Monday, 26 August 2013

Parenting on a Pedestal?

When going through the adoption process and awaiting approval there is a feeling of being approved as "good enough to be a parent".  When you're going through infertility this can be a big issue.  Infertility can steal your feeling of being good enough.  Somebody giving you the thumbs up and saying "Yes you can be a parent" is life affirming. It can take away the sting of some very difficult times.

Fast forward to being matched. You will be given a biography of a child that your SW team consider would be a suitable match for you.  They consider that you will have the necessary skills to parent that child and any issues that may arise and you then decide if you agree. There's a very high chance that your child will physically resemble you (that is certainly the case for us) and there is every chance that you will then fall in love: hook; line; and sinker.  If, like us, you've never been a parent before you may have a reasonable concept of what it's like to be a full-time parent (although minus the extreme fatigue and relentlessness that accompanies parenting).  You will have certainly listened to your friends talking about their children and any difficulties they have experienced throughout the years.  At this point you are probably still riding high on getting approved at panel and being told that you are a suitable parent.  Your child may already have identified difficulties or special needs but equally they may be too young for any issues to have arisen or none ever may.  You go to court and legally adopt your child excited that you can now get on with the job of being family without having to report every bump and scrape to your Social Worker. It is a wonderful time and I promise you that this post isn't going to suddenly be a huge downer but I do want to raise an issue that I've experienced over the years in case this is something that you identify with now or in the future.

It's something that I have termed "Pedestal Parenting" and what I mean by that is that we, as adoptive parents, feel an internal pressure to be more than "good enough" parents. We need to be therapeutic parents. We have been entrusted with little people who have often already experienced more trauma than we want to imagine.  We may have children who haven't experienced any identifiable trauma although being adopted in itself is quite a trauma and can lead to all sorts of emotions throughout our children's lives.  We will feel a pressure to help our child resolve their issues.  All the issues that our children may experience will undoubtedly be expressed in their behaviour. We have certainly experienced a whole gambit of unsavoury behaviour from Katie at times.  Her tantrums can be quite epic with hitting and spitting and kicking. She is currently experimenting with being rude and name calling.  As an adoptive parent we are often in a heightened parenting state wondering if the behaviour is just normal age-related behaviour or whether there is more to it; something being expressed or some learning difficulty or trauma as yet undiagnosed and what we can do to help them and resolve the behaviour.  I've yet to speak to an adoptive parent who doesn't question these issues, except for those whose children haven't shown any difficult behaviour and are generally little angels (but that doesn't actually describe most children and I would question that sort of behaviour myself as well!).

So many of the adoptive parents I know, myself included, try to parent proactively.  We are always on the look out for methods of parenting that will help and support and nurture our children. We read up on and attend training courses on techniques such as Theraplay; the Post Institute; we will seek advise from Health Visitors and other friends including other adoptive parents; we will use sticker charts and beads to promote and reward positive behaviour and we will often keep difficult emotions to ourselves; emotions such as feeling a failure or disliking your child at times or feeling intense anger.  Sounds exhausting doesn't it?  We certainly aren't allowed to shout and holler at our children because that wouldn't be therapeutic parenting and if we do happen to shout and holler we will feel intense guilt for days afterwards at not being able to be a super-parent all the time (or is that just me?).  Yes I do shout and holler - far too much at the moment!  We can't admit to things like that can we?  We can't admit that we aren't feeling like a good enough parent?  We can't admit that being approved as a "suitable parent" feels like a bit of an understatement?

