Therapeutic Parenting, Day One

I am attending a course this week on Therapeutic Parenting.  Although I like to think I’m already a therapeutic parent, sometimes I lose sight of the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ amongst the strains of caring for children with Developmental Trauma.

Day One focused on the ‘whys’.

It is quite simple really.  Babies are not born with fully formed brains.  They need loving eye contact, consistent care, the comfort of another, the presence of trustworthy adults who deliver in order to develop the parts of the brain which we take for granted.  We were shown two brain scans; one of a Romanian child, who grew up in an orphanage, one of a child who grew up in a loving home.  The differences in frontal lobe activity and development were astonishing.  It brought home to me that what our children and their carers are struggling with is brain damage.  Yet it is so much easier to judge their behaviour as naughty.  Why won’t they just do what they are told?  Stop answering back?  Stop lying? Stop hurting others?  Why are they so manipulative, controlling? Why won’t behaviour systems work?  Why do they repeat behaviours over and over?  The answer in the main is that they just can’t help it.

I spent some time sat in the garden with my son yesterday. I don’t know if he was in the mood to talk or whether I was open after a day of training, maybe a combination of both, but he recounted another troubled day at school.

‘I’m fed up with getting into trouble for things I don’t even know I’m doing,’ he said.

I empathised with his feelings of frustration.

‘If you could choose between me with Tourettes or me like I am, what would you choose?’

I paused to contemplate the struggles of living with Tourettes. ‘I’d choose you as you are.’

‘I wouldn’t, never, ever, ever. I would never choose to be like I am.  Always in trouble, always the one who needs special this and that and even you have to learn how to look after me.  If I had Tourettes people would know what that was and understand me.  And I wouldn’t have all those scary images in my head.  I just want to be normal like everyone else.’

He was emphatic.  It was a rare moment of supreme honesty and it bowled me over.  This is what it is like to grow up with Developmental Trauma.

Grief comes to visit (again)

The imagined life I had constructed for myself slipped away last week, again and was obscured by the dark fog of parenting a child with attachment difficulties.  I am ridiculously attached to my imagined life and now I think it may be gone forever I am enveloped by what I can only describe as grief.  I thought I had let go of my imagined life some time ago, clearly I had not and this grief comes around and around.

Therapeutic parenting is the only approach in town and it works.  But after wave upon wave of attack my ability to therapeutically parent has been dealt a blow.  Old-style parenting has made a reappearance. Its familiar embrace is comforting, its sales techniques attractive.  But if something sounds and feels too good to be true it usually is: it promises high and delivers low.

My plan is somehow to pick myself up off the floor again, wipe my face with a flannel and get back on the road.  This week I am going on another therapeutic parenting course.  I need to be reminded of the message over and over and I need some distance and refreshment.  I’m going back to the books too but it’s Dan Hughes, not Philippa Gregory on my bedside table.

Last week I tweeted,

‘Writing about the mini-grief that comes with realising you are going to have to therapeutically parent FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE’.

I’ve never had such a big response to a tweet.  Whilst I don’t wish others to be in the same boat as me, it was comforting to know I’m not the only one grieving for a lost normality, career, stable family life, for dashed hopes and dreams.  Someone kindly sent a link to an essay called Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley.  It describes where I’m at (although I’ve relocated somewhere far less peaceful than Holland, perhaps you’re there too, maybe you’ve spotted me).

This grief will pass and the sun will come out.  I will see once more that living differently to many others brings glorious surprises and opportunities too.  I love my family and will be there for them, through thick and thin.  Right now I have to accept that I am going to be a professional, therapeutic parent for a very long time.

‘Mothers, Stop Moaning!’: Bibi Lynch Writes from the Gut

Bibi Lynch is 46 and always thought she would have children.  Her recent article in The Guardian, ‘Mother’s Stop Moaning’ is the guttural shout of a woman who knows that it is too late. It is one of the most honest and moving accounts of childlessness that I have read.  Pain and grief lash out of the page in angry waves.   It is unmadeup, uncombed, undressed, raw emotion.  This article was written from the gut and it is all the better for it.

