My 11 truths about adoption

It’s almost five years since we adopted our two children: Wonder Boy and Super Girl. They burst into our lives, turning our comfortable “DINKY” existence inside out and upside down. It’s been five years of roller-coaster highs and lows as our little family has evolved and developed.  It’s National Adoption Week from 17 – 23 October, this year’s theme is #supportadoption, I thought I would share some of my truths about being a mum to my adopted children, and what I think I might have learned along the way.

1. I am just an ordinary mum

I am just that, an ordinary mum to two little kids who have had a not so ordinary up-bringing.

My job is to give Wonder Boy and Super Girl, an everyday childhood. A childhood that most kids take for granted. Going to school, going to the park, getting fed, getting new clothes, reading stories at bedtime, play dates, new shoes, getting books, toys, games, getting birthday presents, going to birthday parties, going on holiday, getting treats, going to the cinema, having pocket-money, making sure the Tooth Fairy and Santa comes to visit.

2. I cannot magic my adopted children’s problems away

Adopted children have suffered trauma and neglect. That can really shape a young life, and the effect can be life-long. The truth is, adoption isn’t the magic pixie dust that takes my kids’ problems away. Adoption cannot erase the past.  We have to accept where our kids have come from, help them with their emotional baggage, help them deal with the effect of their trauma and neglect. Everyday.

3. Adopted children love routine

Before we adopted children, we lived a DINKY life, full of spontaneity. Those days are gone. No more getting up and deciding what to do on a whim. Let’s go out for brunch. Let’s catch a film at the Southbank. Let’s take a wander to Borough Market.  Nope, not anymore.

A day that is greeted without a plan makes our kids’ anxiety levels rocket and we know where that takes us. Our life is now all about routine and no surprises please. Meals: breakfast, lunch, supper are always at the same time (even on holidays). Weekends are structured, as are school holidays, and holidays within the school holidays, bedtimes are sacrosanct, we don’t mess about with that. We always have a plan and then a back up plan.

4. Be prepared, and expect the unexpected

Our first holiday with our adopted children was with friends and their kids to Dorset (it was our holiday test run).  Before we went I showed our children the holiday house on the internet, they saw their bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen, the garden, we looked at things to do nearby. Remember no surprises. All the kids got on really well. The whole set up worked. Brilliant, holidays are going to be a doddle (so we thought).

Our next holiday was to see Granny in Northern Ireland. It was their first time on a plane. We planned. King of the Mountains took Wonder Boy and Super Girl to watch planes take off and land at London City Airport, so they could be sure our plane would not fall out of the sky.

But this holiday, wow! Their anxiety levels careered out of control.

Screams, tantrums, non-stop anxiety morning, noon and night. We couldn’t understand it. We had prepared so well. Why was this holiday tanking?

But, unlike Dorset, we couldn’t just pack up and drive home. We had crossed the Irish sea. Our kids felt stuck. What if we can’t go home? What if our house has disappeared? We miss our home. Now we always expect the unexpected!

5. A support network is vital

All mummies need their mummy friends. I had friends, friends with kids, and friends without kids. But I didn’t have my bunch of friends, living nearby, with kids. I had to go and find them.

It took about two years, but slowly I grew my mummy network. I followed up contacts made at our adoption preparation groups, went to Adoption UK coffee mornings, joined our school’s PTA. Now, I’ve got a really close bunch of mummy friends. It’s my mummy friends who step in when I’ve needed emergency school pick ups or drop offs, will sink a glass of wine with me after a god awful day, and my mummies’ running posse who help me run my problems away.

Then we moved to Paris. I had to start all over again.

6. Social media isn’t so scary

Since tweeting and blogging about adoption, I’ve found new friends and started to build a support network out in the twitter and blogosphere. If I’m having a day that is descending into dysregulation just ping out a tweet, and virtual hugs and sent back. Blogging is giving me a chance to advocate and champion adoption. I’ve shared experiences of my kids struggle at school, put out to the world the Adoptables new schools’ adoption toolkit.

