Biological children do that too, you know...

I love my friends. Really I do. I am totally blessed to have made friends with some truly awesome people throughout my life, and thanks to the invention of social media, have been able to easily keep in touch with them even when our lives have diverged and we no longer see each other regularly. I have been truly touched by the amount of support I've had during this process, not just from the people I interact with regularly but also from friends who I haven't seen in years.

One thing that I find most difficult though, is that despite how awesome my friends are, occasionally one of them will offer the comment that I'm sure all adopters will be only too familiar with: "Biological children do that as well, you know..."

Now, I *know* that they mean this in the best possible way. (Not everyone who says this does, granted, but my friends are FAB.) They are trying to reassure me, in my time of need, that Tickle's behaviour is perfectly normal, and I shouldn't worry. And while I so much appreciate the sentiment, and I know that - for him - Tickle's behaviour is, if not normal, then at least understandable, when someone says this to me what I actually want to do is throw my computer out of the window (I'm imagining I'm reading something on Facebook here, I don't go randomly destroying electrical equipment when I'm upset) and scream "NO... THEY... DON'T!!!"

But I don't do that. Because it would be expensive, and because I know that they mean well, but they Just Don't Know. How could they? From the outside, what I'm describing in my desperate Facebook posts might look very similar to something their child has done on occasion. They just don't know what it's like, any more than a person who has never had a biological child knows what it's like - until one comes along. And then when you have a child, you look back at your clueless pre-child self, and laugh; all the books, all the ante-natal classes, all the web forums and pregnancy clubs - they mean nothing when you actually have another living, breathing human to care for. But once you have a child - HO YES! - now you are the font of all knowledge, and you pity the poor pregnant fools who have no idea what they are letting themselves in for. Until you have another child, then you realise that you had NO CLUE what it was all about, but now you have two, yes, you are the expert. Until you have a child with Special Needs. Until you have a child with mental health problems. Until you adopt a child.

I'm not judging anyone here; it's human nature and I'm guilty of it myself. I was incredibly cocky as a teenager, very confident with myself in my 20s, but as I sail through my 30s and begin to approach the big 4-0 (gulp) I sometimes feel dwarfed by of all the stuff that I *don't* yet know about. Prior to adopting, I was as well prepared as I could be; I have a degree in Psychology, and I worked for two and a half years on a research project to do with attachment in new mothers. I have a biological child, so eight years of parenting experience, including three years as a single parent. I am a qualified teacher, and I also worked for a year as a mentor for vulnerable children, supporting them in the transition from primary to secondary school. I have worked for the Child Protection Team of my local police as an admin assistant, so I've seen and heard a lot of things from that side too - things that I've shut up tight in a little box in a dusty corner of my brain, but never forgotten. I've worked for five years with children with Special Needs. I've read dozens of books on adoption, on parenting children with trauma, on attachment focused parenting, brain-based parenting, I went on a course about theraputic play techniques... I thought I was ready.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHAAHAAA I so wasn't ready. I LAUGH at my pre-adoptive self and how ready and prepared I thought I was.

I also sympathise with her too. I can't judge her, because how could I know? How could I have known what it would actually be like?

So to all parents of biological children, let me say this. You know when your child has a screaming tantrum? When they throw stuff? When it takes three hours to get them to stay in their own bed, and even then they are still shouting and crying? When they stand at the top of the stairs yelling "I feel like I haven't even got any family!!" (I think that was Fairy's version of I hate you.. she always was an expressive child!) When they slam doors and stamp their feet, and do the exact thing you've just told them not to do?

Adopted children do that as well.

But with adopted children, although they are perfectly capable of having a 'normal' tantrum, there's another, extra layer, that you will never, ever have to worry about with a biological child. Imagine for a second that someone walks in to your home and your biological child is taken away from you against their will, and against yours. Imagine the panic, the crying and screaming that would erupt from your child. Is that the same as the tantrum that you have to face because they don't want to turn off the computer and have dinner?

That additional layer of panic that would permeate your biological child's 'tantrum' if someone were forcibly taking them away from you, is the one that adopted children have woven throughout the very fabric of their lives. It may not always look quite like 'panic' per se; it can be anxiety, anger, frustration, feeling out of control.. but it all comes from the same underlying source. Our children are not able to express this to us rationally - their bodies are flooded with adrenaline as they are primed to protect themselves, and their thinking brains have shut down as the amygdala takes over to allow them to deal with the perceived threat. For our children, potential threats can come in all sorts of unexpected ways; for example a few nights ago Fairy was carrying a plate of stew over to the dining table whilst daydreaming about kittens/unicorns/sleepovers/etc and dropped it all over the kitchen - Tickle screamed his head off and had to be held and rocked by Husband, refusing to be comforted until Fairy and I had cleaned up all the mess. I still don't know what exactly set him off, whether it was the noise of the plate dropping or the mess of the stew all over the kitchen - he was screaming, crying, and shouting "It's disgusting".

Children *need* adults in order to survive. There is one thing that your biological child will always be sure about - that you are their parent, and you will be there. In truth, I'm simplifying, as attachment is far more complex than this, and has all sorts to do with the development of self-confidence, self-esteem etc, but let's break it down in to this one very basic certainty - you will be there for them. Regardless of the type of parent you are, they know you will be there. You may shout at them, send them to their room, but you will be there. Even in extreme cases of child abuse, children are often fiercly loyal to their birth parents, and if given a choice, would choose to go back in to an environment that is physically dangerous to them, just to be with their birth parents.

