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The Potato Group News

Bamboo Scaffolding: part 3: makes more sense if you have read parts I and 2

How we avoided a Thai jail and . . .did we get home safely?

I arranged a late checkout for one room, asking D to bring all his stuff to my room before noon. Our airport transfer was at 4pm. I Whats App’d a reminder the night before and at 11am . . .miraculously he was nearly ready at 12 and allowed me into his room to help him carry some of his stuff. I was able to flush his loo and put some rubbish into bags so the cleaners didn’t have a fit! . . .how much chaos can a traumatised young person create in 8 days? Then we set off for our last brunch.

Mistake number 1: His anxiety was already rising in anticipation of the long plane journey home. Why did I suggest we tried the café 50yards to the left instead of the one 100 yards to the right, at which we had eaten 2 or 3 times already? When stressed, D becomes more rigid and less able to manage even small changes. He sat at the table, refused all food and drink and put his head down.

Mistake number 2: I should have paid for my order without waiting for it and left. Instead I waited for my food and gave D my room key as he stomped off back to the hotel. After eating, I hurried back, asked for a second room key and spotted D head down skulking in a corner of the lobby. I put my remaining Thai Baht on the table beside him and encouraged him to order a snack or drink. I went back to the room saying – ‘come up for a shower when you want’. No eye contact, not even a grunt.

Fascination with weapons and fear: Since I met my son, aged 4 years, D has had a fascination with weapons. Developmental trauma and insecure attachment, with an avoidant and disorganized pattern, leave D fearful for his own safety (e.g. found alone in a flat by police aged 2y). For years he has kept a symbolic weapon under his mattress, a small wooden Maori spear, later pieces of ‘found’ wood or metal, later still a baseball bat, a machete and a crossbow . . . . . All the latter we confiscated on discovery, facing his rage, on the basis that ‘rage without machete’ is safer than ‘rage with machete’. He quickly discovered that Thai market stalls (where I bought sarongs and elephants) sold a full range of weapons. He told me that during the week he was offered cannabis and an AK47 . . . . . . .a micro moment of positive maturation, he said he declined them. However, he did produce a flick knife, a taser torch, and a metal kosh, which he insisted were legal to transport home in our shared suitcase.

D skillfully places me in no-win situations regularly. Do I refuse to pack them and risk the inevitable meltdown with him destroying the hotel room and/or storming off and missing our non-transferable flight, or showing adolescent to parent violence to me leading to arrest by Thai police, or do I pack them and face arrest at the airport? I packed them. We shared one small check-in suitcase and each had hand luggage.
I assumed D was still in the lobby; he did not respond to my infrequent ‘Whats App’ messages. I Whats App’d him encouraging him to chill in the room while I spent an hour by the hotel pool.

When I left the pool, some 3 hours after he left the café . . . . .I sat across his table in the lobby, ordered myself an ice cream, and asked if he wanted a drink . . . .he finally accepted his first food or drink in 15 hours. It had taken him 3 hours to emotionally regulate himself enough to be able to eat, drink and join me to finish packing.

Despite having given me dodgy items to pack, he became acutely disregulated when he saw I had a wooden broom with my luggage. I didn’t make Mistake number 3: I left it and a few other items in the room with a note for the cleaner.

Back down in the lobby, I checked out and we waited for our transfer: luckily this was a short wait and we set off to the airport in a heavy tropical storm.
The airport: Drug smuggling and Thai airports are often in the news; I was fairly certain we didn’t have any drugs. From stepping into the terminal, I had a bodily sense of fear – just an inkling of the fear that my son endures most hours of most days.

Checking in: We checked in, the case sped off down the conveyor belt. A repeat of the slow zigzag through security checks, then a large and very noisy airport lounge. Between us we had enough small change to get D a Subway. Bland globalization gives D reassuring familiarity whilst I seek local, quirky and different. D always finds even the shortest wait a challenge. The loud tannoys in several languages, including barely decipherable English, were steadily winding D up; there was no quiet corner to retreat to. As his agitation increased, a woman from Thai tourism approached me to complete a lengthy questionnaire. – that could have been the tipping point to meltdown. Why didn’t I politely decline.

I had tuned out the tannoy, but D said they were announcing my name to go to the desk at our gate. I was asked about the contents of my case, which was being brought off the plane. I was escorted into a private part of the airport, abandoning D in the airport lounge, hastily thrusting his passport and boarding pass into his hands. I was more fearful for D’s reaction to abandonment than what was about to happen to me.
Look out for Part 4 : . . . . .did we get home safely?

