Regular readers of the blog will know that over the course of the last year Tom and I have been recommended a number of books to read about adoption. Back in November I did a review of the books I’d read so far so I thought I’d keep you posted on the ones I read since. I can officially say I have now read more books about adoption than I did for my entire degree (admittedly it was in drama but still!).
Books about adoption in general…
Talking About Adoption (Marjorie Morrison) – This is a really in-depth book about how best to start the ‘conversation’ about adoption with your children from a very young age. The key message is that by making adoption a talked about subject you take away its taboo status and hopefully enable your child to come to terms with what being adopted means to them.
Talking About Adoption investigates life story work, suitable language to use with children and young people of all ages, how to develop what children know about adoption as they grow older, how to talk to other adults (both family and professionals) about adoption, as well as a whole host of really useful hints and tips. It includes real-life stories, links to other books and websites, and a summing up at the end of each chapter.
Talking About Adoption is relatively new and is published by BAAF. It is one of the few books that feels like its talking to a parent of an adopted child regardless of gender or sexuality which is really refreshing. I genuinely feel more confident in how to talk about adoption and will definitely come back to it in the future. Talking about Adoption was suggested to us by Denise, our social worker.
A Guide to Attachment (John Timpson CBE) – This is a really quick read and every page has a cartoon outlining what’s being said. It doesn’t go into huge amounts of detail but covers the basics and gets the point across that children and adults who have suffered early years trauma need our, and society in general’s, support.
It’s the kind of book that we should give to every teacher, police officer, and person-in-the-street in the country to help them understand very quickly why some young people behave in the way they do. A Guide to Attachment was given to us by Tom’s aunt who works with young people with special educational needs.
Related by Adoption (Hedi Argent) – Tom and I gave this book to our parents who have passed it onto our siblings, so I thought I’d ask Tom’s sister to tell us what she thought of it…
“Related by adoption is a short handbook for grandparents and other relatives, which emphasises a caring, child-centric approach to integrating a new arrival into the family. With some genuine case studies included, it manages to help the wider family understand both the adopted child's perspective and that of family members welcoming the new child. While it focuses on grandparents in particular, it is useful in preparing all relatives and helps create a sense of anticipation.
After reading it, I found myself looking forward to the practical and emotional changes a new child or children would bring to the dynamic of my close and extended family. I was also full of admiration for my brother and brother-in-law for taking this path in life, which is not the easiest, but could indeed be the most fulfilling, way to care for children and build a family.”
It’s been a great book as it’s encouraged discussions between us and our families about adoption in a structured and informed way. Related by Adoption was suggested to us by our social worker.
You’re The Daddy We Wanted (Gavin Andres) – It was great to be able to read a book from a dad’s point of view as there are so few out there. It covers Gavin’s journey from deciding to adopt to becoming a family and is very touching. I discovered You’re The Daddy We Wanted through Gavin’s blog.
Books about adopting siblings…
Top 10 Tips to Placing Siblings (Hedi Argent) – This book is primarily aimed at social workers who are placing sibling groups. However, it’s a great read for prospective adopters too as it helps us understand the processes the social workers go through and, more importantly, the potential feelings and issues the children will be going through.
It’s a very quick read (I got through it in a couple of days) and is full of really useful information. If you’re considering adopting a sibling group this is definitely a book that’s worth reading.
Loving Each One Best (Nancy Samalin) – I found this book quite stressful to read. It’s relatively old so its focus was all about mums and how they are the primary carer. It’s also very American so some of the descriptions of events felt very alien to me as a British reader – I really wish the books were translated culturally (as well as grammatically).
There are lots of examples of issues you may find between siblings but the resolutions offered are so simplistic that I can’t imagine they’re ever useful in a real-life situation. The first few chapters mainly focus on introducing a new born into a family which for Tom and me won’t be the case but may be helpful if you’re adopting children separately.
At the end of each chapter there were top tips which were really useful and easy to go back to when and if they’re needed.
