Thursday 30 January 2014

We got our day in court

After my earlier moan about adoption celebration days I am pleased to confess we had quite a remarkable day today in court.

Like many pre planned days out our day started two, or three, weeks earlier. Lotty, knowing a special occasion was nearing, had become fixated on dresses, shoes and hairstyles. Flossy did not feel the same. Mrs C was consumed with finding clothes that met the exacting criteria that meant Flossy would not freak out. A very exact criteria that also ensured that she would not be mistaken for a boy, which upsets everyone, but also are in a very limited way not girly. No mean feat.

Anxiety has risen in the ranks, though Peanut is oblivious, and late nights and early mornings have ensued.

So, this morning,  children spring out of bed and little ones are jet washed in turn.

25 minutes prior to leaving, Ginger appears from his pit and requests assistance. Though he could care less he understands that Mrs C and the Big one will give him a tongue lashing if dressed inappropriately.

I put on my suit and the shoes I bought when we went to court with the first three. The Big One, only 7 at the time, insisted I buy a suit and shoes, she has clear opinions about these things.

So, long story short and after a tense moment over seating arrangements, two car loads of us arrive at court. Social workers are absent but we crack on.

The usher gives us a look and says "There's quite a few of you I think we'll use the courtroom, is that ok?" a resounding "yes" was the reply. Result.

She looks again and asks "Would you like the judge to wear their robes?" again "yes". Result.

She looked again, suspiciously, and asks "Have I seen you before? one more time "yes" and we tell the tale of our previous visit.

This is going to be better than we'd hoped

Social workers arrive.

So, in we go and the the moment is appropriate, photo's are taken, polite chit chat is made.
Flossy and Lotty's eyes are on stalks, they're giddy and become slightly overexcited but well within the realm of manageable. Ginger is cool, Peanut is not bothered, the big one is very pleased, grandma is proud, Queenie feels family and adoptive dad is quietly emotional.

But, Mrs C is having a feeling.

Is this the Judge?

The judge who 8 years ago signed the court orders to bring the children into care, who sniffed a rat and included the, as then unborn, Lotty, though the SW's hadn't.

Mrs C has a quick word and this is the judge.

After all these years we stand here at the end of the story, or at least the end of this episode. The kids enjoyed the day and will hopefully remember it. The seriousness, the spectacle, the special access will all live long in their memories and make sense of their own journeys.

But for Mrs C and I it was a blessing to meet the one of the most influential players in three of our children's lives. A professional who's actions had impacted so significantly in their  all their lives but so critically in Lotty's life.

Often as an adoptive parent we have missed some of the most significant events of our children's lives and have not been present for decisions that will have lasting consequences for them.

Even to just meet a key player in those decisions, albeit briefly, holds a significance for us and adds colour into the grey areas of my children's lives.

Today we certainly got a day in court that we could never have dreamt of.

Friday 17 January 2014

Behaviour Management

As an adoptive father  I have constantly considered what is the extent of my influence on my children.
How much is personality and character inherited from biological parents? 
How much is forged in the challenges of early life leaving an imprint that cannot be erased regardless of the positives that are then implemented?
What influence have Mrs C and I had on our children, would they have turned out the same regardless of which model of parenting we had implemented? 
Nature or nurture?

Speaking to a foster carer recently she used the phrase we "We have learned how to manage X's behaviour, not change it". As she spoke the words made me consider my children.

Back in '98 starting our adoption journey I believed we could make a difference, that with love, consistency and appropriate boundaries we could make a positive difference in our children's lives.

Do I believe that now? I'm not sure. 

My understanding of the implications of neglect, physical and emotional abuse have increased.
My insight into the minds of my children and how their experiences have affected their view and responses to the world around them is second only to Mrs C's.
My ability to help them negotiate their world is better, more articulate and more informed  than it has ever been.

We've had fun, good times and happy times.
We've had tricky times too.
But have I changed them?

I'm not sure, looking at some of my older children as they grow into adulthood. I see the shadows that have grown with them.
My influence diminishes and my help and guidance is not as welcome, appropriate or acceptable as it once was. 
I can't and won't manage their behaviour anymore. 

So they have to make their own choices and over the next few weeks our 'nearly adult' moves on, not out of choice but necessity. 

We believe we have done our best and our friends and family echo that sentiment, but to be honest, it rings hollow. 

And we're left wondering what difference we've made, perhaps we were just managing behaviour.

Sunday 5 January 2014


This week we see the end of one chapter in our family life and the start of a new one.

I can hardly believe that it was over 5 years ago when Mrs C and I realised that we could no longer cope with Flossy's behaviour and that the only path forward for us as a family was for me to leave work, become a full time father, and try to work 'it' out together.

Scary days, how would we pay the bills, what would happen, would we make it?

