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“When do me & my brother move to our next house?” – the first months with my sons
Published: February 28, 2021
In 2017 Matt and his husband adopted 2 young boys. Here, he describes the highs and lows of their first weeks together…
We first met our boys in October 2016 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