Thursday, 25 August 2016

Endless summers

The trouble with looking back to my summer holidays as a child is that I think I've a very selective memory. The cliches of endless summers with days of sunshine feature heavily.
Sitting and reflecting I can also remember a summer of refusing to go out and watching endless TV everyday. I can also remember a different summer where I played out for days on end, called on friends and had adventures.
I don't remember being naughty, or irritating or a pain.
To be honest I can't remember much detail of the long summer weeks.

Each year I watch twitter and Facebook and see the summer unfold across the lives of many families, the good the bad and the interesting. I see a lot of parents relieved to lose the stress of school and I see a lot of parents struggle to hold their children safe with the lack of routine.
I feel that we hold those two positions in tension.

As parents the ebb and flow of our summers has varied.
These days we see the summer in terms of endurance, one day at a time counting weeks. At least we do for some of our children.  The lack of routine picks at the seams of our version of normal and we start to fray by this point of the holidays. There's no bottomless pit of money to provide flagpole events every day, negotiations are protracted and what suits one invariably does not suit another. Each  day brings new challenges. Then nerves of a new school or teacher starts to add that special ingredient into the dynamic.

The Good MrsC bears the brunt.

We've not reached the fever pitch of the 2014 'endless summer' that led to the legendary 'year long grounding incident' and that precipitated the seeds of our plan to move house. Still, it's not easy and by now we're ready for the return and all that brings. A different sort of challenge.

I wonder what my children make of their summers, what they'll recall? Do they see the challenge? the tensions and conflict? Will they hark back to endless summers with selective recall, I'm sure we won't.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Their Story

Lotty: So, you know how mam and dad are not your real mam and dad well that's because you've got a real mam and dad that you can't live with. 

Peanut: Ok.

I didn't get involved but spectated from a safe distance, from the front seat of the car looking through the rear view mirror with my good eye on the road. 

The conversation went on, Lotty with the sensitivity of a jet engine spelt out pretty clearly a timeline of events for Peanut. To be fair she did moderate the information with age appropriate words and tone but she was her usual frank self. 

We're out about adoption, well and truly out. If you see us walk into a restaurant then you don't have to be a social anthropologist. From the moment we decided to adopt we've laid it all bare.

But our children's story's is their story and it's for them to share.

Sat in a beer garden we got talking to a local last week. They were fishing for the story but we've learnt the art of dodging the questions. I take no offence, people are curious and love a good story. Adoptions stories are good stories.

When the big three came we said nothing to nobody about their journey to us. We told a couple of trusted family members just for our benefit.

When people asked we said, it's their story and it's their's to share. People were nervous, 'what if they told us something?'. 'Chill' we said, 'listen and talk'.  They never said much just a few incidentals and mentions.

It's their story and their's to share.

Thursday, 11 August 2016


We had a visitor from a friend who is fostering a baby boy

Lotty: Dad, can we adopt a baby

Me: No

Lotty: Mam, can we adopt a baby

MrsC : No

Lotty: Why?

Together: We don't want any more children.

Lotty: We could adopt this baby like you adopted me (points to a friends foster baby).

The conversation went on and as it developed it transformed from lighthearted banter into something more serious. It became a a conversation about Lotty's life and her story. Words that meant one thing a year ago mean something different now, as she grows from little girl to big girl her understanding of her narrative develops. Like the onion the layers peal back and we get closer to the heart of stuff.

Words like 'safe' mean something more when you understand more about danger, words like 'danger' mean something more when you see them set within her developing understanding of the world she inhabits.

It got a bit fraught.................

I don't feel insecure, embarrassed or threatened. Just sad that I have to have such crappy conversations about stuff that 10 year old girls should care less about.                                            

So of course she felt a bit fraught and it got a bit fraught..........................and why the hell shouldn't it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Great North Run - Training Part 3

I'm starting to build up my runs now..........

Please consider giving a little cash to the Family Rights Group
My just giving page can be found here

They work to keep children safe within their family network. 
They advise parents in England and Wales whose children are in need, at risk or are in care and wider family members raising children unable to remain at home. 
They campaign for families to have a voice, be treated fairly and get help early.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Safe as ..........

It's a year since we moved and as we slide into the summer holidays the Good MrsC and I have been pondering that decision and the year we've had.

