Tuesday 28 August 2018

Babies and Birthdays

I've a long list of topics, stories, issues and thoughts that I purposefully and very carefully don't blog on, if I get close to them then I slip into vague and bland terms. It's mainly so I when I write my book I'll have something worth saying rather than re hashing my blog posts. It's worth noting at this point that it's an imaginary book right and in all honesty very likely to stay that way, there are no plans, secret drafts or hint of spare time or likely to be in at least the next 15 years.

Again I digress, infertility is a topic that I've never mentioned. Mainly because I'm not entirely sure that it applies to me. When I say that I mean that I wasn't even slightly bothered by the need to reproduce my genes so when things worked out the way they did (see, I'm being vague) adoption suited me just fine. 

Circumstances have conspired this year to mean that I've become a grandfather twice, once in February and once on Monday. It's kind of been an 'interesting journey' (again, vague) to put it in the most most anodyne terms possible. The last few weeks have taken us through the experience of packing hospital suitcases and stockpiling baby wipes and nappies. We waved my daughter off to hospital and became familiar with what is a routine passage that the overwhelming majority of families travel. At my ripe age and as a father of six it feels odd to be a stranger in the maternity ward and the tramlines of pregnancy and birth, all the systems and processes that feel alien yet are standard for so many. 

So, today I visited the ward and MrsC shared her experience as the birthing partner, a moving and personal experience.  I got all teary and I felt this little twinge. It could have been more. All this swirling unresolved mess inside that I really didn't have back at the beginning of our family's journey seems to have slowly grown into something. I'm not overwhelmed or bereft,  I've no regrets just the odd thought. 

What if things had been different? 

That's not a helpful thought so I tend to push it back down. I think a lot of my friends have that thought. 

After today's business I tucked Peanut into bed, it's her birthday eve and she asked to go early. I looked her in the eye and told her,

'Thank you for being the most, clever, creative, kind, beautiful, funny, silly, wonderful six year old in the world, its been a pleasure and a privilege to be your daddy this year and I am so exited for you to be seven'

As I got the end of my little speech her bottom lip quivered and she broke into a full on sob. 'What's wrong?' I asked. 
'I'm so happy.' She sobbed 

We cuddled tight. My thoughts went to a little girl's birth that started seven years ago tonight. 

Adoption sucks and adoption is wonderful but that's no news.

So, that's a story out of the secret jar. 

Thursday 23 August 2018

Stress Test: Adopter Assessments

After 48 hours of having a child repeat every word I said I felt I had a unique perspective on my own capacity to parent like never before.  Quite clearly I was unravelling and my standard approaches of saying smart things to outwit the child had been brushed off many many hours earlier. This brings me to the delicate issue of adopter assessment. Sitting in a comfortable room discussing hypothetical parenting challenges is one thing, 48 hours of psychological acrobatics with a dysregulated child is another.

Would I make the assessment of adopters more vigorous, yes.

If your embarking on the process of approval to be an adopter or half way through it may feel like I'm pulling up the drawbridge after I've safely got myself into the castle. Yup, what you gonna do? I've been though the assessment at least four times and have completed a fair few fostering and the odd adoption assessment as a social worker so I feel like I have a fairly good perspective on the issue.

When prospectives are reaching out for the much desired prize, children, then what are they going to say other than what they believe the assessor want to hear. Diversity? of course. Contact, no bother. Good under pressure? like a concrete Supernanny. Do applicants dance around issues and skip over doubts because that desire for the prize is so strong. Did I, honestly yes I did. Did I lie or did I portray the best me on a good day? Parenting vulnerable children finds the truth pretty quickly.

The model of assessing adopters has remained relatively static and for, what used to be, the bulk of adoption scenarios fit for purpose. But scroll through the bios of adopters on twitter, read some adoption blogs, attend a few support groups and listen to the voices of the struggling third and it's clear that adoption has not gone to plan. Read about adopter's mental ill health, prescription medication, relationship breakdown, career stagnation or disruption and a whole host of challenges and the assessment perhaps was not fit for purpose. The needs of many of the children are so profound and consuming that many adopters are stripped to the core of who they through they were and having to call on resources that may or may not be there. Family disruption and relationship breakdowns are more common than I'd like to believe. Of course the underlying causes are complex but the assessment process is designed to be two fold, gather information and import information.

There are bright spots of innovation with adopters assessed for specific children. Assessment needs to reflect the nature of the uncertain  but largely predictable challenges that many adopters face. In an ideal world we'd stress test adopters, foster to adopt and foster carers who adopt follow that route by design or accident. I wonder if there are any breakdown stats for them?

Vigorous is perhaps the wrong word to describe what I'd like to see. I would say we need to unpick adopter's experiences and expectations, hopes and dreams, attachment strategies and vulnerabilities, strengths and weakness. Of course you could argue that's what we do but do we? Perhaps I am just pulling up the drawbridge.

