Sensory reset

A week can get under your skin. Time for a sensory reset.

Walk along the river that fills my ears with the steady, rushing babble of the water. Choose the muddiest paths and let my feet sink right in, dark peaty soil sucking and slurping at each step until it seeps into my boots. Duck as the budding branches pull and scrape along my jacket and lock into my hair. Wait a while sat on the woodland floor and graze my palm over the soft comfort of the moss and the tiny ferns. Watch as the nuthatch scales the trunk, then sits ‘doinking’ at the crown.

Feel the muscle ache scaling the rocks and exploring the forgotten mines. The whisper of my dog’s warm happy breath on my cheek as we stop and crouch at the whirring flight of two goosander. Stoop low to take in the tiny sharp spears of the crocus as they push through the surface.

Sometimes I forget; mistake the impulse to ‘let all the difficulty out’ with the real need to ‘let all the wonder back in’.

I entered the woods with ants crawling beneath my skin from a week of self control.           I leave them with all my senses freed; blown open and filled up, to remember who I am.

And then home.

#SiABlo: Week 2

Welcome to #SiABlo: Week 2 of our new Single adopter round up!

Message or DM the links to your single adopter blogs via twitter, and grab the code below to add a #SiABlo: Week 2 button to the post on your site!

meandminimees: ’The next day‘ – tells the story of Day Two in a situation that lasted a whole weekend.

Imperfectly Perfect Mum: The sea of uncertainty and collateral damage – on the dichotomy between rational understanding of our children, and our emotional & physical response.

Starfish and Me:Please see my trauma … but please also see me.‘ – a heartrending letter from little one to the teachers and professionals.

Suddenly Mummy: ’After the adoption order: the medical stuff‘ – on the complications, confusions, missing info and mix ups that come with the legal changes.

mumdrah: ’Single adopter truths‘ - the lowdown on where the buck stops as a single adopter.

Grab the code for #SiABlo Week 2′s button here:

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Single adopter truths

Sometimes days pass without anyone smiling at us.

We make our own cup of coffee, hands shaking, when the meltdown finally settles. We tell ourselves that we’ve done okay. We find the ways to hug ourselves better. We seek our own answers to the questions and doubts. We remind ourselves that we are enough. We whisper our own kind words.

We fix the broken things. We pick up the pieces. We pass the baton from one hand to the other when the yelling gets too much. We are the cavalry that comes when we fail. We switch from a punchbag to a comforter in the blink of a smarting eye. We bear the only witness for the depths of their pain. We speak the loving words while in the eye of their storm. We play the good cop, and the bad cop too. We check ourselves when we need to cool down. We have to guess where we’ve got it right, and when we’re wrong. We pack all the tools for the skillset needed to guide them.

We wipe the noses, we kiss the knees while we make the phone calls, and miss work for the meetings. We chase the forms and the promises. We write the letters and do the research. We are their fierce and only defender, advocate and envoy. We chase our worries round and round inside our heads with nowhere to share them. We sit alone to process in silence once the day is through.

If a single adopter falls in a forest and no one is there to hear, do they make a sound?

If we don’t tell twitter, then no body knows #singleadoptertruths 

SiABlo: single adopter blog Week 1

Welcome to the first ever weekly SiABlo roundup of blogs.


Single Adopter Blogs

We have a brilliant nine contributions this week from our fabulous single adopters – thank you all!

Click on the links below to go to each blog and have a read.

Befuddled Mum: ”Still Mum“ - a post about single adoptive parenting to 18 years and beyond!

Imperfectly Perfect Mother:Giving trauma something to think about.: – on the ‘push me pull you’ conflict of children who want to embrace safety, but act in rejecting ways.

Starfish and me:But what does forever look like?“- a poignant reflection on the first two and a half years as a family of two.

Another Mountain: ’Be prepared!‘ – on the practical and emotional process of preparing to adopt for the second time on your own.

Sarah Fisher:What Martin Luther King taught me about parenting.’ – a post on how the mind blowing philosophy of MLK and Gandhi can help us as parents.

Suddenly Mummy: ’The perfect age gap.‘ – giving us insight into the how the age gap between her two adopted children affects their relationship with each other, and her.

MeandMiniMees:Mate Crime‘ – the diary of one day showing how our vulnerable young people can be manipulated and used from a single adoptive dad.

Pedalling Solo: ’It’s good to be back‘ – on the ‘onoffness’ of blogging, anonymity, transparency and openness, and clambering around dark bedrooms in the night.

Mumdrah: ’Box of clues‘ – how to look for the clues that all the thought you put into therapeutic parenting is working.

The list will open again next Thursday, and be published on Sunday evening.


Collateral damage

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Clear and distinct in my mind. My social worker during prep phase sat on my brand new sofa and said “And what happens – what will you do – when ‘Plus 1′ takes a knife to this lovely new sofa, and cuts a little slit in it”. She acted it out, coolly and calmly, with her fingernail.

And that was that. In the ten months between my first call to the agency, and approval panel, this was the one and only mention of the havoc about to rain down, and the closest anyone ever came to preparing me for CPV.

