Introduction
Welcome to the second in a regular series on self-care. Each Sunday for the next few weeks there’ll be a new blog post about a different aspect of self-care, specifically as it relates to adoptive parenting. I’ll be using the hashtag #sundayselfcare on Twitter and Instagram and would love it if you’d join me. Part one (on sleep) is here, and as the others in the series are posted they’ll be linked here too.

Support
This week’s topic is support, which is so vital to adoptive parents that proving you have it is a big part of the approval process. When we went through the process, several of our friends were interviewed, either in person or on the phone, not just to gather information on us but to see if they’d be up for helping us through the challenges. Our families went on a special one-day course for relatives of adopters, too. Yet the reality post-placement often looks very different from any documents given to the social workers.

Our support comes from four sources: family, friends, online, and ‘official’ support. I’ll run through each in turn in a moment, but first of all, let’s look at the reasons adoptive families need help.

Why it matters
Adoptive parenting is an extreme endurance event. It’s a 24/7 job, and even when our little treasures are at school for around 30 hours a week there is a higher than average chance of being phoned and asked to retrieve them for a misdemeanor of some kind, not to mention all the meetings with teachers, educational psychologists, behaviour support advisors, and whoever else is involved. We therefore need respite: time away from caring for our children to attend to our own wellbeing. Without it, we will be much less able to do a good job of therapeutic parenting, because our own mental health is impacted and our ability to self-regulate reduced.

In ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, Erica Pennington comments:

‘Without support, many families either struggle in isolation or become one of the adoptions that disrupt or break down before the child reaches adulthood, resulting in the child being returned to the care of the local authority – creating further trauma for the child and for the family who so wanted to love and care for that child. Finding appropriate support can mean the difference between a child thriving in a secure and loving family and a child potentially living their childhood in the care system, which while it does its best for the child, doesn’t offer the individual therapeutic family care these children need.

‘…Adoptive parents, along with foster carers, special guardians and kinship carers are caring for and parenting some of the most traumatised children placed from the care system. They need all the support they can get.’

The type of support you need will depend on the specifics of your situation, of course, but could include childcare, time with friends, specialist professional help of various kinds, and other adoptive parents to talk to (in person and/or online). Don’t forget that adoptive families are legally entitled to an assessment of support needs, and from May the Adoption Support Fund will be up and running. We’ve been fobbed off a bit about this so far, but we will keep fighting, as ever…

And now to our sources of support.

Family
Our primary support comes from my parents. They are incredible. Emergency childcare at the end of the phone? Yes. Household repairs where the children have broken door handles/toilet seats/gates/etc? Yes. Staying over at our house occasionally so we can have a night away without the children? Yes. They are the most dependable, unflappable part of our support network. I am an only child, so I have the advantage of there being no other grandchildren to make demands on their time. I try to make sure I supply them with flowers, chocolates and cakes at regular intervals to thank them for their marvellousness, and am careful not to be too demanding, but the kind of support they give us isn’t something we can adequately thank them for.

On Pete’s side, his parents are occasional childminders – maybe one afternoon every three months, something like that. They are reluctant to drive to our house (about 45 minutes away) though they are very much a several-times-a-week fixture in Pete’s sister’s childcare arrangements, for those are the wonderchildren. Moving swiftly on…

Friends
I am not the first adoptive parent to say that our circle of friends has changed since the children joined us. There are those friends who ‘get’ adoption and attachment, and those who don’t, and fairly soon you work out which is which and proceed accordingly.

Pete and I have never been especially outgoing, gregarious types, so we have a fairly small circle of friends, many of whom are long-term friends from school or university days and are scattered around the country/planet. Locally, we have a grand total of three friends who have babysat our children on one or more occasions. One of our goals for this year is to double that number so that we can have regular evenings out as part of our own self-care strategy without becoming a nuisance to just a couple of people.

