Girl screaming

This week on The Adoption Social site there’s been much focus on CPV (Child to parent violence) and as I’ve been reading others posts I am amazed at the situations some of my fellow adopters are enduring. We have been fortunate that our children have not been expressing their trauma and hurt in these ways on a regular basis. There is the odd outburst of a slapped face or thrown marbles but generally this is not something we have to live with constantly like so many others are. I have been trying to understand this side of traumatised children though and in pursuit of some strategies to help others at our support groups I went on some training recently on NVR (non-violent resistance). It was confusing to say the least but some of the concepts and strategies I’m continuing to process and try to see how they would work in practice.

One of the areas I do know something about is self-care. On my journey as an adopter of 3 and as a coach I’ve been aware of what an impact being an adoptive parent can have on us. The stress and strains of parenting in this way, the levels of resilience and resourcefulness needed by parents and the relentlessness of the task has consumed my thoughts for the last 7 years. I thought I had a handle on this for myself, and maybe I did. However the last few months have proved to me that we can’t ever be lulled into a false sense of security. When you feel you have the balance in your life, something else comes along to knock you off. 

I’m part of a support group of very good friends who encourage each other weekly towards being positive and finding hope in our situations. We talk regularly of the dread that comes with being an adoptive parent. When you first have your child or children that feeling of dread is right on the surface. When you wake up, when you pick them up from school, when you are out with new people with your children. All moments of dread – “what will they be like?”, “will I be able to cope with their behaviour?”, “will other people understand?”. As you carry on this journey there are moments, maybe even months when that feeling of dread sinks a bit further inside. It’s not on the surface but it’s there. You are just waiting for that phone call from school that they’ve been excluded again, or that they’ve been in a fight. It seems that dread is somehow our new companion.

When I think about all that adopters have to face sometimes it can be overwhelming and this is when I know self-care, hope and support are essential. And we have to be readjusting that all the time. As I said recently this has been a problem for me. The level of stress and pressure from other areas of my life means that the landscape has changed – I need to be finding what gives me balance in this current terrain. I remember some time ago I had some coaching from a friend around those feelings of dread and I really felt four strong statements came out for me. The question I was asking was this “will things turn out ok?” Of course may be not a question we can ever answer, but I felt reassured that things would be ok as long as I can do these four things:

  1. Find my balance 
  2. Adapt to the change in terrain 
  3. Stay connected to the source 
  4. Keep things in perspective

These four things have kept me sane at times. Knowing that I have to always find my balance, be grounded and make sure all areas of my life are healthy. has given me focus Adapting to the change in our children’s phases of development has been challenging, going into the teenage years is different then the toddlers for sure. Staying connected to the source for me is about my faith but I know for others it may be about why you adopted in the first place, or what you hope for the future of your family. And finally keeping things in perspective as much as possible – being honest about how small or big the issues might be and this is hard at times as we all have different references for this. But what I do know from the NVR course, and what I’ve seen, is that when the problems we’re facing are brought into the light and shared with others it can make a huge difference.

The one area that really struck me from the training was about a support network around our family. Not just friends to talk to, laugh and cry together but people who will get involved with your children too and take some of the burden of responsibility and accountability. I can see how powerful that is and I will continue to look into the different aspects of NVR and how they can help families dealing with trauma and its affects.

For now my heart goes out to every family that this impacts – whether aggression and violence are a regular occurrence or sporadic, those feelings of dread are real and live in many of us. I only hope and pray that support will be found for people, and that others will start to realise what a challenging role being an adoptive parent can be.

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Dollarphotoclub 60945380

‘We are both works of art and artists at work’ - Erwin McManus.

I’ve never considered myself to be a creative person – I was rubbish at Art and particularly drawing at school. I envy those people who can create something beautiful from nothing. It’s something I wish I had been gifted with. However as I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate that there are different forms of creativity. Music, writing, developing systems and programmes that engage people – there are many ways to be creative and we all have some of that within us. As a Mum I always wanted to be one of those mother earth Mums who bakes and sews and basically creates such an environment for their children that encourages them to be creative too. However that’s not been the case. I’ve tried to cook with them but just get frustrated, and crafts have been a bit of a no go for some time due to my inability to know what to do and to be patient enough to help them.

I do know though that there is something within me that wants to create. As I’ve worked for myself the last seven years I’ve loved the experience of coming up with ideas and being able to make them happen. When you first deliver a training course that you created, or look at that first copy of a published book or have that first telephone conversation on a new coaching programme – all give me that thrill of actually making a difference – being able to contribute in some way to those around me gives me a great sense of well being.

And as a Mum maybe that’s important too. To be able to show my children that making a difference counts and being satisfied with what you can offer the world is a great place to be – whatever it is we do. I want them to know that whatever they decide to do as a job, as long as they are happy and feel that sense of well being at helping others then I’ll think my job was well done.

It’s hard sometimes to see ourselves as works of art. I know because I believe in a creator God that we are all wonderfully made. The media and society tells us how dissatisfied we must be with ourselves – we’re too fat, too thin, too brainy, too stupid, too poor or too rich – there’s always someone telling us we should be something or someone else. I’m sick of listening to those voices actually. I want to hear the voice that says I am a work of Art – that who I am and what I do matters. As an adoptive parent sometimes that can be hard as there’s so much guilt and judgement in this world, always someone who knows better how we should raise our children. A lot of the guilt comes from ourselves, our own sense of failure at not being the parent we wanted to be. But you know I’m learning that I am the right parent for my children. Daily there are times I get things wrong and there are those moments when I get things right and they are brilliant moments.

So whether you consider yourself to be creative or not – today remind yourself that you are an artist at work (however that expresses itself) and you are also a work of art yourself. We are in the right place, with the right people, doing the right thing. Of course if you don’t feel that you are – then could you do something to change that? If not, then find those moments when everything goes well and concentrate on those moments and celebrate them. Sometimes they may seem like tiny moments but they all matter!

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Sometimes it’s hard to know what the best things in life are. When you strive to make your life happier you can get waylaid by shiny things that promise to give you happiness – nice clothes, better car, more luxurious holidays but are they really the best things? Of course we then might think a bit closer to home – our own homes for example, or our family and friends and of course they can give us more happiness. But are they even the best things in life?

‘The best things in life aren’t things’ was a quote I heard recently from Bear Grylls in his interview with Piers Morgan on TV and it’s such a brilliant quote. Of course I’m sure he was meaning that people are the best things not the stuff we accumulate that seems to mean so much at the time and then of course becomes something else to clutter up the home.

When I think about vulnerable children who’ve had a difficult start in life I know that when it comes down to it the basic needs in life are actually the things that matter. Maslow stated in his Hierarchy of Needs that we all have to experience each layer of the pyramid before we can attain the next. Our basic needs are food, water, air, shelter, sleep which gives us safety and security which in turn helps us to feel loved and that we belong, we then have good self esteem and can finally develop a strong sense of purpose, creative thinking and find meaning. Without each layer the next is impossible to achieve. When children don’t have the basics in life like adequate food and shelter, love and warmth from consistent carers and reliable people who can meet their needs, they get stuck in those areas and find it hard to develop.

When you watch those survival programmes like Bear Grylls or I’m a Celebrity get me out of here – they spend such a lot of time and energy worrying and thinking about those basic needs. It actually starts to consume them. And when they have days of not eating enough it affects every area of their lives. When I think about my children who have had good meals for 10 years now but they still worry about there being enough food, or whether they can trust us enough to open up to us. The lack of those basic needs is such a strong thing that becomes part of our very fibre, it’s engrained in us and takes many, many years to change.

So the best things in life are not things – they are people of course but they are also those basic needs that keep us alive. And when you come down to it the things you miss when you don’t have them are those little basics like warmth on a cold day or the breeze in the sun, a good meal with those who love you and a lovely cup of tea in the morning. So let’s be grateful today for what we have, and for those adoptive parents out there remember when times are difficult with your children maybe getting back to basics is what is needed. A good meal together, sleep, warmth, laughter and the safety and security they crave for.

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Children as soldiers

We are real Bear Grylls fans in our house, particularly our youngest who couldn’t think of anything better then being dropped out of a helicopter over a murky lake in the middle of the jungle, eating insects and drinking his own wee! Of course if it actually came to that I think he might be a little less enthusiastic. We’ve all been watching the recent Mission Survive programme where Bear took a number of celebrities into the thick, dangerous jungle of Costa Rica and they had to overcome all kinds of treacherous conditions – along with overcoming their own issues around lack of sleep, little food and all kinds of assaults on the senses.

In one of the shows Bear made the following statement that has stuck with me. He was talking about all the different types of strengths we need to survive such harsh conditions. “You need physical strength, emotional strength and relational strength, in order to survive”. This really resonated with me particularly when I think about parenting, as an adopter but also any kind of parenting, as well as those trying to work with vulnerable children to make a difference in their lives. You very often need the physical strength to keep going when the response you get may be frustration, aggression, violence or just plain apathy and disregard. You very much need the emotional strength to cope with that too – along with the resilience to bounce back and not take things personally.

The category that interested me the most though was the relational strength. The other two we talk about often in this world of working or living with vulnerable children, but the other not so much. But how important is it to have the relational skills to connect in the right way with people around us? As in the jungle the survival of the individuals relies very much on the team. If the fire lighting person cannot light the fire then all suffer, if the shelter making person loses the equipment to build the shelter along the way then everyone suffers, if the person foraging for the food actually picks up the poisonous berries then all suffer – and it is about survival!

Sometimes it can feel as drastic as that for us. That we are at the end of ourselves – of our own strength, whether physically, emotionally or relationally and the slightest thing that happens could break us. I have a friend at the moment – a fellow adopter – who is at that stage and it’s so hard to watch, I have to say I’ve felt some of this pressure the last few weeks too. Some of the strength we need we have to work on ourselves. I can’t sit next to a fit healthy person and hope that their health will rub off on me – it won’t. I have to eat well, sleep well and do exercise myself to stay healthy. In some ways the same can be said of our emotional health – there’s things I can do to strengthen that muscle and also to protect myself. But the relational strength we can help each other with.

So here’s some tips on finding survival strength:

Know your limitations – on the Mission Survive show the people entering the jungle had an idea of what they might be able to endure, but actually until they were faced with the challenges they were not certain how they might respond. Sometimes we don’t know what we can take until we are tested. However, trying to understand where your vulnerabilities might be is a good place to start. Before I adopted I had done some stressful jobs (or so I thought) so I knew some things that I could handle and the things that I found difficult. Since adopting this has been tested to it’s max! I now understand more and more what I need to help me survive. Actually as I write this I’ve taken a few days away alone to write but also to rest and rebalance myself.

Work on relational skills – sometimes we use our personality traits or what we know as our limitations as an excuse to not have to work on things in our lives. I’ve heard this said and have said it myself – it’s just not me to do that or to work on an area I know irritates others. I totally believe that we should know our values and strengths and work to those things BUT not at the detriment of being a nice person. I want people to want to be around me, to have fun with me but also to know I can support them in the ways they need when the time arises. So that means I might have to work on my impatience, my disapproval of peoples differences to me and to be a kinder person to others. When you’re under pressure, like the people on Mission Survive, all those irritations and lack of self-control issues you might have will come out. There are still areas in my personality and temperament that I need to work on in order to build strong relational strength with those around me – how about you?

Look up and around you - when we are stressed we tend to look down and inside. Our own problems become huge and I do know there’s a time to pull back and take a Me Holiday as Sally Donovan talks about on her blog. BUT when you’re in a team like on Mission Survive the more you think about just yourself and not the team the more everyone suffers. I know this to be true in my own life. I have a partner and I have children, I have other family members and I have friends. They are all important to me and my survival relies on them just as theirs on me. So take a moment to look up and around you – how can you find strength in each other whether physically, emotionally or relationally? What ways can you build each other up in these things so that everyone survives?


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Mother and children laughing

When I think of all the emotions associated with Mother’s Day – for me personally being a Mother through adoption has very mixed emotions. For most Adoptive parents it probably wasn’t their first choice, that doesn’t mean to say it hasn’t been a good choice but still there is some loss associated to it. Not just how I’ve come to be a Mum but also the nature of the kind of parenting we have to do as a result of my children’s early start in life and what an impact that has on them now. When I look around at other Mums it’s hard not to be jealous sometimes of the things that are different. It’s always the case of course – that we look at others and think their lives are so much easier than ours – someone may be looking at me and saying the same!

Then when I think of how difficult Mother’s day is for my children as well that hurts. I know as they are getting older that their thoughts run to their birth Mum – where is she? Is she OK? Does she still think about them? Does she still love them? I so wish I could take that pain away for them and I can’t….it will be with them for many years I know. 

What struck me this year was that every other day of the year (well most days) I can cope with the fact that my children have so much going on inside of them that my needs as a Mum go to the back of the queue. On Mother’s Day because of the hype and expectations I guess we assume that they will be able to turn off the needs they have every other day and miraculously be aware of my needs and wants – bring me tea in bed, stop fighting with each other, make a big fuss of me and tell me what a great Mum I am! Of course for them, even though I know they do love me, there are mixed emotions about treating me as their Mum. Mother’s Day is probably a big trigger of loss for them and the realisation that in acknowledging me as their Mother they are somehow being disloyal to their birth Mum.

Days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may be difficult but It’s all part of the process of growing as an adoptive family. One thing that did make me smile on last years Mother’s Day was my children had to speak on a video saying what I did for them as their Mum – one said “She’s embarrassing”, another said “she helps me know the things I can watch on TV and the things I can’t” and “she helps me grow”. So at the end of the day, whether they can show it in the ways I would like to see it, they do see the things we do that are like any ‘normal’ Mum.

I’ve had these questions in my mind this year though – what it is about this country and these special occasions days? Why do we insist on making a big deal of just one day? I know the idea is that we take the time to appreciate people and show them how much we care for them but should we just do this on one day of the year? We joke in our house when the children say “why don’t I get a present on Mothers Day?” my response is usually “everyday is children’s day”…..that shuts them up a bit. BUT actually every day should be children’s day! It’s so important for children to feel and know that they are loved, special and important to the people around them. Children who’ve not experienced that in their early years struggle to understand how anyone could care about them later in life. Every day was not child’s day for them – it was parents day most days.

What if we actually showed people every day the things we esteem about them? How much we appreciate and love them every day….to show kindness, gratitude and affection for those we love whenever and however we can. And what of those people who don’t have loved ones around them for whatever reason? Could we show them that we appreciate them also? My prayer is that I would be able to show my family, friends and those I meet every day kindness, acceptance and appreciation. Without people the world would be a sad place. So today is Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day in fact everybody day.

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There are many kinds of alarm bells – warning signs that are trying to get our attention all day. The obvious one that wakes us up in the morning, but also the many other alarms around us. The creaking of our joints as we try and drag ourselves out of bed (just me then), the tiny drop of shower gel in the bottle telling us we need to go shopping, the pain in our tooth as we eat breakfast reminding us to make that appointment and the petrol gauge on the car flashing it’s warning lights to go fill up at the station. All indications that we need to do something…..if we don’t then nothing will change. One day we’ll miss the alarm, the walk to the bathroom will become harder, the shower gel will be empty whilst you’re in the shower, and your tooth will be so painful you can’t eat your breakfast. Alarms are there to warn us that something is wrong and we need to take action.

When I think about our children too there are always signs of what’s really going on underneath their behaviour. They may hide it particularly well as my daughter does sometimes but if I pay attention enough and really listen to the alarms then I will be able to see what’s going on and hopefully take some action to help her. It’s the same with us of course. You can’t miss the signs in yourself that things aren’t quite right. Maybe a nagging feeling of dread or panic, maybe not sleeping well or appetite has changed, or maybe more irritable and sharp with those around you. If we ignore these signs whatever is causing them will not go away it will only get worse.

As a parent it’s so easy to focus on others – the children, our partner, our friends – which is fine, but we must make sure in doing that we are not ignoring the alarms bells ringing in ourselves. It’s funny because I seem to spend so much of my life as a detective trying to analysis every tiny behaviour of my children but then ignoring the signs in myself!! It’s strange that we always seem to end up at the bottom of the pile – of our own making many times.

Many years ago when I trained as a coach we talked a lot about values. Really knowing what is important to you and living by those values. It makes such a difference when you can truly live by those principles. To be aware of them and know when you are not living by them or that they are being trampled on by others can make a whole lot of difference to how you feel. Over the years since I’ve noticed many new values in myself (or ones that were there all along just hidden). One of them I want to tell you about and I can even feel myself wanting to apologise for this value before I’ve even said it which tells me I’m still not really owning and living this value. I call this value ‘because I’m worth it’ – bit of a joke around the L’Oreal adverts of course which makes me smile whenever I say it but the meaning is this – I know that I like nice things; luxury hotels, nice restaurants, expensive clothes and jewellery. Not that I get to experience them all too often now but when I get a chance to I say to myself ‘because I’m worth it’ in stead of ‘I feel guilty about this’ or ‘what will people think?’. So if I have the money and there’s a choice between camping in Bognor or 5 star accommodation in Eqypt then I’m off to Eqypt! If I fancy a coffee at Starbucks instead of making one at home then ‘because I’m worth it’ tells me that’s ok.

Of course my value may be triggering all your values that say ‘watch the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’ or ‘always put others first’ and I understand that we have to balance things and we all have more than one value so my other values of compassion, honesty and connection contribute to my ‘because I’m worth it’ value. So why am I telling you this? Well as adoptive parents particularly I’ve been with many others who find it so difficult to do something for themselves. Anytime there’s a chance to be pampered there’s the guilt feelings that stop us in our tracks. But if you have alarm bells ringing inside you that are crying out for some attention YOU MUST stop and pay them attention. If you can not look after yourself and your signs of stress then you will be far less equipped to deal with those in your children, friends or partner.

So listen to those alarm bells in you – what are they telling you? Is it time to take some time for you and because you ARE worth it take heed of those signs and take some action today.

Image courtesy of winnond at

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We hear all the time about how important being consistent is to our children – whether that’s being a consistent caregiver that they know or between partners being consistent in our approach to our children. It’s something that comes up time and time again when I’m with my adopter friends. Our children’s need for consistency now they have permanence in their placements can add an extra pressure on us to make sure we are continually at the top of our parenting game as it were. How exhausting that can be sometimes?!

There always seems to be positives and negatives to everything in life. When I talk to my single adopter friends I can see how tiring it must be sometimes to be the only one making the decisions, dealing with children’s behaviour and generally be all things to everyone. However as part of a married couple and when I talk to my other married friends I can also see how difficult it is to have a consistent approach particularly when we don’t agree with each other on issues surrounding the children. There always seems to be a ‘strict’ parent and a ‘more relaxed’ parent. And how we seem to irritate each other because of this.

I remember once when my husband and I were seeing our son’s therapist for a catch up session (usually ending up being a marriage counselling session) and we were talking about this whole area that I’m the more lax parent in our relationship and my husband is the rules maker. Our therapist sat there quietly listening to us moaning about each others approach and how wrong the other one was. She just said at the end – “you know you are both right but just a little bit extreme – it’s actually somewhere in the middle”. Our children do need clear, strong boundaries set that are not set in stone but certainly written pretty clearly for all to see. Then you also need the empathy and understanding that says ok we can move a little bit on that rule today as this child is too stressed to handle that approach. We need the consistency of strength and love combined. I know that sounds a bit twee but it’s true, when I think about my children if they had no rules or boundaries they would run wild. But without the flexibility to change depending on the circumstances there would never be moments of connection and fun together.

I would say in our house we are consistently inconsistent in our approach to our children, but I’m hoping that as they learn that people are different, we can disagree and the world doesn’t fall apart, I hope they will be able to understand that we both consistently want the best for them and we pray that they will take the good parts of both of us and come out with a healthier view of parenting for themselves in the future. Maybe a naive wish and we will continue to try to be consistent with them, but I know because we are so different that at times it won’t happen. It feels like such a battle some times as we’re fighting against an image of parenting they already brought with them from their birth home. As our children were old enough to know what was happening to them they have cognitive memories of their first home and family. The type of parenting they experienced there was consistently unpredictable and that’s something we try to change now – to be as predictable as possible. So even though we may have a different approach to each other our children do know what we will say and do most times – we are predictable at least!

Parenting is such a challenge and also so fulfilling at times – when you can see a child is truly connecting with you or has learnt something that you know only came from you – it’s amazing. I just hope and pray that our children will consistently progress, grow and develop to be all they can be, with ours and others help and support.

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Women talkingLarge

There’s something that we don’t like to talk much about in the adoption world. As parents it’s something a large proportion of us live with daily to one degree or another. It’s something we don’t admit to and certainly don’t mention to social workers once we realise it’s there. What is it you might ask? The only word I can find for it is dread. When we first had our children I noticed it all the time. When I woke in the morning that feeling of ‘what will they be like today?’, at 3pm when on my way to pick them up from school ‘I wonder what today has been like?’, getting close to bedtime ‘will they go to sleep well or not?’. Lots of times when I was getting used to being their Mum, knowing what their moods might be like and more importantly the big question of ‘can I cope with them?’. Over the seven years since we have had them that feeling of dread has weakened – I don’t think it’s gone away but it’s less near the surface. It rears it’s ugly head when my mobile rings and I see the school name come up, or I see one of their faces as they come out of a club, or a teacher approaches me at the school gate to have a chat!

Recently I was with a group of other adoptive Mums and we were discussing this feeling of dread. Maybe it’s something all parents have I don’t know. It’s certainly seemed common around our group. I remember someone saying to my Mum a while ago when my Dad died that the feelings of grief don’t go away over time they just get deeper, and we struggled to understand what that meant at the time. Now when I think about the dread feeling I remember what that person said about grief and it feels similar. The feeling of dread hasn’t disappeared it’s just got deeper. Less things trigger it, the right underneath the surface feeling isn’t there so much. Of course for some of us it may have come back to the surface as we go through another stage of development or something difficult is happening for our children right now. 

Around birthday times I sometimes get that feeling of dread too. Another year older can bring up all kinds of feelings of regret, frustration at where your life is, a sense of time slipping away. Is having a birthday a delight or does it bring dread? For my children I know birthdays can be a difficult time for them, along with other milestones, as they think about their birth parents maybe, or they struggle with a sibling getting all the attention. I’ve come to try to lower my expectations of birthdays being a special day for me or my children and trying more to focus on spending time together and seeing the progress that’s been made.

So it doesn’t feel like such a positive blog this week but I know sometimes just opening up a subject that we maybe don’t want to look at can be healing in a sense. To be able to say ‘yes I feel that dread and it can be overwhelming at times’ can actually be helpful. I know for myself those intense feelings of dread have subsided for now and I’m pleased about that but I also know, just like grief, it has not gone away, it is maybe part of me now like the grief over my Dad will always be. The hope is that the sense of progression and contentment of where we are as a family right now kind of covers that feeling of dread. There are many positive emotions that come with adoption but the feeling of dread is certainly something you’re not told about during the process. If we talked more about these emotions then maybe we would be more prepared when they do surface.

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ID 100146963

Our theme this week is ‘cheerful perseverance’ and I can’t say I have much cheerfulness in my persevering at the moment. Being a parent of three near teenagers (11, 12 and 14) would try anyones resolve and at times (like right this minute) it does feel like a pointless, thankless, worthless pursuit – to try and persevere with the storminess, the endless bickering, the arguing and answering back and of course the belief that they know better than us, does not hold much cheer at times. With our eldest particularly as she enters her 14th year I have had to grit my teeth and let some things slide. There is no cheer about it all though just exhaustion, frustration and perseverance.

So when this phrase became our theme with my fellow blog buddies this week I spent some days mulling over it to try to see how you can reconcile the two seemingly opposing words together. Can you be cheerful as you persevere with something that by it’s very description sounds hard work? For those parents out there and particularly parents who are parenting children not born to them, sometimes we can lose sight of the cheer in our struggle to break a cycle of poor decisions, chaotic lifestyles and unhealthy relationships.

I remember writing a blog sometime ago now about having a big BUT! It was about the excuses we make to not do things when actually the WHY of what we are trying to do is the most important thing. Our WHY needs to be bigger than our BUT in order to compel us into action. Check it out here

I thought about this concept again this week in the light of cheerful perseverance and the thought actually occurred to me that the reason that I do persevere with my children is for the hope that things will change for them. That there may be transformation at some point in their life. That one day they may look back and say that we were doing the best for them! I’m sure all parents feel like this at this stage but I know the struggles of children with Attachment Difficulties can make those times of cheer a little less frequent. We have to persevere – that’s our job, but how we do it will make a huge difference to ourselves and our children. We can do it through gritted teeth and with resentment and frustration, or we can try to find something that makes the perseverance worthwhile. Something that can give us some cheer along the way. I know how difficult this can be and for many of us the secondary trauma, sheer exhaustion and relentlessness of the perseverance can be overwhelming. So like with most things one of the best ways to find the cheer is to break it into small chunks that we can embed into our lives and asking questions can help us do that.

  1. What is my WHY? Why do I find myself persevering? What am I hoping for? What do I want to see happen for my children, me and my family as a result?
  2. What will help me find some cheer in what I need to persevere in today? – It may need to be a shorter time period than that though – what about in the next hour? What will help me to persevere in these circumstances knowing that something good will come in the end?
  3. Who can help me be more cheerful along the way? We all have friends and family who support us but who may also make our lives more challenging sometimes. Maybe they don’t help us find the cheer in persevere. But there are the rare few who can find the balance of understanding the struggle but also holding onto the hope of a better future.

So as I persevere with my sometimes challenging teenagers in the next week I will look to find that WHY that gives me hope, find whatever I need to help me along the way and be around the people who help me find the right balance. I hope the same for you, fellow travellers – find the cheer as you persevere.

(Photo by

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Set goals

I don’t think I’ve ever repeated a blog before but I was looking back on my New Year blog for the beginning of 2014 and I thought it’s so good I’ll repeat it just to make sure people have read it….so here goes (with a few added bits in italics).

Many years ago now I heard someone speak about goals. I’ve always set myself goals and believe it’s important to know what you want so you can work towards that. However this one thought within the talk stuck with me and has given me a great tool that I use every year to help me focus myself for the year ahead.

The idea is that you create a one word goal for the year. A word that encompasses all areas of your life. A word that can be looked at in many different ways and that puts your intentions out there so that you focus on that one thing. It helps in lots of ways:

1) It’s much easier to remember than 10 resolutions or 20 goals for each area of your life.

2) Creating the word you want takes time and really helps you to focus clearly on what you actually want. When you have to say it in one word it gives you laser thinking to make sure you can get to just one word.

3) I’m not much for believing in the theory around the Secret – that what you put out their to the universe comes back to you. However I have seen the power of intentional thinking – that when you focus on something it somehow becomes part of what you do and who you are.

When I look back over the last few years I can see my one word goal has helped me and it has come to pass in different ways – many times not in the ways you think. 2012 my word was PEACE. Peace in my work life, home life, children’s lives – in all aspects. I didn’t think about the word every day but what was interesting was that at the end of the year when I looked back I could see that through the turbulence of the year I had found ways to find peace. I learnt many lessons about peace that helped me through.

2013 was a year of FAITH – faith that my business would work, faith in myself and my marriage, faith that my children would be ok and a spiritual faith that would grow. All of these things have happened and in ways I never believed would be possible.

2014 was TEMPERANCE – an old fashioned sounding word but to me it speaks of self-control but also allows me to think about tempering my emotions to create the balance I want in my life – I need discipline and self-control to create the habits I want to make my business work, to stay connected to my family and friends and to help my children. But I also want to make sure I can temper that self-control with the realities of being a very busy adoptive parent – to go easy on myself, to remember PEACE and FAITH are still there too! This one for 2014 was a bit harder to realise but I will keep trying.

2015 will be a year of HEALTH. I have to say I don’t like to see all the pressure to be healthy that seems to be out there for people. You have to eat this food or drink this drink – or not eat that food, or drink that drink, we must be running marathons every year or swimming the channel. There’s something about it that rubs me the wrong way – probably my laziness and sense of guilt. BUT what I have recognised is that I am very unhealthily in lots of areas of my life and I want that to change. It’s not about a diet or exercise necessarily but about feeling and being healthy. One of the ways I’m intending to do that is to walk up our nearest hills early in the morning a few times a week – this is not just for fitness but I know I need the space – the headspace to think and start the day well and the alone time away from all the pressures of life. So HEALTH in all areas of my life – business, family, friends, leisure – everything.

So when you start to think about your one word for the year – think about what you want for your life in all aspects. A word that resonants with you and that inspires you to move forward. Whether in your work with children, or in your home life there will be a word that stands out to you – it may take a few weeks to land but it will be there.

If you feel inspired to do this practice too of creating a one word goal for yourself I would highly recommend it and encourage you to think about your word and to tell someone once you decide on it. If you want to tell me then please contact me by email – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. as I am always inspired by other people’s one word goals and will endeavour to encourage you on as you set your intention towards your goal for 2015.

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I heard a quote a few weeks ago which was “beware of worshipping the tea pot and not drinking the tea”. It made me think of the shine of new things, the illusion of something that invariably might turn out to be something completely different once you get into the realities – such as adoption.

I’ve always wanted a proper tea pot – it’s something that other people seem to have but I never can quite bring myself to buy one. I see loads of lovely looking ones but the idea of a tea pot is much more appealing then actually using one. When I have used one it just seems a bit pointless! Those metal ones particularly that you find in canteens that always seem to drip the liquid down your hands as you try and pour – what’s that about?

Anyway what on earth has this got to do with adoption you might think? Over the last few years I’ve been involved in encouraging others to consider adoption as an option for their family. It’s really difficult sometimes to be positive about this process and about adoption in general as the realities are very often much different to the shiny exterior that’s portrayed on TV or in the media. That’s not to say that I don’t think adoption is a good thing – I do – although of course it’s not ideal for anyone concerned. For our children the ideal is to be with their birth family as they grow. For us we would have liked to have given birth to our children. But adoption is a viable option and a necessity for children whose parents can not look after them. I believe children need to be in families if at all possible.

One of the main differences I’ve noticed over the past year about the process of adoption is that even though more is known about Attachment and vulnerable children, prospective adopters are still very naive coming to panel. Because the process is so much shorter (6 months instead of the 2.5 years that it took us) people are waiting to get approved before they join support groups and actually hear the realities from other adopters. I don’t understand why people do that! You need to know as much as you possibly can before you embark on such a life changing journey.