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk 

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Bamboo Scaffolding: Part 2: What we did when we got there and the advantages and disadvantages of social media

We had arrived!. . .’Let’s freshen up and grab some food’. I rang D’s hotel room. I waited and waited and tried not to provoke a meltdown by ringing again . . .and said ‘Knock on my door when you are ready’ . . . .eventually he appeared. ‘Shall we find a restaurant nearby or eat in the hotel?’ . . .knowing D would choose the safety of the more familiar hotel. After eating ‘Do you want to crash or shall we have a walk and explore?’ – to my amazement he opted for a walk and we went two blocks to the beach.

Returning to the hotel we passed an Aussie bar with Sky Sports and I commented ‘You could go there for a drink sometime’. We arranged to download ‘Whats App’ so we could communicate while on hotel Wifi (D has me permanently blocked from his Facebook and Messenger) and so to bed. I arranged to message him in the morning. A social media positive. The next day I discovered D had been on an all-nighter. He met a Canadian in the lift and set off to the bars of Bangla Road with him . . . . .later going their separate ways, sitting on the beach for a while . . .and with no idea of the name or location of our hotel, he showed a moped taxi driver his room key, and was transported back safely in the early hours! – I was well impressed.

Our daily pattern became me arranging to message D at 8am or 11am depending on our jet lag and time confusion . . .usually getting a grunt, him missing breakfast, and me arranging to message him again at 1pm. He spent a lot of time in his room – time when I could explore. First mission – find the Muay Thai gym I had emailed, and book D some training. I found a derelict building! Trip Advisor showed a map of the derelict location but an address that Google Maps showed at the other end of town.

I soon discovered that in the steamy heat I should be less frugal, behave more like a traumatised teen, and spend money on taxis! Waking D at 1pm, I took him to a café for brunch and then by taxi to the gym to book a one-to-one for the following day. We explored a few shops before we wilted and taxied back to the hotel. D retreated to his room, I used the small pool and had a few hours me time.

My inclination would be to rush around and explore but the holiday had to meet my son’s needs first and foremost, his hotel room becoming a safe base. I became an armchair traveller, or in this case a hotel balcony traveller, trawling the local tourism on TripAdvisor knowing it was impossible for us to join any organized tours to offshore islands or wildlife sanctuaries as that would involve being ready at a set time and fitting in with the demands of a minibus full of strangers. Provocation and emotional regulation or lack of it.

Most evenings I messaged D at 7 or 8 to plan our evening meal and then had a long wait for him to knock on my door. As far as possible I avoided messaging again or knocking on his door as he finds that intensely provocative. I find it intensely provocative waiting patiently when I am starving . . .but the difference is that even after 20 years of adoptive parenting I can still emotionally regulate, helped by offloading a few ranting messages to my partner or my Potato peers, my social media lifeline. Now for the social media negatives. I soon realized my son was spending hours on Messenger group chat to his friends, much as he would at home.

He was angered to learn that a friend had had a confrontation with a bouncer, a passer-by had called the police, and his friend had been issued with an ASBO. He had had a burst water pipe in old outhouse plumbing as we set off. His friend who was ‘keeping an eye on’ his house and my partner were going to get this sorted. This friend was messaging him that my partner wanted to go into the house to turn off the stop tap – result RAGE, demands to fly home immediately and my worry that he would carry out his threat to trash his room. Would we see the inside of a Thai jail? I messaged my partner, was assured that he knew our son could not cope with him entering the house but the ‘friend’ would try and turn the stop tap off . . .crisis averted and we got to the pre-paid Muay Thai training session with my son in a calm enough state to manage training.

Muay Thai – my son has never let me watch him train at home. We shared a taxi to the gym and I said it was up to him, I could spend an hour at the beach or in the adjoining café . . . . .I think because he was anxious about the new environment he said I could come in, and could I video some of his training. By being crazy English people and booking a session in the midday heat, the gym was deserted apart from his one to one session. It was so positive to see D work hard and concentrate for an hour of hard physical training. I was able to take photos and videos. The trip was worth it for this first hour of training alone.

We fitted in two more sessions later in the week. Absorbing rubbish rants – It is a long time since D has chosen to spend social time with me. I see him daily to ferry him to and from supported work, to get shopping, or to appointments. It is even longer since he has sat down with me to eat a meal, so our shared evening meals were something special and mostly went well as long as I could absorb his ranted conversations without comment or challenge.

