We survived Mother’s Day!

So, today was Mother’s Day. Every year Robbie feels duty-bound to miss his birth mother and be miserable all day because of it, so, knowing that he’s not really aware of when it actually happens, we didn’t mention it at all. In fact, to avoid going out and seeing signs on shop windows etc., I declared today a “pyjama day”. We didn’t get dressed at all and had a lazy day watching TV and playing games. Glen rang his mum while Robbie was in another room (I didn’t ring mine because Mother’s Day in Spain falls on the first Sunday in May) and Robbie never knew about it. We had a lovely day (we’ve actually had a very good week except for “homework wars” yesterday).

We’ve not quite got over the whole Mother’s Day thing as there’ll be preparations going on at school for the Mother’s Day assembly on Wednesday, but at least we’re over the worst. On Wednesday Robbie won’t go to school (as agreed with the school) and we’ll have a day out instead. So who knows? Maybe this year we’ll get off lightly.

BTW: The Observer carried a piece on Mother’s Day for gay parents today. It even included a quote from yours truly. Fame at last! ; )

One less fairy* in our household

Robbie lost a tooth tonight. It had been wobbly for a few days and it finally came off just as he was going to bed. As he mentioned that he should be getting a pound for it, I innocently asked who’d be giving him that pound. He looked at me sheepishly and said “the tooth fairy?” I returned the look and he said “actually, I know it’s you”. I said that I thought he might know and that’s why I’d asked him. I added that he’s grown up enough now to know that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist and he nodded. He almost looked as though he was letting me down in a “I’m growing up and not your little boy anymore” sort of way. It was very sweet.

I’m fairly sure he knows about Santa and the Three wise men too. I guess we’ll be having that conversation in due course. He really is growing up and not our little boy anymore!

[*note: I don’t condone the use of the word “fairy” to refer to gay men by non-gay people. My use of the word here is meant to be humorous. It’s a bit like the n-word, which I’d never use but those who can be referred to with it sometimes use to refer to themselves, taking ownership of it. So there, I’m not being politically incorrect, just taking ownership of the word. Clarification over.]

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.

Thank you

A few days ago I received a series of comments from an anonymous reader. She was adopted and had a very hard time of it. She thoroughly recommends ‘Trauma Release Exercises’ (Google and youTube it for more information) to help deal with trauma and anger. I’ve only had a brief look so far, but I wanted to acknowledge her message and thank her here.

Things keep improving

We’ve had quite a good few days lately. Robbie’s being a lot less defiant with me and seems to have calmed down. This has allowed me to calm down too. One hiccup was our own “Valentine’s Day Massacre”. What a day that was! Robbie didn’t want to take any cards to school (fair enough) but came back with four cards from four different girls! He also came back rather upset because the rough boy in his class (the one who called him names a few weeks ago) punched him in the eye after Robbie made a comment about a girl the other boy fancies. Then one of the girls who’d given Robbie a card actually defended the other boy, whom she’s decided she likes better than Robbie. Big Drama! It’s like a soap opera in that school. And they’re 9. Robbie, as was to be expected, took all this out on me that evening. But I was quite prepared and managed to avoid the issue escalating into a full-blown incident at home. I haven’t taken the news of the punching lightly, by the way: the Head Teacher is looking into the incident after I emailed my concerns.

In the meantime we’re halfway through half term and we’ve been doing a few activities (one day out to visit a castle, playdates with friends…), but nothing too exciting.

We’ve also had contact with Robbie’s siblings. Robbie became very distressed the day before, worried that his siblings may not like him anymore, but as soon as he saw them he was absolutely fine. They played together for 4 hours before the time came to say goodbye. Usually there’s some sort of fallout the evening after contact or the following day, but this time Robbie’s been fine so far.

Tarzan: the ultimate successful adoptee?

We watched Disney’s 1997 adaptation of Tarzan the other day with Robbie. I hadn’t given the story any thought before we rented the DVD, but as we watched it dawned on me what a wonderful example of successful adoption the story is.