7. Arriving in alien environments

Adoption has taken me into an alien environment: The school playground. Suddenly, I’m a new mum, to two older kids, swapping my daily crushed commute to London for the school run.

Pitching up at school, new mum with the newly adopted child in tow. I’ll never forget how that made me feel.

WTF! Give me a presentation to deliver to an audience of 200, give me a major event to deliver to a bunch of CEOs I can smash that. Walk into a school playground, as a new mum, not knowing a soul. I have never been so terrified. In my life.

8. My child-rearing guru is an older man

Not Super Nanny. Not Gina Ford. Not Tiger Mother. Just an older man, with grey hair and bit of a comb over, but he is awesome, he’s amazing, he’s my child-rearing guru.

His name is Daniel Hughes. World renowned in adoption circles. He’s a clinical psychologist specialising in the treatment of children who have experienced abuse and neglect. His mantra is PACE. Playfulness. Acceptance. Curiosity. Empathy. It’s the core to parenting a child who has suffered, trauma, abuse and or neglect.

And P.A.C.E works but it’s hard to remember when you are caught in the mire of a child’s despair. I don’t always get it right (many times I get it hopelessly wrong). But I do try to remember to put in place P.A.C.E.

9. It’s OK for me to ask for help

I don’t like to ask for help. I want to solve problems for myself. I like to be self sufficient. But that isn’t always good.

In the early days I felt out of my depth, two small adopted children getting used to a new mummy. A new mummy trying to learn to how to be a mummy. Lots of behaviour issues caused by anxiety, regression, dysregulation, cortisol overload.  Oh and then the sheer and utter exhaustion of being a new mum.

There were days when I felt like I was drowning. I had to reach out. To my social worker. To my doctor. To the school. I had to get professional help and support. I had to unlearn past behaviour and learn that it is OK for me to ask for help.

10. And asking for help didn’t mean I was a failure

And that was the great thing. When I asked, people responded. I managed to get CAMHS (children and adolescents mental health services) to help with our children’s attachment, occupational therapy which helped me understand how my kids’ constant anxiety played out in their behaviour. TACT, my adoption agency provided play therapy to put back years of lost nurturing, Place2Be gave a safe space in school for my children to express their inner most thoughts and feelings through art. It’s OK to say I am not coping and I need help.

11. Being a mum isn’t about being perfect

Good enough is good enough. I remember my social worker telling me that. We don’t expect you to be perfect. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re only human. Our child psychologist told us the same, good enough is good enough. The message was loud and clear. Children develop better if they realise their parents are human, and make mistakes too.

So it’s OK if I don’t get up at 6am and bang out a tray of muffins. It’s OK if I’m not the best artsy craftsy mum.  Its OK if my cup cakes look like splurge cakes. What’s important is that I am here.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

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Tooting Mama

83 Comments

  1. What a great post! I know next to nothing about adoption so I found this really, really interesting. It was like opening up a whole new world. I’d love to hear more about adoption and will definitely be exploring your blog more 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing this on #MarvMondays. Emily

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I love it that you found my post so interesting. I don’t expect everyone to know the ins and outs of adoption – it’s another aspect of parenthood, and I’m happy to share my experience. Drop by soon!

  2. So interesting to read such honesty in your post. I have a friend who’s adopted a child and it’s hard to know sometimes how her experiences may be different. Thanks for sharing, it’s a great insight into adopting #kcacols

    • Thank you. It’s different from having your own kids, but then at the same time the same, we’re all mums raising kids, just ours need that much support, love and attention, I have great days and not so great days. Like any parent really. I hope it going well for your friend, the one thing all us adopters need are good friends nearby!

  3. You sound like an amazing mum doing wonderful things. I can’t imagine the emotional rollercoaster you are on, but I bet it’s worth it. I admire you.
    I hadn’t heard of PACE before, but will look into it. Sounds interesting!
    #fortheloveofBLOG

    • Oh I love Daniel Hughes and PACE. When I get it right, it really works, sometimes it’s hard to keep that in the front of my mind, and shouty mum appears!

