I’m an adoptive parent who is quite vocal on the subject. So every now and then I’m approached by friends, or friends of friends, asking about my advice for prospective adopters as they are starting the process. I’m always happy to talk adoption, don’t claim to have all the answers, but do have a few pieces of advice. I wish I’d had this stuff drummed into me when we started the process seven years ago. What follows is an adaptation of an email I sent to a friend recently.

In answer to the main question – should I/we do it? – my answer is yes. Yes, it is often incredibly hard and I regularly question my sanity. But I am still very much in favour of adoption. If reading about child-on-parent violence and the questionable delights of post-adoption support haven’t put you off, then here’s what I think you need to know.

Prospective adopters, start here!

advice-for-prospective-adopters

Gather information. Lots of it.

I recommend prospective adopters take these six steps during your decision-making process, so that you have as much information about the reality of adoption as you possibly can. You’re not adopting a child who is a bit sad but can be cheered up with a cuddle and a multipack of Freddos. You’re inviting a small person who has been neglected and abused into your home. They will be processing all that stuff for years to come and often be difficult to help. Regardless of what they tell you at this stage, your agency’s post-adoption support may or may not step up to help you as your child destroys your home/marriage/sanity. You need to be prepared for this.

1. Read all the books

Sally Donovan’s books are amazing. It should be compulsory to read No Matter What and The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting. While you’re at it you should probably get hold of Billy Bramble too, ready to put on your child’s bookshelf.

[If you don’t see a shiny widget here, containing my recommended reading list, click here to see a less shiny version.]

I’ve included a couple of books about FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) on my list. A huge proportion of children in care (some estimate 80%) have been affected by alcohol exposure to some degree. You can find out more from the FASD Trust, the FASD Network and NOFAS-UK.

There are also reviews of other adoption-related books on my blog pretty regularly, and there’s a Twitter-based book club for therapeutic parents that theoretically ‘meets’ at the start of each month but has fizzled out a bit lately. Search for #tpbooks or the organiser, @pedallingsolo.

2. Use social media

Get an anonymous Twitter account – anonymous so you’re less easy for birth family members to find. Follow adopters – I’m @hlmeadows and I’m usually about several times a day. Some other accounts to get you started are @sallydwrites, @mralcoates, @gayadoptiondad, @mumdrah, @frogotter, @mizzanels, @meandminimees, @suddenlymummy. There are loads of adopters and it’s a really friendly community. Several of these people experience child-on-parent violence (CPV) so that features in our conversations quite frequently. You might also find this glossary of adoption-related abbreviations helpful.

There are a lot of adoption Facebook groups, many of them secret and reliant on meeting members offline. (I find all the drama and cliques there a bit exhausting and generally stick to Twitter instead.) This Facebook group for prospective adopters is good, though.

3. Follow adoption blogs

The two best places to start are Full-Time Tired’s Weekly Round-Up and The Adoption Social’s Weekly Adoption Shout-Out. They’ll give you a pretty balanced picture of adoptive families’ everyday life. Adopters welcome questions on their blogs, so don’t be shy about commenting.

4. Lurk on the Adoption UK forums – there’s one specifically for prospective adopters, too

They frightened the life out of me before we adopted but it was all good preparation! Find the Adoption UK forums here. This is another good place to ask questions and get honest answers.

5. Listen to podcasts

Start with The Adoption and Fostering Podcast (Al Coates and Scott Casson-Rennie) and The Honestly Adoption Podcast (Mike and Kristen Berry). The latter is American but still very applicable to the UK experience.

6. Talk to lots of adopters

advice-prospective-adoptersYou could come to the Adoption UK conference in Birmingham in November to hear what’s going on for adopters nationally. It tends to be a mixture of discussion of government policy and AUK campaigns, discussion of child psychology and how to parent children with a history of trauma, and stuff that is helpful to adoptive parents. Pete and I will be there, and you don’t need to be a member to attend. (Everyone will look exhausted. This is the default setting.)

