I have been doing my bit for National Adoption Week because it is clearly a good thing. So I have been to a local authority focus group, I’ve blogged and tweeted and I’ve been interviewed by our local BBC radio station. So far so good.
Now it is never wise to voice concern about a generally accepted ‘good thing’. But since my blog and my book are about honesty, here goes.
Much as I believe I was honest in my radio interview I felt that the real truth was somehow out-of-bounds. During the focus group, I could voice some of the difficulties but there was not the time and it was clearly not appropriate to talk about what really goes on in our house. So I followed the ‘well it’s very hard but it’s worth it’ line. Which is true. But it isn’t being honest.
So the honesty is this. As I was listening to the radio interviewer leaving a message on my phone, saying what time the broadcast would be that evening, I was sat on my much-loved son, restraining him. He had already smashed his head against his headboard several times, ripped it off his bed and smacked it into the wall. As I was holding him down, I noticed the headboard had scrawled across it ‘Mum and Dad are not in control because they are useless’. Then as he was shouting ‘f*** you, I f****** hate you, I’m going to make your whole life a f*****g misery, I will get you when you are asleep and give you black eyes ………….’ and so forth I had to adjust my position to prevent him pushing over furniture in reach and kicking me in the back. ‘AHHH AAHHHHH’ he shouted as if to the whole street ‘CALL THE POLICE MY MUMMY IS HURTING ME’. Then he started on the mind control. ‘So what are you going to do now, little mummy? Are you gonna ring daddy cos you can’t cope, are you gonna cry boo hoo cos no one is going to hear you, loser, idiot, stupid.’ I tried to shout to my younger child to bring me the phone, because actually, he was right, I did feel I could lose control and I did want to call on my husband for assistance. When my daughter didn’t answer, my son looked deep into my eyes and laughed and laughed.
These situations don’t happen every day. And they might not happen for a year. But sometimes, when there is change to a new school for example, or another stress around, they do happen, perhaps every few days. And Rob and I are fairly well-practised now so we know what to do and we know to look to the causes and to seek the help of our support worker. But the help out there is pretty thin and 90% of those around me, including my son’s school have little appreciation of what his behaviour is really like. These events pile up and are cumulatively and deeply traumatising for us all. And they are happening against a background of continuing conflict (‘time to get up now’, ”NO’, ‘it’s tea time’, ‘I’m not eating your stupid food, EVER’, ‘let’s do some reading together’, ‘I don’t want to read, especially with YOU. WHY DON’T YOU GO AND LIVE IN PAIN AND MISERY’) And the conflict is pretty much an ongoing thing, with some quieter times in between.
Clearly it is difficult to voice this during adoption week because it would put people off coming forward to adopt. That would be a bad thing. But in not saying it am I doing an injustice to those people? Would I be guilty of mis-selling? I think I might be. I have watched some of the television coverage this week and most of it has been balanced and searching. But I can’t help noticing that many of the advocates for adoption are those who are relatively new to adoption, whose homes and minds are still in tact and who have younger children who have not endured quite so long in squalor, fearing for their own safety. I express this very tentatively because those parents deserve a say because they have made a courageous decision and have a valid experience to talk about. But I worry that those of us with more difficult experiences to tell of, who maybe have older children or siblings, or children with complex medical issues are not being given the opportunity to speak. Clearly their stories would not sit easily within a PR campaign.
I want more prospective adopters to come forward because I want more children to be given the chance of growing up in a stable and loving family and that is why I support National Adoption Week. But only with real honesty can we hope to attract those who are fully prepared for the long haul.
Thank you for sharing exactly how I’m feeling too. So often it comes across that it’s not too hard – but it’s only those who go in without blinkers who are prepared for the long haul!
Thanks for your comment. I posted and then ran for cover!
Thank you so much for posting this. We are about to have the first of our home assesment visits tomorrow. During the prep group we were told that life will not always be a bed of roses and we are given the outline of what we may face with the children but never given actual details. We were lucky in that our prep group contained foster parents and also a few people who had already adopted. They didn’t pull any punches when we were doing group tasks so we got a deeper insight to life with a Looked After Child (i really don’t like that term) If prep groups had more people like you to come and talk to them with no holds barred truth then it could only be better for the children they may eventually adopt. Yes there is a risk that some people will back out but surely that is better for the children? It is a very fine line to balance on when it comes to the sensetive issues surrounding adoption. My Husband and I have not been put off and we fully expect that things will go wrong sometimes and life may not be all sweetness and light but we also believe that we have good things to offer a child and that they fully deserve a chance.