  4. Wow, what an insightful, honest, and amazing post. I don’t have any experience of adopting, and had only read stories of people who had, in magazines. It must be a totally selfless, incredibly difficult, but rewarding task, to suddenly become a mum like that-as you’ve outlined so succinctly here. And you are so right about ‘good enough is good enough,’ which is true of all types of parenting, but especially for you, where the dynamics are so different, and you’re dealing with difficult backgrounds. Thank you for such an important and informative post. Xx
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  5. will sink a glass of wine with me…best phrase ever. I am in awe of your strength and you sound like the most amazing and dedicated mother. I think this list is helpful to any parent and especially parents that have adopted. I cant imagine how terrifying it was to adopt two older children…its taken me 5 years to get the hang of mine. My partner and I are just looking into fostering which I know is different but your words and confidence and love gives me lots of reassurance. Thank you for linking up to #KCACOLS I hope we see you next Sunday x

    • Thank you! Wow foster caring, that will be a journey. Our kids’ wouldn’t be where they are today if it wasn’t for our dedicated foster carer. She was super amazing! All the best with that, let me know what you decide to do.

  6. This is a really honest and beautiful post. It’s sharing something people don’t always ask too. Wonderful.

    #BigPinkLink

  7. A really honest post and really interesting. My aunt and uncle adopted their daughters and I know what you mean about being prepared, when they were younger and we had family occasions they were always very anxious and often threw a tantrum because they wanted to go home. It was very hard for them I think! Thanks for sharing your experiences!
    #KCACOLS #SharingtheBlogLove #fortheloveofBLOG #bigpinklink

    • I remember those days all too well. There’d be weekends when we’d want to go out and do something fun and interesting in our eyes, and when we asked the kids what they wanted to do, it’d be stay at home and play. That’s what they were comfortable with. Going out and doing something different was just a little too challenging!

  8. This is a lovely read. I know nothing about adoption but I do know much of what you say relates to motherhood in general. I’m glad social media has helped you find an unexpected support network. Everyone needs that.
    #BigPinkLink

    • Than you so much, yes social media and blogging has opened up a whole new support network which is brilliant.

    • Thank you. Asking for help has been the big lesson for me, and the getting good enough is good enough!

  9. I’m really enjoying reading your blog. I’ve known a few people who have also adopted and it was a very bumpy road so it’s good to see that you don’t gloss over the challenges. I loved what you said about just being a Mum like every other Mum. So true and you sound like an amazing one. I’m going to share this post on my FB page if that’s ok because I think it will really help people who are thinking of or who have adopted. Thanks for sharing on #fortheloveofBLOG 
    A Mum Track Mind recently posted…Review JoJo Maman Bébé Autumn OffersMy Profile

    • Thank you!!!!

      I am so delighted that you want to share this post! I think it is best to be honest, open and transparent about adoption. I believe if you are thinking about adopting, you need to know, yes it’s great, you’re doing a wonderful thing, but it is tough and rough too. But but wow the joys are great. Thanks again!

  10. Such an interesting and lovely post! Coming from a rough childhood myself with my brother in and out of care & foster homes so I completely understand the anxiety side as we both still suffer and struggle with so many things because of our childhood. You are doing an amazing job giving 2 children a loving home & family and doing your best to help them through their problems, I’m sure they will both grow up thanking you for being the mum and dad they needed and giving them all the the support & love they deserve. Adoption is a wonderful thing and I have so much respect for adoptive parents like you! Keep being amazing xx #KCACOLS

    • Thank you so much! It means a lot to hear that from someone who has had first hand experience of the social care system. Adoption is a wonderful way to parent a child, regardless of our children’s issues, we are doing our best and so are the kids!

