Friday, 25 September 2015

Adopting Together......

In my professional life I was a trained counsellor who specialised in working with teenagers who were disengaged in education and their families.  Little did I know the invaluable insights I would gain when I became a parent myself.  In my personal life I am an adopter who regular readers will know has had many challenges along the way.  The experience of Katie's often very challenging behaviour has resulted in me accessing my own counselling for Secondary Trauma and the stress upon TCM and myself as a couple has, and continues to be, enormous and damaging to our relationship.  

I was contacted recently by the Tavistock Centre in London regarding some specialised counselling they are offering couples who have adopted children.  This interested my counselling brain partly because it's wonderful that an agency is recognising that the relationships of the parents of adopted children can be challenged in very unique and specialised ways and also because I've always professionally been a fan of the work that the Tavistock Centre do.  I immediately offered to share the information about their programme called Adopting Together with everyone who reads this blog in case it is useful for readers in the London and surrounding areas.  The rest of this post has been written for me by the marketing team for the Tavistock........


Have you and your partner been arguing more since adopting?

Have the summer holidays exposed some cracks in your relationship?

Ever feel like you are ‘on your own’ and no one 
understands the pressures of being an adoptive parent?

Don’t let these concerns grow: 
There is no better time to seek support.

At The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships (TCCR) we are offering NEW, FREE, government funded support in a new service called: 

Adopting Together
Relationship Support for Adoptive Parents

This specialist service offers a safe space to reflect on how adoption has impacted on your couple relationship. It allows for better communication between couples where they can freely share the difficulties they are experiencing in order to improve the quality of their relationship.

Programme Head Julie Humphries says “Our innovative approach is unique as, unlike other Adopting Together parenting programmes it avoids the usual focus on mothers and parenting, instead looking at you as a couple. By helping your relationship, the aim is to improve life for you AND your children. Participation will help you strengthen your bond and allow you to concentrate on building or growing your family in a happy and harmonious way.”

The support is run in London and starts in September. Here is a brief Q&A for couples who are interested in attending

Who can receive the support?

The Adopting Together Service is open to all post-adoption parents and we welcome both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

What type of support is offered?

We offer two types of face to face therapy. Couples will be seen in either couples therapy or parent groups and work with our experienced therapists to get support to address some of the issues that are impacting on their relationship.

What are the Adopting Together Parents Groups?

One option A FREE group-based programme designed to support adoptive couples with their relationship and their parenting with the benefit of allowing you to share your experiences.

What’s involved if we join the Parents Groups?

You and your co-parent will meet with our expert group workers and they will be able to answer any further questions you might have and decide if the group is the right sort of help for you and your family.

You will then join a series of 16 weekly, 2 hour sessions with a small number of other adoptive couples who might be going through similar situations. The sessions give you the opportunity to improve your relationship, yourself and your parenting skills. There is a mixture of creative activities, video clips and discussions with the group leaders.

The group is a safe space to explore things that might be difficult and sad, as well as a space for lively discussion, fun and meeting other people who might be going through similar situations.

What is the Adopting Together Couple Therapy Service?

A FREE therapy service designed to support adoptive couples with their relationship and their parenting.

What is involved if we join the Couple Therapy Service?

You and your co-parent will meet with a specially trained therapist for up to 20 weekly 50-minute sessions. In these sessions you will get the chance to explore your relationship and any issues that may be concerning you.

What difference will it make?

TCCR has nearly 70 years’ worth of experience and is world leading in the field of couple therapy. Seeing a therapist has made a big difference to thousands of relationships, here are just some of the things our clients have said about what couple therapy did for them:

I was so worried about seeking help and I wonder why it took me so long”
It was a very professional service. I have got all I wanted form it.”
It has brought me and my partner closer together”

Interested?

We are allocating free spaces now…


You can find out more or register for a consultation appointment by emailing adoptingtogether@tccr.org.uk or call: 0207 380 1950, then you may be offered one of two options, either Adopting Together Parents Groups or Adopting Together Couples Therapy.




Thursday, 10 September 2015

Mum Amie....