If you decide to go ahead…

Having made the decision to start the process, my main piece of advice is not to be in such a hurry to get through the assessment that you make decisions that set yourself up for problems later. Take your time in making these choices, because you’ll be living with them for a long time. The core of my advice for prospective adopters? Talk to lots of people. Ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid of being a nuisance in your pursuit of honest answers.

1. Investigate voluntary agencies as well as the local authority

We went via our local authority and support has been decidedly patchy.

PACT have a great reputation for support, but there are also Coram, Barnardo’s, Family Futures and others (First4Adoption has a full list). I’d suggest having conversations with several and getting a good sense of what post-adoption support they offer. Also be aware that all the adoption agencies are in the process of being regionalised – joining together to combine resources. This may be a bit of a shambolic business for a while but should ultimately be an improvement.

advice-for-prospective-adopters2. Think very carefully before adopting siblings

We thought we’d save the hassle of going through the process twice and be doing something helpful as siblings are harder to place, but it has been very hard dealing with that dynamic. Ours have different issues and drive each other crazy and fight All. Day. Long.

3. Don’t sign on the dotted line until you have a support package in place

We raced through the process in order for Joanna to have our surname before she started school and didn’t do this. As a result, some of our concerns were put aside and it was then a fight to have them taken seriously. To be honest, we’d probably still do the same thing. But if you have the option of waiting and getting everything ironed out while they are still the local authority’s responsibility, then that’s probably better in the long run.

4. Get your church involved with Home for Good if it isn’t already

home-for-goodAdoption and fostering charity Home for Good runs training for churches in how to support adoptive and foster families appropriately. Their booklet on support is also excellent – I give these out by the armful at every opportunity because it provides a helpful ‘beginner’s guide’ to adoptive families’ needs. Try to take people from your church to the Home for Good summit (annually in the autumn) in order to help them ‘get it’. Don’t do what we did and change churches during the process so no-one knows you and getting support is much harder.

5. Ask questions

No question is too big/small/silly when you’re making a life-changing decision. I promise. So I’m happy to answer anything – leave your questions below or find me on social media.

Follow:

At the end of August I participated in a self-care camp run by The Open Nest and The Adoption Social. There’s a piece about it in the latest issue of Adoption Today, which is hitting doormats this weekend. Here’s the longer version of the article I wrote.

self-care-camp

The Open Nest and The Adoption Social are both legendary in adoption circles as safe spaces for adoptive families to be themselves – free of expectations of ‘normality’ – and to receive support. I was excited to be invited to lead a self-care workshop as part of a two-day self-care camp in August, co-hosted by both organisations at La Rosa Campsite – a place I’d been hearing wonderful things about for years.

Safe spaces

The Open Nest’s Amanda Boorman explains: ‘The Open Nest has been providing safe therapeutic spaces for adoptive, foster and kinship families for four years. This year the charity decided to run a self-care camp just for parents and carers. We know that taking time out in natural and peaceful environments is often good for those who love and care for children who have faced major challenges and disruption in their lives. Regulating and caring for ourselves helps us to care for and regulate others. The Open Nest believes in supporting wherever possible those who are doing intensive care.’

Set just outside Goathland in the stunning North Yorkshire Moors, The La Rosa Campsite Extraordinaire is just isolated enough to feel that you have properly got away from it all. Its shared with plenty of wildlife – I loved showering in a barn with a swallows nest over my head, while the adult swallows swooped in and out to feed four chicks! The caravans themselves are quirkily decorated on themes such as Elvis, Mary, seaside and jungle – all designed to raise a smile. Throughout the two days, The Open Nest’s Amanda and Claudia provided amazing homemade food. There were also goody bags including candles and prosecco from Inner World Work. (Thank you!)

