Cuckoo in the Nest?

What does it mean to belong? As a baby its first attachment or bond is to its birth parent or parents. The baby depends on this caregiver for life itself as well as a developing awareness of self. To belong to another defines us, helps us to grow and creates a secure base from which to live life.

Fast forward several months or years then to when an adopted child is placed with their new forever family. Now what does it mean to belong?

What does it mean to belong to a family that doesn’t look like you, sound like you or smell like you? How can we truly belong to a family with whom we don’t even have a shared history or experiences never mind DNA?

As an adoptive Mum I believe that the connection of belonging has to be worked at. As an adopter I have come to believe in re-creation, not creation. Blood does not tie my son to me or his Dad but the act of choosing him was our starting point instead and the bond or attachment grew from there.

We were lucky in love. Our darling son opened his heart in foster care where it was filled with love and positive affirmation and he was ready to continue with us; to love and receive love.

Being available was the first way that we established an attachment with him. Having a good amount of adoption leave and then my not continuing with work meant we were able to be devoted to his care. Making daily life into predictable routines meant he learnt to trust us and feel secure and taking the trouble to show deep concern every time he hurt himself showed him our protecting love.

Creating a new family identity was key to his sense of belonging too. Photos of him around the house, giving him our surname, placing him on the family tree and letting him choose new family traditions added to this.

We are three and a half years in now and it seems to be a good point to wonder about how much we feel that we belong to each other. For me, I feel like a limb is missing when he is not around! For him, we asked him whether we still feel like a new family, to which he replied in a bemused tone, “well you’re just Mum and Dad”. So I guess that says it all!

In three and a half years we have created our own albeit short history. Repetition in the way you celebrate special days or where you go on holiday or even what you have for breakfast at the weekends is really crucial. ‘We do it this way in our family’ is a key concept to belonging.’My Mum makes it this way’, ‘ we watch this together as a family’ or ‘Dad takes me swimming on Saturdays’ are the things that create your family’s unique identity.

When we meet people who don’t know that we are an adoptive family and they tell my son that he looks like his Dad it always makes me smile. And he does. He has the same mannerisms now, the same way of expressing things.

Yet in his darker moments or when he feels anxious doubt can creep in. Only this week he asked me, “Can you de-son me, Mummy?” In other words, ‘do we really belong together forever?’ It’s a state of belonging that is often taken for granted within a birth family, but the fragility of that attachment surfaces sometimes in a sad and frightening way.

I’m glad he was able to bring his question to me though. It gave me the opportunity to hopefully give him the reassurance he was seeking and the necessary reminder that our being a family, our belonging to one another is an on-going process that always needs to be worked at.

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All Change

Periods of change have the ability to make the most robust of us feel anxious. In life we tend to view life changes as a new job or moving to a new house or starting a new relationship. For our adopted children a simple change such as the switch from the school week to the weekend can seemingly provoke the same level of anxiety.

As we draw to the close of yet another academic year it’s got me thinking: How do we help our precious children navigate even larger changes like a change of teacher or even a change of school?

Anxiety is hard to soothe away. It is by definition caused by feelings of unease about an uncertain outcome. In therapeutic parenting we try to make life predictable and safe by the routines of family life but there is much in the world of education we can’t control for our children.

As  we approach preparing our son to say goodbye to his current class teacher and move up a year group, these are a few strategies that we are putting into place to help with the challenge of change.

Help him have a successful ending 

A good ending seems to help create a strong beginning. My son has just completed his first year in a brand new school and every day he has worked very hard to make it a success.He finds the last week of term very hard with the lack of structure and routine. Some of the more fun activities lead to him struggling to regulate emotions of excitement. This year we have decided to let him attend the Monday and the Friday of the last week to give him the very best opportunity for those days to go well, for him not to get over-tired and for it to be a positive finale. Of course these decisions don’t always go down well with school but for us it’s about doing what’s best for our son! He has already picked out a thank-you gift for his teacher and cards for the Teaching Assistants and we will make play-dates with some of his classmates for the holidays to ensure some continuity.