Rants described a seedier side of my home town, police, fights, how easy it is to get hold of a gun and a sort of parallel universe to the one I live in. Attempted burglary – some of the extra challenges of travelling with a traumatised young person are the direct effects of trauma, poor emotional regulation and extreme and unpredictable stress responses. Some, like the timing of the burst water pipe, are the extra bad-luck we seem to attract, and some like an attempted burglary because you have dodgy mates who know you are on holiday . . . .are because a traumatised young person is a magnet for ‘dodgy mates’.

About halfway into the holiday my son knocked on my door at 4 am (10 pm UK time) in tears. Through social media he learned there had been an attempted break-in at his house, luckily foiled by a neighbour who had called the police. The door was damaged but the burglars had not gained entry. Again his immediate response was to demand his air-ticket to fly back NOW on a ticket that was non- transferable and THREATS to trash the hotel room or leap from his fifth floor balcony . . . .I have years of practice at absorbing these intensified emotions . . .but it felt a long and lonely night . . .preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. Would I end up in a Thai jail? . . .or how do you arrange to fly a body back? . . . . .my partner and a few Potato peers hung on in there with me as my online support.

The low points, two near meltdowns survived by the skin of our teeth. The high points, three fantastic one to one Muay Thai training sessions, one morning of sight-seeing in a private taxi to the Big Buddha and to a shooting range! More about D’s fascinating with weapons in Part 3.

Look out for Part 3 – How we avoided a Thai jail and . . .did we get home safely?

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

The Potato Group News

 

 

BAMBOO SCAFFOLDING 

In order to access many everyday activities, my son needs ‘bamboo scaffolding’, flexible and adaptable low key support – when I get this right it is largely invisible to others . . . .unless they have ever witnessed my son without this support.

Several years ago, I had to declare my teenage adopted son homeless due to repeated violence, threats and damage to our home and car over a long period. In the years that have passed since then, I remain his daily support for food, transport, emotional regulation and sorting benefits etc. as services do not appear to recognize he has any support needs at all. Now in his twenties, he lurches chaotically from near crisis to near crisis. Over several months he has been in a particularly low mental state. Over several months I have also been feeling depleted and was struggling to function on a day to day basis (after many years of providing high level support). How to try to nudge this situation in a better direction? Idea – a high risk holiday! Our son was excluded from education for more than half of his school life but each year I clutched at straws to find one activity in which he could participate and gain self esteem.

Currently he is doing Muay Thai (Thai boxing) regularly and together we planned a short trip to Thailand during which time he could do some training. My partner was unable to travel as he is awaiting an operation, so the first high risk was travelling alone with my son. A home-based education service working with him in his early teens insisted on 2:1 workers due to risk – but adoptive parents frequently carry risk 1:1 or 1:3 or more with siblings.

Bamboo Scaffolding: part one – getting there

I researched flights, resort, hotel etc. online, planning flight to be as short as possible, hotel as familiar as possible, and as close as possible to a Muay Thai gym. My partner paid for the holiday and from that point we accepted that we had ‘written off’ this money . . .even if we did not make it to the airport to set off. Previous holidays have had to be cut short e.g. a week booked in a caravan was abandoned after slightly more than 24 hours after credible threats to trash the caravan. Scaffolding means planning and anticipating situations my son will struggle with and adapting them to give him a better chance of managing. Schools in our experience never understood scaffolding, nor embraced inclusion.

Treating all pupils equally meets neither the needs of the child nor the sprit nor the letter of current equalities legislation – giving differentiated support and making ‘reasonable adjustments’ does. My deeply traumatised son still confuses the feelings of excitement and fear and is highly anxious in situations which he finds stressful – regularly dissociating into fear expressed as extreme anger.

Packing My son lives independently. I got his passport from him before we booked, as all forms of ID are often lost in his chaos. His washing machine is broken but he has not allowed us into his home over many months to arrange repair or replacement. I bought a few new clothes and partly packed a suitcase for him. I picked him up from his house to finish packing at ours, he promptly tipped everything out of the small case, announced he was only taking hand luggage as clothes were cheaper there, and took little more than one pair of pants and a toothbrush – I did manage to sneak one set of clothes into my case for emergencies. He was already ranting that there was no way he was going to wait at the airport for hours and we really didn’t need to check in until 30 minutes before the long haul flight.