Basically it worked.

We regained control of our environment, reducing some of the physical challenges and threats that appeared to be encroaching on us. Of course there's lots of factors around that but the primary issue is summarised in a meme I saw recently-

'Being safe is not the same as feeling safe'

The perception of safety and misguided or unhelpful reactions and strategies to manage this feeling that my children manifest was becoming harder to manage and live with. It reached a point where we realised to give us a few more years grace we needed to move. That and a few other factors helped us make that decision. 

Our old house was fantastic, and safe, but we felt that perception of being safe was eroding in the mind of one of my children.  

But, we all feel safe here in our new house.

I feel safe, if any of my children 'run' then they'll not get too far.  I didn't have to pretend to walk the dog, hide in bushes and inconspicuously follow her round the neighbourhood.

She has run. I didn't have to chase, as I knew the raaaah would have blown over before she got to the end of the track and she would return.  I could see her sobbing, telling a horse what a pig I was. She returned when it got dark and she was hungry and felt less raaaah.

Flossy feels safe in our new house, we have no passing cars, no 'strange children' playing in the street. The fact that most people get lost finding us makes us feel hidden. It's predictable, sleepy, slow and feels safe.  A few months after the move she announced 'I love our new house'

The reality for some of our children is that feeling safe is a scare commodity, negative experiences are hard wired to growing brains to communicate a constant lack of safety. Hyper vigilance is frequent and consuming it precipitates conflict, anxiety, tension and a need to control. All understandable reactions and reactions I display when I feel unsafe and threatened.

Knowing this forced the move and MrsC says it saved us. Of course there are other challenges but we aspire to keep one step ahead all the way.

I loved my old house, I make detours to not pass it as I still feel sad at the loss but ultimately it's bricks and mortar. Like all parents we do what we have to do.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Grown ups

After the DfE last week that smashing fellow Scott 'Mr Adoption UK' and I fell out of the building and spying a fine hostelry we partook of a beverage. We mused on the challenges that we faced as parents of young adopted adults. It was good talk.

I don't often speak of my older children, they're all adults now and doing ok, well you know. Like all parents we've had to undergo a transition from being responsible for all aspect of their lives to handing over the reigns of responsibility to our children. It can be a challenge for all concerned.

I'm not so naive as to believe that it was all going to be ok when my older children reached adulthood but I think I perhaps didn't think some stuff through. Maybe it was a kind of short term thinking, striving for the next goal, consolidating then looking to the next. But the goal of adulthood seemed different, once reached there were no more goals or perhaps no more goals that I was intrinsically involved in or invited to participate in.

My adult children are by no means 'vulnerable' but they have their foibles, but in many senses they have to own them as the world out there no longer wants me or MrsC advocating for them, that time has past. Employers are not interested in hearing our explanations, likewise medical professionals or bank officials. To be honest I struggle as well, when I was 18 my parents left me to live my life and if I'd asked for help I'd have got it, but I didn't and they would not have intervened.

For my children I don't want to intervene but sometimes I have, but it cuts against my grain and I think that is the most surprising feeling that I've had. I want to let my children step into adulthood and make their own way, their own mistakes and their own lives. Like I did. However, I'm not sure that I will be afforded that luxury for some of my children.

I've friends that are a decade or so ahead of us on the adoption road, their children are in their mid thirties and I observe that for some of them the issues still remain though the outworking and contexts have altered as they moved into middle aged. It's not what I expected thought not entirely unexpected.

All parents don't stop worrying and adoptive parents don't have a monopoly on worrying about their children. But, as the parents of children who live in the long term negative impacts of early life experiences we continue to carry our children in ways that are not expected or 'normal' within society.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Transition - A guest post

A guest post-  By Scarlett 

Whilst much is said and printed about the real concerns for those moving from year 6 to year 7 this summer and how this transition is often fraught with real concerns, I have seen little for what now seems to me to be the bigger transition of year 11 into….. …. 

Well it could be 6th form, college, apprenticeship, work or any number of different areas. For some children, particularly those who have experienced loss and trauma in their lives, this is a transition that eclipses those that went before. Such previous transitions may have seen the onset of adolescence and all that contains or different schools, different home bases, and different families. With the best will in the world adopters, kinship carers and foster carers alongside those working in Children’s Residential homes apply themselves to try to keep some level of ‘norm’ in place as the basis of security and regulation for these children and young people. This is often not for the faint-hearted and at times can lead to despair and exhaustion. During these periods we ‘adults’ may look forward to the day when it’s over, when year 11 completes and the exam stress goes back into its box. 

