Why I want to parent like a grandparent!

When we adopted Amy and Josie, my mother was concerned that she might find it difficult to connect with our children and that she would do or say something wrong. If I’m honest, I probably still feel a bit like this myself at times, although I now realise I am unlikely to cause any lasting traumatic effects! However, one of my highlights as a parent is watching my parents and Mr March’s mum with our children. This was especially true this weekend; one of the highlights being watching my dad scooter round the garden with my girls.

It seems to me that grandparents seem to have a knack for parenting in a very PACE centred way (What is meant by PACE parenting). They seem much more playful than I am (I find being playful really difficult at times). They use gentle persuasion, games and patience to encourage them to clean their teeth or put their shoes on. They can play at being a little bit silly at times too which the girls find really engaging.

As grandparents sit just outside the immediate family they seem a bit more distanced from household tensions. They are able to see everyone’s side, and as such, use acceptance and empathy to communicate that they understand how each person in the family is feeling.  Added to this our grandparents are also able to ask questions that as a parent I don’t always make time to, and in that way they can be more curious and open to understanding the world of their grandchildren.

Of course grandparents aren’t with the children all the time and don’t necessarily have to worry about all the concerns that parents have to such as running a family household, going out to work, walking the dogs and making sure everyone’s clothes are washed and ironed when needed. But maybe we as parents should make some time to set those worries aside and spend more dedicated time parenting like a grandparent.

I would like to thank the March family grandparents for all their love and support.

What do you think? Do your families find grandparental relations helpful?

After Therapy

We took Amy to therapy this morning. And when I came back from dropping her at school I had a really unsettled feeling. I couldn’t get anything done. I had this weird feeling that wasn’t sadness, but un-comfortableness in my own skin. I felt unable to concentrate on any of the jobs I needed to get done. And then I felt cross and annoyed with myself. This resulted in a search through the house for chocolate and some indulgent telly watching, which is not ideal, didn’t really help and made me feel worse.

I worry about Amy’s therapy sessions. I worry about how she must be feeling before we get there and then I worry about her going into school in the afternoon. (She prefers to go back to school, to do PE and see her friends, rather than missing a whole day and worrying all night about her peers asking where she had been).  I worry the night before about whether she will get to sleep that night, will she wake up really early in the morning or will she be so anxious in the morning that she will become argumentative and I will lose my rag with her! Ironically this results in a poor night sleep for me and the subsequent irritableness of a tired parent.

When I think about this now, I have to say she is generally not too bad. She is more on edge than normal but this usually presents in more childish behaviour or being a bit clingy. The days where she used to be really controlling and quarrelsome before therapy seem to have disappeared. So I have to wonder, if the problem is me and not her.

I attempted therapy or counselling sessions of my own three times. Each time I gave up after about 3 sessions, largely due to the anxiety this brought up in me. I have my own issues with grief, low self-worth and perfectionism and I desperately don’t want to pass these on to my children. I actually feel quite hypocritical that I make Amy attend sessions but couldn’t manage to go myself.  I make lots of excuses, mainly, that I don’t want to feel overwhelmed by feelings and be unable to cope when I have other responsibilities in life.

But Amy is doing well. She appears to be making progress on her goals and although she would not choose to go to therapy she uses it well (after a bit of avoidant behaviour – can’t fault her there!). No matter how hard it is for me to listen to her feelings of and trauma experiences. I know these are far worse than anything that I’ve ever been through. She is so brave. Maybe I need to take inspiration from her and try again.

And what about getting back to normal on a Monday afternoon? Well maybe I should plan to do something away from the house to stop me getting cross with myself. Maybe I need to let myself off the hook, to acknowledge that it is hard for me too.  That although Amy benefits from getting back into routine as quickly as possible, maybe I don’t. My daughter’s resilience and bravery are so inspiring. I need to find a better way to spend afternoons after therapy too.

Do any of you guys go to therapy sessions?  How do you find it? What do you do afterwards?

Sleep

Last night Josie did not want to go to sleep.  She has been having bad dreams which have been waking her in the middle of the night.  Yesterday at bed time she started to get anxious which displayed itself through waves of shouting that it wasn’t bed time and she wasn’t going to bed! As I sat with Josie singing to her and describing ‘Unicorn Land’ – a magical made up place where she can be safe and happy! I thought about how far we have come.

