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.