Do we believe in Santa?

My son Ben is at a wonderful age. He believes in fairytales where everything is possible: superheroes, talking trains, chubby honey bears and gold pots at the end of rainbows. When I read him a bedtime story, the characters of the books become real, and they come to fill his bedroom and populate his mind. Imagination is such a distinctive trait of childhood, and as parents, we like to encourage it and hope they will never completely let go of it.

I cannot recall when was the last time I believed blindly in flying people, or magic and illusion. I’m quite pragmatic, and I grow up in a world with little imagination in it. My parents always told me the truth about pretty much everything, and they had a scientific approach to all my questions. We used the have a 15 volumes encyclopaedia that contained all the knowledge I could ever seek, but no space for enchanted forests, fairies or Santa with his reindeers living at the North Pole with his helpful elves.

I’ve never wondered what to tell my son about Santa, because in my mind I already knew: “Santa was a man called St.Nicholas who was very kind and rich, and gave lots of gifts to his friends. The fat man in the red costume you are referring to, comes instead from a very popular advert from Coca-Cola”. That’s what make sense in my mind and it came to me as a big surprise that my always-rational husband Diego though instead we should tell Ben that Santa exists, and will bring him presents for Christmas.

It’s not telling my son a lie that worries me, I can condone one little white lie, but I’m struggling to understand which purpose the existence of Santa would serve. Wouldn’t be better for Ben to grown up knowing that us, the loving parents, are the ones buying the presents?

On the other end, there is something special about believing in magic. Can you imagine the possibilities? I wonder what the little confused and complicated mind of my son would think about flying reindeers: would he try to understand how they can fly? Would he stare at the sky hoping to spot one up there? Would he ask to go on the sleigh for a ride with Santa?

We get told by every expert how important imaginative play is for children. It’s such an important step in the development of their cognitive mind. It’s how they learn to solve problems and elaborate feelings, how they evolve language and assimilate culture, and develop their motor skills and social abilities.

So my question is: which one is actually imaginative play?
Is it telling my son that Father Christmas will come with his loyal flying reindeers to bring presents, or is it telling that Santa doesn’t exist but as a family we will be pretending he does to create a magical Christmas together?

Therapeutic remedies

I know every so often my wife convinces herself that our son hates her, and when that happens she doesn’t have to work too hard to find evidence to support her conclusion. My arguing to the contrary requires a much greater effort.

Our son is 2 and a half now, and at this age is more than normal for a child to experiment with aggression as a way to deal with strong emotions and gain a sense of control. And for the time been I’m sticking with that, more than normal. Because it’s easy to label a child’s behaviour–ADHD, SPD, RAD, have your pick–and even more so when the child is adopted. I’m not trying to ignore a potential problem, I’m just trying not to manufacture one all on my own.

For my wife is harder to accept this behaviour as normal when our widely moody child decides he can’t stand her for that day, and he makes sure she knows by mean of the occasional punches, kicks, scratches, and bites. And when all those proves ineffective, he still has the option of shouting mean phrases at her, ordering her to go away, or not to take part in group games. I wonder if these would be more painful if he knew how to swear. But in reality, it’s the tone of voice that gets you. A “go away” is not better than a “f**k off” if yelled with the proper amount of rage. I never knew a child so small could show so much anger.

He gets angry, no matter where we are, or who with. Playgroups, for example, can raise some embarrassing situations. People tend to question your suitability as a parent at the first sign of open confrontation from your child. It might be a natural reaction to hearing a child yelling in distress–we are all parents after all–but they all stop and stare at you. Not the child, you. And since the reaction of the child cannot be justified by anything that happened at the time of the incident, they can only conclude that something that warrants that response must have happened prior to the incident, if not on regular basis. They stare absent-mindedly at you as their brains run through all possible foreboding scenarios.

On other days he’s just adorable, and we are none the wiser.

Empowering

The thing is, we cannot change our children, at best we can model good behaviour, a fancy way to say “give a good example”. But we can also try to make life easier for them, and there are remedies that have worked in the past.

The simple advice “physical activity, plenty of water, and something to eat every two hours” has spared us many miserable afternoons. Why that works is far beyond my comprehension–something to do with brain neuroreceptors and the release of chirpy hormones and the likes–but thankfully there’s no need to grasp the science to reap the benefits. It’s a bit like flying, you just need to trust it’ll work.

Physical activity

Hide and seek is a personal favourite of my little one at the moment; it’s been for months. Me, not such a big fan to be honest, but just like running, playing ball, or shoot hoops, anything that gets them moving works wonders to redirect their excess energy in something fun and that usually does not end with any of us hurting or feeling ashamed.

It doesn’t have to be a formal 45 minutes session of interval training either. A high-energy two minute chase around the house can change my son’s mood in ways no amount of Ritalin could.

So, if your house rules include the clause “no running in the house”, I suggest you scrap it.