Raising Happy Brothers & Sisters (Jan Parker & Jan Stimpson) – This book has tonnes of really helpful information and tips but the lay-out is so confusing I found it difficult to stay focused on what was being said. As well as the main body of text relating to the chapter, each page is filled with quotes from parents and professionals sharing their thoughts and ideas on the subject, and sometimes a box with more in-depth information as well. It would be so much easier to read if it all flowed together more seamlessly.
Thankfully, Raising Happy Brothers & Sisters also has a really good summing up of the main points at the end of each chapter so I’ll be dipping into those in the future.
All three of these books were suggested by our agency when we attended the sibling training in November last year.
What other books have you read that you’d recommend?
On Wednesday I had my individual assessment meeting with Denise, our social worker. Tom had his session a fortnight ago so I knew the basic outline of what to expect but I was a little nervous nonetheless and, oddly enough, rather looking forward to it.
We were together for three hours and twenty minutes which is a really long time to talk about yourself. But I persevered and we covered the following topics…
As it’s a very good place to start, we started at the very beginning and talked about my childhood. For the most part I had a great childhood. We went on holidays to foreign countries, I had a TV in my own room, I enjoyed school (despite a few bullying issues), and I had my brothers to play with. I’ve talked in previous posts about the less happy parts in my childhood and of course we went into this in great detail as I’d suspected.
We talked a lot about my relationship with my mum and dad and how their very different personalities have clearly had an impact on who I am now. It’s so weird having someone point out the characteristics of your parents so clearly in you. The really difficult task was describing my relationship to my mum and dad in five words. I found that virtually impossible but really insightful. We also talked about my brothers and our relationships with each other and why the strength of those relationships is one of the reason we’d like to adopt a sibling group.
We then moved on to the relatively easy task of discussing education and work. The only sticking point in this discussion was, as always, being self-employed. In fact, Denise’s supervisor has requested we devote a whole session to finally sorting out whether two self-employed creative types can be financially stable enough to adopt. When will they accept the answer is yes?!
We then moved on to past relationships. It felt weird talking about people who were, in one way or another, really important in my life, but I haven’t seen, or in some cases even thought about, in years. But it was interesting to re-visit these relationships and think about how they had influenced who I am today.
The final two questions were easy to answer. The first was whether there was anything that I wanted to tell Denise that I didn’t want Tom to know. It was a very simple – no. I can’t believe there’s anything that someone would tell their social worker that they wouldn’t tell their partner.
The second was whether Tom and I were in total agreement about wanting to adopt. Although Tom took longer to come round to the idea of adopting, I knew he was completely on board when we were house-hunting and he rejected one of the houses because the garden was too small and he couldn’t envisage our children running around in it.
All in all it was a really positive session and I know that Denise is totally behind us as we enter the final phase before panel.
Today I revisit a blog I originally posted back in November when I was writing my family tree. Now we’ve started Stage Two I thought I would re-examine the cracks in my extended family in light of conversations with Denise, our social worker.
I come from a large family and I was struggling to fit everyone on to my family tree. And that was without including my sister – or half-sister to be exact. And, I suppose if we’re going to be exact, I should also call my brothers “my half-brothers” – a title that I would never dream of using when introducing them to anyone or generally talking about them.
I’m the only child of my parents’ marriage. My three brothers are from my mum’s first marriage and I grew up with them in the same house after my mum left her first husband and moved in with my dad. It must have been difficult for everyone but my parents and my brothers’ dad dealt with it brilliantly. There were occasional issues between my older brothers and my dad but they got through it, and my nieces and nephews call my dad “Granddad” without any thought to whose blood is in whom. We are a family. End of.
This is all in stark contrast to the relationship I have with my sister. There is a 22 year gap between my parents and as a consequence my mum is only a few years older than my sister. I appreciate this must have been difficult for her at the time, but when I was born she was a woman in her late twenties and a few years later would be a mother herself. Yet it took her until I was nearly 30 before she would even entertain the idea of acknowledging my existence.