If Bibi Lynch had written this ten years ago when I was in a similar situation, she would have done me a great service.  Back then there was no one to reflect the secrecy and shame, to share the dark and unkind feelings with.  I fixed myself with a rictous smile and rarely did it slip.

She has been much criticised for the swipes she takes at ‘moaning mothers’ but such criticisms miss the point.  Hers are not the polite considered musings of a mildly disappointed woman, they are the unreconstructed, uncooked ventings of the grief-stricken.  And no matter how marginalised mothers feel, society views motherhood as the norm for women, from which all deviants are judged.  Bibi’s howls may not be polite and ladylike and they are loaded with bile and hatred and frustration but they are unflinchingly honest.

Bibi Lynch both predicted and provoked the attacks her piece received, particularly by referencing Mumsnet.  The resulting thread started off being well-balanced and considered before degenerating somewhat in the way these things do.  She was accused of being ‘bitter’, an accusation she heaped upon herself anyway.  She was also much blamed for her situation (having reached 46 without having met a partner with whom to have a family) which was deemed by some to have been her choice, as though life’s path is merely negotiated via a set of logical decisions, no random fluttering of butterfly wings involved.  There was also much indignation that many are worse off than her, which goes without saying.  Raw pain is not a logical, thoughtful emotion.  Other writers were referenced, who were judged to be dealing with it all in a more acceptable, palatable grown-up and lady-like fashion.  Maybe they are better women than Bibi, but infertility is a long old road and how you feel at the start is not how you feel in later years.  One day is not necessarily the same as the next.  In November you may be positive, by Christmas you may feel like strangling yourself with fairy lights.

Quite a few respondents pointed out that Bibi still has options; she could use egg donation, become a step-parent or adopt.  Yes, just like that.  Easy.  The underlying message is shut up, go away and get on with it. It is no wonder that she had to scream to make herself heard but I am glad she did.



Trolley Loads of Anxiety in LIDL

We park.  Both children exit the car as though taking off in pursuit of criminals.
Car doors narrowly miss the paintwork of neighbouring cars.

‘Can I push the trolley?’ shouts Child 1.

‘I want to push the trolley,’ shouts Child 2.

‘I’ll push the trolley,’ says my husband decisively.

This is damage limitation.  We are about to enter the stark functionality of LIDL.
LIDL is no playground.  Both children produce an elongated moan which starts high, lowers towards the middle section and then goes higher again.  It is a sort of U-shaped moan and all the more annoying for that.

I have not written a shopping list.  I know this to be a serious mistake.  It is because somewhere in my sub-consious I have equated ‘holiday’ and ‘rest’.  This is also a mistake.

As we follow the children to the trolleys I notice Child 1 is wearing his jeans so low that virtually his entire cotton swathed backside is exposed.  He is walking in a recently adopted style which is close to swaggering.  He chews pretend gum.  This for him is the ultimate in cool.  Child 2 is wearing new sky blue trousers.  One leg of the trousers has a slick of muddy water from thigh to ankle.  We rarely go out looking like we own a home with a washing-machine and a bathtub.

Both children enter the shop, stop in the middle of the aisle and stare at other
people.  This causes immediate gridlock.  I put a hand on each of their shoulders and manually steer them to an empty space.  This is a manoeuvre I am well practised in
and which I own an ‘across the body’ handbag for the sole purpose of.

I find I have now passed the bread.  I say ‘wait here’ and reverse to the bread.  They follow me.  Child 2 likes to be in front so overtakes and stops again, in front of the bread. I manually move her to one side.

‘Don’t push me,’ she says, a little louder than is appropriate for LIDL.

I pick up bread and search for my Husband.  He is just ahead, by hot drinks.  My way is blocked, by my children and an old lady with bad posture and a limp.  Both children stare at her, properly stare, with open mouths and wayward expressions. We bunch up behind the old lady. Child 2 grabs my arm.

‘I’m feeling clingy today,’ she says into my armpit.

I steer the children around the old lady and as I do this, their heads rotate ensuring that they do not take their eyes off her.  We reach my Husband.

‘Don’t push me,’ says Child 1, a little too loudly.

