Life stories

My name is Ingrid aka @fairyayling and I have been moved to write about my passion which is Life Stories, I want to thank Amanda from The Open Nest whom without I would not be so far on in my journey and I look forward to working with her and her team in the near future. I also want to mention Jenny from Inspired Foundations who is an inspiration and another women who has followed her heart to get the message ‘out there’ and I am excited and grateful for the opportunity she has given me to also work together in the future.

I sat one day with a tall, upright gentleman in his mid 70’s, who had come to talk to me about his adoption as a baby. All we had to look at was a single piece of what felt like tissue paper which held the story of his  beginning. The information held on this piece of paper included, the name of his birth mum and her age, the date he was legally adopted, his adoptive parents were named and were described as having a clean home and coming from a Christian background, and he was described as a fit and healthy 8 month old baby and that was all, there was no mention of his birth father who was described as unknown.

I listened for 2 hours to this man’s story, of the feelings he had of loss and that he had never felt he quite fitted. His story was not however without a great many positive, fulfilling and happy memories, his parents had loved him and he had achieved but he had always felt a gap, a missing piece of his jigsaw and I felt sad that all I could do was offer him a piece of paper and my time.

I will never forget the tears in his eyes, his acceptance and grace and the frustration that there was not more and it made me passionate to push for the recognition of the importance of a Life Story that is recorded ,that begins with the roots of a child’s conception and how this is as important as our knowledge of trauma , loss and attachments when children are removed from their family of origin.

I have in 20 years worked as a therapist with children and young people who have suffered trauma, loss and separation, I have supported birth parents, adoptive parents and kinship carers to understand the complexities of a child’s attachment, what happens when this is disrupted and what they can do to help put in right. However in the past 3 years it has become more clear to me that without a clear understanding of ones own story, children, young people and adults are left, without an anchor struggling to make sense of who they are and as a result are often unable to find peace and acceptance of their roots.

I want to be clear that in talking about acceptance I do not wish to deny that there is sadness, hurt, loss and ultimately harm and it does not deny that the child’s birth family did not get in right.

The birth family are however not all bad, they are not demons to be scared of as I have unfortunately so often heard them described.

If a child is led to believe that their birth family are all bad they will also be at risk of believing and carrying the burden that underneath it all they are also bad and no matter what positive messages we pour into them I have witnessed and  believe this will resurface periodically throughout their lives.

So how do we talk about Life Stories? How do we make these meaningful and accessible? I think that we need to be able to provide a bridge from the past into the present which can look towards the future and we need to help our children and young people walk across this with care and support and we need to never forget the purpose of this piece of work, the benefits it can provide for both the child and their parents.

In my experience few professionals understand completely and fully the importance of this, they do understand that Life Story Work should be done but lack understanding of the real therapeutic benefits it holds and how to support the whole family on this journey.

Many families I have met and spoken to avoid the subject, avoid the ‘book’ and I can understand this when all they may have is an inadequate Life Story book that is only able to provide the basic of explanation about why the child was taken from the care of their birth family and why this was the best decision, it often holds no sense of who the birth family are, no voice of the birth family and on occasions no real sense of who the child is and what they have already become.

I would suggest more questions than answers arise from the ‘book’ and this can often lead to false assumptions and gap filling which for the child is the worst possible way to assist them on their journey.

It feels today that the search for identity comes quickly now for our children, developmentally they are beginning the search for self very early. Often, from as early as the age of 10 years old they are beginning to explore ‘who am I ‘ and ‘where do I belong’ this is one of their jobs and cannot be ignored or halted it is the norm from now until adulthood and the need to support them is great.

Support and understanding at this point will ultimately reduce the risk that this changing world of social media brings in being able to find out and make contact with birth family in the dangerous and isolated space that is available in the technology that is common place in the majority of homes.

Far better I feel to have good, holistic, rounded information and to be able to talk about this in the safety of the family in a healing and real way, in the hope that this will build a platform for that child or young person to ask questions without fear and to receive honest answers.

In all my experience in the lives of so many young people I have always enjoyed the work with the most difficult, the most angry and the most hurt for they have taught me most.

Children and young people taken from their family of origin or who have lived for periods within  Local Authority Care have much to be angry about and I want to encourage everyone to not add to this by hiding their past, no matter how difficult that may be, by pouring into them all the good we have without looking to heal the invisible wound, the gap, the missing piece will inevitably lead to pain further along the line.

I feel that unless we raise the profile of meaningful Life Story we will miss a very important opportunity to as parents attach like glue to our children, for them to come to trust us with all the good and the bad, for us to have a look with them, talk honestly and except that any anger they may have is justified for if we are not able to except all we are we are not able to celebrate all we can become.

I want us to get Life Story on the agenda, for us to consider it as important as the therapeutic parenting we are encouraged to promote, it may be very scary, it may make us feel uncomfortable,  lets look honestly at how it makes us feel and even when we have to share the sadness and loss that is part of it and the anger that may rise we can perhaps understand this better if we remember that fear comes before anger, fear that we do not know our beginnings, our roots and when that child is shouting and raging as we have all seen and experienced it may be because it is themselves that they are frightened of because they don’t quite know who they are and what they might be come, to know who you are can be a great relief, to know that you are not born from anything bad can be a relief, your story can be a relief.

Many thanks to Ingrid for her post, and for hopefully starting new conversations around Life Stories.

5 thoughts on “Life stories

  1. Honeymummy

    In our family, life story conversations are often at the top of the list at bedtimes (and, not always the boys history either. Youngest loves here about his dad and I’s lifestory growing up and he is fascinated by family trees)
    I have been fortunate enough to have a wonderful post adoption support worker from our PA team who has researched and produced comprehensive and balanced life story books for both my boys, which sit on our bookcase in the lounge and can be accessed if or when the boys wish to look at them or I feel we need it.
    Our eldest (14) initiated the request for life story work but once his book was produced, he put the brakes on and hasn’t gone near the book since (we have always believed that he need an answer of some kind which he could not express but has been answered through producing his book and he is still not ready to explore the rest openly yet).
    Our youngest (9) adores his book and it probably comes out fortnightly if not weekly and each time new questions arise from it.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Ingrid

      thanks for that great to hear of the value of life story books and how significant they are in your family..

  2. Adoptive mum

    Thanks for your post. What to tell my child about his conception and birth family background is a big question and how to put it to them in ways they can understand (these backgrounds often involve drugs, addiction, mental illness, prison, domestic violence, incest) is incredibly difficult. I personally struggle for words. My child is also permanently disabled by the effects of alcohol exposure pre-birth. And how to explain that to them is another big issue.

    So it’s nice to have life story as a theme, but it is also an ugly and terrible part of adoption. These children are removed from terrible situations, often too late, often with lasting damage. My child’s life story book is nicely drawn with stickers and felt tips etc. But all the stickers in the world won’t change what was done to my child.

    1. Ingrid

      It is a hard and painful part of the jigsaw to fill and the words to explain are just as hard and painful to find, but the telling of the story is essential and I hope you can find a way , thanks for you response I really appriciate your veiws as it guides me in my own journey in supporting proffesionals to get it right

  3. Catty

    I think that one major thing missing from this general conversation is contact with foster families. I’m not dismissing or under estimating the importance and value of birth family contact (in whatever form), but foster family contact seems to be less thought about and, I feel, is just as important.

    We do a fair bit (sibling = agreed, letterbox with birth parents = agreed, foster family = on our own and, I have to say, is the most rewarding). I just feel that every part of my child’s life is as important.


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