Talking Adoption

I’m a very shy and self-conscious person, and I hate making public speeches. While still employed, I used to present at meetings and on training days, or talk during conference calls as part of my normal working day. But I just dreaded it. That was what of my job I hated the most.

So, when our Local Authority called and asked me to talk to an adoption information evening to some prospective new adopters, I hesitated.

I thought long and hard and finally decided to go ahead with it. There is so much about adoption that I wasn’t told, and that only an adopter can try to explain to someone who is considering embarking on this life-changing journey.

I think back at myself four years ago when I attended our introduction evening. I was full of hopes for the future, enthusiastic and ready to climb mountains, if necessary. Or so I thought. Looking back to it today, I have to admit I wasn’t ready to adopt, I wasn’t ready to listen, and I wasn’t ready to really assimilate what I was told.

Back then I was looking for a child, I wanted to be a mum. In my dreams everything would have worked out fine eventually, we would have been the perfect smiling family you see in magazines. Adoption was only a short stop on the way there, with no real part in our daily life, and only mentioned on Family Day.

I was wrong, very wrong, and it took me some time to start assimilating the multiple realities of adoption. And this makes me wonder what to say to potential adopters in a way that makes sense to them, and that can be of value for them.

Adoption comes from a place of loss

Adoption comes from a place of loss, and that’s true for everyone involved. Most of us look into adoption because we cannot have biological children, for medical or other reasons, but it’s the sense of something missing that pushes us closer to adoption.

We need to grieve this loss, we need to make sure that we don’t hold anyone responsible, that we don’t have remorses and regrets. Your adopted child is not a replacement for the biological child you couldn’t have, and it’s important you’re honest with yourself before continuing.

You child will come with his own loss, a loss that is too big for us to even begin to comprehend. Adopted children lose their birth parents, extended family, home, friends, familiar places, school, toys, clothes. They are placed in foster care and again, once adopted, they lose their foster parents, extended family, home, friends, familiar places, school, toys, clothes… and more.

And both the birth family and foster family needs to overcome the loss of a child they love. The assumption that birth parents are unloving bad people, and foster families are unaffectionate and emotionless is just wrong. Us, the adoptive parents, need to accept this love, and be sensible and respectful of their loss.

There is no adoption without trauma

There is no adoption without trauma. Trauma permeates adoption. At the beginning of my adoption training, I tried to convince myself that if I was adopting a very young child the trauma suffered would have been negligible. Let’s be clear: trauma is trauma. Whether you’re adopting a newborn, or an older child, they have experienced some degree of trauma, and removing the child from the source of trauma doesn’t erase the trauma from the child’s memories.

Healing from trauma is not a quick easy fix, it will take time, and your child will need a great deal of help in the process. This will put every members of the family under considerable stress, and feeling overwhelmed or depressed can be a common response to it. You need to know that is OK to feel that way, and that self-care and seeking support are a key priority for adoptive families.

Equally, you also need to remember that you’re not a victim of circumstances, and blame the system, the professional, the adoption support or anyone else for that matter, won’t take you very far in living an healthy and happy life.

Adoption training doesn’t teach love

Adoption training can be a long and demanding process. The more you are into the process, the more you will want it to be over.

And then the day comes when a child is placed with you. You are over the moon, you cannot contain your joy. You find yourself deeply caring for your child, at times you care even before meeting face to face, but deep down you feel something is still missing. There is an enormous pressure to feel love towards the little stranger who is now part of your family, but sometimes love is just not there. Not yet, at least. You love the idea of your child and the idea of what your child represent in your life.

This can be a discouraging thought, and it can make you feel inadequate, scared, guilty, and ashamed. Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of “The Connected Child”, wrote “adoptive parents become the biological parents through connection”, and a loving connection needs time to form and strengthen. So forgive yourself, and give love time to find his way into your family.

The prospective adopters I will meet at the information evening don’t need to be reminded how amazing adopting a child can be, but they need to find a way to accept what I was not ready to accept: adoption is not a drop-in replacement to a birth child, nor a close approximation.