‘Go and look at the surprise aisle,’ I suggest brightly, prising Child 2 off my arm.  My brightness is a supreme effort and will be followed, at some point today, by hysterical shouting, mine.

‘It’s over there,’ and I wave my hand in the general direction of Monday Madness.  Both children run there, literally run.

I calculate I have bought enough time to do veg, fruit and maybe even cold meat.  I am wrong. I am assembling the ingredients for a vegetable Bolognese sauce when two cans of Pepsi Max are thrust in front of my face.  I look up.

‘Can we have these?’

‘These’ has the same u-shaped intonation as the elongated moan.

‘No, but why don’t you get a can each of normal Pepsi?’

‘Oh WHY?’ they fire back, loudly.

I repeat myself and they slope off muttering to each other about how I never let them have anything they want, not never.  I am left with a fleeting memory of 100% juice and good intentions.

I am deciding on peppers when I feel an insistent tap on my shoulder.

‘Look Mum,’ says Child 1, holding out a bottle of Factor 4 sun tan oil.  It is 8 degrees outside and raining.

‘Very good.  Now put it back.’

‘Why?’ he asks somewhat aggressively.

‘Because we don’t need it.’

‘Yes we do.’

‘It’s a good thought, but we have lots at home.’

‘No we don’t.’

‘Put it back please.’

He swaggers off, muttering still holding the can of Pepsi Max.

Some tins of tomatoes, puree for pizzas.  Buy the heavy stuff while there are more hands.  Ham, need ham.

My husband and I trail the middle aisles of random running gear, baby vests and cold

‘Garden clogs, isn’t that what you’ve been looking for?’

They are.  Guinea pig feeding clogs.  Easy on and off.  I pick up a pair.  I discover they have the power of the Pied Piper’s pipe.  I am suddenly surrounded.

‘What are those?’

‘Garden shoes.’

‘What for?’

‘Wearing in the garden.’


‘I’m just going to try them on.’


I steer the children away to allow me the space to bend down and undo my shoelaces.

‘Can we have these?’ says Child 2 holding a multi-pack of black pretend Oreos too close to my eyes to enable me to focus on them.

‘No, we’ll get some other biscuits.’

They crowd back in on me

‘Are you going to get those shoes?’

I feel like my head is going to explode out of my ears.

‘Come on you two,’ says my husband, sensing trouble.

I hear them discussing batteries.  Child 1 needs some for his Playmobil police siren.  He swears they are AA.  My husband thinks they are AAA.  He is right.  Child 1 knows his father is right but would die in a ditch rather than admit such a thing.

We regroup and buy crisps.  There is gridlock around crisps and both children stop and stare at a man staggering towards alcohol.  Again I manhandle them, around
the end of the aisle to UHT milk where things are less busy.  A lady in a white acrylic jumper watches me do this and her face paints a vivid picture of her disapproval.

I whisk past bin bags and up to cheap mini-Magnums.  Child 1 follows me and somehow gets there first. He shows me how the sliding freezer doors work, several times.  White jumper lady is nearby, observing.

Cheese I think, cheese and yoghurt and then alcohol.

At yoghurts I am caught up by both children who stand between me and the pretend Muller corners.  I move one out of the way.  She wraps herself around my shopping arm.

‘I love you Mummy.’

She looks into my eyes, cocks her head to one side and blinks repeatedly.

‘I know.’

I have a brief flicker of what I must sound like to others.  These are powerful words meant to bring a mother to her knees in grateful, tearful thanks.  I am used to hearing them in similar circumstances to these; when I’m on the phone or in the shower or on the toilet, in other words, temporarily unavailable.

As I pick up the yoghurts she leans into me and I almost fall over.  I am being devoured like these yoghurts will be, but more slowly and painfully.

‘Beer, I need some,’ says my Husband, with a slightly crazed look in his eye.

‘I saw some,’ says Child 1, ‘over here look, follow me, follow me, follow me, follow me, Dad, here, come on, come on.’

‘This is what I want, right here.’

He juggles twelve cans of Carlsberg lashed together precariously with flimsy plastic, into the trolley.

‘One two three four five.’

‘Twelve, there’s twelve cans altogether.’

‘Six seven eight.’

‘There’s twelve.’

