So, National Adoption Week looms yet again and this year the theme is ‘The Adopter’.
Who can adopt?
Why should someone adopt?
What skills do you need to be successful at adopting?
Like @adoptionblogfox I asked my girls what made someone a good adopter.
9 – Someone who can be a good parent; someone who can keep you warm and safe; someone who buys you nice things; someone who keeps you clean; someone who makes sure you have enough to eat.
7 – They need to be trained (to make sure the kids aren’t taken away again); they need to keep the children safe; they need to take the children places to experience new things
When we decided to adopt (after many years of thinking about it) we naively thought we had all of the necessary skills needed. I was a teacher (so spent all day looking after a number of children) and was used to looking after someone else’s children as I had 4 steo-children. My husband obviously had 4 children of his own and was a proven parent.
However, none of these things made us good adopters. If anything the training process made us realise that we hadn’t got everything right over the years.
When we went through the preparation groups and really looked at the effects of trauma, we realised that some of the behaviours we had seen in my husband’s children were due to their feelings caused by the divorce of their parents. We realised that we hadn’t really acknowledged what they were going through and should have handled situations a lot better. Therefore our initial training actually helped us to parent our existing children better, before the arrival of the younger ones.
As for being a teacher – again with the initial preparation groups I realised I wasn’t making enough effort to really understand the behaviours of some of the kids that were sat in front of me every week. I began to question my own teaching practice and look at some of my students in a completely difficult light.
The one thing we did learn you have to be as an adopter is honest and open. The initial process is there to ensure that you understand what you are letting yourself in for and that you will be able to cope. In our first meeting with social workers we laid on the table all of the skeletons in our closets – everything that we thought might stop us being successful as new parents for a child. What the social workers did was turn all our fears into strengths:
Losing 3 of our parents to cancer – made us understand grief and loss
Knowing we had made bad decisions as parents in the past – made us the type of people who could reflect on our actions and think about other ways forward/how to do things differently
Having suffered/suffering from depression – again made us more understanding of mental health and showed how we monitored our moods and actually did something about them when we felt ourselves getting low
There were loads more, but I won’t bore you with the details. Despite all the negatives I threw in we were still deemed to be suitable adopters and we went through the preparation groups and social worker meetings.
The prep groups are not always easy to sit through. We were always given worst case scenarios that could (and did) frighten off prospective adopters that didn’t realise that adopting a child wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. The social worker visits weren’t always comfortable either, although we found the process to be very cathartic. We were encouraged to talk about our childhoods and how we felt as children. As we had lost 3 of our parents I always had to make sure tissues were present as I recalled memories from my childhood and my thoughts on my parents and their parenting.
The other thing to be aware of is that, as my husband had been married before, his ex-wife and children all had to be talked to as part of the process. I was wracked with nerves as this happened, but I needn’t have worried. We’ve never asked the kids what they spoke about, that is their business, but clearly I didn’t need to worry as much as I did.
A word of wisdom to any prospective adopters out there. Your social worker gets to know you better than you know yourselves. We were planning on adopting one child, but I’ll never forget our social worker saying “I’ll be honest with you – I’m recommending you should adopt siblings!” She was right. This was the better option for us. With 4 ‘adult’ children already one child might have felt quite isolated. Also, we were used to dealing with sibling squabbles etc.
I had the most doubt about our suitability on 2 occasions:
- On the way to panel to be approved as adopters
- On the way to meeting our girls for the first time
On these occasions I was convinced the panel would see through me (as it was, they were more concerned about my husband and whether he would treat adopted children differently to his birth children – he doesn’t if you’re wondering) and that the girls wouldn’t like me (but thankfully they did).
Our adoption journey made us both look at ourselves and our family unit differently and if anything it even improved our relationships with the existing children. It was scary, terrifying, cathartic and exciting in equal measure.
Did we find the first year or so of having the girls at home easy?
They tested us to our limits. There were occasions when I genuinely thought we’d made a big mistake. But that period didn’t last for ever and even through that I would have fought tooth and nail for my girls.
4 years on we are as ‘normal’ a family as we can be. We all integrate as a big family unit and the girls have been accepted by everyone. I have become a better teacher through a better understanding of trauma and now champion our ‘disadvantaged’ students in my school.
Adopting isn’t for everyone, but it is the best thing I ever did. My girls went from being quite ‘feral’ when they first arrived in foster care to the gorgeous daughters I now have. I am so proud of them each and every day. Although we still have issues with the eldest in terms of academic achievement that really isn’t important to us. The fact that they are caring and loving and polite is much more important. They are being given opportunities that they would never have had and are making the most of every one of them.
And as for being open and honest – this continues after you adopt. You have to be honest with yourselves about mistakes you make along the way and learn from them. You also have to be open and honest about their past. It is part of who they are and should never be belittled or taken away from them. We regularly meet with the girls’ foster parents and always talk to them about their birth families when they ask. Although they have taken on many of our characteristics and mannerisms thanks to nurture, nature will always be present, from how they look to what illnesses they might be susceptible to.
Adopting changes you. It makes you more determined and you aren’t afraid to fight for them every inch of the way. This might be fighting against the education system or simply the preconceptions of others.
My girls are just as much a part of our family as anyone else is and I wouldn’t change them for the world.