Christmas can be a stressful time for all of us. But, heightened emotions and changes in routine can make it particularly challenging for adoptive families. Here, Mum of two, Hannah, shares her tips for surviving the festive season…
Pretty much all the adoptive parents I know talk about Christmas (with a mix of dread and weary experience) as one of the most challenging times of the year. It is certainly that way for us. At times it has been absolutely horrendous. But on balance Christmas 2016 was the best of our Christmasses with the children so far. I’d like to share some of what we learned in the form of a Christmas survival plan.
Spending Christmas Day On Our Own
Not travelling (other than church – see below) or having guests meant that we were better able to set the pace according to what the girls could manage. We didn’t have to worry about accommodating anyone else’s wishes or expectations. This was a massive improvement on previous years where we’ve tried to please the extended family. We’re doing this again this year.
Last year’s main Christmas presents to the girls were Kindles and I have no idea how we survived without them.
Being able to give the girls an hour’s Kindle time so we could all have a breather from each other was a massive sanity-saver. They even voluntarily did maths on them! I am a huge fan. This year I think giving them some new apps (as we do for long journeys) Another hint to anyone considering buying Kindles for children is that the customer service is fantastic.
We’ve had Charlotte’s replaced for free, within 48 hours, with no hassle, three times!
On Christmas Day we did stockings and four presents for the children. The stockings happened first thing, which for us is always a manageable 7.30am. They were pretty simple: chocolate, sweets, bath bombs, bracelets with times tables on, chewable bracelets, glue and sellotape, and whoopie cushions. Once opened, the contents were decanted into named ziplock freezer bags to avoid any ownership disputes. The stash lasted them until at least the end of the holidays.
For their main presents, we have previously had issues with them becoming overexcited and overwhelmed. Too many things to open tends to turn the whole thing into a consumerist frenzy where it was just about opening the next thing without appreciating anything along the way. So last year (our third Christmas with the girls) we applied a rule I’ve read about previously but felt was quite draconian: ‘something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read’. My rule for reducing my children’s Christmas present stress? Simplify. Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. Done. Surprise! It worked!
It turns out this is brilliantly liberating and much more manageable for all concerned. No massive gifts: we gave them each a book or two, a doctor’s set, a new school bag each, a scarf for Joanna/dress for Charlotte, and a doll (I hate dolls, but Joanna’s therapist was adamant they should have them, so there we are). And that was it. Of course they have other stuff from friends and family, but we spread those out between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day so it all calmed down a little bit. We could probably improve this further by specifying that they will be opening one or two presents each day after Christmas to stop some of the pestering about the things that are still under the tree. We’re using the same principle this year.
Colour-in tablecloths have become a bit of a tradition for us – they come out on Christmas Eve and provide a bit of entertainment while they wait for Christmas dinner and any other lulls when they can’t decide which of their presents they want to play with and are ‘SO BORED’. They don’t get completely finished so could probably stay out for the whole holiday, though they do get a bit grotty if they stay on the table for meals for a week. (You can find these tablecloths easily online).
On the 27th we all stayed in pyjamas all day. The girls were allowed to substitute lunch for chocolate and sweets from their stockings and have unlimited screen time. I finished reading a book and EVERYTHING. This day felt like we were edging closer to how we want Christmas to be. So we did it again on the 30th. I’ve already scheduled a pyjama day in again for this year.
Learning from our mistakes
Those were the successes. But we’re learning from some failures too. The things that follow were the most stressful bits of last Christmas. This year Pete and I have hatched plans to manage them better.
Church is a part of our family’s life and last year we went to the 50-minute service on Christmas morning. The girls struggled with it and didn’t want to join in the singing. Pete struggled with their attitude. I struggled to be all things to all people: backing Pete up, quietly managing Joanna’s strop, and giving Charlotte the sensory input she needs (bouncing/patting/back-scratching) to be able to stay in the zone.
This year, we need to all discuss our feelings, needs, and expectations to make this work better. The plan is to go to our parish church, which isn’t our usual church but is the one attached to the girls’ school. They’re familiar with it, it’s walkable, so no meltdowns in the car, and it’s a quick nip home to cook the Christmas dinner.
In 2016, Boxing Day was our day for the Christmas visit to the in-laws (an hour’s drive away) and was the worst day, both in terms of behaviour and general horrendousness. When Charlotte had screamed at me for half an hour and my mother-in-law was eager to get us all to the table despite seeing very clearly that we were in the middle of an incident, I just walked out, intending just to sit in the car for a bit, away from the screaming. But I could still hear the noise from the driveway, so I drove round the corner and had some time out there instead.
Last year I said we needed to rethink how we arrange our time with them – maybe visiting them before Christmas and asking my mother-in-law to reconsider putting her best crystal glasses and special crockery on the table and then us all stressing about whether they’ll get broken. This year we’ve said that instead of going for a Christmas dinner as usual, we’ll go in the afternoon and stay for tea. That should be a more relaxed, buffet-style arrangement – less stressful for all concerned.