I spend a lot of time talking to other adoptive parents and it is really helpful because often other adoptive parents will understand all of this.  They get "it" whatever "it" is. They understand that often our children react differently and more extremely than other children.  They understand the emotions we all feel about contact and birthdays and Christmas.  They can offer solid parenting advice that can really help.  However I would caution immersing yourself too much in the world of parenting children with extreme difficulties because you can also start to read too much into your own child's behaviour.  You can start to see attachment disorders and different issues where maybe they don't exist in your child.  This might just be a normal stage of development for your child with no hidden agenda.  There has to be a balance and I would encourage adoptive parents to talk to a range of different parents to gain as much understanding as possible. Some stages of childhood are really difficult.  Katie's behaviour is really difficult at the moment.  It is pushing me to limits I didn't know I had (and beyond some days).  I could easily see some of the issues we are experiencing as being all adoption related.  Some of them probably/possibly are, only time will tell.  She has been through a tough time lately, we all have.  The adoption process is tough so we should expect some fall out in her behaviour. It's only been three months but when you're in the middle of difficult behaviour and feeling completely overwhelmed and inadequate as a parent, it is very easy to beat yourself up and feel that you are not up to being this amazing therapeutic parent.  Yes I am talking about myself here.  I have spent huge amounts of time worrying about what is happening with Katie.  Is this the start of similar issues to her Birth Mother?  Or is this just the reaction of a nearly 6 year old who has completed her first year of school; is experiencing difficulties with one of her friends; and has been through the adoption process with us to adopt her brother?  A process that has raised all sorts of issues about their shared Birth Mother; and brought about a shift in the attention I am able to give her.  We're all still emotionally battered from the process if I'm honest and still finding our feet although that is settling down a bit more now.  I'm tired and not as patient as I would like to be.  A lot of this is a normal reaction to having a sibling with a topping of Katie and her big reactions to things (and she has always been a bit of a diva).  This isn't something new but it is in a bigger body who is able to kick harder than she used to.

Image from Jean McLeod's Adoption Toolbox
What I feel however is an enormous pressure to resolve all these issues with amazing parenting techniques. To be a parent and therapist all rolled into one.  to be calm and understanding and to not get angry because I can see beyond all this difficult behaviour. What tosh!  That is way too much pressure for any person to take though.  We cannot parent on a pedestal.  We can only do what is humanly possible for us to do.  We are just folk trying to work it all out.  Sometimes we get it right and often we get it wrong.  Living in the unknown is difficult. I would imagine many birth parents don't have to consider why their 5 year old is having tantrums. They can just put it down to what I termed "Reception Year-itis"  The emotional toll on us can be enormous.  Being left to "get on with it" isn't always helpful, particularly if post-adoption support is not of a high quality in your area.

I think my advice to all adoptive parents would be to listen to both sides of parenting.  Listen to adoptive parents but also listen to your friends who are birth parents.  Sometimes both can be right.  We don't need to jump in with therapeutic parenting all the time.  Sometimes things do work themselves out and children can just move from one developmental anti-social behaviour to another and, dare I say it, it can just be "normal".

Of course that is not to be detrimental to all the parents who are parenting some incredibly difficult behaviour due to ASD and attachment disorders but I would like to think that anyone reading this blog who is experiencing those issues would know from my writing that I wouldn't ever dismiss or be unsympathetic to those issues at all. I'm just trying to reassure myself mostly that I don't need to parent on a pedestal and that I need to be more forgiving of myself for not always getting it right.

What do you think? Do you feel you're parenting on a pedestal?

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Dr Who?

I recently watched a film called Free Samples whilst working through the ironing. It's not a film that's going to set the critics alight with excitement but it did have a beautiful moment when the lead character, Jillian, has a conversation with a retired actress about her life. The actress notes that she doesn't believe in reincarnation because within her one lifetime she has lived many lives and reinvented herself many times. I've been ruminating on this conversation for several weeks. This snippet then combined itself with the concept of regeneration ala Dr Who stylee (I, like many others, was glued to my set to see who was going to play the coveted role next). It occurred to me that the regeneration of Dr Who was a great analogy for my life at the current time.

At the moment I would say I'm regenerating myself. The process of becoming a parent over the last three years to one child changed the person I had been to a reasonable degree. Before Katie, I was a professional working with troubled, often hard to reach, teenagers. I used my brain in the ways it had been trained to do. I was relatively organised. I was furthering my training as a Reiki practitioner. I was tap dancing to a reasonably high standard. I was the healthiest weight I had been in years thanks to discovering I was unable to eat gluten anymore. I was about to achieve a goal that my husband and I (who really needs a pseudonym other than Daddy for this blog) had waited 15 years to achieve, namely becoming a parent. Life was pretty good.

Three years later we had become parents and were on the precipice of becoming parents for a second time. 

What had changed in that time? 

A lot!

It was a lot and yet I still felt like me. Our Social Worker for our first adoption warned me that giving up my professional identity might have repercussions on how I saw myself. She was right but it took a long time to happen. It wasn't until I became a parent for the second time that I realised that I was in the midst of a big change whereby I had lost quite big chunks of who I was and that I hadn't quite found myself again yet.

