First, we would like to thank you all for your kind and encouraging comments so far! We have been amazed at the response! Please keep reading, sharing all this, and do make some comments here on the blog so we can do this better!
Some of you might not be aware that where the text changes colour, you can click to a webpage that further explains what I’m on about.
So. We wanted at least two adopted children.
I (Simon) am an only child. It was great all my childhood, because I got all the attention, and tons of presents at Christmas and birthdays. But going into my teens onwards, I began to feel it. I had no siblings to knock off my rough edges. Brothers to toughen me, and sisters to civilize me (I did gain three amazing step siblings mid teens, when my Dad remarried, but I never lived with them so these processes were missed)
Then in your thirties, the pressures of life stack up, and as a single child you alone cope with rites of passage I think are best designed for the bigger family. But I might just be a big girls blouse.
Had we been able to have children together we would have aimed for two natural children, to join my then 12 year old step daughter.
Often, Social Care departments want to keep sibling groups of children together –which is a great instinctive idea- but when the siblings bond and relationship are not fully assessed this can be a disaster, and cause shipwreck later. Half the time even the concept of a decent assessment is a pipe dream. Adoption Teams often work in overload, with the few staff shifting and leaving constantly, like an ice flow.
When we were matched with our children, we were told that whilst both were removed at a very young age from birth parents (M from birth) they were placed in separate placements, even though the final plan could only be adoption together.
When I first discussed this with an academic friend- who knew all about attachment- she warned us to take one child first and build a bond, and gently introduce the other at some future point. I thought she was both rude, and cold. How could our love, good boundaries, and the sheer gratitude of the children for being chosen not solve everything?
Our children came as a package. We were told they had a bond as they used to go to a lot of contact together (before the then Freeing Order) and then their foster carer’s saw each other through the week.
In fact the early contact sessions between D and M were a semi conscious nightmare. The parents- who came from warring, dysfunctional families- used to row, and the contacts were chaotic and badly monitored. M- a newborn- used to be driven by taxi without an escort to the contact sessions, without knowing who would pick her up the other end. On one occasion two drug dealing brothers came to the contact centre and tried to steal D as a drug debt!
The foster carers were very loving. D had a single female, who also had teenagers in placement. D was able to run free and enjoyed being the main man. She didn’t really have any boundaries, though, beyond health and safety. The first time we met him he was enjoying the open fridge policy. Multiple Mr Kipling French Fancies lost their toppings, and he threw her mobile phone down the toilet, which she thought was amusing! He never stopped moving.
M was with Italian carers who lived in a small flat. The mother had her on her hip the whole day, and the contact with D happened in her small kitchen- where D would pinball around and often hit M. The foster carers found it unworkable, and didn’t meet up much, and when they did, the contacts were stressful and short lived.
So by the time of our introductions to the children, we had this false image that we were buying into a family unit. We weren’t! We were given this strange rented house as our base for two weeks. We had lots of days out all together and we put the tensions solely down to the new and strange experience of the children meeting us. We didn’t know that the children barely knew each other, and the little they knew of each other they associated with rejection and loss and stress and danger. And on top of that they were meeting three new people who signified the end of their then world (for these little children, as far as they were concerned, were part of their foster carers families; what on earth can a 2 or 1 year old understand of adoption?)
I cringe now, thinking about how uneducated – but cocky with it- I was then. The way to have have done introductions was just as my academic friend had said. Note to self- the fact she was Professor in Child Development may have been a clue. And had introductions been done right, as I allude to below, maybe we wouldn’t have had both kids. The gift of hindsight is a wonderful thing.
By the time CAMHS got involved they told us the children should never have been placed together. That was years in, after we had fallen in love with both our children (and can I suggest to you it can take years to really fall in love with adopted children- not like, or want, or need, but treat utterly as if they were from your own loins) I’m not sure what that CAMHS wisdom was meant to achieve, although I suppose it helped us see our inability to cope wasn’t just because we were feckless. We did make a lot of mistakes, however, which we will unpack from time to time in this blog.
It feels like marketing a taboo saying this, but there is emerging evidence not all sibling groups should be together.
Here’s a resume of what having them together in our old way of doing things looked like:
D stayed in a special therapeutic school until the beginning of December 2015, coming home holidays and every third weekend.
We had seven weeks of him and M over the summer, and all we could do was separate the children, because by week three, it was basically The Shining.
We separated them, because even when they weren’t fighting, their play had a high, tense quality to it, that predicted sudden violent disagreements happening. Games they invented themselves were never safe or sane. One game was called “the Dustman”, and involved D gathering everything he could move in the house (drawers emptied, muddy garden implements pulled in) and piling it in the centre of the room. Then breaking it. The only thing worse than the noise of chaos was the ominous silence…….
Another classic was when the children were on the trampoline. Trampolines are therapeutic, but if our children chose to stay on too long, or entered it too “high”, they become deregulated. Then, they would start stripping off and swearing. They then added toys to the trampoline, so as they bounced, loads of Fisher Price stuff and Barbie’s would be flying in mid air, in rhythm to their rotating dance. It sort of looked like Daft Punks “Around the World” video, only more messed up.
When things went south with the children, we separated until bedtime. In later years we separated the kids before things went wrong, so as to leave on a positive note and reinforce the good parts of the relationship. Days became segmented into periods, and whilst it was rare for the whole day to be good, a la the Curates Egg, it was often “good in parts”.
There were days we barely – if at all- saw each other. It involved a lot of lonely wandering in the woods with one child, and time with other family, without each other. We might as well of been divorced! We actually debated whether to buy a second house- and one of us would live with a child each. We could meet at a Travelodge every month for conjugal rites and Scrabble. I’m deadly serious.
There is no shelf life on that, folks. We adopted to enhance and extend our family, for the reasons anybody responsible has children, and not to become a dual residential care unit funded by escalating debt.
Even having coffees at McDonalds, to break the monotony, equalled hundreds of pounds over the year- and don’t forget petrol and the cost of running two cars- because they couldn’t be transported together due to the violence in the back seats- or in any seat configuration.
Here’s an illustration about what I’m trying to convey. In World War Two, Belgium was faced with impossible odds against invading Nazi Germany. They had a fraction of the men and equipment they needed. So, (Belgium being largely land reclaimed from the sea) they flooded all their fields, and pretty soon much of the country was under water, with the raised roads becoming clogged with refugees. They soon released this may have given them time to get some of the army evacuated to Britain to fight another day, but they had created a whole other-bigger- problem, and the situation was unworkable. They surrendered soon after.
(World War 2 Belgian soldiers queueing for flippers)
What I’m saying is that in battling endlessly to “hang on”, make sure the battles are worth it. It is a subtle thing discerning at what point being stubborn and resilient becomes negligence and stupidity.
M was living like somebody enduring domestic abuse. Her nerves were shot, she was fearful- and we all deserved better. So did D.
All that time social care sympathised, but had not funded therapy with us a family unit, merely silo therapy. So M was getting this excellent mother and child support via a post adoption charity, but when D came back we regressed to Planet of the Apes.
The thought I want to leave you with is that there is always hope and a future. But progress may not always be linear, predictable, or able to be done in your current way of doing family, life, or things. Or desired timescales. In your adoption journey, you have a trinity of resources:
- Family/ friends/ social capital
- Professional help/ school
- The “other”- stuff you could file under X files, the supernatural, feelings of destiny and fate…
More on this next time…..