We are big fans of using schedules to help us all through school holidays. They are a particularly big deal in the summer, but they’re also helpful at other times of year. With all the upheaval caused by school nativity rehearsals and mufti days, we’ve decided to start the schedule this week so that the girls can write on stuff that’s happening at school too.
Hannah & her husband, Pete, adopted Joanna (9) and Charlotte (7) five years ago. There’s a longer version of this blog plus lots of useful tips and resources athannahmeadows.com.
Emma and Andy adopted two siblings, ‘Nibbles and Bubbles’, four years ago, when the children were one and two years old respectively. Emma shares their story…
I am not going to tell you that adopting siblings is easier than adopting one. It isn’t. When my husband returned to work I was scared. I felt woefully unprepared to cope with two children vying for my attention. I needed eyes in the back of my head, a nose like a sniffer dog, seven pairs of hands and was utterly exhausted by it all. My life felt like an endless roundabout of nappies, meals, tidying up, fights, supermarkets, naps, bottles, laundry, nappies, trying to understand their sort-of-words, more tidying, another meal, more nappies, baths, stories, bed and more.
When Bubbles went to pre-school, I suddenly experienced how much easier one child would have been. Not just a little bit easier, but soooo much easier. There just seemed more space, more time, more of everything. So I can understand why you might be thinking of adopting one child. Two is harder, certainly in the early days. But there are upsides – things that you can only get if you adopt siblings.
They had been with us just a few weeks and Nibbles was upset. We had no idea why he started crying in the car, and even my most soothing rendition ofWe’re Going on a Bear Hunt wasn’t working. Two-year-old Bubbles turned to him and said “hold my hand.” She stretched out towards him, touching fingers between the car seats in a moment of joyful tenderness I will never forget. The impact was immediate. His tears stopped and he smiled. When everything else was strange, unsettling, weird, when their new home didn’t feel like a home at all, they had each other, they had love and that helped them feel safe. Their love for each other is massive, unbounded, magical. With siblings you get to share a love that goes to the moon and back.
Their lives and the people in it have changed so much in the few years since they were born. They’ve experienced trauma and separations. But one thing (and one person) has always been there for them, always been part of their lives. We were kind of late to the party, but Nibbles and Bubbles have always had each other. Their history started and continues together. And through this history, they have learnt that you can trust some people to be there for you whatever.
“What did he say?” I would ask her. When Nibbles spouted sentences of jumbled consonants and vowels, when I had tried all the combinations I could think of and was running out of patience, Bubbles would often know what he meant. She was our go-between and not just for translation. When Nibbles was confused and upset in those first wobbly weeks, in a way we could not mend, a big hug from his sister was all that he needed to know that things would be okay.
Nibbles and Bubbles are inseparable (until they upset each other). They invent make-believe places and games that I cannot always fathom. Together they play, they explore, they invent, they create, they cut and stick and learn about sharing, about being mean, about saying sorry. It feels safer when they are together, because they look out for each other, so I relax and give them leeway to grow to their capabilities (rather than being limited by my fears). Sometimes their gang of two isn’t open to me, and yet as much as I pout, they are growing faster together.
With a big sister, Nibbles has run to keep up. Sometimes literally, sometimes with his words, with behaviour, eating, skills and play. He wants to copy her and she loves to help him with his reading, or zipping his coat up, getting washed or teaching him new things. After watching her go in for years, he couldn’t wait to start school, to do the things she has done. And one day, as I keep hinting, he will be faster than her.
We always wanted a family, Andy and I. By adopting siblings, we created a ready-made family overnight. It wasn’t easy, but it’s what being a family meant to us. We were a little family and they were a little family, and then we became a new family of four. Within six months we had got over the early wobbles and were finding our feet. But when they ask you at Matching Panel why you want to adopt siblings, don’t say “because it’s quick”!
They share DNA. They don’t look the same, yet there is something in their make up, a connection beyond skin, beyond looks, beyond shared experiences. They will always have someone to talk to about being adopted (I might want it to be me, and it might not be), someone who understands what it is like to be them. Nibbles and Bubbles know they belong with each other (and now with us), and they get each other in a way that only siblings can.
Being with each other feels like home.
The way they play with each other is infectious and before you know it, I am shouting “giddy up” as we canter to school on the back of imaginary unicorns. They might be double trouble, but they’re also double the hugs, double the happ tears of pride in their achievements, double the joy, double the giggling at jokes and double the frustration too. With a child in each hand, I feel balanced, rooted through their touch to my life at a whole new level. They have multiplied the love and laughter in our home many, many times over.
It wasn’t until I wrote this list, when I sat down and really thought about all the magical and incredible ways that these two lives, these gorgeous people have added to my family that I really understood what it was that we did when we adopted siblings. I wouldn’t change it for anything. They are my family and I am their mummy and I have never been prouder.
It’s almost 7 years since Poppy and her husband adopted two young brothers. She shares their story in our latest sibling themed blog.
First-time parents and four months into our adoptive placement, excitement and jubilation at finally having the family we longed for – and without any warning, a knock at the door. That familiar face, our bushy-haired social worker .Was he coming to check on us, or just for a cup of tea and slice of cake? He likes my cake.
