Tuesday, 13 September 2016

closeness without word - a few tips from dan svarre

Since our son moved in with us, four years ago, I have not stopped reading. Books about parenting, the brain, adoption & fostering, trauma and much more. While I have yet to read a single book where I agree with everything, there are certainly several books that have shifted my view. Books that have challenged, even provoked me. Books that have changed the way I parent. A great number of those books are from Scandinavia. To me they represent a HUGE gap in the literature in the English-speaking literature. Down to earth and practical books that do not talk down to us as parents. I am very tired of being talked down to. As an adoptive parent I have, and have had, a lot of professionals in my life, judging my parenting – be it positively or negatively. I know I am not alone in this experience of being judged. It comes with being an adoptive parent. It happens to us all. Before, during and – hopefully – after we become parents.

I gained a little more insight and inspiration recently, in finishing very good parenting book, in my mother tongue Danish. Dan Svarre’s Glade børn med højt selvværd – en forældreguide [Happy children with healthy self-worth – a guide for parents], Politikens Forlag 2008.

Many passages struck a cord with me. Especially, Svarre’s emphasis on the role of the parent, and the necessity for the parent to deal with their own childhood experiences. This is something I wholeheartedly believe in, and to some extend, something I was quite unprepared for back in 2012, when our son came to us. Apart from the depth of love that I feel for my family, the greatest surprise in becoming a parent for me was how it forced me to look at my own background, if I wanted to avoid the mistakes I and my siblings had been subjected to, but by that same token I also saw a need to realise what in my background had been good, and perhaps deserved to be repeated or even strengthen. That latter realisation only came later. And only after getting old-fashioned mad at my parents, an anger I let flow rather freely in another blog.

The longer I spend in my role as a mother, the more I realise it is not a role. It is being. There are no tricks, no quick fixes. For them or for us. There really only is being. Being ourselves at that. Our children are heat-seeking missiles for authenticity, perhaps more than most as their sensitivities have been fine-tuned to pick up moods and even slight changes in moods, to keep safe. I believe there is healing for both them and us in just that. Authenticity. Finding and living it is easier said than done. They know when we are not being true to our own selves. Better than us. Before we even realise. When my son points out my moods, it is my job to listen and be honest.

The quality of the connection with my son is very much something that it is in my power to influence. And it is something that I can choose to nurture or not. Much of the teachings about this parenting stint – the books, the courses, the workshops, the blogs – is about words, wisdom (or not) steeped in words. This blog included. I tire of words. Yet I know they are necessary. But often they are not.

So back to closeness without words, the title of this blog. With the author’s permission I have translated a short passage from Svarre’s book Glade børn. It is a passage from about closeness without words. In my opinion, we often overlook such subtleties in being with our children. In between all the practicalities, the laundry, the meals, the packed lunches, the keeping of appointments, the bath times, the bedtimes and so on. I also happen to believe that it is these moments of no words that we are really being asked to give when we are asked to give our children min. 10 minutes a day of undivided attention, as suggested by so many parenting experts, from Bryan Post to Laura Markham and Patty Wipfler. That always seemed a lean diet to me.

I think Svarre puts the importance non-verbal togetherness eloquently. This is what I strive for. It may be obvious to you, but I admit it wasn’t to me. And it something I work on. Consciously. Because practice makes the master. Or so I hope.

Anyway here goes an extract from Svarre’s book Glade børn.

Have a good life

As a parent the best you can do for your child is to have a good life. For you are your child’s primary and more intense relation through its early childhood, and the way in which you create your relation, will have lasting impact on, how your child may experience and live his or her own life. The principles and mechanisms are actually quite simple: Walk ahead. Lead the way. Show how you do it. Be what you wish to be reflected in your child. Create a good life for yourself. Create an atmosphere of containment, acceptance and enjoyment.