About six years ago my dad became ill (he’s fine now) and he asked for us all to meet up. So my Mum and Dad, my sister and her husband, and Tom and I all met for dinner. It was fine (if not very strange) and we meet up now and again at my parents’ house but we don’t call each other or see each other outside of these meetings.
I know my dad would like us to have a similar relationship to the one I have with my brothers. But the fact that she’s more of my parents’ generation than my own, that she ignored me for 30 years, and that she has continually rebuffed any efforts I’ve made with her mean, for me at least, that the opportunity has passed. Plus, I’ve always felt like I was somehow betraying my brothers by having a relationship with her – I know this is completely irrational, and when I’ve said this to them they’ve always said they would support me in any decision I make, but I can’t shake that feeling.
I was originally worried about how this broken relationship would appear to Denise. Would she see it as a weakness in our application that I hadn’t been able (or willing, if I’m honest) to mend the relationship between my sister and me? Would it matter that I’ve met her two children only once, and never their children? Would it matter, when asked who’d support my ageing dad in future my answer was immediately “my brothers” (related to him by marriage), and that Denise had to remind me I had a sister (his daughter) who might take the responsibility?
As it turns out, the answer seems to be no. What I’m starting to realise is that what I thought might be considered ‘weaknesses’ by Denise are actually bonuses. Many of the children we’re likely to adopt may also have complicated families. Being aware of how that feels and can be managed could be a crucial part of what our children need.
For as long as Tom and I have been talking about adopting, we have wanted to adopt a sibling group. I’d like to say that this was a truly altruistic decision but we came to it as we’d been told we were more likely to get younger children if we took on siblings. As the months passed on, we kept being told how much more difficult siblings would be to manage, and that we were highly unlikely to get young children, but oddly our decision didn’t change.
Tom and I both have older siblings and I think, deep down, we knew that we wanted our children to have the same bond and connection with a brother or sister as we do.
As well as lots of homework for Stage One, our old social worker, Lorraine, also suggested we attend a preparation meeting specifically aimed at adopters who wanted to adopt a sibling group. So just before Christmas, Tom and I joined two other couples for a meeting at the agency’s head office to find out about more about it.
The session was led by Brenda, a senior social worker at our agency. She was great – down to earth, didn’t speak in a patronising tone, and really knew her stuff. The first thing we were told is that having two children is way more than double the work.
We were also given a whole new list of books. Those of you who have read previous posts will know this was handy as we’d just finished the last of the books on the previous list from the agency and needed something else to read. What was interesting was that these books weren’t necessarily linked to adoption but were more about parenting in general, and parenting siblings in particular.
We spent the evening working through numerous case studies of adopted siblings. We discussed different behaviours in siblings and potentially how to deal with them, what to look for in the children’s profiles when it comes to the matching process, and strategies for ensuring each child feels equally loved and looked after.
However the main thing we took away from the session was understanding how two children in the same family can have had very different experiences with their birth parents and, as such, may need very different styles of parenting.
Tom and I have spent a long time adapting, in our heads at least, to the idea of therapeutic parenting our future children. And now we have to find different parenting styles for each child. It all makes perfect sense of course but is another shift in the way we think we might parent our children — and another shift from how our friends and families parent theirs. Most of them find the idea of therapeutic parenting slightly odd and pride themselves on parenting their children in a more conventional way.
Nevertheless, all in all it was a really informative session that gave us lots to think about and we took loads of notes but, as always, the proof will be in the actual parenting.
As we’ve come to expect from any social worker who’s talking about adoption, it felt as if Brenda spent a large part of the evening trying to dissuade us all from adopting. And, as always, it didn’t work. In fact as we walked away from the meeting and headed toward a glass of wine, Tom and I were even more committed to creating our family of four.
So we are now in stage one and the first month feels like there’s nothing for us to do. During stage one the agency have to carry out a number of statutory checks. These include…
…four referees (two from each of us) had to be named in the registration of interest form (ROI) who could talk to the agency about the type of people we are and their experience of us with children. I chose Matthew, one of my brothers, and my best friend Claire. Tom chose his sister, Dianne, and his best friend Charlie. Their first job is to complete a questionnaire about us and then talk to our social worker on the phone.
