I haven’t written about my experience of adoption before. At least, not outside of the 280-character limit of an anonymous (and now abandoned) Twitter account. I started tweeting about my life as an adoptive parent just after our children moved in, but stopped once things felt too scary to share.
Something similar happened offline too. I found myself glossing over the worst bits when I spoke to family and friends, even adding touches of humour here and there. I didn’t want to worry anyone or give the impression that we couldn’t cope. It also felt odd, saying anything negative about our children. Disloyal, even.
So, the words ‘tricky’ and ‘difficult’ became part of my everyday vocabulary. I’d tell a friend that the weekend was a ‘bit tricky’, or call the school office to explain that we’d be late because one child was finding things ‘a little difficult this morning’.
This worked ok, for a while.
I hadn’t heard of child-to-parent violence (CPV) back then and felt a deep sense of shame that I was being hit by my children. It made it very hard to speak about with other people, much less seek appropriate support. We got locked in a vicious cycle where the worse it got at home, the less we felt able to talk about it or ask for help.
The realisation that we weren’t alone came slowly, in a series of seemingly unconnected events;
- I remember meeting Sally Donovan after one of her talks, which I had sat and sobbed through. Another We Are Family member had to half-drag me to go say hello and I’m so grateful they insisted. I must have looked terrible, but Sally was very kind. I walked away feeling a little brighter.
- An adoptive parent I’d only spoken to on email invited me to their house, after a social worker suggested we might have some experiences in common. This wonderful adopter sat very patiently and let me offload, then made me lunch while she explained Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) and how it might be helpful. (Years later, I still make the same meal for myself when I want to practice self-care.)
- I sat in the middle of a circle of adopters and special guardians on a Great Behaviour Breakdown course, listening to others talk about their experiences. This might have been the first time I actually felt safe to share the extent of the tough stuff going on at home. Not only was everyone very understanding, but the course leaders had some practical suggestions for handling the exact sort of challenging situations we thought were beyond our ability to manage.
It’s hard to explain the relief I felt once I realised I wasn’t the only parent going through something like this.
Learning as we go along is familiar territory for lots of parents, but some of the challenges that adoptive families go through are extraordinary, in every sense of the word. Having access to a network of people who’ve been there before, or are experiencing similar things to you, really helps. That’s why specialist peer-to-peer support networks, like the one that We Are Family offers are invaluable.
I’d love to tell you that things at home got easier – the truth is, we’re a work in progress.
But that’s exactly why we work to stay connected with other families like ours, because whilst we don’t know what challenges are still to come, we no longer need to face them alone.