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?
Insightful & honest as ever. & not unlike what we’re going through a lot of the time
I have just woken at stupid o’clock (again) and read your post. You could so easily be living my life and me yours (except I have 3 to deal with). I completely agree that if we had the energy there would be plenty we could do to push for reform with post adoption services. I have had my kids for 4 and a half years and it is definitely not getting any easier. Where is the support? Who knows, actually I do know, it is with other adopters who are honest enough to tell it how it really is, both online and face to face. Thank God for that.
I want to write something positive but I just can’t think of anything at the moment. Some kids do move on and live happy lives. Some kids , the damage cannot seem to be kept at bay. The fact that they have self control some of the time is good but when their behaviours are relentless in the home it really stings our eyes , hearts and brains. And it is so BORING. It is so sad that the kids are most comfortable with themselves when everything around them is chaotic. We are all hanging in there!
You could be describing my house… I agree. It makes me mad to see Gove talking about rushing through adoptions, while our local council has just cut a highly experienced post-adoption social worker for budget reasons. We just had another ‘lost’ weekend ourselves. It is relentless and draining. We love our child to bits, but what we would do for some council-funded specialist childcare help or respite, even just for a few hours a month to catch our breath.
Respite is one of the big missing pieces of the puzzle. It is difficult for those not parenting traumatised children to really get how relentless and exhausting it is. And rushing through adoptions will potentially increase the need for post-adoption support (of which, still no mention). I hope you manage to catch your breath soon.
Hi Sally, I’ve been reading your blog for a while and felt moved to write after reading this post… I posted some of this reply on Stix’s blog the other day about hopes and dreams for adopted kids.
Whilst I am a complete novice (haven’t even been approved yet!), some years ago I rather naively wrote an article on adoption for a magazine (before I personally knew much about it, but re-reading it has revealed some interesting sources of information… A little gift from Past-Me to Present-Me!). I conducted some interviews with adult adoptees, one of whom was 24 when she wrote this:
“I feel lucky. My life could’ve so easily been different. I was fortunate enough be adopted by absolutely fantastic parents. As a family of four we get on so well and are close, something that some biological families never have. I am a firm believer in nurture over nature. I am totally my adoptive parents’ child and have not only picked up their good qualities; I am noticing that I have acquired their most annoying ones too!”
She was a really bright and friendly woman who had had a very tumultuous time in her teens but come out stronger and wiser. I spoke to her parents and they told me how it took her a long time to stop destructive behaviours, but by her twenties things started to change. I always keep those interviewees in my mind, as examples of how things can turn out. And I showed them to my friend abroad who is struggling with her teenage adopted daughter, just to say things really can, and do, get better. I don’t know if right now late teens/twenties seems a scarily far-away prospect! But I hope in some small way this is helpful, good luck and keep being the amazing mum you clearly are x
I have heard a lot of parents and children report that there were some lost years during the teens and the early twenties and that after that things settled down considerably. There are children that go back into care for a spell and then return back home. For some it is just not possible to parent their children at home. It is impossible to know what constitutes success in these situations. I guess we all do the best we can, apart from the state which could and should do a lot better.
I wish you all the very best with your journey into adoption. It isn’t easy but it is worth it.
Great blog as ever Sally and as Lola said above it is relentless! Totally identify with what you’ve said and what you’re going through. Hang in there….
Thanks, I’m trying, by the fingernails.
I admire the way you write so honestly about what must be emotionally very painful for you and your husband. What you are living with is truly exhausting especially when you are giving so much of yourself as you do to support your child. I’ve said before that I foresee my youngest could create similar challenges for our family in the future and I honestly find reading your story inspirational. You give me the belief that I too can have the strength to get through. Hope the changes are still working for you all.