Plenty of water

All children need water. Children that have or might have been neglected or abused need it more. They need water to regulate their internal state and their behaviour. Dehydration can trigger a long scary list of side effects, which include irrational behaviour, rage, checking out, and seizures. Children might not realise they are dehydrated, particularly very young ones, and need to be reminded to have a drink often.

Just a note of caution: “children need water” is not another way to say “children need anything that comes in liquid form”. It means actual water. Sodas, sugary drinks, caffeine drinks, carbonated drinks, they all help dehydrate our children’s body even more.

If you can manage it at all, push them to drink plain water instead. Keep bottles around the house, get them in the habit of drinking in small sips, and often.

Food every two hours

I stopped using the expression “I’m starving”. What people actually mean to say with that is “I feel quite peckish”, which is a problem of a very different magnitude.

Some children have learned from a very young age what starvation feels like. It’s very simple to understand how the two hours rules would apply to them: they should never ever suffer hunger again or worry about dying because of it.

But all our bodies work the same way. When we haven’t eaten for some time our body signals that something is wrong, and needs our immediate attention. It might start as a simple suggestion, then it increases in intensity, until it becomes an absolute priority. If you ever get there, then you have my permission to use the expression “I’m starving”.

For young children, these signals can be distracting, but for neglected children, these signals can bring back past memories, and with them anxiety. As hunger increases so does anxiety, but at a much faster rate, until anxiety becomes fear, and fear causes a meltdown.

The memory of starvation doesn’t even need to be conscious. Children who suffered hanger in utero or in their first year of life are also affected in the same way. Being pre-verbal, these memories are even more damaging; a child cannot make sense of them–their brain cannot recall them–as if they existed in the form of pure feelings.

Out of trouble

So the rule “food every two hours” is a way to keep anxiety in check. In fact, all these measures are a way to stay out of trouble, help out little ones gain control of themselves, learn, and grow in confidence.

They might seem like a way to work around a problem, and it might well be that the same problem can be treated with medications. But it stands that treating a problem is not the same as curing it.

And if physical activity, water, and food are going to keep my child away from life-long ever-varying cocktails of medications, then I’ll be his personal coach until I’ll be able to stand, nag him about drinking water until we are no longer on speaking terms, and follow him around with food as any self-respecting Italian parent should do anyway.


the-connected-child

References:

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Last week roundup results #10

Ten weeks in and the Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup is building momentum, all thanks to the people who visited the page, took the time to nominate new articles or vote for the ones already listed.

This week posts touch on central themes such as the role of foster carers, the effect of trauma, and the innocence of children affected by adoption.

A big congratulation to the authors who made it into this week top 5.

If you are new to our roundup and want to know more, have a look at this page.

This week top 5

#ArticleVotes
1thumbSuddenly Mummy: What to Expect From Your Child's Former Foster Carer Post-Adoption3
2thumbThe Helpful Hindrance3
3thumbTerrified to Lose Me3
4thumbQuestions from Strangers: A Mom's Response | No Hands But Ours2
5thumbThe Wrong Side Of Redemption: Adventures in Questioning Trauma and Loss2

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The paradox of adoption and fostering

4am. The metallic crackling noise from the baby monitor wakes me up.

Is Ben awake? Is he gonna cry? Do I need to go and check what’s going on?

But Ben, my adoptive son, goes back to sleep, and after few seconds the only noise I can hear is the gentle hum coming from the speaker.

I close my eyes and try to go back to sleep, but I can’t. I can feel my heart beating faster and faster. I can feel my stomach tightening and my throat closing. Feels like an anxious episode, but it’s not. It’s only the feeling caused by not knowing the answer to the question that pops into my head:

When did I become such a bad person?

We were approved as Foster Family about 2 months ago. I imagined we would get a placement not long after panel, but it hasn’t happened yet, and we are just waiting and waiting and waiting. I remember reading about Local Authorities in the UK needing to urgently recruit 9,000 new foster carers to match the growing number of children in need.

Yet there isn’t a child for me?

I’m told that November is typically a slow month for placements. I find the comment rather inappropriate, but if that is true, we might get a placement in December, just before Christmas. And here we go, another bad though is forming in my mind:

Christmas? Really? You kidding me, right!?

I want to be able to give Ben a jolly good time for the Christmas holidays. After all, this will be a magical time for him. He’s almost 3 years old now, and for the first time, he can make sense of Santa, the decorations and presents, and generally what’s going on around him. I don’t want to take it away from him, and I can image a placement close to Christmas been tricky, to say the least.

When did I become so selfish?

I remember having similar feelings during the adoption training, long before we met Ben. The training went on for months, and it was normal to feel anxious towards the end of it. After a while, I started believing “my child” was somewhere out there in the world, alone and scared, and all I wanted was for him to be safe and to be home soon. Not once I told myself that the hypothetical child I was thinking of, was not my child – he still had a family – and he was already at home – with his birth family.

I never really analysed those thoughts before, they are too scary to even consider. I like to think of myself as a compassionate person. I offer my trolley token to people who don’t have coins for the trolley, I ask to carry the shopping of elderly ladies in my small town who struggle with the heavy bags, I always make sure to give way to cars when the traffic is heavy and drivers have to wait forever before been able to pull out from a side road.