I was deliberately vague about the flight time and hoped for the best. We had to set off the moment he was ready; my partner drove us; we drove slowly to try to reduce an excessive airport wait. The short stay departures car park was a nightmare finding a space and then walking a long way to the connecting bridge to departures. We joined the check-in queue and as we passed through passport control I breathed a sigh of relief – there was a chance we would actually set off. The next challenges were the slow and crowded zigzag queues for hand luggage and body scan and I could see him starting to fidget, clench his fists etc – at this point I have to stop myself ‘wittering’ empty reassuring phrases. I have learnt it is best to remain silent or nod empathetically that …it is a piss-take and FFS – absorb the emotion and ‘let them rant’.

We entered the departure lounge with still at least an hour before going to our gate. At last we were called to the gate and onto the plane, the very back seats, cosy for me, 5’ nothing, but decidedly cramped for my 6’ son, and as the hours went by increasingly hot and uncomfortable. Due to my son’s anxiety levels and neediness he can appear very self-centered. He took every bit of discomfort as if deliberately targeted at him and showed no empathy that we were all in the same boat (or the same crowded plane in this case). From time to time I offered distractions or sweets – scaffolding to aid his emotional regulation and I remained hypervigilant to absorb restlessness and ranting hoping we would not be responsible for a mid-air incident.

Seven hours, a two-hour transit, and a further seven hours was a huge challenge for a young man who finds the third hour of a three hour train journey difficult. Arriving bleary eyed I tried to spot the signs towards pre-booked transfers. Any hesitation led to rants from my son that I was dithering, and the likelihood of him storming off in the wrong direction. Luckily we found the tour operator quickly and once on the minibus taxi he fell deeply asleep, we were dropped at our hotel, checked in and given two rooms a few doors away from each other on the 5th floor. We had arrived in Patong, ‘party central’, not the typical destination for an exhausted 60 something!

To be continued: Look out for part 2 – What we did when we got there and the advantages and disadvantages of social media And Part 3 – How we avoided a Thai jail and . . .did we get home safely?

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

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This post from ADOPTER X Find them on Twitter @AdopterX

SCHOOL

I found myself in a crowded school hall with 250 children with their parents hovering uncertainly around what had once been neat rows of desks all lined up in alphabetical order. We were early but the polite pleasantness was already threadbare in the teachers smiles and comments.

Like all these events it had been challenge getting there, X was angry. There remained a murky soup of unsaid words between us, I’d been kicked and called that morning and we’d not sorted that out. We begrudgingly sat next to each other waiting for the teachers to nod and indicate that we were next and to make our way to our impending ‘parent learner interview’.

For us this is just ordeal, for X it’s a unique construction of all that dysregulates. Large noisy environments, peers, adults, public examination of performance. A mix of shame and anxiety. Did I mention I’d been kicked and called that morning, I was not happy?

We filed through the process teacher by teacher, my will to live, already at a low ebb, was in danger of flickering out. Like a pre prepared script to a teacher they repeated the same mantra.

‘Intelligent, but easily distracted and if unable to complete the work then is a distraction. Shouts out answers which is not really that appropriate. I really like you X but you’ve got to knuckle down.’

Generally, there was compassion and understanding the words came as regrettable bad news that they had to deliver, followed by encouragement. It’s all in the way you say words.

The RE teacher looked like she wanted to give me a hug, I think she was so upset to break it to me. I think she read me pretty well I had sad eyes. The last teacher used the same words but it was hard to find compassion, more the barked workds of a drill sergeant. On went the lecture. I looked at X and I looked at the teacher. X was lost, eyes glazed and lolling around the room. I was furious, did I mention that I’d been kicked and called. How stupid is this teacher? I stopped listening and was weighing the consequences of saying nothing against the impact of me coming back at the teacher with the full weight of eight years as X parent, with the speech that starts ‘let me tell you about X’s life, about how X feels every day and how X struggles every day’. X would have died of embarrassment and shame for me to have spoken out. So I’m trapped between an teacher and X. I nod with the least amount of politeness politely.

Now I know why X kicked my and called me today, it seems like an appropriate and rational response.

I’ve booked a call to the school, we’re going to have a chat in private.

 

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When our children were placed with us aged 3 (twins) and 18 months, we had a lot of information about their history of severe neglect due to parents drug and alcohol issues. At that time there was a big focus on attachment and little was known about the impact that such trauma can have on brain development. So, we were told that because they had remained with their older sister (not being adopted) in foster care and had made good attachments there shouldn’t be any problems. Furthermore, there was no evidence of any problems – they were just “naughty” but the FC had provided good care and there were now “no problems”.