So what has changed?

Well obviously my life is mostly focussed on the needs of small people. They have a lot of needs and create a lot of washing! Secondly a bout of anaemia and a flare up of an old leg injury have meant I've lost the momentum of my yoga practice and healthy eating routine. It took nearly a year of me over-eating chocolate because I was so tired before I went to the GP to note how tired I was and was diagnosed with anaemia. Over-eating chocolate and not exercising lead to expanding waist lines and thighs. That, in turn, leads to a dip in self confidence, which leads to more eating of chocolate and not wanting to mingle as much as I did. In addition having a baby who sleeps at the times of day that we are usually the most sociable and I've been feeling a little lost and lonely.

Add to that the psychological impact on me of becoming a parent to two. I knew that making the decision to walk into the arena of mum-to-two-hood would raise an issue in me that has accompanied me through my life. My mum couldn't cope with being a mum to two. She voiced quite loudly throughout my childhood that having two children ruins your life. "You can do anything you want to with one child but once you have two you're stuck" she said. The result of her not coping, and probably suffering with the same PMDD that I suffer from led to a rather abusive childhood with lots of out of control rages and subsequent corporal punishments. Not the parent I want to be and a situation I walked away from 20 years ago.

All the way through both adoption processes I worried about the type of parent I would be. Daddy was the initial instigator of our second adoption. I was happy to stick with one child and stay within my comfort zone, however I knew that my fear was the outcome of the actions of somone else. I am not my mother. The only way to deal with this issue was to become a parent to two. Face the issue head on and hope and pray I'd done enough psychological work on myself to make it through and still be the parent I wanted to be.

So here I am. A mum to two who suffers from PMDD, trying to fathom out how to be a good parent and be able to look at myself in the mirror and like what I see. Trouble is, when I look in the mirror I'm not quite sure who is staring back at me. I'm not who I used to be. I've changed a lot and my new persona hasn't quite taken shape yet. I don't like the physical shape of this me. I worry that there is a bit too much of the worst bits of my mother staring back at me on my darker parenting days. I'm a bit like Dr Who stuck in the middle of regeneration. A bit like a Boggart taking on the shapes of the things that I fear. I need to be able to laugh at myself a bit more I think.

Some of the changes are good. I'm slowly realising I'm too accommodating. I put up with a lot of crap from people. That is changing. I'm too tired to put up with crap these days so I'm rather more outspoken than I was.  I'm facing up to the fact that when under pressure I have the ability to morph into a caricature my mother. Not to the degree she did but I do have a greater understanding of my inner banshee these days. I work hard to find strategies to morph the banshee into a therapeutic parent. That's been challenged to the max just lately but I'm constantly working on it. I've realised I'm not an earth mother. I'm not quite as emotionally squishy and nurturing as I would like when I'm feeling stressed. I get too caught up in righting unacceptable behaviour instead of stepping back and breathing and trying to remember to be mindful.

Over the past few years I feel that I've lost my spiritual connection a bit. When I had lots of time to meditate and pratice yoga and Reiki I was more grounded. This is something that I need to focus more on in the future. I realised that in order to be the mum I want to be, I have to be the person I want to be. I have been trying to morph myself into my perceived parent role but that isn't me. I have lost my confidence at tap dancing because my brain is struggling to remember routines due to tiredness and distractedness and because I feel unhappy with my physical shape. I've not made it to Reiki since Pip joined us because i didnt want to leave him until I felt he was settled at bedtime. I've felt too tired and out of shape and too overwhelmed with other things I need to do at home to focus on my health and well-being. During term time I currently get a two hour window whilst Pip naps to achieve everything I need to achieve that day including washing and paperwork and housework. That doesn't leave much time for yoga. I struggle to do the yoga at other times because of our eating times.

I have no idea how I'm going to make this all happen but I need to make it happen, and fast. I need to find my spark, my zest for life. I need to rediscover the best of me. I need to care about me a little more so that I can do a better job of caring for the other people in my life. I want Katie and Pip to have a mum who is able to show them how to embrace themselves and their interests and possibilities. I feel a bit grey at the moment and need to find my colour.

