Monthly Archives: June 2012


Last Sunday evening, when we would normally have been watching Secret Millionaire or reading the papers, Rob and I hit the rocky bottom of parenting and adoption.  I hope it was rock bottom but it may not have been.

Our son, so affable and personable in public, becomes possessed by something he calls his red brain at home.  I’m relieved the outside world doesn’t see much of red brain, but Rob and I have experienced enough of it.  Red brain appears to have read the best works of Dan Hughes, Kim Golding and Bruce Perry and is working its way around the A to Z of attachment difficulties and developmental trauma.  Aggression and Anger rock up regularly, Blaming, Controlling, Demanding are constants. Lying, Messing, Opposition, Sabotage, Stealing, Violence are frequent and unwelcome visitors.

Last Sunday Rob and I sat on our bed and looked into each others tear-filled eyes, haunted by the remembered fragments of another hideous weekend at the end of a horrific week.

‘I cannot live like this,’ said Rob.

We soothed each others wounds and hatched a rough plan.  We decided to keep our son off school the following day, to lay out some fresh ground rules and to call out for help.  It may seem counter-intuitive to keep a child at home who has brought us close to the brink, but parenting children with developmental trauma is highly counter-intuitive at times.

We came up with a list detailing how life is going to change.  Jamie initially rolled up into a ball and refused to listen.  Eventually he unfurled, engaged and then agreed that what we were laying out seemed right.  I sat him in front of the computer and set him about typing the list in his own words.  What he wrote was moving and demonstrated how badly he had needed us to scream ‘ENOUGH’.

Close supervision, reduced school hours, zero tolerance of verbal abuse and violence and plenty of time in with one parent are key parts of our plan for Jamie.  For Rob and I; some respite and a cry of help to Social Services.  Our daughter, who so often gets forgotten in all this, gets more time with either Rob or I and only supervised time with her brother, whose jealousy of her so often results in a sneaky kick or a punch.

There has been a slow improvement and this weekend was the first for a long time without a major incident.  To maintain calm and prevent drama takes an amount of strength and tenacity I would never have believed I possessed.  It feels like waking up every day and running a marathon. At low times I find myself doubting whether I will be able to last the course and then am immediately seized by a deep and terrifying guilt for even considering failure.

Meanwhile, as our family and many others like us buckle under the strain of parenting children who have suffered neglect and abuse in their early lives, the silence ringing out from the government on the much hailed subject of the reform of post-adoption support is deafening.  There is plenty of inconsequential noise; all children are to be ‘improved’ by receiving a free bible and learning poetry by rote.  I would go and see my MP, write some letters, organise a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament, but right now I’m far too tired.  In the future, well who knows?

I Meet Dan Hughes

Several months ago I was tweeting about a book I was reading and finding particularly useful:  Attachment-Focused Parenting by the American Child Psychologist Dan Hughes.  Every community of people bound by an experience has its heroes and Dan Hughes is a hero to many of those living and working with the child survivors of neglect and abuse.  His work provides an oasis amongst the scrap yard of chronic misunderstanding.

A tweeter replied,
‘He’s speaking at our conference.  Would you like to come?’
It was the best offer I’d had in a while.

The hall was packed with psychologists.  An optimism of psychologists might be an appropriate collective noun.  They were welcoming and friendly.  There was a sprinkling of adopters and foster carers.  We looked like we had been let out on day release.

Dan Hughes showed some DVD clips to illustrate his approach.  He is relentlessly curious with the children he works with, does not judge or blame, shows them that he gets why they are so angry with the hand life has dealt them, and then bravely steps into what has become for the child and often the adults around them, a no man’s land – the past.  He helps children to make sense of their lives, gifts them with an alternative narrative which counters their own ‘I am bad’ toxic interpretation.

The day was great but one thing gnawed at me.  My ongoing experience of adoption is one of sparse support.  Here I was amongst a roomful of several hundred psychologists and therapists.  Where do they work?  Why have I never come across them before?  There were two other eminent speakers; Colwyn Trevarthan and Graham Music.  They talked of work going on within the NHS where no one said ‘children are very robust’ nor ‘all we can offer is a prescription for ADHD medication’ nor ‘here’s my invoice’.  Have I just not fought hard enough I wondered.

I took the opportunity to ask Dan Hughes a question.

‘I have an adopted son who is 11.  We have a good relationship and we have made progress over the years.  But since he started secondary school he has become more and more challenging.  He is now refusing to eat, to wash, to go to bed.  He has aggressive and violent outbursts.  I’m trying close supervision but he hates it.  Where do I go from here?’

I wanted to be brief so I didn’t mention the stealing, the insatiable desire for sugar and the sexualised talk.  I kicked myself that my voice had betrayed so much emotion. Dan’s response was useful and helped me to mentally pull myself out of the mire.  But he mentioned the need for therapeutic support.

‘I have to say that the only therapeutic support we receive is what we pay for privately,’ I said, my voice bumping over another clot of emotion.

There were open mouths and a chasm of hopelessness engulfed the room.  I felt bad for raining on the parade.  But these things have to be said.  As we packed up to go home other adopters approached me.  It was no surprise that they were telling stories with the same themes; vulnerable and damaged children, traumatised carers, lack of support.  I wish we had had more time to talk.