Being a parent to a child should be considered a privilege, regardless how the child became part of the family. In that sense, adoption is not different to any other option.

Last week roundup results #17

The results of Week #17 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 all our winners.

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

This week top 5

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What they don’t tell you about being the dad

Have you ever wonder why every parenting book use the term “primary carer”? The reason for it–as every new parent quickly learns–is that even within the same family, not all parents are created equal.

The term primary carer implies that there must also be a “secondary” one, and if your family is anything like mine, that’s just another word for “dad”.

I know I should not assume. After all, families come in all shapes and sizes. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what your child calls you, if you are the secondary parent, your kid will soon let you know.

What you do is child play

Funny faces, OK. Chasing around the house, great. They’ll even let you kick a ball with them or play with their favourite doll. But when emotions run high, you’re out and you should make space for the pros, often known as “mum”.

If mum is nearby, in the same building, and at times in the same country, any effort on your side to soothe your child is going to be received with the same enthusiasm of a visit to the doctor during flu season.

But keep trying anyway.

Mum means mum

When you child wakes up in the middle of the night yelling “Muuum!”, what do you do? Sure, you could wait for mum to attend what is surely a serious emergency, like a pillow that fell on the floor or a teddy bear who went missing, but you want to be seen as willing to help, don’t you?

So, you decide to do the right thing and get up, even when you know all too well what will happen next. You drag yourself to your child’s bedroom, switching on the least amount of lights possible, and offer your child your full and undivided attention.

Your child immediately greet you by asking, “Where’s mummy?”. Now, the first time that happens, you may even assume he’s asking out of concern, “What happened to her? She normally comes when I call? Is everything OK?”, but the illusion disappears seconds later when he start chanting “I want mummy!”, crying, shouting, and throwing all sort of stuffed animals at you. What’s even more amazing is that the kid hasn’t opened his eyes once yet.

At this point, you normally hear mum getting out of bed, and that’s your cue, your job is done. All is left for you to do is to walk back to bed, repeating to yourself that it’s nothing personal and that it’s wrong of you to feel upset.

Children play the long game

A big holiday season finally arrives and, for two solid weeks, you spend every waking moment with your child: playing, reading, messing about. Things are going well, and you even start believing you are making up the lost ground. You’re already rehearsing your Father of the Year speech.

That is, until your child trips over his own two feet at the local playground and scratches his upper lip, only slightly. You’re less than three feet away, but yet he screams, “Mum!” in such a loud voice that you assume mum could have easily heard it, all the way back home.

In that moment you realise you could have spent the last two weeks fishing in Antarctica for the difference they’ve made.

You’ll be the last to know

The first moment you leave your partner at home with your child and go back to work will also be the last in which you know what’s going on around the house.

From there on, you’ll constantly play catch up with events that happened in your absence. Things will suddenly change place without prior consultation, because “they work better there”. For a while I thought my wife was doing that purely to wind me up, now I think it’s part of what they call “nesting”.

Every once in awhile you’ll get yourself all worked up because your child has done something new for the first time, or said something incredibly well. You turn to your partner, as to say “How amazing was that!?!”, and your partner after registering how happy you seem tells you, “Oh, yes, he’s been doing that for weeks now”.

Your advice is not always welcome

If your partner is the one spending all day with the children while you shoot away to the office, be wary of the amount of advice you offer.

Secondary parents often suffer from what I like to call “Insightful Eagle Vision Syndrome” (IEVS, you can add that to your list of acronyms). It refers to the fact that, as an external observer, you are perfectly placed to notice even the smallest mistake your partner makes, but it’s better if you don’t abuse your position.

Think of yourself as the commentator in a football match. From your comfy commentary box, with complimentary tea and biscuits, it might be plainly obvious to you that the player with the ball should have passed to a fellow player who was completely unmarked, and you might be tempted to criticise him for failing to do so.

But when the player with the ball is you, and two scary and hefty defenders come hurtling towards you, you are entitled to miss a thing or two.

