It’s the morning after Adoption Sunday and I’m still upset. My Facebook and Twitter timelines are peppered with stories from Home for Good and their advocates, calling on people to adopt and celebrating gatherings around tables, which has been this year’s theme.

I used to be among them. I have spoken at church, encouraging others to adopt and foster. And yet this year it all rings hollow for me. Why? Because after these gatherings around tables – to use their metaphor – who stays to help with the washing up?

washing-up

As I said during National Adoption Week, the recruitment of new adoptive parents and foster carers has to go hand in hand with the recruitment of people who will provide genuine support to those families. Not just childcare for toddlers, not just a lasagne and a toy when the children move in. Full-on, long-lasting support.

  • Support that mows the lawn and mends the holes kicked in the doors and walls.
  • Support that’s there when you need to talk without being judged.
  • Support that comes to training with you to learn to cope appropriately with dysregulated older children.
  • And yes, support that sometimes cleans the kitchen too.
  • Support from the sort of people you can be authentic with, instead of perpetuating the ‘adopters are superhuman’ idea that some seem to have.

Where are these people?

The rhetoric says that this is what is available to us at church. But it just isn’t. I don’t know where these people are. Lots of people we talk to at church (when we’re able to get there) say ‘that sounds difficult’. I believe a precious few genuinely pray for us regularly. But who is there we can call when Joanna runs out of our front gate and across the park? Who will come and help us find her and bring her home?

In an emergency of course we’d call the police. But we’d rather have friends. We’d rather there were people at church who celebrated with us the Sundays we were able to get there, and helped us engage the children in some calm, low-key way, perhaps having lunch with us occasionally, lending us their presence so we could get home safely without the usual post-church transition meltdowns that are some of the most dangerous, violent and frightening we see?

In an emergency of course we'd call the police. But we'd rather have friends. Click To Tweet

Church as family

Home for Good have an excellent booklet on support which I plug whenever I discuss this subject. I recommend it. But I would dearly love to see them go further, taking the focus off the prospective adopters and foster carers alone and talking about who we are as the church, and how we are family to those who are struggling. Not just children who have come from care, but adoptive parents and birth children who become adoptive siblings with all that entails. I’d like to see Adoption Sunday generally being broader in approach – taking the family model that step further.

Pointing to his disciples, [Jesus] said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”’

Matthew 12:49–50 (NIV)

There is so much more I could say. I’d love to discuss the parallel – if I can speak in the church’s language for a moment – between adopter recruitment and support on one hand, and evangelism and discipleship on the other. I really think we need to see it with the same long-term perspective, otherwise we are setting people up for a very painful, lonely journey.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’

James 2:14–17 (NIV)

Come on, church. Let’s do this better. Let’s offer meaningful, long-term support to families – to our collective family.

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In our house, the start of November brings a strange mix of excitement and concern. Will they or won’t they cope with fireworks this year? Will the children put on their own ‘fireworks display’ as a response to all then bangs and flashes outside?

fireworks

Feeling the love for fireworks

I am a big fan of fireworks. So much so that we ended our wedding reception at 6pm so that me and Pete could slope off to a fireworks display 10 miles away for the rest of the evening. It’s something I hoped to share with our children – wrapping up warm to stand in a cold field, eating hotdogs with fried onions, and hoping that each squealing rocket shooting skyward would burst into one of those huge rosettes that changes colour twice before it fizzles out with a crackle. I have great memories of standing on the village rec, cold feet in two pairs of socks inside my wellies, the waiting all worthwhile for those few minutes of pyrotechnics. I loved it. I’ve never celebrated Halloween, so bonfire night is the autumn celebration as far as I’m concerned. I love a firework.

My children, though, have been known to see it a bit differently.

fireworks

Inauspicious beginnings

For their first three Novembers with us, the sound of our neighbours’ fireworks was enough to frighten the life out of them. Coming from a birth family where sudden loud noises meant parents fighting, the bangs made them scream and hide under their duvets at best, and completely freak out and rage when it was really bad. We didn’t even try to go to a display, though we did occasionally manage to coax them into watching through closed windows – we live on a hill with great firework viewing potential for others’ home displays.

