Weekend in focus: the start of half term

In Weekend in focus I review the weekend and look at our therapeutic parenting successes and failures, with the aim of learning something each time.

On Saturday Pete the wonderhusband decided he was going to take the girls out for the morning to give me some peace and quiet. Every now and then he takes them to an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, where they all fill up on porridge and a full English and all the croissants and muffins they can put away. Everyone’s happy.

Given the gift of a morning to myself, I listened to a podcast, did the laundry, had a lovely long shower and generally took things at a leisurely pace. I thrive on peace and quiet and time to be in my own head, so time on my own is a treat.

Then at lunchtime I heard them returning. To be specific, I heard Joanna coming when she was still several doors away. And so, I suspect, did most of the neighbours. The sound of wailing, toddler-style, getting louder (very much louder) as they reached the front door. I opened the door and was greeted by a beaming Charlotte, a sobbing Joanna, and a harrassed-looking Pete. He gave me the ‘here we go again’ look. Joanna had taken exception to Pete telling her to stop running around at the railway station and had decided to Get Cross. Cross for Joanna often also means violent, and so he had been hit and kicked, and by the time they arrived home it was time for him to have a quiet lie down while I worked through our repertoire of calming down techniques with Joanna: cuddles, rocking, deep breaths… and then iPods. It took a while but we got there in the end, enough for me to be able to leave the girls on the sofa with their iPods while I had lunch (they were still full from breakfast).

I was soon presented with Valentine’s chocolates the girls had chosen ‘for me’, and ten minutes later was asked if I would be sharing them. (We don’t really do Valentine’s Day, but given an opportunity to buy chocolate in pink wrappers Charlotte was a triumph of pester-power.) I was also handed some used tissues at the same time. I know. Spoilt.

Every mother's dream

Every mother’s dream

We then worked through our jobs (we like to have a ‘Saturday house-cleaning hour’ where each of us contributes something, like hoovering (J) or filling up bird feeders (C) or laundry (me) or putting out the bins (P). That was great. I really like the feeling when all of us are working together as a family to look after our home. I won’t pretend it’s always harmonious, but generally the girls thrive on being given a specific task or two to do. Joanna especially likes cleaning the bathroom with wet wipes and Charlotte thinks hoovering is the most fun it’s possible to have, and I’m not about to discourage them.

Alas the calm didn’t last for long. More waves of big emotions crashed in. I’m not sure how much was the anticipation of a week off school in different routines. That’s a big anxiety trigger for Joanna. But the rest of the afternoon was filled with the girls’ bickering, in and out of each other’s bedrooms, complaints of what one of them did to the other, and vice versa, until we got to ‘She did something I didn’t like and so I bit her.’ At that point we asked them to play quietly in their respective rooms for a bit (we don’t do time out as a punishment but do use it as a calming down strategy when they are too angry to be physically contained).

A little bit later, Charlotte, out of the blue, asked to look at the things in her memory box. She wanted to go through every item and talk about it. I try to say yes to life story work whenever possible, so we talked through her certificate and teddy from the judge who made the adoption order, the t-shirt she was wearing in the first picture we saw of her, the photo book from her time in foster care, the introductions book we made her, and other bits and pieces of significance.

Pete took care of dinner and bedtime. The children shouted a lot. Dinner and bedtime are often difficult around here, as Charlotte is a picky and slow eater, and both of them are tired and potentially grumpy/emotional by 5.00. They are expert procrastinators and like to drag out the goodnights as long as possible with requests for drinks and hot water bottles and more cuddles and talking about birth family and ‘I wish I had grown in your tummy’, and anything else they can think of. I indulge a bit of this to help them feel secure, and I’m happy to talk about their birth family, but equally I know when they’re trying it on. We strike a balance; sometimes they scream at us to let us know they feel they haven’t had their quota of attention for the day, but I give as much as I can and then it is time for me to spend some time with my husband. (Also some coffee ice cream.)

On Sunday, I dragged myself out for a swim at 8.00 while the girls watched CBeebies and Pete had a well-earned lie-in. I returned at 9.30 to a scene of relative harmony, they were all breakfasted and the girls were supposed to be getting dressed – though a completely starkers Charlotte appeared on the stairs to greet me.  After asking her about five times she managed to put her clothes on and leap into the living room, arms outstretched, with a ‘ta-da!’

Church next, and it was a family service – i.e. the children stay in the room with the adults during the sermon instead of going out to their groups as usual. I was braced for a fidget-fest. Thankfully the under-sevens had an activity table at the back, and members of the fabulous children’s team managed to keep them quiet (how do they do this?). Well done, church.

After lunch the girls made blanket dens in Charlotte’s room. This inexplicably involved a huge amount of jumping and clattering and general destuction of anything that could be used in den-construction. Once calmed and tidied, we produced colouring books for them. Joanna had been looking forward to The New Colouring Book and pestering me about when she could have it. She spent about 20 minutes using it before declaring the faces ‘too scary’ (I really can’t see it but she sometimes finds ‘neutral’ faces threatening – this is apparently not unusual in children who’ve been neglected). It’s one of her favourite cartoons, too.  And it came with a set of pens and wasn’t cheap. Bother.

Pete made the girls’ dinner while I worked. I then did the bedtime routine, by which time I think most of the silliness was out of their system, as it went unusually smoothly. They were in bed at 5.30. 5.30! I think, ladies and gentlemen, we will call that a win. And then we lit the fire and all was quiet and Pete cooked a fabulous lentil and halloumi concoction for us (I love this man) and that was the weekend, over. Now to negotiate half term.

Summary

Successes:

  • tag-teaming for a few hours’ peace and quiet
  • iPods
  • family house-cleaning hour

Failures:

  • the ‘too scary’ colouring book
  • not having a schedule for the week ready to present to the girls (now remedied!)

Next time:

  • we’ll try adding in some more one-to-one time
  • we’ll try to build in either outside activity or screen time on Sunday afternoon – both are good for helping the girls regulate
  • I’ll try to have a schedule ready earlier (I have done this for previous holidays and it works well for all of us)

Do you have any half-term tips to share? Or are things better for your family during the holidays? I’d love to hear your comments.

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