I remember our first fretful night with the girls.  Amy was missing her foster mum and after a frantic phonecall to our social worker we gave her foster mother a ring so that she could say good night. After this she went to bed reasonably happily with a story and a cuddle and she appeared to go to sleep quite quickly.  Josie on the other hand was a whole different kettle of fish.  We had been told that we should follow the routine that she was used to and in our naivity we believed this would enable us to get her to sleep.

We first attempted to put her to bed in the beautiful oak cot we bought for her before her arrival (it was only during introductions that the foster carer had informed us that she slept in a travel cot, as she used to headbang on the bars of a traditional cot).  As soon as she was lowered into the cot she screamed and appeared terrified.  We quickly decided to set up a travel cot in our bedroom.  We went through the whole routine again, put her in the travel cot, and although she did not scream this time, she was clearly wide awake and unhappy.  I sang to her for what seemed like hours.  Eventually following the second phone call of the evening to our social worker, I put Josie into our bed and the two of us fell asleep together.

I had never really considered the notion of co-sleeping.  I was concerned it would lead to bad habits and we would get ourselves in a position where the whole household had to sleep together! I am a particularly light sleeper (and can be very grumpy when tired); the thought of years with poor sleep terrified me.  Josie slept with us for around four months; we progressed from her co-sleeping to setting up her cot, transformed into a toddler bed,  beside our own.  When she first started sleeping in her own room she used to get up in the night and get in beside me, but this eventually tailed off and although she does still do this now occasionally it doesn’t cause too much disruption.  I think the whole process took around 6 months but when I think back it felt like it was never going to improve and I feared being a tired grump for their entire childhood!

Amy always appeared to sleep well until we went on holiday during their first summer with us.  We were concerned that holidays may unsettle our children and had attempted a couple of long weekends before we went away for a whole week.  We were also in the fortunate position that the girls had been on holiday with their foster family and so were used to the concept.  During this holiday however Amy started to have trouble sleeping.  She did not want to be left at bed time and would get really anxious.  It was hard during these times to not get cross with her, at the end of a long day.  However I was aware that getting cross with an anxious child was not going to help her sleep.  We tried a number of strategies to help her:  extra cuddles and lullabies, relaxation strategies including progressive muscle relaxation and imagery.  Eventually we came up with our own routine for relaxing, imagining a safe place and then lullabies.

Around this time I also discovered Dr Laura Markham’s Aha Parenting website.  In this she suggested laying with a child while she gets to sleep; I was doubtful about this but was really surprised to find that actually, if Amy is relaxed she will go to sleep really quickly with someone beside her (much quicker than she would, had she been alone).  In fact there are loads of good tips on the Aha website which increased our repetoire of night time strategies and in turn my confidence in handling bed time issues.

So although I am concerned about Josie’s nightmares, I know I can calm my children and soothe them; that I can help them think about restful images where they can indulge their imaginations away from frightening dreams.  Being able to help my children sleep makes me feel deeply connected to them; that we are in tune and in sync.  We have come a long way since those early days; it was no wonder I couldn’t help Josie sleep we had no connection, no attachment. I feel truly grateful and privileged that my girls share this amazing connection with me.

So the dog ate popping candy last night….

Last night one of our dogs ate Josie’s bag of popping candy! I don’t think it touched the sides as she (the dog) didn’t seem too put off by the popping action! These moments of madness seem ever present in the chaos that is the March household!

Our family has sort of evolved! It’s not what I expected. Before I became Mrs March I had lots of idea about what the future would hold for us. But it soon became clear that we were not going to have children naturally and the medical alternatives were not for us. 
During the adoption process and at matching panel we were asked what our family life would look like. To be honest I hadn’t a clue! I talked  (convincingly enough I think) about holidaying, outdoor adventures and joining in activities with the children of our friends and family! But I couldn’t imagine it. We knew we wanted two children but the thought of suddenly living with two children seemed so foreign to us, I didn’t know what daily life would be like.

We had had two dogs prior to adopting the girls. We had one first then decided she was lonely so we took in another! They are such loving pets. After we adopted the girls it was very clear that Josie had a special connection with animals. She was obsessed by her Nan’s cats; following them through brambles and hedges! After lots of persuasion we got a pair of cats too! 

I love the madness, I love being the person that the whole family depends upon, I love taking the girls to clubs and watching their confidence grow. I love watching the girls play in the back garden after school or listening to them make up games about being librarians or vets or shop keepers! I love watching the girls care for their pets and cuddle them when they’re tired. I love walking the dogs in the silence of the local woods or sitting curled up with the cats.

So as I sit here drinking my coffee before it gets cold!  I think this is exactly where I want to be. Everybody has been fed, walked and watered! The house is (reasonably) clean and there is a chicken curry doing its thing in the slow cooker. This is the family life I wanted, life is good.  

