We are the Smiths – well obviously we are not really the Smiths – we are just an ordinary family of folk living in the North East of England. People say we are extraordinary because after having two birth children, we adopted three more. We were not driven by a sense of completing a family – we had felt that already with little nuclear family of two parents and two boys. We were driven by sense of duty. We felt that it was inadequate how society dealt with children in care and we (naively) decided to do our “bit”.
So we are the Smiths because we believe we are ordinary and have made choices that anyone could make.
At this point I should say there is no “we”. I am Jim and I am the “Forever Dad” to the three adopted children in my family. I am writing this without the knowledge of any of the participants. I have protected their identities so that can be frank and open and perhaps even use this blog a little cathartically.
So who are the Smiths? Well there’s me – Jim – my wife Liz and our five children – Alex, Alistair, Louise, Lee and Grace. To give you some context I have painted some simple pen pictures of key “actors” in this story of love, hope, pain and a bucket load of hardwork.
Read more about each of us:
I have it on good authority that at the turn of the 19th century, the Boys of England magazine (one of the many Penny Dreadfuls of the time) ran a series of adventures which had the equivalent of an East Enders dum dum dum moment every week. Jack Harkaway, the Boys of England adventurer, would find himself in a variety of dastardly predicaments which invariably were left on a cliffhanger in the final scene of the story. The next week the story would pick up where it was left off and the lazy storyteller would often use the device “and in one bound Jack was free”. Suddenly everything that seemed impossible, was now considered simple and Captain Jack was free to go on his adventuring way.
I fear that often my parenting owes more to the Boy’s Own approach than any of the parenting books I have half read. One of children becomes fixated on a new thing they need. More Panini stickers. An annual membership to Club Penguin. A new phone. An ipad. A new laptop. Suddenly nothing else in the world matters more than the need for the new object of desire. It becomes all-consuming for the child and irritating beyond belief for the parent. Today it was a belly button piercing.
Perhaps a little context will help the story make more sense. We are on holiday with Alistair, Louise, Lee and Grace. Alex has been left at home working in his summer placement and feeding the cats. We are just 3 days into the 2 week holiday and Louise has made it clear that this is worst holiday she has ever had, she never wanted to come and she will never be coming on holidays again with us. Familiar stuff but today she gets under everyone’s skin. There’s the bickering, the fighting and an embarrassing argument on a picturesque beach in Turkey.
Louise has also decided that the only thing she wants to do this holiday is get her belly button pierced. Sea, sand, beautiful sights and yet it is the lure of cheap piercing parlour that is going to make her happy.
Liz and I do not communicate well on it. I am adamantly against it. “Think of the risks. Last thing we need is a septic belly button while we are on our holiday. Not even sure if our travel insurance will cover you against what you could argue is self-mutilation”. Ok so maybe I am catastrophizing a little but it seems daft to take the risk in my view.
Liz on the other hand looks at the 11 days ahead as a yawning chasm of nightmare with Louise in this mood. Everything will be a battle. Everything will be a negotiation on a United Nations scale. She opts for the Boys Own approach. And in one piercing Louise (and hopefully the rest of the family) was free. Free from her self-inflicted , “must have a tattoo” corner she has backed herself into. The deal is simple you can have your belly button pierced but you must be compliant and do what everyone else wants for the rest of the holiday. The fixation must become a fix for the rest of the holiday.
“And in one leap the family was free” seems to me to be optimism on a grand scale. There is no rational reason why the irrational desire for a belly button piercing will harness the destructive and undermining powers of a 14 year old. But we have chosen to believe it. This has happened so many times before and the track record is pretty poor for it actually being a long term fix for behavioural issues. But today in one small piercing Louise is free and the family has respite from her destructive behaviour. Perhaps this time things will be different….
Catastrophizing is one of our favourite words which Liz and I mildly goad each other with. The situations are numerous and diverse but they all have a common pattern. An event has occurred – usually something pretty minor. One of us will then take that event, extrapolate out in to the near future and paint a picture of woe, despair and catastrophe.
“Oh no – my credit card didn’t work in Asda this morning. I know it has plenty credit limit on it. If this happens on our holiday it could ruin the whole two weeks. I’m worried about travelling without a working credit card.”
One small, probably random glitch and suddenly two weeks of holiday happiness have been catatrophized into a disaster.