The principles and mechanisms for the development of your child’s self-worth are equally simple. Here are a few examples:

·      If you show your child, that you feel joy, value and enjoyment in its company, it will interpret it as, and feel like it, is valued.
·      If you emanate joy and fulfilment sparked by the sheer existence of your child, it will interpret and experience, that its sheer existence has value.
·      If you can be quiet together with your child in intense contact and in intense presence, the child will experience that its sheer presence has value.
·      If you receive your child and contain whatever emotions it may harbour, without necessarily having to try to create solutions [for them], your child will experience that its emotions are acceptable and, moreover, valued just as they are.
·      If you show your child that you accept and respect that it may have a need to withdraw and to be alone, your child will experience, that its very being is being respected and valued.
·      If you take responsibility for addressing an important and necessary conflict and can be attentive and accepting towards both yourself and your child, your child will experience that it has value.

It is the glint of joy in your eyes of seeing your child again, which is reflected in your body language, when your child returns from nursery, kindergarten or summercamp, that tells your child that it has true value. Thus you can support your child without using as much as a single word.

I’d only add that as adoptive parents that obviously we have not had the privilege of being the primary caregivers throughout our children’s childhood. But we hope to be principal ones. Getting there takes time and unstinting perseverance – on both parts.

The translation is mine, and so any mistakes are mine, and mine alone.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Lessons in self care


I've been bad lately. Very bad. Mad bad and mean. 


We had nearly 9 weeks of holiday (yes lots of inset days and other such nonsense). We've had a lovely lovely holiday, ending with a couple of weeks at home before school started again. Gradually building up to a school/work routine. At long blooming last! These last weeks at home have become increasingly fraught. 




With the 20-20 vision of hindsight I see it was my self regulation that suffered. But why?!? Why can't I look after myself when I am with my son? This is so counter to what I think about parenthood. Or it is modern parenthood? Or adoptive parenthood? Whatever it is, the outcome is the same. 

I was recently told that as adoptive parents we have to be more regulated than most parents. Well... To be honest I can think of non-adoptive who need that too. Point being that non-regulated parents suck. As does self blame.  Admittedly I am more than a little annoyed with myself for letting this slip so spectacularly. So I need to dissect it a bit. Bear with me...

I've lost my temper. Got super annoyed. Really really irritated. Audiably. Last night at 11pm I got serious ticked off for finding the son's bed wet. Again! My son sports the cleanest bed in this kingdom. I'm quick at the changes, have a waterproof system and have lots clean sheets. But I've had enough of ten extra loads a week. Grrrrr. I know it is not his fault. I know slamming the washing machine door with do precisely zero good. Quite possibly it may make things worse. This is a good example of when I should be able to contain my son and his water works. But I couldn't. Fact. Grrrr. 

This grrrr feeling, my dear, is a sure sign that I haven't really been taking enough care of myself. 

Self care. Ah. The self care. Not the paint your toe nails, go to a spa, practice some slow yoga and all that soft woolly prat every one talks about. It's not about money. Or marketing. It's about the self. Listening in. Refuelling. 

You really cannot give what you don't have. 

I'm a great believer in self care - especially for parents. Because how can you weather anything if your cup is empty or quite possibly nearly empty.

I've been telling my friend how important it is. She is getting divorced. Her three kids are constantly on her mind as she ferries them around and otherwise plays Tetris with her, their and her ex's schedules. She forgets herself. I worry about this. So when she stared to loose too much weight and felt very very low I laid it on thickly. 

'Who is the most important person(s) in your life?' I asked her. 

She didn't even draw breath when she answered that her kids are. 

'Wrong. You are.' 

My answer would have been the same as hers. The self care thing is a bit academic for me at times. I force my self to watch reruns of GBB. That's the bake off. Not Great Behaviour Breakdown. Though it could be. And I feel guilty all the way through. Not really as a pleasure. I'll have to work on that. And I can be pursuaded. 

The most important person is ourself.  Because we are the adults. And it is freaking knackering to raise children. In my case: raise a single child. 

Oh well ... so easy to see and say from the outside. I need my friend to tell all this back to me again. Grrrr. How did I forget? And what is the logic again? Isn't it just quite self indulgent?? 

