Ugh! Renting was supposed to be helpful!!!

We chose to rent as opposed to mortgage, prior to adoption, as we weren’t sure what the children’s needs were going to be and whether we would need to move etc. But also because, although it would add financial pressure… it would take the stress out of problems “it’s someone else’s responsibility”. Not to disrespect the house, but you know… if the boiler breaks, I call someone, I don’t need to concern myself with who’s the best person to fix, whether it’s a good enough price etc. etc. I can just concentrate on the children. And that would be that.

Or so we thought.

We were in our previous house for 5+ years, through a family friend who just paid an insurance to get all the work done, and anything they had to do they just got on with. So we thought, when we moved, we should go through an agency as hen they would be on top of things too. But nope.

The day we got our keys we were told “oh, by the way, this isn’t working but don’t worry, we’ll get it fixed.” Well time passed, we had a to unpack, go to a wedding and such. And suddenly I realised 3 months had passed and the job hadn’t been done. Well… it’s almost 7 months to the day since we moved in and the job (which was half started just before Christmas), has finally been completed.

The agency, naturally, are trying to rid themselves of all blame of it taking so long. What they aren’t understanding is I am a reasonable person. A simple acceptance that they made mistake, an apology and assurances that they will do better in future and I would have been happy and ready to get on with my tenancy in peace. But there have been several other problems too. Not least them going back to the landlord and saying I have lied about several things I have told him.

Are they failing to grasp the concept that I am the customer, and they have told me these things and therefore I know the truth? And therefore calling me a liar is very unlikely to make us want to renew the tenancy, let alone recommend that others have their custom.

In fact, I am on the verge of speaking to the Letting Agent Redress Scheme because frankly, it’s not right and nor should they do this to other people. They basically think it’s acceptable to wind the landlord up to the point of him coming to our door (unannounced) all confrontational. Pretty sure that, in itself, breaks the tenancy agreement.

Anyhow, the kids were here when he turned up, and that’s why I have been absent. They heard it all. Cue self harm, anxiety, sleeplessness and meltdowns.

I have had enough of being stuck under someone else’s rules and restrictions. We aren’t allowed to even put pictures/posters up, get a pet or even add a splash of colour/put up border or anything for the children. And yet, we are allowed to be called liars, not have work done in a reasonable time frame and be talked down to at our own “home”. We will move when this tenancy is up, and by the time the lease is up on our next tenancy, I will have a mortgage underway.

When I get an idea in my head, I am one determined little beast, so watch this happen! hehe

home

Parenting a self harming child

It’s hard to think that a child as young as 4 or 5 could be so ashamed of themselves (their actions, or even their identity) that they’d physcially harm themselves. But, it really does happen. And it really is hard to witness.

I don’t want to sit here and tell people how to deal with things, ’cause frankly, situations like this are all very individual… but I can say that what the person needs to feel is acceptance and not more shame. I have had input from various places, professionals included, that have stated that I need to make the child understands their behaviour is “wrong” and “naughty”. Surely, harm born of shame shouldn’t be shamed in such a way???

Well, I don’t care about what your training and qualifications are… that’s not for us, and it isn’t going to work here. Instead, we have greatly reduced the behaviour by identfying anxiety tiggers, and where possible removing them. That’s not to say we avoid things as such, but we do it on our terms, like going to the supermarket when everyone is at work/school. Also, by noticing times when anxiety will be higher and ensuring that, during these times, there’s a higher level of affectionate input, reassurance and comfort (and being extra vigilant).

Doesn’t solve it, but greatly reduces the frequency, and we are finding that with reduced frequency we also get reduced severity. That means that the child doesn’t feel shame as often (about these actions) which can quickly, and very easily, move toward becoming a downward spiral of self harming behaviour. And when situations do arise, it’s not met with anger, it’s met with acceptance. “Ok, Mumma can see you are struggling here, let me help. I am not cross with you, I am not upset with you. I love you and I want to help you if you will let me…” and then it goes from there.

We try to always (if feasible) get them into the bath. Warm water for comfort, familiar smells that we know they find comforting. Foaming bath soap that clings to them and stimulates feelings of gentle touch even after the hands have rubbed it on. Using a cup to gently rinse off the foam. Swaddling them like a baby in a soft fluffly towel after the bath, and cuddling and rocking them. Showing love and nurture, and overwhelming the body with feelings of gentle touch and nurture. Hopefully this need to hurt when feeling shamed can be associated with feeling nurture and comfort,,, and eventually the hurting part can fizzle out.