So what can we suggest to those considering this roller coaster of a journey? Here’s a few tips to give to those you might know thinking about adopting. Also there is an e-book I created a while ago for those considering adoption – please share this link with others if relevant.

1) Read up on adoption – the best book I’ve come across for UK adopters that’s very real and shows both sides – the challenges and joys, is by Sally Donovan called No Matter What

2) Join a support group – there are many around the country run by Adoption UK. You can find your nearest form the website.

3) Your local authority can put you in touch with other adopters in your area that you can talk to. This is a great way to get to know the realities of adoption and your specific circumstances. So you can meet other single adopters, or people who have birth children too, or people who’ve adopted siblings. We have met with a few prospective adopters and had them spend time with our family to just see what it might feel like.

4) Listen to what others say. Whether you’re a glass half full or half empty it’s human nature to hear stories from others and think “that won’t be us” – whether you hear the horror stories and think – “yes but ours won’t be like that” or indeed hear good stories and think “yes but ours won’t be like that”. It’s really hard to accept what you hear before you’re actually living it yourself and be able to imagine how it will be, because the truth is it may be better and it may be worse. The chances are though that the challenges adopters face will be present for most adopters to one degree or another and this is why it’s so important to build friendships with other adopters before you have your children, so that you have people to go to who understand when you really need help.

5) Finally accept that adoption will be part of your life from the moment you take an adopted child into your home. Of course not everything is about adoption – there’s normal child development issues and things all families experience. But adoption is a part of your child’s life and will be forever – whether you help them to accept that and to deal with all the future issues that might bring, could be really important to their growth and to you as a family.

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Concerned child

There are many children who show extremely challenging behaviours – whether at school, in youth activities with other children or at home. They may be the ones in fights, or verbally abusing the teacher, they may be swearing and throwing things in the class or in the club. They are definitely the ones all the workers know and spend much of their time trying to curb their behaviours or deal with the fallout.

BUT what of some of the other children? In Attachment terms they may be the avoidant children, or just the quieter, more withdrawn children, or the shy ones who desperately want to join in the activities but can’t get over their fears and anxieties.

One of my children, well in fact all three in some ways, are this child. They are compliant, well mannered (at times), polite and generally come across as nice children. However there is a sea of paranoia, dysregulation and fear going on underneath the surface. This weekend was a prime example for me. All three go to a brilliant youth club in our local church on a friday night. 200+ young people attend this club from age 11-18. Mine have been going for some time and are not the ones that demand much attention from the staff but they come out as high as kites. The stimulation, noise and amount of people in that short space of time seems to send their senses racing. Of course they have to deal with more children then that at school every day but we are starting to think maybe they’re not ready for this!

Then yesterday my eldest and I were in a choir that performed in three performances across the Sunday which was a long day. She did really well but I noticed as the day progressed that she was actually finding it all quite difficult. Others may not have noticed the bright red cheeks, the giggles, the slightly larger gestures, louder voice and general fizziness that I could see creeping over her. And then this morning of course the down side of a day like that – the grumpy, irrational response to every comment given by me or her siblings.

So why am I talking about this? Well I just want to draw your attention, my lovely readers, to the child you may not have noticed. The one who isn’t extreme in their behaviours but a change has happened. It may be a slightly higher pitched voice then normal, a lack of life behind the eyes, a tendency to stick close to the adults in large peer groups – there are actually many signs of a child like this struggling but they are so subtle and tiny you have to be really watching to see them.

Why is this important? Well for these children they need desperately to be able to navigate those rocky friendship seas. Without our help, understanding and guidance they will leave those youth clubs and not come back, they will not take part in those all day events, or they will just slip into the background and become invisible all together. They need us to see them. To really notice what’s going on and to be able to reach out to them and help them. Without us doing it they may never learn how to function and have good, healthy relationships with others. And that is the bedrock and a healthy adult life – to feel good about yourself and to be able to connect with others. This is what will break the cycle for children who’ve had a rocky start in life. I hope you will join me in whatever way you can to see the child others don’t see.

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We are always told that failure and adversity makes us stronger. That we learn through trial and error. That you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Enough of the cliches….this weeks theme for our blog buddy group is ‘a smooth sea never a skilled sailor made’ and when I first read this I thought yes I can think of a few things to say about that. Like the fact that as a parent much of what we do with our children has to be trial and error as there’s no manual, each child is completely different and of course there’s also our own emotions and stuff to take into account. The seas of parenting are very rarely smooth – they are at best mixed with some calm spells, choppy waters and all out horrendous storms. As someone trying to navigate those waters though you need to have experienced the storms to be able to weather them again. Each time you deal with something then the next time it seems a tiny bit easier.

My husband and I did scuba diving when we first got married, something we’d like to take up again at some point. My husband did his open water course – the first level of diving, in Kenya on our honeymoon. What a brilliant environment to learn it! Beautiful clear blue water, amazing visibility to be able to see the wonderful sights and of course the still, calm waters to be able to appreciate the experience in. When I did my open water however it was in England, a combination of inland quarrys, brixham beach, rainy, cold weather and of course virtually zero visibility. In fact I had to have a guide rope between me and the instructor so I didn’t get lost as we couldn’t see each other underwater!! Quite a different experience. But I remember people in the diving world commenting at the time that “if you can dive in English conditions then you can dive anywhere” and that has been true. Anyway I’ve had the pleasure to dive since – Cyprus and the Red Sea for example have been a dream in comparison.

So my friends, how does this relate to my normal ramblings about life and particularly adoption parenting? Well there are days when parenting my children feels like diving off Brixham beach. It is treacherous waters, dangerous surroundings, zero visibility to see the future and not particularly pleasant. However there is so much I learnt from diving in these conditions and in fact to parenting under these circumstances too. I’ve learnt so much about myself and my resilience or lack of, my motivations and values, my pressure points and stressors and what support I need along the way. Much like diving there is equipment you need and you are never supposed to dive alone. You always have a buddy with you that experiences the dive with you. It’s been the same on my parenting journey. I’ve needed lots of resources along the way and people to travel the journey with me.

I didn’t intend this blog to be about diving but as I’ve been writing what’s inside I can see so many similarities with parenting and diving so here are some thoughts to hopefully keep your head above water:

1)  You are never alone. The buddy you have in diving is supposed to stick with you throughout the dive. You descend together, stay together underneath the water, make sure each other is ok and that you both have enough air in your tank. When one of you doesn’t then you share the air from one tank and submerge together. You witness each others journey and share in the experience together. My friends through adoption have been my most trusted friends and the ones I’ve shared the most difficult times with and we constantly go up and down in these choppy waters. Without them it would be all the more risky and not half as much fun.

2)  The deeper you get the calmer the sea becomes. I suffer with sea sickness and when I’m on a boat waiting to enter the water I feel dog rough. When you hit the water and the swelling is felt that doesn’t help either. Also if you’re entering the sea from a beach the closer you are to the shore and the shallower the water the more you feel the swell of the waves which increases the sickness feeling. However, once you dive that feeling disappears. The waters become calm and peaceful the deeper you descend. Down there is like a world of quiet and peace where all you are aware of is your breathing and the floating sensation. With my group of adopter friends the other day we were talking but the feeling of dread you can feel as an adoptive parent (something I will blog more on soon). One of the comments we made was that it’s always there – that feeling, much like the sickness I just described when in the water. But over time that feeling of dread gets deeper – you’ve not so aware of it as it’s not on the surface anymore but it’s become part of who you are. As the seas change, that constant calm and storm effect then those feelings can change – they may still be there always threatening to spill over but the deeper they go the less you are aware of them.

3)  When you go with the flow you see what’s around you. I’ve heard people say before when talking about diving how they could never do it – “so scary, I’d feel claustrophobic and panicky” and I understand those feelings but that’s not been my experience. I have struggled at times when a creature you weren’t expecting, like an eel or shark appears, but once you concentrate on slowing your breathing, relaxing into the water and being consciously aware of your body then the panic subsides and you are then very aware of the beauty around you. You can actually let the eel peek out at you or marvel as the shark swims over head. The same goes with parenting. Sometimes the panic of a situation or the thought of something happening can send you into a paralysing panic. However if you take a deep breath, try as much as you can to slow yourself down and really be aware of your body, then you can see clearer. That is one of the main sensations I remember about diving – the feeling of tranquility, simplicity and clarity. That’s what I want in my parenting and what I want for my friends. Tranquility, simplicity and clarity (again a possible future blog)!

So whether you feel like your seas are calm, or quite the opposite at the moment, take hope from the fact that you are learning how to navigate these waters. Hopefully you will get to some moments of tranquility, simplicity and clarity along the way. And once you have become that skilled diver or sailor then know that you can help others struggling to control their own sea – we can not do this thing alone!

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Mother and children laughing

There are many things I would have liked to have been over the years – a singer, a world traveller, someone who can cook, many many things. The problem with wishing to be something you’re not is that you spend so much time comparing yourself to others that you miss actually being who you are supposed to be. I hear from other Mums how guilty they feel sometimes about not being the Mum they would have liked to have been or wish they were. When I see those Mums who are those earth Mums – baking with their kids, painting, doing crafty things, or sporty things, gardening, I do wish I could be like that. I think growing up with that kind of childhood must be great.

Of course we all love to compare ourselves to others and there’s always someone we think is ‘better’ than us at certain things. I do wonder sometimes with the matching process of adoption how well the actual personality and lifestyle matching is taken into consideration. I sit on a local panel for adoption and I know we look at the emotional match – can the prospective adopters meet the needs of the child. But should we also be looking at the other aspects of the match? If the child loves the outdoors and animals but the prospective adopters don’t…..if the child has been around music but the adopters aren’t into music. Of course this relates more to older children and within our current process children over 4 are waiting to be adopted as most adopters want under 4’s – more like under 2’s actually. But even then when you have a very small child placed you just don’t know what their personalities or challenges may turn out to be. There is the wrong assumption that if a baby is put into care very, very young as in under 6 months then there won’t be any lasting issues. This is not the case and I know of one little girl who had exactly that experience – going into care at 6 months old and then adopted at 22 months old and she has had the most difficult of journeys since.

Why am I talking about the matching process? Well I do wonder sometimes about the nature, nurture debate. If the way I bring my children up is in as healthy a way as I see is possible does it mean they will develop into healthy adults? Not necessarily, there are of course genetics, their early experiences and of course the fact that I am not the Mum I wish I was too….we are not perfect, no parent is.

So how do we make sure we are being the best us we can be? I’ve given up comparisons (well most the time) as I know all that does is paralyse me to act in the way I feel is right, whether with my children or in any area of my life. Instead I choose to take how others are as an inspiration to change if I want to. So yes I would like to be a more caring Mum but I’m not going to beat myself up about it if I miss the mark. Yes I would like to be a better singer, but I’m going to enjoy and embrace the voice I have and the opportunities I have. And yes I would love to be the next Business woman of the year but I am going to dedicate my working life to making a difference where I feel I can. I think that’s all you can do and then maybe I will be the me I actually want to be.

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I love programmes about time travel – it’s a bit sad I guess but shows like Doctor Who, Fringe, Primevil, Heroes – anything that merges time and space fascinates me. I think it’s the concept of being able to go back in time and change the outcomes for people. Of course on most of these programmes the rules around time travel are very clear – you cannot change the course of history or it will have negative repercussions.

I read a post from a friend on Facebook last week that took me on a thought process around time travel. The post was a Mum struggling with her child and saying “if we could only turn back the clock” – I’m not sure what she was implying – that she would do things differently if she knew then what she knows now?, or on a more sad note that if she could turn back time maybe she might not have had him! Wow that’s a hard thought?

There are times in our lives when things are so tough that we would like to go back and change the course of our lives. We could gain something by doing that but we would also lose something too. There are times as an adoptive parent that we might wonder how life would have turned out if we’d have not started the process. For those parents who are struggling then the whole thought of recommending adoption to others can be hard. If only we had a time machine I wonder what we might do?

But as with ‘real’ time travel there are rules and consequences of messing with the space time continuum. One of the programmes I mentioned above called Heroes talks about this a lot. There’s a hero who has the super power of bending the space time continuum – he’s always trying to go back and fix things but whatever he does some things are destined to happen. I wonder if there’s split seconds in time where we make a decision about our lives that can change the course of them forever. I used to believe as a Christian that there was a perfect plan for us – one way of living, one soul mate, one main purpose in life. However as I’ve grown older I think there are many roads we can take – different careers we can choose and even different partners (there isn’t just one perfect person out there for us). I think we have choice. I do think some of the decisions we make change our lives forever and adoption was one of those for me.

When you come to adoption many times it’s through loss and pain and can seem like a last resort. If it stays feeling like that then I can understand how difficult it as when things are tough to be able to stay positive and see our choice as the right one. But for me I believe our path to adoption was meant to be. The disappointment, pain and loss was necessary to bring our family together. I would never want the pain and suffering our children experienced to be the same for others and if I did have a time machine I would go back and change their start for sure. But as we are where we are I know without a shadow of a doubt that how our family was created was meant to be.

So if you could see into the future would you want to know what comes? There are many times when I worry about my children’s future – will they be able to make sense enough of their past to move on to the future? I don’t know. I do know that we will do our best to cope with whatever the future holds. The only moment in time we can truly influence is now. The past has gone, the future is yet to come, but now we can change. So today as I live my life with those around me I will try to concentrate on the now – the time I can change for the better.

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As an adoptive parent sometimes it feels like we are going into the wild – the mysterious, unexplored territory that none have dared to dread before. Of course many have. There were nearly 4,000 adoptions that took place in 2013 and all of whom I’m sure felt like they were going into the wild. The fact that the process up to approval is so much shorter these days (guidelines are 6 months) means that many people coming through the system have not had much time to process and reflect on the journey. They also don’t seem to feel the need to attend support groups until they get their children and these are the places where you hear the real stories of what it’s like to raise vulnerable children. It’s kind of like going into the jungle with no guide, no compass and no supplies.

Perhaps because I run support groups I tend to meet many adopters who feel that each day is a walk in the wild country – either that their children are out of control or the stress of life is wearing them down. I’m sure there are many adopters out there who are surviving and even thriving as a family, but they don’t tend to come to groups to give all of us some hope.

I am fortunate I think on my journey in the wild landscape of adoption that we have lots of support around us and sometimes the tools and resilience to survive and even thrive. There are other times of course when we feel bereft wandering around unfamiliar territory where it feels no-one has trod before. That is what is so powerful about support groups of any kind – that you know you are not alone. There are others who share your pain and your joys and somehow that makes the wandering a little easier.

One of the children’s stories that I’ve never really been able to understand is ‘Where the Wild things are’ – it’s a story of a boy who’s told off by his Mum and sent to bed with no supper. He then embarks on a journey into the wild where he meets some creatures who he eventually rules over. The film itself was more confusing than the book for me and quite dark I felt for a children’s book. However as I’m thinking about this subject this week I am drawn to this story. Maybe there are wild things we imagine in our lives that are overwhelming and dominating that we need to overcome in some way. Sometimes for me it’s the relentless issues that arise with adopted children – the lying, stealing, friendship issues, anger, low self esteem, shame, fairness, attention needing behaviour – a whole raft of things that tower over us threatening to push us over the edge so that we lose control and become wild ourselves.

But that is the nature of adoption many times. Unchartered waters, an adventure to an undiscovered place within ourselves. I’ve certainly learnt more about myself since we had our children and am learning everyday to live in the now and try to be centred so that peace does reign and not chaos. What do we need on this treacherous journey?

  1. A map or a direction of where to go – without this we can wander round in circles getting more frustrated and confused. When I look back over the years I can see how far we’ve come but of course you can’t see the path in front of you at the time. We don’t know what will come ahead and what issues we may have to face. But we can try to forge a path for others as we go. When you go to support groups or meet with other adopters you can actually see that they have gone before and can give you more of an idea of what might be ahead. Talk to other adopters, especially those who are further on than you – they may be able to show an easier way or a path already travelled.
  2. Stop and take a breath – when you’re hiking through wild country you will need to take a breath, stop and rest. I need this all the time. To have people who can help with this is essential – people who will have your kids for a day, night or weekend is amazing. It will give you the space to recharge and be refreshed to continue the journey.
  3. Take enough supplies with you. I’m convinced the more I meet new adopters that we are not prepared enough beforehand. I don’t mean about understanding the children but about equipping ourselves with what we need for the tough journey ahead. We need emotional resilience, we need knowledge and strategies, we need places to go for help, we need to be self-aware and look after ourselves first. Without the right supplies any adventure in the wild will be dangerous.

So wherever you find yourself today – about to start the journey or right in the thick bushes of the jungle I hope this helps you just to step back and take stock of your life. It may feel wild and our of control sometimes but the journey is well worth it.



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Summer flowers

Sometimes I just don’t want to get out of bed – all day. I’d love to stay hibernating under the covers, maybe watching 8 episodes of Gossip Girl and generally pursuing laziness. But I can’t and why not? Well at least three reasons – my needy children (as all children are) who can’t possibly get themselves out of bed, showered, fed and off to school without me. Then of course there’s the other reason – my husband, who is allergic to laziness – well in me anyway!

I’ve just started a series looking at peace and happiness with some other adoptive Mums. We’re hoping that as we wrestle with this subject of how to be at peace in all areas of our lives that we will find ways to ‘change the things we can change, accept the things we can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference’. With my children very often I can set the temperature and the mood in the house. When I wake up earlier than them, have a cup of tea and some quiet time before they wake up then the morning seems to go hassle free (ish). When I oversleep, they wake me up, we’re rushing around to make lunch and finish homework then its a chaotic time with little peace and happiness for any of us.

I’m convinced that when we make it our intention to do something it usually happens – well there’s more chance of it succeeding anyway. When you just sit back and wait for something to happen it very rarely does. The same is true with the state you want to live in – if you are intentional about building positive relationships with others then they happen, if you’re intentional with spending time with your children then you move whatever needs to move to do that. My intention is to pursue peace….not to just think how nice it would be to find peace with myself and with others, but to actively, intentional build time in my life the time to pursue peace.

There’s many things I’ve had to change in my life since we had our children six years ago. One of them is the art of letting things go and pursuing what will build me and our family up and not bring us down. I know that my tolerance to stress is less than it used to be, or maybe there’s just so much more stress to carry now. With three children, running a business, the daily worries and anxieties we all carry and the baggage from our own insecurities it’s exhausting to carry all that without finding a way to live in peace with our circumstances and lives.

I know for myself a lot of it is about being able to accept where I am and how things are. I’m a person who always wants things to be better – high expectations of myself and others and it has got me into trouble in the past. I’m working on letting things go and living in what is and not worrying about what isn’t. So my pursuit will continue – not of laziness but of peace. That place where I can accept the things I can’t change, but also do what I can to change the things I can and then the rest is up to God.

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There are many positive things about adoption. However one of the aspects that isn’t talked about much is the intense feeling of disappointment and disillusionment that can come, particularly early on. For most of us who come to adoption it’s through a long, painful and arduous journey. The struggles of disappointment at not conceiving, watching our friends fall pregnant, have their children and start to raise them, the anguish of IVF or other treatments and then the intrusive and sometimes long process of adoption. Then once we have travelled this roller coaster of an emotional journey we are handed children – 1, 2 or maybe 3 in our case. From 0-3 overnight it seems (even though the journey there was already a long one).

The feelings we ‘should’ feel may be hard to find. We are told how lucky we are and this is what we wanted all along – and we are aware that our feelings may be all over the place and not very trustworthy in those first few months, even years maybe. Is this what we signed up for? Can we cope as parents to these traumatised children? Why are the feelings of love not flowing like we thought they would? And how come we’re not a normal family now like our friends are?

I’ve been around adoption enough now to know that each families experience is unique – but there are similarities in some of our stories. We can take comfort from the fact that even though we are unprepared massively for the realities of adoption, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We can see others further on than us who have weathered the storm and found a way to accept their lot and to find the joy that comes in the morning. There’s a part of the bible that talks about the pain in the night but joy following in the morning. When you’re in the pitch black of the night the light of the morning seems a million miles away BUT it does come eventually. The morning may not look as you expected but it is there.

If you have a faith in God or in something outside of yourself then I urge you, if you are in the throws of those difficult times of disappointment and disillusionment to hang in there. Keep coming to God and surrendering your will to His. If you don’t have a faith then look inside yourself and find that resilience, find the value at your core that led you to adopt in the first place. Whatever the outcome of our decisions I know that adoption can be a positive and joyous thing. There are many times in my daily experiences where the disappointment and disillusionment returns but I also know the peace and the joy that can come from a life striving to make a difference to a child’s life.

If you are right in the middle of the night right now I hope you find comfort in knowing many others have been or are going through it too. I wish we could prepare people better for the shock of this feeling when and if it happens, but we all have to trend our own journey and find our own peace in it. I pray today you find peace.

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I’ve never been trained in the art of negotiation – in my previous life in the corporate world I did have some negotiation training in terms of managing people but nothing like you see on films when the expert is brought in to resolve a hostage crisis. Since becoming an adoptive parent to three children 6 years ago I am developing my skills in this area every day it seems. Children always bicker – whether they are adopted or not, siblings seem to get on each others nerves and wind each other up in all number of ways. As a parent we are constantly called on to step in and resolve a conflict that does feel like it might evolve into world war III if left unchecked.

Sometimes I get exhausted with this process. I’m sure there are others out there too who feel my pain. It would be great to have one day when I could go without saying “stop that”, “get away from your brother”, “seriously, she’s only singing”… seems that anything one of them wants to do annoys another one of them. I know from all the reading I’ve done and my contact with other adopters that control is a major issue for some adopted children. The more anxious they become the more controlling they become. And that means that those closest to them will be the ones who get the brunt of it.

I don’t like to liken our children to terrorists but as I’ve been thinking about this subject today I can’t get away from the similarities in terms of negotiating a peace treaty in our home. Whilst I don’t want to trivialise real terrorism I would like to draw some lessons for myself and other adoptive parents from the writings on negotiating with terrorists. An incident this week with one of my boys also springs to mind as I think about this. He is in year 8 and as he gets older the desire to do more with friends and more away from home gets greater. One of the areas that I’ve struggled with is being put on the spot with his friendships. The other day when dropping his friend off after a sports club on Saturday morning I was tricked into taking him with us for the afternoon. I say tricked, or possibly a misunderstanding, but both my son and his friend led me to believe he was already going to the place we were so could just tag along. Once I spoke to his Mum however she knew nothing about it and was herself put on the spot. As it transpired the afternoon was thwart with stress and anxiety for me – which started out from the feeling of having no choice in the matter. I felt intimidated, tricked and played!

“Let us never negotiate out of fear, But let us never fear to negotiate” John F Kennedy.

What a great quote! As a parent of growing teenagers the temptation to give in to their demands can be great. I know that my children need clear, firm boundaries something which seems a rarity amongst their friends. The fear that comes from the disappointment of an angry, aggressive child can have an impact on us as parents and how we respond to them.

So what are some of the lessons we can learn from thinking about negotiation?

Don’t act out of fear - Terror is a tactic used by people to change other peoples minds on something or to force people to do their will. When people agree out of fear the long-term results are negative. I can see this in our home. When I agree to something out of fear of the consequences, i.e. a huge meltdown or violence from a child, then all that comes from that is a resentful adult and a child who senses that the adult is not strong enough to keep to decisions made.

Teach compromise – ‘dealing with terrorists can only work if the process brings terrorists into a civilised negotiation that leads to willingly accepted mutual agreements’ says an article by Steven P Cohen on Terrorism and Negotiation. This is extremely difficult with children who have experienced early trauma. They are predisposed to need to get their own way to feel safe. When we try to get them to understand the concept of give and take it can seem like a very alien thought to them. When you’ve not had your basic needs met then being able to give and not take all the time proves difficult. But should this be something we are trying to teach them more of? As we try and manage the peace between siblings, or negotiating a change in the plan for the day let’s try and consider how can we move them from take, to give and take.

‘Negotiation is a constructive process’ - Again this sentence was taken from this article and it helps me to step back from the constant fighting and try to see the bigger picture. Like with compromise how can this incident become constructive in some way? Negotiation is about the future and making it better. So they may be tearing at each others throats and whilst our default may be to focus on the now – the actual incident in front of us, maybe we need to look to help them think of ways to do something different next time. I try everyday to get my children to cope with navigating the minefield of friendships which is an up and down battle. Part of the battle is them knowing we are here to help them, and the other part is when we’re not there how do they stand up for themselves and make good decisions?

As I’m writing this I’m waiting for my children to come out of a Jujitsu lesson – something they’ve done for about two years now even though they seem to not want to come frequently. The decision to let them stop comes up regularly and did again tonight. My art of negotiation is coming into play – whilst I understand that they find aspects of it difficult for different reasons I do think it’s good for them and in the long run will be something that will give them lots of valuable skills. Do I act out of fear and give in to their moaning about coming? Do I try to use the opportunity to teach them compromise? – if they go then maybe we can do something they enjoy later (bribery probably) and do I see the process of arguing about coming as a constructive lesson in negotiation? What can I learn from this, and what can they learn?

So whilst I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions on this subject today I do think I’ve started on the process of understanding the art of negotiating with my children – they are not terrorists but growing, developing, pushing the boundaries, finding themselves little people who need me to master this art quickly!



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Holding hands man and child

I’ve been listening periodically to the Radio 2 series on ‘What makes us human” and they’ve been many different perspectives on this from all kinds of different people. So this is my humble attempt to consider what I think it means to be human. When my Dad died 5 years ago I went through some soul searching around the point of life – not in the teenage oh woe is me, nobody loves me everybody hates me vibe – although I do remember that and it felt very real at the time. But this was different. This was a real deep question of what are we here for? Our lives seem so short and sometimes superficial and meaningless – do we really make a difference in the world? Is the world a better place for my Dad having lived in it and having touched the lives he touched?

After much pondering on this over a number of months I could honestly say that my Dad’s life had great meaning. Now he is not in a room his absence is like a gaping hole sometimes for me. His presence was felt. Whether he spoke or not just the fact that he was present meant that I felt safe. Not only did he touch my life and our family of course, but I know he touched many other peoples lives. If I knew without a doubt I could say that about my life I would know it has been a life well lived.

What makes us human? Our interaction with each other. No man was made to live alone. Isolation is a debilitating state to be in. We may crave peace and quiet sometimes but without interacting with other humans we do not grow. When I think about the amount of contacts we have with people each day it’s amazing sometimes. I’m in Starbucks writing this and have connected with others I don’t know probably every other minute – a look, smile, comment, conversation – all these seemingly insignificant moments are in fact what makes it worth being alive.

As with most things in life though that which is good can also and almost always can be bad. When I think of my children and the hard start they had in life – the negative interactions with adults. The scary and unsafe environment and the resulting fear and anxiety that brings is horrible. As human beings we seem to be infinitely capable of positive and negative interactions with each other on a daily basis. Sometimes you feel that you’re having such a brilliant day that something bad is bound to happen. For those pessimists amongst us those bad things are always going to happen as we look for them and notice them more than we notice the positive interactions.

So coming back to my Dad and his interactions with the world around him. I’m sure there were some not so positive interactions he had with his world but when I think of him now only the positives seem to remain. Those are the moments where he touched the people around him and made a difference. He wasn’t just a number, a statistic of a person who died before his time, but he was a man who left fond memories, great ideals to live up to and someone who springs to my mind when I think of what it means to be human.

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There are many times as a parent when I really want to make a point to my children. As they are growing older they very often want to make a point to me. Sometimes it feels like we’re in a battle to see whose point can out do the other persons point! I came across this quote recently, I can’t remember where – ‘it’s not about making a point, but making a difference’ and it made me think about why do we feel the need to be the person in the right all the time?

Being an adoptive parent can be frustrating at times, being any type of parent is I’m sure. When we went through the adoption process we were told that it was parenting plus – that means you get the normal challenges of parenting but with additional issues to cope with due to their past. The two questions that I ask myself almost daily are “Am I making a difference to my children?” and “Are they any better off with us then where they were before?”.

Knowing if we are making a difference to our children can be hard to realise sometimes. When you are going over the same points again and again, struggling with the same behaviours and seeing them pull away from you when they should be leaning on you for support can be very demoralising. As our children approach the full-on teenage years there are many points that seem important to be made by us to them and them to us. One I have all the time from my daughter and her friends is how tall they are growing – that they are taller than me (not hard to do) which seems to be very important to them. One of the points I always find myself trying to make is that I am the parent and they are the child! Why is that so important to me to make sure they know I am in charge? Is that making a difference to our relationship and them actually feeling safe enough with me to let me be their Mum?

I know as I ponder this question more this week I will be noticing the times when me making a point seems more important than making a difference to their lives. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and let them have their say, so that they can feel heard and seen. It’s such a surreal relationship – the adopter and adoptee, especially if you adopted older children. The need to be in control and be the person in charge is a constant battle and one where there are no winners actually. If I get my point across, which lets them know I’m boss, without any attunement in our relationship then it’s all for nothing – it’s just being a dictator.

I remember when I was in management in business years ago studying a book called ‘Developing the Leader within you’ by John Maxwell. A brilliant leadership book and whilst I was thinking about management at that time, now as a parent and a leader in my home I come back to it all the more. There’s a section in the book where the author talks about the five levels of leadership and why people follow you. The first level is Position – people follow you because they have to. As a parent we feel that sometimes – that the children HAVE to obey us as we are the parent. Level two is Permission – people follow you because they want to – this is when you are having fun together. Level three is Production – people follow you because of what you have done for the organisation (or family). Level four is People Development – people follow you because of what you have done for them. The final level of leadership is Personhood – people follow you because of who you are and what you represent – this for me speaks of where I would like to be as a Mum to my kids. What Mum represents for them has not been good – when they think of Mum it doesn’t bring positive, inspiring thoughts to their minds but disappointment and anxiety. Now I have a chance to make a difference to them in this area. Whether they follow me because the have to or because of who I am varies daily and hourly sometimes. But I have to keep in mind always that it’s about making a difference to them and not making sure my point is accepted by them at whatever cost.

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Thoughts are off summer and back to the daily routine of school and work for next week. As I reflect back on our summer break though I am encouraged in some ways that we have progressed as a family over the last six years since our children were placed with us. I remember the very first summer when I was terrified at the prospect of 6 weeks to entertain children I didn’t really know well and wasn’t sure I could cope. Now I know you have to take each week and sometimes each day at a time – that way the six weeks seems to go quickly and each week is a new adventure of sorts.