It sounds like you are going into adoption with your eyes open. I know I wrote about a bad time but there are plenty of brilliant times too. And what would look like small steps in other families are big and important steps in ours. And you are right, these children do deserve a chance.
I wish you all the very best with the adoption process.
Bless you for being brave enough to say how you are feeling. You’re right, that must be hard because you don’t want to feel that you are not promoting adoption. It is your truth though and it is something that happens for many parents, and not just adoptive ones. I have worked with young people, both adopted and birth children, who have exhibited similar behaviours and one thing that united the parents was a lack of outside and agency support in dealing with the difficulties at home. I am a relatively new adoptive parent, to a younger, less traumatised child and life is fairly straight forward but I have enough experience of children and young people to know that things can change; emotions and behaviours can change with time and we have no idea what might lie ahead in our family for the future. Thank you for being so brave and honest.
Thank you for your comment. It was not an easy post to write, it would feel so much better to be waxing on about how wonderful it all is.
Something I have learnt is never to look too far into the future and to enjoy our children whenever possible.
OMG your house could be mine. We still have that daily and I find that most people think we are exaggerating how bad it can get. There is not enough support for us full stop.
Hopefully if we all keep speaking out, then eventually things will improve.
I’m glad you posted on this. I agree with you that National Adoption Week could be handled better and isn’t completely honest.
For example, on the National Adoption Week website, there are profiles of children and sibling groups that were advertised on TV or in the newspapers. People can read through the profiles and then “express interest” in a particular child or group. There’s also a message stating that all expressions of interest will be forwarded to the children’s social workers.That’s NOT AT ALL how adoption works!
I feel that this is completely misleading and wrong. Everyone interested in adopting within the UK has to go through an intensive application process before they are even considered as matches for individual children, so why create a false environment and make it seem otherwise? We should aim to give an accurate and honest overview of adoption, and detail the real steps – not show a cute picture of a child and make it seem that it’s easy.
I guess there is a thought that maybe the ends justify the means. But with something which asks so much of people, it can’t be right to hoodwink and misinform. And those coming forward may have suffered years of infertility and to have their hopes raised and dashed again is unfair.
Thanks for commenting,
I am speechless, and am feeling a bit ashamed and guilty. Let me explain – I do not have adopted children so had no idea of what adoption really means or entails, or the total commitment and strength for the long haul it must require. I was sent the link to this blog a while back by a friend of a friend who has adopted and so took a look during a slow day at work. Since then I am utterly compelled and keep coming back weekly to read, if I saw the scene descibed above in a film I’d be ‘ yeah yeah a bit of Hollywood drama’. But this is real life, not every day but that it happens even once is traumatic enough for anyone, plus the dread of the next occurence hanging there in the background through all of the regular, normal and good times……
So the ashamed bit – I feel like an intruder reading these experiences as I just had no idea, or probably to be honest really had never given it a great deal of thought. My naive image was of pain and sadness then adoption then a bit of adjustment to the new family then happy ever after. Also it puts child traumas I’ve had in perspective in comparison. Please keep this going, from the replies I’ve read it looks like it resonates with people, and it is about time we had reality given to us straight and undiluted in an age full of manufactured or edited reality across all areas of our media.
Both my wife and I work part-time. We top and tail to try and cover our lad’s child care ourselves. This is partly because we don’t have family close by, and lots of our nearby friends just scarpered when they saw what life with a traumatised child was really like. We can’t really blame them, they had their own children to protect from this strange unpredictable boy and our apparently bizarre parenting style. But largely it’s because our son is terrified most of the time we’re not around, and when he’s terrified then he hits and hits and hits my wife when he gets her on his own.