Help him build a strong relationship with the new teacher

For many of our children, feeling safe within school is key to reducing their stress and anxiety enabling them to concentrate and enjoy their day. For our son safety is found within positive relationships with the staff. Fortunately one of his Teaching Assistants will be moving up with him and we are grateful to the school for understanding his need of this. Meanwhile his new teacher is keen to forge a good relationship with him and has grasped the importance of this. In the final weeks of this term our son has been encouraged to go and see his new teacher at regular intervals so that they can get to know each other. This has been happening in a relaxed way at playtimes but also in a more structured way by being allowed to go and show work. I was also asked if our son could bring in objects from home that meant something to him so that they could be shared and chatted over.A toy Audi has already gone some way to bridging the gap as the new teacher drives an actual one!

Think younger!

I still think this is about the best advice I could give anyone when parenting an adopted child. In a school context I believe it means that we should put the same support systems in place for a child in any year group that a child starting Reception would get. For my son, that might mean going to see where the new toilets and cloakroom are now. It may mean having more exposure to the member of staff. And the new teacher has written out a weekly timetable of what happens when on each day in his regime. Having this at home and in advance will certainly help my son to overcome some anxieties. I have also asked the teacher that where there are changes to this timetable that he will let me know so we can better prepare our son.

Parent/teacher meeting

In addition to the pop-in meeting for all parents I also scheduled a one-to-one appointment last week. For me it was important for him to know a little about my son’s background, what the triggers are for stress and anxiety and what behaviours he was likely to encounter. On top of that I got to talk to him about attachment and trauma and some of the strategies that work well for my little man. I can also see that in reducing my anxiety about the move to a new year group it will help me transmit more positive vibes!

Have an on-going open conversation

The likelihood is that however well we or the school prepare our son for a successful transition, there are still going to be concerns and wobbles along the way. Creating an open dialogue for your child to come to you with their fears is so key to them feeling listened to and receiving empathy. Sometimes we may need to put words to their feelings:’I can tell you are worried about going back into the playground again with the other children. Am I right?’

Wherever your little ones are in the school system, I wish you well as you end one year and prepare to begin another. Please do share your tips, advice and experiences too and let’s get as much good practice and awareness growing in our schools too!

 

 

Be My Parent

Becoming a family through adoption is a markedly different way of having children. For starters we get to choose our kids and that in itself gives rise to interest, concern and sometimes criticism from those outside the world of adoption.

Once an adopter or adopters are approved they then enter the next step: Family Finding. My interactions with other adopters show that even though the stage leading up to approval can be difficult, the family finding or matching stage is all the more tense and emotive.

During preparation, adopters are required to fill in the often dreaded ‘matching considerations‘ form with their social worker. In essence this is a list of conditions that a child may have and as a future parent you get to say whether you would be able parent such a child. It’s a long list.

Downs Syndrome-a child with Hepatitis C – a child with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome – someone with hearing loss- a child who has tested positive for HIV…………

You feel that you are saying ‘no’ to a child every time you tick ‘no’ on the form. And for the most part other parents don’t get such a say when they have biological children.

We are of course encouraged to see that any child with specific needs requires a robust parent, up for the task and ready to embrace whatever challenges lie ahead. And so if we feel we would not be able to cope with certain medical conditions, best to say so now. And if parenting a child with extreme emotional or behavioural difficulties feels outside of what we could cope with don’t go down that route.

During Family Finding there are now lots of routes available to match the right child with the right family. Again due to some media coverage the public at large is forgiven for sometimes being shocked at these! Profiles of children on stands, on-line photos of children waiting for their family, Activity Days where children in foster care can be seen at play. Yet I prefer to see these as fantastic tools, that when used well can bring children to their forever family.

Our own story is that we first saw our son’s smiling face on an on-line magazine called ‘Be My Parent’. The paragraph posted next to it was enough to ask for more information on him and then go on to be considered to be his Mum and Dad…and the rest, so they say, is history. We are very open with our son about how we came to choose him. We tell him that he has a beautiful smile and that his kind heart shone right through that smile the day we first saw it. We tell him we chose him because he had a cheeky glint in his eye and that he was described as funny and clever.

