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“6 things I wish I’d known before I became an adoptive Mum”

Published: June 22, 2017

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

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