Quiet but busy

Apologies for having a quiet summer on our blog. We haven’t even been reading other people’s blogs, since Google Reader shut down. Does anyone have recommendations for another browser-based RSS reader?

It is October, which means our adoption journey picks up pace. We attend preparation group this month, at Suburban Agency. Soon after, we will put in our official application to Rural Adoption Agency. We will be appointed a social worker and then complete home study. A few panels, a lot of reading, and one match later — and we will be parents.

We have been entertaining the idea of Hand-stitched Dad taking the adoption leave, so all three of us can be home for the most amount of time with our new family member. I have heard that some social workers are particular about releasing a child into the care of a man. That is a diplomatic way of saying that some social workers make matching decisions based on our gender (or maybe gonad assignation?) rather than exploring what “gender” and “familiarity” really means to their traumatised child. There are of course very good reasons why some children are placed with Male or Female parents, but I hope there are even better reasons why they are matched with those parents, that have nothing to do with Male or Female parts at all.

I cannot speak for individual social workers or individual children awaiting adoptive placements, but I can speak for my lovely husband. Hand-stitched Dad is a gentle man with a boyish face, who rarely has anything but kind things to say. He is tall and slender, with a charming multi-coloured beard. Whenever I see him, I relax. Whenever he looks at me, I smile. If I feel childlike and stroppy, he returns my childlike banter in equal force. If I feel serious and philosophical, he listens quietly.

When things became very stressful — the peak of our grieving — we separated for a brief two weeks. It was horrible. But at the end of the two weeks, I knew exactly why I married this man.

We are not perfect. We make mistakes every day. We have had life experiences that have disabled us and left us lonely and afraid. We do not have everything we want, such as a spacious, clean home. But we do have a few quite remarkable things, such as deep respect for each other and a willingness to grow together no matter what the outcome. I now have a name for the values that keep us together: Acceptance and Resilience.

Hand-stitched Dad is steadfast. He embodies all the best qualities of a parent, and, yes, most of those qualities are also considered archetypical female: gentleness, sensitivity, compassion, tolerance, deference.

I look forward to seeing our prospective adopters report. How will it capture the ambiguity of gender roles in our relationship? Will I be described as masculine because of the absence of typical female traits? Will people ignore Hand-stitched Dad’s strengths because he is male? How will the biases of our social worker play out in our assessment?

It may not ultimately work out financially, but I would love to see Hand-stitched Dad grow into the role previously known as Mother. I know that I would be proud to be a Father. I’m not sure it matters what we hide in our underpants.

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Progressing our application

Things have been progressing at a nice pace. We are booked into a preparation group in the autumn, which gives us time to move house (fingers crossed). Little City adoption agency has been in touch and we will be meeting with them in the next few weeks.

As Little City and Rural share training, we don’t need to decide between them until we put in a formal application after preparation group training. The government, however, is changing the way adoption agencies assess prospective adopters. Things may look completely different after July 1st, meaning we will be pushed by government KPIs (key performance indicators) to apply and be approved as soon as possible (four to six months).  The alternative is that we bring down the statistics for our chosen adoption agency.

The cost of these changes is that vulnerable people who are not yet ready to adopt will either be rejected at panel or rushed into parenthood. Well, I suppose if those people wanted to take their time, they would. I’m not sure it will make the system better though — preying on people’s intense desires to be parents.

Because of these changes, I have made it clear to the adoption agencies that hand-stitched dad and I will be taking our time. The last thing I want is for an over-eager social worker to try to rush us, our report, our link, our match, our introductions, our *anything*. Thankfully, Rural adoption agency has been very supportive of our plans. This has increased our trust in this agency to the point where it would take a lot for Little City to impress us.  Rural has demonstrated a commitment to getting to know us and maintaining a continuity throughout the various hoops placed before us prospective adopters. The attitudes of the staff have all been ‘on message’ aka consistent and clear. Finally, they have demonstrated their understanding of what we have to offer and what we have to learn.

This has set the bar rather high for Little City.

I feel like my mind is already made up. But that is not how it works. A lot can change before 2014. It is important we stay flexible and only commit when the time is right.

There is still an awful lot of work to do.

Making Decisions

Hand-stitched dad and I are notorious for our decision making skills. We like to sit with the question, weighing up an endless supply of ‘what ifs’ and second-guessing what we (and others) want. Social workers love that we took our precious time (three years in fact) between our first enquiry and our decision to proceed. They will love it less when waiting for our answers during home study, I’m sure.

The government was not thinking of me and hand-stitched dad when they decided to reduce the assessment period to eight, six and then four months. We genuinely need time to process and adapt to what we learn about adoption and about ourselves. We are thoughtful and considerate people. We are not good at making decisions.

Age? Not an exclusion factor.

Gender? Don’t care.

The social worker from Rural Adoption Agency pointed out to us that we needed limits, otherwise we would have thousands of children thrown at us once approved. We looked up BAAF’s matching criteria form and discovered we still couldn’t draw a line.

“You need to talk about it more.” The social worker suggested. I thought to myself: we’ve talked about it plenty; what we need is a way to make decisions.

The social worker’s face took on a dreamy look when sharing a story about the magic of telling an adopted child they had been chosen. “We chose you.”

I cringed.