What we did

Camp started with putting the world to rights around the campfire on the first evening. Next morning, my workshop about self-care encouraged participants to identify their specific self-care needs and collaborate together to find creative ways of meeting the needs within the constraints of their own situations. In the afternoon Sarah from The Adoption Social led a very chilled-out, beginner-friendly yoga class, a pleasing amount of which involved lying down. This was followed by relaxing massages provided by Ingrid and Claudia in front of the fire in a tepee. Blissful.

The camp was uncomplicated. We all just gathered, talked and listened, over cups of tea and glasses of prosecco. Or did our own thing – that was fine too.

How it helped

I asked some of the participants what they had found most helpful about the self-care camp.

‘One of the things that’s been really supportive is sharing each other’s stories. Sometimes that’s quite a painful thing to do, but it’s also really comforting. When you’re having a difficult time with children who are really challenging and you’re quite isolated because of that, then to be with a group of people who are experiencing the same thing helps to normalise it, and you know that you won’t be judged.’

‘[I’ve found it helpful to have] the space to explore the whole scope of what self-care means. It unusual to have this space to relax and talk and take care, so it’s quite special. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.’

‘The location, the really generous hosts and hospitality, and that sense of space – there’s no pressure in this space, you’re quite welcome to retreat or join in.’

‘I can’t help but be calm here, because I have no [mobile phone] signal!’

‘Something I found helpful from the workshop was that sometimes I feel guilty [about prioritising self-care] but if it helps to say you’re doing it for someone else then we are doing it for the children. …I know I’ll be able to cope better with the pressures [at home] because I’ve taken time out and come away.’

self-care camp: What next?

Will there be more self-care retreats in future? Yes, almost certainly. There is a recognised need and The Open Nest is committed to meeting it wherever it can. I’d love to see more of these events in other parts of the country, too – making them as accessible as possible for the parents and carers who need them. If you’d like to see one in your area, leave a comment below

Before you go…

If you liked this, you might also like:

 

Follow:

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…

  • 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.

If you liked this, you might also like:

Follow:

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.

If you liked this, you might also like:

Follow:

This is a guest post by Emma Sutton, who has recently published her adoption story, And Then There Were Four. The book joins Emma meeting her husband at a Ceroc class, and follows them through infertility, the adoption process, introductions and beyond! Here she talks about how she finds writing to be a form of self-care.

writing-self-care

Blogging is my number one self-care activity

There is something about being able to express myself, openly, honestly, warts-and-all that makes writing and blogging my favourite form of self-care.

It might be online, it might be under 140 characters, it might be long and involved as a blog post or on my Facebook page, it might be secretly in my diary, but I write nearly every day.

A bit of a moan

I write when I am frustrated – just recently I started a bit of a moan about the division of household chores in my house, juggling working from home on Twitter. It may one day form the basis of a blog post, but it was just something I needed to get out of my system. By sharing it, and listening to the experiences of others, it didn’t fester inside, churning over and over until it grew into a horrible monster that then lashed out at my husband in a big stormy argument. Since he is not on Twitter, I felt able to say what I felt.

Something to work out

I write when I have something to work out in my own head – to try and order my thoughts, make sense of my experiences, to come to a conclusion about something that has happened. There is something about seeing the swirling maelstrom of jumbled thoughts put into sequence on paper that changes my emotional reaction to them. It is like untangling a web of Christmas tree lights and being able to stand back and see the bigger picture.

Too many feelings to handle

I write to blurt out emotion. Sometimes life can feel overwhelming and when I have too many feelings to handle, when it all feels ‘too much’ setting them down on paper is a form of release. At first it all comes out jumbled, like a child telling you about their exciting day, with no form or structure and rather random. Writing acts like an overflow, enabling me to channel excess emotion away and manage being a mum, wife, author, cook, housemaid, chauffeur, PA to two demanding kids and occasionally even being myself.