It’s as if everything is moving in slow motion as the words come out of his mouth. Are we hearing this correctly? It’s only been four months since our little boy was placed into our arms and there it is… Birth mother is pregnant again, actually very pregnant. The baby will be a full sibling to our son. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
“I will leave you to think about it, and you can call or email me in a few days,” he says. He finishes his cake, drinks the last drops of his tea and heads out of the door with a smile and a wave to our gorgeous bundle. We look at each other. No words, just look. No words are spoken between us because we both know that there is only one decision. We always wanted two children and once we realised that giving birth was not in our future, we never imagined full siblings would be possible. In terms of timing, this is much sooner than we’d ever expected. Our first son is only a few months old and here comes number two?
“Don’t email him until tomorrow” my husband says. “Make him think that we at least needed to think about it overnight”. Is this actually happening to us? Excitement, giggles and little bit of “what the hell are we doing?” grabs hold of us over the coming couple of months, but the decision has been made. We will be a family of four.
Our second son arrives only days after our first son’s first birthday. New parents, two children under the age of two. Oh boy! Talk about baptism by fire!
I’d be lying if I said that it was all plain sailing from there, but at the end of every exhausting day, with both our babies sleeping peacefully in their cots, we knew that we’d been blessed in a way in which we had never imagined possible. That feeling has never left us.
Our two boys may be full siblings, but are as different as night and day. They look very similar, and baby brother has overtaken on the growth chart, but they have completely different personalities and are both fantastic in different ways. Our first boy, our “Doodlebug”, is a deep thinker, cautious and thoughtful, confident and social. Toys and games do not interest our Bug. Whatever room you are in, Bug has to follow. Daddy’s “man drawer” isn’t safe since he has learned how to use a screwdriver. If it has screws, it’s been taken apart and the insides fully investigated. Son number two, our “Buster”, is exactly as his name describes him: rough and tumble, always wearing the experiences of the day on his school jumper, a real foodie with a taste for the unusual. Mustard on scrambled eggs? Absolutely! Wasabi-covered peanuts? What’s all the fuss about? He held open the door for a classmate’s mum just yesterday and I heard the words come out of his mouth “After you, beautiful lady” So full of life and energy, our gorgeous, cheeky boy.
These two boys completely adore each other, but still fight over every trivial matter. It’s exhausting, but we never question our decision. They are together and the four of us are a family. When Doodlebug hurts himself, Buster runs to get a cold flannel. If it’s treat time and Mummy opens the biscuit barrel, Buster will always make sure he takes two, one for him and one for his big brother. They whine, they argue, they pinch and poke when Mummy and Daddy aren’t looking. They fight over who is going to sit in what car seat and which bedtime story to have, but ask if they are ready for separate bedrooms and it’s as if you’ve suggested one will be carted away to boarding school!
Nearly seven years on and the snack box and fruit bowl have to be refilled at least twice a week. Doodlebug sits down to breakfast every morning and orders his usual (dry toast and Weetabix with fresh fruit), Buster waits for his plate to arrive and scrunches up his nose in disappointment when he is told he cannot put jalapenos on his peanut butter toast. The school run is a manic time: will I get to work in time for my first meeting? Where are your shoes? Why didn’t you tell me last night you needed 20 cupcakes for class today? We are loaded into the car, seatbelts fastened and “Mummy, I need a wee!”l… How our lives have changed! Every day the boys teach us something new.
With excitement and a healthy bit of trepidation, we look forward to the coming years and watching them grow into young men. Whatever is in their future, we know that they will be there for each other. Their bond is beautiful and, although they have no idea we are doing it, with each bedtime kiss we thank them for choosing us.
In our latest blog exploring sibling relationships, @adoptionof2 shares the joys and challenges of being Mum to “a blended family”:
Let’s put my family in context. My husband has four children from his first marriage. The eldest and the youngest came to live with us when they were 18 and 13 respectively. Before they moved in we tried to have a family of our own naturally, but this was not to be. So we looked into adoption around 2005.
During the initial LEA visit we were told if this went ahead our current children would not be allowed to stay overnight with us for about six months, and so we decided that the time wasn’t right and we put all our focus into the family we already had.
Fast forward to 2012, and we moved home into a larger house with spare rooms. My husband made an off-the-cuff comment about how we now had room and the two kids who weren’t living with us didn’t stay over any more, so we could look into adoption again. Two weeks later I made the initial phone call to Adoption Focus who were to support us for the next year.
We spoke to all four children about the idea before we went ahead with enquiries. Their feelings had to come first, and if they weren’t happy about it and didn’t want to share their Dad with anyone else then so be it. Surprisingly, they were all on board.
They didn’t have it easy though. All four of them and their mum had to come to meetings, and were asked to relive the time my husband moved out. We don’t know what they were asked in the interviews (because quite frankly it is none of our concern), but I do know that they were detailed and very emotionally draining. But even through all of that they still stood by us.