They are very much babies in older children’s bodies, handling adult level emotions without the world understanding, or emotional skills to process it properly. Sometimes not even the verbal skills. So how can we tell them they are wrong in their actions, they don’t even understand what they are doing? All they understand is this feeling (shame) is overwhelming them, and it’s horrible, and it’s making them feel horrible and they want it to go away. When this feeling has been treated with anger, or violence, by adults in the past then in their heads it’s the right thing to do… respond with anger or violence to themselves.

As a parent, who loves the child that’s so visibly torn, it’s draining to witness and be privvy to. But as the parent, how you suffer in this scenario is unimportant. As the parent, your pain at seeing your child hurt has to be pushed aside and filed under “to deal with later”. You have to be there how they need you, for however long. But as a supportive figure. Not authoritative. Not shaming.

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That doesn’t feel right…

A very unusual thing happened this week… and I felt I needed to write about it. To have it documented in history.

I got to actually relax, not for 5 minutes. Not with a child attached to me. Not trying to do my own thing whilst a child is getting hugged for over an hour… but actually chill out WHILST still parenting.

I ran myself a bath, put in a couple of bath bombs, and told the children they were to play together in each other’s rooms. And they did… for 90 mins. No fighting, no rivalry, none of that whiny crap that you often hear when siblings are doing something remotely competetive; at one point they were definitely playing Frustration, but still all I heard were giggles and “sillys” (it’s what I call the giggly, non-sensical ramblings of children when they are having fun).

And then, when I got out of the bath, I ran them a bath, and got a load of their bath stuff: fizzers, bombs, foam, shower gel, flannels and got them to put swimming kits on and said “do what you want with that but use nothing else”. After 50 minutes of nice, giggly, happy, non-destructive play, it was me that had to end their bath time. Not them, not their behaviour. I was across the landing, again still listening to them, but gave them the space to feel independent. And I just lay on the bed, staring into nothingness.

So although I was still parenting, as in actually listening in, to supervise and intervene where I needed, I was actually relaxing too. I had no idea this could happen, to remain in parenting mode and actually just “chill” for quite an extended period.

It certainly helped make up for some of the sleep deprivation, but it also had the added benefit of increasing my tolerance, patience and self-awareness. I’m not all topped up by any means, but it’s a toe in the water as to what life could become; my children having independence and following some kind of boundaries without intervention, without negative consequences and with purpose, laughter and social skills.

Feeling proud. Feeling accomplished. Feeling hopeful.

Why won’t you just sleep? Please!!!!

So, one of the children has struggled with sleep from the outset, one of them has issues every now and again. And as they are both children who feel extra vulnerable at night time, due to the way their history has played out, they both find it extra hard to seek the help they need at night time… even if you hand it to them on a plate.

We are in an “enduring” period at the moment with both of them. One is on high alert, and with high alert comes their go to anxious response – self harm. So, that particular child is under supervision, or listened in on, 24/7 during those periods. So, one of us is always sat with them at bed time… The other, just not sleeping, and then by 4:30/5am getting fed up of just laying there, so making lots of fuss, fidgeting and generally refusing to allow anyone else rest (with many dramas in between having gone to bed and this ‘final showdown’).

Well, it reached a boiling point today, and we bascially refused to do anything until they gave in and actually slept for at least 30 minutes. They could sit and do nothing, or they could nap (food and toilet and drink obviously occurred). But I mean, we are a few years into this now, and this is continuous, and we have tried everything (including melatonin). Awaiting a sensory assessment from an Occupational Therapist who specialises in Attachment Trauma and the consequetional attachment related sensory issues that could prevail.

But we haven’t had that yet as social services took 18 months to assess us, to secure funding for the initial specialist assessment. And a further 3 months to get the appointment through, and get a written report published that said we need to have a specialist OT to assess us (don’t even go there). But that means this year’s funding has been allocated. However, we can’t go through NHS because it is the responsibility of the placing local authority to fund this type of assessment (and any following support) for 3 years after the final Adoption Order is processed. So we have to wait for the next financial year to be eligible to even apply for this assessment, let alone attend, get a report and secure any suggested therapy/advice/training.

So assuming other timescales, this could mean a 1+ year wait…  so if our response seems strong, or extreme, ask yourself if a child who’s not sleeping (not even really a solid hour per night) is at more risk by being told to rest for a day, or by running themselves ragged on hyper alert, over tired, over stimulated, under regulated and with exhausted parents and a very grumpy sibling to boot.

