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‘I thought my birth mum was dead!’ said our eldest this morning, as we discussed the letter box contact we’d just sent off. We looked at him in amazement. We thought we’d been through this, again and again. ‘How did I get left, if she wasn’t dead?’

We talk about birth family and how and why the kids were adopted most days, and thus do a lot of 'Life Story Work'. So, as you can imagine, this morning’s statement was quite a shock. How could our child possibly have thought his birth mum was dead?

I said, ‘You know she’s had more babies, don’t you? She’s alive and well.’ He computed and agreed (having met the half siblings several times), and we went on to talk about what lovely babies birth mum had had but what a shame she couldn’t care for them. Our youngest said that he missed her, and we said she missed them too. It’s all very sad, but at least it’s true. It’s dealt with, in terms of the kids’ immediate needs before they have to get ready for school and go about their day.

I’ll just pause there to acknowledge that they do that. How incredible our children are.

You’re left with a load though, and sure enough my head is heavy with this. Mostly, I am fascinated that he’d been fantasising about his birth mother leaving not through choice or circumstances, but through dying. IE, I don’t really think that he thought birth mum was dead. I believe that she’d decided to think that because it was easier to deal with. None of this is probably conscious, I hasten to add.

Thinking about it in terms of defence mechanisms, has the ego decided to shield him from the terrible pain of rejection by telling him that birth mum died? Are there feelings of guilt and self-blame there that feel unbearable? If so, a construct of, ‘It can’t have been my fault; she left because she died’ makes a lot of sense.

Our post adoption support worker has said repeatedly that all traumatised children believe that the break down of their birth family was their fault. I’ve always had a little voice at the back of my head whispering, 'Don’t say "It’s not your fault"' (as advised). The little voice says, ‘Saying that might plant the idea that it IS their fault.’

In our talks about birth family and adoption we’ve talked about poor choices, the birth parents not being able to look after themselves let alone children and, above all, the sadness of it and the fact that it was not fair on the kids. But I haven’t punctuated those talks with, ‘None of this was your fault’ for ages. I used to, but the eldest always looked indignant and said, ‘Of course it’s wasn’t my fault, I was a baby!’ So, I kind of felt my work was done there.

At the risk of oversharing (although I am blogging, after all!), I took this very issue to my counsellor the other day, before this comment about the dead birth mum came up. She tentatively agreed that she could see why I wouldn’t say ‘It’s not your fault’ to the eldest, but we discussed that the youngest might have quite different needs and I was reminded that he has considerable struggles with low self-esteem. I felt that I should start saying it to him, but now I think that I need to consider whether they are BOTH struggling under a burden of guilt about breaking their old family up. What a thing to carry around. No wonder they need to deploy defence mechanisms to deal with those feelings.

It is our job as adoptive parents to be explorative, empathic and reflective. Sometimes I feel really disappointed in myself, like this morning. But at least a moment like that gets you off your laurels (although I wouldn’t exactly say I was RESTING on them!) and, ultimately, helps your family work a little better.

The L Word

In this age of fake news, perhaps I need to re-evaluate my feelings about lies. I hate them. I have a thing about lying, cheating and everything else to do with falsehood.

And I know we are not supposed to use the L word, but I do. Something that’s dishonestly made up is a lie. I know that’s not therapeutic, but, like I said, I have a thing about it. How can I be therapeutic for something I need therapy about?

Enough of me. This is actually about my otherwise delightful son, who is very much into lies.

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I took The Great Behaviour Breakdown course to manage his behaviour.  Tell him you know how angry he is, they said in the classroom.

Jump up and down with him when he’s angry, they said. 

Try to get him spinning, they said.  It regulates the vestibular system in his brain. 

I jumped.  I spun.  I shouted. 

“I would be so angry too,” I shouted.  And my son screamed at me, so high and shrill and then he hit me harder and opened his jaws as if to bite.   It made it worse. 

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Such Great Parents!

We have recently had some involvement with CAMHS which has (unlike our previous encounter) been quite positive. We’ve talked through what’s working, what’s not, how we can try to shift things that seem a bit stuck.  The psychologist has been quite upfront in his appraisal of us: he was concerned maybe I was not affectionate and loving enough, or the differences in my partner and my own parenting style were incompatible and causing conflict.  He was happy to report he was assured this was not the case and, while we were different, this was within the ‘normal' range of difference!

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Out Of The Mouths Of Babes

If anyone is familiar with the five ways to wellbeing, one of the quadrants (ignoring that this is quadrant no. 5!) is to give to others. One way I’ve been able to do that is by supporting potential adopters via sessions at the agency I adopted though. I troop up to Barkingside once every few months, usually harassed and running late due to my nine year-old’s fear that I am not coming back! I always ask my little munchkin if there is anything she would like me to say, and this varies depending on her mood. This time I had a huff and a “Really? Again?” So we decided it would be so much easier if she wrote it down so I wouldn’t have to keep asking her! Below is exactly what ten minutes of her mind created – totally unprompted (I have not changed anything; everything is her own words and style…except for adding the YouTube link which she insisted I help her with.)

So from the mouth of a babe…

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People's Good Intentions

I hate being this boring but if I could write a letter to all those wonderful non-adopter mums, neighbours, friends and family, it would definitely include the following 10 points: 

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A Letter To My Younger Self

This week, an adoptee blogs for us. She writes a letter to herself at different stages, starting with the neglected baby and ending with the hopeful, thriving adult.  

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Is It Me, Or...?

At half term, I decided to put one of my kids in clubs while the other had 1:1 time with me. The elder went first and all was well, as I had expected. After a day away from his brother, with whom he is locked in war, he felt nourished, attended to, happy. I had been able to let him make more choices than usual and he really rose to that. 

The youngest, however, presented me with a very different day out. 

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Travelling Together

I am in a really privileged position. Pre-adoption, I made it my mission to travel as much as possible and when I adopted I understood that this part of my life would end. But, surprise surprise, my six year-old came to me with a desire to travel and begging for a passport.

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The Pause

I love my child more than I thought would be possible; more than I could imagine. But I always pause when someone who hasn’t adopted asks, "Would you do it all again?"

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