For six months straight I was up with Flossy at 4:30am, she would scream and shout, throw kitchen stools at me, bite me until I bled. We were on the ropes.

Slowly we learnt the rhythms of a bruised mind and heart, of crushing fear and anxiety, of overwhelming stress and uncertainty. We learnt to respond not react, to plan ahead, to second guess and to soak up pain and anger. A different type of parenting, counterintuitive, gentle, hard work.

I volunteered as an independent member of a Local Authority Adoption Panel.

Mrs C did likewise.

We continued to learn. We attended every free and paid for seminar, read every book we could find, sought out experts and those with experience.

We saw changes, pressures eased so we planned a career change for me and signed me up for a Social Work degree.

For the last three years we've all worked hard to see that come to a positive conclusion, with me graduating in June'13.

Flossy and Lotty's little sister Peanut arrived in April 2013 and we all had a summer together without the pressures of work and we were blessed.

Offers of jobs arrived, and were accepted.

Tomorrow I start full time work, again (albeit part time for two agencies = full time).

I will be a Social Worker, I have passed through the veil, endured trials and tribulations and now I sit on the other side of the coffee table, with notebook and tricky questions to ask.

I have a lot to learn, more than I ever thought when I was 27 years old in 1999 when the Big One, Gracie and Ginger arrived.

Balancing children's needs (appointments at psychotherapy, social workers, support workers etc.) with work will be a challenge, but it is for every parent.

Looking back it is easy to see the start and end of chapters, that's hindsight for you, but it is exciting to see a new one coming.

The last five years have been amazing, challenging, heartbreaking and wonderful. We have been blessed and I have had the pleasure of knowing my children in a way that I never dreamed possible.

What does the future hold? We make plans and God laughs.

But if I'm allowed to guess then tough times for teenagers as independent living looms (not necessarily everyones first choice), chemical assistance perhaps for a little one and we've planned a holiday, the first 'proper' holiday in 9 years.

On that note I'm off to make my pack lunch and try on my SW clothes.

Friday 3 January 2014

Making it up as you go along? - One story of multiple adoptions

This is a guest post by 'Dad of Four' 

When people used to ask me what sort of person I was, I'd say things like “patient". 

These days, with four children (three adopted) it’s slipped down my list of words that might spring to mind. In fact, especially in school holidays, I’m not really sure how to describe what sort of dad I am. In fact, scrub that, in school holidays, I actively avoid selecting adjectives to describe myself! Perhaps, like lots of adoptive (and biological) parents, I’m aware of my shortcomings. We live in a world of ‘Facebook perfect’ families, with carefully selected moments presented for other people to see and feel inadequate about. Our house is fun, busy, but also slightly deranged when school’s out. Most of the time, I realise that we don’t need to be a ‘Facebook family', but on a challenging day, as my twelve year old would say, it can feel like a #fail as a parent.

Our children are now (just) all at school, and are a very different bunch. Let’s just say that behaviour in our house reflects attachment related fear and anxiety, differences that disability brings, and all the usual fun that different ages and stages brings when we’re all together. 

Feeling pleased that those two are getting on? Someone else is punching. 

Feeling smug about the way I defused that anxiety? Someone is so excited they are about to puke. 

Had a nice chat about birth mum? It’s coming back to get me later. 

Got great plans? Here come the relentless questions and interruptions. 

You get the idea; in fact, you may have your own little double acts. I have quite a wonderful combination of things that can happen in any given day. Everything bounces off everything else, even the stuff we don’t know about. 

On top of it all, despite ‘knowing' a thing or two about children’s development, family functioning and so on, I still have that invisible check list I measure myself against: 

Have I been consistent? 
Have I fallen into the trap of matching children’s anxiety and levels of arousal? 
Have I picked my battles? 
Have I paid attention to the ‘little’ things that actually really matter? 
Whose SENCO are we talking to here? 
Did I match those tights with that dress? (not for me, I add). 

It actually goes on a bit. As I said, having children - adopting children - who are ‘wired’ differently really brings out your best and worst. I have been really proud of myself as an adoptive dad, but also ashamed at times as well. My wonderful wife is normally a really chilled out person, which is handy, as I am a stress monkey, working hard not to be. We work hard at being a team, because we need to be: consistency, reenforcement, mutual support, a bit of challenge, a hug here are there (OK, lots).

I’d like to say that I advise all fellow adoptive parents with zen like calm. The best you get is listening, and reality. I'm incredibly positive about adoption and difference in family, but have and continue to be challenged. 

I understand when people struggle with not always feeling ‘warm' towards their adopted children, or deal badly with an angry child who pushes for a reaction, or people who are ready to judge children or me. I don’t tick all my checklist every day, but the balance is right and I’m going in the right direction. Just don’t have so many school holidays, please.