Indeed – there seemed not to be anything to be concerned about. Apart from silent crying, over compliance and “hyperactivity”, that is. In any case, after placement they settled down and eventually presented as typical children. And our experience was, actually, that they were “typical” children – if sometimes a little more “hyper” than others.
This all changed for us when our twin girls began to present with mental health problems which eventually resulted in both of them being admitted to inpatient units aged 14.
Now, we all know that the NHS is marvellous! If you have a serious, life-threatening problem, you will almost certainly get the treatment you need at the appropriate time and usually fairly close to home. Not so, if you have a mental health condition. CAMHS is “not fit for purpose” in a lot of areas. The shortage of suitable NHS mental health beds has been highlighted by the media for quite a while now. Lots of professionals make the right “noises” about the issues, but I am not sure how many of them realise the impact that the bed shortage has on both the patient and their families.
Eloise, was placed in an adolescent mental health unit over an hour away from home. She couldn’t go to a local, open, unit as her sister was there, so she was sent to a secure unit two counties away. This was a totally inappropriate admission: she was suffering with anxiety and depression and did not need to be on a secure unit.
The impact of the mental health bed crisis!

Restricted visiting hours meant that, because we had to use a major, usually congested, motorway to get there, we couldn’t see her in the week – meaning she only had visitors at the weekend. She has a younger brother who was too young to be left alone all day so he had to come and visit with us. Meaning he missed out on typical weekend activities with his friends. On occasions, we would turn up to visit her and she would be too unwell to see us for more than 15 minutes. Or her visit would have been cancelled and staff not bothered to call us. When she was allowed local leave from the ward, we had to try and find activities to do (usually restaurants) to “entertain” her.
But, a more serious consequence of this placement was the impact on her wellbeing. It is acknowledged by those working in mental health that patients will copy the behaviours of others they are placed with. Unsurprisingly, once in this unit her mental health deteriorated rapidly with an increase in the severity and frequency of her self-harming and she eventually became violent and was diagnosed with emerging personality disorder. Clinicians decided that she had to be kept in seclusion for an extended period. She was nursed in a room without even a bed – just a mattress on the floor. With nothing to do all day. Supervised constantly by two staff. A decision was made that she needed a bed in a forensic unit. BUT there were no beds available. She had to wait 6 weeks.

She was eventually offered a bed on a forensic unit 2 hours away from home. This hospital was a good placement for her. However, our Saturdays were now all about driving around the country doing visits. It is not just the inconvenience (or the cost) to the family that is the issue – being placed at such a distance has an impact on her treatment and recovery. The hospital felt she would benefit from family therapy – very difficult to do when both parents work and we have to travel so far for each session. As they recover, patients begin to have leave home to spend time with their family and friends. Hospitals find it difficult to facilitate these visits when they involve a four hour round trip (first visits are usually with staff If a home visit takes place on a weekday (and these are supposed to build up to weekly visits) then we, her parents, needed to take time off work and her siblings missed her because they were at school. However, weekend home leave is very problematic as there are fewer staff on shift. Discharge to home involves a gradual transition over time and this is very hard to do with great distances.

Another impact was that it was difficult for us to build a relationship with staff working with her as we couldn’t attend the weekly ward rounds. So, it became hard to ensure she was being well cared for. Her “home” clinical team were often unable to attend meetings about her as it meant being out of the office the whole day. So she quickly got forgotten about.
When she was well enough to be “stepped down” to a less secure placement it became apparent that she “fell between services”. She wasn’t ready to come home as she had become institutionalised. A low secure ward was felt to be inappropriate because it was likely to be too “unsettled” and might unduly influence her – leading to a remission. However, open, acute, units wouldn’t take her as it was considered to be too big a step down. She was caught between provisions: there was literally no hospital suitable for her.
So she had to be moved to a community placement which didn’t work out. And she ended up in a serious of adolescent psychiatric Intensive Care Units (PICU) several hours away (the furthest was a distance of 4 hours)! However, she was approaching 18 and Adult services did not support out of
county placements. Yippee! She’ll be moved closer to home, we thought. But it was not to be. Once again she “fell between services”. PICUs said she did not need their services, she wasn’t unwell enough but the acute team said she was too risky to have on their wards! She is currently 1 1⁄2 away on a PICU waiting for a treatment ward to admit her.

What has become clear to us as we struggle to get the right care for our daughter is that the shortage of suitable mental health beds is very real. There needs to be more emphasis placed on getting patients close to home – to reduce cost/impact on the family, to aid the patient’s recovery and to reduce costs for the Trusts treating them. We have had to fight to get her moved from wards where she was badly treated or inappropriately placed. We have been able to do this because we are not in awe of professionals (having dealt with them for so long as a result of adoption) and because we are articulate and informed. It makes us wonder how many people with mental health problems who do not have a voice are left in unsuitable placements.