But I was eager to adopt and have a family, as I’m now to have a placement, sooner rather than later. I feel like I’m implicitly hoping for some poor child to be neglected so that he can be placed with me. How empathetic is that?

The paradox is that adoption and fostering give us the chance to do something invaluable and good for a child, and for us to become the best parents and carers we can be. But in order to do so, something awful and painful has to happen first.

Does this mean that wanting to do good ultimately makes us bad people?

The Adoption Letterbox Booklet

I must have started my first contact letter dozens of times, and never got further than a few sentences in, before scrapping it and start again.

I remember agreeing to letterbox although it didn’t mean very much to me. I accepted it as part of the adoption process, and the process is so convoluted that accepting to write a couple of letters a year seemed like a small concession to make. But when it came down to write my first letter, I finally understood the real meaning of writer’s block.

It’s hard to write to your child’s birth relatives, whom you know so little about, more so if you believe it’s your duty to impress them. I made it to the end of that first contact letter, and many more after that, and realised it didn’t need to be so difficult.

So, I put together a small guide called “The Adoption Letterbox Booklet”, based on my own experience of contact letter, in the hope that it might help others.

The Adoption Letterbox Booklet

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Last week roundup results #9

The results of Week #9 of our Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup are in.

This week round up is made of interesting first-hand accounts of adoption. We even had the first article about Christmas. It is true then, it does come earlier every year. 🙂

As always, a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate new articles or vote for the ones already listed, and of course congratulations to the authors who made it into this week top 5.

If you are new to our roundup and want to know more, have a look at this page.

This week top 5

#ArticleVotes
1thumbPrequel – Thank you mind for the 'i'm a failure story'3
2thumbYou Don’t – Matthew Blythe – meandminimees3
3thumbMore Stuff… – Dad's Barmy2
4thumbI’ve Always Wanted to Adopt, BUT…2
5thumbManaging Christmas As A Newly Adoptive Parent - The Newby Tribe1

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Caring for self and others

My birthday came and went, silently and unnoticed. I got a wonderfully sweet birthday card from my husband Diego, a birthday song from Ben, my son, few phone calls from my mum and dad and little brother, and a text from my best friend. I even baked my own cake.

When I was younger I used to plan a whole birthday week, packed with fun activities, parties, and lots and lots of pampering: hairdresser, shopping, late mornings in bed, aperitif in posh cafe’ bars with friends… It’s funny my birthday should fall during self-care week this year, as if to remind me how bad I become at taking care of myself.

Over the last two or three years, I tried to keep my birthdays as quiet as possible. It’s not a matter of been older or grown up, as I don’t necessarily think birthdays are only for kids, it’s because I don’t enjoy all the attentions anymore. I used to love to spoil myself for a full week, it was my week in the spotlights, my moment to shine and have everyone’s eyes on me. Now I feel more like finding a place to hide, and just re-emerge when my birthday has passed.

Today I struggle to find time to do what I like, to look after myself, and to do something just for me. The excuse is that looking after everyone else takes time, but the truth is that I find comfort in keeping myself occupied doing things for other. Why is that? Probably so that I can indulge myself in more cake than I should, in being lazy and avoid any kind of sport, in not having to explain why my hair looks like a lion’s mane most days…

Now that I’m one year older and a bit wiser, I realise that not looking after myself is irresponsible of me. As a mum and a wife, my role is to take care of my family by being a good parent for my son, being supportive of my husband, and be part of a happy family. But it makes no sense being selfless when you are the one who needs help the most. I remember been at the First Aid training and been told what to do in case of an accident: make sure you’re OK first, attend to the other victims after.

I thought I could be everything for everyone every time. It turned out I can’t. Nobody can. Yet it’s difficult for me to shake off the sense of guilt, and believe that self-care is an essential part of taking care of my family, but when I do, things just fall into place naturally. I can only give what I have, and every so often I need to stop and fill up again on patience, positivity, energies, listening skills, hugs and everything else my loved ones need. Once I’m full again, I can go back to my mummy-wife life with plenty more to give.

I won’t go to bed every night before 10, I won’t be joining the daily spin classes at my local gym, nor I will eat kale every day. What I need is not a different life, or to fill up my calendar with activities like a zealous overachieving child. I’ll just need to set aside time for myself, and when I won’t find any, ask for help and for a bit of a break. There’s no shame in that.

Last week roundup results #8

The results of Week #8 of our Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup are in.

A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate new articles or vote for the ones already listed, and of course congratulations to our winners.

If you are new to our roundup and want to know more, have a look at this page.

This week’s top 5

#ArticleVotes
1thumbFor the love of… cows – Dad's Barmy4
2thumbWhy We Adopted A Sibling Group - The Newby Tribe3
3thumbSuddenly Mummy: Hopes and Nightmares3
4thumbam i Feeling Mum Yet?: Meeting Birth Mum...2
5thumbHow adoption changed my friendships2

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