So, be kind.

Last week roundup results #16

The results of the first roundup of the year 2017 are in, and it couldn’t have started better.

This last roundup has seen a lot of firsts. For the first time ever we had 30 nominations by the end of the week (and so many great ones), countless votes, and that’s not all. Two of the top five slots of the roundup were taken from the same website, and to end it all, we add a last-minute nomination in the last few hours of the Sunday evening, just before the roundup reset.

Minor amendments

That led to a few minor amendments to the rules. In case one website occupies multiple positions at the top of the roundup, only the entry with the most votes will be considered. And finally, any entry added in the last 24 hours of the roundup will be relisted the following week, to give them a fair chance to soar to the top.

Join me in congratulating the authors who made it into this week’s top 5 list, and a huge thank you to anyone who took part.

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

This week top 5

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Dancing on eggshells

Christmas, magical time of the year, they say. And this last Christmas was a really magical one, at times.

We were all at home together for almost 3 weeks–my son Ben, my husband Diego, and I–and that doesn’t happen often. I loved it and I hated it, it was amusing and exasperating, all at the same time.

I love spending time with my family, and I wish Diego could be home every day, instead of working long hours away from us. But when he’s home from work, it’s never a straightforward affair. I don’t know if there is such a thing as “too much time together”, the Christmas break didn’t feel like that, but it was a big adjustment for all three of us and required some extra effort to make this time together run smoothly. It felt like we needed to synchronise our moves, find out which steps were good together and which ones were just pushing us to clash with each other. We eventually found our special family rhythm, although it was a bit like dancing on eggshells.

We realised very soon that anything could trigger Ben’s tantrums, and if not resolved quickly they would escalate in full enraged episodes, mostly directed at me. Diego proposed to implement a strict routine, and so we did: every half an hour was planned ahead first thing in the morning.

Ben became a much happier boy, easier to handle, and after the first few days, planning ahead and following the new regime became second nature. As for myself, deep down, I felt trapped. Every half an hour accounted for! I felt I had to rush through everything as worried I would get too far behind schedule.

I found fascinating how differently our brains works: the schedule made Ben calmer and me anxious! Diego didn’t comment on it but, being his idea, I’m sure he utterly enjoyed it.

And 19 days later life returned to be what it was before the long break: Diego went back at work and Ben at school.

On our first day back at school, it was amazing to see Ben gaining his confidence again. He woke up, showered, got dressed and went off to school with the biggest smile ever. And once back home, although slightly tricky to handle at times, he offered some truly funny moments.

He spent a good hour insisting for us to go to the train station to pick up daddy at work, at 2pm, all the way to London, where according to him he builds bridges. Daddy does work in London, he got that bit right, and to be fair he’s built a number of very good bridges, but being made of Lego™ I don’t think they count.

Then he asked me to take out his luggage. Now, I fully expect that one day he will want to leave home and make a life of his own, and maybe it’s me just being overprotective, but at the age of 3, I don’t think that day has arrived yet. I shouldn’t have worried anyway. The reason he needed his luggage was to go on holiday with Daddy. The two of them were going to see steam trains somewhere (the Island of Sodor?). Then he added, “Mammy, you can stay here at home waiting for us” (Gee, thanks!)

And finally, just to prove once and for all the level of attachment my son and I reached, he once told me “Mummy, you’re a very good fella and you’re my best friend today”. It might have had something to do with his best friend Jack being home sick that day, but it’s still good to know I’m a close second.

Beautiful Kids of Care

Lisa Aguirre began volunteering as a mentor with the DC Family & Youth Initiative (DCFYI). The DCFYI is a social project that helps teens in foster care make lifelong connections with caring adults, matches youth with host parents and mentors, and helps them find adoptive families, in the area of Washington DC.

The program gave her the chance to meet some wonderful young people, between the age of 16 and 21, who spent most of their life in foster care, or aged out of the system. Each one with a unique story to tell.

These stories prompt her to embark on her own project, with the aim of raising awareness of the older children in foster care who are seldom given a voice. She called it Beautiful Kids Of Care.