We have found the business of finding people to ask a real challenge. We moved churches a few months after the girls were placed with us, wanting to find somewhere that suited us better as a family. After a year we were still struggling to make friends, because we were so preoccupied with meeting the girls’ needs on a Sunday morning (for which, read ‘taking them outside to run around and let off steam immediately after the service’) that we just didn’t have much opportunity for conversations. Church life has always been a major part of our social scene, so to be without it for a long period has been difficult.

In the last nine months things have improved as we have started to ask for help (not something that comes naturally to us in social situations) and to befriend other parents who have expressed an interest in looking after the girls for the occasional afternoon. Even if they don’t understand attachment, they’re willing to read a book and get stuck in trying to help us, which is about as much as we can ask of anyone, really. There are also a few other adoptive families at church, and another mum and I meet up every three weeks or so for a natter about how things are going. It’s lovely not to have to explain the whole attachment thing, or FASD, or how hard it is to get professional help… and it’s great to be able to help each other out with books and sources of information.

Online
I love online support. I love the relative anonymity, the ease with which we can share similar concerns and experiences in the adoption community, and the sense of camararderie that I sense in our interactions. In the right places online, we are surrounded by others who ‘get it’, who live it, who empathise and advise and seek solutions alongside us. Twitter is my main source of online support, but I also use the Adoption UK forums and a couple of private Facebook groups for adoptive parents.

I spent a huge amount of time lurking on the forums before the girls were placed, scaring myself witless with all the tales being shared. Some of them I now see played out in our family, others I am waiting to experience when the girls are older, and (thankfully) some I think we might have dodged. The forums are great for group brainstorming about problems and researching issues you have now or want to prepare for.

Official
It would be fair to say that our official support is patchy. There are adoptive parents’ support groups within our local authority (LA), but none very local to us or very conveniently timed. The LA is good at running courses, most of which we attended during the approval/matching process. But we don’t feel there is much for us at the moment, either for the children or us as parents. I don’t even feel as though post-adoption support know quite how to help us as parents when we’ve read all the books, been on all the courses, and are just wearily enduring all the behaviour and meetings and extra stuff that is adoptive parenting.

My list would look something like this: some decent mental heath work for the kids, some proper gritty counsellors available on demand for us to offload, regular respite childcare or cash to arrange this ourselves, and a modest allowance to replace/fix all the stuff the kids break (doors they have kicked through, that sort of thing). And chocolate. Chocolate would help.

What we actually get is a bit of waffle about not having the funding and some ‘Have you tried doing X in their life story work?’ and then ‘Well, you’re doing everything right, it just takes time…’

I disagree. I takes time and hard work by all of us in the girls’ lives and the provision of specialist services like CAMHS, which basically comes down to cash. It shouldn’t, of course, but it does, every way you turn. And this is frustrating beyond measure, especially when you know that many, many adoptive parents are working reduced hours or have given up paid work entirely in order to meet the needs of children who were once in the care of the state.

It shouldn’t be too much to ask to be adequately supported. I really hope May and the Adoption Support Fund signal the beginning of a change, though I’m not holding my breath.

And on that note, I am taking myself off for a calming swim. Very #sundayselfcare.

What are your thoughts on the importance of support to your own self-care? Is it something you’re managing well or struggling to get enough of? Do you have sources of support other than those I’ve mentioned? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #sundayselfcare hashtag.

You can find part three of the seven components of self-care here. It’s about exercise.

Further reading
Adoption UK forums
NHS guide to post-adoption support
Post adoption support: a rapid response survey of local authorities in England (Government working paper)
It takes a village to raise a child: Adoption UK survey on adoption support
Information on the Adoption Support Fund

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Welcome to the second of a weekly series that I’m calling Thankful Thursday. (You can read last week’s post here.)

'Be Thankful' by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

‘Be Thankful’ by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

This week, I have enjoyed…

Reading
How to train your monsters’ – a great blog post on Momastery by Glennon Melton Doyle, who I adore for her no-nonsense loveliness. I’m also still working through Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action by Linda Formicelli.