‘Nine ten.’

I grab two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon which I have a vague recollection of having enjoyed in the past.

‘Did you need some chocolate,’ asks my Husband, breathily.

‘Yes.  I’ll go back. You all queue.  I’ll see you in a minute.’

I make my getaway. Yes.  Past the freezers, past salted nuts.  Then, too many taps on my shoulder.  It is Child 1.

‘Where are you going?’

‘To get chocolate.’

‘I’ll come too.  I want to show you all the chocolate I really really really really really like.’

By the second ‘really’ I imagine running out of the shop and into a waiting taxi.

‘Please go and help Daddy. I won’t be a moment.’

‘No I …..’

‘Go now,’ I snap.

I hide in chocolate and deep breathe. Then I choose some wrapped in cardboard knowing that the cardboard is meant to make up for the low cocoa content.  Normally I would care but today I’m after a cheap fix.

I join them in the queue.  All three are putting shopping on to the belt, two of them competitively.  There is a mass of tangled limbs, toppling food and wound up anxiety.  The checkout girl blips it through faster than we can all jostle each other and pack.  She exhales, slowly.  Items back up.  I ask Child 1 to wait by the blue LIDL
counter, provided to allow shoppers space to right some of the wrongs of speedy
packing.  He stands there looking destitute.  It is as though I have said ‘you
are my least preferred child, leave immediately’.

As we walk out of the shop Child 2 runs ahead and turns to face me and continues to walk, backwards.

‘Mum, you’re so …. stressee.’  It is a u-shaped stressee.

Child 1 suddenly cheers up and joins in ‘Yeah, stressssseeeeee.’  It is a double-dip stressee.

Then they race each other across the car park in a manner which would have the Green Cross Code man wringing his hands in desperation.  They try to open the car doors, which are locked.  They keep trying as though the situation will change through persistence rather than with keys.

My husband remotely unlocks the car and both children dive into it.  We stand looking at each other

It is the first week of the holidays and the change of routine has fired up anxieties
with rocket fuel.  In a few days things will be calmer and we will have rediscovered our therapeutic selves.  In the meantime we have chocolate and alcohol;
cool balm for fractured nerves.

The Sunscreen Song (for Therapeutic Parents)

This is my version of the Sunscreen Song.  It is a compilation of advice on therapeutic parenting from people far wiser than I and to whom I give thanks.  It has not yet been put to music.

Ladies and Gentlemen, if I could offer you only one tip, it would be Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.  The small stuff, when sweated, turns into big stuff and there is enough of that around.

Close supervision is hard but worth it; don’t set your children up to fail because they will and then they will feel like failures.

Baked beans on toast, pizzas from the freezer, baked potatoes: none of these will kill you but they will buy you more time with your children.

Stop trying to control everything, but know when you have to take control because if you don’t your child will feel lost.

Come in from left field occasionally.  Surprise yourself and your children.  Have fun. Sing.  Dance.

Don’t take the bait, you will only get reeled in.  Never forget which one of you is the child and which the adult.

Know when to walk away.

Listen to yourself and try not to be a nag, it closes children’s ears.

Create family traditions, they are the glue which sticks you all together.  Have fun.

Don’t ignore or exclude but do the opposite.  If ignoring and excluding worked, your children would be the best behaved children around.

Don’t project too far into the future or it may cloud the present.  The race is long.

Try and sort your regrets about your own life, from your hopes for your child’s life: they are different things.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your children.  Get to know them.  One day you’ll miss them.

Value every achievement, no matter how small it may look.

Some mysteries are best left unsolved.  Don’t try to be Sherlock Holmes.

Try not to lose sight of who you are.  Get a babysitter.

Be kind to yourself and remember tomorrow is a new day.

And trust me on this: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.



Who Do You Think You Are: Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay

Growing up with a strong sense of identity is in some ways like being gifted with a golden ticket and yet it is something which largely goes unnoticed by those of us lucky to have it. I had never questioned my own identity, probably because I had never had the need to.  I grew up in a provincial town, surrounded by people who looked like I looked and who lived much like we lived and within a family strong on stories and history and resemblances.  I never had cause to feel anything other than included.