That grrrr feeling is my red flag. And it has been raised a lot lately. It comes with stress. And lack of self care. 

So it's time to live what I preach.

I've gone away for the night on a job. Just one. The first in two years. My men are doing great. And I can wait to see them again. My husband practically ordered the ticket for me. 'Just stay the night!' He said. 

So here I am. Hours from home. First things first. A sun-filled stroll through the city I'm staying in, a good meal, early bedtime with a book, and a long restful night's sleep. All in silence. I shall speak again tomorrow when I do my morning's worth of work and then have lunch with a friend before I head home. It will be marvellous. 

There is more than one lesson in this. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

They f*** you up

It's said that once you become a parent you will get to know someone who you have known all your life but never really known. Your own parents. Usually this is said with tenderness and often forgiveness.
Since I became a mum I have got to know mine better too. Only they don't come out the better for it. It has stirred up a lot of deep seated resentment and anger.
You see … I was the compliant one. I did well in school and at after school activities. I never caused much trouble. I had self-obsessed parents, who lived knee deep in their own problems. They simply had little time for me. I definitely got more attention from them if I did well and was helpful.
Our home was a good middle class academic home. Liberal, tolerant and forward thinking. Members of the chitteraty. You can tell them by their unfailing and superior persuasion. My parents imparted a lot of knowledge. Mainly about astrology, politics, STD and contraception.
My parents got drunk at parties and it being the seventies had multiple partners. Before I turned 14, I had had 3 stepdads, 3 stepmums, not counting the lovers. I could tell these lovers by their unnerving, disproportional interest in me, and then they’d suddenly be out of our lives again. I also had 6 stepsiblings, some of whom I never saw again after our parents split up. This did not faze me too much. This was normal.
One day a week I would cook for the family. Thursdays. I started aged six and stopped when I moved out aged 18. There was a purse to go shopping for ingredients. If mum forgot to put it out I would cook from whatever I could find in cupboards and the fridge. I painted my first wall in our new house aged 8. From aged 10 I cleaned the house every week. I babysat for people in the neighbourhood and my younger siblings from aged 12. And so on… None of this ever seemed unusual to me. Until I became a mum. Now I think blimey, I was a kid. I also think it strange that my siblings and I spent so much time home alone.
My siblings never really learned to cook or clean. They spent their time getting angry and shouting at the grown ups a lot. They wanted to be seen. I reasoned with them, telling them our parents loved us but agreed they could be silly. That they – my siblings – should grow up, stop shouting and stop expecting things of my parents that they would never get. But they just kept on slamming doors and moved out as soon as they could. I now cringe at what I said to them.
As a good adoptive parent I read a lot about parenting and trauma. But I’ve been surprised at how much I seem to be reading about my own family rather than about my daughter. I understand that my parents had awful upbringings. I see their pain. That they did try to do their best. But at the moment this knowledge does nothing but anger me. For crying out loud they had four kids with ten fingers and ten toes. Who have all done reasonably well in life.
My parents were well educated and affluent. I flirt with the idea that they had a moral obligation to get themselves sorted. Instead they indulged in decades of extended adolescence. Once they became parents why did it not dawn on them to try?? My mum did. But in effect this meant that she spent my adolescence in therapy. Emotionally unavailable. She was licking her own wounds. I get that. But I'll be damned if she didn’t inflict a few new ones.
I could tell my mother's mood from the way she turned the key in the door when she got home. And usually it meant I would get out and stay out of her way. Turn off the music, gather my things and go to my room if I had been daring enough to spread out and enjoy the living room.
It seems more customary to get angry at your parents in your teens and twenties. Not in your forties. I admit these thoughts and feelings of mine are puerile. I’m having my teenage go at my parents in my late forties.
But that's where I am.
Really really f***ed up at my parents.
I'll be damned if I want to repeat those mistakes.
I'm working so hard at understanding my past. I am especially trying to turn certain knee jerk reactions around. Like the short sneer at my daughter or a quick scolding of her when I can't contain her needs and demands. Those moments strike me with pure fear. Because I remember how it felt on the receiving end. So I work at our relationship. Moment by moment. Event by event. And I apologise to her when I mess up.
Being an older parent and having waited for so long to become a mum, I used to think it was a weakness, but now it seems it is a strength. I’ve done career, I’ve proven myself – of sorts – to others, I have a mortgage, a car, I can decide my own bedtime and what is in my fridge. By all accounts I’m a grown up. My parents were children when they had me. They only just finished school. I was a whoops. Born just before free abortion…
My daughter is the focus of my life.
I am very happily resigned to being second forever more. I want to be a mum till I leave this mortal coil. As a child, I often felt we were in the way of our parents’ happiness. Their sighs were a give away. I know they loved us, but did they like us? Do they?
I am determined to do it differently, better preferably.
Playing has been an excellent place to start. Enjoying each other.
Getting to know my daughter.