A new perspective

I write to gain a new perspective on my life or challenges. My sister and I were out walking a few weeks ago and we were pondering the cocktail of tiredness and boredom that leads us to watch too much TV and overeat. We discussed the programme ‘Eat Well For Less’ as an example of TV that’s not terrible but not very uplifting either (unlike for example DIY SOS which has us both reaching for the tissues and feeling inspired at the end of another house rebuild).

When we summed up the programme in a sentence as ‘spending an hour watching a family you have never met have their shopping habits dissected and rebuilt to save them £100 a week on food’, we looked embarrassed and felt sheepish. Then we laughed. We realised we had watched several series of this, so had spent over ten hours of our life watching people spend less on food. Why? Because we had never looked at it from this perspective before. (I may never watch it again.)

‘Blogging is like having a chat’

You might be thinking – what has a conversation got to do with this post? Blogging is a bit like having a chat. Sure, as the writer you are monopolising the conversation somewhat (until you start to get comments), but in my experience, I am a tad one-sided when it comes to conversations anyway, so I am not sure people would notice the difference. And you can always invite someone else to have a blog-o-convo or similar with you, as I did recently with @feelingmumyet and @thenewbytribe (with more in the pipeline). But writing prompts you to converse with your reader, as well as yourself.

More reasons to write

Here are some other reasons to write/ blog:

  • It’s an antidote to loneliness (or one strand of it). Since becoming more visible within the adoption community on Twitter and through my blog, I feel more connected and part of something, rather than lonely and isolated. I interact with more people daily now, and that feels good.
  • To get support. By sharing our experiences, our struggles, our problems with others, they join in the conversation, whether that is on twitter or our blog. Does it halve the problem by sharing it? It certainly feels more empowering to get ideas, even if it is just ways to jazz up baked beans on toast (which I asked on Twitter recently).
  • To express ourselves. As parents and especially as adopters, it is easy to feel that we are constantly censoring our experience and only sharing what our partner, friends, social workers or children want to (or are ready to) hear. Online, we can tell people how it really is, and there is such a relief in being truly and brutally honest about our lives. This is not another Facebook version of our lives, all sanitised and ‘isn’t it wonderful?’ like the over exaggerated hype of a Christmas letter. This is the getting dirty version where we share the tantrums, the two-hour bedtime nightmares, the exploding nappies, the vomit in our mouth type experiences that actually bind us together far more closely than the pretence.

Writing changes me

Sometimes I write things down, knowing that I may never publish them. Because they are too dark, or too personal, or because it might upset others. But the very act of writing changes my future, changes my day, and changes me. Because I am no longer stuck, no longer a hostage of that issue in my head. It comes out of my head and gets turned into a digital black and white sequence of letters and spaces.

And-then-there-were-fourOne of the best things I have ever done was learn to touch type (nearly 30 years ago) because it helps my fingers keep up with my brain (or nearly). But if you struggle to type, then look at dictation programmes that convert your voice into words – they are amazing now.

And you never know, you might even write a whole book of words, to share just what your life is like with others. I did, and in doing so, I spread love, hope and laughter to people I had never even met.

10 Top tips for writing as self-care

  1. Don’t think. Don’t judge. Just open a blank document and write (or speak).
  2. Close your eyes and get in touch with what you are feeling on the inside.
  3. When you feel ready, start.
  4. Write as if no-one will ever read it.
  5. Write from your heart without stopping, without worrying about punctuation and grammar.
  6. When you have finished (you’ll know when it’s done), save it and close it.
  7. Read it later whenever you are ready (it might be minutes or months later).
  8. Publish if you want, or not.
  9. Tell others about it, or keep it secret.
  10. Or delete and repeat.

About Emma

Emma blogs at nibblesandbubbles.co.uk and has recently published her book And Then There Were Four, which details the pass-the-tissue highs and the pass-the-gin lows of creating her family through adoption. It’s available now on Amazon. You can also find her on Twitter (@emmalgsutton) and Facebook (@nibblesandbubbles).


If you enjoyed this, you might also like…


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.
Follow: