Dear World, My ‘adopted’ children are also my ‘own’ children. Please don’t differentiate.

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It’s National Adoption Week, which seemed like a good opportunity for a rant.

As you know, I tend to blog positively and (I hope) humorously about adoption, and its impact on our family. It’s not all roses, of course, and I’m honest about the struggles of raising four children, two of whom have early life trauma, but generally our life is good and we have much to be thankful for.

Please read the following, then, in the context of what you’ve just read. Our life is good. What I’m about to say is just a niggle, really, and it shouldn’t get to me – but, then again, it’s such a common faux pas, and one so easily fixed, that I’m surprised more people don’t realise the impact of what they’re saying.

The niggle is this: people I meet are usually very interested in our adoption story. “What made you want to adopt?” “Did you always want to adopt?” and so on. Very good questions. In fact, any question is a good question. I like questions. They encourage honesty and transparency, both of which I’m a huge fan of.

But then, on hearing that we have two older, birth children (take note, this is the correct phrase), I’m met with a response such as, “Oh, so you have two of your own as well – that’s lovely!”

Excuse me?

Of my own?

Does anyone realise how patronising that sounds? Not to mention how unsettling for my boys as they grow older and start to understand the full whack of what’s being suggested.

Are you really saying that, in some way, my adopted children are not as good, not as entitled, not as deserving of us as our birth children are?

Are you really saying that my adopted children aren’t really mine?

Are you really saying that there is some difference between how we would treat the four of them?

Are you possibly suggesting that our adopted children don’t really fit into our family? That once they hit 18, they’ll be fending for themselves?

Sure, I went through a lot to get my two birth children. There was the initial, er, act. And then nine months of the usual fatigue, nausea, increasing discomfort, pre-eclampsia, blah, blah, blah.

And then a few more days of the same because which Rycroft has ever turned up anywhere on time?

And then the labour. Urgh.

And then the feeding, the sleepless nights, the reflux, the weaning, the tummy that refuses to bounce back. OK, maybe this last one is more the fault of insane amounts of chocolate consumption rather than the kiddoes, but you get the picture.

These kids are my own kids, for sure. No one would doubt it. Legally, they are ours too – I can show you their birth certificates which bear my name.

But then again, I went through a lot to get my two adopted children also.

There were more than three years of discussing, praying, talking to adopters, attending events and meetings. And then a few frenzied nights of form filling, capturing every tiny detail of our lives in a seemingly infinite line of boxes: personal details, job information, financial situation, home safety audit, NSPCC safeguarding checks. You name it, we filled the form.

And then there were two months of intensive social worker meetings – a bit like free therapy (we rather enjoyed this, I won’t lie). We shared the story of our own family upbringings, how the two of us met and married, the relationship we have with our birth children, our working history, our views and values on disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, expectations of our children, and a whole range of other things.

By the end of this stage, our social worker knew more about us than our closest friends.

Oh, and four days of an adoption preparation course. Basically four days designed to put you off adopting.

Then the panel, maybe just 15 minutes or so, but a dozen faces, each one prompting us to defend why we really could parent two more children.

And then there was the waiting, the scrolling through child profiles, more waiting, the adoption event where I first caught a glimpse of their sweet faces, more waiting, the phone calls, the ‘what-ifs’, more waiting, the meetings, the plans, the starting-to-get-real moments, the decorating, more waiting, more forms, more meetings, more desperation to meet our own children.

And then they moved in and we had regular visits from the social worker, health visitor and independent reviewing officer. Things Which Had To Be Done. Forms Which Had To Be Filled.

Because, by heck, they don’t leave you to flounder with an adopted child like they do with a birth child.

And – finally – nearly a year later, the court visit, the words, the photos, the celebration, the joyous knowledge – and the bit of paper which legally proves – that these are our children. OUR OWN CHILDREN.

Calling them our ‘own’ children does not diminish the place of their birth family. It does not wish away a story which, however sad, is a key part of who they are. We still have indirect contact with birth relatives, and will continue to do so, maybe one day turning that into direct contact, if our boys are keen.

No. Calling them ‘our own children’ gives them the total security of knowing they are totally loved, totally wanted, totally right in our family. They are not outsiders, they belong – and everything we have is theirs. There is nothing we give our birth children – in time, love, sacrifice or money – that we do not also give our adopted children.

I’d argue that the journey towards our adopted children becoming our children was longer, busier and more intense than that which we made when we embarked upon birth children. Wouldn’t you agree?

In that case, can we all be a little more careful in the language we use?

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Five questions to ask a prospective school (when your child is adopted or fostered)

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Blink, and three years will pass in an instant.

