What did you expect? Joy, satisfaction or sadness?

<img src="expectations.png" alt="Expectations">

Expectations

“This is not what I signed up for” I silently repeatedly. 

Maybe when looking at the self inflicted cuts on my daughters arms. Possibly when another twenty quid disappeared from my purse or listening to more lies. Definitely scrabbling on all fours filling five bin liners with furry food, soiled underwear, dead vodka bottles and unidentifiable sticky bedroom trash. 

I did not understand that ‘adoption’ meant trauma would walk through my front door on six little legs. 

I expected ‘normal’ kids with some attachment problems, whom my love and parenting skills would transform. 25 years later I know better. 

How did I survive? I changed my expectations. Eventually. Frequently. Massively.

I learned about child development, what’s normal, what’s not. How maltreatment distorts their inner world, how their brains are damaged by a boozy womb and that beliefs drive behaviour. This cocktail of knowledge explained ‘nonsensical’ actions. 

A useful enquiry: ‘does this child have the capacity, right now, to meet my expectations’?

What’s easier? Changing the child’s capacities or your expectations ? Spoiler alert … it’s you. 

Until you change; the child can’t (can’t not won’t). Their behaviour is fear driven and your first job is to help them feel safe in their own bodies. All that self regulation stuff they should have absorbed from attuned caregivers as babes.

In a lightbulb moment in 1999, I realised traumatised children had, in infancy, used metaphorical bubble wrap as a protection against maltreatment. Historically useful, but now it distorted their view of the world and the worlds perspective of them. Our role is to gently peel back the bubble wrap and fill the developmental gaps.

When my kids first arrived, (aged 5,4,2) they liked ‘playing babies, as I pretended to wipe bottoms and bottle feed. It was exhausting. Once I thought it must be lunchtime but the clock shockingly glowed 09.40. The youngest (genuinely in nappies) frequently became distressed seeing her siblings receiving this ‘nurturing’. Regrettably I used this as my excuse to stop. They were showing me how below the bubble wrap they needed ‘babying’ to fill their voids. Because I was expecting my kids to adhere roughly to their chronological age, I missed a huge healing opportunity. 

Expectations exceeded = noisy, positive celebration. Joy.

Expectations matched = quiet, neutral contentment. Satisfaction.

Expectations unmatched = heavy, negative disappointment. Sadness.

You can chose the height of your expectation bar and hence your emotional state.

Expectations are images we created in the past about how things should be in the future. The more detailed the construction (how it looks, sounds, feels) the greater your commitment.  Really useful when it’s 100% in your control, however great potential for disappointment when it’s in another’s hands, especially tiny ones. 

That’s why ‘to succeed’ we must adjust our expectations throughout the adoption journey and be life long learners.

That’s why constantly updating our knowledge by reading, attending courses, peer support, mentoring and becoming trauma informed therapeutic parents with a realist view of a child’s potential is vital.

That’s why continual personal evolution, enhanced regulation skills, self reflection, transforming limiting beliefs, increasing self esteem and being a congruent, creative, compassionate, courageous, adaptive person with realistic expectations is vital. 

What are you expecting? Joy, satisfaction or sadness? Your choice. 

This blog was first published on PAC-UK website, September 2018 during national adoption week

Failure of long view in adoption is a strategic, economic & humanitarian mistake

 

National Adoption Week is always emotive. The intent is to recruit adopters. Unsurprisingly some experienced adopters rant at the saccharine articles in newspapers, knowing that below the rhetoric is a deficit of ongoing, deep, appropriate support.

Failing to take the long view, over decades is a strategic, economic and humanitarian mistake.

PAC-UK had a splendid series of truthful and useful blogs during NAW which might resonate with you. In Mondays PAC-UK blog I explored strategies to avoid disappointment: spoiler alert, it’s you that has to change. Having been quiet for months (completing my next book) it’s the most personal blog I’ve ever written.

Sally Donovans letter to the state (Fridays PAC-UK blog) is a cracker explaining how adopted teenagers require so much from their parents, often for few rewards.

The message of all seven blogs is for me; take the long view. Its hard. Bloody hard. Get support. Be honest with yourself and about your situation.