As a Forever Dad, catatrophizing comes a little bit too easily. Any random bad behaviour can quickly be exaggerated into a lifetime of disaster and the child under scrutiny being written off as a teenage mum, a crack addict or a psychopath.
“She pulled the wings off a butterfly and laughed? I think she has psychopathic tendencies.”
There are several dangers of catastrophizing.
First, it begins to create a pre-destined future. If every time something goes wrong, you join the dots of expectation towards some disastrous future outcome, you are increasing the likelihood of it actually happening. You become increasingly reinforced in your view that catastrophe is not only expected it is now becoming inevitable.
It isn’t. I have to believe there is always hope of turning things around. There is the hope of a fresh start. Hope that comes from someone recognising the problem – doctor, social worker, psychologist – and agreeing to help. Nothing is a pre-destined certainty.
Second, catastrophizing creates a sense of negativity that can be hard to shake off. If every action is viewed in the context of potential long-term disaster – actions are always seen in a negative and sometimes cynical context. So when Louise does something spontaneous without being asked – the catastrophizer looks for the hidden agenda – She never helps, what is she trying to hide? What does she want?
Liz and I how look to avoid catatrophizing at all costs and regularly remind each other when we slip into it. Life coaches will always tell you to set a goal for what you want to achieve in life and then make sure that every choice you make each day contributes towards that long term goal. Catatrophizing is the exact opposite. Believe in the long term catastrophe and everything you do each day will gradually reinforce that outcome. See each day as a fresh start giving you another chance to take a positive step to a better place and my experience is you are likely to get better long term outcomes.
If you are not an adoptive parent you have probably never heard of the concept of a Forever Dad. The concept is simple. If a couple have a baby, they are the birth parents of that child and that being the most common parental relationship in our society we simple call them “parents”, “mum” or “dad” – no need for any modifier.
However, for many adopted children there can be multiple parents they are aware of. There are their “birth” parents – the people who brought them into the world. And now as adopted child they live with another family and another parent or parents. To give these words that necessary sense of permanency we add the modifier “forever” in front of them. “Forever family”, “forever parent”, “forever mum” and last but least often there is a “forever dad”.
So a Forever Dad is a legally adopted male parent – but in almost every case from the children’s perspective I am just Dad. Just occasionally when we are referring to their other parents we use “forever” to reinforce the permanency of the current situation. No more moving. No more foster families. No more social services. No more social workers. You are here forever. This is your forever family.
It is fair to say that when I started this blog back in December 2010, simply launching it was sufficient to convince me that it would have a therapeutic effect for me even if no one else ever read it. Sometimes the sheer anger and frustration of being a Forever Dad means that you need to talk to someone, perhaps, as I have discovered on several occasions, even anyone. But it turns out that while blogging has proved ultimately to be very cathartic – I was in too dark a place to even successfully bring the keyboard into action for others to see. The last 18 months have been a trial on many levels and not always in a positive sense. But things have moved on.
Another dark chapter has ended and now occasionally there are glimpses of sun through the forbidding, dark clouds. I am conscious that the journey while tough has made me a better Forever Dad and a better person. As Carlos Castenada said:
We either make ourselves strong or we make ourselves miserable. The amount of work is the same.
So I am now committed to writing a minimum of one blog per week. Partly for me, partly for you. No one prepares you for parenthood. Social services try to prepare you for adopted parenthood. But ultimately we are all too naïve to really take ANY substantial advice until we have begun the journey. Nothing can prepare you for journey that being a forever parent is. My renewed vigour at blogging is to share a personal journey and to help you draw encouragement that the journey we are on is ultimately rewarding. So 18 months on I am back and I look forward to walking along with you.
Comments will always be open on my posts so feel free to chime in. However, be respectful of the views of others. Abuse and general trolling will always be deleted!
Last night I cried. In fact I didn’t cry, I wept. So upset, so down, so under attack did I feel, that it finally erupted in manic sobbing. I have never sobbed like I did then. Although it was a weekend of stress, verbal attacks and physical abuse, it was not the worst it has ever been. So why the sobbing this time?
I don’t have the answer, but I have theory. Being an adoptive parent (a forever dad) is more stressful than I have ever realised. The years are finally taking their toll on me as the kids grow into adolescence. As a man I prefer to go it alone – do it on my own. I don’t believe that is possible any longer.
Yet confidentiality and family relationships mean getting that support in everyday life is tough. This blog is an attempt at therapeutic retelling of the stories and hopefully some sharing with other adoptive parents via the web.
Join me on the journey….