Be brave

Often, I describe Little Chick as brave. Sometimes I say this to other people; usually I say this to his face. He is not a confident boy, but he tries incredibly hard at everything he does and shows enormous bravery every day. I’m not paying him lip service; I try to demonstrate to him how he’s been brave. When he struggles to leave us in the morning to enter the classroom, I remind him that he’s done it before and commend his bravery. Rather unfairly, I have now come to expect bravery from Little Chick.

This is wrong of me. Not just because he faces new obstacles every day and must bravely overcome them. But because I am not leading by example. I am shirking my adult and parental responsibilities by living a timid life, playing it safe. My personality is not disposed to big, bold gestures, but I am determined to be brave so that I can begin to show Little Chick that the benefits of bravery continue into adulthood. That adults are practising what they preach and not just upholding unrealistic expectations of our younger generations.

So, today, I’m taking the first step. I have been writing this blog for almost two years. I have published it online and then hidden it away several times. I have shied away from putting my writing – and myself – out there. But that changes. Today.

(You may notice that my post is published on Friday rather than Wednesday this week. Bravery is something I have been building up to).

I commit to sharing my writing. Leaving it online, making it available. What’s more, I will tell people about it. OK, it might be a while before I tell some friends and family, but I will inform others within the adoption community.

I have been more cautious than usual of publishing posts lately as several adoptees are voicing their anger on social media. They are rightly angry, and it is their right to share this in a public forum, but I haven’t always appreciated the way they have voiced their opinions. I have felt they identify and scapegoat adopters for what they have said or done. I haven’t approved of this, but I haven’t said anything. I have ‘liked’ the bold posts of braver adopters who have challenged this, but I have remained an observer. My silence has made me complicit. I want my son to grow up able to discuss his thoughts and feelings about who he is and where he comes from without fear. Without fear of reprisals from others. Without fear of upsetting me and the Other Mrs Reed Warbler. Without fear that we will reject him if he wants to learn more about his birth family.

I need to be brave and face the challenges head on. I don’t want to place myself as a target, but I need to do more to encourage all sides to engage and learn from each other. I want to champion voices within adoption. I want people to hear all sides of the complex stories.

For my son’s sake, I vow to be brave.

The importance of kindness

Partly it’s the political climate, partly it’s the general mood of the adoption community online, but I have found kindness in short supply lately. Not necessarily with close friends and family but as a general trend in society and especially on social media. This became even more obvious when the hashtag #PositiveTwitterDay began trending on 30th August. It seems like I’m not the only one in need of a kindness boost.

I try to be a positive person but my depressive inclinations mean that I can succumb to overwhelming negativity. For several years, the adoption community on Twitter buoyed me, but it seems that we are (almost) all just managing to stay afloat at the moment. The hashtag #PositiveTwitterDay buoyed me, albeit temporarily. But I realised that I need to do more to show kindness to others. I especially need to model this for Little Chick.

One of my favourite writers is Roald Dahl. I love his whimsical tales and fantastical language, but his most memorable quote does not come from his extensive body of work:

“I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage, or bravery, or generosity, or anything else… Kindness—that simple word. To be kind—it covers everything, to my mind. If you’re kind that’s it.”

We’ve always said that when Little Chick starts school, we want him to be able to meet his academic potential, but it’s more important that he meets his potential as a person. And, despite some recent behaviour that would seem to contradict this, he is kindness personified. He is love on legs. I hope that as he starts school, he will remember that and show kindness to others. I especially hope that others will show kindness – in its various forms – to him.

I have identified five things that I do (and will continue to do) with Little Chick to model and encourage kindness, to teach him the importance of kindness.

