Support network

Physically and mentally, I’ve been feeling a little fragile lately. I can sense that I’m not quite right; I’m not working at full capacity. This happens every so often, but this is the first time since Little Chick has been with us.

Little Chick’s presence has complicated things. It’s not so easy to slope off for a duvet day when a three-year-old is vying for my attention. And even when I do manage some alone time, I’m usually too wracked with guilt to enjoy it immediately. Theoretically, I know that it is essential self-care, but it’s another thing to willingly accept it.

In the past I have suffered in silence. Now, I am better at recognising that my ‘down’ days are just part of who I am and no reason to punish myself. Rather than struggle alone, I now willingly ask for help. It took me many years to realise that my health impacted my wife’s life and that I need to consider her needs as well as mine when seeking help. Fortunately, I have realised much quicker that Little Chick needs me to be as well as possible; he needs my best me.

In the almost year that Little Chick has been with us we have utilised our support network to varying degrees: occasional babysitting, adult conversation, grownup advice. This week we have used our support network well: for the first time, we have admitted that things are tough and that we need some hands-on help, above and beyond the usual emotional support they provide. Little Chick will be enjoying his first solo visit to my parents’ house. He has stayed with Grandma and Grandpa several times now, but he hasn’t stayed there alone.

Everyone is excited. Little Chick wasn’t given much notice of his future excursion (we didn’t want to unsettle him), but he is bouncing. Already he is reeling off his wishlist for the next few days: soft play, walk the dog, play outside, play doh, painting, cars, walk the dog, Grandma’s treat tin, big boy bed, walk the dog (again). Grandma and Grandpa are looking forward to some quality time with their only grandchild. We are excited by the chance to sleep well, catch up on work and jobs, and enjoy some downtime. I can’t wait to pee unsupervised.

But I am also feeling strange. I am not anxious. I know that he will be happy and safe with Grandma and Grandpa and that they will provide everything he needs in our absence. But I will miss him. And I feel guilty that I am not on top form and that the need to reach out to our support network has arisen.

Our support network bears little resemblance to the one we mapped in Stage One of the adoption process. Friends and family have been understanding, supportive, and patient, but we grossly underestimated the problem of distance. Both sets of grandparents live 90+ minutes away, which doesn’t lend itself to quick visits or impromptu meet-ups. Instead, we will make the most of overnight breaks and short stays. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is and we will make the most of it.

We have made new friends, primarily other adopters, and they have been a welcome addition to our existing support network. Our ‘real life’ friends have offered companionship for us and Little Chick. Our online community has also been a vital support, readily available night and day. This is one group that we only briefly considered when predicting our support network and certainly the one we underestimated most. Other adopters don’t need a preamble or explanations. We can just be. It’s easy. It’s a relief.

Our biggest surprise/disappointment has been the lack of friends from nursery, both for Little Chick and for us. Since the children attend nursery on different days at different times it is rare to see the same parents regularly. Moreover, we use the earliest and latest drop-off and collection times so people aren’t keen to dawdle; real life beckons. We are looking forward to Little Chick starting school and becoming more involved with village life and our local community. Though socially anxious, I thrive in well-chosen good company and look forward to making new friends and embracing new opportunities.

During the adoption process, our social worker praised our willingness to ask for help, while recognising that this wasn’t easy and had taken years to achieve. Equally, we want others to see us as part of their support network. Again, this is easier with other adoptive parents. I’m conscious though that we’re not the support we once were for our friends and family. The focus was always on who would help us, but little thought was given to how our changing circumstances would affect others. Notably, we can be less spontaneous. We weren’t exactly spontaneous before, but we had the possibility to be, if we wanted. As we all settle into family life, I aim to be a better friend to those I have overlooked these past twelve months. Going forward, I aim to better support our support network and extend the same kindness to them, offer them the support that has sustained us.

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