So what then?

Progression into adulthood is the next step, what this means and how this transition occurs can bring a range of fears leading to levels of dysregulation that are unexpected. For those children whose basis of functioning with their peers is established in routine this is a time of immense restructuring. But the basis from which to build can in itself lead to high levels of confusion and complexity. For Charlie (pseudonym) this was the biggest unexpected reality check. Suddenly the exams were over, and whilst the end date was known, the realisation of what this meant arrived unexpectedly from that anticipated, not the freedom everyone talked about but the arrival of a deep sense of insecurity.

Having spent 11 years in school, loving it or hating it, he had known where he would be Monday to Friday and when the holidays were, many months in advance. He had known via his timetable from year 7 what class he would be in on what day and at what time, which room and which teacher would be present. Prior to year 7 he had known throughout Nursery to end of year 6 who his teacher would be for the whole academic year and who the support staff were.  He had known when his break times and lunchtimes would be and what time he would go home. He knew which after school activities he would attend and how many weeks he would attend them. He knew the adults in his school, and whilst he may not have liked all of the staff he knew who they were and they knew who he was- irrespective of how this relationship existed it was familiar and known. He knew the children and later the teens in his school, who he was friends with and could feel comfortable alongside, who he was a casual acquaintance of and who peers were even if he never really hung out with them or avoiding doing so- he could recognise them as attending the same school as him- again familiar and known. For children and young people like Charlie the familiar and known is essential for the foundations of security. Then he sat the last exam, and suddenly as he left the school premises it was gone- all of that familiar and known. His Monday to Friday structure was removed, he wouldn’t see very many of those peers ever again, those adults he knew were gone from his weekly life and the question remained- what do you want to do, who do you want to be? Which led to the real concern he voiced about ‘I don’t feel like me’ he couldn’t explain it- he didn’t know if it was physical or emotional he just didn’t feel like ‘him’ anymore and this caused real anxiety and stress for Charlie.

For a child who was unable to enjoy  ‘free choice’ for all of his life so date;  much preferring and well capable of operating within a structured environment- the structure had been removed, his world may have opened up but with this it opened up into huge blank canvases.

Many young people do know very clearly what they want to be and where they want to go next, but not all. 

Yet we live in a world that expects them to make these life trajectory decisions at a time of immense confusion and anxiety. Charlie is waiting for his GCSE results to see what is open to him as a healthy alternative to making rash decisions that take him down roads he really doesn’t want to be on, out of a need to perform as expected by Connexions (the careers advisory provision) or performativity requirements. He won’t be a NEET as he has already secured part-time work for the holidays, but perhaps its time to rethink what we expect of our Youth. 

On leaving school I wanted to be a car mechanic, I then moved into office work and then into being a trainee insurance assessor before moving again into Nursing- this was all between the age of 16-18. I was lucky my parents were happy ‘to go with the flow’ and my exam results allowed me the freedom to choose and reinvent. But what of those young people who do not have such choices? How many ‘Adults’ are still in the same career trajectory as the one they chose at 14, or thought they wanted at 14 by the time they are 25 or 30? Many mature students are those adults who went down career paths chosen at a young age and by the time realisation happened that this wasn’t what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives they weren’t able to turn back; so carried on for a while before leaving the path altogether to start again. 

For young people like Charlie we need to move away from pressurising them into making life impacting decisions at a time when their world is changing so dramatically. If young people do know who they want to be then we should support their choices even if they may not be the ones we would choose for them, for those who do not know we need to provide space to enable them to think through their options and allow them time to consider what is available. For some, like Charlie, and any other child whose education has been disrupted or those with SEN who may or may not gain the predetermined requirement of GCSE ‘C' and above in English and Maths; pushing career choices on them that depend don a target number of GCSEs increases the anxiety and stress they themselves are under both pre and post exam. 

For me the greatest gift I can give my child is the freedom to choose and the space to ‘be’ so that they can ‘feel like me’ before they set off down new roads and all the new ventures this may include.