The highs and lows of adoptive parenting

Today we have a guest post from someone who wishes to remain anonymous. This is his experience as father to a 7 year old boy, and as a family they are undergoing attachment based therapy. They have been together as a family for 6 years now.

Joy…in that honeymoon period. Finally we were a family.
But…
Deep grief, as he settled in and missed his foster family.

First words. First steps. So many firsts to celebrate.
But…
First tantrums. First rejections. After all, this wasn’t his first separation, his first grief experience.

Content and settled. Sleepy head, all calm and restful. We watched him sleep.
But…
The nightmares came. We held and rocked and consoled and soothed on repeat.

Nursery, school, friendships and play. All those things that children should have.
But…
Endless conversations about bullying, disruption in lessons, no concentration.

Family time. Parks, days out, games and fun.
But…
Always the fear of meltdown, losing control, how to help him.

A new therapy? Yes, we’ll give anything a ago – improvements!
But…
He’s cottoned on. And the anger, anxiety, frustration, and negativity all come back, whilst the confidence, positivity, and carefree attitude have all but disappeared.

As a dad, I don’t know what is coming from one day to the next, let alone the weeks, months and years ahead for us as a family. This scares me – a 38 year old grown man. I can’t make sense of what my boy has experienced, and I struggle to help him handle his emotions.

How on earth does it make my 7 year old boy feel? – a child with limited life experiences, many of which have been challenging to him, in a world he doesn’t fully understand? How can I ever hope to equip him with all the tools he needs to decipher and make sense of himself, his past and his future.

Parenting is hard. Adoptive parenting involves more guesswork, strategic planning and psychology. But being that child – being my boy, is so much harder.

Getting back into the real world

Today, we have an anonymous post. This mum really needs your help…A Problem Shared1

For so long, I’ve felt isolated. Parenting my two challenging boys is tough, and I’ve locked myself away, too scared to take them out and feel the judging eyes, worried about their behaviour in public, unable to control them and stand up to them.

I’ve found solace in online sources, and I know I’m not alone. But I recently attended a course and met another adopter in the same situation. She lives quite close to me, and I could tell that she was feeling a bit like me – desperate for real human interaction with someone other than her son.

We exchanged details and although I want to meet up and talk, with or without our children, I just can’t bring myself to make that call, and I’m not sure I’m brave enough to actually meet with her and her son after spending so long trapped by my sons. I know I need to, for my sanity and to help the kids socialise, and to set an example for them too.

Has anyone else felt like this? How do I make the first step?

I’m sure quite a few of us have felt like this at times – had our confidence knocked, our ability to socialise waning, and our (sometimes) self-imposed isolation feeling too oppressive. If you’ve found a way out, then how? Please share your thoughts and advice here.

Will I have to choose between them?

Today’s problem comes from adoptive mum Rachel, who is worried about the way her husband is parenting their son…if you have any advice, or have been through something similar, please do share your experiences too.

ProblemI’m really struggling with my husband at the moment. He knows about attachment, he knows about therapeutic parenting, he knows our son’s background, and he knows that our son is very good at identifying and pushing buttons, but…he just can’t put it into practise.

We’ve been a family, him, me and our son for 5 years. We’re not new adopters, and I’ve been on many courses and fed back to my husband (unfortunately he just can’t get the time off to attend himself), he’s come to therapy when he can, and he’s even read and watched Dan Hughes (isn’t YouTube great?!).

He just can’t implement it. I really struggle to see him getting so cross at our son – shouting sometimes, sending him to his room, physically removing our son from situations, rather than moving himself into another room. It undoes all the hard work that I put in. It scares our son.

I’m worried that we’ll soon be at the point where I have to choose between them. Losing his father will be traumatic for our son, but surely this behaviour is just as damaging?

Bragging Rights

Today Suddenly Mummy  is findings others bragging about their children a little upsetting. 

All parents brag about their children. I know that. Before I had children I used to brag about my friends’ children so I could join in a bit with the seemingly endless conversations. Now I have OB, I certainly do brag about him. And I brag about my fostered children too.

But all too often, I find it hard to keep up. I have good friends with a 3-year-old little girl who is two months younger than OB. She can write her name. She can dress and undress herself and take herself to the toilet. She can recognise all of her letters and is beginning to spell out simple consonant-vowel-consonant words. Yeah. OB can do none of those things.

