Today marks the halfway point of the summer holidays for us: it’s day 20 of 40. It feels like much longer. The words I’m seeing from other adopters are ‘relentless’ and ‘incessant’. These words are used all year round, of course, but the summer seems to amplify those feelings because culturally it is supposed to be a holiday. It isn’t. It’s six weeks of dysregulated children being given nice things and days out and not appreciating any of it and telling you what a horrible person you are. All. Day. Long.

halfway-day

There are those parents who look forward to the summer holidays as a time to frolic in the sun with their little cherubs, picnicking on home-grown houmous and organic mini-quiches, unfettered by the constraints of the school run. Good for them.

I am not one of these parents.

As I have mentioned ad infinitum, I have a schedule. This is what keeps us all on the right side of sanity. (Just.) Anything remotely unfettered causes meltdowns for them and more stress for me.

Screaming: a day in the life

This weekend we tried the frolicsome picnic thing – well, as near to frolicsome as we get. We took our picnic to a National Trust place with huge grounds, headed straight for a picnic bench and got started on lunch. Barely two bites into her artisanal organic roll pizza bread, Joanna started a strop, saying she wanted to live on her own in the woods (a favourite idea of hers when she is overwhelmed by the idea of family). We had no idea what had triggered it, so I put down my quinoa salad pork pie and took her aside for a chat.

She continued. Suicide threats. Wanting to see what children’s homes are like so she could think about living there instead. Hating her sister. Being extremely jealous of Charlotte’s new second-hand-from-eBay bed. (Joanna was given a brand new desk at the same time, something she has wanted for ages. This was not enough, obviously we love Charlotte more, etc.) I listened and let her get it all out of her system. I didn’t have anything much to say apart from a bit of PACE-esque wondering about why she thought she’d be better off without us and what she thought that would be like.

Once she’d finished, we rejoined the others, and the meal continued, with regular ‘sensory breaks’ – ie sending them to run around a tree, push against a tree, do press-ups, etc. That worked really well for Charlotte, who is unable to sit still for long. But not Joanna. She was determined to stay angry.

Stopping and listening

After the picnic – which was curtailed after another dose of insults from Joanna – we carried on. The plan had been to do a ‘Gruffalo trail’ which was set up all around the grounds. But following someone else’s route and activities was not to madam’s liking, so we abandoned that for a while to let them run off and make dens in the hedges while we had a sneaky cream tea. Hurrah.

Eventually we finished the trail and got them into the car, where Stephen Fry’s reading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone worked its magic on them again. This has been one of the successes of this holiday. I thoroughly recommend trying Audible if you haven’t given it a go yet.

The Harry Potter books are particularly good value via Audible because they’re so long – on a monthly subscription each credit is £7.99, so it works out much cheaper than buying them without a subscription (and you still get to keep your books even if you cancel). The first one is nearly nine hours. The second one, which I bought today, is more than ten hours. HELLO, calmer journeys and mealtimes. I am sold.

(Yes, this is an affiliate link. To – if you choose Harry Potter – at least NINE FREE HOURS of audiobook. You’re welcome.)

The schedule: does it help?

There are a few places where we’ve deviated from the schedule – mainly because of the weather, which has meant swapping some of the days around – but otherwise it is working well. My definition of ‘working well’ means that the activities are happening and at least one member of the family is deriving a modicum of pleasure from them. (See how my standards have fallen!) The girls are used to consulting it to see what’s happening, and if that saves just a handful of meldowns and ‘Muuuuuummmm’s then it’s worth the effort. So yes, it helps.

What’s next?

This week we have five days of childcare, one day scheduled for shoe and uniform-shopping, and one initial visit to Joanna’s new psychotherapist (more of that anon).

Next week is a hodgepodge of days out with grandparents, bribing incentivising the children to help clean the house, a sprinkling of sanity-saving activities, and packing. On the Friday we are Yorkshire-bound for our ‘holiday’.

For the last week of the holidays we will be based in the Dales, where I will be spending a couple of days at self-care camp (exciting!) and the rest of the time with Pete and the girls. They usually find being away from home hard, so I anticipate plenty of dysregulation and stress all round. There should just about be time on the Sunday to squeeze in a transition visit to school before they go back on the Monday. Aaaaand breathe.

How is your summer going? Can anyone report back from the new school year and tell us it’s going to be OK? 😉 Let me know in the comments.

