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?


  1. What an amazing, insightful post. I associate with so many of the thoughts and dilemmas which you set out. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It's always reassuring to know that it's not just us who are feeling these things but that others share the same experiences and emotions.


  2. You have proven yourself a good person from the time that you have decided to adopt a motherless child. You need not have the affirmation of others to make you feel that you are a good person and someone who is worthy of being a parent. I have a child and I am also considering adoption. When the time comes, I hope I would not get pressured and like what you said would result to pedestal parenting. Thanks for this! It helps me get ready and Congraulations by the way.

  3. I already feel it and he is not even home yet :-) I also already feel "judged" in that because he is school age it is assumed I just dump him straight into school for 6 or whatever it is hours a day and get right back out to work. "They" have no idea of the immensity of the change and loss he is going to go through yet again or even the change and loss (of our personal space) we have chosen to put ourselves through. No one would expect a mother to give birth and next day put that newborn into childcare so she could get back to work the moment the baby is out and yet because our child is older they forget that to us, and to him it's like he was "born yesterday" as it's a whole brand new situation to all of us.

    I already know that whatever I do to try to be "therapeutic" for him it is never going to be good enough. My own experience of therapy is not for the therapist to "fix it for me" but for the therapist to allow me the space and suggest the "tools" I might need in order to work the issues out for myself and to "fix it myself". That is the approach I intend to take with our son. To be as supportive as I can but on the whole put the "fixing himself" onus on to him because I know from my own experience that things that I have worked out "for myself" (all be it that I needed support to "fix it for myself") have got real value and generally some level of permanence rather than someone "fixing it for me" ie "just go away and keep on doing that". Never-the-less I do feel like I have got to be some kind of "super-mum" particularly when I am still under the scrutiny and judgement of SS until his adoption order comes through.

  4. Great post, I too am pedestal parenting, it's hard, we're hard on ourselves, other people's expectations are hard on us, we never get a break.
    Doesn't leave much energy for fun does it :/

  5. I felt very judged as a parent . Its only now 10yrs plus on I feel more confident in the decisions I make & the battles I choose to fight. I expected progress to be quicker than it was. Sometimes we are channelled down the attachment route when actually it may be something else. I would say, listen to your inner voice on what feels OK or warrants further investigation. I have a good professional support system which gives really good balanced advice & strategies that work so I am very lucky. I also feel adoptive parents though should put themselves & their own needs a bit higher up the scale.

  6. I definitely feel as though I am parenting on a pedestal. I put way too much pressure on myself and feel guilty when I don't get things right.

    I have talked to different parents and professionals and this appears to help for a day or two and then things get on top of me again. I feel as though there should be much more post adoption support and some days I feel as though I could do with our support worker to move in with us and walk me through how I should respond to certain behaviours until this therapeutic approach to parenting becomes natural.

    One of my twitter friends has recommended I read 'Why Can't my Child Behave' by Dr Amber Elliot, I have started it and I feel as though she has wrote it for me. So I am hoping that the book will hold a lot of the answers I feel I need.

    Thanks for writing this blog, your honesty is refreshing and I think social workers should share the above info with prospective adopters so adopters don't feel so isolated and shocked when they start experiencing these feelings post adoption.

  7. an amazing post, and you summed up exactly how im feeling right now as an adoptive parent to two siblings age 3 & 2 placed 19 months ago

  8. I hear you - I hear you - I am trying to dull me ears to the - oh every child is like this - and trying to go with the flow - or rather against it - and to develop rhino skin- and be a little kinder to myself - and yes, confession - I have shouted this week - and said sorry - and on balance had a lovely day today - even thought we are riding the surf and waves of preparation for big school - it looks like regression and will resurface when we have arrived...

  9. I think what you say about balancing between listening to (and watching) adoptive parents and birth parents is very good advice. I have only relatively recently got into adopter blogger world and have become much more antsy about my son's behaviour since reading what all the other adoptive parents have to say. I've also become much more unsure of my parenting style and my responses to his behaviour, questioning myself much more. While this is not necessarily a bad thing - after all, he isn't just a 'normal' kid in many respects - I do find that when I take a step back and have a good look at the many non-adoptive families I know, it does help me get a perspective on what is pretty standard 2-year-old behaviour and what might be something a little different. It turns out that there are few things that bother me about my son's behaviour right now that haven't already been experienced by a friend's birth child. This might change as he grows older, but for now, I'm learning not to panic and over-react!

  10. hey Gem,nice post. I love the style of blogging I see here :)
    you see, there are 2 blogs that i've found so far to be very helpful and have something interesting for me whenever i visit, this one and
    Keep it up. I will be visiting again.

  11. Let me tell you, as a parent of birth children, a step-mother to non birth children and a prospective adopter, that ALL kids come with issues. If they weren't unique, it would all be too dull and far too easy! I fully anticipate new challenges with adoption, but I second your advice to be careful not to over-think things. The one thing an adoptive parent has that birth parents don't is excellent training and preparation/support. What a helpful way to start, with at least some understanding of how to approach your child's upbringing. I am sure you are doing an excellent job, so don't be too hard on yourself!