Before we were adopted, we were warned about this phrase: “Oh, all children do that…” Often it is uttered by well-meaning friends and family who want to reassure you, especially when you are a brand-new parent. Sometimes it is simply ignorance. Other times it can be dismissive, as other people, especially other parents, want you to know that your precious child is not as uniquely special as you think they are. None of these are intentionally malicious, but they can be extremely unhelpful all the same.
We know that no one else will view Little Chick as we do. Sometimes we are guilty of wearing rose coloured glasses, but I would like to think that it is more through optimism than naivety. We, mostly, know our son’s flaws and foibles. We, mostly, know which ones are age appropriate. We, mostly, know which ones are the result of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as neglect, abuse, and domestic violence. We, mostly, know when he is being a little sod. We, mostly, know when he is hurting because a sensory experience has triggered a regressed memory. Unfortunately, to the casual observer, all these things look the same.
As Little Chick’s behaviour has deteriorated over the holidays we are hearing “Oh, all children do that” even more. Honestly, it’s beginning to grate. We have realised that many of his peers are similarly acting out, in equally frustrating ways. And, like Little Chick, these behaviours are borne of fear. The difference is that many of his soon-to-be school friends are imagining the worst, the inconceivable, and, ultimately, the most unlikely scenarios. Little Chick’s fears are based on past experiences: his fear is of history repeating.
Little Chick has been physically and emotionally pushing us away as a survival technique. It is textbook self-preservation. Because he believes that starting school means living there, with the teachers. No longer calling us his family and our house his home. To our fully formed adult minds this seems like something of a leap. Little Chick’s logic is flawless. The parallels between transitioning from nursery to school and moving from foster care to his forever family are obvious – but I didn’t see them (it was Grandma who made the connection).
We have gone to great lengths to show Little Chick pictures of his new school, just like his foster carer showed him photos of his new house. We have created a Starting School Book, just as we prepared a Welcome Book for his foster carer to share. We have spoken of what a typical day might be like, just as his foster carer showed him the video of us and our daily routines. We have read books and completed activities to prepare him for starting school, just as Little Chick’s foster carer prepared him for having two mummies and understanding (as best he could) what adoption means.
It’s no wonder Little Chick is dysregulated. To him, it must seem like our promise to be a forever family who will keep him happy, safe, and well has been broken. A promise that his birth parents similarly reneged on.
So, we have banned all mention of school until it is necessary. Our focus is on him and doing whatever we can to keep him happy, safe, and well. To assure him, if possible, that we are his forever family and forever really does mean always. At the same time, a couple we know – also same-sex adopters – have separated. While we have not explicitly said anything to Little Chick, he is astute enough to pick up on this. By his simple arithmetic, if it can happen to them why not us? And I’m not sure how we can convince him otherwise, so the possibility hangs there, feeding his fears of rejection and abandonment.
Yes, all children do that. Sometimes. But rarely for the same reasons. It is our duty to honour Little Chick’s past and champion his present and future. We need to acknowledge that adoption is trauma and it is lifelong.