They were the first people we told when we were approved at panel and they were constantly in our minds when going through the matching process. The eldest had left home by this point to move in with his girlfriend and her son, so we also had to consider how any new children would fit in with them. Initially we were considering one child, but our social worker convinced us a sibling group would be better. With hindsight she was spot on, as I can feel a little on the sidelines when all four of them get together, so at least the kids would have each other.
Matching was an interesting experience because we had to consider our existing family – kids and grandkids. We knew that taking on children with possible sexualised behaviours would not have been ideal, and we were forced to become very realistic about what we could cope with. We didn’t want to let our new children down by putting them in a situation they couldn’t cope with.
Something clicked with us when we first saw the profiles of the girls we eventually adopted, and we put all our energies into pursuing them. We kept all of the kids informed every step of the way and involved them in our decision-making process, especially the youngest who would be living with them.
The day after we met the girls, we got together with the older children at the crematorium (it was a year since my father-in-law had died) and we were able to tell them about them and show them pictures.
A week later when the girls came home, their new siblings wgave them a week to settle in before coming round the visit them (the one who lived with us was on holiday that week too). Straight away you could see a bond forming. The birth children didn’t see the newcomers as a threat to their relationship with their Dad at all. If anything, they are treated more like nieces than sisters because of the age gap. This means they get treated and spoilt rather than fought and bickered with.
We organised the house so that our youngest can have her own space when she needs it. We would rather she spent time with the girls because she wants to rather than is forced to.
Three years on and they are an integral part of our family. They have been asked to be bridesmaids and we have gone on holiday with our eldest child and his family. It always amuses me that they are aunties to an 8 year old, especially when they are only six and eight themselves. It’s great for our grandson as when he is with our family he has children of his own age to play with rather than being with boring grown-ups.
The adult children now visit us more than they would have done if the girls weren’t around, and one of them in particular always brings them some chocolate and/or a magazine. They are also very good at knowing when I need a break and will take them out for a while, to the zoo or to the cinema. In fact the girls are used by their elder siblings as an excuse to go and see films like Cars and Captain Underpants at the cinema.
Pride of place in our house is a picture of me, my husband and our six children. None of them is related to me by birth, but all of them have a unique place in my heart. Life hasn’t always been easy, with one of the elder children coping badly with my husband’s divorce, but I’m pleased to say that if anything our two youngest have brought the family back together. We are closer now than we have ever been.
The age difference between the four older ones and the younger two works. They don’t see themselves as being any more important than anyone else, but the one who lives with us can still be ‘daddy’s little girl’ where her birth siblings are concerned, but now also has a very important role as a big sister and role model to her younger sisters.
All four of the big kids are proud to have adopted sisters and I am proud of them for accepting them with all of their hearts!
In our latest blog exploring sibling relationships, “Mrs 6”, Mum to 4 girls, reflects on the rewards and challenges of growing her family by adoption.
Last weekend our girls had their first sleepover as a group of four sisters. It has been over two years in the making and much longed for by our Little Legs. The girls have been talking about it with their cousins for months and nagging to have a sleepover including Little Legs. Little Legs had never had a sleepover before. She was with her foster family for a few years and spent every night with her foster Mummy. Since she came home, she has spent every night with me. So it was a big weekend.
We started the adoption process almost four years ago with our three birth daughters. Our youngest daughter was three when she came home, and has been an amazing addition to our family. She is feisty and funny and completely holds her own in Team Six. We’ve been a family of six for just over two years and our girls have begun to have sustained moments of being a totally cohesive group of siblings.
Siblings can be hard work in any family, regardless of how it is constructed. I have just one sister and I know our parents would say that there were times when we were hard work. Like any parent we have had times, even before Little Legs came home, when we would wonder whether our girls liked one another. They are sisters who spend a lot of time in each other’s pockets, which brings moments of bickering and frustration. But even when they have cross moments, they come round and are soon friends again.
Sometimes they leave each other little notes, make each other stuff or buy each other a present. Sometimes they get angry and call each other names (usually under their breath,or one of them will poke another as they walk past. Little Legs upped the ante with her settling in period that saw biting, hair pulling, spitting and raging added to the repertoire of sisterly love. Her big sisters were at a loss how to respond, how to bond with this little girl who clearly adored them, but at times couldn’t cope with their love.
Attachment is a tricky thing to understand, never mind master.
Blending our family has brought its challenges and difficulties. There are times when we have felt clueless as to how to move forwards in helping our four girls to bond. At other times they have amazed us with how naturally they gel as a group. We know this would have happened had all of our girls been our birth children, without adoption added into the mix. But bringing one into the equation from outside added an extra dimension. We are blessed to have been supported by our wonderful post-adoption social worker from the Centre for Adoption Support (CfAS), who has walked with us and talked us through many of the obstacles we have faced and the behaviours that have caught us off guard. She has introduced us to the benefits of Theraplay, which has been a lifeline in promoting attachments, not only between us as Little Legs’s parents and her, but between the girls as a group of sisters. The Theraplay activities have seen our girls playing together and laughing together. They have allowed each of them to take control of an activity and lead it with the others following.