On one level I’m ok with all of that. OB has many wonderful qualities, and is progressing really quite well for a child of his age. He isn’t developmentally delayed, and in most areas his abilities are in line with his age. Plus, my friend’s daughter hasn’t been from pillar to post and experienced all the early instability that OB has had.

I’m very happy with his progress. Delighted in fact, since in so many areas he started so far behind.

Take swimming. He is terribly afraid of water. I was reading through the daily notes I kept when I was his foster carer and saw there the first time I mentioned his hysterical reaction to having a bath. It was the night after he had spent his first transitional night with his birth mum as part of the lengthy process of rehabilitation that ultimately failed. Did something happen in the bath that night he was away? I’ll never know, but I suspect something. He never had a problem before, and he has been terrified of water ever since.

So I knew that swimming lessons would be a trial for him. A nightmare even. Yet despite this, and after many months of crying, just under a year in and he has earned his second badge. It’s very basic – I think it’s for making it one width across the pool without the teacher holding him (but with loads of armbands and a pool noodle!), but I was proud as anything when he got it.

The same week, my friend’s daughter got her third badge. She has been swimming just five months. I have to admit that I just didn’t want to hear about it. I found it hard to be all excited for her when her Mummy was showing me, and almost choked on the congratulatory words. Awful isn’t it.

She’s three years old, and she’s done really well, but I, the adult, felt like a jealous child.

I said the right things though, and I sorted my head out afterwards. I reminded myself that I really don’t believe that parenting is a competition. I reminded myself that someone else’s achievements don’t downgrade my son’s awesome achievements, especially considering how far he has had to come. I reminded myself that I truly love my friend and their daughter. I remembered how I plan to home educate partly because I don’t like the competition and continual assessment our education system is riddled with and don’t think it would be a good environment for my son.

DSC_0189In the end it was all good. But today, I encountered another bragging situation that nearly brought me to tears. We went to an air show. It was stupid of me, really. OB hates loud and unexpected noises. He always has. I think I know the reasons for it. Why it didn’t occur to me that low flying jet planes would be unbelievably noisy, I don’t know. My only excuse is that I’ve never been to an air show before. Not a great excuse I know.

We travelled there and back with friends – surrogate grandparents to OB. At the air show, we met up with their two children and their young families. Of course, once the planes started, OB was mortified by the noise. He couldn’t enjoy the red arrows because he was holding his ears and burying his head in my stomach and when the tornado screamed by it was almost as though his head was being torn right off. Baby Girl wasn’t a fan either, so I had two frightened, crying children to deal with. Thankfully, we all enjoyed the quieter planes and, on the whole, I think OB did like the event – he does love his planes. He went to bed fine tonight and doesn’t seem to have any lasting upset. Next time we’ll have ear defenders!

But on the way home, our friends bragged and bragged about how their two older grandchildren (four and two) weren’t frightened of the noise. They didn’t cry. They seemed to be enjoying every minute of it.

How pleased they were that they enjoyed the red arrows so much. How adventurous the two-year-old is and not afraid of anything.

Who brags about that?!

They are lovely people. I have known them for over 20 years and I love them very much. They adore OB and take him out to the park and other places just because they want to. But I nearly cried in the back of their car today.

And I thought, this is probably going to be par for the course. Parents will be excited about their children’s achievements, and they will want to share that with their friends. I know that all parents sometimes find the bragging of others a little hard to manage. My very good friend has a daughter with invisible special needs, and I know she struggles to hear all about the achievements of other friends’ children who all seem to find everything so easy while her child struggles and falls more and more behind.

I also know that all parents have a long list of things about their own children that they don’t want to brag about. We only tend to hear the glowing reports – there are no badges and certificates for the time a child was rude, or lied, or hit someone, or wouldn’t obey. I try to be realistic.

But I felt sad today that my child seemed so very different to the others, and that it was so noticed.

I felt sad because I will probably have that feeling many, many more times as he grows up. I felt sad that he is fearful and nervous because of what was done to him before he was even one year old. I can save him from being constantly compared to his schoolmates over his educational or sporting achievements, but it seems that there is always going to be something to compare, even if it is only who was bravest when the loud plane went past.

A Supporting Hand or a Pointing Finger?

Here one adoptive mother tells us about her recent experiences of post adoption support……..

