Mother’s day toolbox

If you have read my blog post on our mother’s day experiences in adoption, you may be wondering how we navigate through the supercharged emotions – or more to the point how you are going to handle it!

Here is an insight into Mumdrah and CHT’s ‘tools for Mother’s Day’; we hope they help spark some ideas of your own.

The Preparation:

Step 1:  once I see the cards and the flowers and the adverts appear, I mentally prepare myself for a rough patch, and check myself over for any hidden expectations.  I am lucky that Mother’s Day does not hold much meaning for me, but it is still wise to remind myself that the root of mother’s day is about not in truth about mothers, but children; and I am likely not to be the ‘mother’ she is thinking about right now.

Step 2:  as the ‘sea of yellow’ approaches fever pitch in the stores, I warn her it is coming, and ask what she wants to talk about.  We then plot out the emotional landscape together. We i) come up with ideas on what she may or may want to do about the day, ii) explore what to do when people are unawares, forget or don’t understand how hard and different it is for her, iii) think of ways we might help people understand better in advance, and iv) identify her toolbox for coping.  We also remind ourselves that it is ok to v) feel conflicting emotions about people: I love you but I am angry too.

Step 3:  we make a plan for the inevitable situation that school will not give her enough time to make more than one card if she wants to so (i.e. buying another or making others at home).  This removes some pressure and anxiety.

The card/gifts:  she makes cards for who ever she wants to.   There are three main protagonists here – her Mother, her Foster Mum, and me – so be prepared for similar.

Making an active connection:   once we have the cards and/or gifts, we are not always allowed (or she may not actually want) to send them.  So we think of other ways to make a positive and active connection.   Sometimes we burn letters to send them up the chimney; just like we do for Santa.  We have also posted them with no address.  We sometimes light a candle.  She has a candleholder with ‘Mum’ written on it that she often uses to ‘feel close’ or even talk to her Mum.

Symbolic acts count emotionally, we find.   She always has lots of great ideas about these little rituals.

Be flexible:  what she wants can change minute by minute.  I respond to her ebb and flow and changes of heart and mood and scrap plans for new ones.  But there are times when she baulks last minute at doing anything, because her fear of opening herself to these hard emotions creates a barrier to doing what she really wants.  If it feels appropriate, I may gently take the lead here, by asking if she minds me going into another room with a candle to think about her Mum by myself.  Sometimes starting something this way helps her overcome whatever worries she had; she will usually join me and then I back off again.

Be Brave:  yes, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that this is one of the hardest days on the Adoption Calendar.  I find – for us – hiding from it has a worse impact than facing it.  It seems so important that she learns that whatever she is feeling is natural, and that I am always there and happy to help her navigate through.  We always seem to come out the other side frazzled, but a little stronger.

If you have any more suggestions and ideas – please share!

Letterbox: a guide to indirect contact

What is letterbox, or indirect contact?  This is simply a means to keep in contact with family members and/or foster carers through letters and correspondence.

How will we know what to do?  An agreement will be made before placement.  It is clear and prescriptive about who you are being asked to write to, when, how often, and what to include.

Who decides this, and when?  Each party should feed into the Contact Plan before placement as part of the matching panel, so make your voice is heard.  Remember, you are making decisions for a child; the detail of the plan should be in their interests.

And the legal lowdown?  Some are informal, and some part of the Placement and/or Adoption Order so legal requirements may vary.  It is, however, expected that you follow the recommendations.

Is it safe?   Protocol removes the exchange of addresses; letters are sent securely via a third party letterbox (hence ‘indirect contact’), and content is checked and then forwarded on.  But mistakes are made.  I’ll be blogging about this elsewhere, as well as the impact the letters have on us.

What do you put into the letters?  We begin by writing updates about the tapestry of life: my hair is long, I like spagetti, I won the football, I stayed in a caravan, I got a new tooth.  As she gets older, we also add in more of her burning questions, opinions, and whatever she wants to get off her chest.

How do you go about writing them?  I always work alongside CHT.  First, I grab her short attention span and note down her swift monologue.   Next I type up and ‘extend’ her words into letter form.  I then read it back, and add or remove as she sees fit.  I adapt the letter for each person we write to (sister, parents, foster carer), and then she signs it off and sometimes adds a message.  The whole process usually takes a few days so she can deal with it in small emotional chunks.

What about the photos?  CHT chooses her favourite photos of the year and we make up a collage and print them off on lovely quality photo paper.  We do take care not to choose any photos that identify or place us – like school uniform or landmarks.  Not because of ‘cloak and dagger secrecy’, but because we believe contact of all kinds should be a planned choice on both sides.

Should we include anything else?  CHT often does a drawing – usually just one – which we copy and put into each envelope.

What about the letters we receive?  You may, or may not, get replies.  Family are often not told the same protocol as you are (crazy I know), so may not be sure what they are supposed to do.  Our experience is that if we do get a letter, it usually comes as a reply in response to ours.  The letterbox checking system isn’t fail safe, so I usually do a quick once over of the letters first; this also helps me prepare for what support CHT might need.  The time delay also means that Christmas/Birthday cards for CHT never arrive on time.

What if the letters have difficult or inappropriate content?  From our experience it is pretty evident that no one gets any support or guidance in how to write these letters.  People can easily make mistakes through just not thinking things through.  If there is a clear problem or issue, then communicate this to your letterbox contact person and ask for your needs to be asserted.

Any other Mumdrah tips?

Send from the heart: I always support CHT to create something that reflects what she feels; it helps to imagine what we would want to receive. I don’t just mean the content, I mean the care and consideration put into them.  For us the letters are like lifelines.

Go easy: When we receive letters, sometimes we read them straight away, sometimes CHT wants to wait a while.  Once we’ve read them and poured over any photos that arrived, I copy them and store the originals – along with the accompanying letter from SS -and CHT keeps the copy to look at at her leisure.  This means that we can always make a copy when I find them tearstained under her pillow, forgotten under her bed, ripped up and thrown from the window, defaced and ruined, or screwed up in the bin.

Remember whose letters they are: I have never for one moment considered archiving her letters ’till she is older’.  They are her letters, and it is not my right to withhold them. That would be my general advice, but of course that would change if the content was threatening (but then i think SS would be dealing with that for you).

Continue the connection: If the letters mention a song or similar, we often go and listen to it afterwards.  I try and find any way to strengthen the connection and bridge the divide through the events and the news that are shared in the letters.

Keep everything that comes through letterbox.

See what BAAF has to say about indirect contact.

Letterbox contact – not as daunting as it feels.