Now I have my own children I see things a bit differently.  In our family unit of four, only our children share a blood tie.  They look alike, but not remarkably and although it is often said that they resemble my husband Rob and I, they don’t really.  This is where stories of identity start.  And once started they grow and change until they take on a life of their own and it becomes difficult to see the truth amongst the myths.

I have become grumpy with most popular media coverage of adoption and now stick mainly to the hard, academic stuff.  I sense a popular unease with adoptive parents and we are fruitful ground for myth-making as we don’t often have the opportunity to tell our own story.  We are not quite the real thing, we jealously guard secrets and use adoption as a weapon against the alien genes.  If a tragedy has befallen a child, the media will be quick to point out if that child was adopted, as though this might make a difference to the sense of loss felt by the parent, or worse still, provide a reasonable basis for suspicion.

‘Red Dust Road’ by Jackie Kay is different.  For a start, she likes and loves her adoptive parents and she writes about them with a beautiful affection.  They are white, Scottish communists, who went to watch ‘Death of Salesman’ on their first date.  They are no strangers to feeling different and how they ever found each other is a miracle in itself.  But Jackie who has a duel Scottish and Nigerian heritage not only feels different but looks different too.  She shows how identity is so often something which others seek to thrust upon us.  She is racially abused in the street, at school and at university.  Each incident is rooted both in the frailty of the attacker’s identity and their resulting need to assign an identity to her.

Through their songs and traditions, the Kays knit together a family.  They pass down a great deal of themselves; their values and beliefs and their love of holidays, stories and music.  They also pass down a conviction that their children deserve no less than a clear place in the world.  It is this which sets the foundation from which Jackie Kay can begin the journey towards finding and taking control of her identity.

Most of us live with a level of untruth about who we are because we have confidence in the basic facts. The myths and stories are a nice bit of added colour and decoration and are none the less bonding for that.  For Jackie, so much of this myth goes to the heart of who she is.   Many adopted children dream big dreams about their birth parents and Jackie was no different. In finding that they were not at all as she had imagined them left her having to grieve for the myths and come to terms with the reality.  And it was heartbreaking that the giving up of a child had not only damaged Jackie, leaving her with the ‘windy place’, a feeling of being alone, but had also profoundly damaged her birth parents lives as well.

The process of discarding and piecing together fragments of identity, the highs and lows, the drama and the sadness is so honestly described and the book ends with a strong sense that the journey continues and may never reach conclusion.

I would urge anyone who is touched by adoption to read Jackie Kay’s book.  It doesn’t run away from the complexities and yet it has a light touch and a lot of love and fun.  I leant it to a friend of mine recently, who has much in common with Jackie Kay. She wrote to me ‘I really,really enjoyed reading it and I identified with Jackie’s childhood in lots of ways.  It has been really wonderful for me in terms of my identity’.  We can all learn a lot from Jackie Kay, not least those of us who think we know who we are.

Life Story Work: Taking Control

There are two types of adoptive parents; those who effortlessly weave their child’s birth family into their own (‘Good Parents’) and those who do not (‘Bad Parents’).

‘Good Parents’ have books of photographs of birth family members around the home for all to see, they chat effortlessly about their child’s pre-adoption life and are emotionally intelligent and well-balanced people.

‘Bad Parents’ are secretive, jealous and do not act in the best interests of their child.  In fact they are damaging their child for life by adding to shame and taking away from identity.  They probably have unresolved attachment issues themselves.

At our adoption training it was made very clear which we should be and to illustrate the point a lovely woman who had adopted a new born baby a year ago talked to us about how important it was to be a ‘Good Parent’.  She had pictures of her baby’s birth family around her home and that is where they were going to stay.  That settled it: I was certainly going to be a ‘Good Parent’.

