to be adequately supported. I really hope May and the Adoption Support Fund signal the beginning of a change, though I’m not holding my breath.

[Update: we have changed local authorities since I first wrote this post, and things are decidedly not any better. We are now feeling actively harrassed by PAS, as I wrote in this recent post.]

What are your thoughts on the importance of support to your own self-care? Is it something you’re managing well or struggling to get enough of? Do you have sources of support other than those I’ve mentioned? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag.

Tomorrow, part three of the seven components of self-care: sports.



Support: further reading
When friends ask ‘What can I do to help?’
Adoption UK forums
NHS guide to post-adoption support
Post adoption support: a rapid response survey of local authorities in England (Government working paper)
It takes a village to raise a child: Adoption UK survey on adoption support
Information on the Adoption Support Fund