I got in contact with her to learn more about the important work she is doing. This is what I found out…

First off, what is Beautiful Kids Of Care and when did it all start?

I first thought of this project at one of the DCFYI events, this past April.

Once a year, DCFYI holds a birthday party for all of the teens in the program, and the volunteer mentors join in to celebrate. At the annual party, I was just amazed at how much like a family this group was. We did sack races and other games, ate cake and each teen received some birthday presents (donated by the volunteers). It reminded me of the birthday parties I had for my daughter when she was younger, and I felt a sense of family with everyone there.

It was at this party that I decided I wanted to do something for these kids, something more to raise awareness of how wonderful and real they are, along with their struggles.

I thought of the idea to do brief interviews with older foster kids, or former foster kids, and to compile the interviews into a page for each one, and a picture. That was just the initial concept, but as I started working on it, the project took a shape of his own.

How so?

When I started, I anticipated the kids and I would speak briefly, and that I would have a paragraph or two along with a picture for each. It only took a few interviews for me to realize that the participants had a lot to say, and that I would have much more than a paragraph or two for each person.

All of them so far have talked on their own between one to two hours. I have been absolutely fascinated by their stories, their lives and their triumphs, and have also been deeply, deeply touched by the significant pain each has experienced.

Human Of New York

So I decided to turn all this material into a coffee table book, similar to the Humans of New York books and web posts.

Who is this book for? Who would you like it to reach?

I believe that very few people know much about the older children in foster care. They are wonderful, unique and challenged, and at the same time are kids just like others you know.

After spending time with these kids, I have learned just how tough life has been and will be for them. I have also learned that each is a unique and wonderful person with strengths, weaknesses, good days and bad days, and a resilience beyond anything I have seen.

My hope is that anyone will find this book interesting and will learn something from it, and maybe see foster kids in a new light.

I also hope that, in the group of readers, there will be at least a few who will decide to take one of the many steps that can be taken to help support older kids in foster care, whether it be volunteering, donating, fostering, or adopting.

Can you give us a sneak peek of one of these stories?

Dayar, pictured above, was one of the foster kids I interviewed. He is in his twenties and was in foster care for most of his life.

During the past year, he was adopted by one of the DCFYI volunteers. Here is an excerpt from his interview:

It was hard, prior to even being removed from my family, my younger sister went into foster care a year before I even stepped foot into the system, or knew what the system was. I didn’t fully process not seeing my sister at that young age. I just knew that my sister wasn’t home. I wasn’t with her anymore. I still got to see her a little but she wasn’t with us. And then I was removed, and I recall very early on I used to have visitation rights with my grandma, my family, and particularly my grandmother and my mother. One thing stuck out to me every visit. They used to always tell me this was short term. We’re going to get you soon. And at the time this was something that I really truly wanted to hear. That these strangers I’m living in a house with, this place I’m at is only temporary.

But telling a child at a young age that you’re coming to get him and then not showing up, I think that was the hardest to take. Who was I to believe? My family, or these people I’m temporarily staying with? How I looked at it was, I don’t need to take this. I don’t have to do what you say to do. My grandma is coming to get me soon. Those thoughts soon reflected how I acted in foster care. I was very standoffish with families, and I had really aggressive behavior. I used to really act out and I just thought the more I act out the more likely I might move back with my family.

It is hard for me to describe how truly fascinating their stories are, and how humbling it has been that they have trusted me with their stories. I think the interview write-ups will speak for themselves.

How can our readers help?

I am always looking for more people to interview. I’m happy to discuss whatever they want, like interests, hopes, dreams, small things and big things. If anyone is interested or knows someone who may be interested in participating, please contact me.

Spreading the word about the project is also very important right now. I rely mostly on Twitter, but my virtual network is still quite small. A few simple follows and retweets could be a huge help.

And finally, I’m raising funds via a CrowdRise campaign to produce and publish the actual coffee table book, which is the really expensive part of this project. Those of you who can, and would like to contribute, can do that by visiting my fundraising page Beautiful Kids of Care.

