I’m a cynic, there’s no getting away from it. I approach any kind of training with caution, predicting it’ll be 50% common sense, 35% stating the obvious and 15% learning something new. I went on a compulsory wellbeing course at work the other day and sat through it in a permanent state of mental scoff. In all honesty, with the prep group, I fully expected to be going through the motions in order to tick a necessary box. I was happy to do so in the name of the game. But I was wrong. I’m actually really enjoying the group. And I have to admit, I’m learning lots too.
The second session was pretty hardcore. The assembled social workers threw us in at the deep end with a morning on Loss. They got everyone to close their eyes and think about a loss they’ve suffered in their life. As I sat there squinting to make sure it wasn’t just me who’d complied with the eyes shut thing, they started asking questions: “Think about how it made you feel,” “How did it make you behave,” “How did you cope with it” etc. The idea was that we’d put ourselves in the position of adopted children, who have all suffered a loss – a loss of a birth parent and, most likely, a foster carer too. I played it safe and thought about when I’d moved house – I’m going to be the last person on earth to commit to real emotion in a group environment. But some people clearly didn’t – some started crying and some left the room. I’d usually dismiss it as melodrama but in this case, it felt genuine and it came from people who immediately empathised with how their future child was feeling.
After Loss came Resilience. We talked about lots of ways to build up resilience in our future children. One such way is Contact. And by Contact, they mean contact with a birth family. Some children have letterbox contact – exchanging letters and photos facilitated by the adopted families and social services. I can see the point of that; when children see a birth parent aging in photos it stops them fantasising in tough times about the perfect parent that you stole them from. This kind of contact is aimed at making sure children form a solid personal identity. As is direct sibling contact, since many adopted children come from large families. I understand this, too – a shared early experience is something that can never be replicated, no matter how hard we try. But then there’s direct contact with a birth parent, something my jury is out on. I’m just not convinced that it’s good for anyone – although that’s not the tagline the social workers are going with.
Just before lunch, we were visited by a parent who’d adopted two siblings. She came to talk to us ten years on. It was brilliant to hear her talk about her adoption journey in a real and un-social-workey way. She had helped facilitate direct contact with siblings but wasn’t in favour of direct contact with birth parents. It’s not always a choice though, thanks to the rise of social media. Her story showed that, whether you ‘Like’ it or not, Facebook is a reality that makes it fairly easy for birth parents to track their children, and vice versa. It’s therefore more important than ever to be completely upfront with your kids and encourage them to talk to you from the very start.
We ended the day by labelling paper dolls of ourselves with characteristics about us. I was a Partner, Friend, Family-Focused, Creative, British person. We were asked to cut off all the limbs and head and donate a body part to the person next to us. We then had to take one from the person on the other side of us. If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure what this exercise was trying to prove. Something about, isn’t-it-difficult-when-you-lose-something-that-defines-you. A little clunky? Perhaps, but it was good fun playing cut-out and making up weird bodies.
All in all, it was a full-on and extremely useful day. I’ll even be sad to see the back of the prep group next week. There, I said it. Also I feel like our group is bonding a bit. We might even keep in touch with some of them. Which is nice.