Family traditions that we have forged, both before and since Little Legs joined us, have created space for shared memories. Time is allowing us to develop those experiences and create more family moments.
When we started the adoption process we struggled to find other families with younger birth children still at home who had chosen to adopt. We felt like we were forging our own course and created resources to support our girls in understanding what was going on. Over the last couple of years, we have loved connecting with other families whose make-up is similar to our own. It is always a joy for our girls to meet other children who are blended through birth and adoption, who understand the differences and challenges of this way of building family.
Would we do it if we had our time over again? Absolutely we would! It has enriched and challenged and grown us as a family. It has been fun and hard work and a joy – and really quite tricky at times. But I hope and pray that as they grow all of our girls will be thankful to have a tribe they can call their own.
You can read more from Mrs 6 and her family at http://justafamilystory.me.uk/
Continuing our series of blogs on the theme of brothers and sisters, adoptee, Claire Eastwood shares her sibling experience :
I am 23 years old now and I was adopted at the age of 3 with my half-sister who was 7. She had cared for me prior to our adoption so unfortunately she had had to grow up a lot more than a 7 year old should have to.
We were in care together and she continued to be my protector until we were adopted and arguably she has been my protector since then as well. I don’t have any memory of our time in our birth family or our time in foster care either but my sister remembers this vividly. It had been discussed, as I have found out from reading documents later, whether we should be placed together or whether we should be separated. I am glad that we weren’t separated and I am glad that my parents understood that we were a ‘package deal’ and for them there was never any question that we could be separated. I have found as I was growing up that there was someone that was blazing the trail for me. She understood the things I was feeling and why I was feeling them because we were going through the same things.
My mum tells the story of how we met them often. She tells that my sister ran to them straight away, put her hands in theirs and called them mum and dad. She then tells how I sat on the stairs staring suspiciously at them. It seems that my sister had decided that they were going to be her parents whether they liked it or not but I was a little more sceptical to begin with. Either way we both settled quickly with our forever family and we have been close ever since. Being adopted with my sister was like having a family within my new family and I cannot imagine life without her.
I know that there are no additional siblings in my biological maternal side but I don’t know whether there are any additional siblings on the paternal side and this is the only thing about my story that I still have curiosity about.
My parents have since adopted another child and I hope to be that influence for him that my sister was for me. I hope to be able to guide him through his uncertainties and support him throughout school and growing up.
My advice to prospective adopters with regards to siblings would be that it is important to foster those bonds between siblings and that, where possible, siblings should be kept together. I can’t imagine life without my sister and we both needed my parents. I would tell them that adoption is not a set story, and you may not have prepared for siblings but it is important to keep siblings together.
By Claire Eastwood.
Claire is a former ambassador for the Coram Adoptables programme for young adoptees.
Did you know that over half of the thousands of children who are waiting for adoptive parents are part of a sibling group?
I’m Jamie, adoptive Daddy of two handsome little chaps called Rich and Lyall. Richie’s seven, Lyall’s eight. I’m one half of Daddy and Dad with my partner of 15 years, Tom.
Tom and I knew that we wanted to have two or more children right from the start. We already had some experience with our nephews, Samuel and Finley, who used to stay with us during the holidays when they were tiny. I have a sister and Tom has a brother and two sisters so we were ourselves brought up as part of sibling groups, along with all the fun, frolics and squabbles that siblings enjoy.
Now that we’ve been a family for almost four years, I’ll reflect on a few of the preconceptions and concerns about adopting siblings that Tom and I had during our adoption process.
Does an adoptive parent of siblings need any special qualities?
Adoptive parents need to be resilient, caring and well-organised (at least most of the time). In my opinion, parents of siblings require extra diplomacy and patience to negotiate the squabbles.
Siblings (in particular our sons) are in perpetual competition with each other. Rich and Lyall are very close in age and ability and will squabble over everything: who has the most rice-krispies, who’s lost the most teeth, who’s seen the road sign for the town centre first, who’s faster at blinking. They have been known to compete over the longest wee. Put simply, the boys like to squabble and compete.
Parents can either ignore the relentless squabbling or assume the role of referee, providing praise without encouraging a second round. It’s a dark art. Tom and I tend to fall somewhere in the middle between referee and passive onlooker, with added humour where possible. We’ve almost mastered the skill of intervening just at the pivotal moment between niggle and full-on combat.
We find that when we provide separate activities for the boys during their spare time, they develop their own unique interests and tend to compete a little more productively.
How much space do siblings need?
Tom and I live in a humble three-bed detached house in a city suburb. Prior to the arrival of our boys, we were encouraged to have Rich and Lyall share the larger second bedroom, to provide consistency and company at bedtime.
In their penultimate temporary home, the boys had their own bedrooms and started to gather their own belongings, decorations and, well, junk (for lack of a better word). Lyall loves football – football calendars, posters, trophies, posters and flags. Meanwhile, Richard loves Justin Bieber, trees and giraffes – much more to my taste admittedly. So when the boys arrived, we quickly decided that they would have their own bedrooms, with room to store their belongings and develop their own style.