  11. That’s a very interesting post. I imagine it isn’t easy to navigate parenting children who have had a rough start in life. But at the same time it must be rewarding when you get it right. #KCACOLS

  12. Really enjoyed reading this. I have no experience of adoption but can imagine it is a huge adjustment for parents and children. Sounds like you’re doing a wonderful job of giving your children an ‘ordinary’ life. x #TheList

    • Ooh thank you! There’s no other way, other than to be open, honest and real about adoption.

      Like any other parent I have good days, not so good days, god awful days when the only remedy is a big glass of Cote du Rhone, and some truly amazing days! Tell you what though, I love it!

  13. Thank you for sharing this. I know nothing about adoption – I can’t imagine what an adjustment it must be like for all of you, especially having to be so regulated and planned. Such an amazing gift though to give these children a second chance, it sounds like you’re doing a great job. Also, I quite like the PACE idea, am going to go off and do some reading on it! xx #kcacols
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    • Thank you. I am just another ordinary mum, my kids are just a little less ordinary, but all they want is normality, a sense that they belong somewhere. I hope that we are managing that for them.

      Oh and PACE is brilliant, Daniel Hughes is a amazing how he is able to help kids who have suffered terrible trauma. A really genuine, authentic guy.

  14. wow what a great read about something I literally know nothing about. I cant imagine how daunting the school playground must have been at first. it seems like you have things well organised though and routine is key here too – our son isn’t adopted but he thrives on routine 🙂 thanks for sharing as I genuinely found this read really interesting 🙂 #KCACOLS
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    • Thank you. I can’t tell you how petrified I was in the school playground, I really felt I didn’t belong. I think there are many kids that thrive on routine, ours just has to be a little more regimented!

  15. This is really insightful, thank you. We can’t have children naturally and adoption is something that we might consider in the future. A friend’s brother is adopted and a girl at work adopted her oldest so I have a couple of people I can talk to. The thought of taking on older children who have been through hell and will always suffer as a result is something that I know would be difficult, but we could do it.

    I’m just a bit worried about the process. Did you find it stressful?

    • I have a post as to why we adopted older children (and older kids in our case meant 3 & 5 – not that old!). What I loved about adopting older children was that we had instant communication – we had little people living with us and that was fantastic. And they slept all through the night 12 hours straight! (I a mum who really needs her sleep). If you are considering adoption, read around other adoption bloggers / tweeters. Yes it’s tough, but so is parenting. Good luck with what ever you choose, and keep in touch! Always happy to help!

  16. Great read, I have a friend beginning the adoption process I think she will enjoy this. I will have to show her. #kcacols

    • Oh do pass it on! I hope she enjoys and gets something out of it. It’s so worth reading other adopters blogs to see what life is like when the children finally arrive.

  17. I found this really interesting to read, you know that people adopt but don’t really think about what it entails.My teen son has 3 close friends who were all adopted by different families, all have their own set of problems but have grown up safe, loved and are turning out to be lovely young men x #kcacols

    • However much we think we have prepared for the arrival of and living with our kids, the reality is still a shock! It’s brilliant that your friends kids have turned out to be lovely men, that’s testament to the amazing parenting they have had.

    • You’re absolutely right, birth children, adopted children it’s all hard work – but brilliant!

    • Awwww thank you! I hope people who are considering adopting, or have adopted find it useful. It’s hard work, but then so is all parenting!

  18. This is such a great post – so down to earth, honest and really informative. I’m sure it will be really helpful to anyone who has adopted, or is considering it. You’re clearly so in tune with what your children need, and what you need as a mum too! Thanks for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove
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    • Thank you! I do hope others who read it, get a better understanding or get some support form the post. I really appreciate the comment.

    • Thank you for your lovely comment. If you are interested, it’s worth talking to families who have adopted, and get a real insight, you need to know the ups and down. And if it’s not right for you, that really is OK.

  19. What a lovely post and very informative. My friend has adopted and I recognised a lot of the sentiments. You’re right about being good enough too – I think we all need to realise that #fortheloveofBLOG

  20. This is a great post, and nice to hear your honest account of what it is like to adopt. I work for a local authority supporting our adoption team to find people who are considering adoption. What I don’t get to hear is what happens after that great moment that a match has been found and a child/childrens life is about to change for ever. So glad to have found your blog. #sharingthebloglove

    • Thank you!!!! It’s an unbelievable time, it’s sometimes hard to grasp that what we are undertaking, and how big the change is for our kids. But as they say, and it is so true, that’s when the hard work starts!