I have to say though whilst I am encouraged at some things there are other things that are more concerning as the children grow older. They have been able to do more without us this year but for our eldest the impact of that on her attachment to us has been surprising to me. Adopting older children (7 when she came to us) means that there is the chance of it being more difficult to form a solid attachment to each other. As she has gone into High School and teenage years the need to pull away and become more independent (as typical teenagers will do) is a bit more difficult for her as the foundation of relationship with us is not as solid as it would be if she had lived with us from birth. This means of course that while typical teenagers have a trusted safe base to come back to should they get things wrong – for our daughter she doesn’t feel that safety and security with us.

An example of how this can show itself is that she went on two 6 day camps this summer without us – one with the scouts and the other with a youth group. Whilst she had a good time and seemed to cope well with the activities and being away, when she came back she struggled to readjust to life in a family again. She had been used to doing her own thing with no one telling her what to do or parenting her – then when she came back to us the battles began as we all got used to being a family again.

These battles continue – and it doesn’t surprise me that these times are hard for my daughter and for us. Adoption is a great solution for children who do not have a safe family to grow up in, but it is not an easy option by any means. We can’t give our daughter those 5 years back – she desperately wants a ‘do over’ to be able to have what she calls a ‘normal’ life but she hasn’t and as much as we would like it to have been different we can’t give her those years back. What we can do of course is try to help her come to terms with her life, to feel good about herself and to grow in the best way that she can. It’s not always easy, I’m ashamed to say, as even though I understand why things are hard for her it is also hard for us and her brothers too, and sometimes we are not the most encouraging parents to her.

So as I look back on Summer 2014 I think it will be known as the ‘summer time when the living was easy’….well sometimes anyway, not so easy other times – just like life in general – but we survived, had some fun together and hopefully have growth a little bit closer as a family.

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This week I was asked to give my opinion on a dilemma discussed on our local radio show BBC WM. Whilst I don’t like to make judgements on other peoples lives I have thought a lot since about this particular dilemma and how the essence of it impacts most adopters I know.

The basic outline of this couples dilemma was this – they had adopted a boy about three years ago I think and it had put a strain on their relationship as a result. The man in the relationship said how the woman devoted her time and energy to the child and as a result he had an affair. They since worked through that and seemed to be in a better place. The wife now wants to adopt again and the husband doesn’t as he is frightened of the same thing happening, in terms of the stress and strain on the marriage.

There was a torrent of opinion on this dilemma, as you can image, from people on both sides of this argument – some saying the husband was in the wrong and others saying the wife was in the wrong. I was asked to comment as an adopter. Many of the other people who were commenting, whilst I’m sure they can understand the pressures any kind of parenting can have on a relationship, very few of the people passing judgement on this family were adopters and in a position to identify with some of the issues concerned. And I must point out every family is different – I certainly don’t have the answers or the monopoly on this kind of subject – but I do have my own personal feelings and can identify with the complex issues involved.

So for any of you out there thinking about adopting – especially couples – here’s my observations and experiences. Also for those with children placed who can identify with this – please know you are not alone – there is help out there – with no judgement and no condemnation.

  1. Start healthy patterns and habits now. It’s easy to say “we’ll make time for each other once the child arrives, we’ll make sure we spend time together and focus on our relationship too”. I’d encourage you to do that NOW. If you are waiting for a child to be placed then start building in habits that will keep your relationship a priority. Establish a date night. Line up a babysitter for that night each week or every other week. When you’re tired now and don’t want to go out – go out anyway. I can guarantee once the child comes if you don’t have healthily habits set up it will be so much more difficult to set them in place later.
  2. Be honest and real with each other. I know you probably try to do this now but it will be so much more important later on. If you have doubts about any aspects of adoption talk about it now so there are fewer surprises.
  3. Find a trusted friend to be accountable to. If you have someone you can talk to now then cultivate that relationship to be one where you can be truly transparent and get them to make you accountable. It’s easier sometimes to talk to a best friend then to your partner, but they can help you stay on the right track and hopefully encourage you in the right direction when things get difficult. If you don’t have such a person now then find one.
  4. Commit to see the best in each other. You may feel your relationship is rock solid now and that’s great, however children who’ve experienced early trauma have a way of splitting adults. Due to their lack of trust and insecurities they may very well be different with one parent than the other and this can make things difficult between couples. Notice that and commit to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
  5. First sign of trouble get help. If you sense things are starting to become difficult in your relationship seek help. Very early in our relationship we had a few sessions with the counselling service called RELATE and it really helped us. This was even before we had our children and since they have arrived I certainly have had counsel from many wise people who have helped me keep things in perspective when needed. There is no shame in asking for help.

One thing I have found that seems to be quite common for us adopters is guilt. The adoption process can be such an arduous one that once we have a child placed with us any feelings of anything but gratitude can leave us with strong feelings of guilt – “how can we find it difficult when we wanted this so much?” “how can we be resenting the love or affection our partner has for this child when we know their background?” “why can we not just get over ourselves and have the empathy and compassion needed to raise a vulnerable child?” – very difficult questions and ones we may have to wrestle with daily sometimes.

Know that you are now alone – the dilemma couple local to me whose story was heard on the radio, others like them and sometimes my own experience – there are many of us who know all too well the light and dark shades of adoption. As with anything worthwhile in life there always seems to be a positive and negative side – that’s just life. I hope this helps you in your journey and my heart goes out to that couple in their dilemma. 

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Sing…..I’ve sung all my life in different places and it’s one of those things that always makes me feel better. Whether I’m disappointed, downcast or disillusioned with life singing somehow makes me feel that there is joy and hope. Sounds quite dramatic as I read it back but I know it’s been true for me. When I was a little girl I apparently sang all the time – I didn’t even know I was singing sometimes and even as an adult in different jobs people have always commented “do you know you’re humming?”.

What is it about singing that has this effect on people? For me it’s the sounds of making great harmonies together with others. The freedom of escaping into someones imagination as well as you sing the lyrics. My husband never listens to lyrics, it’s the music for him. But for me it’s both – I love a great happy, driving tune and I also love clever, sensitive and inspiring lyrics.

I’m part of a choir at the moment working towards a presentation on 27th July nearby. It’s been such a blast practicing with friends but also people I’ve never met before. The songs are great, the choir master is brilliant and it’s just nice to be part of something that I know will bless others when we do perform. Each week when I’ve gone to practice even if I’ve been feeling a bit down or tired it’s lifted my spirits and connected me again to my love of music.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this about music, but of course it may be very different things for each one of you – sport, films, family and being with friends – maybe that’s what keeps you grounded and centred. For me it’s many things some of the list above (except sport) but definitely music – listening to it and singing.

So this week think about what would be your keep calm and…..and do it – don’t only recognise it but make sure you make time to do it. I’ve found that often we know what will help us feel better but we don’t do it….we just plod on with the stress and expect others to help us calm down, but we have a responsibility to do that ourselves. I’m talking to myself here too. I made a promise to myself a few weeks ago that if I was feeling down I would listen to a favourite song – of which I have many, but I’m sorry to say I’ve not always done that. So I’m re-pledging to do that this week.

Here’s a few of my favourites at the moment:-

Louise Petie – Safe and Sound

Keith Urban – Little bit of everything

Rend Collective – My Lighthouse

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It’s been a hectic week this week – lots of travelling, speaking and training, meeting new people and catching up with old friends – lots of time away from my children and not much sleep. All in all I feel quite shattered, in a good way but also being marooned on a desert island doesn’t sound like a bad idea right now! This is the theme for our blog buddies post this week – If I were marooned on a desert island…..

Before we had our children I always considered myself to be someone who was energised by others. For many years the thought of being on my own scared me a bit I think. Now however…..just the opposite. I do still get energised by being with others and love to throw ideas around and spend time with like minded people. But I also need much more time alone with no noise, no tasks or work and definitely no people! So maybe the desert island is the place for me sometimes.

What can we learn in those times of quietness and aloneness?

1) We can cope without other people telling us what to do all the time. For many of us the tendency to ask other peoples advice or their opinions on things is a daily habit. When thinking about changing jobs, who to marry or even what to have for breakfast we assume others know what’s best for us more than we do. When you’re on your own on that desert island there is only you to answer to and only you to make the decisions. I wonder if I had made more decisions about my life on my own without other peoples influence whether it would have been a straighter path to where I am now, or indeed a more rockier one? Questions that can properly never be answered and there is something very valuable in asking for other peoples help at times. I’ve heard many people say they were persuaded to do something they didn’t want to do and regretted it. So on my desert island (my occasional days of solitude) I will listen to my gut and trust my instincts more.

2) There is power in the now. I’ve seen this so many times over the last 9 years since I’ve been involved in coaching and since we’ve had our children. Being able to concentrate on what is in front of me and not obsess about the past and the future is so freeing and very powerful. On my desert island I want to be able to experience everything and not miss the tranquility and peace that can be found in just settling into what’s going on right now.

3) There is a time and a season for everything. There is a time for busyness, action and noise and there is definitely a time for quietness, silence and stillness. Without one we can not appreciate the other. We need to know what it feels like on the hamster wheel of life to feel the benefit of getting off and if we never got on the wheel then our lives would not move forward and we would miss those opportunities all around us to make a difference to others.

4) Life is about people. As much as we need those times of solitude and quietness – without people life has little meaning. I’ve learnt some new things about how our brains are wired up recently, namely that we are built for relationships. There are parts of our brain that respond to reciprocation from others around us. As we interact with others our brains receive signals that make us feel good. Also when we are very young our brains develop and grow through interaction – repetitive patterned activity with the people around us. What happens when we don’t get that? Relationships are vitally important. As much as I might want those times of no people and no demands I know that I need them – I need my family, friends and the world around me to thrive.

So whether you are on a desert island in your experience or indeed the hamster wheel remember without the one you can’t have the other – but you do need to take a step back occasionally, get on that desert island and find refreshment to get back into life again.

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I heard this quote as part of a talk about poverty – a very complex, serious and devastating issue for many people in our world today. However as I’ve been mulling it over as our blog buddies title this week I’ve not been able to get away from some very much more mundane thoughts on this.

For those parents amongst you – you will recognise this scene I’m sure. You’re sat on your sofa after a long day enjoying a cup of tea (or whatever beverage you drink) and watching the TV (or whatever makes you relax) and you hear a loud voice in the distance somewhere “Mum, Mum, Muuuuuum” now you think well I can either raise my voice too and scream the place down in response or I could get off my backside and move my feet. If you’re anything like me you eventually are the one who has to move to go to the calling voice – why is that? Why do we feel that we always have to go to others? The problem is that you know even if you answer their call by shouting “what?” back you will probably end up getting up anyway.

As parents we have a role to meet our children’s needs – their basic needs and much more. When you become a parent through whatever means, you’ve very rarely given a comprehensive guide on what to do – how to meet the ever increasing needs and demands of children. Do you go to them every time they cry as a baby? What kind of food and when should you feed them? How do you make sure they learn to not be bullied or in fact not be a bully? When do you talk to them about relationships and sex? How do you protect them from all the things you wished hadn’t happened to you – and can you? Should you? Aaahh I can feel the stress building up in me as I write this….it is the most challenging, perplexing, demanding, exhausting, rewarding, exhilarating and important job you will ever do in the world. Creating, influencing and raising a child to become a well-rounded adult who in turn can contribute to society in their own way. Amazing and terrifying at the same time.

For those who read my blogs regularly you will know that adoption is very close to my heart, not only because it’s our experience of parenting but also as it’s my work and passion right now. It can be a sobering job sometimes. I sit on a local adoption panel which can be distressing – when you read the lives of these very vulnerable children and their birth parents who have very often had difficult childhoods themselves, and then what a privilege to be involved in that moment when a family is created through adoption – when parents raise their voices in celebration and move their feet along an incredible journey that I know will take them on a roller coaster of emotions.

So next time I hear my children scream “Mummmmm” I think I will try and remember that whether I raise my voice too or move my feet I would not be without them and the incredible privilege it is to be involved in this wonderful experience of adoption.

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Balloons in sky

As a nation we seem to be very down on extreme emotions – it’s not the done thing to be too sad and certainly not cool to be too happy! Melancholy, stress, exuberance, crazy singing and dancing in the street – are all signs that we obviously can’t handle our daily lives and need some help to flatten out our emotions so that we can fit in and not make anyone else feel uncomfortable.

This weeks theme is ‘Happiness – is it all it’s cracked up to be?’. For me I’ve thought about this for many years actually (I know, too much time on my hands). When I started the coaching journey 9 years ago I came into contact with the concept of really experiencing our emotions. We tend to want to live without too many radical ups and downs but just a steady even keel bundling along the middle range of our emotions. I’m not talking about those who suffer extremes clinically like depressive illnesses – but the every day emotions we experience like sadness and joy.

I’ve found that as people we very often are uncomfortable around other peoples emotions. When people are sad we want to make them happy, and conversely when they are happy we sometimes want to contain their happiness and bring them down to our level of unhappiness! What is it about this phenomenon? Why is it so hard to sit with people in their emotions however extreme they are?

If you have ever felt a strong emotion such as grief or incredible joy and then been with someone who doesn’t validate that emotion, it can feel completely dismissive, that what you feel is not important and that there’s something wrong about staying there for a while.

One of the parenting models we are encouraged to use when parenting adopted children is by a Child Psychologist called Dan Hughes. Part of this model talks about truly accepting where the child is at in their inner world. Something I wish we would all do more of. So when they come in from school upset saying “no-one likes me” and we say “that’s not true I like you”, or “I’m sure that’s not right, everyone can’t dislike you” – those expressions just make the child’s feelings wrong – we are saying that what they feel is not valid. It dismisses some very strong emotions that doesn’t allow them to really share those emotions with us. The feelings certainly don’t go away with our words of wisdom. They may still feel paranoid and lonely at school and now they have no-one to really share those incredibly strong feelings with.

Instead Dan Hughes recommends you stay with them in their emotions – linger a while. This is something we learnt in coaching also and I have seen it work in powerful ways with clients and also have known it for myself. So in the example above you might say to the child “wow, that’s awful to feel like that, you know if I felt no-one liked me I wouldn’t want to go to school either, tell me more about how that feels”. I know this is counter intuitive as we desperately want to move them out of their low feeling and for them to be happy again – but they need to really experience the emotions, delve a little deeper to know how they truly feel and then some solutions can come from a much deeper place, where they are heard and understood.

So my plea for you (and me) this week when you’re out and about with your family, friends, work mates whoever is to just linger a little bit with their emotions – whether they are happy or sad that’s ok. For some people being round happy people is hard too. How many times have you succeeded in something and then moved on straight away to the next thing without really experiencing the joy of accomplishment?

Happiness IS all it’s cracked up to be but then so are the full range of emotions – let’s not be too scared to experience them ourselves and to let others experience their emotions too.

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Sometimes when you’re in the thick of things it’s hard to see any progress – how far have you come? Has the journey been worth it? What difference have you made along the way? In our blog buddies title this week – tracks or footprints, a few areas have popped into my mind.

Firstly when I think about our children and how far we have come I can honestly say there have been huge tracks left in the ground. This week my daughter did something very sweet for me and it made me realise that even though there are many times when we don’t see eye to eye and that she finds it hard to accept what has happened in her life, there are also times when the tracks stand out. Hopefully the times of attunement, however few and far between, are making a difference in her life. That she is healing slowly but surely.

We’re coming up to the fifth anniversary of my Dads death. He was and still is a huge part of my life. It’s funny how you don’t really appreciate that until they are gone. I know that however many years go by and however many mentors and good people I have around me, the Dad shaped hole in me will not be filled by anyone else. His footprint in my life is huge. He was such an unassuming man that I know he wasn’t going all out to change the world but he did have a massive impact on many people and the legacy of that continues. We just never know what an impact we have on others – whether they are huge footprints or tiny tracks doesn’t really matter – without them the landscape for others would be different.

I have been reflecting on my business today and where I am right now. If you just focus on what’s in front of you sometimes it can seem small – that the work you are doing doesn’t matter – whatever you job is. When you compare yourself to others it’s very easy to see your tiny tracks as somehow insignificant to those giant monster footprints – BUT I don’t believe that’s the case. I believe we all have a job to do that is just ours – that if we didn’t do it – it might not ever be done. My job as a Mother to my children is unique, my job as a wife to my husband is unique and my role in this work is unique. It’s the same for us all….

Finally in my own personal growth when I look down at my feet I can only see where I am right now. But if I look back I can see just how far I have come. We all have thorns in our side, traits that are hard to shake and problems that seem to follow us wherever we go. I can say that when I take my eyes off my own feet and focus on where I’m going and who I’m going there with it’s a whole different story. 

So whether you consider your prints to be tiny tracks or huge footprints today just remember that they are making an impact on the world around you. Without you the landscape would not be the same. And be encouraged that the legacy you create will live on in others when you are gone.

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Friends chatting

When we started on the adoption journey I really did believe I was resilient enough to do a good job. Like most people I’ve had my ups and downs in life but nothing really major I guess – I’ve been very fortunate. Of course the journey to adoption for people (us included) is usually a rocky one thwart with loss, pain and anxiety BUT the end result – three amazing children – is incredible. Over the last year I would say I’ve been slowly trying to change my focus in my parenting and my thoughts about adoption in general. When you see the programmes on TV (like the current Finding Mum and Dad series) they are sometimes quite one sided – they either show the horrendously difficult decisions and lifestyles people have that impact on children, or they show this very unrealistic, twee view of a lovely dreamlike family coming together and living happily ever after. In reality it’s somewhere in the middle.

I’m sick of hearing the statistics that come out about the outcomes for children who’ve been through the care system. They are shocking and can be very soul destroying for those of us trying to make a difference to children’s lives. However you can’t bury your head in the sand and pretend all is well when it isn’t. A recent study I heard talked about three thirds within adoption – a third of people apparently are doing well (however you quantify that), another third are struggling, and the final third are in crisis i.e. disruption where children have to go back into the care system. This doesn’t surprise me as it probably reflects my experience with those around me. It does worry me though that we concentrate so little on post adoption support and that is the single most important thing that will move you from one third to another.

I remember a few years ago having a meal with some adoption friends – two mothers, both struggling and probably moving from the second to the final third if you go on the study above. Both Mums really finding day to day life difficult, striving to manage their own emotions and this was impacting on how they felt about their children too. I said at one point “I’m not where you are YET” – when I was driving home I thought – you know I never want to be there! I never want to be in that place where every day is a struggle and it’s difficult to see the good in anything about adoption. I understand how we can get to that point and hold no judgement for those who find themselves there. I do however hope to help others not reach that point themselves.

This year I’m looking at focusing on helping and supporting other adopters in whatever way I can. I know that one of the main areas I’d love to influence is this weeks quote – I ask not for a lighter load but broader shoulders – I would love to make that my mantra and others I care about in this arena – that we would not just accept our family circumstances but be grateful and relish what it can bring us. In order to do that I know we need much broader shoulders – for some of us that means relying more on a God we believe can sustain us throughout whatever life brings, for others that means finding strength in people around us and within ourselves. Either way I know that this is the road I was meant to tread – it may not seem like that sometimes but this is where I am meant to be – so I just pray for the capacity to thrive in my circumstances and to be that shoulder for others when I can.

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For years now I’ve been conscious that I want to thrive in all areas of my life – not just survive. As an adoptive parent (any parent that is) there is a tendency to just feel satisfied at getting to the end of the day in one piece. Sometimes that is quite an achievement in itself! But as I’ve been thinking about this theme more this week another thought has occurred to me. Once you get to a place where you feel you are surviving we can then tend to go straight to striving to keep things good. Surviving is hard work but striving is too. I know for myself and many of my friends we spend a lot of our time striving to spin all the plates and hold everything together for our children, our work, our marriages and ourselves! 

So what is the difference between striving and thriving? When I think about plants or trees thriving it seems to be effortless for them. As long as they are rooted in the right place, have the right sort and amount of food and water, be true to what they are then they grow – they thrive.

The term used for a child who struggles to grow is failure to thrive. That is such a powerful phrase. I wonder what areas in my life there’s a failure to thrive? In my work I know that when I’m doing what I love, what I’m good at and what people want it just seems to flow – there’s no striving just thriving. When I try to force things or do things in ways that are not congruent with my values then it’s hard work feels like striving not thriving. With my children when I am in a good place emotionally our times together seem to flow – there’s fun and laughter, and a connection between us that is lovely.

There’s a song I’ve been listening to for a few weeks now and part of the chorus is very inspiring to me:

We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

For those out there who are struggling to survive each day at the moment I’d say hang in there. For those who are surviving but find themselves striving each day I say take courage that when you can get yourself grounded and look after yourself then you will find times of thriving. And for those who are thriving then live in that moment. The part I love about the chorus above is that for me it’s time to do just more than survive and definitely more than strive – it’s time to actually thrive!

Click the picture below to hear the song …..

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Being an adoptive parent can be a lonely business sometimes. When you feel that very few understand the pains involved and the challenges. When your child tells you they just want to be with their ‘proper’ mum or that they wished you would have a heart attack and die or that they wished they never came to live with you. Even though you know in your mind that they are speaking out of hurt and anger it’s very difficult to put your own feelings aside and try and help them deal with their confusion. I heard this morning someone say that if there was a photo taken of you at any given time it may show a bad story – when I shouted at my children tonight out of frustration and anger if there was a snapshot of that moment I would have looked like the worst Mum in the world. But if you took a video instead of a still it would show a different story – the frustrations leading up-to the event – the aftermath of tears, hugs and hours spent in reparation. I have to hold onto that sometimes – that even though I mess up as a parent I am trying my best to make things right for my children. Even as I write that I know how crazy that sounds – I can’t make it right for them – nothing will make it right. My eldest has been in a safe environment more years than not and she still does not feel safe enough to let us in!

As all the chaos ensued tonight I just thought how lonely this life is! Even with a partner (who’s not here at the moment) it can feel like you are holding the weight of the world on your shoulders. I think through the adoption process they should do more on personality types and attachment styles in us adults. To know how we cope with stress, what triggers us, how resilient we are and what values we have would be really useful – in fact that is part of why I started working for myself as a coach helping other adopters as I know we spend little time on ourselves. Without building ourselves up before placement and then continually throughout parenting I can’t see how we can remain therapeutic and really help our children heal. In fact I know that for myself I need to find better ways to build my own resilience constantly so that when moments come like tonight I can step back – not take it personally and be the person my children need me to be in that moment.

I know this post is quite honest and real tonight and I hope it resonates with others – if it does please let me know – connect me on my Facebook page – braveheart education or on twitter @braveheartedu or email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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What comes first the chicken or the egg? This is a well known conundrum and one I will not aim to solve in this blog but it has been going around my mind as our title for this weeks blog buddies post is ‘eggs’. When I spend more concentrated time with my kids the temperature seems to rise within us all – the kids start bickering and arguing with each other, I get stressed and irritated by tiny things and it becomes overall quite intense. It’s reminded me of something I heard some time ago about how the most dominant emotion in a room sets the temperature.

Many times children who’ve experienced early trauma struggle with their emotions – with self-regulation, with feelings of paranoia in relationships and with fear of the unknown like being in a peaceful environment. When you’ve lived in chaos, even though you may know chaos is not good for you, it’s your comfort zone – it’s what you know and so will push to create chaos wherever you can.

For us as adults life can be really stressful – relationships, job pressures, money worries, health concerns, meaning of life and purpose questions and that’s before you throw children in the mix. Before we had our kids I had what could be considered a stressful job at times – targets, redundancies, dealing with difficult staff but nothing prepared me for raising children. Nothing does prepare any of us I don’t think – even when you have children naturally there’s no training that happens, no test and exam to sit. One day there’s just you to consider (and your partner) and then all of a sudden you have this tiny person relying on you, depending on you to have the answers and to make things good.

When you have children through adoption you do at least have a bit more training and preparation – not anywhere near enough though. Of course the children have already had stressful lives themselves and bring that along with them. I’ve come to believe that to go down this route of parenting you need to have built up so much resilience and inner strength before hand because once they arrive that will be tested to the max.

What is the difference between a thermostat and a thermometer? I may have said this before on a blog as the thought of this comes back to me time and time again. A thermometer reads the temperature in a room. When my kids come home from school I can sense straight away what their mood might be like. From their bickering, or their smiling it can be easy to see what the next few moments might be like. However a thermostat sets the temperature. I know that many times I set the wrong temperature in our house. My tiredness, moodiness, impatience and stress levels impacts on the children and theirs impacts on mine. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I know that as I’m the adult and the one who needs to set the temperature that it has to change with me. Not that it’s easy at times but if I don’t turn that dial down and start to bring calm and peace into the house it will remain hot and tempered.

So this week when your temperature begins to raise remember that picture – the thermostat or the thermometer. It may be of course that you need to step out of the situation if you can’t turn the dial down but the most dominant emotion in the room will impact everyone else. Chicken or the egg – me or my kids. It’s hard to tell but I do know that only I can make the difference.


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Two tone tree

I bought myself a Mothers Day present this year – a necklace with an engraving of a tree on it. Around the bottom of the tree the names of all five of us in our family are engraved, myself my husband and our three adopted children. There’s also my birthstone hanging from the top of the necklace. This was something I saw online and thought what a nice way to show my family and remind myself of our family tree – not in the traditional sense but a tree that we’ve chosen and sometimes need to remind ourselves that we are a family however challenging it might feel at times.

When I think about family trees I have mixed emotions about them. My own family is a mystery to me in many ways as all my grandparents died very young in their 50’s – the last one died when I was about 4 and I have a vague memory of him lying on the couch and smoking! But not having that first hand knowledge of my past does bother me sometimes – I would have loved to have had grandparents there to talk about their lives and to spoil us. I tried to trace our family tree once but the names don’t seem real to me, I need the people interaction and connections for it to mean something and make sense.

When I think about my children’s experiences of their family trees it saddens me. They don’t so much have a family tree but an orchard of trees – our two family trees and of course their birth parents family trees that even-though we have them written down they will never be able to connect in the same way not having the people to talk to. It must be so confusing to have all these branches of your life that shot from you but you have little knowledge of them. It’s easy for me in some ways as I can look at my parents and see myself in them, I can look at my brother and see something of myself which helps with identity and belonging. For my children they have each other, which I know will help them in this way, but other than each other they can’t link themselves to anyone else at the moment.

Why is it so important for us to belong? We all seem to have an innate need to belong to a family and for some people that family is not through blood – whether through adoption, marriage or community – a group that we choose to call our family – we feel a sense of fulfilment in community. As if we need to be in that orchard of trees and not a lone tree.

Trees have always been a strong picture for me and something that comes back time and time again. Recently I was reminded of just how much I need to feel grounded and strong as a person – whose roots are steadfast and sure. Where we plant ourselves is important, the environment we choose to grow in is important and the food we choose to eat is important too. Without the things we need to grow we look good on the outside but underneath it all – at the roots we are unstable and can be tossed around by any passing wind. I know that when things get difficult for me as a parent, a wife, a friend or at work I need to be so securely rooted, know exactly who I am and where I belong so that I can find the strength I need to.

So whether you know much about your own past, whether you are struggling on this adoption journey or you just need to be reminded to be securely planted I hope when you look at a tree this week it will remind you that you have a place where you belong and as long as you are grounded you will be able to weather any storm.

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So we’re supposed to be in Spring apparently – clocks have sprung forward, daffodils are springing up all over, people’s moods are lighter as the days are longer and there’s that general feeling of a new season emerging. However just like our unpredictable weather it’s struck me this week just how surprisingly fast that can change – as the clouds appear, wind builds up and then of course the rain falls – our moods can change as quickly.

I was surprised myself this last week by the feelings that Mothers Day brought into our house – I started to write a blog that I wasn’t going to post but in the spirit of honesty and authenticity I will include my thoughts here, in hope that others can identify with it and maybe feel that sense of solidarity and community on this sometimes isolating journey of adoption:

Mothers Day was a surprisingly difficult day for me this year. I’m not sure exactly why it was a surprise. When I think of all the emotions associated with Mothers Day – for me personally being a Mother through adoption has very mixed emotions. For most Adoptive parents it probably wasn’t their first choice, that doesn’t mean to say it hasn’t been a good choice but still there is some loss associated to it. Not just how I’ve come to be a Mum but also the nature of the kind of parenting we have to do as a result of my children’s early start in life and what an impact that has on them now. When I look around at other Mums it’s hard not to be jealous sometimes of the things that are different. It’s always the case of course – that we look at others and think their lives are so much easier than ours – of course someone may be looking at me and saying the same!

Then when I think of how difficult this day is for my children as well that hurts. I know as they are getting older that their thoughts run to their birth Mum – where is she? Is she OK? Does she still think about them? Does she still love them? I so wish I could take that pain away for them and I can’t….it will be with them for many years I know. 

What struck me this year was that every other day of the year (well most days) I can cope with the fact that my children have so much going on inside of them that my needs as a Mum go to the back of the queue. On Mothers Day, because of the hype and expectations I guess, we assume that they will be able to turn off the needs they have every other day and miraculously be aware of our needs and wants – bring me tea in bed, stop fighting with each other, make a big fuss of me and tell me what a great Mum I am! Of course for them even though I know they do love me there are mixed emotions about treating me as their Mum. Mothers Day is probably a big trigger of loss for them and the realisation that in acknowledging me as their Mother they are somehow being disloyal to their birth Mum.

The emotions are still quite raw as I write this but I do know that we will get through this as we seem to with most things. It’s all part of the process of growing as an adoptive family. One thing that did make me smile was my children had to speak on a video saying what I did for them as their Mum – one said “She’s embarrassing”, another said “she helps me know the things I can watch on TV and the things I can’t” and finally “she helps me grow”. So at the end of the day whether they can show it in the ways we would like them to or not it doesn’t really matter. I have decided though that next year I will meet with other adoptive Mums and do something special to acknowledge what we do as Mums and accept the fact that we are doing a good job.

There are many seasons still to go through as a Mum and I know there will be unpredictable weather at times but I will take time to bask in the sun when it comes out and to remember when it rains that eventually the sun will be out again.

Happy Mothers Day and Happy Spring!

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Game pieces

I’ve been mulling over the word risk this week. There are many things in life that require an amount of risk and I’ve discovered that it’s actually everything! Getting out of bed in the morning there’s always the chance of stepping on a randomly discarded toy, eating breakfast can result in the breakage of a tooth, walking children to school does occasionally end in dog poo on the shoe – everything we do has an element of risk associated to it. So why is it then that when we look at the big decisions in life the risks seem to frighten us so much?