Anyhow, late afternoon… a nap was achieved and then low level and calm activity could take place. But not without first having a discussion. One about why today went the way it did. Why Mumma and Daddy want them to have adequate sleep – to rest, to help their brain have more focus, for their health, for growth and development. It didn’t seem to sink in, but then a child that hates themself, thinks they are evil and the cause of all problems really isn’t going to give two hoots about themselves at all really are they?

Some very long discussions later and then the question was asked.

“So, Mumma is not angry. Mumma is concerned. About you. But not just you… about me, Daddy and [sibling]. We all need rest. And we can’t help you until you are willing to accept the help. Don’t feel shame. Don’t cry to try and get out of this. Just tell me, how do you feel whilst you are lying there at night. What is it that is making you feel something that is stopping you from going to sleep?”

After a few tries to emotionally manipulate their way out of the situation and some firm, but reassuring, responses that we really don’t care how bad they think it is, we aren’t angry, or upset… just want to help. Something happened. Something that seemed genuine, and would make sense…

“it feels like part of my brain stops working. Like it is broken”,
“broken how, in what way”
“it just stops working and then I can’t use it. It is switching off.”
“do you mean you can’t respond to things?”
“yes, like if there’s a noise or something.”
“Ok. And is that scaring you?”
“Yes, because then I don’t know what’s happening”
“Ok, I understand. But do you know what? That means your brain is working, it needs to shut off from everything that is happening so that you can truly rest. I know it may not feel familiar and safe because night time used to be scary… but you aren’t broken.”

This provoked many tears. There was some acknowledgement and then some funny demonstrations of being hyper alert and being flat out exhausted (tongue out, drooling type). And then further discussion about being safe now, and not needing to listen anymore, and their body knows this which is why it’s trying to work, but it feels unfamiliar and that’s what’s scary – it’s not broken, just unfamiliar.

We have now put some steps in place: thought processes, self-led conversations etc. and then calling for help, reiteration we don’t care how many times we have to get up if it’s helping etc. Now we are (hopefully) one step further forward, and the fight isn’t “what is happening?” but rather “how do we help engrain the feeling of safety and help recognise there isn’t a danger that needs protecting from?”

We’re going to keep reiterating these steps, and also compliment it with aromatherapy (we have a doTerra emotional aromatherapy diffusing kit we have purchased in the hopes to come to aid our ability to promote moods), make extra sure that bed time routines are fixed and peaceful (and nurturing) and potentially find some soothing sounds to play over a speaker to complete the soothing and safe atmosphere (and hopefully distract from the knocks of the heating and creaks of the house).

Slowly these walls are being taken down, even if it’s one brick at a time and we are removing 6 bricks and adding 2 back on. But it’s moving forward. And as a parent of a traumatised child, that’s a win you not only take, but celebrate!

 

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It’s not a competition!!!

I really struggle with how competetive people seem to think life is.

The whole idea of pitting kids against each ther in school. development and achievements. The competivity between parents/carers of “oh, well ‘x’ was doing that by the age of ‘y’…”. These aren’t anything to do with ensuring your child gets credit for what they are doing. This is about the parents saying “check out my parenting skills”… “this is what I did…”. And this is bad enough, but when someone is struggling, rather than having empathy there seems to be a need to display how their problems aren’t as big as your problems.

We are human, things happen we struggle, we vent, we get down. But is that a reason to be all “well, I don’t know why you’re moaning… everyone has issues and quite frankly mine are worse”?

I don’t think it is. I think it’s about time the parenting community just stop with this idea of better and worse. Not least because it doesn’t example good behaviour to the kids, or consider that everyone is different… but also because really, what does it achieve? Do you feel better putting someone down? Does it make the person feel better? Does it solve any issues? Nope, I can’t say that it does.

When I see people going through it this is my contingency:

  1. Is there anything I can do to help?
    • Yes – offer the help
    • No – go to point 2
    • Perhaps, I  am not sure – tell them you are there and ask if you can do anything to help
  2. Would it feel awkward, like you are just being nosey, if you were to tell them you are there for them?
    • No – well tell them then, don’t downplay their problems, don’t say “it’s normal” or “it’ll pass”, offer them something supportive and tell them you know you can’t help, but you are there if they need you.
    • Yes – just shut up and pass on by…

You can’t help in every circumstance, that’s for sure. But what is certain is that you have a choice to not make someone feel worse.