It turned out that separate bedrooms work nicely for Rich and Lyall; in the early days when they were little we could stagger their bath/bedtimes, and now that they’re a bit older they can choose their own posters and decorate their bookshelves with books, models and trophies.
At the risk of losing our living room and dining room to toys and kids’ stuff, we decided to restrict all toys and games to the conservatory (a previously vacant godsend) so that we still have some grown-up space in which to enjoy a nice glass of wine without the risk of stepping on Lego bricks.
Is the process of adopting siblings longer?
We adopted our boys in early 2014 after an 18-month application journey. Our adoption process was a little longer than average as there were a couple of legal hoops to negotiate after the boys had been matched with us. However, with the support of our social worker from Adoption Focus, we persevered and everything worked out perfectly well.
Despite taking a little longer than usual in our case, the process for adopting siblings is the same length as the process for adopting an individual child. I’m not sure how the new streamlined process works precisely, but I would allow 18 months from your enquiry to actual placement. The time flies, and it allows you to enjoy some of the luxuries that you’re going to be enjoying less often once kids are placed – a quiet bath, late nights out, spontaneous hotel stays, expensive breakfast cereal and cheap term-time holidays, for example.
What are the main advantages to adopting siblings?
Firstly, stability. When adopted children first arrive, they are very homesick and disorientated. Bedtime is particularly difficult for adopted children as they miss their previous carers and their friends.
Despite their squabbles, siblings are a huge comfort to one another during times of change and upheaval. In the early days of their placement, Rich and Lyall supported each other in subtle ways: a hand on a shoulder, a reassuring nudge or a thoughtful offer of a familiar cuddly toy.
Secondly, siblings provide variety. Our boys are different in almost every possible way (except for their looks – people always assume that they’re twins, much to Lyall’s irritation as the older one). Their unique interests and personalities provide Tom and me with myriad new experiences and an opportunity to develop a unique relationship with Lyall and Rich independently.
For instance, I go to football practice on Saturdays with Lyall while Tom does a spot of gardening or washes the car with Rich, and then we all get the park-and-ride into the city for shopping and tea. Some weekends I visit my Grandma in Weymouth with Rich, while Tom takes Lyall to a sporting event or to get his hair styled at the barbers. The sibling family dynamic works fantastically well.
Should you adopt siblings?
Tom and I have had the time of our lives through all the ups and downs with our adopted siblings, and we’d recommend that you consider siblings when you are family finding.
Siblings provide a huge amount of fun, support and familiarity for each other and, most importantly, twice (or more!) the love and cuddles.
In 2013 Emma and her husband Andy adopted two toddlers – a brother and sister. Here she shares some hard won wisdom…
“When I took my children home I was over the moon and under prepared. If only I had known then what I know now, those first few weeks would have been easier and more joyful.
1. Great sleep is your top trump
The children are important. But they need a parent who is confident, capable and can access all their brain. And that only happens if you’ve had enough sleep. A half-asleep, over-caffeinated parent with the emotional stability of dynamite is destined to create a day where you end up blubbing “that could’ve gone better” as you scrape pizza off the ceiling and tears off your chin. Grab sleep greedily and without apology whenever and wherever you can.
Your child is napping? Nap.
Your child is in bed – go to bed early. 7.30pm early if you need to (I did).
Your child is watching TV? Snooze on the sofa.
You keep waking up in the night? Use earplugs if you need to.
You can’t get back to sleep once woken? Put your partner on night-duty.
Get as much sleep as you need to wake happy and raring to go. Sleep is more important than ironing, hoovering, tidying, watching your favourite TV shows, mowing the lawn, answering emails, cleaning the bath, painting your nails, shaving or going on Facebook to let people know you are still alive.
The best mum or dad you can be is a well slept one.
2. You are not alone
God bless Twitter. I was a bit “meh” about twitter until I discovered the adoption and fostering twitterati (thanks to @First4Adoption). If you are struggling with any aspect of parenting, adoption, Panel, Matching, Introductions, food fussiness, sleep or potty training, there is someone who will help on twitter. Open an account – with some vague name like “adopter73.” No-one will ever know who you are (and your social worker can relax). Then load twitter onto your phone, follow a few people whose posts you like and join in. Just recently a brand new adopter, on day 2 of her forever family asked if it was normal for her children to “feels like little strangers”. The Twitterati replied that it was normal for them to feel like strangers and that love takes time. Maybe that helped her sleep at night, maybe it just took a worry away, maybe she could then step back and think “that is totally normal, we are going to be fine”.
If you want to know what to feed a fussy child – ask twitter
If you are having a bad day – tell twitter, we’ll sympathise and send hugs
If you want to know if continued contact with foster carers can work – ask twitter
If you feel like something is out of kilter – tell twitter and we’ll share our experiences
Sound off, ask for support when you are feeling low, share your concerns, your worries, your hopes, your dreams and build a community of people who know what you are going through. I only wish I had found them four years ago when I started my forever family, they would have made my life so much easier.