Last year

Last year was our first proper outing to a proper display, back in the village where I grew up. With hot dogs. It was just like the old days, with the addition of a couple of fairground rides to keep the children amused until the display started. I had wrapped the children up in plenty of layers, with scarves and gloves and hats and, importantly, earplugs.

It worked.

Yes, Charlotte got a bit cold and tired towards the end, but she mainly coped really well. Joanna, who had been the most scared of fireworks previously, loved it all. She was awestruck in exactly same way I’d hoped for. It was one of those rare parenting moments where you think ‘This is what it is supposed to be like’.

This year

We made sure that they were (a) filled with hot chocolate and biscuits and (b) wearing lots of layers before we headed out. When we arrived, we went straight to the hotdog stall to make sure that box was ticked. I also made sure I had a couple of cups of mulled wine early on to help me cope with proceedings.

Our fireworks display involved half an hour of standing watching a ‘fire dancer’ and some people with glow in the dark hula hoops before proceedings started. Pete and I muttered about the appropriateness of wearing a leotard and fishnets and dancing in a cold field at night, but the girls loved it. It helped that Pete procured some toasted marshmallows at this point. Nice work, husband.

marshmallows

Finally the fireworks started. They were excellent. They were also loud. I wasn’t sure how the girls would cope – last year there was a lot of holding hands over ears – but this year they took it in their stride. Boom.

Shh. I think we’ve cracked it. We’ve done fireworks… without the fireworks. And they loved it. Long may it continue.

The girls’ fireworks pictures from their activity club today:

 

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Now the summer holidays are well underway, are you running out of ideas to keep the children busy? Don’t panic! Here are 50 of my favourite sanity-saving holiday activities.

50-sanity-saving-summer-holiday-activities

  1. Visit the library.
  2. Build Lego models.
  3. Go hunting for new games in the charity shops.
  4. Make a den under the table/behind the sofa.
  5. Decorate the path/patio with chalk.
  6. Have scooter races.
  7. Write postcards to your family and friends.
  8. Make junk models from the contents of the recycling bin.
  9. Make pizza.
  10. Write Christmas wish-lists.
  11. Make a scrapbook of your summer with photos, tickets, and drawings.
  12. Design your own board game.
  13. Make Christmas cards.
  14. Make things out of holey socks.
  15. Design your own T-shirt.
  16. Go swimming.
  17. Do a garden treasure hunt.
  18. Blow bubbles.
  19. Make your own ice cream (whisked double cream + tin of condensed milk + extras).
  20. Fly a kite.
  21. Play musical statues.
  22. Have a board games tournament (play all the games you have and see who is Winner of Winners).
  23. Get brochures from the travel agent and plan a perfect holiday (cut out pictures of the nicest hotel, swimming pool, food, etc)
  24. Rearrange their bedroom furniture (if they will cope with the change).
  25. Home spa – nail varnishing, massage, give each other hairdos…
  26. Plant flowers.
  27. Use printable activity sheets (these Twinkl outdoor activity sheets are free to download).
  28. Make ice lollies.
  29. Play with Fuzzy Felt.
  30. Make people out of lolly sticks and washi tape.
  31. Go to the beach.
  32. Find a playground you haven’t visited before.
  33. Visit a pick-your-own farm.
  34. Make fairy cakes.
  35. Make models out of Plasticine or Fimo.
  36. Go blackberrying.
  37. Make your own animation (a friend gave this to Joanna and it is very fun).
  38. Visit a pet shop.
  39. Make a scene with gel art window decorations.
  40. Go litter-picking with grabbers.
  41. Earn a Blue Peter badge.
  42. Make an alarm to keep your annoying sister out of your bedroom.
  43. Make wax rubbings of coins, leaves, Lego bricks…
  44. Design a new pencil case for going back to school.
  45. Go birdwatching/tree-spotting/vehicle-spotting with an I-spy book.
  46. Create a mini-book about something you love.
  47. Put on an audiobook.
  48. Fill an in-car entertainment station.
  49. Create an animal footprint tray for your garden.
  50. Do a science experiment.

