It was this week six years ago that we arrived back home in a hired car packed full of kids’ paraphernalia: toys, books, clothes, scooters, bikes, and two little children. It’s six years since our two adopted children came to live with us. There have been incredible highs and some pretty tough lows. Times when we have rolled on the floor in laughter, times when all I could do was hold my head in my hands and sob. But that’s parenting. Life with adopted children is hard, harder than I could have imagined. But after six years, it’s possible I might have learned a thing or two.
1. trauma may last a lifetime
I think I am finally learning to accept this.
My adopted children had a troubled and traumatic start to their early childhood, and they bear the scars. I am finally learning to accept this, live and deal with this.
2. I need to start to put some funk into dysfunctional and celebrate my amazing children
It’s time to stop worrying about when and if we will ever be normal. We are normal, our kind of normal. Just a little crazy around the edges normal.
It’s time to ditch the worry and the anxiety and celebrate the true amazingness of my adopted children.
3. I had to grow my mummy tribe
When I adopted my children, that was it, I was insta-mummy.
Motherhood crashed into my life and I was not prepared. I didn’t have mummy friends close by, I had to go and literally hunt them down.
I couldn’t be a shrinking violet I had to get out there, join the PTA (I’m a mean face-painter), find other mums in my area who had adopted. Then, I had to do the same again, in Paris.
4. Gandhi is a parenting guru.
Who would have thought that the man in the loincloth, who fought and gave his life for Indian independence is also a parenting guru!
After years of fighting, tantrums, screaming something has to change. And it did.
I discovered non-violent resistance (NVR). And as a parent of traumatized children, it’s turned our lives around.
5. Stand up and fight, be an advocate for my adopted children’s rights
I am their greatest defender.
Not everyone gets what it is like to parent a child whose life has been affected by neglect, trauma and abuse.
Their reactions to seemingly normal situations can be very different. My two adopted children seem to be in a state of permanent anxiety, bordering on fight or flight, always on alert constantly sensing danger.
My kids aren’t naughty. Just let me deal with it. OK.
6. Then educate the educators
A school is a tough place for many adopted children.
The basic things, sitting still, focusing, not shouting out, not reacting to being teased (at least not throwing a hefty punch) is really tough.
My kids’ heightened senses, anxiety and disrupted attachment doesn’t always yield the most positive of behaviours. Cue being sent to the quiet room, lurking on the red zone on the behaviour chart.
It’s been down to me to help educate the teachers. This is what an early life of neglect, trauma and abuse can do.
And can we just lay off the homework?
7. I kinda became that mum with that child
Play dates weren’t always forthcoming. The weekends weren’t always filled with birthday parties. I have been reduced to tears in the school playground by another child’s parent having a go at me about my kids’ behaviour.
This is what parenting an adopted child can be.
8. Asking for help
When you hit a low, reach out, ask for help. Don’t suffer in silence.
This parenting an adopted child, it’s a tough gig.
9. Low self-esteem is crippling
My kids have so much potential.
But self-belief is hard to find. For one of my children, it’s easier not to try for fear of failing, not to make an effort because their starting point is I’m rubbish, I’m thick – why bother?
It’s hard to watch this, when you can see deep down they really do want to achieve more, to be more.
10. Learn to love routine, the boring and the mundane
I know I keep banging on about this. Don’t try spontaneity, excitement or free-wheeling.
Try routine, it works!
11. There ain’t no sibling rivalry like adopted sibling rivalry
I know siblings fight.
But my adopted siblings, are on another level when it comes to sibling rivalry.
It’s vicious, physical – hitting, scratching, poking, name-calling, meanness. I guess it’s that combination of crippling low self-esteem, their disrupted attachment that makes them feel insecure.
Any hint of one is getting just a little bit more affection, cuddles, hugs, sweets, food, leads to sulking, grumping, tantrums, screaming and shouting.
Then it all blows over and they are the best of friends.
12. Good enough is fine, it really is
There is no room for perfectionism.
I’ve lowered my expectations, and gone for good enough, works for me!
13. Self-care isn’t selfish. It isn’t a self-indulgence. It’s a necessity
As an adoptive parent self-care isn’t selfish, it’s a necessity.
In the early days, my week was bookended with a yoga class on a Monday and a massage on a Friday. Now I run. Seriously running is my Prozac.
14. But really the best thing I can do is be present
Be with them, hang out with them. Just be.
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