I mean, while you know and I know that it’s only actually been three minutes since our gorgeous 14-month-old boys moved into our family, the calendar (damn that thing – is it even a trustworthy article?) suggests it’s actually been nearly three years.

Besides wanting to know whether the Google calendar app is capable of speeding up time, I guess I also need to be thinking about applying for some school places.

How did this happen?

One minute our boys are commando-crawling across the floor – and the next, they’re taking their lives into their hands at every opportunity, causing my heart to skip a beat every time they’re about to jump from something waaaaayyy too high.

One minute they’re babbling and cooing – the next, they’re articulately and precisely telling me Every.Single.Detail of something-or-other, the relevance of which I can’t quite work out.

Fortunately, the school we chose for our eldest two kids is pastorally brilliant, highly experienced with looked-after children, and goes above-and-beyond to meet the needs of the individuals within its care. The only hesitation in putting it as first choice for our boys will be due to impossible laundry piles or lengthy afternoons making slime (you know how it is with kids and slime. You don’t? Oh, err…forget I said anything) – and not because we’re unsure about the place.

I appreciate, though, that the situation isn’t always this easy.

Perhaps it’s your first child who’s preparing to go to school – or perhaps you have older children, but sense that the school they attend will not be the best choice for your adopted or fostered child.

In that case, here are five questions which will start a helpful discussion with any prospective schools. They are not exhaustive, nor might you feel it necessary to ask every single one – but they are a start.

(And, if you want to know, they’re inspired by an article I wrote a few years ago: Five questions to ask a Prospective School.)

1. Who is your designated lead for looked-after children?

a) It’s Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms So-and-So… (The best answer.)

b) Er…we haven’t quite sorted that one out yet. (Don’t write off the school just yet – they may be open to hearing more about it from you.)

c) Designated what? (Leave. Immediately.)

A new piece of legislation from the government this year requires all maintained schools to have a designated person who keeps an eye on the looked-after children (LAC) within their care (this includes children who are adopted and are no longer under Local Authority care).

The likelihood is that this responsibility will fall to someone who is already employed by the school in a pastoral capacity. This, in my opinion, is the ideal. It isn’t really appropriate for a class teacher to have this role, as they’re massively overstretched as it is, and need to be allowed to focus on the children in their class. An exception to this might be if the teacher in question was a member of the senior leadership team, who was given enough time away from their own class to effectively carry out this role.

A note here about academies. They are not maintained schools, and therefore are not obliged to follow government directives such as this one. However, any academy worth its weight is likely to want to implement a similar policy. Our school is an academy, and they’ve never played the “We’re not maintained” card to evade responsibility when it comes to raising the aspirations of all their children.

So, if you’re looking around an academy, make sure they’ve at least thought this one through!

2. How is your Pupil Premium money spent?

a) We put it towards extra staff in classrooms/use it for intervention groups/spend it on training specific to the needs of vulnerable children. (Great answer. No prizes for guessing what our school spend it on.)

b) We spend it on snazzy computers and equipment which will give your child more ways to engage within school. (Hmmm…resources could be a good spend, but you need to probe a little further.)

c) We give it straight back to the parents so that they can buy the correct uniform for their children. (Uh-oh.)

Newsflash: all LAC receive Pupil Premium (PP) – this essentially means that the school receives an extra wadge of cash each year to help qualifying children to overcome their disadvantages and have an excellent education.

Second newsflash: schools are not required to give this money to you, or to spend it directly on your child!

I’ve actually read some threads in online adoption forums which suggest that this is the case!

But if you were managing the budget of a small-medium company, and you received additional funding – would you spend it on things which would only last a year? Or things which would last a few years? Or on people who would have a greater long-term impact?

I realise that, as parents, a little extra cash towards uniform and equipment would be welcome, but hear me on this one: it will not improve your child’s education. UK parents all receive child benefit – and some of us receive tax credits and/or adoption allowance – which is supposed to go towards these items, so please allow your school to spend its PP on things which will have the greatest educational impact on your child.

I’m grateful that our school uses its PP, amongst other things, to pay a full-time pastoral member of staff, to ensure that each class has a teaching assistant (in addition to 1:1 support for kids with SEN), and that regular small group interventions take place for children who are struggling academically.

They also make sure they’re up-to-date with training, especially on issues of safeguarding, pastoral care, and attachment.

I know that these things will have a big impact on my boys – and other children like them in the school – and am delighted that they’re already in place.

One thing to be aware of, though: while schools are entitled to use PP money as they think best, they’re also required to produce data to prove that they’re raising the attainment of the kids who attract this funding. AND, what’s even better, is that they’re required to make this information available on their websites.