I'm realistically limited to what I can achieve during the holidays. I need to get out for some long walks with the buggy and tone up a bit but that might need to wait until September.  I'm trying to tackle my need for food and I need to get myself to bed a bit earlier (instead of blogging and doing all my emails at 11pm). I've moved Katie's swimming lesson so I can get back to Reiki and I will be returning to tap in September (with some larger jogging pants on temporarily). 

It's a start. 

I might not have regenerated yet but I am in search of myself. If you find her, can you send her home please?

Wednesday, 14 August 2013


I'm going to use my favourite word to describe how I'm feeling at the moment.....

It's a great word and it sums up a whole myriad of feelings with something that feels fun to say.  You can roll the word around in your mouth and make funny shapes.  It puts a smile on my face.  I'm in need of that smile at the moment because it is a reminder that I'm still functioning and still in the land of the almost living.

Part of my smile is currently because we are over half way through the school holidays.  We're on the home straight and I feel really mean for feeling that way.  I know that I'm not alone in this feeling, despite the number of cheery blog posts I'm receiving in my in-box of all the wonderful arts and crafts that people are doing; all those bright and cheerful pictures of unused paints and crayons and material just waiting for someone with crafty fingers to turn them into something amazing.  I'm not reading any more of those blogs at the current time.  I need blogs that talk about damage limitation and ways to maintain your sanity and therapeutic ways of handling a very hyper and rude and silly and precocious 5 year old without any blue lights being required.

I can access my counsellor and relatively experienced adopter brain (for a brief second) and see that Katie is having a spell of regression (oh I hope that that is all that it is....a spell).  Pip has now been with us for 11 weeks.  Katie has had a bit of a rude (pardon the pun) awakening (as have I) with the start of the school holidays.  She hasn't actually had to spend much time with her brother because she has been at school.  She has been cushioned from how restrictive his current sleep routine can be and how much watching he needs when he is awake, particularly now that he is pulling himself up and wanting to crawl anywhere and everywhere his rather stylish commando crawl will take him.  We are used to spending our spare time out and about for the day; seeing friends and going for walks and generally having fun.  Pip can't help it but, at the age that he currently is, he's a bit of a kill joy.  So Katie is responding probably the only way she knows doing anything she can for attention.  

And boy is she good at it!

Katie has a history with attention seeking. She's not overly fussy what kind of attention she gets.  She is happy with being praised but she is equally content (or so it would seem) if she can wind me to a point when I am screaming like a banshee at her (I haven't managed to maintain my therapeutic parenting hat for the whole of the holidays I'm afraid).  I noted to Pip's Social Worker this morning that we had just reached a point when Katie could be trusted to be doing something quietly without us having to check that she wasn't busy torturing the cats or drawing all over the carpet with lipstick and had started to relax a bit, feeling vaguely content that we had finally reached a developmental milestone but suddenly we are back to square one.  Katie cannot be trusted to be alone for more than five minutes at the current time.  We are having to lock our Velux windows after she thought it would be a good idea to climb into the sink to talk, through the window, to our neighbours 12 year old son.  Despite me explaining to her how dangerous this was she has repeated this action again and again so the bathroom window now has to remain closed (not always a pleasant thing). She takes great delight in doing the opposite of everything I have asked her to do and is constantly rude and refusing to do what she has been asked.  She has learned to name call and is frequently calling me a "Fat Witch".  I think it's quite funny actually(not that I show her this) because "fat" is the only word she currently knows that is a word we've asked her not to call people (rooky error what can I say?) and she thinks a witch is someone ugly and horrible.  I did throw at her that, as Mummy mostly follows a Pagan path then I actually have no issue with being called a "witch" but she then argued with me that I wasn't a witch!!  Her other favourite expression at the moment is "I don't care" or "Shut up!" (to which I've privately taken to doing the hand signs for "What-ever Major Loser" - what can I say - I need some sanity).