    • Yup agree, all we’re doing is trying the best we can. We just have a little extra emotional baggage to contend with.

  21. Having your first child arrive as a newborn is challenging but I had never thought about the challenge of becoming a parent to 2 little people who have their own ideas and traumatic memories to deal with. It was a truly insightful post.

    • Thank you so much!

      I think any child coming into your life completely changes it. All the pieces are thrown in the air, and when they come back down, your whole world has re-arranged and you are no longer the centre of your own life! It’s all about our children. That really got some getting used to!

  22. Great blog Tooting Mama! We can all definitely learn a thing or two from you……really enjoy reading your posts xx

    • Hello madam! Great to hear from you! When are you and the clan coming over???? Thanks hun – love to you all! x

  23. I enjoyed reading this. When it dawned on me that perhaps T will really be my last child and no amount of trying would make it happen – it crossed my mind that maybe we should just adopt? I still think of it, but my husband doesn’t think it’s a good idea 🙁
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    • That’s a tough one. You both have to want this and T.

      You’d bringing in a little soul that has been through so much trauma. Check out the Adoption UK forums they have a board for adopters with birth children it’s worth taking a look http://www.adoptionuk.org/forums/adopters-birth-children.

      Adoption UK is an amazing resource. They run local support group meetings, with some for prospective adopters (as will your local local authority). You could go along, ask questions to adopters, find out if it’s right for all of you, there’s no harm in that . Good luck!

      And thank you so much for your comment.

  24. Yay for you! Lovely post! Yes, PACE can work like a magic wand sometimes but more often I get it wrong too and yes, Good enough is good enough – I never thought I will say that being a perfectionist and all…
    All the best for you guys! 🙂

    • We can’t get it right all the time, how ever hard we try. My husband used to say I was always trying too hard, being hard on myself when things went wrong. His philosophy was and still is, I’m here and present.

      I’ve learned to manage my expectations of myself – good enough is good enough. Some of my kids’ best days are just hanging out in a park having fun.

      And Dan – what a man! Can’t live without PACE!

  25. Absolutely – those kiddies are so lucky to have YOU not a tray of muffins – it sounds like everything you do has their best interest in highest priority, not unlike any other mother, but maybe with a lot more complex emotions to handle.
    Thanks so much for linking to #coolmumclub
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    • Awww thank you! I agree, I am so much better than a tray of muffins (mind you when I am shouting at them to get ready for school – they’d prefer the muffins!). We are pretty much the same as any other mum, expect our kids have a few more needs than most. Thanks so much for you comment.

    • Thank you so much, but seriously I am like any other ordinary mum, pretty shouty in the mornings until I’ve had my first cup of coffee, chasing kids to get ready to school (that can be pretty shouty too). It’s just adopted kids need a little bit more care and attention, and yes parenting them can hard, but at the same time so joyous. Thanks again for your comment, so appreciated!

  26. “good enough is good enough” I think all mums need to know this saying to help them get through.
    Thanks for sharing, I’m sure your two kids bring so much joy into your life #SharingtheBlogLove

    • You are so right, we just have to remember that, perfection is unattainable so we need to stop beating ourselves up and just accept, good enough is good!

  27. Ah my nieces are wonderful and happen to also be adopted, so this is an area that interests me greatly. Sounds like you know really know your stuff. I know the finding the support network was something of a struggle – no NCT if you adopt, but like you they’ve got there. You’re obviously doing a wonderful job, what lucky children you have. #coolmumclub

    • Thank you so much for your comment. It is hard at first, but somehow, with a lot of trying getting things wrong, then right, we managed!

    • Aww, thank you! You’re making me blush now. I really appreciate the comment.

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