They talk about us all being either risk takers or risk adverse and I did a little study with a group of 5 ladies this week and there was only really one who would call herself an all out risk taker. I think I probably verge on being a risk taker – when I look back over my life I know that I’ve taken some huge risks – some have paid off and some haven’t of course and some you never know the outcome as they are ongoing like having children….the risks are never ending!

I’m about to go to hospital this afternoon to have a general anaesthetic to have a wisdom tooth taken out – now that’s a risk. Something we know hospitals doing hundreds of a day all over the world but you still think about all those horror stories you’ve heard about how wrong it can go. It’s only natural to worry about things that you’re actually told have risk associated with them. I remember when my husband and I learnt to scuba dive – it was classed as an extreme sport and it made it slightly harder to get insurance, that added to the nerves when submerged under water – it didn’t however detract from what an amazing experience diving is.

So one thing I have realised this week about risk is that it’s everywhere and in everything we do. Relationships particularly are a risk – should I be myself with this person? How fragile is this relationship if I say how I really feel will it all crumble? If I step out and challenge someone at work what will be the outcome? If I made the leap and really committed to someone will I get hurt? Well yes you probably will at some point. But the other thing I realised this week is that you can’t  experience great adventure and growth if you don’t take a step, a leap of faith into the unknown. There are many people who play it safe all their life, and that’s fine, but for me I want to be able to look back and say I really did live.

Being an adoptive parent is a challenge at times, heck being a parent through any means is a challenge sometimes, but if we don’t teach our children how to fail as well as succeed they may never step out and take a risk. If they don’t then they could find themselves bored and unfulfilled in life. My children particularly struggle with friendships – which are riddled with risk. I just hope they can continue to step out and make a move towards others, that even when they feel unwanted and lonely they will find the strength within them to take a risk and reach out.

So whether you’d say you are a risk taker or risk adverse have a think about all the risks you take each day and if you didn’t take them you’d never get out of bed (not a bad thing somedays!) – if you never took a risk what would your life look like? And if you did take that huge risk that’s staring you in the face today – what difference would it make to your life? How much more fulfilled and happy might you be if you could take that step towards something that could be the turning point for you?

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There’s not much peace around me at the moment. Many of my adoption friends are finding life particularly challenging with their children and the general pressures of life. I too am finding that those moments of pure peace are few and far between. That’s not to say there aren’t other positive emotions such as laughter, fulfilment and hope but peace is something I’ve long sought after. Many of you know I pick a one word goal for each year and one year peace was my word. It was strange really because as I looked back over that year I was acutely aware that there hadn’t been much peace in the year, actually I’d learnt a lot about trying to find peace in very stressful circumstances.

So what about now as I think about peace today? Well I think there are many forms of peace – the absence of noise (very difficult with three children), the presence of happiness (moments of this with three children) and the inner contentment of being in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing – now this one I can engage with a bit more. I’ve come to realise lately, probably over the last year or so, that my life circumstances very much have prepared me for what I am doing and for what I believe I will do in the future. Even though it’s very often stressful, personally demanding and stretching I know there is a greater purpose for it.

My children very rarely seem at peace. They have had difficult starts to their lives which make feeling safe and content a little bit more challenging. My aim (not achieved some of the time) is to create a peaceful, stress free environment where they can learn to connect with others and feel safe enough to be themselves. That is not always an easy task when they are hardwired for chaos. Relationships are often stressful too. I’m convinced the older I get that all of us have control issues to one degree or another – being in control, out of control, general angst around control of our lives, our emotions and our circumstances.

I think acceptance is a great thing. If you can accept where you are in life and find purpose in it then peace is easier to find – the piece of peace that seems so illusive will appear. I’m not saying we give up on making things better, or changing our lives if we want them to change, but when you are forever fighting against what your life has become it’s very difficult to move on and find peace. My daughter particularly struggles in this area. She is 13 and very aware that her early life with her birth family was rocky to say the least. She does not want her life to be as it is, and why should she? but unfortunately it is. There’s little either of us can do to change that. She knows she was not safe in that environment but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. I pray in time she will accept her lot and find that piece of peace she so desperately desires.

So whatever your circumstances are today – look to the thing you can accept and find that piece of peace and purpose that will make all the difference. It doesn’t mean you say whatever has happened is ok – but without acceptance you will miss whatever piece of peace you may be able to find.

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‘The toughest thing you ever did could well be the best thing you ever did.’ 

Our blog buddies title this week and one I could write on from a few different angles but I’ve decided on one. This week in my business I took another new step – a new service that I want to deliver to schools and something that scares me more than any of the other things I’ve done. It’s made me consider all those first steps I’ve made in the past on some scary, big adventures. Leaving home and country at 20 to live abroad, adopting three children, and finally starting my own business. There have been many other tough things I’ve done in my life when I look back but those three stand out to me as being the biggest. They are the biggest because they still have an impact on my life today.

Some things we do that may seem tough at the time afterwards feel like nothing – they kind of disappear from our memories (they are still there just overshadowed by other things). Other experiences however stay with us and shape us, our futures and our characters. Without these experiences our lives would be poorer. I’m not saying of course that everything about those life changing experiences were easy – they very often may have been the toughest times. However they had such a deep impact on us that they become part of who we are now.

For me I always want to be stepping out and stepping up – putting myself in situations where I need to stretch, sometimes where it feels that I really can’t do it – then I know it will change me in some way. Of course many times we don’t know until hindsight that it was the best thing for us, and sometimes maybe it isn’t. Just because you step out it doesn’t mean it will always go well of course. There are many times in my life when I’ve stepped out and it’s not gone the way I planned but that’s ok….the times that have impacted me were a mixture of good and bad, success and failure. My time abroad was wonderful but also challenging, upsetting and demoralising at times. Being an adoptive parent is the biggest roller coaster ride I’ve been on – the success and failures are many in one day!

Starting my own business was probably the scariest thing I’ve done on one level but also the most fulfilling on another. I would not want to go back now as the freedom to create something that makes a difference to others is incredible. Each day it seems that I have to step out and up again – to forever be fighting with those gremlins that say “I’m not good enough” or “who will want to listen to me” – we all have those – come on admit it! The toughest thing I think any of us does in our life is to overcome the negative thoughts in our heads whether they’ve get there through the repetition of others words or our own making – they stop us from taking that first step every day and enduring to carry on walking in the right direction.

So whatever you may be facing today – I hope you will take that first step with boldness, aware of the fear and the excitement at the same time. Keep walking because it may seems like the toughest thing you’ve ever done but who knows it may actually turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done!

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“The way you do anything is the way you do everything”. Unknown

I’ve heard this phrase many times over the last few years since I’ve been working for myself and every time I hear it I think “yes that’s right”. However as we’ve put this subject out as a blog buddies title I’ve thought much more about what it means and how I feel about it.

Is the way I do anything the way I do everything? Am I the same in all circumstances? Do I show the same side of myself wherever I am? And should you do that anyway? Some things we do seem to do the same in all circumstances – I am generally impatient, usually act on my feelings first and then think later and more often than not I on time with my deadlines.

My husband in his ever helpful manner just made a very apt comment as he’s watching me try to write this post which is actually a few weeks late – when talking about the way you do anything is the way you do everything – “like this post you mean?” – hmmm procrastination may be something I do more often than I’m aware of.

Recently I went on a trip to Albania with a team from our local church and we had a brilliant time. One of the lessons I was learning throughout the week was about being myself, letting the real me out. We have so many different facets to who we are and sometimes we hide those traits that we think are not valued. I’m not talking about those less desirable aspects of our characters like our impatience, frustration and anger, but the strengths and gifts we have that for whatever reason we seem to feel will not be valued by others. If you are a leader then lead, if you are creative then create, if you are musical then make music and if you are a comedian then make people laugh! Surely all of those things are needed and valued in the world and if you don’t do them then they will be sorely missed.

There’s also a down side for me in this phrase – the way you do anything is the way you do everything and I may have mentioned this before. I do believe we all have little voices in our heads that hold us back by doing whatever it can to keep us playing small. One of my gremlins is called ‘HARD WORK’ feels like it even needs to be in capitals as it’s all about choosing the hardest path and making a meal of everything. If somethings worth doing it should be as hard as possible otherwise surely it’s too easy. That’s rubbish! Sometimes things can be easy, sometimes I can take the easy option and it all works out ok and sometimes the path of least resistance is the best path to take. Of course this gremlin has served me well in the past – I don’t believe I would have adopted three children without this gremlin – it makes me step out big sometimes when I maybe wouldn’t ordinarily.

So what is my summing up of these ramblings this week? Well I think there are strong traits within us that drive the way we behave and react so that in whatever circumstances the way we do anything is the way we do everything. However there are also times when we need to step back from our patterns of behaviour and ask “is this the way I want to be doing this”, maybe there’s a better, easier, more beneficial way of doing something – and then maybe we can step out of our normal ways of doing things and make a change for good.



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IStock 000018620194SmallWorking for yourself can be stressful at times, it can also be exciting, invigorating and down right fulfilling. Since I left the Corporate world six years ago to adopt our children it’s been a roller coaster of emotions with varying degrees of success along the way. One thing I have noticed many times is that it’s very easy to focus on getting things absolutely how you want them and in doing that you end up not getting anything finished at all!

Three years ago I embarked on taking my business into the area I am passionate about – adoption. I had toyed with the idea of niching my coaching business but was frightened of the jump to niching – feeling that I may narrow my client list too much and that no-one would want the services I had to offer. The reality has been much further from that. I’ve been amazed at the way my business has taken off these last few years as a result. The main reason for that is that I have actually got things out of my head, onto paper and into the world. Training schools in working with vulnerable children has been the best thing I think I’ve ever done. The most fulfilling, not the most perfect in lots of ways but if I’d not taken this step then hundreds of vulnerable children would not have been helped.

It all sounds a bit grandiose as I read it back but I really do believe that we all have a message that needs to be out in the world. The more you ponder over whether it’s what the world wants, whether you are the right person to give it and whether it is the perfect way to deliver it the less likely it is to get out there – if you keep it to yourself you will never get the message out and the impact of that could be great.

I’m sure many of the great people throughout history who have made a huge impact on the world worried whether their work was perfect. That’s not the point. The point is that we all have a gift, experiences and skills that are not perfect but they have great value to others. We are not finished yet also. We are growing every day – we are not perfect and never will be but I’m encouraged that I am not finished yet – but what I do have, however imperfect it is, I will make sure it gets out there so that others might benefit. After all it’s better for something to be finished than perfect.

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IStock 000006472565Small“Fair is not everyone getting the same but everyone getting what they need”

“It’s not fair” must be the most well used phrase by children all over the world – along with “why”, “I’m bored” and “are we there yet?” of course. Whilst it’s annoying and our response very often is something like – “life’s not fair” which probably doesn’t satisfy their inbuilt need for equality, it does seem to shut them up for a while.

The phrase above ”Fair is not everyone getting the same but everyone getting what they need” was told to me recently at a workshop with schools. It’s a moto that a Catholic Primary School use and I think it’s really true and has great value in it. We seem to have this enate drive within us for what we believe to be fair – whether children or adults actually. Many times our dissatisfaction as adults I think is more to do with our belief that we all deserve and should have the same. We should all get on in life, have a good job, have a loving, respectful relationship with our spouse, have adorable, well behaved children and generally go through life unscathed skipping to our death at a very old age (although of course still very active and with it before we go).

When I look back on my life and many others around me I can say it’s not been like that – sometimes it has of course to some degree and I’m not complaining about my lot but I can say with all honesty that sometimes things have not seemed equal. However, without a shadow of a doubt I can say that I have more times than not received what I’ve needed in life. Sometimes of course it’s only with hindsight that we can say that but when I think about the most basic desire to have a family and the rocky road we had to achieve that I know that it was what we needed in life.

For those who have been through infertility and the decisions surrounding it the feelings of unfairness can be huge. When I think of my children and other children like them whose parents many times have lots of children that they struggle to care for and then the many couples who would love to have children and can’t – it seems not fair.

One thing that is definitely unfair is what happens to children who don’t receive what they need in their early years. The impact of not getting basic needs met in the first two years of life can be devastating. The attachment cycle that happens when baby has a need and they cry out for help – someone comes and meets that need – baby can then relax and the cycle continues – that process creates trust in babies. They understand that the world is a safe place and that they will be ok. For children who don’t get what they need i.e someone coming and meeting those basic needs in a loving and attentive way – they don’t develop trust but rage instead and a very intense deep feeling that they are bad.

When I see my children now and the daily impacts of not getting what they needed early in life it upsets me. To think that they did not get the same as all the lovely babies I see around me with my friends today upsets me. And I know that the result of them not getting the same has meant that their needs now are complex. It feels hard to please them. Things are never enough sometimes. They cannot articulate what their needs are and when they do get what they need they somehow sabotage that experience as if to say “I don’t deserve it anyway”.

One thing I have noticed very much with my children is their need for equality – it’s like a radar that beeps every time one of them gets something. If I say someone can have a sweet the other two appear in seconds. If we are sharing chocolates it has to be exactly the same numbers. We try to teach them that life just isn’t like that but it seems unbearable a lesson to learn, maybe even more so than with typical children. Maybe the fact that they’ve not received those basic needs early on means they are more acutely aware of their need and that if they don’t have that thing something really bad might happen.

In schools on the workshops I run we always get onto the subject of treating children the same – but they are not the same – all children from whatever background are not the same. Our system is not set up for treating children as individuals, I wish it was – then maybe we’d be able to give children what they need and not some vanilla approach across the board that actually meets no-ones needs.

So what can you take from these ramblings today?

Children need their basic needs met in early years or the long term impact is huge.

Whatever lot you have been given in life – there will be parts of it that are what you need in some way – however difficult that is to accept.

Finally ponder on this quote ”Fair is not everyone getting the same but everyone getting what they need” and read the other blogs on this subject from our blog buddies group:

Wendy Sims

Luke Strictland

Phil Thomas

If you want to join our blog buddies group contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Contemplation small

I seldom end up where I want to go but I always end up where I need to be’ is the title of our blog buddies challenge this week and it made me think of a blog I wrote a few weeks ago actually but never posted. Hopefully you’ll see as you read through why I made the link in my mind.

What is it about being in a different city on your own? It feels mysterious – that no-one knows you – you could be anyone! You could have a completely different life – I’m a famous brilliant writer travelling the world wowing people with my insights, I’m a fashion designer looking for the next big thing, I’m an actor or singer just recovering from my latest performance – ok so maybe my daydreams are a bit grandiose but you get the idea. There’s something about being able to re-invent yourself, start again with a clean sheet of paper. It’s not that I don’t like the sheet of paper I already have but it’s a well used, well worn, crinkly piece of paper that seems so familiar to me sometimes I don’t recognise the uniqueness of it.

So I wonder if there’s someone out there daydreaming about my life? Ha that’s a strange thought. But maybe there is. Someone who wishes they had an amazing family, a job they loved, a future that looks exciting and a hope in an all powerful God who can transform anything into a beautiful work of art. Wow when I look back on what I’ve just written about my life I’d like to live that life too!! If you could describe your life in a few sentences or phrases I wonder what it would be?! But not from where you are now looking at the crumbled, worn piece of paper but imagining someone else wishing they had your life – what are the unique aspects of your life? When you look at yourself from outside of yourself what do you see?

I’m in London today and I love travelling to other places and I love to shop. However today I had a few hours to kill so I started to look around the shops but there was nothing that I wanted to buy – and I realise that’s because I don’t need anything else. That’s right, I know that every time I go shopping I hear that in my head but normally I reply “well I know I don’t need it but it’s very nice and I’d like it”. However today I felt like the voice was saying “you know you don’t even want anything else – you have everything you need and want”! Wow for those who know me well you will know that’s a bit of a revelation. There’s nothing else I want in my life right now. Nothing money could buy and actually nothing money can’t buy. I know all the things I said about my life above are true.

Of course this feeling may not last longer then it takes me to write this but I’m content that I can be content at times. That when I look at what I do have I know it’s more than enough. I hope I remember this feeling for a long time to come! And the times when I wonder how I ended up where I am in my life I will remember that many times what I want and what I actually need are very different things.

This blog post is written as part of a ‘blog buddies’ group, the idea being that we each write a weekly blog post on a chosen theme. To read the other posts on this week’s theme, please visit:

Wendy Sims

Luke Strickland

Phil Thomas

If you would like to join our blog buddies group and share in this writing adventure (no obligation to write each week, just join in when you are able), please e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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These lyrics to a song by The Feeling always jump out at me when I hear the song – why is that I wonder? Well I’m always amazed when I hear stories of people who’ve overcome horrendous pasts to become generous, giving and big hearted people. They have every right to become bitter, twisted and angry but somehow they manage to not do that but instead use their adversity to make things better for other people.

My friend Wendy is one such person – she has written her blog about this title and I can say her life today is one that gives to others all the time.

It’s not just people who’ve had neglect and abuse in their lives but I think about my Dad as well who came from a family of grafters – working middle class they would probably have been called. His father started the family business of which my Dad then carried on with one of his brothers, cousins and uncle. When he used to tell stories of those early days – when it was like they had come from nothing, they had to work really hard to get to a place of security and comfort. My Dad sadly passed away nearly five years ago now but one of his legacies to me was his generosity – he was always a giving man – if he saw a need and could fill that need he would. Maybe because he could remember being in need materially himself as a young sibling of four, maybe because he also had a relationship with a giving God, possibly because he never lost sight of the blessings he had and didn’t focus on the things he didn’t have – I don’t know but I do know that example stays with me and I hope I can be like that too.

This phrase also makes me think of my children. Born in want, neglect and abuse their starts could be considered as nothing – the love their birth parents felt for them was overshadowed by their personal needs and inadequacies.  When I look at them now, 6 years on from then, my daily prayer is that they will be able to use their life story for good, at some point. That once they can make sense of their lives, that they will know how to reach out to others in need and not just look after themselves. We all have a story that can benefit others. The hardship we all go through whether you consider it to be small or large, in the scheme of things, there is always someone else who is going through a similar thing and the lessons you’ve learnt or the support you needed they will also need.

So whatever your start in life – whether in need or plenty, whether you knew the security of a nurturing family or you didn’t let’s try and reach out to others and show them that they are valued individuals and that we care enough to notice where they’re out and be as giving a person as we can be. 

For two more blogs on the same title click here for Wendy Sims blog, Phil Thomas’s blog.

If you would like to join our blog buddies group and blog on the same title each week send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – you don’t have to enter each week you can dip in and out as you want to.

This weeks title is – ‘I seldom end up where I want to go but I always end up where I need to be’ – Douglas Adams quote.

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Boy with megaphone

Stomp, stomp, stomp up the stairs, bang goes the bedroom door, crash go the toys as they fly around the room……a familiar sound in our house I’m afraid. Of course this is following a load of shouting and screaming about how unfair their life is and how they hate this family! Those of you who have children, especially approaching the teenage years, will know these sounds too I’m sure. If you have adopted children whatever the age this will be a sound your all too used to as well.

We’ve tried to teach our children the ‘right’ things to say – you say please and thank you when you want things, sorry when you’ve done something hurtful towards someone else and whilst they will say these words sometimes their actions don’t exactly back up those words. For children who’ve experienced trauma  it’s very difficult to feel empathy for others and to be able to take responsibility for your own actions. When you say sorry for example I always have thought that means if you are truly sorry you’ll try not to do it again – however with our children they will use the word sorry but do the action again and again and again because many of their actions are not premeditated they are impulse reactions to other things.

So should we look to the actions or the words our children say to see what is really going on? I once heard Bryan Post talk about this – that if children don’t get their feelings out in words then it comes out in attitudes and eventually in their behaviour. When I’m talking with schools about traumatised children we often talk about their behaviours communicating the need they have, they don’t have the words to express themselves so you have to watch their behaviour, their actions, to try and understand what they need. So a child who always needs the bathroom in the middle of Maths, or a child who constantly clings to the teacher, a child who won’t get changed for PE, or a child who is frequently upset around lunchtimes – they all may be trying to tell you something through their actions not their words.

One of the aims I believe we have as adoptive parents but also as educators to any children is to help them become emotionally resilient as they grow up. If they can understand what’s going on inside themselves then maybe they can take control and find the solutions themselves in time. Eventually they will be able to say what they need instead of relying on their actions and whether we see those actions and can interpret them properly. It’s a slow, gradual process but as we show them what it means to feel the different emotions then they will start to know what their body is telling them – i.e. when they feel hot or their fists start to clench they are becoming angry. 

So are their actions so loud that you can’t hear what they’re saying? Well take a closer look – their challenging behaviours may actually be masking a much deeper need for acceptance and empathy from you. Try to look beyond the actions, get close enough to hear and you might just catch the whisper of a cry for help.

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See saw

The balance between unrealistic expectations and hoping for the best is sometimes had to strike with adopted children. I am forever trying to temper my expectations of what my children can do with the reality of their difficulties. This week whilst we were on Christmas break this struggle hit me hard on one of our outings together. Our children are doing remarkably well and after 5 years together Christmas break was really calm and relaxing in many ways. This in itself lulled me into a false sense of security and I forgot that actually some things are always going to be difficult for them. The incident that happened wasn’t really their fault – a combination of not being able to tell the time (at 10, 11 and 12 years old) and not willing to ask for help from others meant that they did something that again made me remember that they are not like typical children their age.

However my reaction far outweighed the incident itself. Again I had forgotten just how stressful parenting is and let the fact that we had had such a brilliant Christmas together cloud my judgement and my expectations of their abilities to do ‘normal’ things. Because their learning difficulties are so well hidden, unlike other special needs, I forget sometimes that they are there. I hope as we go into another year together that I can hold this tension in balance – the unrealistic expectations against the hope and trust that they will progress and change as time moves on. That’s all we can do I guess – take each day as it comes and try to make them aware of their limitations but also their great potential to succeed in life.

And when these incidents happen – the power to have self-control and react in the best way possible is my hope. I know to go easier on myself as we are all only human after all – but I want to strive to react in a better way next time – to be able to step back and see what’s really going on, not what they’ve done but why they did it – the fear and confusion that seems to be at the root of all their behaviours. The more I can see that and not react to the behaviour the more they will be able to understand and make sense of their fears. 2014 will be another challenging year I’m sure and I’m looking forward to looking back this time next year and saying that I did better and that the kids are even more settled then they are now.




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Christmas is all about presents isn’t it? How many you have, how much people spend, whether so and so bought you a present or not? – No …… maybe not. I wonder if there’s more to gift giving and receiving then meets the eye. My favourite Christmas film is the Grinch and there’s a scene in there late on in the film where the Grinch realises that Christmas is more than gifts and the commercialism – it’s actually about love and family, hope, joy and peace.

I’ve come across a group recently called Pentatonix – they are an acappella group from America. They have a Christmas album out and their version of Little Drummer Boy is stunning – click the video below to hear. It’s made me think some more about what we give to each other and how we show how much we love our friends and family. It’s often said that it’s the thought that counts and I think that’s true – when you consider whether you will buy someone a gift or not you are thinking about them and what they mean to you. It shouldn’t be about ‘will they buy me a present or expect me to buy them one’ it should be more about do I want to show someone I care by giving them a gift.

The nature of the gift doesn’t matter. In the Little Drummer Boy he plays his drum for the King – fitting? – Definitely as it’s from the heart. He brings what he has and what he values and lays it before the king. With money being such an issue for people these days I think it’s given us more reason to really think about what we give others – hand-made presents are brilliant as they say that the person was thinking about you and went our of their way to do something nice for you.

As you get older you get less presents. It seems to be that we focus on the children when people say things like “christmas is for kids” – I understand where that sentiment comes from but I disagree. I believe Christmas is for us all and giving and receiving of gifts is for us all. Whilst I understand if you have five children it becomes difficult for people to afford to buy everyone a present – they don’t have to be expensive in fact gifts between people are brilliant too. I think it’s the act of thinking about the person and what to get them, taking the time and effort to buy or make the gift and the joy of giving and seeing  that person appreciate the gift that counts.

Another gift we can give each other of course is our time and talents. There are certain things we are good at and others we’re not. I have a Christmas do with some friends tomorrow and we’re doing a biscuit exchange as part of the evening, which means you all bake some biscuits and then give them to others. This is a brilliant idea unless you are culinary challenged as I am. Baking, actually any kind of cooking, is just not my gift and certainly not fit to give anyone. However if I received beautifully baked biscuits on Christmas day from someone I would be very pleased. If someone offered to sell our old things on ebay for a present as they’ve been sat in the garage for three years I’d also be very pleased. It’s about showing our appreciation and love to those we care about in whatever way we can.

So as you listen and watch this brilliant song think about the art of giving and receiving gifts this year – whether you give time, talents or wrapped up presents it doesn’t matter – what you are saying is that you appreciate them and care about them – thats the greatest gift in itself.

Little Drummer Boy





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Friends are really important to most of us. Being able to spend time with someone who makes you laugh, understands where you’re coming from and supports and encourages you when things are tough is amazing. Over the years I’ve been blessed to have many different friends from all walks of life and I’m very grateful to them all. How do we learn what friendship is about though? When I look at my children struggling with the maze that is friendship I so want to help them – to reach out and make things right for them.

For those of you with adopted children, or any children for that matter who struggle in this area I want to open up some thoughts on this. It’s a common struggle we know for our children for a number of reasons. Due to their early experiences many times they are at a lower age emotionally than their peers which makes it difficult for them to connect. Also our children feel bad about themselves and can very often misunderstand others feelings and intentions. Trust is also essential to be able to build relationships and when you come from a place of mistrust as a result of being let down so much by others, then trust is very difficult to build.

My heart aches for my children in this area. All of them seem to find it so difficult to just relax, have fun and take things as they come. There is always something missing or something to worry about – so and so doesn’t want me in the group, so and so says I’m rubbish at sport, so and so hasn’t called me back each time I’ve rung and left a message. Of course it doesn’t help that many times they choose the other vulnerable children to try to build relationships with. As they gravitate towards each other you can see the minefield of paranoia, unhealthy tactics to receive love, behaviours demonstrating just how ‘damaged’ they all are. I know each time a new child’s name is mentioned that eventually there will be something different about that child – fellow adoptees, living with Great Grandparents, parents absent for a number of reasons. It’s like they can sense that in others – that they too are different to the norm.

Normally in my blogs I try to leave people with somethings to do or think about but I am at a bit at a loss on this subject. I know so many ways I should help my children with their struggles when I am with them but once they go through those High School gates into the battlefield I am lost as to how I can help them overcome their fears and anxieties towards other people. I know what we try to do to build them up as people is vitally important. The more they can know they are loved and special to someone, the more they will be able to treat others with respect. The more they can see friendship and love displayed through us the more they will understand how it’s meant to be. And the more we can build their emotional resilience at home the better they will be able to deal with all the trials of everyday life at school. 

Ultimately I hold onto the fact that most of us struggled in this area at school too if we’re honest, to one degree or another. Some experiences stayed with us and shaped our lives others just fell away and had little impact. I can’t remember much of my school days – which is probably a good thing. I just hope and pray that my children will be able to find friendships that will help them in these coming years not hinder their development and take them down a rocky path. All we can do at the end of the day is hope and pray. If you have found any resources that help in this area of friendships, especially for adopted children, please contact me as I’d love to know – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Boy hiding

I have been overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness and grief these last few weeks. Not for myself actually but for my children. A few things have happened that have really brought it home to me just how deeply saddening their lives have been and still are as a result. Sometimes we need to step back and just feel where they’re at – it’s so easy to get caught up in the angst, the challenging behaviours and the dramas and miss that at the core of who they are is a deep sadness and grief at what their lives have become.

I’m convinced the older I get that there aren’t many people who are actually living their first choice lives. In fact I’ve noticed over these last few weeks just how demanding life is – people have so much to cope with in their every day lives. Even those of us who have had a good childhood – trauma, rejection, loss and difficult times do come to us all.

Even though it’s been difficult feeling the sadness and pain my children feel at their 2nd choice lives it’s opened me up once again to the compassion needed to walk this road of adoption. Without it I wouldn’t be able to cope with the controlling behaviour – to know that without compassion and empathy my heart might become hard and unfeeling towards their circumstances. I wish I could fix it for them I really do – if I could air lift them out of the terrifying high school environment I would, if I could mend the broken heart and wave a magic wand so that they would have friends, fit in and be popular I would. There’s so much that feels out of my control sometimes – that I have to sit on the sidelines and watch them suffer – sometimes that’s so difficult!

So I wonder just how useful my compassion really is to them? I suppose if it drives me to act on their behalf (again and again) then it’s good. If it causes me to feel softness and warmth towards them then it’s good. If it propels me to learn more about them and how to help them then it has to be good. I know I’ve felt a feeling of hopelessness recently over some situations with one of our children but as I write this I realise that maybe there is more hope there than I thought – and that has to be good. Once you lose hope it’s a dangerous place to be.


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IStock 000020564863XSmallWhat’s your story? I love hearing people’s stories on the radio or on TV. To hear what’s happened to them in their life and how it’s significant to them, i.e. that it’s changed them. I wonder why that’s so interesting and inspiring to us? It must be that it resonants with our own experience or it’s something we would like to happen to us. What events or experiences in my life have completely changed me? That if I’d not done them my life would have taken a completely different course.

The choice or decision I made early on in High School to not bother to work…..I don’t remember this conscience decision but I certainly had the report cards “could do better” every year. Why did I not try to do better I wonder? I certainly wasn’t really interested in the subjects which didn’t help and the social side of school overshadowed the work. Of course when you’re young you don’t think about how it will effect your life in the future. However I can’t imagine I would have ever been a brain-box but my career may have had more direction and intention I suppose if I’d have focused on the work.

My decision to leave England at 20 and go to Poland for three years was a huge decision and one I have never regretted. The experiences I had and the person I became as a result I believe has had a huge impact on my life. It’s hard to believe that was over 20 years ago now as I can remember it like yesterday, and that’s maybe because the transformation in me was so great. Becoming my own person away from my brilliant family, experiencing the ups and downs of living in a foreign country, and most importantly feeling that I had a mission and purpose.

Having an emotional breakdown at 23 years of age changed the course of my life. If this hadn’t of happened my plan was to still be in Poland. Who knows what my life would have been like if I had stayed?! I’ll never know. But I do know the things that happened after set me on a course that has such variety and richness in it – I know it was the right thing to come home.

