Why adoptive families are like the TARDIS

When we first adopted our daughters, my aunt said to me by way of reassurance that she knew a family who had adopted a sibling group of three and everything seemed to be going fine. I immediately wondered exactly how well she knew them if this was her perception. Then I questioned whether I was just a cynic. I’ve come to the conclusion that adoptive families are like the TARDIS: bigger, crazier, busier on the inside. Yes, there’s a sense in which this is true of all families, and human beings in general – there’s an inner life and a face we present to the world. But in our case I feel there is more than average ‘on the inside’ that goes unseen or un-thought-about by those outside our family life. Is that true for your family too?

Why adoptive families are like TARDISes

The TARDIS at BBC TV Centre. I have a photo of me geeking out in front of it too. 😊

A change of perspective

How adoptive families are like the TARDIS

Recently in a Facebook group a prospective adopter was asking about ‘the negativity’ they were reading about from people who had already adopted. ‘Surely the good times must outweigh the bad? Surely adoptive families are more like other families than they are different? Surely we can probably still live the general good quality of life we have now, once we adopt?’

I remember asking questions similar to these myself when we were still prospective adopters. I wanted desperately to believe it. The Adoption UK forums both intrigued and terrified me with their stories of CPV, trouble with the police, and section 20s. Six years on, though my children are still only 9 and 8, these issues are raising their heads in our family and I am no longer terrified by them, just resigned to navigating them as best I can with a sense of near inevitability that I hadn’t expected to feel. (And let’s not talk about the risk of unplanned pregnancy – if ethics allowed, I’d be marching them into the GP for a hormonal implant as soon as puberty strikes. I’m still hoping to regain my freedom for a few years once ours reach adulthood before we are required to do grandparenting.)

I know there are many adoptive families where things are working out fine. Their children go to mainstream schools without major issues. They can take family holidays in the destination of their choice without drama or disaster. They operate more or less like a neurotypical family unaffected by trauma. I have a schoolfriend for whom this is true and I follow her adventures on Facebook with – let’s admit it – a bit of jealousy.

This is not our reality.

Bigger on the inside

To those on the outside, perhaps our family looks to have ‘normal’ dimensions – the stereotypical nuclear family of two parents and two children. Step over the threshold, though, and it’s ‘bigger on the inside’: more challenges, more stress, more professional involvement, more overwhelm, more baggage. All because of our children’s trauma and the legacy it has left.

Why adoptive families are like TARDISes

Bigger on the inside. Photo credit: Matthew Wells

Perhaps from outside, our family looks to have ‘normal’ dimensions. But it’s ‘bigger on the inside’: more challenges, more stress, more professional involvement, more overwhelm... because of the legacy of our children’s trauma. Click To Tweet

Is your family TARDIS-like too?

Do you feel the constant overwhelm of having people think you all ‘look normal’ and trying to either maintain that impression or explain why things aren’t quite how they seem? Do you long for a sonic screwdriver to reverse the polarity? Does talking to those on the outside make you feel as though you might as well be speaking Gallifreyan? You’re welcome to vent in the comments below!

The Adoptive Parents' Self-Care Club



  1. 17 April 2018 / 10:11 am

    Hannah, I adore this analogy it did give me a little internal giggle, it does resonate strongly with me as I’m feeling after an emotionally heighted morning from our youngest that our home is bulging at its seams.
    Like you we also have 2 girls, an almost 8 and just turned 9 that have been part of our family six and a half years, as they grow physically and emotionally the daily dynamic changes. “What will occur today?”. New days bring new challenges, our household motto is ‘breathe from your heart! It supports the power to reset emotions in all of us. Xx

  2. Jo
    18 April 2018 / 9:29 am

    Thanks for this Hannah. I usually read and don’t comment, but this is so pertinent today, I had to.

    Yep! Though we are definitely not at crisis point, we are also definitely not a neurotypical family either.

    This week is a tardis week in our house.

    School are having dinosaur week. It’s an amazingly exciting and creative week for regular children without a difficult early start. For my two, it’s an uphill struggle, with land mines! Even with preparation and support from home and school, (school are brill) we’ve had waking because of dinosaur related nightmares plus daytime meltdowns plus sibling on sibling violence, plus controlling behaviour over every. little. thing.
    And we’re only 24 hours in.

    So, yes! I know exactly what you mean, Hannah!

    I am going to log the shenanigans of this week to give school a clear picture of what our tardis looks like from the inside!

    • 18 April 2018 / 10:47 am

      I’m so glad you have a supportive school – it makes the whole thing so much easier. I think recording all the effects of the week in the way that you mention is a brilliant way to help them understand the impact of all these deviations from the usual routine. Even when they mean well it can be hard for them to join the dots in the way that we do as parents.

      The dinosaur-related nightmares sound really scary – I hope they are short-lived and calm is restored by the weekend. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  3. 12 June 2018 / 2:34 pm

    Yes, yes and a million times yes!! The most frustrating thing I’m finding is the way parents (and it’s nearly always parents) judge my parenting when they see how quiet and seemingly subdued my 8 year old is when she’s with me, compared to how incredibly joyful and bouncy (as they see it) when I’m not around. They just can’t see that her ‘joyful and bouncy’ is actually ‘fear and hyper behaviour because the boundaries have gone’. They don’t know that 5 minutes before they saw her, my 8 year old was storming through the house, going into medicine cabinets and bathroom cabinets to get all the things we try to keep her safe from, doing anything in her power to control her 5 year old brother and not get ‘caught’. They don’t know that she hasn’t attached after 3 years and so is constantly on the look out for a new mum who, in her eyes, is better than the one she has! It’s so damn hard – and so damn frustrating – but I keep going, knowing they think I’m a terrible parent because she’s so much ‘happier’ when I’m not around! But not knowing that this is the only way I can keep her safe!

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