A word of encouragement and caution to those in the Family Finding stage – it can be tough. There are as I write many more approved adopters than there are children waiting to be adopted. Many times a child’s social worker will be considering multiple families at once and many parents -to- be are disappointed over and over again as they get told ‘someone else was more suitable.’ So be patient, if you can, be kind to yourself and each other in this period and keep busy whilst you wait.

I would love to hear your individual stories of Family Finding. Did you leave it up to your Social Worker or were you more personally proactive? Which tools did you use to find your little one? Were you in a competitive matching situation that either ended badly or well for you?

Let’s share our stories and encourage those who are waiting! Over to you…

 

Lighten Up

There’s a weightiness to being an adoptive family. I don’t know if you can identify with that.

Firstly there’s the weight of our child’s past. Most children removed from their birth family come from a background of neglect and/or trauma.Their past experiences have left a mark and this can weigh heavy on them and on us as parents.

Then there is our own journey to parenthood, which for many adoptive families hasn’t been an easy road. There may have been failed attempts at having birth children, the adoption process may have felt stressful and emotional and parenting a hurt child brings its own burdens and challenges.

Sometimes being an adoptive family, especially in the early days, can feel stressful and pressurised. As if living in a goldfish bowl. You have so many professionals looking in on your family life, how can you possibly relax? If it’s not feeling checked up on by social workers there seems to be a myriad other meetings with professionals to juggle: the LAC nurse, the paediatrician, the Educational Psychologist, the Reviewing Officer for the LAC review…I could go on. All these people are of course here to help and support but the constant accountability can cause a strain.

So there are many moments when I have to remind myself just to lighten up! To relax and enjoy the family we so longed for! To actively cut ourselves some slack and create moments of fun and relaxation.

Not as easy as it sounds? Here are some things that work for us…

Introduce more horseplay!

Quite frankly sometimes I feel like the Grinch. And not just at Christmas time. All year round. You see my son struggles to regulate his emotions and him getting over-excited is what I strive to avoid before school, before bed, before a visitor arrives, before going to grandparents, before using public transport…you get the picture. Basically I’m a walking kill-joy!  And I need to lighten up! Tickling, pillow fights, being daft on the trampoline, wheelbarrow races…he’s a little boy and he needs these things too.

Introduce more music

Music in the car can really derail an argument. Music played in the bathroom can bring him running for his bath avoiding a fight to get him upstairs.Music before bedtime can soothe. Songs with actions are great for eye-contact in a non-threatening way or just for being plain silly. Making a play list as a family for a particular trip creates special memories And having a dance off in the kitchen has to be done. Music has the incredible power to change our mood; ours and theirs.

Introduce other people

There’s an intensity to our little family unit of three. We love our son with every fibre of our being and his pain is our pain. We are lucky that with working arrangements, we get to spend a lot of time with each other. But sometimes it’s just SO good to see other people. Someone else to read the bedtime story. Someone else’s house to play at.Someone else for him to sit next to at the dinner table. It’s good for him and it’s good for us. At the moment I am shamelessly borrowing other people’s children for after-school play-dates! Whilst this can bring its own challenges for my little introvert, it normalises his childhood and gives him a break from Mummy.

Introduce another environment

Just getting out of the house helps, doesn’t it? We all know that trick. Just getting into the car for a drive helps our son with his emotions and lightens us all up. Just going out for some plain old-fashioned fun is the tonic we often need. It doesn’t have to be a night away or a day at a busy theme park, just a picnic and play in the river does it for us. Sometimes I just invent something we need from the Co-Op just to have a quick trip out on the scooter! There’s no doubt about it, shifting the environment can be a real tension easer.

Some of us are more naturally good at  lightening up than others. I’m the bookish, serious sort and at times I have to make an active decision to look for fun. What about you? I’m off to find my inner-silly…..

The Letters Not Sent

When we first became a family no letterbox contact with birth family was established.It wasn’t in the plan for our son and quite frankly I was relieved. It was one less thing to worry about and we could just get on with being a family.

Three years in and you may be surprised to read that I feel completely the opposite.

