I dreamed a dream

Family life’s not been easy lately. Robbie’s been all over the place for the last few weeks. We’ve had lovely days and also terrible ones. As a consequence I’ve also been all over the place: enjoying his company one day, despairing the next. Despairing about his future, his ability to control his anger, his ability to form relationships…

And then I had a bit of an awakening. I’ve realised I can’t keep on living like this. I’ve done a lot of soul searching and concluded that the reason I despair when Robbie explodes, hits, kicks, punches etc. is that every time he does any of those things he shatters even more the dream I had when we started the adoption process of what our family life would be like once we adopted. It’s been nearly three years now. For the last 2 years and 11 months I’ve been telling myself that we’d get over whatever trauma, behaviour, anxiety… that we’d find a way to get through it all and at last we’d reach our happy ending. Now I realise that happy ever after is not coming any time soon. It may never come. At least not in the way I imagined it.

I was so naïve. We brought a heavily traumatised boy into our home (although we didn’t realise the extent of his trauma at first) and therefore brought trauma into our lives. We tried everything we could. We keep on trying. But it’s so hard, so often. The violence doesn’t help at all, of course. There are days when I remind myself that 9 year-olds are a handful for every parent, and everyone gets through it. Hell, we’ve got the teenage years to come, and God help us with that! But I know an adopted child is not like any other child. Yes, to a large extent Robbie’s behaviour is like many other 9 year olds’. But other kids haven’t suffered the trauma he has suffered. Other kids don’t believe themselves undeserving of love and blame themselves for what happened in their early lives. Other kids don’t doubt that the parents they live with love them unconditionally, or fear that one day those parents will disappear, like everyone else in their past: birth parents, foster carers, siblings…

So, even though I’ve been fighting not to, I’ve finally accepted that this life of unpredictability IS our life. That Robbie may never get over his trauma. Certainly not in the next few years. To protect myself from feeling down every time our future seems less and less like the happy family life I pictured, I must adjust that picture. We live with a heavily traumatised boy. We love him very much, but he’s very difficult to live with. The best way I can describe my frame of mind is to compare it to having a child with a disability. Nobody hopes for a disabled child, but many parents have to learn to live with one. I need to accept Robbie’s emotional/behavioural disability and adjust my expectations accordingly. A parent of a wheelchair user wouldn’t expect their son to run a marathon, just like a parent of a mentally handicapped child would not expect their child to get a PhD. Likewise, I can’t expect Robbie to let go of his trauma and the way he feels. I can hope for progress, albeit slow. But just like sometimes we take a few steps forward, sometimes we also take a few steps back.

Although this may seem very negative, I think it’s for the best. A pessimist is never disappointed. I think this attitude is helping me cope with his blow-ups a lot better than I have in the past. I see them as an expression of his “disability”, and therefore easier to accept and deal with. Hopefully they’ll also help me to be less disappointed when they happen. If I don’t feel the disappointment maybe Robbie will be able to feel less like a disappointment himself.

Just because I think it’s for the best doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Ever since I had this change of outlook I’ve also been feeling very low. I recognise that as a grieving process. Grieving for the family life I’d imagined: my naïve happy ever after. But I’ll get over the grief and accept the situation. Maybe I should have done this months or even years ago. Maybe this way I’ll also learn to really enjoy the many good times that lie ahead.

Dan Hughes says that one of the main thing that needs to happen in his PACE approach is acceptance. I thought I was accepting of Robbie’s behaviour, but now I see I wasn’t really. Maybe this is true acceptance. I now must accept Robbie as he is, with his trauma, his disability. This acceptance, however, doesn’t mean that I won’t keep on trying to have as many good and positive times as we can. “I dreamed a dream in time gone by…” The dream I had is gone. I now wake up to reality.