  1. Showing others that you are thinking of them. Often the smallest gestures mean the most, or certainly they do to me. A short note letting me know that I am remembered and considered can improve my mood drastically. So, I have been encouraging Little Chick to make and send pictures to (especially older) relatives to let them know that he cares and is thinking of them.
  2. Encouraging empathy. Generally, Little Chick is behind his peers regarding social and emotional development. But he has empathy by the bucketload. I want to keep this topped up and, while watching TV and looking at books, encourage him to consider how others are feeling. Those with no words or language are especially helpful for this as he is less likely to say what he thinks he should say. He has only recently begun enjoying ‘Timmy Time’, the Aardman Animations creation for younger children based on the adventures of Timmy the lamb, nephew of Shaun the Sheep. The lack of dialogue allows him to narrate things for himself and propose his own theories of what is happening and how people are feeling.
  3. Prompting giving. When Little Chick has outgrown something, we encourage him to give it to someone else. His clothes are usually donated to his younger cousin while toys are gifted to various charity shops. We emphasise that others need them more than he does now. We appreciate that for his age and background it can be hard to share, let alone give things away, but we try to remind him how he feels when he receives things. He is often the recipient of outgrown clothes from his older cousin; from this transaction, he seems to understand how his younger cousin feels when he too receives clothes from his admired older relative.
  4. Making connections. This grew out of life story work and has been a regular activity with Little Chick. It is much easier to be – and want to be – kind when we recognise what we have in common. Making connections can be tricky for young children and we use paper chains to visually represent what we have in common. Writing interests, skills, features, etc. on the strips, we try to use different colours for each person. By the end of the activity each person – whether it is three or thirty – is connected by things we have in common.
  5. Helping others. Little Chick loves helping and doing jobs. Some children would thrive off the praise they receive for this but Little Chick struggles with this. Instead, the endorphins he producers from aiding others (the ‘helper’s high’) is its own reward.

As Little Chick starts school this week, I am reminded that children can be labelled at school so quickly. The sporty one. The quiet one. The brainy one. The naughty one. The musical one. The funny one. I hope that Little Chick, among his other accolades, is known as the kind one.

Instagram

Lately, I’ve been questioning my decision to have social media accounts associated with adoption. Initially, I used Twitter as a prospective adopter so there were no moral quandaries about sharing a child’s story. But Twitter has – for me, at least – become a bit of a toxic environment lately and I’ve turned to Instagram to connect with fellow adopters.

Like on Twitter, I have a locked account, meaning I must approve any followers. Obviously, this doesn’t guarantee security – it is important to remember that all social media platforms carry risks – but it does make my content more private. It also means that I am more discerning about who I follow, choosing accounts that edify or educate, rather than just building an unmanageable horde of random people to follow.

I try to ensure that I only share photos of Little Chick from the side, behind, etc. and not face on. Partly, it’s a security measure; partly, it’s respecting that he might not appreciate me sharing some of his story. I hope that he – and others – can see and understand my intentions. He is an amazing little boy who deserves to be championed and celebrated. Our life is generally happy, but mostly mundane. And I think it’s helpful for others, especially prospective adopters, to see that.

My biggest concern with Instagram remains the same, the reason why I’m so late to the party. It’s a bit false. All social media can be fake but on Instagram it is especially easy to view things through a lens (terrible pun intended). When I started posting I vowed, to myself anyway, that I would be realistic, posting candid shots rather than staged shoots. And for the most part I have succeeded. Ultimately though, it is just a snapshot, a tiny glimpse into a life. I try to use the text to give a balanced view, explain that the angelic smile captured in that instant was followed by a frustrated fist coming my way. I don’t lie but I guess I’m not entirely truthful. It’s not that I’m fibbing, more that I’m misleading (mostly unintentionally) by omission. I want to give a true representation, but I also want to be fair to Little Chick. I need to be cautious in not oversharing his story. But equally I don’t want people to think I’m a pompous, egotistical bore. It’s a tricky balance.

If you’re an adopter, adoptee, foster carer, or birth family on Instagram and want to share your account please message me your details. I want to use Instagram, as I have done Twitter, to learn from others and broaden my understanding of adoption. If you have any suggestions for other accounts or hashtags to follow please also share.

Twitter

Twitter has long been my preferred social media outlet, especially when browsing as an adoptive parent. The adoption community has been one of my greatest sources of hope, support, and information since starting my adoption journey and I am a great champion of the website to new and prospective adopters.

Like all social media, it does have its dark side though. Recently, the tirades and vitriol espoused on there have left me feeling anxious and unhappy. Largely, this is not adoption related, more a reaction to current events and a reflection of the mood in Britain right now. For the sake of my sanity I have chosen to step back from the platform, but that has left a void. To some extent, I have (tried to) filled this with Pinterest and Instagram: fluffier, prettier, lighter alternatives. They have served a purpose, but they cannot satiate me in the way that Twitter does.

Admitting to other adoptive parents that I was finding Twitter tough was met with support. One of the things I most love about the community on here is that people will share their experiences, frankly and fully, reassuring me that I am never completely alone. Some kind souls even urged that I don’t give up on the site, that I would be missed. I valued this and it affirmed why I would never give up Twitter easily.

