Friday, 24 June 2016

Therapeutic friendships...?

Let me start by saying that a few months ago I knew only very little about therapeutic work myself, may it be with children or adults. We attended a 10 weeks long training course that focused on Attachment, Child Development, Trauma, Loss, Behaviour and similar heavy, but much needed topics. We learnt about the PACE model (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy. click on word for more info), which we are now implementing with various results.

The most important aspect of this new way of parenting for us as a family of four is around empathy. A concept that everybody believes to have in abundance and practice it well when a disaster happens like a loved one dying or an unexpected natural disaster. What I am quickly learning is that it is a different kind of empathy that we need to practice when it comes to our very damaged children.

The 24/7 ability to let myself be attuned to their feelings and emotions in order to understand the deeper and underlying issues that manifest in them stealing food, lying, 'being naughty', aggression, lack of attention or willingness to learn in school and many more. Most of the time when I am able to reach this stage of attunement with either of my boys (regardless of the length of time) I can see the REAL problem and often times my immediate anger is replaced by compassion and yes, empathy. The kind of empathy that does NOT try to fix the problem for them, does NOT try to be patronising, does NOT try to tell them 'It's gonna be OK', does NOT make predictions about the future, does NOT judge or threaten, does NOT offer solutions of any kind and does NOT start any sentence with 'why don't you just...'.

Instead, I sit down with my son on the floor, holding his hand, looking into his beautiful and incredibly sad eyes and let him know that I am just as gutted for him that he feels that way. I try to offer him comfort when he is the most vulnerable, utterly confused and very very scared. I try to show him without words that I am committed to this relationship, that I love and care about him a great deal and no matter how much he acts out or hurt us, he will never receive what he expects (fears) to receive from us!

And guess what! It's the same for adults, too!

Yes, I am aware our adoption is still in very early stages; yes, I know (or hope) with time it will get better; yes, I am sure you could recommend a book I have not heard of; yes, I know you have the best intentions in mind; yes, I am sure your friend's friend's friend had similar problem (though I doubt very much it would work for us simply because different people are involved); yes, I appreciate you are just unsure of what to say or how to help and no, you don't need to say ANY of these to us.

I try to be as polite as possible when I say: These DO NOT HELP!

Just like in the video what we, exhausted, discouraged, bruised and concerned parents need is you to climb down into the pit with us and empathise with our situation silently. With distance it can be tricky I know, but then perhaps letting us know you love us, pray for us/send positive thoughts is really the only thing you can do if you want to help. It may look insignificant to you, but more is not always better. Just like we can't fix 'IT' for our children (whatever 'it' refers to) you can't fix it for us either!

Connection - on the other hand... Now THAT could be a solution! Imagine the possibilities...

Thursday, 16 June 2016

When the Honeymoon is over...

Technically it's only been 2 weeks since Snoops and Goofs moved in with us permanently, but I am fairly certain the Honeymoon period is long but gone forever!

We were told this 'will definitely happen soon' (professionals), 'might not happen for a long time' (fellow adopters) and 'it might never happen' (naive, but well meaning friends and birth parents). Well, it's safe to say the Pros won this round!

On one hand the Pros (Social Workers, School, Play Therapist, Clinical Psychologist) keep saying it is a good thing, because it means they are settling in well and feel comfortable enough to drop the fa├žade and be themselves not to mention they feel safe to express their feelings...etc. And we are expected to rejoice over this!

What they conveniently forget is that they see the boys for an hour every week, but I have to spend the other 23 hours with them every day! I have to pick up the pieces of a challenging day in the new school, I have to stand between them when they are having a full on fist fight or when they are still not asleep at 10pm.

As they settle in more we gradually get to know them better and we are now seeing some patterns and occasionally we recognise a trigger BUT recognising a brewing meltdown and actually being able to prevent it are 2 very different things as you can imagine.

Yesterday started off on a bad note; one kid attacking the other for seemingly no reason. After the cries and shouting stopped we tried to have a civilised breakfast. Snoops wanted to go to Breakfast Club while Goofs didn't. Together we reached the compromise that we will go for the last 10 minutes so both boys can have their wishes at least partially granted. I was walking them to school and from the moment we closed the door Goofs was running away. Snoops was playing well his coping mechanism of  'I am good today so you will have to love me and hopefully you will not send me away' by holding my hand and chatting happily about everything and anything. On the surface it looked like an idyllic picture of a well behaving child, but his over compliance comes from feeling insecure and terrified about his future with us. It breaks my heart every time he does this! He keeps painting things I LIKE and present them as HIS favourites only to see me smile then he asks if I am pleased with him and no amount of reassurance is enough to let him know we will love him even if he hates the things I like...

