Thursday 27 November 2014

Just say no

If you can imagine the scene I’ve managed all day to avoid fights and strife. I’ve smoothed the path before my child at every turn. As I tuck them up in bed, about to kiss them lovingly on the forehead I can almost taste the relief, relaxation and few hours ahead where all I have to worry about is me.

Then she asks:

“Can I have a hot chocolate?”

Time slows to an almost stop and before me.
I visualise the potential outcome dependent on what I do next.

Option 1

I say “No, it’s a bit late now”, it all unravels, we fall into a dysregulation freefall of biblical proportions. Anything is possible, from fisticuffs, one sided slagging matches to bolting out the front door in PJs. Sleep is postponed for at least 90 mins.

Option 2

I say “Of course poppet, should we put cream and marshmallows on it”. Not ruddy likely. I frame parenting in terms of winning and losing and in this option she’s won. From this night on she would consider bedtime hot chocolate a basic human right and demand it every night.

Option 3

I say anything but the word “No”. I might say, “Of course you can. How about we put sprinkles on, oh (slaps forehead dramatically) what about your sister Peanut? She would love a hot chocolate but she’s asleep. (Pause for effect).Do you think tomorrow you could make one for her? Do you think you’re big enough to make a hot chocolate? I’m not sure, well perhaps, would you like to try tomorrow?”

I go for C, distraction and choice, I appeal to her better nature; a bit of flattery and challenge. All the while stalling for time hoping that the moment will pass and a different part of the brain will wake up.
I’m the master of saying “no” without saying “no”, the non-answer distraction technique.

Yes, I do sometimes just say “no” and it’s ok.
I sometimes say it because I can’t be bothered or am sick of being so damn wishy-washy. 
I sometimes say it and it kicks right off.

The word “no” provokes a response in my child like nothing else. Clearly, nobody likes being told “no” to a request, I don’t and Mrs C doesn’t. But for some children who’ve been ‘through the mill’ it can provoke an extreme response. A simple word that seems to provoke an avalanche of emotion and a crushing sense of being unloved and being unlovable.

If that how it feels then no wonder she doesn’t like it.

Friday 21 November 2014


I enjoying writing my blog, playing with thoughts and stories, turning them into little windows into our life. I enjoy the opportunity to reflect on the ebb and flow of our daily family life and some of the broader issues that impact on adoption.

Today I feel the need to write, but I've nothing to say, not because there's a lack of things to tell more that I'm struggling to bring a little light. I try to write with hope and humour to side step the 'other stuff' but today there seems to be more of the 'other stuff'.

Nothing out of our ordinary has happened; trips to school to talk to staff; unending negotiations/fights about 'screen time'; hyper stress and anxiety over what to wear to school on children in need day, near psychotic sibling rivalry and a bit of violence.

But today I'm struggling to see where the future lies. This week I confessed to a friend that my greatest ambition for one of my children was that she'd still be living with me by the time she's 16.

In another life she'd be the head girl, she's bright, athletic and focused. But were not living that life and in this life she's all those things but terrified and frequently dysregulated as well. My hopes are a set lower.

Today my head hangs low, my heart is heavy and I ask Mrs C 'is it all going to be ok?'.

She says 'Yes' and I'm choosing to believe her.

'Hope that is seen is no hope at all'

Maybe tomorrow the tables will turn, she'll be asking and I'll be answering.

We've been in darker spots, days when we both asked and there was nobody to answer.

That's what I've got to say today.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Five Steps

Fear ye not, this is not a post designed to give you the steps to therapeutic parenting Nirvana. It's about a little journey I make, five steps in fact.

After I've been called this and that, roughed up a bit in heart, soul and body my inner 7 year old can surface. My internal monologue is peppered with thoughts unrepeatable I find myself busying myself around the house chuntering like Muttley from the Wacky Races.

Flossy calms and an uneasy and delicate peace is restored, usually assisted by Mrs C.
Bedtime comes and I tuck Lotty up in bed and Mrs C tucks Flossy up and we normally cross over the landing and say our goodnights. But more frequently Flossy's door is shut and the light is off. Be this shame or residual anger and resentment the message is clear 'Dad, you are not welcome'.

It's five steps to the top of the stairs, then down to a few hours calm.

Five step that take me past Flossy's door. The temptation is to keep going, to put another storm behind me.

Five steps where I make choices and decisions, where I banish the 7 year old me and shake the grown up back to life.

I'm not always welcome but I know that it matters that I'm constant and there is always a way back.
I don't always feel the love, given or taken.

But I knock, go in and say 'I love you, we'll have a better day tommorow'

Friday 7 November 2014

National Adoption Week: Time machine

So after all the shouting and balling NAW14 is almost over and I'm sure I speak for many when I say it feels like it's been a long week. 

Challenging images and interviews on daytime and morning TV bring conflicting emotions as I consider the hopes of prospective adopters and the needs of children. Naturally I compare this to the stories that I hear in my day job and are piped into my consciousness through Twitter, blogs and Facebook. Good, bad, mundane stories of lives lived in parallel to the oblivious world around us 51 weeks a year then thrust into the spotlight for a week in November.