However, I have decided to take a few steps back, in the name of self-care and self-preservation. I am limiting the time I spend on my account, using my iPhone settings to alert me when my allotted time is up. I have muted various words and phrases that cause general and specific angst. For now, I am muting adoptee voices. This feels like an awful thing to do, but I am struggling with the anger and despair. I empathise, but I cannot understand. I need to step back and reengage when I am stronger and more able to listen kindly and keenly. I have also stopped following several accounts – mostly non-adoption related – that offer little in the way of edification. Marie Kondo’s simple question of “does it spark joy?” could well be applied to Twitter.

After all this, I am still hopeful, because amid the doom and gloom there are shining examples of why the Twitter adoption community is so precious. @DanielHugill is gorgeousness personified. The warmth that radiates from his shared stories – of school, of family, of religion, of his allotment, of his life generally – soothe my soul. @Suddenly_Mummy is one of the most insightful and considered adopters I have met. I value all her opinions on a range of matters, but especially education, and squeal with delight when she unveils a new blog post. @adoptionblogfox responds well to the hot topics on Twitter, candidly sharing her own views and experiences. Often these are developed further through her excellent blog, allowing greater discourse and engagement.

I’m enjoying spending more time on other social sites, but I anticipate that as my mood improves, I will gravitate back to my adoptive Twitter family. I will continue to manage my use carefully and champion good practice. Perhaps I will be bolder – saying more, rather than just observing for the shadows. Probably, I will be grateful for the solidarity and community it offers me.

Connecting with other adopters

The much-used African proverb asserts that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. If we take this to be true, then it is even more essential within adoption. During Stage One of the adoption approval process, prospective adopters are asked to map out their support network. Typically, this starts with close family and friends and extends to wider family, members of the local community, and to friends you see less often but know have parenting experience or skills. As time goes by, it becomes apparent that friends and family are a great start, but more expertise is needed. Some people are fortunate to have friends and families who fully engage with adoption, who gen up on trauma, attachment difficulties, and accept that you will parent therapeutically, even when that seems foreign.

Even before having a child placed with us, we are acutely aware how vital expert support is. This is not to diminish or dismiss the help and support provided by our close friends and families, but they don’t always get it. How could they? We are just getting our heads around the basics after a few years of intensive reading and learning. How could they be well equipped after just a few passing conversations or one morning of training information?

First-hand knowledge and experience seem to be crucial in this instance, but how do you make those necessary connections? Especially when you’re spending so much time completing the approval process, looking for matches, or better preparing yourself for the imminent arrival of a child or children.

Our first connections were people we met through our local authority training, people who were undertaking approval at the same time as us. The training days were intense and our lives were laid bare to strangers: this fostered an intimacy that normally takes years not mere days. We could share our hopes and dreams, but perhaps more importantly, our fears without hesitation or judgement. As people began to be matched this support withered. Those with children needed a new source and different type of support. As the last in our training group to be matched we were left behind.

But we learned quickly that networks evolve and change according to your needs. For us, Twitter has been the greatest support. The anonymity the social network affords you can be its greatest asset, though in time we may encourage meeting up with adopters in ‘real life’. But through Twitter we have been able to have very frank discussions that would not have been possible with local adopters (due to bias) and ‘taken advantage’ of experienced adopters who know more now than we will perhaps ever know. Facebook can offer the same advantages, if you join the right closed groups, but we have removed ourselves from that social platform for security reasons.

Once a child is placed with us, we are conscious that we will develop our network organically through the connections made through nursery, school, activities, etc. but it is unclear how appropriate this will be. It may be our responsibility to educate these new contacts on attachment and the impact of trauma so that they can better help us support our Little Chick.

We have made several connections through work, both of us discovering we have colleagues who have adopted or know those who have. These have been handy contacts to have, especially when they signpost you to other connections, including professional support from specialist therapists. It has been our experience that adopters are very generous at sharing their own stories and experiences to help other children, other families. We have also made contacts through attending training events locally and nationally: while attending an event hosted by our local authority, we discovered even more colleagues and mutual friends who had experience of fostering and/or adoption. These are people we may not call on often, if at all, but it’s reassuring to know that there are other people in our daily lives who get it.

Support groups have also been useful for us. As a same sex couple, we have attended an LGBT group for adoptive parents. Likewise, we have made good use of New Family Social forums, through our local authority membership. In time, we will develop this further, considering attending additional support groups and events, such as training and family meet-ups. Locally we have not discovered support groups for just adoptive parents, perhaps because we haven’t been matched yet, and this is something we are considering starting in the future. If we can’t find our tribe, we will make it!