But back to yesterday morning. Goofs is presenting a 'naughty boy' behaviour by running away from me and doing the opposite of anything I suggest or ask. The school is on the same side as our house so there is no reason to cross the road, but yesterday it did not matter to him and before I could blink he crossed the road without even looking. Naturally my heart stopped and did what every parent would do in this situation: lost my cool and shouted after him to come back. By this point Snoops was getting agitated saying 'it's not fair he can run freely and I can't' and wanted to jerk his hand out of mine to run after his brother. In the meantime Goofs was looking at me with a dare in his eyes and ran across the road a few more times and because he was looking at me he ran in front of a car!

Me (while fighting back a heart attack and an unhappy boy) tried to get closer to him but each time he ran away even further. Thank God in that very moment Hubby appeared from nowhere with a car. He jumped out and went after Goofs while I walked Snoops safely to school. On my way back from school I saw Daddy and Goofs walking hand in hand towards the school. As soon as we got closer Goofs was hiding behind Daddy and refused to even see me or hear what I wanted to say. The shame/embarrassment was so visible in his behaviour that all my anger flew away and all I wanted was to hug him and kiss everything better. But naturally he didn't want to have any of it! I even offered the option of going home with me instead of going to school, but he chose the school and went in. We both kept our cool and in a warm and quiet tone we explained that we have been worried about him, that we love him and that we are not angry with him. He even managed to look at me for a second or 2 and was able to accept a hug from 'his evil new mother', but you could see in his head he was so confused about our reaction. He genuinely expected shouting and physical punishment and if I am honest he wasn't far from receiving the formal from his terrified mother...

Hubbs and I walked back to the car while he filled me in. Goofs ran off into a side street and was hiding there. We already knew that he doesn't like me or accepts my authority (or care for that matter), mainly because in his head it would make him unfaithful and disloyal toward his beloved Foster Carer, while he adores his new Daddy since he never really had one. But we know the Honeymoon is definitely over when he is rejecting Daddy as well and runs away even from him! It took hubby a good 10 minutes to reassure Goofs that he is not angry and will not hit him or shout at him if he stops running. In his little head he figured 'I didn't want to go to school so I disobeyed her so there is no point stopping now and wait for the punishment so I just keep running.' It's actually very logical and makes perfect sense if you think about it... Except that is not a safe solution for anybody, but of course when he is in that stage you can't reason with him!

Fast forward to 3.15 pm he was so happy to see me when I went to pick him up from school. I grabbed his hand and said that from now on this is how we will walk on the street. He just looked at me and asked 'is it because of what happened in the morning, right?' Damn right kiddo! In the house we tried to have a conversation with him about the morning but he would not have any of it. Following the instructions of our SW we made sure he can't leave the room and we tried a non threatening way. We knew it failed when he was using all his force to hurt us as he tried to escape so Daddy had to restrain him, which resulted in him shouting how much he hates us and this house. When hubbs let go of him he ran and hid under the table, but he kept on peeking to see how we react. We stayed on the floor and eventually he calmed himself down and came back to sit in Daddy's lap so we could have a chat. After much nudging he told us he didn't want to go to Breakfast Club because the day before a boy had been nasty to him. THERE! Finally we knew what the real issue was! It only took a whole day of freaking out on both his and my side, an hour on the phone with the SW and lots of tears and punches!

We agreed that 'tomorrow we will not go to Breakfast Club but have a nice family breakfast in the house'. Guess what was the first thing he said to us this morning...

Yup! Daddy walked two very happy kids to Breakfast Club!

Friday, 3 June 2016

They moved in. Now what?

We had a relatively short Introductions; only 10 days from First Contact to Moving in! I wrote about the first meeting here , in this post I try to summarise the ride so far.

Gradually we spent more time with the boys each day. I can't emphasise enough the brilliance of the Amazing Foster Carer who ensured everything is going smoothly. She prepared and served us dinner so we could share a meal at 4 pm with the boys in her house, while she was in the kitchen. She handed over the reward charts to us to start putting on the stars. She handed over school assignment books to us right away when we picked them up from school and kindly showed me behind the scenes what to do with them as I had no idea at first! When it came to bedtimes, somehow the packs (bathrobe, face clothes, jammies, pull-ups...etc) just appeared next to me so I could do them straight away!