NAW is a good news story the politicians, of all sides,  and the media love adoption, it's a golden subject that reflects well on those who discuss it. But though the challenges of contemporary adoption are explained and laid bare I fear that the man and woman on the street hold fast to the orphan Annie fairytale*. 

I am confident that good comes of it and if one child is found a loving home then it is more than worth it.

So, tomorrow when the brouhaha is over I'll wake up, dust myself off and get on with my life slipping back into anonymity. 

However, I can't help but consider the future, how will the adoption landscape shift over the next year and the next 10, 20, 30 years. 

Practice that we consider as normal will be examined with the benefit of hindsight. 

What will be the long term implications of the recent rulings in relation to Placement orders and subsequent reductions in their number?

What will be the impact of the much publicised adoptions support fund?

Thinking further ahead will we look back with horror and shame as we do when we consider the circumstances, practice and societies seeming indifference of the 50's and 60's?  

Reading the BASW magazine this month the issue of Human Rights and adoption was raised with the reality that we are in a minority of nations that still place children for adoption without the consent of the parents. What will be the implications for the future?

Will we be aghast at the expectations placed on adopters in light of the experiences and needs of the children they parented?

Will there be any adoption re union programmes looking back through the years?

Will adoption be seen as a side issue compared to the number of children in care that need stable and secure long term homes?

Ifs and buts.

I'm not sure where we'll be and if we'll be seen as villains, victims or saviours.

I'm pretty sure I'll still be dad.

*In my retirement I intend to write my own musical "Annie: the Truth", with swearing, singing and fighting.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

National Adoption Week: Quotes

At running the risk of never being asked to speak to the media again I would like to share with you a little experience I had earlier in the week.

A few days ago Mrs C spoke to a press officer at length for an article on National Adoption Week. The press officer asked if I could add to the article by emailing a paragraph explaining what I would say to a prospective adopter.

So I sat down and my mind went blank, then filled to overloading with all that I should say. I sat and looked at a blank page and was at a loss what to write. Harsh truth or Disneyesque stories of giddy joy.

Both wrong: both right. So what do I say?

"Adoption has been the most amazing experience of our lives and has built a wonderful family around us. It has been exciting. I can't think of any downsides and we could not imagine our lives without any of our children and would certainly not hesitate in doing it all again."

There are moments when this is true but our story is more complex

"Adoption has been the most difficult experience of our lives and we feel like a truly dysfunctional family. It has been challenging and I often wonder how I'm going to get through the day. I wonder if the pros outweigh the cons  and we often reminisce  at our lives before our children came. We would certainly not hesitate in doing it all again but we'd do it differently"

This is how I felt recently after being kicked, punched and slapped, but it the truth is more complex.

So, after what seemed like an eternity I came up with a form of words:

"Adoption has been the most amazing experience of our lives and has built a wonderful family around us. It has been challenging and their have been difficult days. However, the pros outweigh the cons  and we could not imagine our lives without any of our children and would certainly not hesitate in doing it all again."

It feels like a compromise, bland and meaningless. 

If you've met me and spoke to me you know the truth. 
I am for adoption.

Monday 3 November 2014

National Adoption Week : Questions

I believe in adoption, the majority of my adult life has been significantly influenced by my decision to adopt. I’ve actively promoted adoption, through TV, documentaries, radio and the press. I’ve contributed at prospective adopter preparation courses and spoke at length to strangers, friends and acquaintances about the virtues and challenges of adoption. I have a blog and my mam reads it.

But, I have questions.

I see that the landscape of adoption has changed the nature of the vast majority of the 28,000 children adopted in 1968 are very different to the 5,050 adopted in 2013/14.
The adopters that step forward are very different now to those who made the journey 45 years ago.
Society, law and culture have shifted almost beyond recognition. 
Research has rendered received wisdom and best practice as defunct, detrimental and dogmatic.
Policies and systems that seem to be trying to catch up with this changing landscape.

Is this week the right week to be asking questions?

I have to say yes, this is the week to raise the difficult questions.
If the community of adopters and adoptees can’t ask these questions then who can?
If we don’t ask them now then when will people listen?

Approved and pre placement adopters are nervous of the questions they ask for they have everything to lose.  They accept injustice, incompetence and delay because they have no choice. They do not have the power.

Can the adoptees ask the difficult questions? No. They have no power.

The questions that birth families and parents ask are often discounted and marked as invalid. After all, they don't deserve to ask questions. They have no power.

Post order adopters sometimes keep our heads down, we need access to services, so we are careful, # are our cloak. We do what we can.

So, those who can speak have a duty and responsibility to ask difficult questions, challenge accepted wisdom and policy.
We are the experts of this experience so we must speak.

This does not mean we are against adoption.

There are voices, #flipthescript, The Open Nest, Adoption UK & individuals like Sally Donovan are asking hard questions, raising adoption's profile and we should throw our collective weight behind them.