Ducks in a row

Single adopters can’t get their ducks in a row.

I’m not even sure we have any ducks. We have no one to positively reinforce our choices, our actions. Or even that we are good people; or good parents. Our day to day parenting stands alone, with no comment or reflection from anyone but our children. Their trauma responses and feelings of being under attack are not balanced within our homes by another person reacting differently to us, lovingly, appreciatively, understandingly, supportively; nor showing anything different to their negative feelings. The view our kids develop of us is left unchallenged or mitigated through the eyes of another, and they spiral down into an unshakeable negative stereotype.

One single conversation with an adoption support consultant brought this deficit home to me. Lack of positive reinforcement has now been pointed out as our biggest logistical problem, and her view of me has become a substantial block to moving forward. This  bombshell clearly needs to be shared, because it seems there are lots of layers to consciously reframing the picture our children may hold in their minds.

Positively reinforce the existence of everyday acts of safety and family:

“Hasn’t mum cooked a great dinner for us tonight”.

“Awww, look, Dad made sure all the washing we needed for tomorrow was done.”

“Aren’t we lucky – mum did the shopping and brought home all the things we needed

Positively reinforce good, simple interactions and empathy:

“Hahahahaha – dad’s joke was funny”.

“I’m going to help mum clear up the kitchen because I can see she is tired and a bit grumpy today”.

“I think it’ll be fun if we play a game with Dad”.

Positively reinforce the constant offer of loving acts:

“Well done Mum for coming to collect us when she felt poorly”.

“Dad is so kind – he’s going to let you borrow his bike because yours is broken”.

“Wow! Mum’s been at work all day, and she still came back and tidied up the mess we left”.

Positively reinforce what is happening in a challenging situation:

“Dad is doing everything he can because he wants to help you work this out”.

“I can see how much mum loves you even though you are mad at her”.

“I hear you saying that Dad is making it worse; and yet i can see he is being very calm and listening to you to try to help.”

Positively reinforce the truth in the face of accusation or gaslighting:

“I know you don’t think anyone cares that your mobile doesn’t work, but I heard mum on the phone for over an hour trying to sort it out”.

“I saw the money was on the table too, and it’s definitely gone; dad hasn’t made a mistake.”

“I heard that conversation, and mum didn’t said it was okay to go to the skatepark today.”

Positively reinforce the process of therapeutic parenting:

“I think dad did a great job of keeping you safe when you felt angry at him last night”

“I see that feeling frustrated is making you cross; I’m going to go outside with mum. There is a hug waiting for you from both of us when you are ready.

“Dad is not going to argue or fight back; this is not okay, so we are going to walk away for a moment. We are here when you need us”.

How much do you do this; randomly reinforce your partner as a positive, loving person and parent? Not simply when a challenging situation arises, but knitted into the ordinary everyday comings and goings of life. However much you do, my consultant would no doubt say you should do it more!

Living without this reflective back up is hard, because the power of positive reinforcement is profound.

So, back to my fellow single adopters and ‘what can we do’? Not much really. People outside the home often inadvertently negatively reinforce our children’s belief through trying to be kind. Inside, trying to do it yourself – or through the dog – mostly seems to feel sarcastic, or obviously pointing something out. Briefing even one close friend or relative on how to do this for you would make a big difference.

In advance of more input on this from the consultant, ideas welcome!

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)