Before you go…

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That long expanse of summer holiday fills some with joy and others with horror. For those of us with children who thrive on routine, the summer can be a difficult time. They find it hard to adjust to the differences and anticipate September transitions to new classes and new schools.

Enter the summer holiday schedule.

creatre-your-easy-peasy-summer-holiday-schedule

Using the summer holiday schedule

This is an easy-to-edit Word file that I update every year. It’s not complicated, just the dates from the end of one term to the beginning of the next, with an activity or two marked on for each day. a the moment that tends to be about as much detail as they want, though we also have a Twinkl visual timetable on hand for days when they need a bit more clarity about a simple day at home (‘But what are we doing after lunch?’).

I use them in the Christmas and Easter holidays too, because Joanna and Charlotte thrive on knowing what to expect. If I could add a meal plan for the entire holiday that would make them happier still.

Here’s ours for this summer (click for larger version).

How I fill the summer holiday schedule

This is Joanna’s first year at a residential summer camp (I’m not sure which of us is most excited about this prospect) so that was scheduled first (purple). Charlotte will be spending a few days with my parents so we can have some time off (pink). Then the SEN activity club the girls love – I booked as many slots as i could for that (yellow). Then because I’m talking part in the self-carecamp in Yorkshire at the end of the holidays, we’re turning that into a family holiday by hiring a cottage nearby, which fills out the last week (green). We’ve just renewed our national Trust membership and are determined to recoup the cost, so I scoured the magazine for local child-friendly activities (brown).

Being outdoors is great for Joanna and Charlotte, so, weather permitting, there are also a smattering of days where it simply says ‘park’ and ‘garden fort’. (Note: this is an excellent garden fort kit that keeps them occupied for ages, especially when combined with an old shower curtain for the roof. Highly recommended.)

The rest is filled in with things like a ‘jobs and rewards day’. This is code for ‘get them to tidy their rooms, do the hoovering and clean the bathroom, which is pleasingly endorsed by their OT, in return for a small supply of Freddos, new crayons and those awful magazines with plastic tat attached’. There’s also a pyjama day. This basically means ‘you can watch DVDs while I do all the laundry from the holiday and if you stay in your PJs it means you’re not creating any more for me to wash’.

Your own summer holiday schedule

Of course your family’s schedule will look different from ours. You may not have childcare. You may have exotic holidays. Maybe yours involves a lot more time at the beach, the swimming pool, or the ice cream shop. (We can but hope, hey?) But scheduling your holiday in advance takes a huge amount of stress out of the whole business. It gives children a sense of certainty about what to expect, and it helps parents not to flounder in the face of weeks of nothingness.

To make your own, I’ve produced a blank template. You’re welcome to download and edit it to suit your family’s needs. Some people do a text-only one like mine, others like to add clipart or their own drawings. Whatever works for you.

blank-summer-holiday-schedule

Download yours here:  HLM Blank summer holiday schedule 2017 (MS Word)

More tips

If your children struggle with the back-to-school transition, you might like to try a couple of things we do. First, schedule a school visit to the new classroom for the end of the holidays, to go and say hello and refamiliarise them with where everything is. We arrange this with the headteacher in July (so it’s not yet on our schedule above). Second, plan something fun for the first weekend of term, and include that too, so that it doesn’t look like the fun stops when school starts up again.

I’d love to hear how you get on with this summer schedule – or summer holiday planning in general! Leave me a comment or let’s talk on social media.


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It’s another of those things that separates me from the other parents at the school gate. On the rare occasions that I find myself engaged in a conversation outside school and not ducking in early to retrieve Joanna after some misdemeanour, someone will inevitably pipe up ‘nearly the weekend’, with a sense of joyous anticipation.

I don’t share it.

‘That Friday feeling’ for me is one of dread.

Welcome to adoptive parenting at the weekend.

Thank God it's Monday: Adoptive Parenting at the Weekend

Them and us

For them, the prospect of a weekend conjures up mental images of fun, relaxed family time. A spontaneous day out, perhaps, or a kickabout with a football in the garden.

For me, being kicked about is closer to the mark.

I wonder what the weekend will bring. Not what Pinterest-worthy craft projects we can do together, but,

Coathanger‘How intense will this weekend’s meltdowns be?’

‘Will this be the weekend the patio doors get a stone thrown through them?’

‘is this going to be the day she succeeds in bashing a hole in our bedroom door with a wooden coathanger?’

‘Will the stuff she throws at me – or worse, one of the others – from across the room cause a serious injury?’