Even if you think you know what someone is going through, consider that you don’t and be kind. Just remember that suffering and endurance really are relative experiences. And just because you have travelled the same path, doesn’t mean you’re carrying the same weight, experiencing the same weather conditions, fighting with the same energy and motivated with the same levels of support.

Let’s stop this hate. Let’s stop this judgement, this competition, this downplay of suffering, this isolation. And let’s instead spread compassion and unity and empathy and empowerment.

 

2018: Looking forward part 2

As a family, on New Year’s Day, we like to reflect on the year that has passed and also “wonder” about what the next year may bring. So we answred the following questions (as individuals, so the children couldn’t be swayed by one another). We don’t really set resolutions as such (although I kind of have made one this year – I will post about that later), instead desires of “what’d be nice” rather than set goals that we are aiming to achieve.

So here are our ponderings…

Q: What was the best thing about the past year?
Ariella: Being able to see the children enjoy Christmas for the first time ever.
Bruce: Our Santorini holiday
Logan: Horseriding
Caitlin: Being on the black beach

Q: What are you most excited about this year?
Ariella: Going on holiday again for Christmas, hopefully setting the tradition will make for a less anxious future
Bruce: Having a night out with my wife
Logan: Going to Bluestone
Caitlin: Going to Bluestone

Q: What new experience would you like to have this year?
Ariella: Paintballing. Despite always having been drawn to it, I have never been
Bruce: Rock Climbing – I did try it when I was a child, but I barely remember it.
Logan: To see what it is like to be a miner
Caitlin: I want to go on a cruise

Q: What 3 things would you like to work on, or achieve, this year?
Ariella:
1. Making more “interference-free” family time
2. Allowing myself more time to refuel (and treating my body more kindly)
3. Trying to make a regular slot to work on my degree and my blog
Bruce:
1. Supporting my wife more
2. Cliche but, getting healthier
3. Getting back to art in some form
Logan:
1. Learning to swim safely
2. Pleasing people less, just being myself
3. Learning to be happy being me
Caitlin:
1. To swim without being scared
2. Go to singing and dancing lessons
3. Learn to play music

 

 

 

2018: Looking forward part 1

So… looking forward to the coming year, I feel more hopeful than I have in a while… yes I know “it’s the New Year feeling”… no it isn’t. This is the first in several that has felt hopeful: illness with unknown cause and chronic pain, redundancy, adoption agency drama, knowing the fate of my motherhood lay in the hands of other people, waiting for news on if I was officially my children’s parents and then of course the “I’m a parent of an adopted child, struggling to remove the post-Christmas shrapnel and glue us back together in whatever ragged, wonky and fragile form I can”.

I am not sure I can use words to clearly show how helpless I have felt to begin each year for the last several years. But this year… this year is different.

  • Being away for Christmas means that the explosion didn’t happen, so there’s no shrapnel to clear
  • having had no explosion, or shrapnel, means we only have our normal levels of shame and unworthiness (which are still pretty high, but not “crisis” high)
  • co-sleeping (well, them sleeping in bunks in our room) means we are all having at least double the amount of sleep we were having in the few years prior to this New Year
  • Home educating, and me being with the kids almost literally 24/7, means separation anxiety, shame, self-deprecation, emotionally-triggered situations and so forth are much lower in frequency or severity
  • less anxiety (and shame) means less meltdowns, means more energy for me
  • professionals have finally put the words I have been screaming about sensory, coordination and attachment in black and white (it’s not supported yet – but it’s on paper…)
  • Caitlin finally has a wheelchair, my back, shoulders, neck and legs have been partying for about 3 weeks (from when the wheelchair was collected). The big days can be more often, and it doesn’t matter if I feel like death cause she can wheel herself
  • I finally have an appointment with a surgeon to fix myself… really, it’s more about the fact “I can fix myself” (the children are mentally stable enough for it to not completely spiral now) than I am seeing a surgeon but who’s being picky?

We are starting the New Year with not with just the vim and vigour that, for some, New Year can bring, but with knowledge that life is changing.  Life might actually be “lived” this year. This year may be more than just survived. Hope has been restored!

 

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2017: Reflections

So 2017. What have you added to our Pleasant Chaos?

Well

Stress
Destruction
Intimidation
Ill health
Death
Loss
Battles – copious physcially exhausting, and mentally draining battles
Personal challenges

You brought your A game to topple us, but Life, my old chum, you should know by now that I am tough. I am fierce. I am a fighter and I am more determined and strong willed than most you will meet, so here’s what I countered you with.