…a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check which replaced the old CRB a few years ago. As I work with young people on a fairly regular basis I have completed many of these forms and so there wasn’t really a concern about it. Tom and I had contacted one of the administrators at the agency to hand in our completed forms and show our proof of identity. Unfortunately we went to the agency’s satellite office rather than the head office! Thankfully, Lorraine, our social worker, was there and was able to take all the information they needed. It was great to meet her, albeit very briefly, as it meant we could get dates in the diary for our first home visit. At the time of writing we should have had the DBS back by now but have been informed there is an eight week delay which means we’ll be stuck in Stage One until the end of January!
…and a full medical check to make sure that we’re fit and healthy enough to be parents. We booked in to see our doctor and filled out quite an extensive form. I decided to look on the medical as an MOT which I’m rather glad to say we both passed with flying colours. I need to lose a few pounds but I knew that. I was also very pleased to say that instead of the £72 fee we were told to expect we were only charged £24!
Whilst we were waiting for all these people to write (hopefully) nice things about us, we could do nothing but wait until the home visit and our two preparation days.
Now I’m not one for sitting around and twiddling my thumbs so I decided to complete the family tree that’s part of the stage one process. The agency had outlined very specific rules for doing this which I followed to the letter – even though they insisted it be written in a word document!!! However, as I mentioned in my first post, I come from a large family and I was struggling to fit everyone on. There was also the question of my sister – or half-sister to be exact. And, I suppose if we’re going to be exact, I should also call my brothers my half-brothers – a title that I would never dream of using when introducing them to anyone or generally talking about them.
I’m the only child of my parents' marriage. My three brothers are from my mum’s first marriage and I grew up with them in the same house after my mum left her first husband and moved in with my dad. It must have been difficult for everyone but my parents and my brothers’ dad dealt with it brilliantly. When my brothers would visit their dad at the weekends I would sometimes go with them. My brothers’ Nan (my mum’s ex-mother-in-law) was my Nan too, and I would visit her all the time. Considering this was the early-eighties it was all very well handled. There were occasional issues between my older brothers and my dad through their adolescent and early adulthood years but they got through it and my nieces and nephews call my dad Granddad without any thought to whose blood is in who. We are a family. End of.
This is all in stark contrast to the relationship I have with my sister. There is a 22 year gap between my parents (no she wasn’t his secretary) and as a consequence my mum is only a few years older than my sister. Again I appreciate this must have been difficult for her at the time, but when I was born she was a woman in her late twenties and a few years later would be a mother herself. Yet it took her until I was nearly 30 before she would even entertain the idea of acknowledging I existed. I did meet her once at my uncle’s funeral but she didn’t want to talk then. That remains until this day the only occasion I met my two nephews who have since gone on to have two children themselves (I have to say I think I’m too young to be a grand-uncle!). I appreciate this is all very easy for me to say, happily living with my parents, but 30 years is a long time. And I suspect that by ignoring me, my sister was somehow getting back at my dad, whom she remained in contact with throughout.
Anyhow, about six years ago my dad became ill (he’s fine now) and he asked for us all to meet up. My Mum and Dad, my sister and her husband, and Tom and I all met for dinner - it was fine (if not very strange) and we meet up now and again at my parents’ house but we don’t call each other or see each other outside of these meetings.
But it got me thinking about how I explain this part of my family to Lorraine. Why hasn’t there been a better reconciliation? Why haven’t I engaged with my nephews and their families? Does it matter? What would happen if I simply scrubbed that line out of my family tree? I won’t do that but I’ve thought about it. I suppose it’s something for Lorraine and me to discuss in the future. Because these answers are going to be so important when our future children start thinking about and asking questions about their birth families. And I need to be able to help them with their answers.
In contrast, Tom’s family tree took us all of about three minutes and looks much neater than mine.
My husband and I have adopted two wonderful children. Duckling is 5 and Gosling, her little brother, is 3. I'll be keeping track of our journey here...