If she isn't being rude or doing the opposite of what she's been asked, she's collapsing into tears. Not quite so many tantrums as when I recently wrote "All Children Do That?" but more of an exhausted weeping and wailing.  I don't think she's tired in the normal sense because I'm a total stickler for a 7pm bedtime, even in the holidays, but I'm wondering if there is an emotional exhaustion that she is feeling.  I'm feeling it too so I can relate.  The fact that I'm feeling it too isn't so great because I don't have many emotional or physical reserves to offer to the situation at the current time.  I'm pretty much just limping along, still adjusting to being a mum of two and still recovering from the intensity of the adoption process.  A process that isn't yet over as we still have all the legal side of the adoption to wade through.  That side of things is being stalled by Pip's very overloaded Social Worker who doesn't have time to write our bloody report to go with the paperwork. Don't get me wrong, I'm full of sympathy for her workload but I'm not happy that we have to wait to become Pip's legal parents.  She has said that she won't have the paperwork completed before the end of the month (despite the fact that we could have applied last week) and then we'll still have to wait 2-3 months for the paperwork to work it's way through the court system.  I was hoping that we would be all tied up by November but that's not looking likely at all now.  That means ongoing Social Worker visits and continuing to have to use Pip's birth name.  I'm not embarrassed by his birth name but I want all the legal stuff tied up so that he is 100% legally ours.  Until that moment there are always those little niggles that sit in your peripheral vision.  Little worries that really only reside in my head.  Concerns that add some interesting variety to my nighttime dreams.

Anyway I digress.  So what do I do to manage Katie's emotions and behaviour?  The Social Worker suggested today that we put a chart up on the wall (gotta love a good chart!) to show all the successes she has had over the holidays.  It's a good idea I think. We can highlight her gymnastics camp and resulting badge; her swimming badge; climbing a rope into a crows nest at an adventure playground (which Katie didn't believe she could do); riding her bike without stabilisers (which we've been a bit remiss in practising until recently) and going to today's street dance camp. I'm thinking we could make a bit of a game of it and actively find things to add to the chart.  It might help. She has also suggested treating Katie more like the toddler that she seems to be regressing into at the current time.  Keeping her close and with lots of supervision and positive reinforcement.  I can see the logic in that but my already frazzled and exhausted brain isn't feeling so energetic about that.  Of course I will do it.  I will do pretty much anything to help her but there is a little voice in my head that is moany because I'm so tired.  As an adoptive parent I feel guilty even feeling that because we're supposed to be stood to attention with therapeutic parenting tool bag at all hours of the day and night and I'm feeling a little bit selfish just at the present time because I have backache and am feeling rather emotional myself.

I don't want to spend the rest of the holidays starting every sentence with "Katie don't......" so I'm going to
try and ignore a lot more of the negative behaviour.  I'm going to try a lot more walking away (which is really, really hard..... believe me).  I'm going to continue to be on the look out for anything I can praise her for and I'll try and keep her occupied and continue to spend as much time together as we possibly can.

And whilst I'm doing that I'm going to continue to ignore all the perfect parents with their brightly coloured smiley blogs and dream of the start of term when normal business can resume but I will be on the look out for as much fun as we can muster in the meantime because it's not all doom and gloom and we do have fun in between all the stressful moments. I'm just choosing to be all doomy and gloomy and a bit foot stampy today.

So there.......

And in the words of Forrest Gump....."that's all I have to say about that"....

Other than to keep using my favourite word until I smile or the men in white coats come to take me away..........


Monday, 5 August 2013

Some Days

Some days I'm happy,
Some days I'm sad,
Some days I'm sunny,
Some days I'm mad.
Some days I'm patient
Some days I'm tired,
Some days I'm cranky, hormonal and wired.

Some days I'm smiling,
Some days I'm glum,
Some days I'm frowning,
Some days I'm fun.
Some days I'm calm,
Some days I panic,
Some days I can't think and am really quite manic.

Some days we make things,
Some days we walk,
Some days we play,
Some days we talk.
Some days we swim,
Some days we cuddle,
Some days end up in rather a muddle.

Some days I like you,
Some days I don't,
Some days I will.
Some days I won't.
Some days I get it.
Some days I doubt
Some days I'm clear and some I just shout.

Some days life's easy,
Some days quite tough,
Some days I'm gentle,
Some days too rough.
Some days I'm perfect,
Some days I'm not,
Some days I'm happy with all that I've got.

Some days I'm picky,
Some days I'm cool,
Some days I'm underdog,
Some days I rule.
Some days I'm organised,
Those days are rare,
Some days we get there with moments to spare.

Some days I'm dancing,
Some days I write.
Some days I'm singing,
Some days I fight,
Some days I iron,
Some days I feel free.
Some days I just want to gaze out to sea.