Wind forward twelve months and my physically and emotional scarred, soon to be adopted son Jamie was visited by a student Social Worker, whom he had met once before.  She showed him his new Life Story Book.  It contained pictures of his birth family, the house they had lived in and some narrative on his life from birth to the present day.  Jamie would not sit still or look at the pictures.  He shouted and threw things.  The Social Worker went home and we never saw her again.  We were left trying to pick up the pieces. For days after this Jamie was highly distressed and virtually uncontrollable.  Nevertheless we persisted.  As advised we put the Life Story Book on a prominent book shelf, where it would be seen many times a day.  I would often ask with a note of fake excitement ‘Jamie shall we sit down together and look through your Life Story Book?’. He would run away and hide.  I tried to casually drop bits and pieces into conversations.  They always resulted in a meltdown.  Meltdown is not what anyone needs in those early months of an adoption when the focus should be on establishing feelings of safety and bonding.  And at that time Jamie was grieving hard for the foster family he had just left behind.  It was all too much too soon.

Back in those days I was inexperienced and tired.  But eventually I began to realise that the Life Story Book was a object of fear and that maybe this ‘Good Parent vs Bad Parent’ thing was not as simple as I had been led to believe.

On the advice on one particular Social Worker in whom I have an enormous amount of trust, we put the book away.  And we decided to give Jamie a rest, a break from having to think about the past, as this is what he seemed to be trying to tell us he wanted. It was as though a weight had been immediately lifted.  Jamie was no longer under imminent danger of Life Story Hijack.

Very slowly and in his own time, he began to talk.  One evening, as I was tucking him into bed he shared with me his memories of an horrific event.  He drew me into his world, urging me to believe him.  I knew it was a key moment and it is one I shall never ever forget.  He taught me a lot that night about fear and trauma and the very complex feelings and emotions around being harmed by those who should protect you.

Then he started to open up on car journeys.  The theme was usually kidnap.  Could they put a ladder up against our house at night and come into my room and take me?  Would you hear them?  What would you do?  Would you fight them?  Then there were other more complex questions; are they in prison, why not, how can someone who does that to children not be in prison?

From that we moved on to the complexities of his large and complicated birth family tree.  He has difficulties understanding it even now.  There was no hope he was going to manage it at 5 or 6 years old when he struggled to get his head around even the basics of family relationships.

I have learnt to be guided in the most part by Jamie.  When he’s asked questions we’ve talked sometimes briefly, sometimes at great length and most times I’ve given him a little bit more information to assimilate. Twelve months ago this process led to me referring to his Form E and some photographs which were taken by the police.  He asked to see it all.  I sat with him at the kitchen table and we read every word.  The following day he asked if he could show the documents to his teacher.  I am grateful to her for agreeing to do this.  Again, once he had been allowed to share and explore at his own pace more weight was lifted.

This has taken eight years so far.  Jamie has seen all the information we have.  But there is still plenty more work to do. Jamie’s voice has been absolutely key to the process so far;  sometimes that voice is acted out through behaviours which have to be unpicked and sometimes it rings with clarity but it has always been strong and brave.  Now that he is older he says that he doesn’t want his Life Story Book on show but he knows where it is.  He doesn’t want pictures of his birth family on display in our home either.  They are his birth family members and some of them are his abusers too.

I came under pressure particularly in the early days and at times felt I was misrepresented as the ‘Bad Parent’.  Perhaps I am lucky that Jamie has such a strong voice or maybe I have chosen to tune into it and listen and trust.  I could of course be doing it all wrong. Either way, I’m confident now that the process we’ve followed is the right one for us. I’ve taken control: sometimes mum does know best.


Do you have a bottomless supply of energy and patience, particularly from 4 o’clock onwards?

Are you well-organised and yet spontaneous and able to think on your feet?

Do you believe chairs and sitting in them to be over-rated?

Are you physically strong, thick-skinned and able to deal with some degree of public humiliation?

Are you startlingly assertive and yet also non-competitive (ie do the words ‘donkey’ and ‘nativity’ give you a warm feeling?).

Are you a self-starter and a sticker atter, good at mazes and labyrinths?

Are you able to withstand bad and sickly poetry (with much overuse of the word ‘heart’)?

Do you enjoy drinking overstewed tea and eating Nice biscuits (fingers) in windowless conference rooms?

Are you happy to let yourself go for a few years? (this post may preclude shopping in actual shops for some time)

Do you carry a child-shaped hole in your soul?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to all the above, then you are wanted and needed by children in this country now.  Please contact Adoption and Fostering Recruitment at your local social services department.


