Have you ever wondered how having adopted children is different? Or perhaps you are thinking of adopting children and trying to find out what the future holds as a parent? If you’re in either camp, you’re in the right place! Curious to find out more myself, I had a chat with one mama who blogs over at Tooting Mama who candidly shares her journey of raising adopted children here.
Could you share a little on your adoptive journey and why you adopted?
I also had a couple of miscarriages, which made me think that having a viable pregnancy was not going happen.
We talked about adoption, and we have experience of adoption in our family. When we decided to proceed with adoption route, it felt like the right choice. And having our own biological child was less important to us than having a family.
Once we decided to adopt we got in touch with our adoption agency TACT, who to agreed to take us on as potential adopters. They were brilliant, I had a social worker who guided me through every step of the way.
The adoption process helped us to clarify what sort of family we wanted. Early on we decided that we wanted to adopt older siblings (between the ages of two and five).
There are a number of stages in the adoption process. The First4Adoption website has a really good explanation of this. The process can seem lengthy and at times intrusive, for us it included:
• Taking part in preparation classes, undertaking a home study, putting forward referees to support our application and being CRB checked and having medical checks.
• I met with local adopters, because I wanted to find out what it was really like to be an adoptive parent.
• We volunteered with a local Cubs’ and Beavers’ troop. This helped us to get experience of looking after children, as well as looking after friends and relatives kids
This might seem like a long drawn out effort to become a parent but looking back that wasn’t the hard bit, the real hard work started when the kids arrived!
What is the process of getting to know each other like?
Getting to know our kids? I can only liken it to going on the biggest blind date of my life!
Once we had walked over the threshold of the foster carer’s house there was no going back. We had to make this work, because two little lives depended on it! The day we met our children is etched in my memory forever. I remember pressing the door-bell and two little voices started shouting Mummy! Daddy! Mummy! Daddy!
This was the start of our introductions with our children. This lasted about week and during this time we gradually took over the day-to-day routine of looking after of our children.
Once everyone: the children’s social worker, our social worker, the foster carer, the family finding social worker and ourselves, agreed the kids were settled, we were allowed to take our children home.
We packed the car with all their clothes, toys, bikes and book and came home with two little children. Our new life as parents had begun.
What was it like helping your children adjust, and could you share some of the things you did to smooth the process?
Being a contractor I was able to stop work, I was off work for a year. My husband applied for adoption leave through his firm and given three months leave.
Adopting two older children is really hard work, and for those first three months we needed needed two pairs of eyes, two pairs of hands and two brains to cope! One of the things we did straight away was establish a routine. My son started school and my daughter playgroup. This gave them structure to their life.
My adoption agency ran a course called Adoption Changes, which I did. It gave me some really good coping strategies. When I needed it, I asked for help from my social worker, GP, the school which put our family in touch with Place2Be, and amazing charity that does fantastic work with kids in schools. A good post adoption support package is essential.
How does love grow with adoptive children?
I can only talk from my own experience and I will admit it was hard at first. Adopted kids will test you to your limits. And it’s really easy to take this personally, think that they don’t like you and you are no good at being a parent. But that is not true.
At the back of our kids’ minds they were thinking (unconsciously) we [parents] don’t really love them, would we won’t stay, we will abandon them like so many other people already have.
The sense of insecurity and instability would come out in their behaviour, it’s was the only way they could express themselves. As a mum, I took the brunt of this! But, we persevered.
I remember writing down a list of their gestures, such giving me a flower, getting a little scribbled note, a picture on a torn scrap of paper. In the early days this helped so much when life just seemed like one long tantrum interspersed with exhaustion! Then slowly, it started to happen, I started to fall in love with my children.
What are some of the unique challenges that come with raising adopted children?
Our kids are, for most of the time, in a constant state of anxiety. As a children’s mental health social worker explained to me.
Because of the trauma and neglect adopted children find it hard to self regulate – calm themselves down, so they will, very quickly tip into a meltdown.
We learnt what the triggers where, and put in place coping strategies, such as sticking to a routine, keeping family life calm as possible, trying not to be spontaneous, preparing in advance any changes to their routine – like going on holiday.
Over time their anxiety has lessened, but we still have our meltdown moments! Both kids have crazy amounts of energy, they don’t stop, every moment they are moving and they are very loud!
And what have been some of the learnings?
A big learning for me is that asking for help is a sign of strength not a weakness. Parenting can be tough, and we all need a little help along the way.
I am amazed our capacity to love. We were complete strangers, put together, having to make it work as a family. It’s incredible when you think about it.
Adopted kids are so resilient, they have come through so much adversity, but with stability and love, they can truly flourish.
I love this talk by Angie Hart, Making Resilient Moves, she’s a family therapist who adopted three kids with learning difficulties, and talks about resilience in adopted kids, and how as an adopted parent we can do so very much for our kids.
What have been some of the highs….?
Definitely meeting our children for the first time, that is still an amazing experience, and one I relive in my head often. There are days I still can’t believe I’m a mum.
Some of the high’s can be small – a family night, watching my kids in a school show – they are so chuffed they have a Mum and Dad who can come and watch them perform. Oh watching them sleep – I love doing that!
Because we’ve missed so much of their early lives – first words, first teeth, first walk, I treasure milestones like watching my daughter write her name for the first time, helping my kids read. My son is devouring Harry Potter, and this was once a little boy who was a real reluctant reader.
And the lows?
One of the biggest lows was probably when the kids first arrived. They rejected me as their mother figure, and bonded with their Dad first. That was hard to watch and experience. But it was understandable.
I was their third mum after their birth Mum then foster mum. I had to work hard to earn their love and trust. But it happened, and now they are fully bonded!
What are some of the myths about adoptive children you would like to debunk?
Many myths still persist around adoption. So long as you can give a child a loving home, can commit to them and their needs, have bundles of energy, bags on empathy, are flexible (in your attitude) and can adapt, then you can probably adopt.
You can be single, in a relationship, be straight, be gay, transgender, be older, you can probably adopt.
I have heard people say that they’d be required to give up their job to adopt. That’s not true. It depends on how much care your child will need. I worked after my adoption leave and we had the same challenges as any working parent.
You don’t need to own your own home to adopt, you just need to demonstrate you can provide a loving, stable home environment. If you are unsure whether you’d be eligible to adopt, then take a look at the First 4 Adoption interactive quiz.
What words of advice would you like to pass on to other adoptive parents starting out on their journey?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Adoption is an emotionally overwhelming and at times an exhausting experience. We all need help, and asking for it doesn’t make you a failure.
Boundaries, adopted kids need boundaries. For us this was simple stuff, being respectful, good manners, listening to each other, being kind to each other. The boundaries have helped us become a family. We are also rigid about meal times and bed times – adopted kids thrive on routine!
Take time out for yourself. The early days are utterly exhausting. It’s important, no crucial, to have ‘me’ time. It doesn’t matter what it is, a yoga class, a massage, a walk, going out for a coffee. Make a date with yourself and keep it!
Anything else you would like to add?
If you are thinking about adoption I’d say go for it but find out as much as you can.Talk to other adopters, read blogs, check us out on twitter – we’re all happy to help. The Adoption UK forum is a great place to ask questions – you’ll get really honest feedback.
Don’t let the adoption process put you off. And of course you’ll have fears, queries and questions – that’s normal. Adoption has been the best thing we have ever done. I am totally proud to be an adoptive mum, but truly, I am just a normal mum, and that’s bloody fantastic!