3. Love is not like making a cuppa
Loving your child isn’t as quick as making a cup of tea. Your family appears “ready-made” when the children come home for good, yet love takes longer to blossom. As giddy as I was about dating my husband (way back then), it took months for us to truly fall in love, and it will take time for you to love your child/ren. There’s no timetable. There’s no rush. My daughter loved my husband and rejected me for a while. Despite my confident assertion at Panel that we would ‘deal with any one-parent attachment issues as they arose’, it still had me crying in the morning when she shouted at me to get out of her bedroom.
You might love one of your children first. That’s okay. The love for the other child will come.
Your partner might fall in love before or after you do. Still okay.
Your children might love one parent before the other. That’s normal too.
With two parents and two children, one day you will all love each other to bits, but it won’t happen on the same day nor overnight.
Let love grow.
4. What you see is not what you get
During Introductions, the children played contentedly on their own. They only approached their foster carers Ken and Mary when they needed help or food. They pottered around the house and we shadowed them from one room to another. They read, played in the sandpit, chatted to us, not all that bothered whether or not we joined in. They were independent, confident, outgoing. Yet children we’d seen in their video and at the foster carers’ house were not the children who moved into our house. They became dependent, cautious and stuck to us like chewing gum to hair. They whined and went ballistic when we said No, spinning around on the floor like a Catherine-Wheel. Andy and I stared at each other in awe and shock.
The move changed our children. And we hadn’t expected it. But they needed more reassurance, more attention, more of us than they had ever needed during Introductions and that took some getting used to. It took months before they were like the children we saw in their video.
5. One thing at a time
It is all to easy to try to create a perfect family from the moment they move in. Don’t.
I tried to be the best possible parent I could be – with homemade cakes, delicious and nutritious meals made from fresh ingredients, lots of playing together with stickers and playdough and trips to the library and park, with little TV, no shortcuts, no giving in, clear boundaries, walking places without using the pram, whilst constantly battling the influx of toys into every crevice of my house (and even once in my bra). All from Day One. I made myself miserable.
Choose happy over everything: laughter over tidiness, bouncing on their bed over fears of them falling off, messy fun over tidy boredom, reading over ironing, cuddles over clean clothes.
So what if you feed them spaghetti hoops for every teatime for a week or a month? In ten year’s time will that have caused any long-term damage?
So what if you let them watch TV for an hour every morning so you can shower without an audience? Yes I know you don’t want to set a precedent (I can’t tell you how many times I worried about that), but is it really setting them up for a life of crime?
So what if they don’t have a bath for a week because you don’t have the right bubble bath?They might pong a bit, but baby wipes work wonders and do you really want to fight that battle just before bedtime?
Don’t let reporters in the Daily Mail stoke your guilt about feeding them fish fingers and drinking wine of an evening. Do what needs to be done and leave the rest until you have got this bit sussed. Build your family one solid foundation at a time, and start with love and laughter. Go for happy. And that includes YOU.
6. You matter
It’s easy to focus on the children when they turn up in your family. How can you not, when you’ve waited this long to become a mum or a dad? Yet when we forget about ourselves, when we let our own needs slide, then we are doing our family a disservice.
Sleep, food, laughter and love. Those things matter far more than how much you spend on a pram, or how tidy your house is, or if your ironing gets done. Make your life simple. Make it easy to be happy. Make your kids and yourself smile, as often as you can”.
Read more from Emma at her blog. Her e-book “And Then There Were Four” is available here
Most adoptive parents make a simple photo book to introduce their child to his or her new family. @blogforadoption remembers making one for her son, Danny – with a little help from a talking bear called Ernie.
During our adoption process we saw a couple of books that adopters had made. I’m not going to lie, I did feel the pressure when putting ours together. After all, it’s the first impression your child will get of you. But I’m quite a creative person and rose to the challenge.
We decided our book would be written by the now legendary Ernie Bear (created especially at “Build a Bear”) and that Danny would receive our book and Ernie Bear at the same time. Ernie Bear had our voices in him so that Danny would know what we sounded like before he got to see us. I lost count how many times we recorded it until we were both happy with the message! We knew Danny liked superheroes and Transformers were big at the time so we dressed Ernie Bear in a Transformers t-shirt. We’d also bought one for Danny which he found out when he got to the pages featuring his bedroom as we’d put it on his wardrobe.
Danny’s book was a scrap book with his name and the first picture we ever saw of him on the front.
The first page was Ernie Bear introducing himself and then us and then each page was a different room of the house, garden, cars, local park, school etc. Ernie Bear featured in the majority of the pictures and we also put ‘fun facts’ relating to a picture, some of which included “Mummy used to fall asleep in the car when she was a little girl” “Daddy used to play with his cars when he was a little boy”
The last couple of pages was like a little interview about our favourite things so that Danny could get to know more about us before we met. Some of the questions were
Favourite children’s book
Favourite children’s film
Favourite football team
We ended the book with myself, hubby and Ernie Bear all holding up cards reading;
LOVE YOU LOTS
SEE YOU SOON
Danny loved our book and still looks at it occasionally. Ernie Bear has a permanent place on his bed.