But please know, my only intent with this project is to raise awareness of these kids. While I do not expect any profits (since that’s not the goal), should there be any, they will be donated to DCFYI group to support the amazing job they do.

I would like to thanks Lisa for her dedication to helping these children, first by volunteering as a mentor, and now for setting up a stage where they can talk about themselves and share their experience.

Fostering is rarely a popular subject, and in the unusual occasions when it gets some positive attention, it is often focused around the very young in need of a permanent family.

For some of these children fostering is only a short chapter in their life, while for other it becomes their family. Thankfully, the difficult situations in which they find themselves in, is made a little more bearable thanks to passionate people like Lisa, who are there for them when they need someone.

Here’s how you can get in contact with Lisa:

Twitter: @LisaAg4181
Fundraising page: Beautiful Kids Of Care

Beautiful Kids of Care is a brilliant initiative in need of our support. So please, do get involved, in any way you can.

Best of 2016 Weekly Roundup Results

What a year 2016 has been!

We came to know so many talented bloggers and read so many great posts. We are glad to see many of you taking part of this special edition of the Adoption and Fostering Roundup. We hope to see all of you featuring on the roundup page again this year, as well as welcoming new faces we haven’t read about yet.

As this is a special edition of the roundup, we decided to include an article from each blogger who was nominated. They all wholly deserve it.

Keep writing, keep reading, keep voting, and sharing!

Happy 2017 to all from The Owl, Laura, and Diego

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

The best of 2016 on #FTTWR


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Happy Go Lucky

Today is a good time as any other to finally admit it: I’m not happy. There, I said it, it’s out of the bag now. Do I feel any better now? No, not yet!

I feel like I’m failing, every little issue is piling up on the top of each other, and it’s all becoming a bit too much to handle. I cannot recall the last time I was truly happy, the last time I laugh with joy, the last time my mind was free of worries, and the last I didn’t stare at the dark holding on the hope that tomorrow will be better.

One thing I’m sure about: dwelling in the gloom is unhelpful. I need to do something constructive and find a way back to happiness. It’s no one’s fault if I feel the way I do, and maybe to find joy I need to understand what I’m doing wrong.

Expectations

My idea of family and motherhood is far from what it turned out to be. I’m not saying it is worst or better, just different. I need to forget all the assumptions I had and embrace what my life is instead. And my life is actually quite amazing. My son and my husband are incredible, although different from what I would have liked them to be. But I wouldn’t want them to be any other way, and I’m blessed they are in my life. So, I should forget about the perfect home, with the perfect lawn and the perfect family, and embrace the chaos and the madness of my very own family.

Letting go

Have you ever had an argument with a friend that went on for weeks? You get angry, you fight, and then you need time–the right amount of time–and you need apologies–the right amount of apologies–before you can let go of the anger and forgive.
I don’t have that luxury with my son. He has a tantrum, he shouts at me, he hurts me, and then he says sorry. That should be the end of it, but that’s not enough for me. I still feel resentment, it’s not at all over for me yet. I wish I could just let go, there and then, but it’s much easier for a 3 years old to do that, once you develop a conscience it get much harder.

Projection

When things are not great, it’s easy to believe that they can only get worst. Suddenly, “shark music” becomes the soundtrack of your life, what went wrong yesterday becomes proof that the same will happen today, and after no long that turns into a bleak and self-fulfilling prophecy.

At times it does feel like the whole word is against me and that everyone is rude and antagonistic, but I know that a part of that is down to me. Playing the victim, in this case, is simply not helpful. I can only change myself and my outlook, for sure I cannot ask my child to change his for me, and I can only hope that my positivity is going to rub off on my husband too.

I’m sure changing my mindset will produce a notable change, hopefully for the better. I’m not going to become a “Happy Go Lucky” kind of character. Let’s be honest, I couldn’t even if I wanted to. But I need to believe that, when I will be reading this page same time next year, I won’t come to the conclusion that I could write the same page again.