My son was 14 months old when he joined our family.
My older boy was already in school so after the Easter holiday this new ‘baby’ joined us for drop off and pick up. I had only told a few close friends about the family member we were expecting so for many it was a bit of a surprise to see the little guy.
As far as I knew he was the only adopted child in my group of parent friends at school. This in itself wasn’t a problem, but when I spoke about sibling rivalry or attachment they would make innocuous remarks like, ‘oh all kids do that.’ I smiled through their placations, but I knew it wasn’t quite right. “It’s just the same as having a baby brother in any family,” was another platitude I grew tired of hearing. Well, if your birth child was delivered with a history of neglect and trauma then yes we can certainly relate to each other. If not then thank you, but no I don’t think that’s as helpful as you mean it to be.
It wasn’t until my adopted child started pre-school himself that I experienced what the adoption prep courses had told me about. Having to advocate for my child, safeguarding concerns, pupil premium. Not to mention communication difficulties that meant he would become frustrated and anxious. He was able to form attachment to the adult helpers and made friends which was wonderful. I, however, struggled to make links with other parents who might share my experience.
I stayed in touch with the foster carers he had lived with before he was adopted. Their love for him was such a boon when things were rough. I was able to talk to them about his early experiences, to ask about his birth family and just to share the difficulties with someone.
It wasn’t until we moved to a school with nurture provision and a really good SENDCO that I met any other parents with experience of adoption. I spoke to the school and was open about my support needs. As a single parent to two children with additional needs it was proving to be a lot in addition to a full time job. The school reintroduced coffee mornings where parents could meet and talk to each other. I finally met other parents who understood what I was going through and it made such a difference.
If you are fortunate to have good post adoption support you may be directed to where you can get additional support. Through trial and error I have found people with similar experience to me who are valuable and even if it’s just a nod of recognition at school drop off that can make the day feel better. I also attend a group at my local children’s centre for parents of children with additional needs, many of whom are also adopters.
During the adoption prep course you will have learned that you have to be an advocate for your child. It is also paramount that you advocate for yourself. That you recognise your own needs and ask for help. Tell the school about your situation and find out what they can do to put you in touch with other parents who might also value the connection. If they don’t already do this you can be the trailblazer who makes it happen for those who come after you.
Make friends with the key people at your child’s school. The safeguarding lead, any nurture staff and all support staff who come into contact with them over lunch, playtime, start and end of day. These transitions can be tough for our children and having allies in school is vital. They will also see if your child is making friends and settling in. When you are assured that your child is managing to negotiate the school environment you will too.
Children can find school overwhelming and so can we as parents who want the best for them. Go easy on yourself – this is a long road and you will find allies along the way.