Today Life with Katie is bringing you something different but I'm hoping it may be useful to those readers in the UK who, like me, often feel a little isolated and in need of the company of other mums. Since having Pip my life has become increasingly isolated as most of my friends have older children and moved on with their daytime lives leaving me with a very small (read that as almost non-existent) social life.  Pip and I rub along and go to toddler groups and have day excursions but I miss having mums to hang out with.  I miss going out with other mums with the children and most of all I miss some easy daytime natter.  
I recently found a website called Mum Amie. It is a site for mums who want to meet other mums.  It's for mums, like me and maybe you, who are looking for some company; someone to chat about the children with; someone to go out socially with; someone to be friends with; or maybe someone who has similar experiences of parenting children with challenges.  I think it's a great idea so to support Aime's redevelopment of the site I suggested that I share the website here to let all my adopter friends (and the many readers who read this blog quietly) know about the site, just in case it's something that you think might be of use to you.  I asked Aime to put together some information to tell you all about herself and the reasons why she set the site up. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Before my daughter was born I had a full time job, plenty of friends and a great social life. I was rarely alone – always surrounded by other people and always busy. This happy-go-lucky, responsibility free lifestyle changed in heart beat when my little girl arrived. The first of my friends to have a baby, I spent my days alone with her while everyone else was at work. By the evening I was normally completely shattered and far too tired to socialise. I used to log onto Facebook and see what they were all up to (activities that I had as recently as a few weeks ago been a part of) and sob. The change in lifestyle that becoming a mum triggered was, for me, very difficult to adapt to.

Aime and her daughter, Suz
By the time my daughter reached 12 months of age, I was forced to admit to something that I found difficult to acknowledge. I was lonely. When I took my lovely baby to soft play or to the park and saw other mums sitting together chatting and laughing, I felt a deep pang of jealousy. I wanted (and needed) to find some mum friends of my own but wasn’t really sure how to go about it. Clearly mums weren't going to turn up at my doorstep and so I would have to go out and find them. This was a bit of an alien concept for me as most of my existing friendships had come about from school and university. I had never actively looked for friends before. The whole concept made me feel a bit desperate and needy; it certainly wouldn't be acceptable to approach other mums in the park and whine ‘please will you be my friend?’

I didn't go to antenatal classes, which seems to be the way that the majority of people make friends with other parents. I had been to a few play groups but everyone seemed to be in their established circles and no one spoke to me. Perhaps if I had more confidence I would have found it easy to breeze into places where mums hang out and chat to everyone – but unfortunately this is not me. Although happy in a group of established friends, I'm quite shy in situations with new people.

In the end I decided to venture from the unknown into a complete abyss – I decided to go on-line. I found a website with a meet-a-mum board and tentatively wrote a post introducing myself and my daughter before asking if anyone would like to meet up. To be honest, I didn't expect to receive any replies. But there must have been mums in the same boat as me because within hours I had received a couple of replies. Within a week, I had received about thirty messages.

I’ll never forget my first ‘mum date’ with Helena, who lived close by and had a similar aged daughter to me. After sending a few messages, the next step was to actually meet. We arranged a time and place. She would be the one with the bright purple buggy and I would wait for her outside Waterstones at 3pm. This meeting took me totally out of my comfort zone and consequently I was incredibly nervous. It felt like a blind date. In reality that was just what it was. What if we had nothing to talk about? What if she didn't like me? Luckily, Helena and I hit it off straight away. I’m very fortunate that she was my first ‘mum date’. Had it been a total disaster I would have probably given up at that point. Helena remains a very dear friend to this day.

Aime and her son, Fred
After Helena, I met twenty or so other mums. Some I connected with immediately and some I didn’t gel with at all. As each blind date approached, I felt more at ease and the nerves disappeared. I came out of the process with five lifelong friends and made more mum friends through them. About six months after going online, I finally had my very own network of mum friends. My days became filled with play dates, trips to parks, soft plays and other kid related activities. The odd night out was also not uncommon. Ironically, my family is about to up sticks and move eighty miles away from our current home. And so I will have to start all over again. And this time, I’m really looking forward to it!

All the joking about blind dates aside, for me finding mum friends online was very hit and miss. I began to wonder how my quest could have been simplified. How could I have ensured that more of my dates were hits, thus eliminating the misses? If making mum friends online was similar to online dating then surely the same logic could be applied? The idea of a website that allowed you to create a profile, answer match questions and then be matched up with similar mums began to form. I’m delighted that three years later, Mum Amie is finally here. It has become clear to me, from the overwhelmingly positive response we have received from mums, that Mum Amie was badly needed and I hope that we can help countless other mums to find their mum friends.
A final word from Gem:.....
If the concept of this site appeals to you then go and check Mum Amie out and see if there are people in your local area who are also looking to get together. I've already been chatting to some local mums and are hoping to meet up with the children soon.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Back to School.....


When I was growing up programmes like The Waltons projected an image of what family life should be like. Families may have had their arguments but they were close knit and stuck together. Children were respectful and imaginative. Mother stayed home and held the family together.