One hypothetical reference to collateral damage, that over the last 11 years has become a reality of:

- an eight foot stretch of 150 year old T&G wood paneling now split, splintered and bowed out; her all time favourite self harm kicking place.

- six doors that no longer hang right, or close properly, and one with kick holes all across the bottom at different levels that represent the passing years like a height chart.

- the ‘road map’ of our walls, criss crossed with skid marks from things hurled and whipped against them,

- the beautiful handmade bread crock, broken and cracked with a chunk of the lid missing from being slammed one to many times in attempt to pull me into her rages.

- my christening bracelet, a part of me for 40 years, gone forever, without a trace.

- the oak kitchen table that survived our family for three generations, scarred with dozens of deep, double pointed dents from a claw hammer attack.

- the bruises on my body that come, turn to rainbows, and then go.

- the toilet seat that like its predecessors, is cracked through repeated, angry slamming.

- the long series of phones, laptops, controllers, a hairdryer and a tv, all smashed to smithereens. With implements, and sometimes with her bare hands or feet; stamping or smacking them repeatedly until cuts bleed from the sharp edges.

- the bite scars on my arms, and the deep raised one on my thigh.

- the canine tooth missing from my beautiful dog’s mouth, broken by the rock hurled at her during an angry summer’s day walk.

- boxfuls of household necessities and equipment that go missing, thrown out in secret when she gets obsessed with me having ‘too much stuff’; tools, climbing gear, coats, tape cassettes, camping kit, cameras, kitchen utensils.

- the regular scratch marks to my face, arms, back, legs, belly from the times I misjudge how close I can get to calm her while she tries to smash her head against the wall.

- the dashboard of my land rover cracked and hanging off on the passenger side from full power kicks over the flavor of a packet of crisps.

- the burns from where she threw dinners or hot drinks over me.

- the two lonely bowls left intact from a full dinner set, and the cracks in the tiles where the missing ones landed.

- the stains on the oak floors that I’ve tried to sand off (because, you know, pee).

- the five sash window panes either cracked or studded with bullet style impact holes.

- the banisters that creak and wobble a third of the way down where I crashed into them when she pushed me down the stairs.

- the blinds from her room currently ‘hidden’ in a bin bag; stashed in the airing cupboard where she thinks I won’t notice, cut into pieces…

I’m not sure where to stop. These – and many more like them – are ‘peak events’. The visible and tangible expressions of trauma. They come as part of the wider package of less story worthy hours of this screaming, rejecting, unsoothable, unstoppable, fear based, self preservational trauma that rampages through our home on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

Looking at this list I feel almost nothing except love for her, and empathy for this raging battle she wages with herself every day. Extraordinary as it may seem, this list has become just another part of my life; normal. This list is an ongoing, central part of who we are as a family. Though i may get ‘lost’ in the heat of it all, or give in to my own feelings of hurt, I know this is the part of her that needs me most. That needs me to be so much stronger than i ever thought i could be.

Should I post this? Probably not; i’m fearful of making her pain so visible. But I will, because hearing the real stories of others helps me, so I know other people need to hear mine.

First, the other adopters: so they know they are not alone.

Second, the prospectives: so they know to access realistic training long before it is needed.

Third, the lobbyists and change makers: so they can push harder for adequate and practical adoption support.

And fourth, the professionals: so they know this is a day in, day out 24/7 reality in adoptive homes. So they know the stories we tell them are just snapshots in the barrage of a bigger picture that requires us to figure out, contain and guide the most vulnerable of lives in our care, all by our untrained, under supported and often compassion fatigued selves. 

So they know we need more help.


NB: click here for the new report on Impact of Child on Parent Violence from Thorley and Coates (2017)


Box of clues

There is a box in my room.

I keep it locked and hidden away, because if it was accessible its contents would get destroyed. It holds every scrap of paper and every little keepsake that reminds me of the love and the courage inside her that is so deeply hidden by her pain.

I open the box when I need reminding of why. I leaf through when the trauma is so dominating the cry of my own inner need stops me from recognising and responding to hers. The trinkets – buttons on string, painted lollipop sticks glued into wonky stars, dried up flowers – are the gifts she made that arrived safely into my hands. Or things we created together that made it to the finish line without being broken in frustration; smashed by the anger and fear she associates with love. Most don’t make it. The treasures in my secret box are more precious than anything.

Some of the handwritten notes are scrappy; a few words on a ripped up corner of a note pad. There’s one that simply says ‘sory mum’ with a tiny shell sellotaped onto it; another says ‘you are my rock’ next to a 10 year old’s drawing of ‘wundr womn’.

Some are longer, like letters. These get posted under my bedroom door in the middle of the night, or left on the kitchen table, or screwed up behind the sofa amongst a dozen other things so as not to be easily found. They list all the hurt she has inside; pain she dares not speak of out loud. Huge unchecked torrents of words, in which there sometimes shines out a single phrase, like ‘I wish I didn’t hurt my mum’, or ‘mum, don’t ever think your not good inuff’. I anchor myself to these short sentences; diamond studded clues to light my way out of the dark. They renew my insight and empathy, scaffolding the resolve I need to keep going in a world that can otherwise feel so endlessly hostile. A world that offers very little to let me know if anything I do is helping, or worth it.

