The greatest gift you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return
Sounds easy doesn’t it?
Now we are three weeks into placement, and this being the first time I have grabbed 30 minutes to write, I am sharing the progress so far and the massive roller coaster ride we have been on. This has been the hardest, most tiring, most uplifting, scariest and most rewarding thing we have done. The roller coaster I mentioned before has been extended, has had new track fitted, allowing for mind-altering loops and a power boost that has shot us forward without being able to think or scream! We are experiencing both massive drops, falls and highs and at times the drops never cease.
Now I am usually Mr Positive, and whilst I am sat here smiling as we have had a good weekend and day today I have been shocked at my own thoughts during this period. I have really had to call into play my own sanity, my personal views and morals and challenge self-doubt and internal battles.
What if your thoughts were as follows?
“How on earth am I ever going to love you when you behave like that?”
“Why is a well developed and intelligent 6 year old boy reverting into behaviours of an 18 month year old?”
“Why can’t you speak to me properly like you were 5 minutes ago instead of just shouting go go and ga ga?”
“How on earth am I going to do to respond to that?”
“Where is my old life? Why have I chosen to destroy it?”
“Why didn’t the social workers tell us how extreme this behaviour would be?”
“Have we really come into this so blind-sighted or with the wrong expectations?” I thought we were well prepared.
“What did we miss in preparing ourselves for this?”
“I want to walk out of here right now, jump on a plane and escape to somewhere warm?”
“Why am I staring at planes in the sky and thinking ‘You lucky buggers going off somewhere nice’ ? I can’t see a time when we will be able to do that ever again.
“Why am I not feeling elated, after all this is something we have wanted for 5 + years and have worked hard towards for the past 12 + months?”
“What is this doing to our relationship, me and Mr. F?”
“Why am I not feeling how I thought I would feel?”
“I am finding it hard to look at you right now let alone be in the same room.”
Those of you who know me may be shocked reading this. Believe me I have shocked myself in the deep feelings and despair I have felt over the last three weeks. I have had to really come to terms with quite frankly some horrid thoughts and feelings and ones which I am, or should I say I was, embarrassed to admit.
I am sharing these now as anyone considering adopting really needs to be prepared for such thoughts. No amount of reading, training, preparation or discussions can prepare you for these sentiments. Not only do they eat away at you but they really make you question just what on earth have we done?
Quite soon after the boys were placed with us permanently we started to experience some extreme regression behaviour in one of them which took us by surprise. Maybe it shouldn’t have but it did. The reports and social workers mentioned that at times of anxiety he would sometimes go into baby mode and put on a baby voice. I think this was played down quite a lot if I am honest.
He was doing this frequently and once minute we would be talking about maths or something really advanced for a 6 year old and then bang he becomes an 18 month year old baby. Wailing, pointing at things, making sounds, not speaking and flailing arms and legs. This can be anywhere, at home or out and about and it became a hard shock for us as to how to deal with it.
The social workers said to ‘think toddler’. That’s all well and good but what does that really mean? All the advice, reading and learning we have done is this can happen with children with attachment challenges as they have not had the chance to really be a toddler and regress back into their safe zone. The advice is also to treat them like a baby. Hold them, rock them, look into their eyes and speak as if a baby. Boy does that feel weird on a 6 year old who is not only 120 cm tall but weighs 25 kg! Have you ever tried rocking a 25 kg child and carrying them about?
So our first week, whilst exciting, positive and a great amount of fun was also a stark realisation that this little chap has more challenges that we and the professionals believed. Perfectly normal and nice times were being ripped to shreds with outbursts, toddler meltdowns and constant whinging and whining. Now many of you who have already adopted or or have kids of your own will be thinking, ‘that’s just kids’. It is, but this little boy also has some key challenges on top and we are now slowly learning to look for signs and triggers.
It took me some time to get over the thought that this felt so weird with a tall 6 year old. Even now we can be having a perfectly fine day and bang, it happens and I find myself thinking , ‘ok this feels and looks weird but I need to try and help him.’
As for his younger brother. He has come out of the honeymoon period for sure. The first week was an onslaught of charm, smiles, trying to impress and excitement. Now that he is feeling more settled with us that honeymoon is over and we are getting tested at every opportunity. He is now behaving like any other 4 year old and whilst hard to have them both at the same time pecking away, it’s also reassuring that they both feel they can test us in this way.
So back to my list of thoughts and feelings above. Half way through our second week I hit rock bottom. I couldn’t see any positives in anything, I found it hard to be therapeutic in any way at all. I knew I had to be, I knew I had to sort myself out but couldn’t find any solice. My own emotional and energy levels were trashed and I couldn’t even tell you the day of the week or my name some days!
Some of the thoughts scared me. Why can’t this feel like I thought it would? Am I going to love them to the extent they deserve and need? The thoughts went on and deeper and I felt scared.
Then came my saviours. Not only my amazing husband, and support network of close friends and neighbours, not only our amazing social worker who I know I can speak to about anything but an amazing friend of mine, let’s call her ‘A’, who herself, together with her husband, adopted two children two years ago. Mr F was so worried about me he contacted A and asked if they would speak to me.
We had an amazing discussion. ‘A’ listened and then confirmed to me that all those thoughts she had during the first few months, and sometimes even now. She shared my concerns over this feeling wrong, she agreed and gave her own examples of meltdowns she has had, as well as wanting to run away. We spoke for an hour and it was the best therapy ever. Knowing I wasn’t alone or wrong in feeling this way, believing that it was alright to think this way as after all we are human.
‘A’ if you are reading this you have missed your vocation as a counsellor!
There was this stark realisation on two counts. Firstly, both MR F, and notably myself had been putting too much pressure on ourselves. Wanting to give 110% in everything, wanting to do everything by the book, driving to try and make this as great as possible – without thinking that actually we are human and we need to be not so hard on ourselves.
Secondly, a massive realisation I had and continue to have daily – all of my thoughts were selfish, they were about me, about us, thinking about the ‘I’, not thinking about the boys and just how bloody hard, scary and disconcerting this whole experience and their lives to date must be.
Think about it. This is their fourth move after having some foster placements fail. Imagine that, being aged four and six and having to have moved four times in your life already to different faces, places and carers. No wonder these little lads are confused, anxious and scared. I suppose it took me hitting rock bottom and think selfish thoughts to actually pull myself out the other side. So I am sharing these to anyone going through adoption who feels the same. It’s ok to feel that way, it’s ok to doubt yourself and wish for what you had before. Just as long as you can talk to someone and put sense a reality into it all.
When I reflect now on the first three weeks, my heart fills with joy and happiness. The boys are doing so well and each day we are learning and experiencing new things, new attachment challenges and progress as well as building the love and belief in each other. After all we are four personalities who are still learning how to live together, combined with two boys who have not had a good start in life and who are amazingly resilient yet naturally anxious.
Only yesterday, I asked the older one about how he felt about his forever home. He took took some time, looked me in the eye, (yes eye contact!), and said with a smile ‘Happy’. My heart melted. I know it’s not as easy as that, I know we have years to go but slowly the love is building on both sides.
I have dragged myself out of my pit of despair, with a massive help from friends, our social worker and my empathy counsellor ‘A’, and my wonderful husband. I am waking each day wanting to experience the day with the boys and to find what nuances or little glimmers of fun, laughter and attachment we will build each day.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” – Socrates
We are building, the love is growing on both sides and our family is on the up!