Based on my own experience of trauma and neglect, the last thing I wanted to hear as a child was that I’d been chosen. I would much rather have had a choice. I would have wanted someone listening to me and giving me a say in the decisions. It’s not easy getting to know a traumatised child on that level. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

Where on the BAAF form does it say: “I would like the child who would choose me” ?

Hand-stitched dad and I were both on a natural high after the social worker left. We bounced from the kitchen to the dining room, putting away snacks and hanging up laundry. We reassured each other. “It went fine.” “Did I talk too much?” “No. Was I okay?” “Was I okay?” Yes. Yes. Smiles. Hugs. This is it. “The first step!”

We babbled excitedly about Rural Adoption Agency. I was pleasantly surprised by some of what the social worker described. It fit my impression of the agency from my research and monitoring. It’s nice when evidence corroborates like that.

Hand-stitched dad had preferred Little City Adoption Agency. But he shrugged, with a smile, “I can’t think of a reason not to go with Rural adoption agency.”

I paused and smiled. “Neither can I.”

We looked into each other’s eyes and our smiles grew. We bounced up and down together, both exclaiming in unison: “We just made a decision. We just made a decision!!!” Then we collapsed in fits of giggles at our absurdity. We smiled at each other. We held hands.

The first step.

Just a Prospective Adopter

“As you are still a prospective adopter, you can have little real idea of what it is like actually to parent one of the most difficult children in the system, though your understanding will have been augmented greatly by being able to read these boards. ” [Bold mine]

Really, it’s never nice to be told what you are.

But that’s not what I want to comment on. I want to challenge the idea that the biggest difference between the quoted person and me is that they are parents and I am not.

If you search the scientific literature, you don’t read that traumatised children thrive best with people who have experience raising a ‘difficult child.’ You read that traumatised children thrive best with people who have experienced and resolved their own trauma successfully — presumably because these sorts of parents have genuine empathy and resilience. Experience raising a child doesn’t really factor into that equation, because people don’t need to be experienced parents to have the resources, understanding and motivation to take care of a traumatised child.

In my masters training, I was told by a child psychotherapist that “children choose” who to trust. They “choose” based on their complex experiences, or rather — how their experience of you fits into their previous experiences. It is a mostly automatic process, as people do not always have the capacity  to step back from and challenge the connections between emotions, thoughts and behaviours. As I observed child-adult interactions for my course, I saw this in practice: we are all captive to our life experiences. It is difficult to challenge our semi-automatic judgments of people, including ourselves.

I am a prospective adopter. But my ideas of what it is like to “actually parent one of the most difficult children in the system” come from my own life experiences not my adoptive status nor the amount of time I’ve spent reading adoption boards. I trust that my home study will fully explore these experiences in order to answer that very question.  I may even share a bit of my history with you here. Please don’t mistake this future disclosure of information as seeking your approval, as I don’t want or need it. The only people that matter regarding my parenting skills are the people in my care and the people who sometimes act on their behalf (aka the social workers).

What I can offer you, dear reader, is the same respect, consideration and acceptance of your disclosures that I demand for mine.  I understand that we may have had different experiences; we may make different choices. But we are united by how we take responsibility for those experiences and choices: our actions, our beliefs. We strive to understand, to know more, to do better. We share our vulnerabilities and strengths, by our own choice, and in time we realise that respect has less to do with shared experiences and everything to do with acknowledging ourselves.

I empathise with the original source of the quote. They were motivated by a desire to protect the vulnerable members of their group. I am reminded again that I’m an outsider  a prospective adopter. As an outsider a prospective adopter, I have no leverage to challenge the way things are done. Strange how this experience of rejection and frustration feels a little like… a real idea relevant life experience.

Don’t worry, I have a support network in place to cope. 😉

The Blue Notebook and Big Emotions

Hand-stitched dad and I have a lot of big emotions around adopting.

  • Excitement for working even more closely together as parents.
  • Anticipation over who might join our family.
  • Frustration that so much is in the hands of other people.
  • Fear that we might be deemed ‘not good enough’ to be adoptive parents.
  • Anger at people for withholding or limiting support for adopted children.
  • Empathy for birth parents who struggle with the chaos of their lives.
  • Sadness over our shared losses: the children, their birth parents and us.
  • Admiration for the remarkable people who find security despite traumatic experiences.
  • Hope that we can be a family that belongs somewhere, together.

Amidst all these emotions (and more) are important details and decisions. So, I started a Blue Notebook as a communication record, filled with dates, names, phone numbers, and notes of conversations and meetings related to the adoption process.

As I told the social workers: unlike many people beginning this journey, we are not in a hurry. Adoption thrives on preparation. After spending the last few years in books, blogs and forums, we are starting to branch out into telephone calls, meetings, and visits. Once we apply to an agency, we will join a preparation group and meet other prospective adopters. We will have home study visits with a social worker (or two), who simultaneously educates and evaluates us. Then, when we all agree we are ready, we go to panel to be approved (or rejected) as adoptive parents.

I genuinely hope this takes time. I want time to build my confidence as a therapeutic parent. I want time to make decisions about what sort of children hand-stitched dad and I are best suited for. I want time to build new relationships with experienced adopters, with our chosen agency, and with other new families. We need time to manage all of the big emotions that are stirred up in this process.