Much has changed in our modern families but I think many people still strive to maintain those ideals against ever mounting pressure. I had a sneaky suspicion I wasn't going to be Ma Walton as a parent but I looked forward to being a parent and imagined the fun I would have with my children and how straightforward our relationships would be. My reality of parenthood is that I often feel that I am the opposite of the parent I wanted to be. 

This time of year Facebook is awash with pictures of children in new school uniforms taken by proud parents (myself included) and the posts of how sad friends are that the long school holidays are over and how much they will miss their children now that school has restarted.  Apart from posting my obligatory new school year photo I generally give Facebook a bit of a wide berth this time of year if I'm honest. I can't bear the feeling that I don't feel quite the same and I end up feeling angry with myself for feeling that way. 

Don't get me wrong, I did get quite emotional about the start of the school year. I was emotional about the anxiety Katie had about starting her new school.  I shed many tears just seeing her in her new uniform.  I am worried that the transition will be too much for her and she won't be able to settle in the classroom. I worry that hyper stimulation will effect her concentration too much and she will feel unhappy at school and fall behind with her work. I am worried that curriculum topics will cause upset and I am concerned that Katie's emotional immaturity will continue to impact on her friendships.

I wasn't crying because she was going back to school though because I need a break from the endlessly challenging behaviour that we experience at home. I need some time apart from my daughter who generally acts like a 3 year old yet conversely has just started her new level at swimming and who coped amazingly well when I let her go into the pool and find her new class on her own. The pride I felt for her as she sorted it all out was immense and in direct constrast to the intense frustration I have felt over the past two days as her behaviour has been highly challenging due to emotions about school plus bravely starting Brownies. It highlights perfectly the ying and yang of emotions that I am currently feeling about Katie.  She really is the little girl with the curl and I feel like the parental equivalent of the same person.  The fluctuations in us both are no doubt equally a challenge for us both.

I had a very productive (and long) meeting with the Head of Katie's new school this week and outlined to her all the issues we were experiencing at home; the strategies in place at her old school and my hopes for her new school.  It was a positive meeting.  The Head is on-board and full of ideas and suggestions and above all was supportive of our experiences.  She didn't put me down or say "all parents experience that or all children do that",  She highlighted shared experiences with her own 6 year old but noted that this behaviour was in a child without all the additional experiences and challenges Katie has.  She has given us our own budget for Pupil Premium Plus and we will discuss how best to spend the money through the year.  She will be organising one-to-one maths again for Katie and also ELSA support to help with friendship issues.  It's a great start.  She was also willing to be a back-up for me to use with Katie when she is being challenging in the morning. So far so promising.  The GP has now referred Katie to the paediatrician I asked him to refer to and that paediatrician is aware the referral is coming so I'm hoping we can move forward with assessing her for FASD or whatever is going on for her as well.

I am currently reading a book about FASD which I will review here once I've finished it and it's highly enlightening and scary that Katie ticks so many of the boxes.  My only query is that neither of my children are small or had any issues regarding their early thriving but other than that she exhibits all the symptoms.  I will be interested to discuss this further once our appointment comes through but I would be keen to hear from any parents of children with FASD where failure to thrive wasn't a concern.

Pip has also started Pre-School.  I took him for his introductory session last week and stayed the whole session with him but dropped him off for his first solo mission today.  He was very anxious and my heart strings were twanging horribly.  This morning he kept saying to me "Mummy stay, stay, stay?" My response of "Have you been loving me for quite some time, time, time?" went over Pip's head (which considering how much he adores Taylor Swift was surprising) but TCM found it amusing.  He then asked me to stay "long, long, long".  I went over and over with him that I would stay for a little while but then I would say goodbye and see him after lunch when he was sitting on the bench and singing the goodbye song.  The reality of dropping him off was that he ran off to play with his friend who is a mutual friend from Katie's school and they were happy as Larry in the sand pit when I left after sorting out paperwork.  He offered up his lips for a kiss and asked me to kiss his friend as well.  I left feeling happier about his transition.  I phoned to check up on him and he was very happily playing outside.

So the ducks are slowly forming an orderly queue just in time for the Court of Protection Orders to arrive for my Mother-in-Law and I can start wading through the paperwork and working out what on earth I'm supposed to be doing (obviously whilst sorting out the never-ending house build as well).

One thing's for sure, life isn't dull.  Incredibly and overwhelmingly stressful but never dull.






Friday, 4 September 2015

Sunscreen....



There were times over the summer holidays when I thought I was actually going to lose myself forever in the torrid of anger and fear and anxiety and frustration that is my current life experience. The interruption in routine and the build up to the start of a new school and whatever else is causing Katie to behave the way she currently has been has been a daily onslaught of rudeness and aggression.  It only ceased when we were around other people because Katie would never let other people see how she behaves although we did have a few monumental meltdowns in Asda in full public view.  I get up every day with a knot in my stomach anxious about what the day will hold with Katie, our house build and a whole myriad of other things that are currently going on.  I still hold onto the fact that some of these issues will eventually reach a conclusion and improve but it's hard to hang onto that when you're in the storm.

The person that I once knew myself to be seems to be a long way from the person that currently exists in my body. She, the sensitive, spiritual, calm and quiet me, has been beaten into submission by the lack of control and aggression that is my home life with Katie primarily but also with Pip who is learning creative new ways to express his toddler anger by copying his older sister. Yet in recent days I am seeing a connection in my current situation and that from many years ago which is leading me to question what the learning here is for me. 

If I'm honest, I don't really want a learning experience at the moment. I'm not sure I have the emotional capacity to cope with an inward journey but I suspect the key to moving forward from my current external reality is to revisit my past. The key reason is because I can see a pattern emerging of the way I respond to stressful events, particularly aggression and violence. I have started to realise that the emotions that I am feeling whilst dealing with Katie and Pip's reactions to the world don't belong in this reality, they belong in my own childhood. I can see how I cope by closing down my emotions by using social media to distract myself is reminiscent of the young girl who inwardly sang to herself to tune out a screaming and abusive mother. I can see that the anger and frustration I feel towards Katie particularly whilst managing her endless rages and aggression and generally antisocial behaviour towards me actually is the rage of the child that I was who had to cope with parents who behaved in the same way. 

Baz Lurhman says in his song "Sunscreen" that the stuff you really have to worry about is the stuff that blindsides you at 4pm in some idle Tuesday and I think he is right. I didn't really see this coming because it's all so intense that it's impossible to see the woods for the trees. I have experienced a lot of counselling and laid a lot of old emotions to rest. I have reconciled myself with an often unacceptable childhood and live as a well adjusted adult who has learned to open back up again and let people in but this is a new awareness for me. This awareness could only be triggered by re-experiencing a similar scenario to that of my childhood. That is something I, like most sensible people, have avoided, deliberately. No-one in their right mind would put themselves in an environment where they are thumped and kicked and screamed at many times a day for years on end. We have now had 2 years of Katie refusing to go to bed at night on top of all her daytime tantrums. Two years is just too much. Well it is for me on top of everything else.

Dealing with Katie and helping her through her struggles is my job as her parent but it's hard to do that job well if my own responses are skewed by a sort of PTSD reaction to her behaviour. My reactions have been steadily building, exacerbated by an incredibly tough summer holiday period with no break and massive external pressures from the house build and my Mother-in-Law's legal issues. It all feels endless and relentless.

On Sunday night, triggered by Katie yet again refusing to sleep, I broke down. In that moment I could take no more. It scared me how visceral my emotions were. I howled in TCM's arms after shouting at Katie to go back to bed. I just wanted to walk out and leave, to drive as far away from all the intensity of all this stress and anger as I could go. I have never felt so alone as I did in that moment. Yet I still had to console Katie who was shocked to see her mum in such emotional pain. I don't know that she felt much empathy towards me but she was curious as to what what happening and I am actually a pretty good mum so still put my emotions to one side to reassure her that everything would be ok but that I was so angry with her refusal to go to bed that I was crying with frustration. I can't explain how guilty I felt the next day.  It's not a scenario anyone wants their child to experience but then again this whole scenario isn't one that a parent wishes to experience either. We go into life as adopters with a vague notion that we might experience "behavioural difficulties" and that our children might express their anger and anxiety in challenging ways but I don't think any adopter goes into adoption realising that this behaviour might go on for years, steadily increasing and not responding to the love and therapeutic parenting that you offer to the child. Regular readers of this blog will know I am always looking for ways to interact and support my children and keen to learn how best to help them. The emotional challenge to myself when all the hard work doesn't pay off is tough to reconcile with though and I am only human. 

The next day, exhausted from all the emotion, I took myself out to Costa for a quiet coffee and a few hours away from everything and I was able to think. I questioned why I was in this situation? What was the bigger picture? I pondered whether I needed some medical support to support my emotions. I wondered why this was all getting to me so much. I honestly think that most people would be buckling under the stress and uncertainty I'm currently trying to balance and I'm going to forgive myself for some human reactions. I'm aware that neither TCM or I get much time out. Going grocery shopping is fought over to get some time alone. That's hardly a spa date! 