Eventually going into management for a large corporate IT business. This was the time when my ‘work’ skills began to be honed. Unlike most people I guess that I went to school with who knew what they wanted to do early on – this experience refined the desire in me to help others grow and develop. My coaching courses and certification was life-changing too. For the first time probably I found something that seemed to fit me. Again having a purpose and a way to express that purpose was amazing.

Having my children through adoption. Of course infertility was a journey in itself that’s probably the hardest thing I’ve had to face so far (which isn’t bad to get this far without anything mega bad happening).  Being an adopter has again given me purpose and vision. The most challenging job I’ve ever had but also the most life-changing. Marriage of course is up there too with the life-changing moments along with my father passing away. Moments in time that have a lasting impact.

What I do know looking back over my life – there has been good and bad in every event and experience in my life. You can’t separate them out so easily. But what they all have in common is that they have influenced the course I’ve taken and that I know I’ve been present in every one of those experiences. That sounds a funny thing to say, as of course I’ve been present – it’s my life – but sometimes things happen to you and around you and it can feel like it’s happening to someone else. I know I have fully lived. What a great thing to be able to say I guess? Even if I died now at 43 I know I have had a full and rewarding life with lots of challenge, lots of failures and successes and plenty of adventure.

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‘Life is a series of problems that we must solve – one then the next then the next until we die’. – Downton Abbey

A very depressing quote from the Grandmother in Downton Abbey last week – for those who watch it you’ll know she’s renowned for her one liners and never very encouraging or uplifting. However this one I thought summed up adoption quite nicely! At least how it can feel sometimes – not how it maybe has to be…

Sometimes it can feel like it’s a never ending cycle of problems, solutions (or semi solutions), bit of light at the end of the tunnel, darkness again and on and on. If you have more than one child you’ll also know they tend to take it in turns so that cycle is the same but times 3 in our case or times however many children you have.

We’re often told to compare ourselves to other families with birth children – people try to normalise things by comments like “all children do that” or “other parents manage to go back to work and have children too” and whilst I understand these well intended comments, to make us feel better, it doesn’t  - certainly not for me and many others I know. Even if it were true it still doesn’t comfort me – to know others feel the same isn’t an answer to the questions I may need answers too. I do know that there are many parents who struggle with their children for lots of other reasons than adopters too – children with other special needs, struggles in parents lives that impact on the children’s behaviour, circumstances beyond anyones control – and I recognise that life can be hard for all of us at some points in time.

However for vulnerable children it can seem like a constant struggle to navigate the rocky shores of the different stages of childhood. Just as one wave subsides another even bigger one rears up to threaten to drown you. Two of ours are now in adolescence and we know that’s a turbulent phase. For children who’ve had a good, nurtured childhood adolescence is about pulling away from the solid foundation you know to find your own identity – you want to test things out – do I want to live like my parents? have their beliefs and ideals? or do I want to try something else for myself? But for children who haven’t had a good start, for whatever reason, that pulling away can be much more difficult – they’re pulling away from something that is like shifting sand – it isn’t a solid basis to work from.

So what can we do as parents on this seemingly bleak adventure? I believe there’s a missing part of this quote – a vital aspect to life that without it all would seem bleak and dark.

‘Life is a series of problems that we must solve, and joys that we must acknowledge and celebrate, one then the next then the next and then we die’.

As I’ve said many times in my blogs being able to see the good things – however small sometimes – is a treasure we must search for. If we don’t all we see is darkness – we must look for the chinks of light – it only needs a tiny glimpse of light to dispel the darkness. What is the light you can see today?

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I’ve realized lately that this year has been the year of the new. There are so many things that I’ve done for the first time or that I’ve been so connected to it’s felt like the first time. What I mean by that is that sometimes we do something we’ve done many times before but because we actually stop, look, listen and experience it then it’s like the first time.

So some are actually new experiences:-
  • Speaking at an education conference
  • Front page of a national newspaper
  • Preaching at our local church
  • Leading an adopters 24 hour retreat
  • Being coached by a horse (yes)
  • Humming through a straw (ok may need some explaining if you’re interested ask me)
Some big, some not so big, but all are brand new experiences for me and have been great.
However those other experiences where they feel new are great too:-
  • Listening to brilliant music whilst starring out the window of a train
  • Sliding down a bouncy slide with my kids
  • Celebrating with friends our 5th anniversary as a family
  • Writing my second book
  • A lovely cup of tea at the end of a harsh day
  • Hearing the rain bouncing off the windows (all too familiar sound in England)
I’m just about to publish my second book ‘how to reach the hard-to-reach child’ and I’m very excited about that. I thought I would take another look at my first book ‘relentless life…how to find he extraordinary in the ordinary’ and I’ve been reacquainted with the wonderful observations of life that are around us in everything we see and do. I do love this life we live with all it’s challenges and joys – it’s so vibrant if we can only see all the colours.
So what have you done for the first time this year? Take some time to appreciate that, whatever age you are, and to celebrate the newness of experiences. Maybe it’s more about seeing familiar things as new for you – what can you step back and really see as if for the first time today and be thankful for all the small and big experiences life brings. 
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Our youngest had a birthday this week – all three children now in double figures and don’t we know it! I just had to reflect on it all this morning as how my children react to things sometimes fascinates me. The birthday boy woke bouncing around the house saying “it’s my birthday, it’s my birthday” and didn’t stop doing that all day – even at school apparently. However I did notice when the extended family came round for coffee and cake as is the tradition in our house, he resorted to his toddler talk that he does on occasion. Talking in a toddler voice and acting much younger than his 10 years. I remember a fellow adopter telling me once, before we had our children, that if you take the years they were at home before they went into care off their chronological age that is what their emotional age is more like. I didn’t believe her and thought that can’t be right. They also of course regress even further when they are stressed, anxious or frightened. And as I looked at my 10 year old talking and acting like a 3 year old I have to reconsider – he had certainly regressed.

The reactions of the other two were interesting too. The eldest was totally unimpressed with her brothers special day. As it doesn’t really relate to her it comes and goes without impact. Fortunately she was at a friends house for tea, which meant the youngest could enjoy the attention without interruption from his sister.

The middle son was up and down all day – as is the norm, but underlying all his reactions was a jealousy and little empathy for the fact that it was his brothers special day and not his. I know from the reading I’ve done that being able to empathise is a complex skill and emotion. I used to think you either had empathy or you didn’t – like a character trait or part of your personality. However I now know that empathy starts to develop very early in life through the stimulation and repetitive patterned activity with others around you. When you look at a baby and it’s parent the whole world revolves around that baby – all eyes are on him, all love and attention is showered on him (and so it should be). How must that feel for a baby? To know they are the centre of someone’s world must be amazing and is essential for future development.

Our children and those thousands who’ve been through our care systems haven’t had that affection and attention showered on them. As much as we try and do that now the fact that it wasn’t done in those early years makes it very difficult for them to comprehend now. There’s too much underneath the feelings. Why should they trust that our intentions are good? How do they know we won’t be cruel and hurtful towards them if we focus on them fully? What if when we’re giving one of them a special treat for their birthday we forget about the other one and they become invisible? The need to be seen is a strong drive to survive and to be loved. The behaviour they demonstrate is representative of the immense feelings bubbling up underneath – the jealousy shouts out “What about me?” the toddler talks screams out “I don’t want to grow up coz the worlds too scary – I need to be loved like a baby is loved”, the detachment to others happiness says “why should I be happy for others, it doesn’t affect how I feel about myself and I must protect my own feelings at all cost”.

Wow how exhausting must it be for them? It’s relentless for us trying to care for them and show them we do love them and wish we could have given them more when they were younger, but for them struggling with the complex and powerful emotions every day must be overwhelming.

So next time you see their behaviour regressing or being difficult take a closer look – I know there will be more going on underneath. And when we can step back and see the anxiety and fear that propels their behaviour to another level we can at least acknowledge that they need us to be stable and consistent and to just hold them close so that they do know how much they are loved – whether they can accept that or not.

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Is there a silver lining to loss? Could there be something good that comes out of the losses we face in our lives? When I think of my children and the loss they’ve experienced already in their short lives, can I give them any hope of gains that might come from their loss?

I’m not sure of the answers to these questions but they are questions I’d like to ponder. When I think about some of the losses I’ve experienced they are bitter sweet actually. Jobs I’ve lost or left – all had good and not so good elements to them. Friendships that have changed over time have given me the gift of friendship, if only for a season. My Dad passing away 4 years ago was the biggest loss I have experienced but without that loss I wouldn’t be able to appreciate how much he meant to me.

Of course the kind of loss children experience who’ve been adopted is a different thing altogether, but I do wonder if we can find some hope in those losses – something that would be a silver lining to their loss. We have to understand of course the depth of that loss and just what an impact it has on them and how they feel about themselves. I know mine can’t really articulate the feelings of loss and sadness but I know it comes out in their behaviours and in their interpretations of the relationships they have. Will people stick around whatever happens? Are we really ‘forever’ families? How much will we put up with before we send them back? – What a terrifying way to live, to have thoughts like that in your mind?

Loss can be a devastating emotion that triggers lots of other emotions – Bryan Post talks about the two main emotions we have – love and fear. Most other emotions seem to stem from those two. Many times what our children experience and live daily is fear based. The fear of loss once you’ve really experienced it must be tremendous. It’s not difficult to see why they struggle so much with trusting adults when they’ve lived the loss of respect, dignity, promises, love, protection and presence of the people who should have been there for them the most.

So not seeing much of a silver lining at the moment. Is there one for our kids? Well I believe there’s always one to be found – it may take a long time and it’s not to say we would ever have wanted them to experience the things they have in order to find a silver lining – the clouds are still huge but the tiny silver lining is some small glimpse of something good that might be found. Here are a few suggestions (and these were really difficult for me to see):

  • One day they may be able to use their loss to help others in the same situation.
  • One day what they’ve experienced may help them to push through other painful times in their lives.
  • One day they may be able to see the blessing of a community of people who have helped them when they most needed it.
  • One day they may be able to understand forgiveness in a way I could never understand it.
  • One day they may see the strength of the relationships they have kept throughout their lives – like the siblings who’ve stayed together.

Wow I must admit this has been a very difficult blog for me to think about and write – is there really a silver lining in such horrible circumstances? And it feels like just saying that is dismissing the depth of the loss BUT that’s not my intention. The loss has happened and as much as we’d like it to not have we can’t do anything about it. My daughter sometimes talks about wishing her life had been different – that she could start all over again and I desperately wish that for her too – but she can’t. My pray is that someday she will be able to see a silver lining to her loss – however small that lining might be.


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When you see new born babies with their Mum more often than not there’s an instant bond, an invisible cord that seems to bind them together. The goggly eyes from the adults and the response from the baby. This is not always the case of course and we hear much about bonding and not bonding in birth parents. However we don’t talk much about bonding in adoptive parents. We talk a lot about the child bonding to us, feeling safe with us and knowing they are with their forever family now. But we don’t talk much about our feelings of bonding to our adoptive children.

The whole world of adoption is surreal. The fact that you can not be a Mum one day and then the next have a child or children descend on you overnight who are calling you Mum and looking to you to meet all their needs. Of course with natural childbirth it’s a shock I know to have a baby rely solely on you to meet their needs, when you have just come into this role with not much preparation. It’s a steep learning curve however you come to parenthood!

Whilst I’ve been thinking about this whole bonding process I’m aware that for some of us we might feel that same instant bond with our children as birth Mums do. However for others it may take time and still for others it may never come to the same degree. It’s one of the more difficult aspects of adoptive parenting I believe, that you are expected (and you expect yourself) to feel an overnight bond, love, protectiveness, that you would die for your child type feelings and sometimes they take a lot longer to appear.

Due to the nature of what some of our children have experienced in their early lives, the pathway to bonding can be rocky. Children with an avoidant attachment style for example have developed a defence mechanism that keeps people at a distance. The fear of rejection and hurt from adults is greater than the need to bond, so feeling a bond with these children can be difficult. Children with ambivalent attachment styles can be so demanding, as for them the fear of not being seen is greater than anything else – their attention needing behaviours can be exhausting which in itself makes it difficult to bond.

Sometimes we don’t know how much we feel for our children until they are in difficult situations. The first time I really knew the bond between me and my son was there was when he had to go under anaesthetic to have his broken bones fixed when he broke his arm. We’d been in the hospital together all day and night and then in the morning we wheeled him down and I held his hand as he went under. When I came out to wait I just burst into tears – seeing him so vulnerable really touched me and I knew I loved him. More recently when I see any of my children in difficulties the pull on my heart strings tells me just how much of the motherly instincts are there. It’ not easy all the time but I know that I want the best for them and will protect them as much as I can.

One of the areas around this whole bonding though that I think is really important is that we don’t judge ourselves and beat ourselves up about how we feel. It takes time and some times are better than others. These children have complex coping strategies that make bonding difficult for them and for us. I guess the trick is to notice the times when there is that bond there – when you feel protective or compassionate or love towards them. They may be just moments in-between the challenging behaviour – but they are moments worth noticing and celebrating. Our children need those moments as much as we do – to see love in our eyes, or to know we will stand up for them, to see us being proud of them or speaking out for them is a powerful thing.

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I was at a wedding last week and the Preacher used a phrase that has stuck with me since. I don’t think he intended it to be such a profound message, as it was a bit of a throw away comment but it has really been buzzing around my head all week in two different ways. The phrase was “everything communicates something” and the two ways are this:

1) My children are always communicating – from the moment they wake up to the moment they shut their eyes to go back to sleep. With every sigh, rolled eye, punch of their brother,  tut, smile, words and body movements they are communicating. Sometimes the communication is so loud I have to say “turn it down”. There are times when the attention-needing, demanding behaviour is unbearable and I have to try and stand back and say – “what exactly are you trying to say to me but not using words I can understand?”

Bryan Post talks about the two places we come from are either love or fear. When our children are tugging at our clothes and saying “mum, mum mum” continuously, what are they afraid of? What are they so anxious about that they need us to see them all the time? On the other side of things when they disappear to their room and cry silently in their beds what fear is there? Maybe the fear of approaching us with their anxiety is more overpowering then the anxiety itself?

Many times throughout the day I miss their little signs of communication. Maybe I’m more focused on my own needs, or the needs of the other children that I miss the side ways glance to see how I react to the tapping noise that says “I’m here too – see me please”. Of course none of us can be so focused on someone 24/7 that you see and in turn respond in the right way to that need – that would be impossible. However it’s reminded me to look a bit closer when there is silence or a sigh and a tut – maybe there’s more to it then just stroppy teenager attitudes?

2) What does my body communicate to me and what do I communicate to others? If everything communicates something then when I’m so shattered I can’t open my eyes anymore, or I flare up at the slightest disappointment during the day – what is that communicating to me? Maybe I need a rest, a break, a change of pace? Maybe the pressures of being an adoptive parent, running a business, holding down a life is just too much sometimes?

I’ve tried to be healthier the older I’ve got – to no avail sometimes. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise (hmm), laugh a lot (do that) and enjoy life. All good things and activities that will promote a healthier family life. If I can look after myself better then maybe I would see the things my children are trying to communicate to me more often.

Also what am I communicating to others – to my husband, my children, my friends and family? Am I honest in my spoken communications? “How you doing?” – “Fine thanks” (when actually I’m not fine). Or when people say – “let us know if you need anything” and we don’t because we don’t want to seem needy or impose on others. Instead we’d rather soldier on and crumble under the strain of life! 

What we communicate is vitally important and what this phrase has made me consider is – even if we don’t communicate in words we are still communicating – everything we do (or don’t do) communicates something.

So what are your children communicating to you at the moment? What is your body communicating to you? And what are you communicating to others right now?

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Regret can be a crippling thing. Whether it’s regret over something you did or didn’t do, whether it’s pain over things that happened to you or didn’t happen to you – looking back and wishing things were different doesn’t help in the here and now. Things in our past do effect us though in terms of who we are and how we think and make decisions. I know as an adoptive parent that there are things in my own past that impact the way I parent my children as well as what has happened to them that of course effects how they think, how they receive messages from others and how they behave.

I heard someone speak about pain this week. It was a difficult thing to hear as it was a very powerful, moving story of a family who lost their eldest daughter when she was only a child. Listening to the parents talk about how you deal with such immense pain made me think about my own daughter. Regret is something my daughter lives with every day – not regret over things she does as most of the time I’m not sure she’s aware of the things she does or doesn’t do – more about her past and what has happened to her. She talks occasionally about wishing her start in life had been different, that she hadn’t experienced what she has in her young life already. And those are the times when my heart really goes out to her and others like her who have this pain to carry around with them.

The Mother who spoke about her pain over losing her daughter talked about a metaphor someone shared with her that has helped her. It was that the pain is like a big ball that you try to squeeze into a glass. The ball is just too big to fit in. The pain of what you’re experiencing now is too big to fit into your life, it seems. What we think should happen is the the ball will get smaller as time passes BUT it’s not necessarily the case – the ball may never get smaller but the glass gets bigger – you have to expand your life to incorporate that pain – it will not go away and in some cases you may not want it to as it represents the loss that is so important to you. However your life can expand and grow – you can let other things in and use the experience of the pain to expand your life. Seeing where that family is now is incredible and knowing a tiny bit of the journey they’ve been on is amazing.

So back to our adopted children. When I heard this analogy I thought of my daughter and thousands of others like her who actually carry that ball of pain around in front of their eyes sometimes so they can’t see anything else. Sometimes she tries to hide the ball but it just pops up again. My job and our job as society is to help these children to expand their lives so that the ball is manageable within their lives – not to eradicate it but to help them to incorporate it into their lives and build a big life around it. My daughter often says she wants to adopt when she’s older or look after children, and I know this is what many young adopted girls feel for many different reasons. I pray that someday she will be able to look back, not so much with regret, but with understanding, acceptance and with the strength to know she can use that pain for good to help others.

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Why are we so bothered about being the odd one out, the person who hasn’t experienced what others have, the one who can’t relate to the story or the one who actually hasn’t got a clue what people are talking about. Have you ever been in a room (I’m sure you have) where you’ve just felt so uncomfortable and maybe even isolated? That the fact you can’t enter into the conversation is overwhelming and you need to leave? I’m wondering whether it’s actually the fact that you are confronted with the thing that you wanted the most and couldn’t have.

I went to a baby shower last night and I’ve not been to one since we were trying for children ourselves which I don’t remember feeling so bad about at the time. Now 8 years on and three adopted children later I was surprised by the depth of my feelings – not really that I wanted to have given birth and experienced what the other Mums in the room had but that I was different – abnormal, strange, alien even. And the biggest question that was going round my mind was – why does it matter?

Every other day of the week it doesn’t cross my mind that I’ve not given birth to my children – I still get them up in the morning, make their breakfast, take them to school, worry about them at school, pick them up from school and do all the motherly things the other Mums do. Doesn’t make me any less a Mum because I didn’t give birth to them. What does strike me as I think about it now is actually the feelings of loss not because I didn’t have my own baby but that I didn’t give birth to my children – that I didn’t experience that bonding with them, that I didn’t change their nappies and see them smile for the first time. My daughter sometimes says she wishes she could have her life over again – a ‘do over’ as the Americans would say and all I can say is I wish that too!

So we are different, so I’ve not given birth and experienced what it’s like to carry a baby around in my tummy. There are many other experiences I’ve had that others haven’t and it’s not a competition. At the end of the day however we came to be Mothers – we are Mothers. I guess focusing on what we can share instead of what we can’t is the lesson for me. I wouldn’t want the birth Mums out there to feel awkward around us Adopters, to feel that they can’t share their experiences with us – in the same way that I wouldn’t want to not be able to share my experiences with them. I’m coming to accept and actually cherish how we’ve come to be parents – and the next time I feel those feelings of difference I will try to remember to look for the sameness instead.

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It is 5 years since we had our children placed with us and we are having a party tomorrow to celebrate. This week I’ve been mulling over the party coming up and the question going round my mind has been – why do I want to have this party?

To mark the occasion – as an adopter you don’t get much chance to celebrate openly with people – you don’t have baby showers or parties when baby arrives. You don’t get a chance to really celebrate the fact that you have become a family. 5 years is a big deal – not so much when you have your own children I guess but it feels like a milestone to us. For one thing it’s now the longest time the children have lived anywhere.

It also feels like the right time to celebrate. I am grateful for them and for our family. It’s not been easy to say the least – many times it’s taken me to breaking point but I know that it’s the right course in life for us. I know these children are my children. I feel protective towards them and want the best for them. I struggle sometimes to understand them and to meet the very overwhelming, powerful needs they have, but I want to keep trying to get it right and that gives me hope each day that we are doing something to help them.

I also want to share this celebration with friends and family – people who have been with us on this journey, whether from the start or people we’ve met along the way – ALL have played a part in supporting us and helping us to get to where we are right now. Without people around us the journey would be long, hard and unbearable.

The final reason I want this party is to celebrate adoption. Many times when you’re in the thick of adoption it can seem intense and difficult and not much fun, to be honest. This day is about finding the fun and the joy in adoption. I hope that will be the case for us and for those who attend. 

So I really hope this day will be a good day to remember. I pray that the children will not sabotage it due to the over-excitement of the event or that they’re not overwhelmed by the memories and feelings it brings up. They are very excited about it and the fact that many of their adopted friends are coming too is a bonus. It is important to celebrate this incredible journey, as often and as much as we can, as it is such a privilege to be involved in changing children’s lives, and many times the relentlessness of parenting traumatised children overshadows that. So today when you look at your children take a moment to celebrate where you’re at – it doesn’t have to be a big party but it could be just a smile and an ice-cream!

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Less than a week left of the summer holidays and as ever there’s mixed emotions about going back to school and getting back into the routine of life. The summer is a strange time I think, everyone seems to slow down and be so much more laid back but there can be negative sides to that too. Certainly for adopted children and their families it can be a stressful time as well as a time to build more on our relationships. As I’ve gone through life (I sound so old now) I’ve noticed that in EVERYTHING there is a good and bad – a negative and a positive – and I think that’s how it should be. If you’re a glass half full person you probably always try and see the good but there is bad there too and vice versa.

So for our children the prospect of going back to the routine and certainty of school may be good. However for those changing schools or teachers it can also be unsettling and full of anxiety. For my three children there’a a mix of emotions there – for the youngest going back to his primary school there’s excitement and comfort in knowing his friends will be there, he knows what to expect – there may be a little anxiety as to what a new year will bring, especially as his brother leaves for high school so he’s the only one left in the school.

For fruit bat number 2 though it’s all change. From being the big fish (although he’s very small) at primary to now the tiny, weeny, little fish in a much bigger pond at high school there is much to be concerned about. To be honest I’m worried about it too! Will he make friends? Will he be able to cope with the work? Will the teachers understand him and be able to help him? Will he be able to adjust to the huge change in expectations and responsibilities? All unknown and for me it’s bad enough to think about all those things but for him, a child who hasn’t had the nurture he needed early in his life, these uncertainties are huge.

And for fruit bat number 1 going into year 8 – having barely survived year 7 will she be able to adjust to the change again? She seems calmer about going back but there will be more expectations of her ‘at her age’ which of course emotionally is not her age. Will she be able to cope with the increased work and the surge of hormones?!

As I write this I’m aware that these may be common concerns for ALL parents but I know for ours there’s more to consider. Not only the difficulties that growing up brings but also the lack of attachment and trust in adults makes their foundation shaky to say the least. This time of adolescence is supposed to be the time when children pull back from their parents, from the people who have protected and nurtured them – to be able to find some independence and a sense of who they are – apart from their parents. For our children they are pulling away from something that was never really sure and secure for them – as we’ve had our children for 5 years now – in some ways they are like 5 year olds and you wouldn’t expect a 5 year old to be able to pull away and be totally independent!

So what can we hold onto during this transition time from summer to school? Well, we know there are always good and bad elements in everything so whilst the questions may be there, we can also find the positives – there will be times when our children rise to the challenge – when they grow and progress and surprise us with how well they do. In the not so good times we can hold onto the fact that this too will pass – that the summer will come again – quicker then we think. Also for me though I want to focus on making sure there are times of connecting with them every day – that before and after school there are times when they are allowed to be themselves – no expectations – when they can be the age they want to be and need to be sometimes. In order to help that, one of the things we put into place last year with fruit bat number 1 and we will do with number 2 now too – is that they do all their homework at school, before and/or after in homework club so that when they come home they can relax and have fun at home. Also as they need more help with their work, doing homework where there are people who can help them elevates the stress and battles at home. A strategy I would highly recommend to others making the transition!

For those of you that work in schools or who would like your children’s school to understand your children more check out our workshops on Attachment & Trauma in schools. There are workshops all over the country and onsite training is available also. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more details.


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Sometimes the realisation of how different children who have been adopted are to other children takes you by surprise. On Friday I attended our Secondary schools awards ceremony for year 7 and 8 (aged 11-13 ish). I was attending as a Governor not as a parent of a child receiving an award. My daughter however is in year 7 so her peers were sitting there patiently waiting for their awards with their proud parents watching on.

Whilst I understand the importance of acknowledging when children do well, i.e. they work hard, demonstrate consistently their skills and abilities and generally focus on learning, it reminds me of just how different my children’s experience of school is. Instead of awards for excellence in Maths and English my child struggles with getting to the right classroom, remembering her equipment and being able to engage with the people around her. I know realistically she will not be receiving any of the traditional awards for outstanding achievement in academics, or even in the subjects that she does excel in. The reason she won’t is that even though she is good at music and loves to sings and has a good voice – she cannot consistently demonstrate her abilities in this area due to her anxieties and what is happening in her brain sometimes (whether she can access the front part of her brain that allows her to process learning).

When children who have experienced early trauma don’t feel safe in an environment their focus is not on learning but on surviving. For my daughter her awards would be very different – in fact as we walked back to the car together we talked about some of her awards for:

  • Getting through her first year in Secondary School relatively unscathed.
  • Building a friendship with another girl.
  • Getting a good report from her teachers about her behaviour, effort and homework being done.
  • Managing to learn something in each subject and retain that information.
  • Being able to walk home occasionally on her own.

Before we adopted children I was very much in the camp of aiming high, having big goals that will stretch you to achieve beyond what you thought you could,  thinking that nothing is impossible. Now however I feel that I have to lower my expectations all the time – not because I don’t believe my children can be and are great, but because they have some limitations at the moment due to their early experiences. It will take time and constant support for them to achieve and they are progressing greatly from when they arrived 5 years ago.

I feel the loss acutely at times, that our parenting experience is different as well as our children’s school experience is different to others. I am also very thankful that we can acknowledge and celebrate the seemingly small achievements that actually are huge in reality. So I’m sure there will be more times when I feel the gap between ours and other children – however I will focus on just how far they have come and as long as they are happy and can engage in the life around then then they are successful.



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My daughter has just started at High School…..what a see saw of emotions. For children who have experienced trauma, and as a result have attachment difficulties, big transitions like this can be very difficult. Whilst she seems to be taking it all in her stride I know adapting to the incredible changes in expectations and responsibilities will have an impact on her.

For all children the huge jump from primary to secondary is frightening and exciting. From being spoon fed everything, having most decisions made for you, being told where to go and what to do and think sometimes – to having to remember where you’re supposed to be, being responsible for your equipment and supplies to take in and out of school, from being the big fish in a little pond to the little fish is a humungous pond – all massive changes rife with anxiety and challenges.

Adopted children have all the more things to contend with. Most often then not they are operating emotionally at a lower age than they are chronologically. So a child of 11 moving up is actually more like an 8 or 9 year old (maybe even younger sometimes) which means they are no where near emotionally ready for the responsibilities and pressure. They also invariably have issues with processing information, memory difficulties, friendship problems and general lack of identity and self esteem. All these things combined with the hormone changes makes for a messy mix of emotions.

And what about us as their parents? The change from knowing the children they mixed with at primary and their parents, to having no clue who they are with and what they are doing! From going into assemblies virtually every week and seeing exactly what they are learning, having a relationship with the teachers to no clue what they are doing and who their teachers even are for each subject. It’s a messy mix of emotions!

So some things I’ve observed so far for my daughter but also for me:

Control – this is always an issue with everything and for everyone, I am convinced. For my daughter she has much more control now of what she does – I drop her off at the gate but does she go in on time? who knows….she is in total control to some extent. Of course if she doesn’t go in I’ll soon know about it. I’ve noticed though that the fact that she has more control, and not just her but my friends children are the same. they are more prone to getting lost, not coming home on time, forgetting what they are supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to be. For most children who’ve experienced trauma control is a huge area of difficulty. They want control as they haven’t had it in their early lives and they don’t trust others, but they also can’t handle the responsibility of taking the control. They haven’t built up the capacity and resilience needed to take responsibility and be accountable for the decisions they make.

For me control is also an issue. As I see her trot off through the gate I have to let go of what might be happening in there. I have to trust that she will be able to cope and also that the school will be able to help her. Of course there are things you can do to help the school in that – communicate regularly and try and raise their awareness to your child’s issues and anxieties.

Processing information – for my daughter she finds it incredibly hard to process instructions and information. So when she’s told to be somewhere for a singing lesson, and it’s something the rest of the class aren’t doing, there’s no way she can get there without help. Also really understanding what’s expected of her with her homework for example – written instructions from a teacher or teaching assistant are the best ways of getting this information home correctly.

For me as well there’s not such easy access to the school and my understanding of High School is so outdated now as it was 25 years ago that I left school and things are remarkably different now.

One of the tips for processing information is communication with the school. Make sure you know what is expected of your child and as far as possible get them to help in doing the task required. In our school they do homework clubs every day which is a great help for our daughter and us to be honest, it stops the battles at home over homework and it means she can get the help she needs.

Growing up – for my daughter she is desperate to grow up but terrified at the same time. High School means older kids, lots of swearing (of which she’s horrified at), make up, high heels, boys  - all the things that growing up brings. For our children though they are not really ready for this stage in their development – our daughter fluctuates between playing kitchens and teachers to wanting to wear high heels and make up, and having a mobile phone is the best thing that’s ever happened to her!

What about us parents too? Having our children go off to High School means we are getting older! Time to grow up maybe? maybe not! I certainly have to consider and remember how it felt to be at that stage of development – still wanting to be a child, protected, safe and cosy but also curious and excited about this whole new world of possibilities.