Most importantly, I feel my son would benefit. He misses his birth parents and continues to express love for them. He worries about them and I have no real reassurances for him. Even at his young age his desire to meet them as a young adult is really evident and I believe that the pathway to this meeting could be smoothed by an exchange of letters over the years.

Surprisingly I feel that an annual exchange of letters would give us a stronger sense of a right to parent our son too. There could be a recognition on both sides that we are his Mum and Dad now. We are the ones raising him, taking care of his daily needs, encouraging him in his education and loving him every day. As the years roll on, we are the ones who know his favourite football team, which RnB song he endlessly plays and who his best friend is. In sharing some of this information, we are the ones who are his family now. We hold him and everything about him, including his future.

This week I met with a group of women who live apart from their children. In each case, their child or children had been adopted. In each case they were in letterbox contact with the adoptive parents. I was moved to tears to hear that this one letter a year from the adoptive parents was a complete lifeline. That in the exchange of letters their hope was that their child would continue to know them until they could meet again in the future. That if the letter arrived late they feared the very worst:that their child may have been killed in a car accident.

I hope I am not so naive though to not see that letterbox contact can create anxieties and be a thorny topic. Some adopters have told me that they worry that in writing they may inadvertently reveal something about their identity or where they live, especially if birth parents are geographically close. Others simply find it hard to know what to write. I know some parents who send their letter but never receive anything back from birth family and find the one-sidedness frustrating.( On that the birth mothers I met this week expressed how grief and not being in a good place can be a real block to sending letters but it didn’t mean that they didn’t love receiving a letter.)

And most difficult of all is the fact that I haven’t resolved my feelings about my son’s birth parents. Sometimes I feel compassion for the life they have lived. Other times I feel jealous for the early years I missed with him that they had. And anger about what they have put him through? To be honest I don’t think I’ve opened the floodgates to that emotion yet. How could I write to these people?

And yet I want to.

This week, I have asked our son’s Local Authority to try and re-establish contact and propose letterbox contact with birth parents. Maybe nothing will come of it but I want to tell my son in the future that I tried. I’ll keep you posted…

Are you in letterbox contact with your child’s birth family? Do you receive letters back? Do you feel this is a positive or pointless exchange? As always I would love to hear your comments and experiences.

 

 

Fake Mummy

I listened with interest to a Radio 4 programme this week highlighting ‘imposter syndrome’ experienced by certain artists and it got me thinking…

You see I remember the time well when, after adopting our beautiful son, I would worry that the ‘Fraud Police’ would out me as a ‘Fake Mummy’. I wonder if you have ever felt the same…

The self-doubt came at various moments. Early days I remember our son sobbing on my lap for ‘Mummy Sarah’ ( his foster carer) and I knew in that moment that I wasn’t the mother he wanted or needed.

Several months into placement we ended up in A&E with a suspected broken finger and as the triage nurse barked a string of questions at me about our son, I felt the panic rising. Date of birth? Full name? When was his last tetanus injection? Is he allergic to anything? Surely I was going to falter and reveal myself to be a Fake Mummy.

Skipping back to Introductions you understandably  feel exhilarated at meeting your new child but bewildered by the challenge of parenthood. Sarah was this amazing Mum who had fostered tens of kids and I of course was a complete novice! I remember one evening her asking me to do bath-time for my son and I panicked: How deep should the water be for a five-year old? How hot should the water be? Do I wash him or does he wash himself?

I’ve never had a birth child but I listen with interest to other mothers who share their stories and wear their stripes with pride. The difficult pregnancy, the textbook labour, the emergency C-section, the breastfeeding stories….Of course I have none of these to share. I am in that sense an imposter. And because we adopted an older child I’ve even missed out on which pushchair travel system to buy, endless sleepless nights and potty training!

But before I go too far down this line of thought, I have a hunch that any good parent feels like an imposter at times. That perhaps a bit of self-doubt is a healthy response to doing the most important job in the world. The BBC report said: We hear our own constant monologue of self-doubt, but never anyone else’s – making it all too easy to assume that nobody else has one. But I think they do. My feeling like a Fake Mummy may have been to do with the way we became a family in the early days but it has certainly more to do with my feelings of ineptitude now and also the real fear of ‘What if I am making things worse for him?’

