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.

Win, win, win
Friday night was about celebrating successes.

Joanna has been going to football club on a Friday night since January. She seems to have a bit of a talent for it, if I say so myself. And this week after school we watched her save two penalties. She was astonishing. I cheered. (Perhaps a bit too loudly, but I don’t care.) Afterwards the coach said ‘Did you see her in goal? She’s really good! I beamed and agreed. (Possibly too enthusiastically again. Never mind.)

While Joanna was in ‘official’ football training, me and my mum sat nearby, and Charlotte and two of her classmates had their own unofficial training. I’ve never seen Charlotte play like this before, but she was dribbling round trees like a pro and tackling a boy from her class like she’d been doing it for years. I was impressed. I can see her joining her sister next year (our after-school clubs are only open to year 1 and above).

We got home from school and opened their book bags. Joanna had suddenly remembered that she’d been made ‘Pupil of the Week’ at school. Wow.

Pupil of the Week JM

Let’s rewind to the autumn term to explain what an achievement this is for her. Having experienced too many major goodbyes in her life already, she – quite understandably –
hated the transition from reception to year 1. Hated saying goodbye to her teacher, hated moving classrooms, hated all the extra expectations that were placed on her in terms of explicit learning rather than the learning-through-play she was used to. Her teacher was new to the school so it wasn’t someone she’d had a chance to get used to, and she was also very young and inexperienced, unlike the veteran reception teacher who oozed wisdom and confidence. So she showed all this by refusing to join in with lessons. By screaming and shouting. By hitting/biting/kiching the teacher and TA most days for about six months.

But in the last fortnight something seems to have clicked for her. I’m not sure if it’s that she has finally got used to the routine, or that she has built a really solid attachment to her LSA, who has been with her almost all day, every day at school since November, or whether us copying the daily schedule she has at school (details here) throughout half term helped her settle… but whatever it is, it seems to be working.

Charlotte had also come home with a certificate for earning ten merit points during the week. She doesn’t seem to know what she earned them for – she lives in her own little bubble a lot of the time – but she was duly rewarded as well. I’d already bought Joanna a new football and Charlotte a toy broom (her choice) on Friday in recognition of how hard they’ve been trying, and am really pleased that school recognised and rewarded it too.

The girls had their usual Friday night pizza (a tradition in our house) and Pete and I basked in the warm glow of pride in our girls.

Consumption and construction
On Saturday morning Pete took the girls out for an all-you-can-eat breakfast – another reward for their achievements. I went back to sleep for an hour and then worked until they came in at 11.30. Charlotte bounded up to give me a cuddle and in her enthusiasm headbutted me hard on the nose. Ouch.

Earlier in the week I’d bought Pete a Lego double-decker couch (from The Lego Movie, a big favourite around here), so making that was next on the agenda. Charlotte lost interest very quickly, but Pete and Joanna enjoyed it a lot.

Charlotte and the biscuit cache
After lunch, Pete saw Charlotte attempting to sneak upstairs with the bottom part of her T-shirt folded up – obviously hiding something inside. He asked what she was carrying. ‘Nothing.’ Hmm. He discovered a couple of biscuits in there, and asked where she’d got them from. Our tub of biscuits was on top of our fridge-freezer, well out of Charlotte’s reach, and he was concerned that she’d climbed up on the kitchen worktop to get them. No. Evidently she had taken them earlier, because she led Pete to her little cache of biscuits, hidden on the shelf where we keep all the girls’ colouring books and stationery.

It’s not the first time she’d taken something without asking, and we don’t really mind her having a few biscuits. But having read stories of adopted children for whom hoarding food becomes a big issue, alarms were set off in my head.

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Our little biscuit-hiding squirrel

Charlotte is forever pilfering bits and pieces, both at home and at school. Not the classic ‘I want something that’s special to you to keep with me while we’re apart’ sort of pilfering that you read about a lot in adopted kids, but just little tactile objects like coins, bits of Lego, anything small enough to hide in a pocket and put in her mouth. She’s a sensory-seeking kinda girl and loves chewing things. (Yes, we have tried giving her chewing toys (these ones). They just don’t seem to do it for her.)

Anyway. While I read up on how to handle the food-hoarding, the girls played in the garden with Joanna’s new football and we had half an hour of (relative) peace before dinner. Bliss. They got completely covered in mud, of course, but nothing the washing machine and a bath couldn’t handle. Then Joanna got soap in her eyes and that was the end of the world. Never mind that she’d been putting bubbles in Charlotte’s face. They were now in hers and that was cause for a big meltdown. She was not going to put her pyjamas on, she didn’t want a cuddle with Pete, she definitely wasn’t interested in doing any calming-down breathing. So Pete left her in her room to calm down (not many other options when she just wants to fight him) and when the volume had decreased a bit I went in and did the sit-her-on-my-lap-and-talk-quietly-until-she’s-regulated thing.