Also the NAW emphasis on siblings worries me. This video explains why and how their trauma bonds can block therapeutic parenting. (Sorry it has a slow start, as I battle with the flip chart paper, but worth staying with it, imho, as the concept is transformational).

BTW: Over the next few weeks the cost for  Trauma Triggered Behaviour on line course will be increasing incrementally. (Because it is being licensed elsewhere, I will be price matching). Buy now, while still in double figures. Risk free with a 100% money back guarantee.

Mothers Day and Expectations. Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.

Last Sunday I cooked my own meals, bought myself some flowers and uncharacteristically drank an entire bottle of wine and had a good cry.

 Why? 

 Because yet again, on Mothers Day, I received nothing from the three children I adopted 25 years ago.

 We’ve had minimal contact for the last seven or eight years. By minimal, I mean a handful of cyber messages.

 But the possibility they might send a card is the emotionally charged dark cloud that hung over me a couple of weeks before Mother’s Day.

 I didn’t expect; but I did hope. Hoping for something totally out of your control is ridiculous, however it is a very human quality.

 Twenty Five years ago I had both hopes and expectations. I had visions of family meals sitting talking about everything and anything. That dream was one of my motivations for creating a family.

 I knew the 5, 4, and 2 year old who walked through my front door in the early 90s had a tough time before I met them. Even though, I expected some challenges I expected that my love, caring and parenting would fix them.

 All those expectations. Those movies I created in my head of how family life would be. Those fantasies, those stories I told myself. That happy ever after stuff. I expected it to be tricky but okay.

 The reality was very, very different.

 After a few years I realised my kids were significantly different to others, I started exploring the impact of infancy maltreatment and neglect. I struggled on, being a pretty good parent but not a therapeutic parent because that model had not yet been created. We knew a bit about attachment, but not about trauma, brain wiring or neuroception.

 However I hoped that my full-time excellent parenting would be enough

 I hoped for the best, but did not have fall back plan for the worst case scenario.

 I hoped conventional therapy would help  – it didn’t.

 I wrote a series of large cheques for high quality attachment therapy, which had some impact on two of the three.

 I expected I could make a difference. I hoped it would be alright in the end, that I could change their life trajectory. .

 I think I altered it by a few degrees, but not as much as I’d have hoped.

 Why I’m sharing this tale of woe? Because I want others to learn from my mistakes.

 Are you an adopter or foster carer currently deluding yourself? Hoping that normal parenting will heal your little darling: believing things will magically get better.

 They wont. You must view your children through the lens of trauma. Immediately.

 Our kids need therapeutic re-parenting to fill in the gaps and heal the damage. Start now.

 Are your expectations realistic?

 Are you looking at your children through rose tinted glasses?

 If nothing changes, how will their current behaviours escalate over the next decade? Will you be visiting prisons, secure units or be on first name terms with the local police after countless runaways or child on parent violence incidents?

 Get real. Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.

 When I was approved as an adopter I did not expect to spend Mother’s Day alone (or my birthday or Christmas for that matter).  Equally I didn’t expect to travel the globe, learning from pioneers and world-class trainers about parenting , trauma and healing and for these learning’s I am truly grateful.

 Sometimes our path takes us to unexpected and enlightening places often via dark scary tunnels.

 I have no regrets about my journey even though it’s not the outcome I would have chosen.

 Tonight I’m celebrating Mother’s Day with three friends I made when running the local adoption support group. We will laugh, reminisce, share stories about our current lives, children grandchildren, police interviews, court appearances, drug overdoses, sexual abuse, self harming and inter-generational trauma. We will also share our professional triumphs and our varied travel exploits. Our friendship formed during years of adversity is precious and real. We prefer a private table so our conversation and laughter does not disturb other diners.

 We have taken the Road less Travelled. You may be on it too. So get equipped, skilled and find some mentors. Those who can guide you through the dark tunnels and black holes.

 What are you expecting from this parenting journey and your children? Are you being naive and hoping for a fairy tale ending? Are you being real?

 Plan for the worst.  Hope for the best. Expect the unexpected.