It’s because she’s a woman, and women in his life are the ones who’ve given up on him. His birth mother gave up even before he was born, putting the bottle before the new life growing in her belly. So did the aunt and grandmother who briefly tried to care for him. Then the foster carer who he lived with for a year – well, she loved him, really loved him, but then she gave him away to two complete strangers, which devastated him. Why should he trust a woman? And as for me, well, he does hit me but nothing like he hits his mum. I’m a man you see, and he’s learnt that you should be careful of men because they are strong and when they’re angry they can really hurt you.
It got to the stage this summer that we had to beg our few remaining friends to come over on the days I was at work, because he was less likely to hit his mum in front of other people. I’d dread my phone going off because I knew it would be my wife crying on the other end, desperately trying to fend him off as he came at her again. Listening on my mobile to the son I love beating up the woman I love is hell. I know I can’t do anything to change the situation over the phone, and even if I drop everything and head home, they’re half an hour’s drive away. Forget erectile dysfunction, that’s what I call impotence.
We took photos of her bruises and bite marks because one day we may need to prove that this really happened.
This isn’t to say he doesn’t love her, he really loves her. But all the bad things that happened in his life have messed up the wiring in his brain. He often can’t even remember the violence half the time. And although it’s incredibly hard to live with, gradually it is changing. We’re slowly teaching him that he is safe. Slowly he’s learning that those sicky feelings he has mean that he’s too hot or too cold, that he’s hungry, thirsty, or needs the toilet, and that we’ll deal with the problem. He’s even starting to work out what the problem might be himself. As Sally D wrote, what seem like small steps to others are a big big deal to us and are incredibly rewarding. This is what inhabitants of Planet Adoption call “Therapeutic Parenting” or “Developmental Reparenting” and it’s exhausting, but slowly it does seem to be working.
All I can say is ‘thank you’ for sharing this and even for being able to find the time and energy to write it. I very much hope that you are getting the support you need, although I know from reading the Adoption UK message boards that many, many adoptive parents in your situation are not.
We were lucky to be referred to a social worker who specialises in attachment trauma, for family therapy and he literally transformed our lives. One of the things that made the biggest difference for us was learning what to do when our son totally lost control and was in danger of hurting himself and us and of destroying the house. We always felt impotent and were never sure whether to let him carry on and hope for the best or whether to stop him and how. Mr R explained that because J was out of control and therefore not feeling safe, he needed holding so that he could not reek havoc and so that we took control. At the same time as holding him (often with arms across chest so he can’t punch) we have to reassure him ‘you are safe’/'mummy doesn’t want you to hurt yourself’. Once everything has died down, we have to talk over what has happened before, after and during the incident, what set it off etc and reassure him that we love him and he is part of our family no matter what. It has to be knitted into a narrative so that they can start to make sense of things.
This approach has drastically reduced the frequencies of big rages and has given us back control. I tell you this, not as anyone remotely professionally qualified and it is only our experience and one is often worried about getting into trouble (‘restraining children!’) but I’m telling it as it is. It has taken practise, but now we know what we’re doing. And although it is easier when two of us are at home, I can manage it on my own (with an 11 year old).
I know this probably sounds trite (so sorry for that), but you both and many like you are doing an incredibly difficult job, day in day out and you deserve a massive amount of recognistion and credit for what you do. Without you, the future outcomes for your child would not bear thinking about. Please keep in contact. If you or your wife ever want to contact me by my personal email, let me know.
I don’t intend to shame readers, but I do want to inform and education. If we hadn’t adopted children, my knowledge base would be exactly as yours is. But the problem is this – professionals who should be informed and who work with these children such as teachers and GPs and even some Social Workers, carry the same misconceptions, that childre pretty much recover from their experiences once they are in an adoptive home. Thank goodness for modern brain scanning techniques, because they prove that neglected children miss out on some important steps in brain development and so the case has been made scientifically. It is still taking far too long for the data to drip down to those at a working level. And that leaves adoptive parents feeling marginalised.
Thanks for returning to my blog and for taking the time to comment. It is much appreciated.
I have no idea what to say to this post but I just wanted to tell you your blog has been eye opening. You sound like you are doing an amazing job.
Thanks Dilly Tante. It’s not always easy being honest. Think I may have to lighten up for a while though.