Writing
A blog post about self-care and support and adoptive parenting, It’ll be here on Sunday. I’m excited about this one. (If you missed last week’s post on self-care and sleep, it’s here.)

Watching
Shaun the Sheep. More Bangkok airport antics.

Listening to
Loads of podcasts, including this interview with Jamie Wright, aka The Very Worst Missionary; and David Tennant’s Just a Minute debut.

Eating
Way too much Toblerone. And this cheese.

…and I’m also thankful for
A chilled out game of Qwirkle with Joanna (the matching shapes and colours appeals to both of us). And Starbucks. Always Starbucks.

Caramel macchiato in my favourite office.

Caramel macchiato in my favourite office.

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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.

This weekend we took the girls for their first experience of sleeping over at someone else’s house since they came to live with us two years ago. We’ve taken them away to hotels and holiday cottages before, but sleeping at someone’s house was a bit different in Joanna’s head. She was torn between the excitement of wanting to do it, and the fact that the concept reminded her of moving from birth family to foster carers, and from foster carers to us. She was a bit nervous and tearful the night before, but we were confident that when it came to it she’d be OK. She’s familiar with her grandparents’ house, so there was very little that was new to her, really. Charlotte, meanwhile, had no nerves at all. She was just excited, excited, excited.

Bags in the car

Bags in the car

This weekend started for me and Pete at 8.00am on Friday when we dropped the girls at the school’s breakfast club. We were off for a day out, but first we dropped all our bags at Pete’s parents’ house, installed the car seats in their car, and put the girls’ fleecy blankets, teddies and iPods in the back of the car for them, so that as soon as they got in, they would be surrounded by several familiar things.

We then went for our day out – it was blissful. We talked and talked without interruption or hundreds of toilet stops. We went to the Lego shop without being badgered to buy anything, and just stared longingly at hideously expensive Lego campervans and bits of Lego Movie kit like MetalBeard’s Sea Cow and Bad Cop keyrings. We had a lovely lunch and a bit more ambling about – no racing back for the school run – before a leisurely return journey.

Pete’s parents collected the girls from school and took them back to their house. The transitional objects seemed to do their job well, because although Joanna said she was a bit nervous, she managed really well and was happily munching cheese on toast in front of the TV when we walked in. Charlotte was complete unfazed by the whole business and took it completely in her stride. They’d already decided who was sleeping in which rooms and so we went into the bedtime routine pretty quickly after we arrived.

Predictably, the girls took a while to settle. Charlotte, who had her own room, was intent on exploring every inch of it and had no intention of sleeping until that was complete. Joanna, who was sleeping in the same room as us, was just a bit fidgety in her sleeping bag and needed reassurance that we were still around. After an hour they were asleep. Phew.

I didn’t sleep well. Pete snored, Joanna woke up and wanted to come into my bed, she fidgeted… and then I had to keep Charlotte quiet from 6.00am so as to avoid the wrath of the mother-in-law. Pete was oblivious and slept merrily until 8.00am, as is his way. No, I’m not jealous at all. *cough*

On Saturday morning after breakfast we faced the usual homework battle with Joanna. A few times recently we’ve arranged for Pete and Charlotte do do the shopping, so Joanna has my undivided attention and no distractions from her sister. That’s worked really well. But Pete’s mum, thinking she was being encouraging and helpful, told Joanna she wanted to see her do her homework. To Joanna I’m pretty sure this just meant there was another person to fail in front of, and all the stress returned. Pete did it with her to start with, in the same room as his parents and Charlotte. Way too distracting and overwhelming and a massive strop ensued. I took her to another room and we calmed things down. She still wasn’t delighted to be doing homework, but we got it done.

After lunch we went to see Shaun the Sheep. Screen time often works really well for helping our girls to stay calm for prolonged periods, though we have to be careful about the content. What is classified as ‘mild peril’ can be just too scary for them. Paddington fell into this category, but Shaun was just about manageable. It also gave us a bit of a breather from all of the ‘staying with other people’ strangeness, taking us out of that environment and making it just about the four of us as usual. We had some stroppiness from Charlotte beforehand, but this isn’t desperately unusual for her, and by the end of the film she was fine again. See? Screen time. Works wonders!