‘What are the triggers going to be this time? Dare I ask her to brush her teeth? Or tidy up after herself? Or might that be the thing that provokes a rage?’

It all depends

In our family, weekends divide between Saturdays with childcare and without, and Sundays where we make it to church and those when we don’t have that fight. (See ‘Adoption and the Church Thing‘). We usually book the childcare several months in advance. The Sundays tend to be a bit more tentatively planned, and sometimes we abandon our plans in the face of a meltdown like this one.

Two types of Saturday

On the Saturdays we have be somewhere at a certain time, a violent outburst about getting dressed/brushing teeth/etc is more likely, but the bonus of a day’s respite childcare is like an oasis for us. The girls often go to a playscheme for children with disabilities, for which they qualify because of their sensory issues. (Naturally it wasn’t post-adoption support who told us about this possibility, but other adoptive parents.)

On the Saturdays they’re not doing that, we will usually try some combination of activities usually including time outside (in dry weather) or screen time (in wet weather). These are the most reliable ways to help them stay more-or-less regulated for an hour or more. There will still be meltdowns. It’s a very unusual day that doesn’t include one. Days out rarely fall into the category of ‘family fun’ – there are the fights in the car, the bickering over activities, the transition meltdowns when something is over, and again when we arrive home… exhausting doesn’t really cover it. It’s relentless and overwhelming and horrible.

The Sunday Dread

I’ve already talked about Sundays,  which are either filled with church, or a film, or an outdoor activity, or some combination of those, interspersed with a bit of door-kicking and eardrum-splitting screaming (when Charlotte explodes) or shouting and stamping and sulking and muttering (if it’s Joanna’s turn). It’s unusual for us to have childcare on a Sunday, so Sunday is the one that has to be faced pretty much every week, with that conversation at about 8.30am:

‘Are we going to try for church today?’
‘I suppose we should…’

Which isn’t really the way I want to feel about churchgoing.

How do we change it?

Ah, there’s the question. if only there was a nice neat answer. If another professional asks me if we’ve done any parenting courses I may reel off a list of exactly how many specialist courses, workshops, seminars and books I have absorbed over the last six years. I mentally wrote this list in the shower this morning along with a snarky diatribe about exactly how much of my time is spent (a) practising; (b) researching; (c) writing about and (d) discussing therapeutic parenting techniques.

I thought about printing out some of my book reviews to have on hand for such occasions. Then I could thrust them huffily at those who ask this question without thinking that the person they are addressing sounds like she might have a brain, possibly a degree or two. Do they not therefore think she might have acquainted herself with all the possible avenues of support on offer? Or that they are the first person to suggest parenting violent children might require a bit of extra learning?

More Saturday childcare is one answer, but it’s not a very satisfactory one. I adopted because I do actually want to parent my children, not just clothe them and make their packed lunches. The childcare gives us respite, but it doesn’t solve the problem of family time being a complete rollercoaster of giggles and reading books one minute, and door-kicking and threats to kill us the next.

To be continued

We don’t want to disrupt. We want help to continue to parent them. But the crux of the matter is that if we are not allowed to restrain them, eventually someone is going to be seriously injured or killed. Pete and I cannot provide the level of care they need without being trained and supported in the use of restraint: it is not something we enjoy but it is a necessary part of parenting violent children.

And so, though the thought makes me feel as though I am failing them, we are seriously considering asking the LA to fund at least one  place at a specialist boarding school which caters for exactly the needs our girls have. Including violence, sensory issues, FASD, and the impact of early trauma. Yes, there is actually a place that can provide all this support and an education. An outstanding one, if you care about what Ofsted have to say about these things. But that is a story for another day, and doubtless a protracted battle for funding if we do pursue it.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been in this position, I’d love to hear from you. And if you have positive things to say about boarding school, please do leave a comment.


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 more excellent resources from around the web.
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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.

https://vimeo.com/121014535

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calendar

It’s now three years since we got our adoption order, and our post-adoption support is about to transfer from the placing authority to our local authority. We’ll be asking for another formal assessment of our family’s support needs and so I’m putting together some documents to show what support we want and why we need it. This ‘day in the life’ is one of those.

6.00ish The girls wake up. Our rule is that they play quietly in their rooms, but sometimes Charlotte will sensory seek elsewhere, eg decorate the bathroom with a tube of toothpaste, put suncream on the walls, or go downstairs (which is out of bounds at that time). As soon as I am the tiniest bit awake, my ears are on high alert for any sounds that might indicate Things They Should Not Be Doing.