Something’s got to give!

I had been back at work about 8 months before I found myself sobbing in my bosses office. I had tried so hard to make things work. I tried two long days, I tried three shorter days, I tried starting ridiculously early (for someone who hates mornings) in order to get a space in the staff car park so I could get back in time for the school pick up. I tried employing a junior to help me out and before I knew it my job had transformed into something unrecognisable. I had inadvertently given up all the enjoyable parts of my job and was left with all the hard bits! I lacked a sense of continuity at work, I felt unable to complete projects I started, and equally unable to say no to further commitments. I felt like a massive failure. This was the job I had worked so hard for, that I had wanted for 15 years and I could no longer do it.

Alongside my dramatically reducing self esteem my daughters were struggling with life too. Amy would dread Tuesdays knowing I would be going to work and she would have to go to breakfast club before school. I would attempt to creep down the stairs but she would always wake before I left and tug at my heart strings. Although she would attribute her distress to do with her fathers lack of hair plaiting ability, I knew she missed the time to connect with us before school.

Josie on the other hand found life more difficult at the other end of the day. She was so tired she would become enraged when asked to take off her shoes or hit her sister for daring to look at her! The household felt like it was balancing precariously on top of a cliff and one small teeter in the wrong direction and we’d plunge into a tumultuous sea! (So I have a tendency for the dramatic!).

With the support of my husband and boss I decided to take a years career break. This coincided with Josie’s last year before starting school and the start of Amy’s DDP therapy. I was really anxious about this, whilst on adoption leave I had started to feel quite stifled being at home and was aware that I was getting overly strung out on the inconsequential details of family life. I had been more than ready to return to work and wondered whether this break would help or hinder the situation.

It was probably one of the best decisions I have made. It felt as if the whole family could take a collective deep breath. It hasn’t always been easy. I feel lonely, I’m an introvert and find it hard to make friendships that don’t have a functional purpose. I also hadn’t realised how much of my self worth I gained from working, the praise and gratitude from colleagues and patients, the esteem from doing a job well and attaining status as an expert (in the loosest possible sense) in my chosen field.

I now truly appreciate being able to get everybody ready calmly in the mornings and if I don’t have time to shower before the school run, it’s ok I can shower after. On days where life feels great I can get lots of jobs done and on days where I have frazzled nerves I can take the time recoup and prepare for school pick up. I have since decided not to return to work and as I watch my girls scooter home from school I realise how lucky I am to get to spend these moments with them everyday.

Learning Through Experience

Last Sunday, Amy did not want to wear her boots to the woods (it has been very wet of late) she wants to wear her canvass shoes.  On Monday she did not want to wear the school skirt I gave her to put on for school.  On Tuesday Amy decided she would rather not wear tights to school any more. Following a week of arguing about what is appropriate to wear when and the subsequent huffing and stomping, I tell Amy from now on she can choose her own clothes in the morning.

At this point I’d just like to say that there is not a clothes dictatorship in our house.  The girls do generally choose their own clothes on non school days.  (My husband will be raising his eyebrows now  and I will admit to a sometimes disproportionate response to my children not wearing the clothes that they desperately couldn’t live without a week ago!! But this is an entirely  different matter.)  However on a school day, to save time, I usually provide the clothes in pile downstairs following breakfast.

Yesterday Amy decided to wear short white socks to school.  It is currently unseasonably cool for April. Today Amy is wearing tights!

Learning through experience is more powerful than doing what you’re told. We were reflecting on our experiences as adoptive parents this week in a parenting session as part of Amy’s DDP therapy.  We recalled the training sessions provided by our  adoption agency, the research we did prior to committing to the adoption process, the discussions with our social worker who said “adopting one child is like having two children, adopting two is like having four”. (In my nervousness at this point I joked that we didn’t really have the space for four children.  She didn’t laugh.)   However I don’t think we really believed that the legacy from our children’s early years would have such a big impact day in day out.

I personally thought life would settle down and after a year or so we would develop our own natural style of parenting and family life.  However 3 and half years in and with 18 months of therapy I think we finally realise that we will constantly need to consider and adjust our responses to tantrums and strops and comments designed to push our buttons. And through each new stage of their lives we need to remember the small, delicate and insecure little people we first met and see their experiences, their ups and downs, through these vulnerable eyes.

Maybe there is more room in all our lives for learning through experience and I’m going to try doing  a little less telling and a little more wondering.