So let's go back to your child who has been forcibly taken from you. They are placed in a new environment - it doesn't matter what, or where. Do you think that your child would be fine? Or do you think they would be jumping at shadows? Frightened of people? Do you think they might overreact to the tiniest thing? How do you think that they would cope with normal life, after being forcibly taken from you?

Now let's move away from your child for a moment and talk about mine. For the first five and a half years of his life, my child lived in an environment which at times was very frightening and chaotic. He's not been able to tell us about it, but there are things we've been able to piece together, partly from what the social workers have observed, and partly from what his brother has disclosed. Perhaps every time he heard a raised voice, he was expecting to be hit? Perhaps he expects to be physically punished for making mistakes? For not being quick enough? Perhaps there are certain times of day that he dreads.

So, let's add that together with the underlying panic he most likely feels being taken from his birth parents. Picture your birth child's worst tantrum, and superimpose all of the above on top. How quickly do you think that tantrum will pass? How easy is it for that child to calm themselves down? And how frequently do you imagine they will react like this??

For us, this has been a particularly bad week, but it is nothing to what some adoptive parents face. I'm not going to try and speak for them but I'll tell you what we have faced this week:

Shouting, crying, lying on the floor kicking his legs, because he doesn't want to go to school. Every day.

Shouting at me because I am talking to someone else, and he wants me to talk to him. Every day, usually more than once.

Throwing toys in anger - not on such a large scale as before (when they would go right across the room) since I have been taking them away, but adding just enough velocity to vent emotion whilst still aiming for the toy box under the guise of 'tidying up'. Every day, usually more than once.

I don't want to eat that / I don't like that / I want something different. Every day, usually every meal time.

And on top of this, in the last two days..

One session of solid screaming - lasting 15 minutes - triggered by being asked to get out of the bath.

One session of mixed screaming, kicking, shouting, spitting, hair pulling, hitting, farting on me, wrestling - lasting 20 minutes - triggered by being asked to come and sit with me for two minutes to calm down after repeated banging on the table at dinner time. (Twenty minutes may not sound much, but set yourself a timer and imagine someone screaming in your face for the whole of that time.)

Two days ago, the end result of the screaming session was that Tickle disclosed to us that his birth dad has been physically violent towards him, and that he's scared of it happening again. I can only think that last night's session was related to the disclosure in some way, but I couldn't get any sense out of him at all, and just had to hold him until he eventually calmed down.

And finally, I know this is a ridiculously long post (and congratulations if you've stuck it out this far) but there is one more thing that really needs saying...

When my biological child has a tantrum, I ask her to go to her room to calm down. I have spent eight years (so far) teaching her how to deal with her emotions, soothing her when she's sad, and helping her to find a way of regulating herself that works for her. (This isn't necessarily something I always do consciously; every time you sooth a crying baby, kiss a bump better, or cuddle your child when they're upset, they are learning how to cope.) I know that if Fairy goes up to her room then she gets the space she needs to calm down, and I can get on with stuff without a stroppy child in the way. If she makes me so cross that I yell at her, I can take some time out myself, and I can calm down.

When my adopted child has a tantrum, there is nothing I can do but hold him. (Quite apart from the regulating thing, if I don't, he will run wild. He has torn up Christmas cards, screwed up pictures that Fairy has drawn, thrown iPads and phones on the floor...)

Tickle cannot regulate his emotions, so it is up to me to do it for him. This means that while he had his 20 minute tantrum last night, I was holding him on my lap, rocking him, talking to him in a soothing voice, stroking his hair, kissing his head, and telling him I love him. When he had calmed down enough that he had completed his two minutes of good sitting, I lavished him with praise for how well he'd done. We went straight upstairs together and I got his bath ready, talking to him all the time in a calm voice. I got him in the bath, washed him, tickled him when expected, laughed with him, and played with him. He didn't want to get out, but I got him out and managed to avoid a repeat of the night before - I can't even remember what I said to him, but somehow I calmly got him dried with only two screams escaping (him not me...). Husband was home by that point, and together we got his pajamas on, did his teeth and got him in to bed. I read him a story, told him I loved him, and kissed him goodnight.

I'm not super-human, and I'm not some sort of special individual. I did what needed to be done. But when I got downstairs and Husband wanted to know what had happened I couldn't tell him; I just couldn't bring myself to open my mouth and say the words. I sat on the sofa with tears silently streaming down my cheeks, because giving that much love, peace, and calm to a child who spends 20 minutes hitting you in the face and screaming is draining. Telling a child you love them when they are deliberately farting on you because they know you don't like it, is hard. Stroking and rocking a child who is pulling your hair and spitting on you feels... almost demeaning. He was treating me as if I was nothing. In that moment, I didn't matter. And yet, I couldn't leave him. I had to stay, pouring love in to this little person; pouring in love, and doing my best to take in his anger, fear, and overwhelming sadness so it didn't have to stay inside of him any more.

My God it's hard. It's not his fault. But it is *so* hard.

In case anyone's wondering, I cried all evening. Husband made dinner and held me while I cried some more. I went to bed early and he stayed with me and read a book while I fell asleep. This morning he took both children to school so I could have a lie in.

Tickle came in just before they left. "I want to give a huggle to Mummy" he said.


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