It's fair to accept that the children are responding to the stress about the house that TCM and I are experiencing and exhibiting and this has to be exacerbating everything for them and us. I queried though what the learning here was for me. I do not think anything happens haphazardly. The universe has a great sense of timing, not that I always agree with the timing. There is always some learning and opportunity for emotional and spiritual development but I'm so bogged down in the experience I am unable to even acknowledge my spiritual side currently. Slowly as I sat with my coffee I was able to see that actually I'm dealing with this current situation exactly as I did as a child except I've replaced my childhood inward singing to block out the sound of my mother's voice with social media and my other favourite numbing medication....food. I only have to look at my burgeoning waistline to realise I'm eating too much chocolate and already know I'm struggling to exercise because of this endless exhaustion but I also realised that when I feel angry I open my iPad to scroll through my newsfeed and calm myself down. Except I'm not just calming myself down. I'm suppressing my emotions because, just as they were in my childhood, they are big, scary emotions. They are the cataclysmic rage at the unfairness of my situation, then and now, and my lack of control to prevent what is happening to me in so many areas of my life.  As I connected the dots I could see the truth emerging. I am not the child anymore. I am the adult. Unfortunately I am an adult with a damaged response to anger and aggression and way too much anger and aggression in my life. This is hardly surprising considering my early experiences but it is, I believe, the key to my emotions and responses to Katie. This is the learning and until I fix my own faulty response I cannot adequately help Katie deal with hers.

I wish I could say that this awareness will bring an immediate change and solve all my problems. That would be naive. It has brought me some internal calm and realisation however as I see that my reactions to Katie are not just in response to Katie. This shifts the burden of blame away from her a little. I realise that I now have the opportunity to heal something deep inside me that was fractured a long time ago. Only by facing that childhood fear of violence and learning to react with love and not fear can I help my daughter face her own scary emotions. This awareness is a big step in the right direction. Another step is trying hard to leave the technology alone when I'm feeling emotional. I need to stand and feel the emotions in a more mindful way. I need to consciously walk away from Katie to give myself time to think when possible and I think I need some practical help to deal with managing her tantrums. On a practical level we have been to see the GP for help regarding Katie's sleeping difficulties and are using some short term medication whilst we seek help for the bigger issues. This has brought some success, although not an easy fix and it clearly wasn't on Saturday night when we ran out of medication. I have not ruled out some medication support for myself to give myself an emotional prop but I'm loath to suppress my emotions and antidepressants generally leave me feeling numb. Counselling may be a possibility also although timing wise I'm not sure I could find the time to go currently. What I am hoping to do is be a little more aware of my inner child. To hold her hand a little more and nurture her when I can. I also think that until we are back home and the stress of the house build and associated finances alleviated then I have to accept we are not emotionally out of the woods. Another saving grace is that, after a mammoth build up of anxiety about starting her new school, Katie has faced her fear and is settling into school. Her emotional responses over the past few days (within an incredibly tight framework at home regarding expectations and consequences for negative behaviour) are calmer although she is still doing some monumentally silly things that cause much frustration. I think she has fought a personal dragon during the build up to school starting and is also coming out the other side and I'm so proud of her for that. I still feel like I'm walking on eggshells, hers and mine, but I do feel better for a few days apart now she's at school. The knot in my stomach is still very uncomfortable but I can see a glimmer of light through the trees and I'm reminded again that my emotional journey mirrors that of so many adopted children who experience trauma. The steps forwards and backwards, making progress, getting blindsided, understanding it all, building myself up and starting over again.,

Let's hope that light continues to shine ever brighter. Hope is what has always driven me from childhood throughout my entire life. Even when I'm dragged down below the water and pulled out by the undertow I hang on, hopeful that I will rescue myself. I am so grateful to the friends who have helped me hang on over this past year because they help keep my hope inside alive that we will get through all of this and look back one day and see the funny side. I might need a few more solo Costa's before that happens though. 

Let's hope that light continues to shine ever brighter. Hope is what has always driven me from childhood throughout my entire life. Even when I'm dragged down below the water and pulled out by the undertow I hang on, hopeful that I will rescue myself. I am so grateful to the friends who have helped me hang on over this past year because they help keep my hope inside alive that we will get through all of this and look back one day and see the funny side. I might need a few more solo Costa's before that happens though. In the meantime I will take Baz Luhrman's advice and wear sunscreen....