[This post was first published via We Are Family last year. I now will stand by it.]

Monday, 22 February 2016

Breakfast in other peoples’ families


 Last week, I had one of those days, when I had to have someone look after Digger all day, as I had a whole day meeting a couple of hours from home, and Pierre was out of town. Our usual go to people couldn’t help out, so I asked a nursery school mate. Not a family we are that close to – having only known them since September - not even one of Digger’s best friends, but one that both he and I feel very comfortable with, and one we had a few play dates with. I admit I was rather desperate. I had to leave our house at 7.30pm. They immediately asked if he wanted to have breakfast with them. Great idea, I thought, and so we settled on a 7am rendezvous.

I prepared Digger as best I could, talking to him about it, wondering about it with him, drawing it etc, and he was puzzled, and not especially keen. As we headed off some anxiety surfaced. He was definitely apprehensive, which fed straight into feeling like a terrible mum, for choosing an exciting grown up day above him.

We arrive at Sophie’s house and the family flung open the door, and welcomed him with big smiles. The oldest hid behind the front door only to jump out with a ‘BOO!’ he startled Digger. But not too badly. Digger loves startling us – and he has a surprisingly high strike record...

Not unlike settling in a nursery, Digger wasn’t initially happy to be left there, and wanted me to hang around for a while. I pulled off his snowsuit, hat, mittens and boots. Meanwhile, the family milled down towards the breakfast table in the kitchen, Digger was still not keen. And then… the stroke of genius from the dad: He came back up, bent down and – as you would with a toddler – suggested to Digger that he would lift him up on his arm (this dad is very very tall). No words, just a gesture and a smile. He got enough of a response to proceed and he lifted him up. One hand on Digger’s tummy, one under he bum. A very safe grip.

‘Would you like to come down and have some breakfast with us? We’ve got two kinds of cereal. How do you normally have cereal? Do you like milk on it?’

Digger nodded a bit.

It sounds so little and so mundane when I recall it, but it was perfect. Daddy took him down, and sat him at the end of table.

‘This is your place. Sophie and Chipmonk have been so looking forward to you coming over for breakfast.’

So calm and lovely. Daddy put a bib on Digger, and Chipmonk, the older brother, aged 8, poured some milk over the cereal Digger had chosen. I stood in the hall, peeking in. Soon I saw a true Digger smile spread across his face.

They had made him feel safe. And it was all going to be ok. He didn’t even look up at me. Only when prompted to say goodbye.

It made me think of being a child of the 70s in Scandinavia. In forth grade, we had some extraordinary homework:
‘Swap family for a week. Move in with one of your class mates. There are many ways of being a family.’ Something like that. 'Preferably not one of your closest friends, but someone whose family is very different to yours.' I remember it blew my mind, as we discussed who could stay with whom. The experiment would work best if the kid you know wasn’t there, but with another family. Whaaaaa…?

My class teacher suggested I stay at Bo’s house. Bo was tall and strong for his age. He seemed only to be interested in tin soldiers. He was an only child, and like his mum and dad he seemed eerily quiet. These two latter facts stood in stark contrast to my own family. A divorce child smothered in a sprawling family tapestry. My teacher had let me know that she thought I had one of the most complicated of families she has ever come across, and she could never find head or tails in it. ‘It’s easy!’ I’d say and explain it all over again. I remember at least one sigh of hers. Clearly not helping matter.