I understand there are signs the government’s adoption reforms might be slowing now that the measures and scorecards (aka the cheap and easy stuff) are being put into place.  It is not so easy to measure human struggle in black and white terms, less easy still for the worn down to prove that they need help.  For me it’s a no-brainer but I think I can guess where this is going.

Thanks to everyone I met yesterday.  It was a joy to be amongst you all!

Ob La Di, Ob La Da (The ‘MUM!’ Version)

(To be sung with a lilting reggae rythmn.)

Son he is my darling and my number one,
He came to me at three and a half.
He a big boy now, he is my lanky honeybun
But he still need me for a hug up and a laugh.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on, yeah. La la la la life goes on.

In fact he need me very, very often,
He don’t like it when I’m not in play.
He need me to be close and to be present tense,
Every flippin’ minute of the day.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on, yeah.  La la la la it goes on.

I tell him there are times when I cannot talk,
In the toilet, on my bike, on the phone.
He just cannot take it, he just have to stalk
Me and then on and on and on and on he drone.

 Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on and on.  La la la la on and on.

‘Son’ I say ‘I’m on the phone please wait a while,
I won’t be long I talkin’ to my mum.’
Son he just can’t bear it it just killin’ him,
And so he stand there he and shout ‘now mum just come’.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, on and on and on.  La la la la on and on.

‘Son I’m in the toilet I’ll be very quick.’
I’m hoping for a quiet piss in peace.
He stands outside the door and he shout and knock,
And when I finish he can’t tell me what it is.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, bloody on and on.  La la la la on and on.

‘Right I need a shower, are you happy here?’
‘Yes mum I am watching somethin’ fun.’
I get changed and stand under the water clear,
And then it starts up ‘Mummee, mum, mum, mum,’

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, on and on and on.  La la la la on and on.

‘Let’s do something fun’ I say, ‘let’s read or cook,
Or maybe go outside and have a run’.
‘No that’s OK mummy I am far too bored.’
But he will sit just out of reach and holler ‘MUM!’

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on and on.  La la la la on and on.

A friend she come for chat and a cup of tea.
Son he happy playin’ with a mate.
But soon as she come knockin’, he wants only me.
And he talk nonsense which I really, really hate.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on and on.  La la la la on and on.

Sometime he just ‘mummy mum mum mum’ me,
‘Mummy, mummy, mummy,’ all the day.
I used to dream that someone call me ‘mu-u-my’
But now I think just for a moment ‘go away’

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, flippin’ on and on.  La la la la on and on.

People tell me all kids like to do this stuff.
Tell me I don’t know what is right.
I am too polite to tell them they speak guff
And that their ‘expertise’ and them should take a hike.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, it goes on and on.La la la la on and on.

So if you must say something preachy on a message board
‘All children do that’ don’t make any sense.
I love my boy and he my boy forever now
And I know he scared I’ll leave him like the rest

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on and on. La la la la life goes on.

Jubilee Hurricane of Trauma

Our family was hit by a hurricane of massive proportion this bank holiday weekend.  Rob and I were left wondering whether we should have recorded it on film because after the storm has passed, recollections are hazy and confused.

‘No one would ever believe how bad it is,’ said Rob as we sat slumped in front of the television watching the jubilee concert.

‘I know, Alfie Boe’s Elvis impersonation, it’s unforgivable.’

It was not the moment for humour.

‘”Did you have a lovely Jubilee weekend” people at work will ask me. “Wonderful thanks.  My son said he is going to murder me, you and Rose with an axe, laugh as he watches us bleed to death and then commit suicide, SO HE DOESN’T GET INTO TROUBLE.”  I can’t tell anyone what my weekend was really like, because it’s socially unacceptable and I can’t remember it that clearly because my brain has turned to jelly.’

He took another sip of Becks and his head dropped to his chest.

‘And while I’m holding Jamie to prevent him from smashing me in the face he’s shouting “I’m going to ring the police, I’m going to ring Childline because you are hurting me and you don’t care for me properly and they are going to put you in prison and I will be laughing”.  One day he is going to be six feet tall and angry and it scares me.  And no one will believe what it’s like.  And they all say “but he’s a gorgeous boy, so sociable and friendly” as though he couldn’t possibly be capable of anything so violent and aggressive, as though I’m making it all up.’

We watch the crowds going wild for Sir Cliff, who performs a strange arse-slapping move.

‘I just don’t know how I’m going to get over this.  I’m certainly never going to forget it.’

I resist the urge to make a joke at Sir Cliff’s expense.  Rob needs to be listened to and believed.  We heard some terrible things come out of the mouth of our son, some things so awful I will never be able to repeat them, let alone write about them.  Together Rob and I will have to somehow knit them into our experience and continue the task of therapeutic parenting.

We will carry the battle scars from this latest incident, along with the others, collected over the past years.  And they will fade.  The books say that the parents and carers of children who have suffered early neglect and trauma should, after an incident, move quickly to repair.  We’ve made a start, but sometimes it’s just not that easy.