And if none of those will work today, my vote is for putting a new film on their Kindles and having a small doze on the sofa. How about you? Let me know in the comments.

Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

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PCOS is really common, especially in the adoption community, and can cause weight gain amongst other symptoms. Enter specialist eating plans to help lose the weight and improve the other symptoms. If you like your meals to be heavy on the science and intense on the planning front, The PCOS Diet Plan could be just the book for you.

Review PCOS Diet Plan

My PCOS experience

I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) at the age of 17. The person doing electrolysis on my rampant facial hair (picture Evan Baxter’s ‘It just keeps growing back’ scenes, if you will) suggested it would be a good idea to investigate the possibility with my GP. After numerous blood tests and ultrasounds and being prodded about Down There by student doctors (mortifying), the diagnosis was confirmed, I was handed a prescription for Dianette, and off I went.

It wasn’t until later that I read more about PCOS and the association with weight gain. I was a bit overweight as a teenager and as an adult have managed to lose large amounts of weight with Weight Watchers a couple of times, but it is a battle and on top of the trials and tribulations of adoptive parenting (read: I eat when stressed) I have not yet been able to conquer it again since the girls arrived.

PCOS and adoption

I know that many people come to adoption having had issues with fertility and that PCOS is a common problem. I ran a poll on Twitter:

The result: more than a third of my Twitter followers who took part in the poll have a PCOS diagnosis. This is higher than the average in the overall population (estimated at 10%), and especially when I didn’t ask only women to participate in the poll! It wasn’t conducted in an especially scientific manner. But it is broadly in line with what I expected, ie that there is a higher-than-average prevalence of PCOS among adopters. With that in mind, I tried out this book to see if it’s worth a go.

The Book: First impressions

If you’re either (a) really into nutrition or endocrinology, or (b) love to do a lot of detailed homework before starting something new, it’s more likely you’ll enjoy the first section of the book. I found it like wading through treacle, which, given the emphasis on avoiding refined carbs, is probably not the effect the author was going for. The first half of the book is not dissimilar to an academic paper, with lots of citations of various studies and long latinate science vocabulary that explained the why and took a long time to get to the ‘what to do’ element. I’m fine with a couple of chapters of it, but spent at least an hour’s reading wishing the author would cut to the chase and give me some sample menus so I could see what I was dealing with.

The PCOS Diet Plan: what’s it about?

The short version is that women with PCOS should aim for a plate of food that is 50% non-starchy vegetables, 25% protein (eg chicken or fish), and 25% wholegrain carbs, with yogurt of milk as a snack between meals. The long version (and it is a lot longer) involves ‘carb budgets’ and using one of the diet/nutrition apps (I used MyFitnessPal) to work out how many calories you should be on for your height and weight and then dividing those up between carbs and proteins. I’m used to having all these details figured out for me by Weight Watchers and just dealing in points, so it made my head spin a bit.

If, like me, you’re a frazzled adoptive mum looking for simple steps to lose a few pounds, you might want to pass on The PCOS Diet Plan.

I wanted to love it.

I tried it out for three days.

It was just too complicated.

I ate fewer carbohydrates, was alarmed at how much sugar there is in a mango, and had to faff about entering nutritional values into the app. Yes, I lost a few pounds. But I couldn’t sustain all the faffing on top of an already bonkers lifestyle (y’know, the CPV and whatnot). For people with more time and inclination, I’d say go for it, but it’s not for me.

The details
Professional Reader

The PCOS Diet Plan
Hillary Wright
Ten Speed Press
£14.18 (Kindle £14.99)
Published 2 May 2017

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


Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

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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.

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