In February 2017 Matt and his husband adopted 2 young boys. Here, he describes the highs and lows of their first weeks together…
It is three months since we had two wonderful boys placed with us. Each day brings immense progress. But, just when you think you have made a huge leap forward, BANG! You take a massive jump backwards. We thought we were well prepared but was that just an illusion?
We first met our boys last October at an adoption activity day. The day was amazing and allowed us to spend four hours with these wonderful boys. Smiling, laughing, playing and getting to see their personalities. It was obvious that there were attachment challenges and the usual signs of poor eye contact, not listening and hyper vigilance were apparent.
However, this didn’t scare us off and we fell in love instantly. We had to wait until introductions in late January to meet them again and those four months felt like an eternity. Every waking hour of every day we thought about them, hoping they were happy and that the matching process would allow us all to become a family.
Prior to matching we had embarked on a massive journey of learning. We read books, went to conferences, completed online training and awareness sessions and funded ourselves for a Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder training course (having learnt the high percentages of children in care who are affected by this). Delving deep into the boys’ background we weren’t phased by what we read. Yes, the older child had some behavioural issues and, in times of stress he would revert back to being a toddler. But we felt ready for this. After all, toddler behaviour was easy right?
The boys moved in and at first, things couldn’t have gone better. Despite the fact that this was the 4th move in their short lives they coped well with the transition. I’d given up work to be a fulltime Dad, my husband was able to take off 6 weeks and we began to bond as a family.
But within a few days the ‘honeymoon’ period was over. The boys were naturally trying to impress, clearly not wanting this to be another move for them. Slowly we started to see some extreme attachment disorder behaviour – particularly from our eldest son. One minute he’d be talking like any other 6 year old, the next he would be rolling on the floor screaming like a toddler. This wasn’t in any training or awareness sessions. I can honestly say I had some times when I felt “How am I ever going to love that?” It felt so alien that an intelligent wonderful boy could flip like this.
Other key traits started to come out as the days progressed. Hyper-vigilance came to the forefront and dictated how he would be for the day. Everything had to be touched, fiddled with, felt and played with almost as if he was the FBI checking a room for bugs or an animal marking its scent. This was fine at home but tricky elsewhere.
During the boys’ first month with us we noticed some things going missing and discovered our older son was storing them in his coat. Having to hide your own wallet, keys, money and anything valuable in your home, was hard to accept to begin with. It felt like an intrusion into our personal space at the time. Now it’s just the norm. Some days he would come home from school with things that clearly had been stolen from the teacher’s desk or other children and this too was tricky to get our heads around. We focused on not shaming him or showing any disgust at what he had done but simply confirming we have the item that belongs to Miss XYZ and we can return it tomorrow ok? In fact this technique worked, he quickly realised we were not going to get angry with his stealing and the instances became less frequent.
He was also prone to lying and making up stories. We talked through telling the truth and when we knew he was not we gave him an option. “Is that a lie or story or is it the truth? You take two minutes to think about it and let us know what it is and know that either one is not bad but we simply want to know.” More and more he would come back with “Yes that was a fib.”
Our younger son also began to exhibit challenging behaviour. Showing real frustration if he didn’t get his own way. There were baby tears, bottom lip exposure and a clear need to be totally with us at all times. Of course he was testing us as well as demonstrating his need to build attachment.
We started to focus on attachment-building activities with both boys. We’d spend time on sensory play – applying lotions to hands, drawing on their backs with our fingers, trust jumps at the park or allowing them to keep something of ours all day to return after school.
A comment from both children, on separate occasions, really brought home to us how they were feeling. Younger son looked up one day and asked “When are me and my brother moving to our next house?” My heart sank but I tried to show no emotion and asked questions to see if he would talk more. I asked him if he wanted to move again to which he replied “No.” We laughed and smiled together about the future and what “forever” meant. Older son then asked my husband whether they’d soon be moving in with our neighbours. This really brought home the fact that almost everyone new these boys have met up until now has resulted in a move and a change. Disruption after disruption, uncertainty after uncertainty.
The shock of the first month passed and I can honestly say that we are in awe of how well the boys are developing and settling in. It’s still exhausting and saps every ounce of energy and brainpower we have. It’s taken guts and willpower to move onwards and upwards but we are getting there.
Tonight my younger son wrote his name for the first time unaided, whilst his older brother calmly completed his homeworkcafter we’d all had fun playing in the garden. Laughter and fun have been constant throughout all of this and proved just as useful as the techniques learned in our prep.
Our next chapter of learning will be attending Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) and SafeBase training. I hope that, now we have a little more headspace we can continue to apply and learn from this and from other adopters.
As an adopter, it’s easy to think you are the most prepared person around but I’ve realised you will never be fully prepared for what is to come. What’s important is to focus on your family, yourselves and your sanity and see each challenge as an opportunity to rebuild what has been broken in the children’s past.
Matt writes a blog sharing his journey of adoption and transition from the corporate world to fatherhood. You can read more at www.fromsoftwaretosoftplay.com