7.30 The girls come to our room and we all go downstairs for breakfast. Often Charlotte will have a tantrum about something – one of us looking at her, someone sitting where she wants to sit, etc – and she can take a very long time to finish her (small) breakfast (often one slice of toast). This is about control – she doesn’t want us to take it away but she doesn’t want to eat it either. If there’s any arguing over a seat to be done, Joanna is likely to join in too.

8.00 The girls get dressed. Sometimes this is done quickly, other times they procrastinate and get grumpy when we ask how they’re getting on. There are often meltdowns when we tell them to stop playing and to get dressed, to brush their teeth, that they will need a jumper, that it’s time to put their shoes on.

8.25 We leave the house (often with a bit of transition-related stropping) and walk to school. Usually at least one of the children will be grumpy en route, because of the transition, because they have poked each other, because we’ve said no to something, because they’d rather go in the car, because they want the other parent to take them, etc. Sometimes this will involve violence – to each other or to us, especially to Pete.

8.40 We arrive at school five minutes before everyone else comes in and sometimes manage a proper handover with the staff. Sometimes Joanna’s one-to-one assistant isn’t there or is doing something else.

8.55 The parent doing the school run gets home, exhausted, and then starts a day’s work.

During the day Hannah checks Charlotte’s room for contraband: things she has found or ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the house, at school, or in the street. These have included stones, feathers, Joanna’s toys, toys from school, used plasters of indeterminate origin, medication she found on the train(!) and hundreds of tissues and pieces of toilet paper, often chewed into little wads and put under the bed, or torn into confetti and left around the room.

During the day on Thursdays Hannah spends two hours at school attending Joanna’s therapy session.

During the day school may phone and ask Hannah to go in and help Joanna calm down, or to collect Joanna after she has been angry, violent and/or upset.

During the day Hannah returns calls/emails about the girls when she is supposed to be working.

During the day Pete often has to take time off work to attend meetings about the girls.

3.15 One of us collects the girls from school. Often there will be a strop immediately, especially if we accidentally ask them how their day has been. Often there will be another strop on the way home if we don’t take their preferred route or play with their friends on the way (obviously they will both have different preferences that cannot both be met).

3.40 We get home. The instant the front door closes marks the entry into the Peak Strop Zone (from now until bedtime). The other parent sometimes accidentally triggers another strop by looking at Charlotte/asking a question about their day/saying something that has already been discussed on the way home ‘and I AM NOT SAYING IT AGAIN!’ The girls play bicker together/go on their tablets/watch TV. There will be at least one argument at some point, and one or both will end up stamping up the stairs and slamming their bedroom door, then shouting about how they hate everyone. This transition from school to home is the time when they are most likely to be violent. (This is what that violence is like.)

5.00 Dinnertime. This will rarely please both children, who don’t approve of the menu/don’t want to stop what they’re doing/hate salad. Charlotte may have a massive tantrum, especially if there are tomatoes or anything green on her plate. Something will be spilt/dropped on the floor/hidden in her clothes because she doesn’t want to eat it and will put it in the bin/toilet later.

5.40 We all play a game together, as suggested by Joanna’s therapist. If Joanna doesn’t win, she has a huge meltdown, stamps up the stairs, slams her door and shouts/screams about how everyone hates her. We patiently go through all the therapeutic techniques with her (that we have established with her therapist), or she shouts at us that she is NOT DOING THEM.

6.00 Bedtime. The girls procrastinate about getting changed, brushing teeth, etc. If we ask how they’re getting on, or why they’re not in their pyjamas twenty minutes after we asked them, or what they’re doing naked in the other one’s bedroom (etc), there’ll be another meltdown. A meltdown at this point in the day can last up to 90 minutes.

When the girls are asleep

  • Pete works, if he needs to make up time lost to meetings and/or meltdowns during the day.
  • Hannah works, if meetings/calls from school have caused a delay during the day.
  • We discuss emails that need answering and whatever forms we are currently completing (there’s usually at least one on the go).
  • We read and comment in Joanna’s home–school communications book.
  • We check Charlotte’s school bags for contraband.
  • We analyse the events of the day and consider what to do.
  • We have no social life.

10.00–11.00 We go to sleep. Often Hannah will be awake at 3.00/4.00/5.00 worrying about the latest incident with the girls and what to do next.

And repeat.

Do you relate to this? If it sounds familiar I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch through the comments or on Twitter or Facebook. If you missed my recent post on our experience of child-to-parent violence (CPV) you can read it here.

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