Shaun the Sheep by Joanna

Shaun the Sheep by Joanna

By early evening, having had very little sleep and no time to myself (both vital for my own self-regulation), I was getting a bit frazzled. We were just about to start on the bedtime routine when Pete’s mum brought out another activity for the girls to do, without consulting with either of us. I was furious and considered leaving the room for a sulk, but instead took a deep breath and set about helping them speed through it in double-quick time so that we could stay on schedule. Thankfully we recovered it and they were so tired they went to sleep much more easily the second night. Me and Pete then nipped out to the pub, and everything felt much better after a cocktail.

On Sunday morning we left after breakfast – a good transition as I’d packed and loaded up the car while the girls were otherwise engaged, so it was quite quick. Again, they had their blankets and iPods to listen to. So far, so good. And then we arrived at church.  The same church we go to every week. We lasted about fifteen minutes into the service before Charlotte had a meltdown. All because I had a bit of a backache from two nights in a not over-comfortable bed, and therefore said I wouldn’t hold her on my hip during the songs as I often do. First came the lowered head and the accusatory ‘You. Have. Made. Me. Sad.’ Then the foot-stamp. Then we could see things were about to hit screeching pitch and so Pete (who was nearer the door than I was) whisked her out to the car, where she screamed at him for 45 minutes. Thankfully once she’d got it all out of her system he was able to take her to the nearby supermarket and buy our lunch. So it all worked out OK in the end.

Once home and lunched, we all piled on to the sofa and watched The Lego Movie together, which  was a nice ‘we’re-home-again-and-all-is back-to-normal’ experience. We then had a Chinese, which the girls have been asking for for a couple of weeks. Success.

All in all, I think it went pretty well, and certainly achieved the objective of helping Joanna experience a sleepover and knowing she can do it. Both girls have said they’re happy to try it without us in the future.

Summary

Successes:

  • familiar transitional objects for the car journey
  • time out for me and Pete
  • screen time at the cinema and at home

Failures:

  • not doing homework one-to-one
  • Mother-in-law spontaneity
  • deviating from routine in not holding Charlotte at church

Next time:

  • we’ll try leaving the girls with their grandparents overnight
  • we will get some sleep elsewhere
  • we might try drawing up a schedule with timings on for Pete’s parents’ and the girls’ benefit

Do you have any sleepover tips to share? Or are sleepovers out of the question for your child(ren) at the moment? I’d love to hear your comments.

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Introduction
Welcome to the first in a regular series I’m launching here on my website. Each Sunday for the next few weeks there’ll be 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. Part one is below, and as the others in the series are posted they’ll be linked here too.

Sleeping - a Creative Commons image by  Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Sleeping – a Creative Commons image by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Sleep
I’m starting with sleep, one of my favourite ways to look after myself. Pre-children, I was a nine hours a night kinda girl. These days I average about seven and a half, which frankly is Just Not Enough. On days where I don’t get to sleep until 11.00pm and am awake at 5.30am (not desperately unusual) I function through the fog but am all too aware that the therapeuticness of my parenting is considerably compromised. I get grumpy way too easily. I say no a lot to what are ultimately harmless requests (‘Can we pour lentils all over the carpet, Mummy?’), which makes the children grumpy too. I’m less inclined to look after myself in some of the other ways, such as getting enough exercise and seeing friends for support, because The Duvet Is My Friend.

Why it matters
Sleep is such a fundamental part of looking after yourself that it is foundational to everything else. Without enough sleep our ability to regulate our own emotions effectively is impared, our judgement is less good, our thinking becomes foggy and functioning in the world is just that much harder.

The Mental Health Foundation says sleep is ‘as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information. Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.’ You can read their guide ‘Sleep Matters: The Impact of Sleep on Health and Wellbeing’ here.