We need to grease the stairs of the application process, hard to get in and easy to get out.


Thursday 16 August 2018

Hearts and Minds

We’ve reached the middle of the summer holidays and we're surviving.

It sounds dramatic to say that we’re surviving but being honest it doesn’t feel dramatic, it feels like a fair reflection of the stakes. 

We’ve had friends over, adopters who like us, have walked a less travelled road and care for children who can be sometimes challenging. I mean that's an understatement, re calibrate your idea of challenging by multiplying by a factor of 10.

Anyway, I normally find it reassuring to speak to other adopters but this time its had a peculiar effect. It’s reinforced the sense that adoption is increasingly a precarious way of creating a family for many adults and children. I bang on about societal change and the concentration of the most impacted children in the prospective adoptee cohort and I have to wonder if adoption is working. The vast majority of people I speak to don’t miss a beat in telling me that they’d do it again, neither do they shy away from telling me about the challenges that they’ve faced and the impact on their lives. I'd do it again, what other answer could I possibly give?

Last year I wrote a post ‘renegotiating the adoption contract’ about the challenge versus the support, or lack of support, and it's easily the most read post that I’ve ever written. Looking back I wonder what that even means now, increasingly I wonder about the capacity of government, local and national, to affect the changes that I’d want to see in adoption. Their powers only extend to structures, systems and policy & I believe that we need to change the ethos, values and knowledge of applicants, work force and the bean counters. This seems a much harder task, the old paradigms remain entrenched.

Having my friends over was a blast, We’d met last summer and then we acknowledge the challenges ahead. When they arrived they walked up my garden path and laughed ‘we survived’. Later when we talked we came back to 'surviving', it’s not funny we’ve all danced around children’s safeguarding, police, courts and more. We literally are surviving.
We spoke in frank and clear language about our challenges and worries. Peer support works for some but this time it was a stark reminder of the level of challenge that those sat around that table and many other families face. 

A social worker once asked me what my aspiration was for my child, I replied that we were all still together by the time they're 16 years old. They paused and with a serious face wrote something in their note book, ah well. Perhaps I'm suffering from mid holiday blogging silly season, nothing to reflect on other than the 7 of us sat looking at each other across the kitchen table. It's a big table.

I promise my next blog will be a right laugh. 

Tuesday 7 August 2018

A guest post - Attempts at ‘Semi-therapeutic parenting’ vs ‘Traditional parenting’- or ‘When Nanna steps in too much!’

Attempts at ‘Semi-therapeutic parenting’ vs ‘Traditional parenting’- or ‘When Nanna steps in too much!’
By the modern adoptive mummy themodernadoptivemummy.blogspot.com

A family holiday… a lovely idea- or so I thought. 

The rationale goes like this: We have booked a big enough cottage in beautiful mid Wales, my mum hasn’t had a family holiday since dad died (lots on her own though), we have never had more than a day out with their nanna, it’ll be lovely to all go together, three adults, two kids and three dogs. Looking back at this last statement alone I can see the issues in neon lights! 
My adopted boys, now 5 and 4 years old (how did they get this old so quick?), get on well with their nanna- they react the same around her as they do us which led us to believe they were comfortable with her and settled with her (as in they will have meltdowns in front of her and fight with each other).  We talk to her a lot about them, their issues and behaviour and what we do about it- or at least try to do about it. She was very aware that we parent a little differently and she knows, for instance, that we have to get littun to sleep by sleeping with him until he falls asleep as he can’t stand to be parted from us (which she doesn’t agree with).
It was on this disaster of a holiday I really appreciated the difference between trauma informed parenting (or at least attempts to parent this way) and ‘traditional’ parenting. There is no way we are the perfect parents- we get exasperated, frustrated, feel helpless and slip easily into ‘traditional’ parenting before checking ourselves but more and more we are learning to see things from a trauma informed view- like any parenting, this takes practise and as adopted parents we are always questioning the reasons behind behaviours.
Nana’s approach:

Largely shouting and threats. Shouting at them to stop behaviours, to stop demanding us for various things, to stop doing things we would also want them to stop (like hitting and stealing off each other). The more she shouted, the more they also shouted, the louder their cries and the bigger their grumps. The threats fell on deaf ears and when nanna took things off them they took it as a huge betrayal of trust. Many times, they looked totally shocked at her, bewildered at how she was speaking to them and it fair to say that both boys were a bit scared of her during the holiday.
On several occasions she contradicted things we had allowed the boys to do which also left them confused and upset.
I admit, that at times, I backed up my mother- as my husband and I always back each other up (even if we don’t agree we talk about it later). I was pulled into the traditional parenting role- it is what I grew up with- and afterwards I felt terrible about it and as the week went on I was less and less inclined to agree with her as I could see the harm it was doing to my children. It is very hard to stand up to your mother, especially as she has no one on her side being on her own without a partner and not something I wanted to do in front of the children- although this did start to change!
Traditional parenting, to me equals punishment, shouting, withdrawal of treats/ items, putting them down with comments like, ‘You should be old enough to go to sleep on your own now, you don’t need mummy and daddy with you’ and ‘You need to appreciate all that mummy and daddy so and stop being so selfish’, ‘You won’t be having pizza if you don’t stop complaining’. All of these things usually met with silence from us- in shock at how hash she was being with them and also uncomfortable to say anything there and then- I didn’t want her feeling uncomfortable (being the add on to the holiday if that makes sense) and my husband not wanting to correct my mother. We talked about it a few times and how badly having her with us was affecting the boys.
Every time we were on our own with them (she stayed behind one day and one evening we walked to the beach without her and one afternoon a walk to a castle) things seemed easier, happier, there was laughter and grumps and disagreements were less and they were more responsive to us. The air was just lighter- even when there was a major-needing-restraint-meltdown from biggun. We think the tiny thing that triggered it may well have been him letting out his frustration with his nanna.
Our approach:

(If only we looked this calm!)
So what were we doing differently? When fights and arguments start, usually my husband takes biggun away to talk to him and calm him (he is better than me with biggun and I am better with littlun). We try distraction, we talk about behaviour and consequence, we always make them apologise for nastiness and get them to understand what they are apologising for (a sorry on its own is worth nothing). Most of all, we often just let stuff go. Littun has a habit of saying ‘me hate you’. We usually respond with ‘I love you’. Nanna would tell them how nasty they were and tell them off for talking to us like that.  The gulf between the two styles of parenting is huge and has had a detrimental affect on our children. They were on edge all the time, they didn’t respond to her well and didn’t want to be with her. Their already heightened awareness was super heightened and they were like wound up jack-in-the-boxes waiting to go off. There are always cuddles after meltdowns or times we have to reprimand and we give items back or agree a safe place with them if we have to remove them during disagreements.
Regrets and advice on what to do should you find yourself in this situation:
1)    Don’t contemplate going on holiday with nanna!
2)    Talk to your parent beforehand about how you want situations handled.
3)    Step in as soon as possible with a chat about parenting methods
4)    Remind nanna that she is there to give treats and little things that mummy and daddy can’t see.
5)    Ask nanna to play with the boys not just reprimand them.
6)    DON’T be tempted to fall into traditional parenting as it is easy to back nanna up!
7)    Don’t contemplate going on holiday with nanna!


I certainly have resolved to check myself more for hints of ‘traditional’ parenting and to use more trauma informed methods- the days since we have been back have been so much calmer. To reverse any displays of ‘traditional’ parenting with a calmer and more emotion focussed response and to make sure that we inform nanna of how we wish to have them parented the next time we leave them with her for a few hours. I have felt so sad for my boys and how their view of nanna has been tainted and how they are left reeling from this. I will be monitoring them with her for a while before leaving them- reparations are needed. I feel guilty for not stopping it sooner and adamant it won’t happen like that again. More and more I feel only adopted parents ‘get it’ and a few gems of friends who are awesome and understand trauma informed parenting (they are rare!).

Thursday 2 August 2018

From the fringe.

Though I'd never overtly thought it I'd presumed that my life and those that journeyed with me would meander relatively unscathed and on the well worn paths of society's norms.

In part that's happened, as time as gone on I find us a little lost and in the fringes. The walk from the mainstream to the fringes was a surprisingly short journey. Education.

The debate on school exclusions  has ground on over the last few weeks and being a natural pragmatist I tend to see the reasonable middle ground in most debates. I'm really struggling with this, listening to arguments on both sides I realise that I'm in, we're in, the fringes.

I read well argued debates on child education and whole class welfare, on zero tolerance and parental responsibility and mutter under my breath to myself:

Walk a mile in my child's shoes, walk a mile in my shoes. 

Frankly dear teacher, I can no longer be bothered to explain at length the impact of early trauma and adversity, to lay out my child's world view and anxiety, simmering shame and fear.

I'd like you to do your job.*

Talking to a good friend and highly qualified teaching professional she shook her head as we discussed the challenge and she noted, when will many teachers consider what they can do to help, that perhaps the child is not the problem, the methods employed are?  They could listen perhaps to an army of parents who would be more than willing to have a reasonable conversation with them about what helps and what does not. Of course the vanilla SWer in me shouts there are good teachers, many good teachers and we've had lots of amazing teachers. I agree wholeheartedly but from the fringe it doesn't seem that way. A few rotten apples can ruin the barrel.

Education is a path we all must traverse with our children, for many of us it is a challenge of unequal proportions in our lives. For one of my children my primary educational aspiration is that they're still in mainstream education by the time she reaches her GCSE's.

*Sorry, the nice me is appalled at myself.