I was recently asked to “take adoption out of my parenting equation”. The person asking the question meant well, doing her job as a family support officer(not part of post adoption support but we were referred to them by our social worker), working with families in crisis, she really was there to help. It was during our second meeting she made the statement. During our first meeting I’d sat for a draining two hours and divulged the intricacies of our often dysfunctional family. I’d felt up beat when she left, ever hopeful that she would be able to provide the support I’d been brave enough to ask for.

coffee cupAnd then there she sat, my knight in shining armour, clutching the warm cup of coffee I’d kindly made for her, asking me to surmise what parenting my children would be like if they weren’t adopted. The words hung between us, heavy and hard, much too hard for me to swallow. My eyes prickled with tears; yet again, as I contemplated “did I hear her right?” I glanced side ways to read my husband’s face, hoping his expression may clarify.

The lady on the sofa opposite obviously wasn’t sure if we’d understood so shuffled her neat little bottom in my sofa and said,

“What I took away from our last meeting was, that you place too much emphasis on your children being adopted.” And then titling her head in my direction, “especially you”.

My stomach knotted a hundred times over, creating a burning sensation which flushed my cheeks, blotched my neck and no doubt more of my clothed skin below. I felt sickened by the intestinal contortions and gasped as I muttered my astonished reply  “I’m not sure I understand, I really don’t think we can do that, HOW can we forget our children are adopted?”

Unfortunately for her, and me, I was not in the most positive of places before the meeting, and now as her comments thumped me bang smack between the eyes, I had to remove myself and attempt to regain composure.

I paced the bathroom, gulping air, hoping it could be the miraculous cure for my disposition, and slowly my breathing regulated and I felt a faint level of self-control. Digging my fingers into the corners of my eyes and smoothing them along my closed lids, I cleared the remaining tears and returned to the lounge. I got through the remainder of the meeting without crying, for that I feel a sense of achievement.

Post this event I was initially very upset, but what I actually soon became was very angry, seething in fact.

How dare someone dismiss the last seven years of my life with such a flippant remark. For seven years I have read, researched, talked, listened and learnt something new every day. I have never returned to full time work, understanding that my children need consistent support, outside of school, to help them feel safe and ensure they have the greatest opportunity to grow and develop. My marriage has suffered, in some ways irreparable damage, yes we’ll get through but the scars will remain. Me, I’m a mother first and some days that’s it, no more. Yes, that has now got to a point where it’s often not enough for me and the sadness of that is blurring my vision. But damn, I am a good mother, a very good mother. Ok I’ve been a little off track recently but, that’s why I’d asked for help, I’m aware I’m not able to do my best at the moment.

And yet the help was standing there pointing the finger right back at me, us, and seemingly saying, your children don’t behave and that’s your faulty.

After this distressing meeting, we then endured a number of months where we allowed this support access to our lives, only to have the accusatory finger pointed continually in our direction. Why you may ask did we go along with this? Because having asked for help we felt we needed to at least seem grateful. We were on our knees and struggling we were afraid to say “this is not right”. However the final straw was still to come, an incident which snapped me into the realisation that the support we were being given was actually causing much more damage to our lives than help.

The support lady offered to take both our children on a Christmas outing. She collected them early one morning and with a couple of other children she worked with, whisked them off to a children’s centre for some fun activities, followed by a lunchtime trip to MacDonalds. They were delivered back some hours later with a cheery wave.

Following the festive season that same neat little bottom sat on my sofa and yet again pointed her damning finger our way.

My children had, in her opinion, behaved in an exceptionally terrible manner on the outing she had supervised. Her idea of terrible was fighting, answering back, repeatedly not listening to her and generally being very disruptive.

Inside my head I was screaming “hello, welcome to my world” but outwardly a jumble of worlds spilled from my mouth, “…control issues……feelings of insecurity….vying for attention….early life trauma” as I gasping for air, she came back with the line, the one that made it very obvious she had no understanding of what she was dealing with.

“I’m sorry but I work with children who come from far worse situations than yours and they don’t behave in that way”

My response was vehement “How can you say that, you don’t know that at all, you don’t know their full history”

It was decided at that meeting that we would no longer pursue the support of this person or her team. In fact we’ve not seen any one from Post Adoption Support since. They are waiting for some possible therapy to materialise from CAHMS. This therapy I’m again not sure is actually suitable, and we will consider at great length before we allow our child to participate.

We’ve been left feeling even more isolated than ever before, unable to even trust those that are supposed to be there to support us. Knowing that our own understanding and knowledge of the challenges we live with far out strips most of those we come into contact with in a professional role. The only good to come of this whole experiences is that we have regained confidence in our own ability to parent our children.