Bit I too have earned my own stripes in time. There is nothing more grounding than mopping up sick, helping with homework or picking up Lego. I’m the one there for him now when he wakes from a nightmare, bumps his head or cries from the disappointment of not being the lead in the school play.

I remember when my son switched from calling me ‘Mummy’ to ‘Mum’ as do most children in time. Part of me felt sad – he was leaving a younger self of him behind. But then I realised that his birth mother had been ‘Mummy’ and Sarah had been ‘Mummy’ and this was the first time he had called anyone ‘Mum’. It felt good. It felt that we had cemented a different, more comfortable, more real relationship. I felt like his real Mum.

Back in the Summer my young niece, who I don’t see all that regularly, was trying to get her head around our being an adoptive family. She said to me, “So are you his real Mum?” “Pinch my arm, ” I challenged. She did and thought for a moment before replying” Oh yes, you’re real….”

 

Have you ever experienced ‘imposter syndrome’ as a parent? Do you ever feel not up to the task? How do others view you as an adoptive parent? As always I love hearing from you and hope this has been a helpful read.

 

 

The Law of The Jungle

I have been asked to help out at an Adopters’ Support Group tomorrow focusing on how to manage challenging behaviours in our children and it got me thinking…

Who decides how we should behave? Who makes up the rules? Who gets to say what is acceptable behaviour or not? Who created the law of The Jungle?

Social niceties

Of course there are the polite ways to behave that all parents feel they have to teach their children. ‘Don’t pick your nose’, ‘Try and use your knife and fork please’, ‘Don’t forget to thank Granny for the ice cream..’ and so on.

Healthy relationships

Then there are the behaviours that help us get along with and interact with others in order to have well-functioning relationships. These can be learnt early on in the giving and receiving of a smile and through physical touch. Little ones learn to take turns, to share and to compromise in order to play ; they pick up on the social cues that are given to establish friendships.

Learning and developing

And in order to learn in a structured environment like a school setting there are a myriad behaviours that are expected. ‘Kind hands and kind feet’ ‘Put your hand up if you want to answer a question’ ‘Walk slowly’ ‘Wait in line for PE’ are just the tip of the iceberg. For a child to flourish at school there usually has to be a great deal of conformity to a set of codes and practices that cover everything from moving through a corridor to eating lunch to sitting on the carpet at story-time.

But what about our adopted children that may be disadvantaged in each of these three areas?

The child whose fine motor skills are delayed and who is struggling to use a knife and fork way after her peers have mastered it.

The boy who is so controlling in his interactions with others  that classmates don’t want to be his friend.

The little one who is so hyper vigilant in class that they struggle to listen to and follow instructions.

I could go on. And on.

It feels tough at times being the parent of a little boy who can’t always behave as others do through no fault of his own. Knowing that his behaviour makes it hard for him to get along with others breaks my heart at times. Worrying about how he’ll access the wonderful world of learning at school is the backbone to my life.

So how do we help our children manage some of their behaviours?

I know love is a great healer but it isn’t enough. My parenting of him needs to be purposeful, mindful and therapeutic at all times. My husband and I need to put hours and hours in to provide him with routine and a structured framework for life. We need to model calm and measured responses to things and enable him to learn to do the same. We practice scenarios and conversations with him so he can learn how to interact with friends. I work incredibly closely with school to help them understand him and his needs and to carve out strategies to help him navigate his school day.

And in all this we are grateful that the brain is plastic and not hard-wired. That as much as we are working hard, we can see that he is working harder still. That small achievements for others are huge successes for him.

That there is hope.

This post is just a starting point for thought and debate. I will definitely pick up some of the themes and write in more detail about them. In the meantime, well done for getting to the end and it would be wonderful to hear from you.

A fellow adopter added her own thoughts: When you think about it the amount of cultural dancing we do to follow societal culture and customs is mind boggling. There is so much to remember. For traumatised and damaged brains who are at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs just achieving the basics can be as much as can be expected. Learning environments sadly often aren’t geared up for children whose skills are not keeping up with those of their peers. The jungle is way too big and confusing and ever changing and loud and over-stimulating. Maybe the jungle needs to change a bit?