The clues she gives are few and far between. I need her clues like the desert needs rain. Years can pass without one clue being dropped, or i miss a vital clue altogether; lost in the immensity of her anger like a needle in a haystack. My doubt, fear, and resentment builds without those clues. I strive to remind myself that the clues are in her all the time; hidden away like secrets, and almost impossible to see.

I am learning to trust the invisible clues as much as the ones in my box.




SiABlo – a new place to come and check out the week’s Single Adopter Blogs.

Very informal, no posh linky, just a list of links from people who share the unique experience of adopting on our own.

To submit your blog each week, just direct message your most recent post link via twitter. The full list will be published on Sunday evening, with the new week for submissions starting on Thursday. 

Like this:

Meandminimees: In the middle of a tornado. A great post about seven stormy days in the life of single adopter Matthew Blythe.

Suddenly_Mummy: Interrogation in the supermarket. How curious strangers can spike Life Story traumas for our children.

Imperfectly Blog: Hold onto hope. How dealing with the wider details of life as a single adopter can feel like putting your own needs above those of your child.

Sarah Fisher: Boundaries vs Baskets.Single adopter and NVR coach explains the difference between these two parenting tools.


We start with all four of my legs firmly on the ground.

Stable, resilient and strong. My back is broad and there is room for a heavy load, because I know you have much you need me to carry.

I’m here for you, pile it on; i’ll find ways to brace and take the strain, to juggle pieces around to balance the weight of your fear, your blame and your shame. Your sharp points and ragged edges may pierce and tear at my thick skin, and yet I keep standing under the strain; as solid as that trusty, determined, dutiful burro.

As my legs begin to tremble, my sides start to bleed and my heart beats faster, I dig deeper and work harder, because I understand and accept my task.

But sometimes – just sometimes – the burden you give me to hold proves too much. Your load comes too thick, or too fast, or it clashes with my own, and the struggle to bear it all reaches a tipping point I can no longer contain. Like buckaroo, I crumple and twist, and gravity takes over to throw off everything in one explosive and sorry moment.

Because I am just me, and sometimes the load is bigger than I am.

Cup of tea and a post it note

In the two years since first hearing this strategy, I struggled.

Struggled to respond to the smashing of things – the screaming, the scratching, the swearing, the withdrawal, the stealing – with a gift. Struggled to find it in myself to respond to the manifestation of her trauma with a loving act, and struggled to see how such a gesture does anything but reward and give permission to her fury.

Sure, I’ve made the tea, written the little messages of love on the post it, and left them outside her door. Yet my heart wasn’t always really in it. Often the gesture stuck in my throat – reluctant and wooden – giving rise to huge waves of resentment. And sometimes I couldn’t bring myself to do it at all.

The strategy was revisited by the Adoption UK ‘Parenting Teens’ course. Like many of the parents there I questioned it; argued and kicked back hard against the principle. We gave example after example of situations where a cup of tea and a post it was surely an inappropriate reward when all hell was breaking loose. The group’s response was unanimous; does this act of selfless kindness make them feel like what they’ve done is okay? The trainer focused on me, and with every example I gave she asked “Did she do it in overwhelm?” My answer was always – “yes”.

“Then it’s not a reward.”

A penny dropped; layers of confusion fall away in an instant:

If fear based responses are not wrongdoings, then reconciliation gestures are not reward.

Take that in.

When none of the words we say, the consequences we lay down, or attempts at ‘fixing’ each given immediate situation have any effect other than to feed the escalation of trauma. When feeding that escalation simply separates us further from our kids. When dealing with the ‘immediate situation’ means we are tackling with the ‘wrong situation’, all that is left is to help them cope with the real situation; the trauma itself.

That cup of tea and a post it note helps distance us from their trauma; it allows us to step off the rollercoaster of their overwhelm, and lay down a safe solid base for them to move into, right here alongside us. The more we do it, the more they can depend on that safe place being there; ready and waiting for them to choose it. To want it.

More than that, if getting involved just places us firmly at their centre of overwhelm, then getting involved is itself a negative reward that reinforces their trauma, deepens their relationship with it, and labels us as a clear and present danger and yet another source of external threat. Stepping into the trauma involves us in it, and leaves us open to blame and hostility.

Then another penny drops: reconciliation does hold a kind of reward. A real and helpful reward; one with a much deeper, positive and important impact than our fear of reinforcing trauma behaviours. With every cup of tea and a post it, she begins to look back on each incident more clearly, with less confusion about what happened. She starts to beat her own neural pathway through the previously impassable space that stretches between overwhelm and calm. She starts to seek the safety of the calm place as a way out of the turmoil of the trauma.

And my reward is in watching her take tentative steps on slow journey toward seeing me as the closest thing to safe she experiences.