Over the 10 days we got more 'mummy and daddy' and less first names. But we also started to get more 'can we get back to FC's house now?', which we took as a good sign considering that they are very attached to her. Each day we did more driving and it culminated in us going to their place early morning to bring them back to us and after dinner drive them back to do bedtime routine, then do a proper weekly shop (plus some very child specific items) and have dinner at 10 pm at a friend's house who blessed us with meals over the week. We started to experience the saying 'in adoption/fostering the days are long, but the weeks are short!' and we completely lost touch with the outside world.

I'm sure for every parent these are obvious regardless of how you became a parent, but these are some of the lessons we have learnt in week one:

  • I replaced the make up kit in my bag with Star Wars plasters and spare Lego parts plus you can't have too many tissues or hand sanitizer with you 
  • You need to divide the day into 30 min segments
  • You eat/pee/drink whenever you can not when you need to
  • For the sake of family dinners we eat with them at 4 pm and we have a supper after they are asleep (which usually involves lots more spices)
  • DS keeps them calm in the car (that is if you remember to charge it first! Otherwise the whole world will know about your blip). This is something the Amazing FC developed and it works for now. 
  • Thank God kids have no sense of time. You can give a 10/5/3/1 minute warning any time. 
  • If it's complicated for them, it M-U-S-T be complicated for me too (or so they think and therefore are surprised if I can fix it) 
  • You need to keep a list of who likes which fruit/veg but don't get surprised if they steal from each other's plates
  • Cakes make everything better and worthwhile 
  • Always ask them to 'try a wee-wee' before you leave any building 
  • You can't enjoy a grown-up party any more; you keep wondering if the boys are OK.
  • News? What news? Is Trump a president already???
  • Pumping (farting) is and will always be funny. End of.
  • The toilet seat is always up! :( (and should be sanitised every 10 min)
  • There is always some background noise now (from tablet or wii or DS or radio or telly) and you start to worry if it stops!
  • Tastes and likes can and will change all the time, sometimes twice within half an hour (good luck feeding them the same food twice not to mention buying presents or just something simple as a new duvet cover!)

After the first day we were naturally overwhelmed! To be perfectly honest, if the SW had said that this placement was a mistake and should be stopped for good we would have been very upset, but eventually we could have accepted it I think. But not after the second day though! Now I can't imagine our life without these 2!

So, yesterday they moved in permanently. To make the goodbye easier for the Amazing Foster Carer we followed her lead and did it as fast as we could. All their belongings were in bags ready for us to drop in the car. She hugged them one last time while we signed the paperwork in the dining room to officially CLAIM them and with that we were out the door. Because she was doing an amazing job the door shut behind us right away leaving a sobbing woman in the house and 2 excited boys for us to love and raise for the rest of our lives!
(we tried to paint their story; they were happy with their FC (black),
mummy and daddy spoke to the SW (yellow) and now we all live happily in one house and
the FC is happy for us as a family and comes for a visit)

We expected tears, but the boys were more preoccupied with their DS. We didn't plan anything special for today, just a 'normal day in' in their new house as per the SW's instructions. I am happy to say the day was progressing much better than expected by anybody. We played outside in the garden, picked up and observed yucky snails, jumped on the trampoline, painted inside, had lunch and snacks, played with their toys (score one for mummy who can imitate better shooting and explosion sounds than daddy!) and generally had a very relaxed day. Last night I bought a selection of hams and salamis so they can try which ones they liked. The conversation went like this:

Me: This is pepperoni.
Them: Yay, we love pepperoni more than anything! (this should have been my first clue!)
Snoops: I don't like spicy.
Me: It's not spicy.
Goofs: I like spicy.
Me: Fine, these are spicy ones.
Snoops: I don't like this one, but I like the one Goofs is eating. (but of course!)
Goofs: I don't like this one, but I like the one Snoops is eating. (shock!)
Needless to say for dinner we made pizza with the very same pepperoni only to find out they don't like pepperoni and they never did...

Bedtime was approaching fast and we were a bit apprehensive. We were strictly following the Amazing FC's routine and it all went surprisingly well. I read the bedtime story, kissed them goodnight and stayed until they were both asleep.

Around 10 pm when we were going to bed we heard crying. We went to their bedroom. Snoops was crying is his sleep. My heart broke for that little one yet again! When hubby stroke his face he woke up and said that he doesn't want to stay here and wants to go back to the Amazing FC's house and that he doesn't want to be adopted. Daddy stayed with him and ensured him that we completely understand his feelings and he stayed until Snoops was fast asleep again.

Today they woke up at 5.35 am. We woke up because they were fighting over something. When we asked Snoops he said he had a very good sleep last night, he loves his bed and us! Ummm....