Life Story Work

“If your child remembers being told they were adopted, they were probably told too late”, was a piece of advice I remember being shared in a support group once.

I don’t know if you subscribe to that point of view or not but it certainly got people thinking and talking!

Our own family experience of sharing our son’s Life Story with him is that it has never been a one-off, sit down and discuss, formal event. Instead the fact that we are his third family and that he understands what it means to be adopted is a narrative that is naturally woven into regular and frequent conversation.

Because he became our son at age 5 he has had a good grasp of the fact that his birth parents were unable to parent him and that he was chosen to be our son after a period in foster care. However emotive all this is for us, he is for the most part factual and accepting in our chats. He asks questions, we answer them.

I do however know that with younger children it can be difficult to get started on talking about their life story and parents can worry that bringing up the past will unsettle or confuse them. If this is the case I hope some of these tools and ideas may be of help to you…

Life Story Book

Our son’s social worker created a wonderful Life Story Book and we will forever be grateful for this. The story starts and ends with us as a family but in the middle, it goes into why his birth parents were unable to care for a child in an age-appropriate way. This book is not hidden away in our home but is in our lounge so that it is accessible for him whenever he wants to grab it. Sometimes we sit and look at it with him, other times he has taken into school to share with his class and teacher.

Treasure Box

This was started by Sarah and Tony the foster carers and contains cards, tickets, momentos of days out and small toys. Some from birth parents and some from his time in foster care. Each object has its own story attached to it that our son can look at and chat about. And we too have started our own treasure box of memories for him for the narrative to continue.

Taking the opportunities

As well as being available to answer our son’s questions we also try to actively open conversation to talk about his story. If you are struggling to have start chats with your child, here are a few golden opportunities not to miss: if you see a pregnant lady-“you didn’t come out of my tummy did you?” When you watch a film (they are nearly all about adoption on one level or another!) “Paddington needed a new family too didn’t he?” When he asks if he’s going to be tall or not “I expect you will be about average height like your birth parents are.”

Later-life letter

All recently adopted children should also have a later-life letter from social services. Ideally this should be written to be read at a later stage, say around puberty and may include a more detailed, more adult explanation of why the plan for them was adoption.  Every adopted child has the right to access and read his or her file at the age of 18 and if handled correctly the later-life letter should contain all pertinent information so that no surprises are found at this point.

And finally a few health warnings!

Know the details of your child’s CPR. I think it’s a great comfort to our adopted children that we know all about them. If they want to ask again about half-siblings, make sure you remember their names and ages!

Your child’s story is their story. Generally people are fascinated by adoption and if people are honest they would love to know why your child came to be adopted. What you tell and to whom is up to you but remember it is your child’s story.

Your child may also need some wisdom on what to share and when. My son recently changed schools and I had to remind him that it was his choice whether to share that he was adopted and that what becomes known cannot be unknown.

Be sensitive about reducing shame for our children. Their birth parents choices were not theirs. What happened to our son was not his fault and he was not responsible. Be careful in the words and language used and help them move towards a place of valuing themselves.

And finally…relax! Sometimes we get all tied up in knots wanting to speak to our children. No sooner is the sentence out of our mouth and they nod and ask “Can I build my LEGO police car now?”

Good luck. I love to hear from you and it’s great that we can support each other in the challenging but joyful world of adoption…

The Invisible Backpack

I have been thinking this week about the topics of loss and identity for our adopted children. We are the sum of all our experiences both good and bad. Our likes and dislikes, routines, significant relationships and geography shape who we are.

Children who have had multiple moves in their life from birth family to foster care placements and on to their forever family may have had to cope with significant upheaval as well as loss and grief.

I don’t know how many times you moved house before the age of 18 and whether that was positive or not. You may have experienced having to change nursery or school and make new friends on more than one occasion. But for the older adopted child this is a given. As is the fact that they will have had to get used to many different beds and bedrooms. So too the new family rules and routines that they will have had to adjust to. Sights, sounds and smells will have varied in each home that they lived in. And most importantly their primary care giver will have been different each time.