Facebook and Adoption – Lessons Learnt

I am used to proclamations of dramatic proportions when I am trying to get ready for an evening out.  This time it was a bit different.

‘Will you love me no matter what I do?’ asked my son Jamie looking sullen.

‘Of course,’ I replied, ‘no matter what’.

‘Even if say I killed lots of people.’

‘Yes, even if you did that.  Is there something you need to tell me?’

He looked into the distance, ‘no, no I don’t think so.’

Just as I was leaving to go out, he insisted that I take my mobile phone with me.  I thought to myself ’how sweet, he’s worried about me.’

We arrived at the village hall, which is what passes for a great entertainment venue here in Mudtropolis and as it is in the land of no signal, eight texts immediately downloaded to my mobile phone.  Six are from Jamie.  I didn’t have chance to read them all in detail but the general gist was ‘sorry my mum you are sticking with me for the hell I have put you through you may wish you were not my mum but you are …….’  I assumed he was experiencing a sudden and unusual flush of guilt for past incidents and again thought to myself ‘how lovely, maybe we are turning a corner’.  It is only on the way back home that I read the texts properly and nearly fell over, ‘this thing called FACEBOOK I can use as a guest and I used you email address and now I know I am in big trouble and I really really think I should have a big consequence’.  I won’t repeat the word that I said at that point.

I ran into the house, switched on my laptop and watched open-mouthed as ten and tens of emails downloaded which were all entitled ‘FACEBOOK’.  Then I felt sick.

It is worth saying a bit about why I had such a strong reaction to something which is so widely used.  Our children are our children as a result of a closed UK adoption, an adoption which took place in a court well-away from where we live, in order to keep all our identities secure.  Apart from the usual considerations (not wanting to be tracked down by violent birth family members chief amongst them) some of our details had been leaked by an agency which should have known better.  So we have all lived under a certain amount of fear and vigilance.  Jamie in particular has nightmares about being taken.

Jamie is eleven and has been asking to use Facebook for about twelve months.  Although Facebook’s own policy dictates that children must be at least 13 to use it’s services, absolutely all Jamie’s friends use it, I am the only mean stricty mother and I am preventing him from experiencing untold levels of happiness (the same is also said of Black Ops, certificate 18 on X-Box).

I like to think of myself as an open-minded, modern kind of parent and so I had explained in the past why using Facebook at his age, irrespective of the other issues is not appropriate and how, when the time is right, I will set up his Facebook profile with him.  I had encouraged other parents to echo what I was saying in his presence.  I was pleased with myself.  He appeared to understand and accept.

Here’s where I went wrong.  I had left Jamie alone with our main computer and my laptop.  There were parental controls on the computer, but they didn’t include Facebook.  Jamie ‘borrowed’ my email address from my laptop, which I had left open and on.  This allowed him to set up his profile which included his real name, the name of the village we live in, the name of his school, his date of birth and his mobile phone number.  None of this information had any security settings whatsoever.  He made twenty five friends and searched for a birth family member.  He did all this in thirty minutes.

Rob and I spent an hour deleting Jamie’s profile and even now I can’t be sure that some of his information isn’t out there forever.  Thanks to my twitter friends, I was linked to the CEOP website which contains lots of useful information about keeping safe on the internet.  I’ve read it.  I sat Jamie down with it too.  And we had a long talk about it over tea which I hope has gone some way to help him understand.  But whether he’s accepted it is another matter and that’s why we’ve had to wise up.

For now I’ve told Jamie that when he is thirteen, we will look at the Facebook issue again.  He wants more than anything to be just like his friends and when he insists that all his friends are using Facebook, he is not so far off the mark.  I would estimate that 80 – 90% of them are and some are younger than him.  And from what I saw, many aren’t by any means using it safely.  I can understand why Jamie might wish I could be like the majority of parents.  But even if he was my natural-born, I wouldn’t be. 

Jamie’s foray into Facebook could have turned out much much worse than it did and I’m glad of the lesson it taught me. 


Boom Boom Shake the Room

‘BOOM’ he shouts, ‘BOOM BOOM BOOM’.