As I write this I guess I notice that it’s like a see saw – up and down, good and bad, scary and exciting for them and us. So we’ll have to just stay on the ride and see what happens – sometimes we’ll need to go with whichever side is the heaviest at that time, sometimes we may have to weight the side we want ourselves, other times we may have to take our hands off and let them decide!



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Concerned child

This expression is used a lot within the adoption world. Many times social workers comment on the importance of the childs’ needs within our care system – that everything we do throughout the process is supposedly about protecting the needs of the child. Whilst I understand the intentions behind these comments I’m coming to realise that this is not the case when you look at the systems involved. Many social workers believe that what they are doing is the best for these children and of course removing them from a harmful and traumatic environment is the right thing to do, however as a service user of these systems in the UK I’m beginning to be disillusioned by the bureaucracy and the seemingly adult centred approach.

For example there are lots of reforms going on at the moment within our system to speed up children going into care and becoming adopted. However at the same time services are being taken away that will support that family once a child has been placed. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in many local authorities are becoming very difficult to access and specialist teams in the area of Attachment are being de-commissioned due to government cuts.

As adoptive parents, certainly in the UK, we have to fight for many of the services needed for our children. Help with education, financial help, therapeutic services and general understanding and awareness, makes adoptive parenting a real struggle at times. This decision to close those already limited services means we will again have to fight to find help for children who are struggling with how their lives have begun, and the impact on that now for them.

So why this subject for my blog? Recently I heard a politician talk about finding a voice for these children and I thought “yes they do need someone to speak up for them” as I looked around the room of very dedicated, exhausted and disillusioned parents who were listening to this politician I thought “that’s what we’ve been doing all along, that’s what it feels like most of the time – that we have to advocate for our children as they cannot express their needs themselves”.

I do wish more than anything that someone within government would look at the picture for these children end to end – instead of within each area without looking over the wall to see how their decisions and actions will impact another part of the child’s journey. When social services make a decision how does it impact on education? When a therapeutic service closes how will it impact on adoption breakdowns and children going back into care? I’m not saying I could do a better job, or that it’s an easy job by any means but surely the way we are working now (short term knee jerk reactions) could have terrible long term impacts for these children, their families and the finances involved!

I’d love to hear other peoples views on this subject. I know it’s a controversial one and I may be opening a can of worms, but it’s so very real for me at the moment with my own children but also many other adopters I know who desperately need these post adoption services and they are inadequate at present.


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“He’s just attention seeking, if you give him attention it won’t do him any good” – this phrase and words to these effect are typical words we hear as parents  and professionals. When you see a child tugging on their parents clothes, demanding to be seen and heard it’s very often felt that the child is a spoilt child who should just be able to wait until the adult is ready to talk to them.

For those of you who work with vulnerable children you will know that those who have experienced trauma have a very different need for attention. It’s actually attention NEEDING more than attention seeking. The fact that they have not had their needs met sufficiently in the past means the need to be seen and heard is a much more powerful feeling for them.

One of the attachment styles theorists talk about is AMBIVALENT attachment. For a child who experiences this kind of attachment their whole purpose in life is to be noticed. They are the in your face children, chattering non stop, helping when you don’t want their help, constantly demanding that you give your whole attention to them and no-one else. This is like a primal instinct to them. The need for attention is such a strong driving force they cannot help themselves.

Behaviour communicates a need. It’s not that this child wants to be awkward and manipulative but the need for attention drives their every move. If they have particularly turned up the volume on the attention needing behaviour they are trying to communicate to you their anxiety and fear about something. It may be a trip coming up, the holidays coming, a visit with a sibling or a birthday/special occasion that reminds them of their birth families. It could be anything! The behaviour is a real indication that something is wrong.

I can hear some of you saying “his behaviour is constantly the same – always needing my attention” and that is true for many vulnerable children. It can be very draining and of course time consuming. Here are some simple tips to help you support a child who needs constant attention:

1) As much as you can use their name and look at them when you talk to them. Even though they may not be able to give you eye contact they will feel that your attention is on them if you look at them as much as possible.

2) Try to remember facts about them and ask them how things went. For example if they have a birthday party coming up or about to take a music exam or go on a special holiday. The fact that you remember and ask them will mean a great deal to them – showing them that they are important.

3) When you cannot be with them give them something to look after for you. I heard of a great idea at one school where a teacher had a cuddly toy that she put on the table of the girl when she left the room. The teacher told her that she had to look after it until she came back. That gave the child the sense that the person trusts them enough and of course will be back.

4) When the child interrupts you if you’re talking to another adult, instead of telling them to wait, turn your attention on them and ask them what they want. This is a difficult one for adults to accept as we tend to feel that we have to teach children to wait and respect adults as they speak to each other. I agree this is a social nicety but for children who don’t feel valued they need to know they are important to adults. When you do turn your attention to them for a second and let them speak many times they will ask a simple question or will actually say “nothing” – they just want to connect with us. The other adult you are talking to should be able to understand and accept the interruption.

5) Remember above all else no matter how much attention you give this child it will feel that it is never enough. It is like their bucket has a hole in it, as much as you fill it with water it will always run out. Don’t give up though – the more you can reinforce their self-esteem the more they will be able to relax their attention needing behaviours.

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What happens when you slow down? When you stop the running around, dashing from one place to the next, focused on what’s coming and what needs to be done. What do you see, feel and hear when you can slow yourself down enough to really take in what’s around you? Well as I write this I am sitting in McDonalds on a busy half term afternoon (my kids enjoying a few hours in an adventure centre nearby) watching the families around me and contemplating my navel – well maybe not my navel!

The practice of mindfulness is quite a buzz at the moment. Being able to be in the now – not worrying about the past or the future but just living in the now. I actually love this practice and try regularly to stop and look around me. What I might see today of course is not quite as relaxing as being in beautiful countryside by a lake, but it does focus the mind none the less. As I stop writing even and look around me I see lots of children and their families enjoying time together, hanging out, talking, eating, going about their lives.

I often wonder what my children think about. I know they spend much of their time worrying about the past and the future and even about what might happen in the now for them. Who might be a threat, what might happen next to them or around them? I wonder if there are many times when they can just relax and take in the surroundings they are in. 

I know that for many people when they do slow down – go on holiday or take a rest, they get ill. It’s like the body keeps going as long as we keep pushing it and then when we allow ourselves to stop the body just crumbles. This may happen to you when it’s holiday time and you find yourself with a bad cold, pick up a virus or generally feel run down. I wonder if we slowed down more often maybe our bodies would get used to the routine of slowing down for a few minutes a day to really let our bodies catch up with our minds. Maybe then we wouldn’t crash with an almighty bump when we go on holiday.

It’s only when you slow down and really look around that you find the gifts in the things around you. I’m doing a study at the moment with some friends called One Thousand Gifts – it’s about seeing the gifts in the small everyday experiences we have, really seeing the things around you, developing an attitude of gratitude so that when you hit really difficult times you can see the gifts even in the most awful of circumstances. I love this notion. That even in the most horrible days – and there are a few as an adoptive parent – the more I cultivate this habit of seeing the gifts the more I will be able to see through the bad things (not escape them) and be able to embrace the good and bad.

I saw a quote today on Facebook and I wasn’t sure what I thought about it:

‘One can either bend or buckle under pressure. One must stop waiting for it to end and accept it, because the only way to transform suffering is to embrace it.’
Robert Earl Burton

After contemplating this just now in McDonalds (instead of contemplating my navel) I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about seeing the gifts in everything – embracing is not about saying everything is great but it’s about accepting what is and embracing all that it teaches you – we learn more from adversity than we do from times of peace.

So whatever you’re doing today and wherever you are – stop, slow down and see what’s around you. What gifts can you find and how can you embrace what life is teaching you right now?

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Kids running

My kids love to run. They run from the bedroom to the bathroom, they run downstairs, they run to the car, they run from the car into school. All day they run. It struck me this morning as I dropped them off – when do we stop running? When do we think it’s inappropriate to run everywhere? Is it when we hit those dreaded teenage years where rushing to anything or showing any ounce of enthusiasm is uncool? Or is it when we leave school and notice that no-one else runs so we’d better walk, sedately and somberly.

The other day I ran with one of my sons somewhere and he turned to me and said “I didn’t know you could run!” – made me laugh but actually how sad – what else has he noticed in me that indicates I’m maybe not as fun as I could be? How many times have I sat on the floor with him to play a game, or wrestle on the rug, or thrown snowballs at each other (just the other week actually) but you get the point. It’s not even about physical activity I don’t think. When I see them run it looks freeing and spontaneous, full of anticipation for whatever it is they are running to. How do I show that to them? How can I keep that attitude alive so that when they are teenagers or adults they run at life with the same vigour?

Here’s my random suggestions:

  1. Be enthusiastic about the small things – watching a new film together, going to the same park you may have been to a million times, being excited about a party or family outing. Show that the little things all added up together makes up the big things.
  2. Reflect on what happens in the day – when mine come home from school I’ve given up on the “what did you do today” as you get no response. Instead I ask “what was the best thing about today, what was the worst?”. That way they have to reflect and think about the day. You can do the same with your day too – maybe talk with them about what was the best and worst part of your day.
  3. Think about the feelings involved in running; the energy, the lightness, the freedom. How can you bring that into everything you do today. Maybe just by focusing on the things you love to do – the things that naturally bring you energy, lightness and freedom.
  4. Finally be spontaneous. Although for lots of our children who’ve experienced trauma surprises are not so great, you can find safe ways to be spontaneous. What about picking them up from school and taking them to their favourite restaurant for tea one day, or tickling them when you walk past them, smiling and giving them a wink occasionally. I don’t know – you will know what works with your children best or maybe trying a new approach you never know what might happen.

So when you see a child run today remember this blog and I hope you find the enthusiasm, energy, freedom and lightness to have a great day and run after life.

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Cats birthday copyWhat is it about birthdays? They come once a year – just one day but they can hold so much in them – memories, anticipation, sadness, happiness, surprises and shocks sometimes! It’s my birthday today and as ever it’s got me thinking about life – the ups and downs, the uncertainties and the roller coaster of emotions we experience as humans.

Last week I went to a brilliant training day by a guy called Richard Wilkins – his whole ethos is about feeling – getting out of your head and being able to feel the full range of emotions. To be able to really live you need to be able to engage with emotions as well as intellect. Many times we have a feeling about something but our brain or the voices in our head tell us “that’s not a good idea, what would people think”, “who do you think you are to step out and do that” and on and on – you have your own voices stopping you stepping out and doing something new.

On your birthday you tend to think, of course, about getting older. Maybe it’s too late for me to step out? Maybe the best is behind me? I know I’m not THAT old (43) but we think those things at any age don’t we. I have a beautiful friend who is 76 who is looking forward to this next stage of her life – what can she do? how can she influence and effect others in positive ways? What a great attitude to have! To be able to be content in all stages of life, not yearning for the past or for this part to be over so you can truly live. For me to think that I’m restricted by the age of my children and their complex needs at the moment would really hold me back from experiencing the wonders of this time – the innocence and curiosity they have and the uninhibited look on life is wonderful. There’s also loads for me to do in this stage too. The people I am around because of this stage means I can have a positive impact on them and start to build something for all our futures.

Another area I think we look at when we have birthdays is loss – what we don’t have or what we did have and have now lost. My Dad died over three years ago and I’ve been saddened again that he’s not here to share this day with me. That even though I have friends and family there’s one huge hole – something missing that only my Dad could fill. It’s a very small reminder as well to me of what my children may feel about their birth family around their birthdays. They think about them often of course but we tend to focus more on loss around this time, as if it brings it into sharp focus – that around the party table there’s someone missing. I guess all we can do is work through the loss – for me I will try to commemorate what my Dad means to me in some small way – not sure what yet but whenever I think about him I am warmed by who he was and the relationship we had. I hope my children feel like that about me someday!

The final aspect for me about birthdays is the anticipation and expectation they bring. That THIS day will be so much better than any other. That a fairy will have come and washed up and done the housework whilst I’m still in bed, that the kids will be rays of sunlight, grateful for all their Mum does for them and that my husband will be thinking about how to please me every minute of the day – HA. If we really did have those expectations what a downer it would be. It is a special day but it’s also the same as any other day. I’ve come to realise over the years that you have to make it what you want it to be. That as much as possible I try to do something for myself whilst holding it very lightly in my hands, knowing that other peoples lives continue. The challenges we had as a family yesterday are still here today, but you can step out of those challenges for a time – it may only be a few hours or minutes even but to make it your intention to do something for yourself is key.

So when it’s your birthday next remember you are not too old to do new things and to make a difference in your world. Remember those you have lost with love and gratitude, as much as you can and let the emotions come. Finally make sure whatever is happening around you that you carve out some time for yourself to celebrate another year and another milestone in your life. Happy birthday to me!


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 I’ve been thinking about change recently. With Christmas and the change in routines, then back to school and work and the readjustments again to the routine, and then this week with the snow that routine has gone out the window again and change rears it’s ugly head once more. Of course for us adults change can be as good as a rest. A snow day on Friday seemed to create a great sense of freedom, fun and family. But now three days later – another snow day – not quite the same reaction from others I see on Facebook.

For those of you who have adopted children or work with children who’ve experienced trauma you will know that change can be very difficult for them. Routine creates a feeling of predictability which in turns brings a feeling of safety – when you know what is coming next you can relax and enjoy the moment you’re in. For children who are anxious about what might happen next the unpredictability of change can trigger those stress responses within them which makes it difficult for them to then regulate their emotions. Mine are forever asking what is happening next. It’s like they can’t relax and settle into something until they know what is coming after it, to the extent that sometimes we have to have a daily schedule on the board so they know what is happening.

Predictability is the biggest thing I have found that helps alleviate some of the anxiety for my children. As much as you can, try and keep to the things you say you will do. I’ve realised with this that sometimes you have to withhold some information from your children until you know it will definitely happen, especially if you have friends who may change arrangements at the last minute. I tell my children something is going to happen only when it is within my power to make it happen, or that I know for certain things will not change. We had one example of this one day this week when we were expecting some friends to come round to play. One of them decided not to come at the last minute and I had told my children they were coming as the other siblings did come. The fact that one didn’t was quite disappointing for one of my kids, but with all the will in the world you can’t control everything and make things exactly as you would like it.

So how can you handle the unpredictabilities of life for your children?

1) As much as possible tell them what you know is going to happen. Only the things you are definite on and even then you may have to pre-empt some changes of plans (i.e. the weather).

2) Tell others about the importance of predictability for your children. When making arrangements make sure the other people involved are sensitive to the feelings of insecurity changes can bring.

3) When things do change or things don’t happen as you’d like (which is a constant reality), keep your children close, comfort them and reassure them that they are safe and that things will work out.

4) Have a back up plan. If you are arranging something you know they will love but then have to change, make sure you have a quick plan that you can pick up that they will love just as much.

5) Be as confident as you can about what it going to happen. Even if you’re not sure, try to remain organised, calm and collected. If you panic they will certainly feel the fear and join in the panic. When plans change, take it in your stride and move onto plan B.

Even as I’m writing this I know it sounds so much easier then it actually is. Life tends to throw us curve balls every now and then, like snow, and we have to steer a different course. Just remember our children need to feel the security of being with someone who is not phased by life’s challenges, someone who is strong enough to handle the pressures and make a safe and predictable environment for them to live in. For those who regularly read my blogs you know that I’m forever talking about going easy on yourself and taking care of yourself. No exception here. When you do enter the panic zone remember tomorrow is another day!

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I’ve found that sometimes it’s quite difficult to stay grateful. The times when you are so exhausted from trying to do the right thing with your children, when their issues are so great and consume your energy and thoughts, when you would just like to have a ‘normal’ day. Those times can make being thankful incredibly difficult. However, recently I’m beginning to see how amazing my children and actually my new life is now. 

We are coming up to 5 years next year of having our beautiful children with us and also 15 years of wedded bliss – well sometimes! Maybe that’s why these thoughts are becoming stronger in me. Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent time these last few months really going back to basics in my values and lifestyle. What is important to me? My faith, my family, friends, meaning, hope, being able to see how far I’ve come. If you read my blogs regularly you will know from my last blog ‘How deep is your guilt’ that my feelings of positivity are fleeting BUT I know that they are there as well as all the other feelings. 

The more you focus on the positive things the more positive you become yourself. Someone said recently, I can’t remember where, that sitting next to a healthy person i.e. someone who exercises a lot, eats well, sleeps well etc – just sitting next to them will not make you well. It won’t make you fit and healthy. However sitting next to a sick person may very well make you sick!

This makes me think of just how much I entertain the negative, unhealthy and damaging thoughts in my mind and the words of others too – that my situation will never change, that I am not doing any good with my children – in fact I’m doing more harm then good, that things are desperate and hopeless. If you entertain these thoughts and let them take root in your life they take over, consume your energies and in fact become a reality.

I’m not talking about ignoring the truth here but I am talking about seeing the positives instead of focusing on the challenges. When I look back over these 5 years there have been many times of challenge but if I just focused on that I would miss the real moments of joy, hope, peace, love, connection, belonging – all those moments come together to make a full life – the ups and the downs.

‘Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.’ Melody Beattie

So even though I know there may be many times of hardship – look to the good times too and the more thankful you can be the more good times you will see!

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How deep is your love is a great sentiment and it’s something that pops into my mind occasionally as an adoptive parent – how deep is my love and compassion for my children; with their pain, angst and general confusion at life sometimes? Well this week I’ve been struck more by another emotion that is just as powerful, even more so sometimes and which threatens to overwhelm me – GUILT.

I know I’ve written about this subject before many moons ago and am amazed to see it still raising its ugly head but it’s something that is always hovering in the background of my mind – that feeling that what I’m doing, or not doing, or how I’m doing or not doing something with my children may damage them even more then they are already damaged. That somehow my lack of understanding and more importantly lack of self control and calmness, could in fact hinder their development and healing is a devastating thought and one which I have to wrestle with daily.

I remember saying to a therapist once who was seeing one of my children (and me….moreso me I think) that I was frightened of making things worse for them and her response was “you couldn’t make things worse” and she’s right. My heart says – “no that’s not true I could really screw them up” but my brain tells me that because I’m even asking those questions shows that whatever I do or don’t do at this stage will not be worse than what they have already experienced in their short lives. Because I desperately want to make things right for them it drives me to repair the damage I may have done as soon as I possibly can.

Of course this doesn’t mean it’s ok to ignore the signs they give me that they need more time with me, or to shout at them when staying calm would be a much better environment for all concerned. But it does mean that as I strive to do the right thing, and fail at times, I can know that when I go to repair with them – that action in itself is helping them to develop. The fact that we can talk about things after they have happened and admit our failings as a parent and human being means they can see what it is to be human. That when they lose control and feel that they have no control over their emotions – they can see that they are not alone – that we all experience the full range of emotions. Of course how we choice to express those emotions is another thing and something that we are all learning and growing in.

So if you are anything like me and you have good intentions to be the best therapeutic parent you can – and you fail – take heart. You can repair with your child and you can decide to try again. Also of course there may be times when you need help to manage different emotions as our children are very skilled at pushing the buttons that get a reaction from us. There are places to go to get help. It may be that you just need rest and respite. Or maybe there are things from your own past that need resolving. Whatever it is – don’t ignore it but stare it straight in the face and decide to engage with the process of changing and you’ll be amazed at how much you will progress. Speak to someone you know who understands, a support group maybe or someone else within the adoption world. Don’t face it alone, guilt can be a very isolating feeling that makes us draw back from people when in fact we need to move towards others.

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I love Dr Seuss. Before I had children I loved Dr Seuss and now I have children I love him all the more. We went to see the Lorax this weekend and there were a few quotes that really made me think about this journey of adoption.

1) “A seed is not about what it is but what it can become” – I watch my children sometimes amazed at who they are becoming. The times when they are not scared. anxious and screaming – but the other times when they are confident, calm, self-assured – I can see something of what they could become. Those times may be few and far between, but they are more than they were. Every day is another opportunity to help them figure out who they are becoming. I have to remind myself many times of that fact – that they are like new seeds just planted – even though they are 8, 10 and 11 they are actually very tiny seeds that have been moved around in different soil before they have been planted with us. What they have experienced up to now with others has been a mixture but it’s not written in stone how they will turn out.

Many times we are told the outcomes for adopted and looked after children are so bleak. Whilst I understand statistics are important, I also know that just because the statistics may be bad – it doesn’t mean it has to be like that.

2) “Let it grow – you can’t reap what you don’t sow” - this carries on from the first quote really. Once the seed is planted it needs to have time to grow. Think of all the elements that need to be in place for a seed to grow into a strong, rooted tree. Good soil, water, sun, and above all time. I know as we grow as a family there will be, and are, many days of despair when it seems hopeless BUT there is hope. Every positive bit of input we give them nourishes them and gives them the strength to grow. Be encouraged that the little, ordinary, every day positive things you put into your kids is making a difference to their long term future.

3) “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lots nothing is going to get better. Its’ not” – this quote refuses to get out of my mind. The reason we came into adoption was a selfish reason to start with. We wanted a family and couldn’t have one naturally. However along the way it has become something bigger than that. To not be too dramatic about it – it has gripped me. I live and breath adoption sometimes – talking to others, researching ways to help the children and other parents, training others and working hard to get the positive message of adoption out there. I’m reading a book by Jeff Goins at the moment called Wrecked and it talks about discovering that thing that compels you to act – compassion is passion in action. I’d encourage you to look into your heart today and ask yourself that question – what moves you to act? It may be nothing to do with adoption. It will be to do with people though I can guarantee. If you don’t know what it is – start to ask yourself that question and then wait, keep your eyes open and something will appear.

So Dr Seuss the great philosopher of our time has again spoken to me, I hope to you too. I’d love to hear other Dr Seuss moments….connect with me on Facebook BraveHeart Adoption Coaching and let me know.

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Which brings me to my final question – what do we hope to achieve by rewarding children?

In the traditional sense with our reward charts and sliding scales of behaviour charts we are hoping they will tow the line and conform to the ‘right’ ways of behaving according to us. However you have to remember they have probably experienced a very different environment to other children and what they know as normal and acceptable is not what you or other children will think. For them it may be acceptable to hit someone when they can’t get their own way, or to demand food from other people. Don’t forget as well that they are very self-reliant and will do whatever it takes to get their needs met. That’s not behaving inappropriately if what they feel they need is the food someone else has or they will die. We cannot understand the depth of emotion they may feel around something that terrifies them.

Some schools I know operate a variation of a sliding scale. The children all start out in the green square at the start of the day then move to amber if they don’t keep the rules, then to red. This doesn’t send a great message to children. If a child is frightened and incredibly upset about something so much so that they can’t sit still or do their times tables our response should be compassion and support, not to move them down the scale. Also of course for children who need attention being in the red is what will give them the attention – they don’t care if it’s good or bad attention.

When I said earlier that these children are topsy turvy, upside down children – the ‘normal’ rewards and consequences don’t work with them, there needs to be a new approach. The main way we can reach these children is through relationships. Relationships are where things have gone wrong for them in the past and relationships are what can build their self-esteem and change the way they see themselves and the world around them.

I read an article recently by Bryan Post an American leading expert in the field of attachment and parenting traumatised children. He was talking about consequences at school and gave this example.

“Tim walks into the classroom in the morning loud and boisterous. A simple consequence you might provide Tim is a little shame and embarrassment mixed with classroom training. “Ah, Tim I think you’ve entered the big kids room this morning. Why don’t you try it again, or you can go down to the second grade where you might fit in better!” Oh, that’s a good one right there. All of the other students laugh. Tim’s face turns red, he storms out, and then storms back in without giving you even a look.

How about a different approach? Something that will shock Tim – he walks in being loud and boisterous and stops to talk to Gerry for a minute on the way. As Tim is interrupting the morning register you pause, take a big deep breath and feel your centre. Then, you just state in a gentle voice, “Tim”, Tim hurredly shuts off his morning meandering and replies, “What?” You look at him and smile, gesturing to his seat with your head. He sits. It happened so fast that the class doesn’t even know that it happened.

Then later you go over to him and say “Tim are you ok this morning? You seemed quite upset earlier, is there anything I need to do different? I don’t want you feeling like you aren’t getting enough attention. That would be terrible for you. In fact, because it seems like that’s what’s going on, maybe you and I could spend some time together in the morning before class. What do you think? That would help me make sure one of my favourite kids is getting the attention that he needs and I wouldn’t be worried that I might be messing up with you” Tim stirs. “Nah, you don’t have to do that. You give me plenty of attention really, I was just being rude and not thinking”. You respond with more compassion, “Ok I understand but if you come into my classroom feeling that way, it tells me this is not the safe place I want it to be for you. And that’s my responsibility – to make learning safe and enjoyable for you. I’ll see you in the morning ten minutes before bell rings”.

A very different approach right? And I’m guessing for some of you that raised more questions…but I know it works. When you can see their behaviour as a sign that something is bothering them then you can stay curious and compassionate – it’s not easy because they are skilled at the defenses they have created to protect themselves. They need the relationship with adults to be strong, and to help them rebuild what they so desperately need to develop and grow.

It’s a process of moving from one belief i.e. that we must reward specific behaviour for a child to learn that’s how to behave, to a radical concept that if we could build a strong relationship with the child, encourage expression and integration (knowing that we ALL struggle with the full range of human emotion) and find ways to help a child feel safe and feel good about themselves and their worlds – then I believe we would have really helped a child to grow to be a well rounded, resilient, functioning member of society.

If you want further information along these lines connect with @braveheartadopt on twitter or BraveHeart Education on Facebook. Also check out our website for training opportunities in your area.

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Yesterday we looked at what we reward children for …… today our second question – why do we feel the need to reward children?

We are told that what you focus on is what you get and I can see that. The more you comment on the negative things and complain about how awful something is the harder it is to get yourself out of that place. However for children who’ve experienced trauma especially we must always put their needs before ours. I think as adults we feel that if we don’t praise every single thing we’re not supporting and encouraging children. I’m not saying of course that we should pick on their difficult areas and make them feel rubbish. What I am saying is that we need to look at why we struggle so much with this whole area of rewards. Whenever I’ve spoken about this on training invariably someone struggles with this concept of giving low-key praise and not linking it to the action. We feel that the point of rewarding is so that they do the desired behaviour again – behaviour modification, but the key element to remember with these types of children is that their behaviour is communicating a need – they are not naughty children, they are scared and anxious children showing that in ways that we find difficult and that are unacceptable in our societies.

What I will say about praising children is that we need to make sure we are building up their self-esteem. This will take a long time and baby steps – when we go in all guns blazing and tell them how fantastic their singing is and they should be on X Factor you have no idea how that information will be received. They need small doses of praise and affection that builds their resilience and gives them a sense of who they are and who they can be.

One of the examples around rewards that all my children have found difficult is around fountain pens. In our school once a child can get their handwriting to a desired level they are given a fountain pen. This is the coveted price apparently which every child aspires to. I understand why this has been put in place and realise that for the majority of children it probably acts as an incentive to work hard to improve their writing. However for my children it only acts as another thing to be disappointed about, another aspect of schooling where they stand out as not being the norm. For my middle son who is now in year 6 he is one of three children who still don’t have their pens while all the others do. When I hear him talk about this it upsets me as there are reasons why his writing is delayed and that he struggles that are not down to him being lazy and not trying. He missed out on all those years of attention and stimulation when you learn to write. His fine motor skills have been impaired as a result of his early trauma – I know that the fact his handwriting is messy and not to the level of a ‘normal’ 10 year old is a result of his past.

Of course it does act as an incentive for him to try and improve but I also know he receives the message that he is not good enough (and may never be) to fit in with everyone else. That he has failed and he internalises that to mean HE is a failure.

So why do we feel the need to reward in this way? To encourage children to try, to improve, to succeed. And what of improving against your own standard? Maybe a better way would be to reward on improvement in writing, or effort to improve instead of reaching a level that is unobtainable for them. When we learn to walk as a toddler we are encouraged and praised every step and every fall and every wobble – you see adults with their children clapping and cheering as they stumble and fall. Then later on in life we just seem to praise on achievement – what happened to praising effort?

So whilst I understand we do have an inherent desire to reward and praise children I just want to challenge you to think about how that is received by a child who has experienced trauma. The messages they receive will be different to what a nurtured child may feel, regardless of how long they may have been out of that initial trauma environment. Think about how you can build a child’s self esteem based on who they are as an individual and not about meeting a standard of performance that is out of their reach. And be conscious of how your normal reward system may actually damage and hinder these children’s development.

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Something I’m asked time and again, whilst doing training for schools, is how can we use rewards effectively with children who’ve experienced trauma? Well there are a few fundamental questions we have to ask ourselves first:-

  • What are we rewarding children for?
  • Why do we feel the need to reward?
  • What are we hoping we will achieve when we reward them?

The whole concept of rewarding good behaviour is rife in our homes and schools but where did it come from? Is it a throw back to the harsher days of never praising children for when they did something well, of only reprimanding them when they stepped out of line? When I looked this topic up on the internet it’s littered with articles and techniques around how to reward positive behaviour in children and ignore the bad.

However what about when children have had a difficult start in life, they don’t have the strong foundation that nurtured children have had, they don’t have the safe base of a good enough parenting structure to come back to when they go off and explore. Their worlds in short are upside down to other children’s worlds. So why do we then insist on treating them the same? They do not understand why you are rewarding them for something and it gives them mixed and damaging messages sometimes.

For example our first question – what are we rewarding children for?

In a classroom we talk about good or appropriate behaviour. We want a child to sit in a certain way, do the tasks asked of them quietly, be polite with people, not hit other children etc. All things that we feel are acceptable and appropriate in our society – the niceties of how we interact with each other. So what about a child who struggles in these areas – they can’t sit still due to the hyper-vigilance they feel about whether they are safe or not, they have little impulse control, their cause and effect thinking is not developed and they have no empathy. To expect them to follow the rules when they haven’t been taught them, and many times don’t have the tools they need to be able to comply, is unrealistic.

Rewarding children (or punishing them by not rewarding them) for things they can not do sometimes sends the message that they must be so bad because they can’t control their emotions and actions. To see other children getting their stickers and sweets for something they feel is impossible for them to do only compounds their feeling of inadequacy and worthlessness.

