We went to our first preparation group on Wednesday. We’re going to our next one this Wednesday. And we’re finishing it the Wednesday after that. On that Wednesday, you can consider us fully prepared. I’d been ridiculously nervous about the prep group and I wasn’t really sure why. I’d even planned an outfit which, incidentally, was completely unsuitable since it turned out to be a freak sunny day. The best laid plans and all that…
I think the prep group is daunting because it involves meeting lots of other prospective parents just like you. The glass half full says these people are your support network. The glass half empty says they’re your competition. It’s also one of those group things that involve icebreakers and small talk. Worse still, we are being judged on how we interact and what we say. Of course, there are biscuits – but, you know, they’re just not enough of a draw on their own…
The reality is, the prep group was fine. Useful even. We’re kind of going about it backwards as we’re the only people in our group to have started the home visits. I think it’s because the earlier group was full, but whatever, we’re ahead of the game a bit. And that was nice, because nothing was news to us and it always helps to feel a bit smug. We talked through the different kinds of abuse, neglect and trauma that adopted kids are likely to suffer. My mum, on hearing me recount this, got straight to the point: “Can’t you just get a normal child?” The fact is, at the very least, pretty much every kid in care today has been removed from their birth family. That’s never going to be a happy experience for anyone and the result is going to be that this sense of loss is going to live on in some form or another.
We talked a lot about attachment too. Adopted children are likely to have attachment issues to varying extents. There are lots of different attachment disorders but, basically, it means that somewhere along the line, the child had basic needs that were not met. And this means that their development has been affected, interrupted or damaged. There are lots of things we can do to encourage positive attachment with us and, in time, will help the child to come to terms with what it experienced in its early life. Play is important. Confident parenting is important (even if you’re crying on the inside). Affection is important. Everything you’d expect really.
We did an exercise where everyone got a bit of paper with a parenting technique written on it. We all had to place our bit of paper along a line where one end was ‘good parenting’ and one end was ‘unacceptable parenting’. I got ‘making fun of the child’ – that was fairly straightforward. Yes, mock the adopted child, that’s what I do, right? My partner got ‘sending a child to their room as punishment.’ She thought it might be a useful technique in terms of having a time out or removing the child from an environment that was winding them up. But, oh no. Someone else piped up,”what if they’d been sexually abused?” Hadn’t she just single-handedly brought all the bad memories flooding back? Context is key, of course. You would have thought that would have been blindingly obvious but apparently not.
Anyway, just as she was beginning to feel like she’d dropped a clanger, another guy piped up: “Ok, I’m going to be controversial here – I’ve smacked my child and am in favour of smacking as a punishment.” Ouch. He was firmly advised that he would never be allowed to smack an adopted child. I imagined somebody somewhere reaching for their red pen and drawing a line through his name. Someone else thought that taking away a child’s favourite pastime would never be an acceptable punishment. What if their favourite pastime was the one thing they were good at? Another guy countered (with a glint in his eye) – “What if their favourite pastime is torturing the family dog?” Brilliant – comment of the day in my book. Context. Context. Context.
A couple of observations I made during the day. One – we’re fairly young compared to most people adopting. Two – for most people, adoption isn’t their first choice – which also makes us different. Three – a surprisingly high number of people in our group were coming into adoption with a birth child already. I haven’t got much to say about this – it’s just a few more cogs turning.
We’ve just done our homework for the next session. We had to choose two children from a selection of case studies and then write up how we would parent them. We chose a six-month-old reaching its developmental milestones but with two schizophrenic parents, and a six-year-old with anxiety and confidence issues. Apparently these write-ups will form part of our assessment. It was a really interesting exercise actually and was just one of the ways in which it’s all becoming so incredibly real.
We saw a couple of people from our prep group in Homebase today. My partner made me dodge them because she hadn’t done her hair. To be fair, it was a bit on the large side. But the perfect parent facade won’t hold up for long – and that’s something we can’t dodge. The main message I got from the prep group – mainly from the adoptive parent who helped run the session – was that we will make mistakes. We will look back and cringe at them. But we’ll keep learning on the job – and that’s ok.*
*Unless you are smacking them. And that’s really not ok, stupid.