All of these facets make up all you see,
The highs and the lows
The you and the me.
The Wife and the Mummy, the writer, the clown,
The wearer of smiles and creator of frowns.
The cook and the washer, the cleaner of bums
And all of these elements make me your mum

(written by Gem at Life with Katie)

Friday, 2 August 2013

Brave Girl

I've got to hand it to Katie. She is one amazing young lady.  She worries about the smallest things and yet she does the biggest things with barely a blink of her eye.

Take this week, Katie went to her first ever summer camp day.  It was a gymnastics camp run by her gymnastics club. It's from 10am until 3pm and we've talked about it for weeks and signed her up for three non-consecutive days.  The first day was on Wednesday this week and was badge day so she could attempt her BAGA Badge 7.

The big day arrived and when we arrived, packed lunch in hand, we realised that she wouldn't be in her usual hall, which was a smaller hall with all the younger gymnasts, camp was in the Big Hall.  Katie whispered to me that she was a little scared because she wasn't used to the big hall. I squeezed her hand reassuringly and said that all the children would be together for camp.

We opened the double doors and there was a room full of at least 50 children and young people.  There were a lot of early teens there and a handful of little ones like Katie. I immediately felt a lump in my throat.  Katie stood close to me for a moment before we entered the hall and gave her name to the lady on the door.  We went to the side of hall and put her lunch bag and rucksack on the floor and took off her shoes and socks and t-shirt, leaving her leggings on over her leotard "until she warmed up". I thought it might also help her feel a little less exposed.  We looked around to see if there were any children from the small hall at the camp but Katie couldn't see anyone she knew.  My heart sank. It's a big club but I had banked on there being some children she knew there at least.  Would Katie cope OK?  She's pretty sociable but was I expecting too much of her? She's only 5 years old!  I started to worry that I shouldn't have encouraged her to come and that I shouldn't have been so selfish - part of the reason for the camp was to tire her out over the holidays and to also give me a day's break from entertaining two children.

The teachers called for everyone to sit on the mats for the register. I gave her a kiss and a big hug and Katie went and sat at the back on her own and I went back out through the double doors to peer in anxiously through the window.  I thought to myself "If she can answer confidently when her name is called for the register then I can also feel confident".  I watched and waited until her name was called.


Katie's voice rang out clearly.

I dared to breathe a little breath.  I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I fought not to sob in the hall way.

Katie then turned and caught my eye.  She shooed me away with her fingers and mouthed:

"Go away"

I waved to her with a big smile on my face and walked away.  Leaving my big brave girl on her own; fending for herself very well indeed.  I went back to the car and had a little sob.

I then tried not to worry about her for the rest of the day.  Pip and the kittens, that we are currently looking after, are a great distraction.

I arrived to pick her up at 2:45pm. I wanted to be early so I could watch again through the window and gauge by her body language how things had gone during the day.  She was supposed to be doing her cool down exercises and was with a group of older girls, larking about and laughing with them.  She looked happy and relaxed.

The teacher then asked all the gymnasts to line up along the red line whilst they announced all the children who had gained their badges that day.  I held my breath. Had Katie managed to get Badge 7?  She had been practising her crane balancing constantly but her lack of concentration was a key barrier to her execution of the move at times.  The teacher called out Katie's name and she collected her slip.  I beamed from ear to ear and just about stopped myself from punching the air!

Then the parents could come in and collect everyone.  I hugged Katie and told her well done for getting her badge.  She said sadly

"But Mummy I didn't get my badge, I only got this piece of paper."

I beamed at her again and told her that the piece of paper said that she had been awarded the badge.  Mummy now needed to fill in the slip and they would bring the badge to her class.  Katie's face lit up with a big smile.

"I concentrated really hard today Mummy" she said

What a star!!

The poor, tired out, little lamb had a swimming lesson an hour after her gymnastics day camp
finished and, bless her, she also gained her Water Skills 2 badge in that class as well.

I'm so proud of my little girl.  She is so brave and confident even when she is a bit scared.  I am proud of everything she has achieved and also at how much progress she has made over the past 3 years.  I think the sky could be the limit for her if she wants to climb towards it.

This post has been linked up at #WASO at The Adoption Social. Head over and have a read of some of the other adoption blogs listed there......