Sunday
Less drama on Sunday. We managed a bit of a lie-in while the girls played, and headed off to church at 10.30. I’ve learned to provide Charlotte with plenty of sensory input (bouncing on my knee, backscratches, anything rhythmic) to keep her regulated when we’d like her to sit quietly with us, and she did pretty well at staying still-ish and quiet-ish for the 25 minutes until it was time for the children to go out to their groups.

Home for lunch, and again, all was calm. No complaints about leaves on her plate (never popular with Charlotte). Other than during church, the girls had been listening to their iPods all morning (that purchase was one of my best ideas ever) and so they sat around quite happily and we enjoyed the quiet… until Joanna’s headphone cable broke. She was devastated (that’s the second of her Christmas presents she’s broken in the last few days). There was wailing. Pete got cross with her for breaking them (she likes to twiddle the cable when she’s wearing them, while Charlotte, of course, chews hers). I looked up the online reviews for these particular headphones and disovered they are prone to doing this, so consoled her by giving her an old pair of in-ear ones that came with an old phone of mine. But arrrgh. I do expect children to break a certain amount of stuff – they haven’t yet learned how to be gentle with things – but it is still a bit galling when it’s just one broken toy after another.

Anyway. Replacement headphones provided, she happily watched several episodes of Octonauts in her room, while Charlotte fell asleep in hers. Thus we whiled away the afternoon and – shock – read our books in a quiet house with the children present! It was really lovely – the way Sunday afternoons should be!

Naturally the idyll didn’t last all evening. After dinner Joanna suddenly wanted to talk about her birth family and was upset about a sibling she misses (they only have letterbox contact for various reasons). That was hard. I know it’s the right decision for them but they are both innocent parties and were very close. All I can say to her is that I have some understanding of how rubbish she must feel, that’s it’s OK to miss each other, and how about we write a letter and draw a picture soon?

After we’d said goodnight I came downstairs and made her a hot water bottle to comfort her. I went back up with it, but she was already asleep, so I just tucked it in beside her. Even if it’s cold by the time she finds it, it shows her I was thinking of her and I’m doing what I can to help.

Summary

Successes:

  • football in the garden without arguing!
  • iPods for a quiet life (most of the time)
  • remembering to give Charlotte sensory input at church

Failures:

  • not being entirely sure how to handle the biscuit-hoarding

Next time:

  • I’ll provide some new CBeebies programes for their iPods (we haven’t added anything since Christmas and it might buy us an extra hour’s peace and quiet)
  • we’re thinking of providing a tin of snacks so there’s no need to hoard anything

Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to read your comments.

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Introduction
Welcome to the fifth in my series of Sunday Self-Care posts. Each Sunday I’m adding a new blog post about a different aspect of self-care. I’ll be using the hashtag #sundayselfcare 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:
The seven components of self-care, part one: sleep
The seven components of self-care, part two: support
The seven components of self-care, part three: sports
The seven components of self-care, part four: sustenance

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.

Pete is also great at giving me time just to stay in bed and read a book at the weekend (a recurring theme in my Weekend in Focus posts is him taking the girls out for breakfast). In return he often has weekends off gallivanting around the country. Win-win. This is how space works for us.

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.

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 #sundayselfcare hashtag.

Have a great week, and if you’d like to join the conversation about self-care on your own blog, that would be wonderful. You can find the code for adding the Sunday Self-Care badge to your site here.

Sunday self-care blog badge

P.S. Next week’s topic is spirituality – that is, the role of faith in self-care and what that means to different people. Please come back next Sunday and join in that discussion too.

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

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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Welcome to this week’s Thankful Thursday.

'Be Thankful' by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

‘Be Thankful’ by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

This week’s highlights have included…

Reading
This blog post about a retrospective view of parenting.
Victoria Coren Mitchell’s Guardian column on feminism.
This blog post about writing by Don Miller – I love the diving analogy. Really resonates with me. I feel like I am constantly resurfacing.

Writing
About time out (for parents, coming to a blog near you on Sunday) and time in (for children, here).

Watching
Exposure: When Pregnant Women Drink. Wow. Still processing this one. Great programme. Has started us thinking about if/how we could get an FASD assessment for Joanna and Charlotte.
A Grand Designs ‘community build’ and wondering how on earth the parents managed it.
Daffodils and crocuses appearing in our garden. Spring!
Joanna starting to relax as she has finally settled into her class after six months of ‘turbulent’ behaviour. Me and the headteacher keep having little ‘What on earth has changed? Let’s never change anything again!’ conversations. Hooray!

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Listening to
The Art Of Celebration by Rend Collective. Excellent album. (New one out next week.)
The News Quiz.
This podcast about blogging.
This new podcast from Gretchen ‘Happiness Project’ Rubin.

Eating
Fajitas. Noodles. Tomato soup. Apples and cheese. All the good stuff from this blog post at once. (Whoops.) Also frozen Curly Wurlys. Hmm.

…and I’m also thankful for
Ali Edwards’ One Little Word class (my word this year is create).

 

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