Tarzan is, as everyone knows, brought up by a gorilla after his parents die in the jungle. In the Disney film, the young Tarzan struggles with being “different” to all the other young gorillas. He also feels that the tribe leader is disappointed in him for not being like them and Tarzan feels the need to prove himself to him as he doesn’t think he’s good enough. As a grown-up he discovers other humans and how not all of them are good. Tarzan has to make a choice between going to “civilisation” with the other humans (where he thinks he should belong) and staying with those he has grown up with.

The film provides a great opportunity to discuss some adoption issues as part of the story rather than as a “let’s talk about adoption” conversation. I thoroughly recommend it. Oh, and the song “You’ll be in my heart” echoes the feelings of adopters very well.

Back to “normal”

Things have got better. Well, they couldn’t get much worse, could they? Last Friday I had a chat with Robbie and told him that I appreciated the effort he was making not to let his anger get to him. We all know it’s a matter of time until he hits me again and I didn’t want him to be living in fear of what might happen, so I also told him that even though I have faith in him, if he should ever hit me it won’t mean that I will automatically leave the family as a consequence.

At the weekend, homework brought with it a whole load of screaming and a complete refusal to do it. We tried distraction, doing in it short bits, putting it off, helping… but Robbie was not to be moved. In the end he exploded and insulted both Glen and me, and he also threw a toy at me. He lost his iPod and DS as a consequence only this time, instead of the usual strategy of returning them the following day, we told Robbie he’d have to earn them back by doing “good deeds”, such as helping around the house. Poor cinde-Robbie had to do such horrible things as tidying up his bedroom, folding washing and setting the table to earn some points. No wonder he hates us.

Leaving home

What a difference a few days make. I intended to write a post on Thursday afternoon, but never found the time. I was going to write about how last Monday we had a therapy session during which we talked about violence, how both Robbie and I felt about it, and how we’d tried to find something to dissipate it. Glen was away on a work trip for all of last week, so we knew this was a potentially difficult week. Robbie was a complete angel from Monday, really trying hard to be good while Glen was away. I was very proud of him. I also tried very hard to make sure I explained why I was asking him to do this or that, and to keep the tone of my voice soft.

If I had posted this last Thursday, it would have reflected well how we were doing. I was feeling much more positive about our relationship, and I thought we might have turned a corner after the past weeks. But then on Thursday evening Robbie hit me because I wouldn’t allow him to watch a second episode of a cartoon he likes to watch. It was 50 minutes after his usual bedtime, and we’d made a deal about being allowed to watch one episode while he had his milky drink and a biscuit. I was cross and disappointed after all the effort we’d made during the week.

Things got a lot worse on Friday. Glen came back from his trip and we were set for a nice dinner together after being apart for a week. Then Robbie got cross and Glen, tired after a long flight home, didn’t react very well. This only made Robbie angrier. I got caught in the crossfire. I went upstairs to see what was going on and Robbie directed his anger at me. He shoved me just as I’d got to the top of the stairs. I lost my balance and had to grip the banister to avoid falling down. Seeing this, Robbie shoved me again. The first time he shoved me had been a show of anger. The second one was meant to make me fall downstairs. I got very angry and I just couldn’t take any more of it. I told Robbie that every human being has a right to live in a safe environment where nobody hurts them. I said that when he was little he was removed from his birth parents’ home because of this. But now I was the one who wasn’t safe at home, and because of this I had to remove myself. With that I picked up my car keys and left.

I sat in the car for quite a while, shaking and unsure what to do next. I ended up going to the house of our friends who are also adopters. We had a good chat until late. I then went back home and talked to Glen. He told me Robbie had blamed himself for splitting the family up, certain that I would never come back. I told Glen to tell Robbie that I would only come back if Robbie apologised, asked me back because he wanted me home, and promised not to hit me ever again.