Children who have experienced trauma feel at the core of their being that THEY ARE BAD – not that they do bad things but that they are bad! The toxic shame associated to this feeling is too much for them to bear sometimes. When we then reward them for something we think they have done well two things happen in them. One, they do not believe you so they will prove you wrong by doing something they know you will disapprove of like hitting another child. Secondly they think that you are lying to them as they KNOW they are bad, it’s engrained in them.

The way our educational system is set up these days is around behaviour modification techniques. Getting children to behave in the way we as society deem fit. But what happens in the midst of this is there are masses of children who don’t fit the mold – in fact I would go so far as to say no child fits a mold! They are all unique, different, individual and as such should be treated so.

I can hear the cries of “easy for you to say, you don’t have the teach a class of 30 children all with different complex needs” and of course that’s true but that’s my point – the system is set up in such a way to meet our needs as adults and teachers, not to meet children’s needs. I’ve heard recently of many schools that are going to open plan classrooms. I don’t see how this can help children’s concentration and attention. For children who’ve experienced trauma especially the noise and chaos will not help them to learn but in fact it will hinder them greatly. Why was this decision made to go open plan? Who knows.

What should we be rewarding children for then, if at all? Well I believe we need a different approach. Instead of trying to modify children’s behaviour and push them into a mold of what we think is appropriate maybe we should be encouraging them to explore their emotions and feelings more. Instead of being afraid of anger and aggression – find ways to help the child integrate that into their whole person. I’ve always been a volatile personality and have struggled for years with my temper, so much so that at times it makes me feel that I AM BAD – in who I am. I wish that I’d been taught how to face my feelings and deal with my anger in such a way that it was not swept under the carpet or seen as a nasty trait, but as part of the whole human experience.

Imagine what a child would feel like if they were praised for being able to express their feelings, or encouraged to wrestle with their failure and disappointments – how different would they be as adults I wonder?

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Parenting adopted children can be like a military operation. We have three children who actually like to be in chaos – ‘like’ may not be the right word but it is their comfort zone I suppose – the place that they are the most familiar with. So as much chaos as they can manage to create the better – although of course we know it isn’t better for them or us.

An example of this is first thing in the morning. Imagine the scene. You stayed up till 2am last night doing all the things you didn’t get time to do in the day so when the alarm rings at 7am you press that off button, turn over and go back to sleep. You are then woken with a start when a tiny hand nudges you to say they want their breakfast – AAHHHHH you spring out of bed look at the clock and realise you have half an hour to get the kids washed, dressed, fed, do all that for yourself as well, make the lunches, check the homework, read any school letters you forgot to read, get your own stuff ready for your days work, pile everyone in the car and set off. Of course if this were the scenario there would also be lots of shouting, hurrying children up who then insist it’s the right time to tidy their bedrooms, play with the cats and pick up any snails they see outside the front door, and then of course refuse to get in the car.

A familiar scene maybe for some of you – certainly it is for me. I’ve come to realise over the 4 years of having our children that as much as I hate the responsibility, my mood sets the tone for our day. If you take the morning for a start – if I am up and ready, done all the things I needed to do to make myself feel calm and relaxed i.e. had a cup of tea in the quiet before they got up, made the lunches, organised my own day – then I can calmly wake them up – set the tone of someone who is in control and organised – then the better all our days will be.

It is in fact like a military operation – where all the practicalities have to be done in the slickest of fashions whilst also paying attention to all the feelings and attitudes. This morning I watched a brilliant video to set me in a good mood whilst having my cup and tea – the change in how our morning routine went was amazing. Of course there were still a few flashes of chaos but I managed to keep order and move things along without a huge shouting match. Of course for our children as well it is vital that they feel that we are in control – that we can handle life’s pressures and can help them with their emotions. Not saying I get this right all the time as I don’t but I do know that looking after myself (e.g. going to bed early) and realising I set the mood has really helped me to create as safe and peaceful a place as I can.

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Family copyFamily pressures

Families are great aren’t they! We don’t choose them and we can’t get away from them (well we can I suppose). Whatever your extended family is like today I can guarantee having adopted children has changed that dynamic in some way or another. Whether they are finding it difficult to understand your children and your approaches to parenting, or whether they are fully involved and on board – there are always pressures that arise.

The thing I’ve noticed recently is around claiming and belonging with my children. It’s a very strange situation when you adopt – it’s like being in no man’s land. Certainly for us when we adopted our children who were 4, 5 and 7 at the time. It was like being a new mum with all the new mum feelings and challenges but with children going to school, talking, walking, expressing feelings and opinions. All my friends had grown into being a parent in the natural way – from pregnancy, birth, babies, toddlers to children at school. For us it’s more like being parachuted into this world of parenthood and having to get used to those emotions and experiences in 10 seconds flat.

Claiming and belonging is about your children knowing they belong to you and you knowing they are yours. With children who are ‘looked after’ there can be the feeling that everyone is responsible for them – the school knows best, the GP knows best, the social worker knows best – and what about you as the adoptive parents? Where do you fit in?

So how do you build that bond while dealing with any family pressures that may be there? Someone described it to me recently like a board game. Your core family is the board and how you want it to be played is up to you. So if you need people to back off, then you have to write those instructions in. If you need more support from your family and more understanding – then you write those instructions in.

Whatever you feel you need is in your control. This is the difficult part I know and for many of us those patterns of how we relate to our families are well entrenched. BUT this is your time to take control. For your sanity and the wellbeing of your core family you need to take this game seriously.

So if you would like more tips to maintain your sanity on this great adoption journey I have written a book ‘Relentless Life – How to find the extraordinary in the ordinary’, looking at many different aspects of life and how we can take a new perspective on things – available on Amazon.


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Children laughing copyBelly laugh

My kids love to laugh. I’m sure you can remember those times when you were young and you laughed so hard your belly hurt and you thought you might have an accident! If you can’t remember that of course just watch children when they laugh uncontrollably – it’s amazing.

There are times around our dinner table when I’m not in a laughing mood! Kids never know when to stop – that’s the point I suppose – they are so uninhibited in that moment that they can’t stop themselves. I love that.

So my second tip is belly laugh – as hard as possible and as often as possible! Laughter is known to be good for healing – there are even laughter clubs now for those who need help with finding things to laugh about or ways to release their inhibitions.

So when thinking about how to keep ourselves sane laughter is a good component of that. How can you bring laughter more into your every day life? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Watch a funny movie or TV show
  • Go to a comedy club 
  • Read the funny pages
  • Seek out funny people
  • Share a good joke or a funny story
  • Check out your bookstore’s humour section
  • Host game night with friends
  • Play with a pet 
  • Go to a “laughter yoga” class
  • Act daft around your children
  • Do something silly
  • Make time for fun activities (e.g. Bowling, miniature golf, karaoke)

And have fun – if you don’t belly laugh that’s – you will certainly feel better for looking at the lighter things in life.

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Tip Number One – Quietness

Quietness is a rarity these days. When you have three children descend on your quiet life it does inevitably create noise and chaos. Not that I’m complaining about that – but in order to stay sane there does need to be some times of peace, quiet and a chance to find that still point.

We are all so different – some of us need more quiet and alone time while others thrive on the hustle and bustle of big family life. Whichever you might be there’s still time needed to slow down and stop, especially on the adoption journey. Our kids have a chaotic, complicated life inside them and it’s important for them to be able to regulate that inner noise. The same is true for us.

Nancy Thomas, a renowned expert in the field of extreme trauma in children suggests that you need at least 20 minutes of quiet every day! No music, No TV, nothing! This may seem unachievable to some, but I have personally found it essential to keeping my own sanity.

Along these lines also is about finding that ‘still point’ inside when you can feel calm and centered. I’m not much into meditation and such, but since we’ve had our children I do find my need to really connect with peace a lot stronger.

So how can we do this? – Here are a few ways: -

Breathe… Yes breathe some more! We all know how to breathe don’t we? Well yes of course we do, but we tend to shallow breathe much of the time, we don’t really concentrate on our breathing, deep breaths so that our bodies can relax and our lungs can really fill up with air.

Try big, slow deep breaths. You will soon see the difference and feel the difference between shallow, short breaths and deep, long, slow breaths.

Be in the now. We spend much of our lives in the past or the future. In doing this we miss the calmness and peace of now.

Take a look around you right now – what do you see? What can you hear? Smell? Feel? In doing this again it slows you down, grounds you and allows you to connect with what’s happening right now. Each minute changes – the line you just read is in fact in the past.

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“Isn’t adoptive parenting the same as any other parenting?”

“We all have the same struggles as you do”

“Just treat them like you would any child and they’ll be fine”.

If you’re an adoptive parent these are words I’m sure you’ve heard many times from friends, family and well-meaning random people you meet. Yes our children do have the same features, i.e. they run around like headless chickens at times, they cry and shout, they fight with their siblings, they respond negatively to the word ‘no’, BUT there are mayor differences. Children who have experienced early trauma, to varying degrees, are impacted by that trauma. You may not see it on the outside but the effects of their loss, neglect, and/or abuse are devastating to them.

So why am I saying all this? Well these next few days of blogs are about YOU as the adoptive parent. Your children get lots of attention, support, love and understanding, and so they should – but what about you? If you answer yes to the following questions then read on:

1. Are there days when you wonder why you went through the pain of the adoption process?
2. Have you felt exhausted by the relentlessness of trying to understand your children?
3. Has there been a strain on any of your meaningful relationships, due to the stress of bringing up your children?
4. Do you find it difficult to relax as you are always waiting for the next crisis to happen?
5. Do you wish you could explain to people around you how demanding your child can be?

Secondary trauma is a phrase used much in adoptive circles. It’s the effect of being around trauma that others have experienced. Charles Figley (1995) defines secondary traumatic stress as “the natural consequent behaviors resulting from knowledge about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other. It is the stress resulting from wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.”

The constant battles and demands that come from trying to help those who’ve experienced trauma can be very wearing. To the extreme it can mean a breakdown or depression, on a smaller scale physical effects might be lack of sleep, poor diet, low energy.

I have been an adoptive parent for four years now to three beautiful children. It was a baptism of fire to go from 0 to 3 overnight. When they came to us they were 4, 5 and 7, now 8, 10 and 11. I have learnt lots about them and how to help them. Read many books, been on training courses, support groups and generally immersed myself in the world of adoption. The one thing that strikes me that is missing is the essential element of how to look after you. It’s no good knowing all the theories and understanding what makes our children tick, but then having no energy, patience, compassion and self control to implement those things, in the heat of the moment.

So where do you stand today on self-care? How important is looking after yourself in comparison to caring for your child? My guess is you are maybe struggling to answer that question! Without being strong, grounded, peaceful and resilient yourself, you will find it incredibly difficult to help your child.

Look out tomorrow for tip number one on looking after yourself……

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IStock 000019855742XSmallBuilding trust

Trust is the foundation of relationships. We know that relationships have failed our children in many ways. They don’t feel the basic level of trust that other children do, so they constantly question our motives and are looking for us as adults to let them down. For teachers this is an essential understanding to have. To know that our children come from the place of mistrust and it takes a long time for that trust to develop.

For my 8 year old he constantly questions the fairness and actions of adults. With his teachers he watches them to see how they relate to him and others and whether they can be trusted to do the best for him. For our teachers what they say and do around our children helps or hinders this process of learning to trust.

An incident recently with our son illustrates this perfectly. He struggles with his handwriting and many times cannot be bothered to put the effort in, for whatever reason. His teacher knows that he can write well sometimes, but other times he chooses not to. My son takes a pencil case into school full of his beloved pens. The teacher told him that if he did ‘good’ handwriting then he could get to use his own pens. This was a constant battle for my son everyday for a while complaining about the injustice and unfairness of this set up.

So imagine my frustration a few weeks later when he comes home and says he did ‘good’ handwriting. To which I asked, “did you get your pens?” his reply was “no”. When I spoke to the teacher she had forgotten. Something said weeks before to motivate him to work was forgotten with the busyness of a classroom of 30 children.

For my boy there have been many seemingly small incidents like this that have contributed to his mistrust of his teacher, so much so that around that particular incident with the pens he didn’t want to speak to her again. He has of course spoken to her since then, but each time something similar happens he goes back to that disappointment and relives his feelings of being let down.

Of course we can understand the teachers overlooking something like this when they have so many children to cater for BUT we have to remind teachers again and again that unless our children can trust them and feel safe at school they will not be able to learn. Learning is not a priority for most of our children, surviving the day – with all the anxieties it brings, is the driving force for them.

So in summing up these three blogs – what are the lessons we can learn from my beautiful 8 year old son?

  1. Our children may appear to be independent or want independence but until they are truly dependent on an adult they cannot move towards real independence.
  2. We (and those working with them) need to be aware of their emotional age and treat them accordingly to help them build those early foundations.
  3. Trust is the bedrock of relationships – everything we, and others, say and do must be congruent for our children to begin to build trust.

A final word of encouragement to parents – however difficult you may find the relationship with your children’s educational setting you must keep pushing to get their needs met. It is exhausting at times as it seems to be an uphill struggle but our children need us to keep trying.

There are organisations that can help – your local Parent Partnership group will help you talk to the school and get the support you need, your local Educational Psychologist team will also help with support, assessment and training and I run workshops for schools and parents on education. I also have available on Kindle an e-book for schools on understanding Attachment issues in educational settings. I would also highly recommend Louise Bombers books ‘Inside I’m hurting’ and ‘What about me?’ as an aid for schools. 

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Boy shouting Small copyEmotional age vs chronological age

When we are stressed we all regress, but for our children that regression can be shocking. An 11 year old for example may regress to behave like a 5 year old under extreme stress. This makes it very difficult for them with their peers as the gap between them gets wider and wider as they grow up.

Within our mainstream educational environment it’s very difficult to treat children as individuals. There is pressure from all sides to get children to reach their age related targets. This makes things very difficult for our children, for us as parents and for teaching staff. If only we were freer to treat children as individuals, to be able to assess where a child is emotionally and to help them gain the elements they have missed from early childhood.

If you think about all the things children need at each stage of their development – food, water, sleep, stimulation, warmth, love to name but a few. If you wrote those all on pieces of paper shaped as bricks and then built a wall with them it would make a solid foundation for a child’s development. However, for our children many of those essential early blocks of development were missing.

As parents we strive to help our children fill those blocks again. To give them the attention and love they need as if they were that 2 year old again, even when they are chronologically aged 8 years old. For schools it is much more difficult to meet those needs BUT not impossible. There are things they can do to help us in this quest.

1) They can build it into their programme to give children opportunities to fill those gaps again. For example when children get into upper years they can then spend time in the early years – on playground duty or reading to younger children. These are age appropriate mentoring activities that upper years children all do, but for our children it creates a safe and easy way for them to build those experiences again.

2) Secondly schools can take the opportunities when children regress to meet them at that age, in that given moment. Instead of encouraging them to ‘act their age, and grow up’ we can in fact think if this child was actually 2 how would I respond to them?

Third and final message from an 8 year old tomorrow…..

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Education is a constant battle for most children who have experienced early trauma. My husband and I have three adopted children who all struggle to one degree or another with their school. Whilst it is a small, caring, understanding school that try their best to accommodate our children, there are still some times when they get it wrong. They just don’t get it – which is understandable as many times we don’t either.

Recently our youngest has had a few issues in his classroom, so I wanted to share some lessons from his experience, as I know they will be common to others. The first lesson for today is about:

Moving towards independence

As children move up in the years most school teachers seem to be obsessed with independence – “they should be old enough now to remember what to bring into school”, “they need to think for themselves and be independent in their thought processes”, “we can’t hold their hands all the time”. These and other statements, or at least the sentiment of them, are commonplace from teaching staff. Whilst you might believe that to be the case for children who have had a nurturing, stable background, for our children they are just not ready to be independent.

Independence comes from being truly dependent on someone else. In most cases our children have not been fully dependent on others. They have had to look after themselves sometimes physically, emotionally and mentally. They have come to believe through their negative early attachment experiences that adults cannot be trusted, at least the ones who should have met their needs! As a result they become self-reliant. They know to depend on themselves and this makes it incredibly difficult for them to ask for help and admit they may need other people.

So where does this leave us as parents and educators, in terms of encouraging independence? We need to help our children become dependent on adults first – to build the trust between the significant people in their lives so that they can become truly dependent again, and then slowly move towards independence. This means we will still need to help them remember things they need to take into school, to accept that our children may not retain the information given verbally, and to know that they need to be helped as much as possible with their work and in their relationships with others.

Lesson number two tomorrow….

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My daughter has just started at High School…..what a see saw of emotions. For children who have experienced trauma and as a result have attachment difficulties big transitions like this can be very difficult. Whilst she seems to be taking it all in her stride I know adapting to the incredible changes in expectations and responsibilities will have an impact on her.

For all children the huge jump from primary to secondary is frightening and exciting. From being spoon fed everything, having most decisions made for you, being told where to go and what to do and think sometimes – to having to remember where you’re supposed to be, being responsible for your equipment and supplies to take in and out of school, from being the big fish in a little pond to the little fish is a humungous pond – all massive changes rife with anxiety and challenges.

Adopted children have all the more things to contend with. Most often then not they are operating emotionally at a lower age than they are chronologically. So a child of 11 moving up is actually more like an 8 or 9 year old (maybe even younger sometimes) which means they are no where near emotionally ready for the responsibilities and pressure. They also invariably have issues with processing information, memory difficulties, friendship problems and general lack of identity and self esteem. All these things combined with the hormone changes makes for a messy mix of emotions.

And what about us as their parents? The change from knowing the children they mixed with at primary and their parents, to having no clue who they are with and what they are doing! From going into assemblies virtually every week and seeing exactly what they are learning, having a relationship with the teachers to no clue what they are doing and who their teachers even are for each subject. It’s a messy mix of emotions!

So some things I’ve observed so far for my daughter but also for me:

Control – this is always an issue with everything and for everyone, I am convinced. For my daughter she has much more control now of what she does – I drop her off at the gate but does she go in on time? who knows….she is in total control to some extent. Of course if she doesn’t go in I’ll soon know about it. I’ve noticed though that the fact that she has more control, and not just her but my friends children are the same. they are more prone to getting lost, not coming home on time, forgetting what they are supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to be. For most children who’ve experienced trauma control is a huge area of difficulty. They want control as they haven’t had it in their early lives and they don’t trust others, but they also can’t handle the responsibility of taking the control. They haven’t built up the capacity and resilience needed to take responsibility and be accountable for the decisions they make.

For me control is also an issue. As I see her trot off through the gate I have to let go of what might be happening in there. I have to trust that she will be able to cope and also that the school will be able to help her. Of course there are things you can do to help the school in that – communicate regularly and try and raise their awareness to your child’s issues and anxieties.

Processing information – for my daughter she finds it incredibly hard to process instructions and information. So when she’s told to be somewhere for a singing lesson and it’s something the rest of the class aren’t doing there’s no way she can get there without help. Also really understanding what’s expected of her in her homework for example – written instructions from a teacher or teaching assistant are the best ways of getting this information home correctly.

For me as well there’s not such easy access to the school and my understanding of High School is so outdated now as it was 25 years ago that I left school and things are remarkably different now.

One of the tips for processing information is again communication with the school. Make sure you know what is expected of your child and as far as possible get them to help in doing the task required. In our school they do homework clubs every day which is a great help for our daughter and us to be honest, it stops the battles at home over homework and it means she can get the help she needs.

Growing up – for my daughter she is desperate to grow up but terrified at the same time. High School means older kids, lots of swearing (of which she’s horrified at), make up, high heels  - all the things that growing up brings. For our children though again they are not really ready for this stage in their development – our daughter fluctuates between playing kitchens and teachers to wanting to wear high heels and make up, and having a mobile phone is the best thing that’s ever happened to her!

What about us parents too? Having our children go off to High School means we are getting older! Time to grow up maybe? maybe not! I certainly have to consider and remember how it felt to be at that stage of development – still wanting to be a child, protected, safe and cosy but also curious and excited about this whole new world of possibilities.

As I write this I guess I notice that it’s like a see saw – up and down, good and bad, scary and exciting for them and us. So we’ll have to just stay on the ride and see what happens – sometimes we’ll need to go with whichever side is the heaviest at that time, sometimes we may have to weight the side we want ourselves, other times we may have to take our hands off and let them decide!




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We’ve just got back from our summer holiday – a week in the sunny (sometimes) shores of Britain. With five of us camping (motorhome and tent to try and spread the chaos) it was quite challenging at times. For those of you who know the struggle of parenting children who’ve experienced trauma, you will know that holidays can be a very stressful time. I often talk about this adoption journey as a relentless roller coaster of emotions and this week was no exception. However what I want to talk about in this blog is more about something that really came as a revelation to me.

I saw many mothers with their children going in and out of the bathrooms, walking round the camp site and playing on the beach and I started to notice something that is quite obvious, but again gave me more insight into why parenting my children feels so difficult sometimes. What I noticed is this….for most other parents they have taught their children everything – how to do practical things – brush their teeth, take a shower, eat their food. Also how to think and feel many times – attitudes and opinions on life come from the parent initially. This means that as a natural parent you probably don’t even think about why your child brushes their teeth the way they do – as you taught them to do it that way!

But for me it really struck me just how different my children are to me – especially my daughter who is the eldest and also as a girl someone I probably would have taught all those girlie things to in her early years. Sometimes it surprises me why she does and says things the way she does – but it’s just a mish mass of things she’s been taught or picked up from her different homes and parents she’s had.

As we grow up we start to do things slightly differently to our parents and we question why – there may be many things you do differently to your parents now you’re an adult. For example I’ve never been able to emulate my Mothers orderliness and still insist on putting cream on the dining table in the carton and not in a separate jug (much to my Mums disgust) – but these are all things we develop as we grow away from our parents and create our own ways of doing things.
For our children though they’ve not had that strong foundation of being taught by one set of parents – rules, expectations, and practicalities of doing things all become jumbled and diverse. They become self-reliant instead of independent, as they have had to find ways to make things work if they couldn’t fully depend on those around them. This can create tension as you try to establish family rules and ways of doing things.

This revelation has given me new insight and understanding of why certain behaviours irritate me and as a result I’m trying to see things from a new perspective. I also realised today that all the lessons I’ve learnt since we had our children are 10 times more then the lessons I learnt in my previous 38 years of life!!! There’s nothing like parenting to really teach you things about yourself, others and life in general – the trick I guess is to learn, try to change and not  to give up!

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Analyse that copy

Over the summer holidays my kids and I have been around other children more than usual and a few things have struck me. The first is about just how different the family rules are we all make within our homes.  When you are entrenched in your daily routine you don’t realise that you do have rules and ways of doing things – what time kids go to bed, eating habits, how decisions are made – lots of little and big things that actually make your family work.  When you are then around other children you do realise the rules are there. It’s encouraged me really to know that we do have a family identity – right or wrong, good or bad, we have established a way that is unique to us.

The other area and the one that I’m still considering is the difference between us as adoptive parents and my friends who are birth parents in how we analyse our children’s behaviour.  Whenever my children ask something, say something, do something it makes me wonder “hmm what was that about?  I wonder why she said that?, I wonder why he did that right then?”.  It’s struck me that actually that’s not so normal – or is it?  Is it normal to be forever analysing your child’s intentions, feelings, wishes – their inner world?  I know from my friends that wondering whether you’re a good parent is normal, in that we all do that at times – “did I handle that well?, am I doing the best for my child?, am I showing them what a good parent looks like?” – those kind of questions all parents probably ask themselves on occasion.

BUT do all parents constantly think about why their kids do what they do?  I don’t think so.  So is that ok?  Is being a detective around our children harmful to us and them?  What I am considering is how much energy is expending daily in this activity – probably too much!  Do my kids feel the intensity of my wonderings and analysing them?   Am I in fact hindering their freedom to express by constantly looking for underlying reasons?  I have actually come to no conclusion as yet – but it’s opened a train of thought that I’m sure will continue.

So what about you?  What rules and identity does your family have?  Are you analysing their every move to the detriment of them and you?  How can you stay curious about their inner worlds, help them to make sense of their feelings and allow them to be themselves?

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We all have the need to belong to something – whether that’s within our family and friends, or a group of people who understand the things we go through and experience. There’s a theory called ‘The Third Place‘ that psychologists came up with that talks about three environments where we get our sense of belonging. The first place is in our home, the second is in our place of work and the third is somewhere else – that used to be the village hall, the local pub, the church, the hairdressers, the street or neighbourhood. Nowadays it might be the gym, a social club, the pub, a church or for many adopters a support group.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject of belonging and just how important it is to us all. Before we had our children there were lots of places and groups where I felt that sense of belonging. I worked in a large company with many teams of people where I felt that to one degree or another. With my friends and family who really know me there were many times when I just didn’t have to say anything and people understood where I was at.

Since having our children however lots of those places have changed. The first place of within our home has changed, shifted in various ways – some good, some not so good – but everything is different. The same with my work – I now work on my own and I know for many adopters they have stopped work in the traditionally sense to be with their children – that’s a huge change as well. When the first two places of belonging shift in such a dynamic way it can be very difficult to adapt to that change.

Another aspect of belonging that has come up for me recently has been around where I get my validation from – whether that’s externally or internally. In other words do I look to others to make me feel secure and confident in who I am or do I look within myself? When you look to others to make you feel good you will be disappointed at times. People are people at the end of the day (you and me too!). People have a tendency to hurt others and to judge other peoples decisions and lifestyles. When you are swayed by the popular opinion around you it is very difficult to be true to yourself.  

During the adoption journey what other people think and feel can become very evident. Lots of people around you will tell you what they think about how you are dealing with your children and it can feel that you are constantly on show to others.

I’ve come to realise that finding those places where you truly belong is so essential to maintaining your sanity as an adoptive parent. Also being able to build your own internal strength and resilience is a must. So how can we do this? Ask yourself some hard questions if this is an area you struggle with:

1)  Where do I feel the most comfortable and can be myself?

2)  Who is there and what is happening?

3)  Which places do I feel that I don’t belong anymore?

4)  How important is it that people like me?

5)  How can I become more resilient and build my inner strength more?

I’d love to hear from others on this subject as it’s opened a whole can of worms for me!! Please comment if you have any tips or contributions to make on this subject of belonging.

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Balloons in sky

At a conference I was at recently Louise Bomber the author of ‘Inside I’m Hurting’ made a comment on how to help children deal with the difficult sides to their emotions – the anger, the frustration, the shame.  She talked about the fact that when we talk to children about them being ‘good’ or indeed ‘bad’ it sends the message that confirms what they already believe about themselves – that THEY are bad!  As much as we try to say “no that was a bad thing you did, not YOU are bad” the message they receive is that those difficult emotions are too hard for us to handle, and that means THEY are too hard to handle.

It’s started a thought process in me around this whole area of how we communicate with children who have experienced trauma.  As much as we can understand that behaviour modification techniques are not what these children need, we still struggle to get away from the need to make them behave, act and feel in the way we think is acceptable.

As an adult there are many parts of my personality and temperament that I struggle with – the things deemed to be the negative emotions – anger, frustration, jealousy, pride – I could go on.  BUT the problem with making judgements about emotions is that for these children the emotions are so intense and they truly believe they can not control their emotions, when we then make a judgement that being angry is bad – the message again to that child is that they are bad – as they can not control that ‘bad’ part of their character.

I heard recently of a member of staff at a school running a circle of friends group – they were looking through scenarios of when children fall out.  There was one where a child was upset by something that someone had done to him, so he then went and did something back to that child – broke their toy for example.  The member of staff then made the well intentioned comment “of course we wouldn’t do that though would we?”.  Whilst I understand her meaning, for that child steeped in toxic shame who does do those things as a result of intense anger, he would have received the message that he must be such a bad person to do something that no-one else would dare do.

So how can we help children to integrate all the different emotions they feel?  Again Louise Bombers brilliant advice was to use the language of ‘different parts’.  That a child may have an angry part, a frustrated part, a fun part, a clever part, an upset part, a giggly part – lots and lots of parts that make the whole person – just like us!  None are good or bad, they all make up the whole – a human being!

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When we were going through the matching process for adoption I held the belief that keeping siblings together at all costs was a good thing…..I haven’t necessarily changed on this belief but I have seen areas where sibling rivalry takes a new form! All siblings argue I’m told many times by others and of course this is true. I remember fighting and arguing with my brother and have seen many others families bicker and squabble together.

However for those of you who have adopted children, or children who have experienced early trauma in their lives, you will know that the squabbling and bickering can come from a different place. I thought our three children would be very protective of each other and be a tight unit together, which they are at times (if they believe one of them is in danger) but most of the time the need to survive and to be noticed the most overshadows the need to protect each other.

For example, there have been many times when one of them is being told off for something and one of the others will say “I’m being good Mum”, “I’m doing what I’m told Mum”. Even if they don’t say those exact words (which they do a lot of the time) the fact that they go out of their way in that moment to be ‘good’ breaks my heart as I know they are acting out of fear and a need to be liked.

This week we tried a new way to introduce jobs round the house and pocket money. It was something I heard on the radio and a concept we’ve been toying with for a while. So I thought I’d try this great new approach – that they get pocket money for each job they do around the house – BIG MISTAKE – at least the way we introduced it seemed to elicit a fear response in them. I announced the new plan and straight away it became a huge competition to see who could do the most jobs and get the most money. A frenzy ensued which left their father and me stumped at what had happened. Needless to say that plan has gone back to the drawing board.

This incident made me aware once again of how different our children are and the messages they receive from the signals we give out. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to figure out what is going on in their minds and of course they don’t know either. But I have come to the conclusion that the need to feel loved and more importantly liked is a tremendously driving force for them. They all desperately want to be in adults good favour and why shouldn’t they? Our job I guess is to try and alleviate their fears that whatever they say and do they will still be loved and liked, and that the more secure they can feel in their positions in our family the more relaxed they will be about the competition they feel.

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It’s sunny again today and for most people there’s a sense of lightness – spring is in the air and even summer if our past summers are anything to go by. However not everyone likes the sun! There are some of us who dread the days of constant heat headaches, grumpy children wanting to water fight every five minutes and the ice cream vans on every corner.

What a grump! Well my feelings about the sun have made me consider my kids again today. There are so many ‘normal’ children’s activities and events that everyone thinks kids will love – birthdays, rides at parks, trip to McDonalds and of course Easter egg hunts. Well for our children and others like them this kind of excitement can be too much. The rush of adrenalin they feel and the dysregulation it creates actually can be full of fear and confusion for them.