One of the problems we face is that society glorifies busyness and productivity, so we can feel guilty, lazy and unproductive if we prioritise sleep. However, as adoptive parents we are working harder than many during our waking hours – managing behaviour, predicting problem situations and working out the best way through them, disciplining appropriately, with a few meetings and some life story work thrown in for good measure! While we’re doing all this, it is important to be well rested and well regulated ourselves, in order to help our children learn this skill. If we have had the right amount of sleep we at least start out with a fighting chance of being able to juggle these things, instead of it feeling as though we are wading through treacle.

If I had to give just one piece of advice to new adoptive parents it would be to prioritise self-care, especially sleep, because pretty much everything is easier with a good night’s sleep in the tank, and no one else is going to make sure you get it.

How? When? Where?
In the Meadows household our children usually sleep for twelve hours a night, roughly 6.30pm to 6.30am, though we have been through a few phases of them waking at 5.30. The crash of magnetic letters being poured from their container on to the wooden floor in the room next to ours at that time of day does not make my heart sing with joy at the prospect of early-morning literacy, I’m afraid. Once I’m awake I find it very hard to get back to sleep, so I brace myself for a day of muddling through while fantasing about naps. Bedtime for me in an ideal world is about 9.00pm, and I like to be asleep before 10.00pm in order to have the best chance of a decent kip. It’s rare for me to return to the sub-duvet paradise after the school run, though it has happened a few times in desperate cases and I heartily recommend it. I have also phoned my mum in desperation and asked her to have the girls for the day so I can sleep after a night of clearing up vomit and tending to ill children.

Now that our girls have been with us for two years, we are starting the process of acclimatising them to the idea of sleepovers elsewhere. I recognise that for some families it will take much longer and in others it will not be a difficult issue. But for ours now feels right. We’re starting this weekend with two nights all together at my in-laws. Assuming all goes well, we’ll then plan another date for them to stay over without us sometime between now and Easter, and then a blissful lie-in will be ours!

There are two other strategies we’ve tried. One is going away and having my parents stay overnight in our room, so that things stay relatively normal for the girls. They’ve managed this reasonably well and we have been able to have one night away for our wedding anniversary six months after placement, and two nights away last year. It took a massive amount of planning, but we did it (It. Was. Amazing.) and they survived. We’ve also established a routine of each taking a weekend out alone every few months to recharge and do our own thing. I am a fan of a certain budget hotel chain’s £29-a-night deals and find that a couple of days’ solitude to read, sleep, think without interruption and just be is often exactly what I need.

[You can find part two of the seven components of self-care here. It’s about support.]

Further reading
‘Arrogance’ of ignoring need for sleep (BBC)
How to Sleep (The Sleep Council)
The Power of Sleep (Time)
Sleep Problems self-help guide (NHS Scotland)

What are your thoughts on the importance of sleep to your own self-care? Is it something you’re managing well or struggling to get enough of? Do you have strategies such as sneaking in naps or managing weekend lie-ins? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #sundayselfcare hashtag.

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Welcome to the first of a weekly series that I’m calling Thankful Thursday.

(Shhh. Late already and it’s only my third post. Bit embarrassing. But moving right along…)

'Be Thankful' by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

‘Be Thankful’ by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

This week, I have enjoyed…

Reading
This blog post about writing by Jen Hatmaker and this one about post-adoption support by Al Coates. I’ve also started Commit by Linda Formicelli, whose books The Renegade Writer and The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock I really loved.

Writing
A blog post about self-care and sleep and adoptive parenting (coming on Sunday)…

Watching
This crazy programme about Bangkok airport.

Listening to
This podcast from Elise Blaha Cripe about blogging and social media.

Eating
All kinds of wonders from Hello Fresh, and Afterburn, a very spicy Welsh cheese bought in an amazing Cardiff delicatessen.

…and I’m also thankful for
Reaching 60 followers on Twitter amazingly quickly.
Writing time in Starbucks.
Time to go swimming.

This post is linked up to the Weekly Adoption Shout-Out‘s ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’, hosted by The Adoption Social.

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