I had step siblings, and step parents, sisters, brothers, mum and dad. At least two of each. And every one seemed to talk all the time. In fact I still don’t really think it is rude to interrupt, because everyone in my family did that all the time! Pierre thinks is it extremely rude and shuts up if I do. Which kinda hurts me, coause I am only joining in, but I am beginning to get what he is saying. Aged 44.

This ‘Swap family for a week’ was optional – but still. I was terrified. I think I did one night with girl who wasn’t my best friend in the class. That was way enough experiment for me. There was an adopted girl in our class, Eva. I cannot remember if she did it. Or indeed if anyone else did.  

‘Try someone else’s mum and dad, or just mum, or just dad, for a week.’ It was to be 'eyeopening’. Well… eye-widening really. We were only 9! I don’t recall what my parents thought of the experiment.

The idea was that it was anti-bullying. Opening your horizon. And such. I’m shaking my head as I think about it. This was clearly an adult who came up with this. A hippie perhaps. The kind that can not be trusted, because they don’t care about earthly concerns, such as clothes, cereals and a snack when you come home from school. Or the whereabouts of your favourite teddy. Perhaps it was a commune parent, if a parent at all. Just watch a bit of Lukas Moodysson’s ‘Together’, you’ll see what I mean.

Nice idea, but not very child friendly I think. And not one I will impose on my son. But why was I so worried?

Back in the kitchen of Digger’s friends, I could see the family magic working. Inclusive and warm and different to us.

When I got back from my (extraordinarily exciting!!) day, he told me everything they had done together. How they had cycled to school, him and Sophie in a funny bucket bike, while Chipmonk rode on his own bike. On the road!! Chipmonk and dad with bucket bike were in the road!! And so on.

It was an all round success.

Not that I will repeat it soon. But it has made me think. Perhaps we should eat more breakfast with other families. Breakfasts are intimate, and you have to leave the house a specific time, so it can be stressful. This morning wasn’t really, certainly not as we came to their house.

It has certainly made me think.


Mainly because he loved it. Because they made him feel safe.

I was uh'ing and ah'ing about whether or not to ask. Pierre just asked me:

'What would you say if they asked us?' The answer to that made me ask them. Because it will always be yes. They would only ask if they really needed the help. And if they trusted us. Which is what I felt.

It certainly takes a village to raise a child. And there is much inspiration to be gained from looking into other people's families.



Friday, 29 January 2016

Regression

When our son first moved in he was near as damn it 11 months – He had just learned to crawl. I can’t say it was love a first sight – I had to grow into that. But there was definitely a strong mutual attraction, a fierce sense of parental responsibility and  ‘he is ours to protect at all cost’ from the first time I lay eyes on him. We bonded well, at a pace that suited us all.

I guess the first sign I had that we had moved beyond the politeness of strangers was when he one evening lay on my tummy. All sprawled out. Legs bent up either side of him. Arms also bent upwards, along his sides. Like a small frog. He fell asleep like this. This seemed to me to be a position of a newborn or much younger baby. I asked his foster mum when we next met her if he used to do that with her. ‘He hasn’t done that for months.’ she answered. ‘How strange...’ I took that as a good sign of our bonding. And cherished the moments of going back in time. Time travelling.

I asked my friends, if their kids did the same. If they in any way regressed? Interestingly, those with kids of the same age as my son looked at me blankly. Shrugged. ‘Nooouuuu…’ They hesitatingly muttered. ‘Or at least I don’t think that is regression. But it is true… she doesn’t really do that any more…’ I think I should ask them again. Now. Another friend with a 12 and a 15 year old answered differently: ‘Yes. Sometimes. Less so now. Sometimes when they forget they are too old for holding hands or cuddling or sitting on my lap. It often happens when they are sad, or ill. But grab the moments with both hands! Cuddles from a teenager is like nothing else.’ I liked that answer. And that is what I still do. Grab such moments with open arms.