The ‘B’ of boom bounces around the enclosed space and each ‘BOOM’ is well-spaced for maximum effect.  We are driving a dark, fast country road with high hedges either side and the ever-present threat of catastrophe just around the next tight bend.


My daughter Rose is sat in the front passenger seat next to me.  She looks at me uneasily.

‘That’s getting annoying isn’t it?’ she says softly.  We both know this is a great understatement.


‘DIE DIE DIE’ is delivered sing song and screechy. A car drives perilously close behind me, it’s double set of headlights bite into my eyes and threaten to unravel the scraps of concentration I’ve been hanging on to.  Out of the darkness the road opens out and to my relief we reach houses and streetlights.  I slow and the car behind accelerates thunderously and overtakes me at great speed.


The word ‘chainsaw’ is drawn out and given extra emphasis.  The small car park outside the village hall is bustling with cars from which children spill out in their green cub uniforms.  I park around the corner from the hall in a quiet cul-de-sac and switch off the ignition.  The soundtrack coming from my son Jamie in the back seat continues.  It is mainly nonsense but spiked with the occasional insult of jaw-dropping intensity.  I sit from a moment to compose myself.  Rose rubs my back and then I take her hand and stroke her tiny, bitten nails.  It is our shared acknowledgement of how difficult the past few hours have been, how wounding the insults, how unsettling the detail behind the threats, however unintentional and unmeant they are.

‘Come on, let’s go.’

The protestations rise in intensity and he leans forward and hurls his displeasure at close quarters.

‘Listen Jamie…. listen …… LISTEN.’

I talk over him; a battle of wills to be heard.

‘I cannot leave you in the car alone, because….. BECAUSE.. you are not in control right now and I need to keep you safe.’


I walk around to his side of the car, open the door and stand looking at him, arms across his chest, looking up, smirking.

‘Come on, get out.’

He ignores me.  I wonder for a moment where this particular conflict will lead.

‘Get out now.’

He slowly unfolds himself, not looking at me and very slowly, agonizingly slowly, puts one foot on the wet pavement.  Then the second foot, slowly again, an act of quiet goading.  When he is almost out of the car he shouts,


Then he notices a car behind us.  There are happy noises, children getting out, chatting, excitement.  He flushes with embarrassment and I know I have got him.  I lock the car and say quietly,

‘Jamie, you chose not to put your shoes on.’

Rose takes my hand and we walk briskly, Jamie sloping behind, quiet now. 

We deliver Rose who runs happily into the village hall and I walk back with Jamie hanging behind me.  The car journey back home is endured in silence.  We pull into our drive and I deliver Jamie his instructions.  He wordlessly goes into the house and up the stairs to his room where he plays quietly until bedtime.

My husband Rob is home from work.  I try to explain the mess of hours which have passed since we got home from school and which started with my discovery of food, taken from the cupboards and hidden under and down the sides of the sofa.  Maybe I didn’t handle it well, but I can’t remember clearly exactly what was said, how things built up.  I recall shouting so I have broken at least one cardinal rule. 

I know the conversation that I will need to have with Jamie, about shame and anger and blame.  He will say he didn’t mean any of what he said and I will say that I know he didn’t, but still.  I will tell him that I love him more than any other boy in the world.  And we will take another glimpse into the big box of painful things that Jamie has stashed away in his head and I hope that he will start to feel safe enough to prise the box open a little more.

‘Have we got any alcohol?’ Rob asks, ‘you look like you need some’.

The alcohol corner of our kitchen is down to the dusty ancient specimens that no one really likes, so I settle for a nip of creme de cassis that I fear must be at least seven years old.

‘Happy anniversary,’ says Rob.

‘Happy anniversary.’

‘Only another ten years of this. Cheers.’

The sweet, sticky cassis slides down my throat and is warm and comforting.  We laugh, rather hysterically.  Gallows humour is our release valve at times like this.  Neither of us needs to express out loud the deep love we feel for our children, or the joy of adopting them eight years ago now.   But sometimes we need to acknowledge to each other just how relentlessly difficult it is to parent the victims of child abuse and neglect.  And sometimes we could do with some wider acknowledgment and understanding of that too.