Travelling – lots of new places and experiences
Family time
A new home
The choice to home educate
holistic therapies
lifestyle changes
Unburdening of commitments we didn’t NEED
Letting go of guilt
Walking away
celebration on our terms
LIFE ON OUR TERMS

And guess what Life? Guess what 2017? We survived you. We lived. We laughed. We had fun. We may have cried along the way. We may have gotten overwhelmed at the weight of the journeys we endured, but we ended it smiling. We ended it happier, stronger and more united as a family. We take your adveristy and your struggle and we raise you a smile and a hug.

Goodbye 2017.

Hello 2018, we welcome you with positivity and wonder. We look forward to what you can offer us, and what we can offer you.

Let’s do this.

 

 

NYE 2017

Knowing that the children really don’t cope with busy, choatic, loud party scenarios when they are anxious we always have a celebration at home that allows them to still experience the “New Year thing”. So we set them challenge activity bags, or envelopes, a bit similar to our advent thing, but this time purely about the night.

So this is what we did this year too… we gave them an envelope, at midday, and inside was another envelope saying that they needed to decorate for a party, move the clock forward 3 hours and have lunch. The inner envelope contained all of their envelopes for the evening with the real time noted in red and the fake time noted in black. This meant they knew we weren’t lying to them, we knew they couldn’t stay up til midnight but we could pretend like when we go on holiday to a different time zone.

The order of events:`

12 midday (3pm) – set the clock forward 3 hours, lunch and decorate for a party (basically, put the christmas lights up).
1pm (4pm) – Present Exploration: Any new things they haven’t got to explore yet for Christmas can be checked out during this hour
2pm (5pm) – Games hour – board games, so the choices ended up being jenga, uno and draughts
3pm (6pm) – Gingerbread house – what family doesn’t enjoy the building a house out of ingredients that are tricky to hold together in a confined space right?
4pm (7pm) – Magic bath time (bath bombs… plural) – they love what Lush! products do to their bath water… so naturally as it’s NYE, we may as well double up right?
5pm (8pm) – Party clothes and face paints – as previously mentioned the children love any excuse to dress up fancy… but they also love face paints. Short time frame meant they just had NYE 2017, 3 balloons and 3 popping fireworks this year, but hey – we got back on track with our timings.
6pm (9pm) – Party Feast –  exactly as it says on the tin… a feast of Party nature.
7pm (10pm) – Chocolate fountain – melted chocolate, strawberries and marshmallows. Mmmmmmm!
8pm (11pm) – Disco time – main lights off, christmas lights on, music and not plugged in microphones (and glow sticks of course)
9pm (midnight) – Midnight mocktails and countdown orange and pineapple juice with grenadine and a netflix NYE countdown

They had a lot of fun, some envelope challenges ran past the hour, but it didn’t matter. we still read the next one on time and muddled our way through. and ultimately ended the year on a high.

 

Christmas Day 2017

Christmas day this year was kept relatively small – it had to be, we were going away and had to fit everything in our boot.

It meant that we were literally left with stuff from Santa and our stockings. Everything else given before we came away was opened ahead of time. Anything else had to wait until we were back.

The plan: lock ourselves away in the lodge, interact with no one else. Take it easy.

It worked. Well, there was some mummy-ninja style morning action; the children are scared to get themselves out of bed for any needs to be met at night, or even in the morning. So after going to the loo, I played some sleigh bells on my phone by their door… it didn’t get them moving. So from the side, I managed to flick their door ajar, and run back to my bed and pretend to be asleep. That got their attention and they actually managed to brave investigating themselves. And discovering that “santa had been”.

Not knowing how Christmas day would go, I prepped all the food the night before. Everything then became a relaxed leisurely doddle.

We opened presents at our own pace. We ate and moved and dressed and crafted and played at our own pace. No pressure from the outside world. And soon enough it was bed time.

Bed time posed some problems, as having such a positive day left the children cotemplating. For Logan, all we could get out of him was that he missed our cat – that’s the only loss he’ll openly deal with – that was indisputably beyond his control. But according to his logic, everything bad that’s happened to him (aside from our kitty’s death) could be, or is, his fault. For Caitlin, it’s confusion or frustration over why we can’t be her birth parents, or why her birth parents couldn’t “sort themselves out” and be her parents – why did she have to change families? or why couldn’t he just have been our daughter from the start?

So we zipped off on the golf buggy, around the tournament field, through puddles, under stars. We filled our lungs with fresh country air and giggled and got wet. And then went home to bed. So far, it has been our best Christmas as a family.