Why this now? Because we have just had the most amazing regression from son-o. Lasting over three weeks. All kicked off when he cut himself. Cooking dinner with me. With a children’s safety knife – not that that makes me feel any better about this episode, but that’s a whole other subject. While listening to funk – this I think is key to the momentary distraction that led to the part amputation of his perfect little finger tip.

It has been a nightmare. And we have seen some SPECTACULAR return of the toddler – or baby? – tantrum! Complete with a kind of crying I haven’t heard since he was a baby. The crying is different. Helpless but angry. So we have has to bring out all the tools from our therapeutic parenting book. Spanners? No. Alan keys? No. Hammer? Definitely no. Aha! The tweezers.

In our case the tool kit consisted of :
·      baby bottles with warm milk several times of day
·      re-introduction of pacifier
·      swaddling
·      carrying, lifting, helping, sitting on parent laps – especially during mealtimes
·      singing, humming
·      cuddles, sometimes of the extra hard grip, sort of exaggerated hug – holding him tight
·      touching, holding, caressing, stroking, snuggling, patting,
·      sofa time in piles of duvets and pillows
·      ice cream, bananas, rice pudding, chocolate
·      Ipad and TV and endless streams of books
·      sleeping in our parental bed – for some of the time, we were a bit freak out, fearing we might end up rolling over on his bad hand, which we both did at one time, or rather I accidently sat on it! I have been an amazingly cack handed mum in all this.
·      talking about and acknowledging his fears. Which was mainly: ‘Will it bleed again?’ Which it did. In fact that was the worst bit about it.
·      more talk, pondering, wondering and acknowledgement and prep for hospital check ups. They were fun. Not.

I was given the advice to not look at it as trauma. To go over the whole episode with him. Think of the nice things in the hospital. We did that too. And it helped.

The first many days afterwards there was no play. At all. That’s only now returning.

There were times in the tantrums when nothing – and I mean nothing! – would help. So there was no option but to sit it out.

We had a babysitter in. And oddly enough, she who normally is perfect and funny and full of love, couldn’t handle it. So I handed her the tweezers and what ever else seemed to work a bit. I handed her baby bottle with warm full fat milk. Swaddled him in a rug like a baby and handed him to her. They too needed connecting. I told her that it was a compliment that he got upset and angry with her. She stared at me. ‘Huh? Really?’ ‘Yes.’ She got the hang of it a bit later. And he calmed down.

So I love regression. To me they provide fantastic opportunities to unstick some pent up feelings. In his case mainly fear covered by lashings of anger.

But don’t be fooled: it is f•••ing hard work. There were times when it was just like leaning into a gale force shit storm, telling myself ‘just keep on walking’ into the eye of the storm.

I am knackered. And so is my husband.

I just want to sleep. And I wonder whether I can feel this because we have turned a corner. And he and his finger tip will be ok. I can see that with my on eyes. Eventually. But perhaps more so because it has been nearly four weeks of this regression and anger.

It felt like there was much more to this than the finger tip. And I hope we have done right by him in the end. Cause this is all we could do.

He was so brave in hospital. Several times. At times ridiculously brave for a four year old. It seems he saved it all for us at home. Later. When the sense of emergency had gone.

He is now back in nursery. Today his teacher told me that he has kept the whole class spellbound telling them exactly how it all happened. A true blow by blow account. He was cutting a cucumber [parnips but what the hell], then snip! And SO MUCH BLOOD! EVERYWHERE. She told me he gesticulated. I could see it. Flapping his arms. Excited. He tells stories with his whole body. He is a good story teller. 

I was delighted to hear that fragment of his day. There is life in the tale of the finger tip, his emotions around it and he is shedding stuff. When the finger has healed there will be a scar to talk about. An honourable scar. One to be proud of. Male friends offered that that may be the case. I cut one or two of them off with curtly 'I very much loo forward to that day.’ But I now see… they are probably right. That day is on the horizont.