I couldn’t face seeing Robbie in the morning. I also thought he should realise that his actions have consequences, so I slept on the sofa and crept out of the house first thing in the morning, before Robbie got up. A few hours later Glen got in touch and said Robbie was ready to talk to me. We met on neutral ground (I didn’t want to go to the house until we’d talked) and Robbie gave me a letter in which he apologised, said he wanted me back, and said he’d “try” not to hit me. I told him how much I appreciated his letter and thanked him for it, but added that just “trying” not to hit me wasn’t enough. I wanted him to promise he wouldn’t do it again. Robbie doesn’t think that he’s able to stop hitting me, so he refused to promise. In his defence, he was very honest about it. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough for me, so I said we’d talk again when he was ready to promise. Glen told Robbie to say goodbye to me. Robbie interpreted this as a “final goodbye” and broke down in tears. He hugged me tight and promised he’d never hit me again. I thanked him, acknowledged how hard it must have been, and said I was very pleased that he had said that, as I really wanted to come home.

We had lunch out and did a few things to keep us distracted. In the evening we watched a film together and had a good bedtime routine. Sunday was a good day too: jobs around the house, out to play with a friend of Robbie’s, games at home and a nice dinner.

I know my reaction on Friday evening was hardly conducive to attachment, yet I really couldn’t take any more. I’m not sure what’ll happen when he hits me next. Because I’m not fooling myself, it’s not a question of “if” but “when”. Robbie knows this too (he said as much yesterday). Hopefully it’ll take a long time and things will have settled again. Then I may be able to communicate to him that hitting me is a blip after a long while without hitting and that I believe he can have another long period without doing it. Fingers crossed, as ever.

Gay bullying

Despite our fears and worries as we went through the approval process, and later on when we were matched, we’ve never really had a negative reaction to being gay parents. Neither had Robbie for having gay dads. However, this has changed. A new boy joined Robbie’s school this year. He’s a troubled boy who’s been kicked out of just about every other school in the area. Robbie told us the other day that this boy’s been saying that Robbie must be gay because he’s got gay parents. A couple of other boys have apparently started doing it too, following the example of this other boy.

We had a chat with the parents of one of the other boys. They’ve become friends of ours since Robbie joined school and I had to delicately approach the matter with them. They were great and didn’t take it the wrong way. They were mortified when they heard what their son had been saying and soon had a chat with him and made it very clear that he’s not to say that again.

Robbie has struggled with it though. He wasn’t able to tell us for some time, and it only came out in the middle of one of his outbursts, when he was making a point about how horrible his life is and how us being his parents only makes things worse. He said he never wanted gay dads and he hates that we adopted him. He hates being different, and just wants to be “normal”.

Research into gay and lesbian parenting has shown that our kids are likely to be bullied because of having gay parents. They aren’t any more likely to be bullied, it’s just that that’s the things that bullies will pick on. So our job as gay parents is to prepare Robbie for it and make sure he knows how to deal with it. Boys his age just want to fit in, so we understand where he’s coming from. If it wasn’t because he had gay dads there’d be another reason for other boys to pick on him. In fact we know that he’s been teased before, and the nasty boy in his class accused him of making up his adoption story and that it was a lie that he didn’t have a mum and dad. We explained to Robbie that he isn’t like everyone else. Yes, having two dads is different, but being adopted is also different. And being left-handed. And many other things. We also explained that one of the reasons he was placed with two men was because his social workers thought he might find it difficult to form a relationship with a new mum because of the horrible things his own birth mother did to him. Of course, Robbie’s not mature enough to understand much of this. He just wants to be like like everyone else.

We did however come up with a strategy if he ever gets told that he must be gay because he has gay dads: if someone does, he will reply that that boy must be half boy / half girl, seeing as he has a mum and a dad. Same logic! Robbie liked this, and was glad to have something that he can fall back on.

The three year pattern

In the middle of one of his outburst the other day, Robbie screamed that he knows that he’ll have to leave our home soon. He turned 9 in December, and it will be three years in April since he came to live with us. He knows he stayed with his birth parents for three years, then spent three years in care before coming to us age 6. He’s spotted the pattern and is convinced that it’ll soon be time to go. Nothing we say seems to convince him otherwise. This may be a big part of the cause for his recent behaviour. We think he’s finding it so stressful to “know” that he’s leaving but not knowing when that he wants to make it happen. Because it’s “better” or maybe easier to know than to live with the tension of the unknown. It’s terribly sad to see him struggle so much with it, yet very difficult to cope with his attempts to do something so bad that he’ll finally be kicked out.