For us adults we can find that really difficult – “we tried to make this a special day for them and they go and ruin it”, “why aren’t they grateful for the treat we’re giving them”. It can create a response in us that actually takes us away from feeling the empathy we need in order to see things from their point of view.

Emotions are powerful things. I know this, as my temper is something I’ve struggled with most of my life too. As much as I know I can control my behaviour the feelings are still very overwhelming and can surprise me sometimes in their intensity. How much more frightening must it be for children who have no skills of regulation, and can not tell the difference between what is designed to be exciting (something pleasurable) to the debilitating strength of the emotions they feel when they are scared.

The other thing that happens of course when we have festivals like Easter is that the normal routines of life disappear. Schools have Easter bonnet parades, Easter egg hunts, Easter services and generally no real lessons as such for the week leading up to the end of term. And Christmas don’t get me started on school and Christmas! For our children of course the change in routine (which can be very difficult for them in itself) combined with the added excitement of presents, chocolate, cake etc., can just be too much to handle and they have a meltdown. That may show itself in screams and rage, it may also be extreme tiredness and grumpiness, it may also be in refusing to take part in the lovely event you’re put on for them and finding ways to sabotage the day.

Just remember this Easter time that for them the excitement can actually be a very scary thing – something that takes them back to places of chaos and confusion. Not everyone likes the sun (or any other thing we’re supposed to like) and for our children sometimes it’s better for them not to take part in the crazy ‘normal’ children’s activities – if it means they feel safe and more at peace! After all what are they missing if they don’t do that thing, when all it means to them is fear and anxiety?

Have a lovely, peaceful, relaxed, fun Easter and stayed chilled.

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Healthy eating

I’m on a new eating plan at the moment – quite a radical one for me actually. It means I have to change my whole approach to food which has been hard. It’s made me think once again about my kids and how many radical changes they have had in their short lives. The fact that the decisions made for them are intended for the best (like my eating plan) it doesn’t mean they are easy for the children.

We say on our training with schools - if you could imagine your life now – where you live, the people you live with, the job you have, the car you drive and imagine someone plucked you from that life one day and dumped you somewhere else the next. The new place is bigger, a better paid job, maybe a more loving relationship, kids that do what you ask them BUT you cannot see or have contact with anything or anyone from your old life. The impact would be long lasting. Of course the decisions to move children are in the main the best decisions for them, but we can never underestimate the impact it has.

Like my new plan, new rules and expectations are difficult to adjust to for children as they move on. Imagine being in different houses with such different rules, characters, personalities, expectations. It must be confusing to say the least! My kids often talk of their other homes and how they did things there – they are aware that we work differently and whilst they have adjusted after nearly 4 years there are still struggles for them to deal with the loss they feel from leaving their other homes.

So how can we help them? Well I’ve come to realise that every time I try to adjust to new ways of eating and living there are times of great resolve and commitment, other times of falling off the wagon and giving in. Our children will go up and down in their struggle to make sense of their lives and why this has had to happen to them. We need to be patient and recognise the immense loss they feel.

We also need to go easy on ourselves. We will get it wrong at times but we can admit our failings and try again – anything worthwhile is worth striving for. The more times we can give our children a healthy view on life the more times they will be able to accept the way things are now – they may never lose the feeling of loss, but they will hopefully be able to see what they have gained as well.


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Tug of war

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on” – Henry Ellis

There are many decisions we have to make every day.  What breakfast to eat, what to wear, what to do with our time, where to go, who to see – loads of things that seem quite small and insignificant. There are also the decisions we take about our attitudes, feelings and perspectives that we will adopt for that day or in any given situation.  There are many decisions on what to let go of and what to hold onto.

Since my life changed dramatically when our children came nearly four years ago there are decisions daily that I have to make and this quote has made me reflect on what those things are – some small and some quite huge and very difficult to do – so here’s some of my list:

Letting go:-

Of the expectations I had of fitting in with my other Mum friends.

Of having time for myself and being able to do what I want to do.

Of my inhibitions and laziness – so that I can enjoy my kids.

Of being a perfect Mum.

Of having perfect kids.

Of being able to control how each day turns out.

Holding onto:-

The hope that what we are doing now will be the right thing in the end.

The new positive relationships through adoption.

The precious moments of each day when my kids make me smile.

The sense of rightness about being a Mum.

My sense of humour.

The understanding that I can control my reactions and responses to their anxiety.


I could actually list a million things I’m letting go of every day and holding onto everyday – what about you?

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There are times when I would love to scream I’M A MOTHER GET ME OUT OF HERE, when my three demanding and needy children can not leave me alone, when they insist on squabbling with each other all day, when they are screaming or singing at the top of their voices, or like yesterday when we are at a restaurant and they can not settle so we can have a nice meal together. Of course a lot of this they can’t help and it is part of the challenge of parenting I guess!

What has struck me today though is about my expectations. The difference with whether I can cope with being a Mum one day and then the next it seems unbearable is my expectations. Yesterday was my birthday and I wanted just for one day to be able to say what I wanted to do and be able to do it. They are high expectations actually when you’re a Mum and especially if you’re looking after them on your own that day. My kids can’t really understand the concept of putting their feelings aside for the sake of someone else – even just for a day. My very unrealistic expectations were that they would be able to put aside their issues for one day!

It’s made me realise of course that they can’t do that, if they could that would imply that they can help how they feel and behave at all. They can’t a lot of the time. They react from their trauma and attachment difficulties not out of spite or malice. They can not control their reactions at the moment. Sometimes I believe they can, but that’s very unrealistic – especially for them to be able to on the exact day I’d like them too. It can be very exhausting though always being the one to have to put your own feelings aside and be the parent they need you to be.

I am more and more convinced that looking after yourself as parents is essential in the therapeutic parenting role. There’s so many day to day issues that demand your energy, patience and putting your needs aside. If you don’t take the time to have your own needs met occasionally you will burn out and become resentful of the needs your children have.

So to avoid getting to the point of having to shout “I’m a Mother get me out of here” take the time regularly to get input yourself, to relax, to watch what you want to on TV, to go shopping – whatever it is. The more often you can do this the more chance you will be able to endure the trials of parenting and gain the prize available through parenting your wonderful children.



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Cats birthday

It’s my birthday tomorrow and …….. I’m sure I won’t cry. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve reached the ripe old age of 42 – not ashamed but I am a bit sad – I am now well and truly in my 40′s…half my life gone already. What it has made me think about though this week is my children.  When I look back on my life I have been blessed. I’ve had a great family upbringing, relatively good school life, bounced around jobs until eventually found my passion. I’ve done many things I wanted to do in my life – travelled, lived abroad, married etc. I can wholeheartedly say I’ve been blessed.

Of course there have been struggles – the road to adoption being one and there are others too. BUT on the whole I know I am fortunate. My Dad died a few years ago now and around this time I think of him more. He was a brilliant man – a big, warm hearted man who loved to laugh and was generous to those around him. I miss him deeply.

Anyway enough of me – I read a blog from a lady I follow – Sherrie Eldridge an author and adoptee. There was a sentence in this blog that I can’t get out of my head – she was talking about other adoptees and their experiences and she said that the majority of them think about their birth mum at least once a day! Not all adoptees feel like this I guess but a huge number do and what might they be thinking? I can think about my Dad often too but the thoughts are good thoughts, they are real thoughts because I had a relationship with him for 38 years. He wasn’t perfect of course but we both knew how we felt about each other. For my children that is not the case.

When our adopted children think of their birth Mum I wonder what feelings it evokes. For me when I think of Dad there is loss and a deep sadness. For my children I’m sure there are many conflicting emotions – sadness, loss, guilt, shame, confusion, frustration – the list could go on and go. Birthdays are especially a difficult time for our children. We know that around that time there will be a struggle for them to deal with all the feelings it brings up, that will change their behaviour greatly.

For us as adults when we feel loss we can rationalise it in some ways and find ways to deal with it – it still hurts but for the most part we can cope with the pain. For our children they need us to help them do that. So if they have to say – “it’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to” – let’s let them!

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“I’m not like other 9 years old”, “I don’t have a normal family”, “I’m not a normal parent”……on and on – our children may say it, we may say it but this week this concept of being ‘normal’ has struck me in two different ways.

Before I mention what those two ways are let’s explore the word normal. It’s always grated on me when I hear people use that word – What is normal?? I heard Jairek Robbins speak last year (son of the American famous coach and personal development guru). Jairek talked about growing up with his father and from a very young age going to his meetings and watching people achieve great things. To him it was normal to see people overcoming their fears – walking on fire, breaking boards and generally attacking life. For him to hear people say “I can’t do that” or “that’s not possible” was abnormal. It’s amazing what we get used to – traits become states and we think that what everyone else experiences is abnormal, when to them we are abnormal!!!

So maybe a better way to look at it is – what’s typical for…..children of a certain age, parenting, families. What’s typical in specific cultures of course is different too. I’m actually not sure much is typical either. When I think about our children and attachment styles for example. You could say they have a tendency towards avoidant attachment but of course they then do something that is much more reminiscent of an ambivalent attachment style! Maybe trying to label children, or say what is normal or typical is irrelevant to their development?!

So the two areas that I wanted to mention in terms of feeling and being ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ are:

Firstly from my children’s point of view. One of my sons has started noticing that he is different to his peers. Whether he has picked up some terminology from adults or whether he really does sense this – he seems to know he is different. I’ve heard many times people say – “don’t treat them differently because it will make them feel different” – BUT I hate to break the bubble on this – THEY ARE DIFFERENT! and they feel different. Is there anything wrong with feeling different?

I have a friend who has a brilliant approach to her children around this area of being different and an individual. Her daughter dresses in the most unique way – whatever way she feels and her Mum lets her express that which I think is ace! That little girl will grow up to know her own mind I’m sure, and not be embarrassed to express her personality.

But for our children they have so many differences about them it must be hard for them to see that as a positive thing right now. They have a complicated history with different sets of parents and experiences that typical children can not identify with. More often then not they are struggling with catching up at school and trying to fit in with their peers when they really want to be playing with the younger children or being at home with us.

The other side of this for me is how I feel about being an abnormal parent and also about my children being different. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me and I can see the positives of this great adoption lifestyle. But sometimes the starkness of the differences being my friends who have given birth to their children – who in the main are at the right developmental stages – is overwhelming. To my great shame this week I heard myself say (it was actually only in my head!) – “I just want to be normal – be a normal parent and have normal kids”. I am embarrassed to see it written down….but it’s the truth. This is not to down play the fact that ALL parenting is challenging and I’m sure those with birth children have their own exclamations they are ashamed to admit to….but for me sometimes the feeling of being different stares me in the face and threatens to destroy my connections with others – especially with my children.

So what can we take from this? For me I know that are no ‘normal’ situations – whether parenting, children, marriages, friendships whatever – we are all different and all our challenges are unique to us. At those times when the reality of how different my children are to their peers is evident I’m going to try to step back and count my blessings – that they are in my life, that I get the chance to help them make sense of things and to trust that I am growing and learning what I need to on this journey. It is tough. There are times when I want to bury my head in the sand. BUT how can we make the best of our atypical family? Definition of atypical – not conforming to type; unusual or irregular – isn’t that us as adoptive parents? It doesn’t make us better or worse than others just different. Let’s embrace those differences, not cut ourselves off from others but be at peace with how our families are made up and encourage our children to grow in the best way they can.



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Since I’ve become a parent I’ve been aware of the feeling of being under scrutiny from others. Whether this is a ‘normal’ feeling as a parent or something unique to adoption I don’t know. Of course none of us as parents know what we’re doing most of the time, at least we feel like we don’t. We may have had great role models in our own parents but still struggle with the confusion that is parenting. Should we let them watch TV or not? Is shouting allowed or must we always be calm? How honest can we be with children about our lack of wisdom on what to say and do? A million and one dilemas we face every day.

So how does this feeling appear? Well as an adoptive parent, when you become a parent overnight as such – scrutiny is everywhere. Friends and relatives look on as your dreams come true of having a family. Well meaning wishes that you will bond as a family, that the children will settle, that they will be happy and that we as parents will be too. Of course that’s great, that people want the best for us as a family but recently I’ve thought of the other side to this surreal journey of adoption.

The decisions we make as parents are often looked at closer then if we weren’t adoptive parents. People see our struggles more maybe. Others think they understand our children and what kind of parenting they need. We ourselves feel our own inadequacies every day and doubt our own decisions. I wonder if the fact that we know the devastation our children have already felt in their young lives adds more pressure to ‘get it right’?

This could also be absolute rubbish and in fact the scrutiny I feel under is all in my imagination?! Whatever it is, it has made me wonder what I can do to feel at peace with the decisions I make and the constant process of trying to parent my children. Do I just ignore the microscopes around me and get on with what I think is right? Or should I take note of what others say and think? Or is it maybe something in the middle? As you can tell form my ramblings the answers are not there yet.

However if you too feel the scrutiny of those around you then here’s some questions that may help you:

  • Is the scrutiny external or internal? In other words are others really watching and judging your decisions or is it your own feelings of inadequacies and doubt?
  • If external how important are those people to you? Are they people you respect and whose opinions you value? Do they know and understand your children?
  • If the above is true then take a step back and ask yourself is there some truth is what they say?
  • If there is then can it add value to your parenting? (we need to be open to change as we grow as parents)
  • If the scrutiny is internal – are you beating yourself up for being human? Or are there things you can learn from your own doubt… can you change in the future?

Either way – whether external or internal scrutiny, think about who understands you and can support you on your journey? Find those people who empower you when you spend time with them, not who bring you down. Especially in those moments of doubt – make sure you talk to people who can identify and empathise, but also challenge you to grow and develop as a parent – for your own sanity as well as for your children’s sake!

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Christmas gift copy

Generosity – you either have it or you don’t, it can not be acquired.

I heard this statement on the radio today and it made me stop and think – is that true – can you learn to be generous or is it something you are born with? Actually you could say that about most attributes we have as humans – can you learn them? Are there things you can do that will cultivate good practice and generate the kind of person you want to be?

They do say we’re a product of our past and whilst I believe our past has a huge impact on us, does it really mean we are stuck with the scars of our past for the rest of our lives? I’ve had a personal experience this last week that has shook me greatly. It’s made me look at myself with a more critical eye than usual – if that can be possible! And whilst I know my flaws and shortcomings, I do know that my heart is in the right place. I try to be the best person I can and deal with the things I say and do that may hurt others – whether with my kids (which I have to repair all the time) or with other adults – which is a bit harder to repair at times.

Also Christmas is just around the corner and generosity is something I always think about when Christmas is here. My Dad was always a generous person – it was something we grew up with – that habit of seeing the need others have and meeting that need wherever we could. Now as an adult and parent myself I want to instil that into our children. But what does it mean to be generous? Is it just about money? Of course there are many ways we can be generous to others – our time, energy, making allowances for where they’re at, thoughts and prayers in difficult times, practical help when needed, and most of all forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a huge thing.  Holding onto bitterness and hurt from the past, whether years ago or last week, affects us in many ways and holds us back from really experiencing life. There are times in my past where things have happened that were very hard to forgive – it is NOT easy and forgiveness does not mean that we are ok with whatever that person did to us. It does mean however that you can accept what has happened, take responsibility for your part if needed, let go of the pain and move on. I have to say being a Christian has helped me with this, as without God I know being able to let go is near impossible – BUT it can be done.

“Holding on to anger and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” – Unknown

So this Christmas time think about those traits you would like to practice more of this year – that may be generosity, it may be patience, kindness, contentment. Whatever it is let go of the things that hold you back – resentment, anger, unforgiveness and move on. Be generous this Christmas time and you may be surprised at what an impact it has on your life too!


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Christmas Tree copy

Peace on earth. goodwill to men….I’ve been listening to a brilliant song this week ‘I heard the bells on Christmas day’ – with a great chorus – “Peace on Earth”. I’ve included a link to this song as I hope it will give you the same feelings of hope it gave me.

Every year I have a one word goal or intention for the year. Last year is was ‘belief’ but for this year it was ‘PEACE’. I’ve found it much easier than setting 20 resolutions or goals that I never keep and feel guilty about not keeping. With one word it’s easy to remember and amazing what happens when you do this.

I was driving to work this morning listening to Peace on Earth and the thought struck me that my one word intention of PEACE has been the main focus of this year – without me really noticing it! It has been a stressful, emotional roller coaster of a year actually, where on the surface little peace has been evident. However when I’ve looked closer I’ve realised that everything I have been learning and struggling through is to do with peace. Here’s what I mean:

Peace for my kids

For those of you who have adopted children you will recognise this – Peace is very rare for them. Ours have struggled with their dysregulated emotions, fears and anxieties, everyday trying to make sense of things they don’t understand. I have learnt an awful lot this year too about my kids through great teachers such as Bryan Post, Peter Littleford (a local child psychologist) and our involvement with CAMHS, to name but a few. All have talked about the great fear and anxiety children who have experienced early trauma feel in their day to day lives. Things that to us would seem tiny and silly can be a great source of stress for them – change in routines, too much excitement, lots of people and noise, overstimulation, incredible rage and anger as well as crippling shame and despair at times.

My aim for our kids is to bring peace in as much as I can, to all of them in whatever way I can – so for us Christmas may be a much toned down affair – where Peace can reign as much as possible, where we can get back to basics of enjoying each others company, being in the beautiful wintery countryside (away from the shops!) and hopefully finding as much peace as possible.

Peace for me

It has also been a stress filled year for me – many changes and emotional processes to work through – the pain of losing my Dad still lingers, the change in relationships, demands and responsibilities weighs heavy sometimes and the constant relentlessness of parenting has taken it’s toll. I’ve tried to set boundaries for myself, be more aware of myself and look after myself more. With that of course has come some conflict and difficulties but I know in the pursuit of PEACE there will be times of courage and stepping up to say this is what I need!

So if you are like me – this Christmas take the time you need to find PEACE, reconnect with whatever it is that gives you PEACE and make sure you live in the moment – fear comes from worrying about the past and the future – the more we can live in the present the more PEACE we will find.

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Children laughing

I absolutely love watching and hearing my kids laugh! Children know how to really laugh. Something happens to us adults after a certain age where we become respectable with our laughter – we smile, make a short sound like “huh” or even a giggle BUT when you see a child really laugh from the bottom of their bellies it’s a different thing. I remember laughing so hard when I was a child that my stomach hurt and no sound was coming out my mouth – in fact I laugh that hard as much as I can now too!

So what’s this got to do with adoption? Well I’ve heard it said before how therapeutic laughter can be. For our children they need to have those moments of feeling like a child again – many had a very short childhood (if at all), they may have been looking after siblings or just having to handle things no child should have to handle. Now the times when they can kick back, laugh and be a child again are essential.

What about you as an adoptive parent? Well again it’s essential to be able to laugh, see the funny side of life and not take ourselves so seriously sometimes. I know parenting in this way can seem heavy at times and the things we think about, read and experience can be heart breaking – all the more reason to be able to see the humour in life to keep ourselves balanced.

In his book A Laughing Place, Christian Hageseth noted that “humor is essential to the enterprise of being a parent. It may be the single best antidote for parent burn-out. Humor plays a central role in parent/child attachment.”

I saw this on the internet recently:

Please read the following: “The opportunity for attaching isnowhere.” Did you read “The opportunity for attaching is no where” or “The opportunity for attaching is now here”? We all saw the same thing but we might have made of it something completely different. You have a choice: you can look at routine situations, particularly those in which your child’s action leads to an embarrassing moment, either as attachment experiences or as its opposite. Whether the experience is an “attaching is now here” opportunity or an “attaching is no where” opportunity is completely up to you.

Laughter is one of those opportunities – the chance to be silly with your children, to be a child again yourself and to connect with them in a way that shows them we understand them. I truly believe this can play a large part in our attachment and our bond together.

The internet is a wonderful source of inspiration – I also found this:

Here’s a letter written by a young adult whom I placed with a single mom. Mom had been so proud when her daughter made it to college. She so much wanted her to succeed good grades that she would get very upset when her daughter’s grades weren’t so good. One day this mom got a letter from her daughter:

Dear Mom:

I am sorry that I have not written, but all my stationary was destroyed when the dorm burned down. I am now out of the hospital and the doctors says that I will be fully recovered soon. I have also moved in with the boy who rescued me, since most of my stuff was destroyed in the fire.

Oh yes, I know that you have always wanted a grandchild, so you will be pleased to know that I am pregnant and you will have one soon. The wedding date is set for the middle of the month and I hope you can make it.

See ya soon.

With Love, Carla

PS. There was no fire, my health is perfectly fine, and I am not pregnant. In fact, I do not even have a boyfriend. However, I did get a D in French and a C in Math and Chemistry. I just wanted to make sure that you keep it all in perspective.

Let’s try and see the funny side this week, laugh with our children and make more connections! Not only will you feel closer but you may also see the benefits to your stress levels as well!


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Being a parent is really difficult at times. There are so many people who have their opinions and you can be swayed so much by what others think. Being the parent you believe you should be and especially what your children need is SO important but very elusive, kind of like the scarlet pimpernel – you seek it here, you seek it there, you seek it everywhere – but can you find it? – that special ingredient that will enable you to just be yourself?

What is it that makes the way you parent unique and the right way to parent your children? You may be able to write a list right now – compassionate, boundaried, fun, calm, engaging – lots of things that make you and your child the perfect match. And you are! You may feel sometimes that you’re not, that you don’t know how to deal with your children, that everyone else has the answers and not you BUT you are their parent.

Of course I’m not talking here about being blinkered and narrow minded – believing that you have all the answers and that your way is the only way. Of course there are times to ask for help, times to learn from others and change the way you do things if it’s not working.  What I am talking about though is that nagging feeling of guilt when others say how much fruit their kids eat. When you see other families playing joyfully in the park and you struggle to get yours to play together for 5 minutes. That feeling of not matching up, not being good enough for your kids can be debilitating to say the least!

I often wonder also what makes people feel they can pass judgement on how others parent their children?! We all do it to one degree or another and I guess it makes us feel better about our own inadequacies if we can pick on other peoples. We all have different values and beliefs on how children should be brought up – maybe from your own upbringing or in deed opposite to what you experienced, Of course times have changed as well – even in my short 40 years of life things have changed unrecognisably. When I was young you would go out all day with your friends playing in others houses, the street or the nearby woods, only coming back when hungry. Now my kids have to be taken everywhere, closely supervised and entertained.

These ramblings this week come from some struggles in my own life with navigating through the parenting journey I am on. I love my kids and want to do the best for them and I am realising that above all I want to help them to grow up guilt free, able to make their own decisions and be in control of their own lives – without feeling pressured by others. My parents were (and still are) wonderful and wise. They knew the things to let me find out for myself and the things to shield me from. I am forever grateful for the freedom and independence they gave me that now means it’s easier for me to take responsibility for my decisons, my failures and my successes.

‘I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed: and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying’. Tom Hopkins

So whatever others feel of my parenting choices and decisions I know I will fail many times and succeed many times – BUT above all I will keep trying to do the things I feel are right for my children. They have experienced so much in their short lives – they deserve to have the best I can give them, and hopefully something of what I experienced from my parents will rub off on them!

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Boy with mother

Having not had birth children myself I can’t say I understand parenting in the sense of how most people have a family. They conceive, have the wonderful (and painful so I’m told) experience of giving birth and then of course going through the normal stages of development with their child. They know their child and the child begins to trust them – through the reinforcement of daily needs being met by their Mum, Dad or primary caregiver the child comes to understand that needs do get met and the world is ok.

I’ve heard many times people say to me “all kids are the same”, “all kids go through ……tantrums, difficulty with toileting, food issues, friendship problems etc etc”. I know where those comments are coming from – very often from a place of trying to identify with us as adoptive parents – endeavouring to normalise what we are experiencing – “all parents lose it sometimes and don’t know what to do for the best with their children” – whilst I’m sure this is true, adoptive parenting IS different.  It’s not better or worse, harder or easier – it’s just different.

Even if I hadn’t read lots of books, spoken to lots of other adopters and spent time with therapists understanding the impact of early trauma on children – I instinctively feel that what they have experienced changes them forever! Children who’ve experienced abuse, neglect, insecurity of lots of moves, initial separation from their birth Mother and Father – have scars and wounds that make them different. I know we don’t like to consider this as humans, we like to believe we are all the same, all have the same chances in life, opportunities, challenges, obstacles BUT we don’t.

Some of us had the amazing privilege of a good childhood with solid parents and a relatively pain free upbringing. Of course it’s all relative – we all feel our own pain and I’m not down playing the effect life can have on any of us. What I am saying is that if you imagine being a child who lives in constant fear, chaos, unpredictability, confusion and can not process any of that – too young to understand and rationalise your experiences, with no-one to comfort you or make sense of it – what impact would that have? How long would it take to ‘normalise’ your feelings? How different might your perspective be to the next child who has not experienced any of that?

And what of us as adoptive parents? Well hearing people trying to ‘normalise’ my experience as an adoptive mother is very difficult to hear. I’m sure actually all Mothers feel that others don’t really understand – how could they? All our situations are unique. BUT when you find people who do seem to understand it’s amazing! I have a few people like that in my life who I don’t really need to explain things to – I can just ring and say I’m really struggling today – they don’t tell me “all kids do that”, they listen, empathise and tell me I’m doing a good job.

I read an article recently about peer pressure – it’s seen as a negative thing but the article was talking about the positive side of peer pressure – peer support. Finding those who understand and who can be there for you is essential. I found a few good resources lately that I’d like to share and hopefully they will help you. Also don’t forget that your friends who you feel don’t really understand, they are trying to most of the time – but how could they really understand? Being an adoptive parent is a different and a unique experience, so is birth parenting – let’s try to remember that and support each other as much as we can – whether birth parents or adoptive parents.

Check out Bryan Post he is a brilliant man from America – many years of experience as a social worker and therapist for children who’ve experienced early trauma. Also, and more importantly, he was adopted himself and is now an adoptive parent. He has lots of free resources as well as a monthly membership to his inner circle where you receive lots of great content to help understand your children and build your own support system.

The other resource is a website called Adoption Voices – it’s a forum, social media site, network of people involved in adoption and provides a great place to read other blogs and connect with other adopters.

I hope these resources prove helpful for you too – let me know if they do and please comment or pass onto others who may benefit from this blog.


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Summer flowers


I’ve heard it said many times that those children who have experienced early trauma in some way tend to find the relationship with the ‘Mum’ figure the most challenging.  Due to the strong bond with our biological Mothers we, as humans, feel the impact of that separation greatly.  Of course separation from any parent is devastating and that impact is all the more if there has also been neglect, abuse and trauma associated with it.

Why do I mention all this now?  Well we’re two weeks into our summer holidays in our home and I am finding it particularly tough this year.  This will be our fourth summer together – the first was a case of survival, I felt quite proud that we got through the summer relatively unscathed (apart form a trip to A&E with one broken arm from a trampoline incident!).  The second year I felt more prepared and organised and it went more smoothly.  Last years again was ok – I don’t remember much about it so I’m assuming it was fine.  This year however is taking it’s toll already.

Why you may ask?  Well I’m beginning to see the point about how children like ours play out their anger and frustration on the Mother figure.  They are different with the Father figure and with other family members and friends.  The expectations they have on me (and probably I put on myself too) are greater.  The need for me to be present, be what they want, be able to show them the world can be safe, is apparent every day.

Maybe as they’ve been with us for more than 3 years now they are eventually letting their guard down enough to really let their anger out with us, maybe the feelings of stability are setting in a bit?  I don’t know and that’s the challenge isn’t it – we don’t know a lot of the time what is going on inside them – and of course neither do they!

So why am I sharing this here?  Well I guess I just wanted others to know out there, who may also be feeling battered and bruised by the relentless journey of adoptive mothering, that they are not alone.  At times most of us feel the struggle of trying to be a parent for the present as well as the past and the future for our children.  I have to remind myself constantly that their anger is not necessarily about me – it’s more likely about the injustice and unfairness they feel about their past before they even knew me.

How can we help them deal with this?  We can of course acknowledge their pain.  We can validate their feelings as much as we can.  We can help them with strategies of how to integrate their experiences, and we can go easy on ourselves when we get it wrong.  There are many times when I reach the end of the day and wonder how much forward we have moved today – or in fact have we gone back 20 paces?  Either way over time we are moving in the right direction.

I will endeavour to take each day at a time during this summer – that was my aim originally – not to think of the whole 6 weeks but a day at a time.  Yesterday was a bad day, today was a fairly good day, tomorrow we will see!  After all the present is all we have real control of.  How we respond in the moment to those expressions of anger and frustration from our children.  Each moment is a chance to do it better.  But again remember if in that moment you didn’t handle it well – then there’s always the next one!

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Baby and mother

As an adoptive mother I’ve struggled for years with the feelings of loss that come from not being able to give birth to children.  Today though I started to re-think my feelings on this whole subject.  Unlike people who experience the devastating tragedy of losing a child to death, or having a miscarriage – when you go through infertility – how different is the loss you feel?  For some adopters they can say without a shadow of doubt that they felt, and still feel, the grief and loss of not having a birth child – even though their adopted child has all their love and attention – the inexplicable feelings of loss are still there and are difficult to understand at times.

In some ways we all experience loss in different areas of our lives.  Those when we have physically lost something we had – like a job, a relationship, an opportunity to develop something in our lives, and other losses are more about the expectations we had of something that has not come about – the potential of something not realised.  Is it more painful to have something and then lose it, or to never have experienced something we desperately want to?

Of course loss is not a rational emotion.  There are many times when I still feel the pang of jealousy and loss when a friend tells me excitedly of their pregnancy, or when someone talks of the joys of babyhood. Even though I was never really desperate for a baby – I wanted a family – those feelings still creep up on me.  Maybe it is the fact that it’s something out of my control, or that there is a deep sense of loss that will always be there.

But what of the gains of adoption?  Whilst I may never know the highs and lows of babyhood, I know too well the pains and joys of the adoption journey.  There may be times when I can’t honesty say our kids have our genes, but there are many times I can see our traits in them.  Whilst we may never be able to pass on our family line, my kids will have all we can give them – now and in the future.  There may be losses that we will never be able to heal from, but the gains outnumber them in so many ways.  I can’t fully understand the loss we feel and may feel in the future, but I can certainly notice and appreciate the gains we have right now.

Maybe for you today – wherever you are on the loss journey – whether you are acutely aware of your loss, it’s hovering under the surface, or well hidden even from you – you can acknowledge the gains – name them if you can and hopefully they can help in negating the loss you may feel.


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