I was very aware when we adopted our son at the age of 5 that he was already a person with a history, that his identity had been formed with different genetics to my own and experiences that I had not lived through with him.

We found it helpful to imagine his identity and life experiences contained in an invisible backpack that he carried around with him. To accept him was to accept what was in his backpack. To value him was to attempt to share with him what he had been through. Yes there were things we wished weren’t in there like the domestic violence he was witness to – we were able to move him to a new family in which we are gentle with each other. But other things we were able to cherish: “you get your lovely golden eyes from your birth parents”, “you are really into cars because Tony, your foster carer played cars with you so much” or ” when we go to London you can show us all your favourite places.”

Many children with unmet attachment needs with a difficult start in life can suffer from low self esteem and shame. We needed our son to know that the bad things that had happened were not his fault and that we accepted him completely ….including his past. And for him to move forward in his life we have kept alive the good experiences he had that didn’t include us by chatting over photos, looking through his treasure box and holding dear his important toys and possessions.

Of course the joy of adopting is that we get to add to the backpack: the first Christmas, the annual Summer holiday, buying new school shoes, the Easter Egg hunt in the garden, copying ‘Dad jokes’, doing wheelbarrow races in the lounge…

As always I’d love to hear from you. What things in your child’s backpack do you find hard to embrace? What have you done as a family to help your child understand who they are? What new things have you enjoyed putting in your child’s backpack?

The Adoption Square

Traditionally there has always been a triad involved in adoption to include the adoptee, the birth parents and adoptive parents, hence the term ‘adoption triangle‘. However, as children are often in foster care a good number of months or even years at a key developmental stage, I prefer the term ‘adoption square‘ to include foster carers.

I am a passionate advocate for maintaining a strong relationship with foster carers post adoption although I realize it can be a thorny topic as well as an emotional one.

When we were at the Family Finding stage we learned early on that our son’s foster carers wanted to travel to meet us in our home.Strangely we felt we needed to impress them even more than our son’s social worker, family finding social worker or the team leader! I even ordered a platter of sandwiches and little fancies from M&S! I really did feel that in order for the Link to progress we needed them to like us! Our son had lived with them for over two years by now and they even went to visit the school we had chosen for him.

Jumping forward to the day of Matching Panel, it was arranged that we would plan Introductions later the same day. I will never forget how Sarah (FC) wept silently throughout the meeting struggling to come to terms with handing our son over whilst we were overjoyed at getting a ‘yes’ at Panel and were ready to pop the champagne. This juxtaposition of feelings reminds me of the complex emotions involved in moving a child from foster care to adoptive family. I’ll never forget the awkward hug I gave her – we were jubilant and she was starting the grieving process.

Sarah and her husband Tony were fabulous during Introductions: they welcomed us into their home, they were patient and kind and they bravely took steps back to allow us to step in and claim our son. I was ever mindful though that we were moving ever closer to the day when we would take him away and their pain, whilst they tried to hide it, was palpable.

What was tough for me was when, in the early days, my son wept for Sarah. “I want Mummy Sarah”, he would cry as I held him on my lap trying to comfort him. He was grieving for the second time and there was little I could do to take away his pain.

Meeting up for the first time is always difficult for all concerned. You worry about everyone’s feelings. Most of all you worry that your new child will reject you and want to go toddling off again with foster carers. We met up only 3 weeks in – our son needed to see Sarah and Tony so much. The meeting was brief and kept simple and we tried to limit the ‘fallout’ the next day by sticking to routines and reassuring him.

Although we live over 200 miles apart I am proud to say that Sarah and Tony are not just great friends but that they feel part of our extended family. The bond that my son has with them is special and I believe life-long. They have fostered many children since my son and this has helped him understand the process he went through and have a greater understanding of his Life Story. We see each other regularly and we email and chat a lot! We send photos far more than is necessary!

My son has had 3 mothers and Sarah was one of them. I’m lucky that I get to be the third and last. He’s lucky that Sarah loves him still.

 

I would love to hear of your experiences whether from the angle of foster carer, adoptee or adoptive parent. What challenges did you face? Do you agree with the term ‘Adoption Square?’