So even before you look round those schools, make sure you’ve found this information online! It’ll arm you with lots of useful info for when you visit.

3) Have your staff done any training on attachment and/or trauma?

a) Yes, we sent our deputy head and pastoral lead on some training a year ago. (Brilliant!)

b) Yes we did but I can’t remember when it was – four, five years ago? (Not necessarily a terrible school – remember just how much training teachers need in all sorts of different things – but definitely time for a booster!)

c) What’s attachment? (Invite them round when your adopted child is having a half-hour paddy, hitting and biting you because his favourite book doesn’t have enough pages. Then they’ll know.)

With all of these questions, I want to issue a word of caution: no school is perfect.

There is so much for teachers to do, so much for school leaders to do, so much for governors to do, that it is literally impossible to focus on all of the things, all of the time.

Please don’t write off a school just because their attachment training is out of date (or they haven’t done any). They haven’t been lazy, or uncaring – they’ve likely been getting training in other areas. The key thing is their attitude once you mention it. Do they seem keen? Are they taking you seriously?

This leads me nicely onto the next question…

4. What are the areas you’re trying to develop right now?

a) We’re looking at our behaviour policy, raising the profile of Science within school, and tightening up our SEN interventions. (I want this school!)

b) Er… we’re trying to raise the attainment of all our pupils. (GET ME SOME DETAILS! I’M ABOUT TO ENTRUST MY MOST PRECIOUS POSESSSION TO YOU!)

c) None. We’re doing pretty well. (Not when Ofsted turn up, you won’t be.)

Ofsted like to see that schools know where their weaknesses are, and are taking steps to improve them. You should be interested in this too.

You want to know that the school your child might attend has a great attitude to learning – and that’s not just pupil learning, but staff learning. If they’re not actively trying to improve specific areas (and able to tell you them at the drop of a hat), then what exactly are they doing?

Remember: the perfect school doesn’t exist! Instead, look for one which is ‘on the up’.

5. How do you deal with behaviour in the classroom?

a) We use a system of natural consequences, helping children to relate their action with its consequences, and utilise restorative practice techniques to encourage children to think through their actions. (WOW. Literally. Does a school like this actually exist??)

b) We use a traffic lights system of red, yellow and green to reward behaviour and help children to see when their behaviour is less than acceptable. (There are many benefits to this approach, but the visual/shaming nature of it won’t always be suitable for looked-after children who already carry around a heck of a lot of guilt.)

c) We stand the child in the corner of the classroom with a Dunce hat. (Obviously not. Soooo obviously not – but cut me a bit of slack here, OK? It’s number 5 and I’m running out of steam.)

Again, a school doesn’t need to be perfect, but what you’re after here is some kind of guarantee that they work with their children on improving behaviour. All children – but looked-after children especially – will get much more out of an approach which helps them to self-regulate their behaviour and make better decisions in the future.

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These questions aren’t an exam! Please don’t disregard schools which don’t score highly on each question. All good schools are in a process of improving – you’re simply trying to find out which ones will be flexible to the needs of your child (and are aware that your child will have needs specific to his/her looked-after background).

Good luck as you look!

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The Gardener’s Daughter – review and giveaway!

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog recently – a silence most of you will need no explanation for. Much as I always approach the summer holidays with a memory of how busy they’ve been in the past, I still get to this point and wonder how it could have been as busy as it actually ended up being.

We’ve been away a couple of times, which was lovely, exploring different parts of the UK and even enjoying some good weather for a change. There’s not a whole load of reading time on holidays once kids come along, but I was fortunate to grab a few moments this summer to read The Gardener’s Daughter by K.A. Hitchins.

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The story is told from the perspective of 19-year-old Ava Gage. Having had a comfortable childhood, raised by brilliant botanist Theo Gage, and his long-term housekeeper/nanny Paloma, a chance discovery leads her to realise that Theo is, in fact, not her biological father.

Fuming at having been lied to for so long, Ava runs away, determined to find out who her father is. But her innocence is about to be destroyed, as she gets a job at the holiday park her deceased mother worked at, and finds herself ensconced in some pretty dark goings-on.

The plot gets thicker and thicker, and with the police in on the deception, there seems to be no way that Ava and her new detective-friend Zavier can break the cycle and see justice come about for those guilty of abuse and mistreatment.

I can’t say too much without giving away the plot – the book’s so good you’ll have to read it yourself! But allow me to say that the ending is very satisfying, and will leave you wanting more.

It’s not a genre I usually read, but I was thoroughly hooked by a host of very believable characters, as well as the highly evocative setting. Hitchins writes in a very meticulous and precise style, which took me a couple of chapters to get used to, but eventually grew to love, as the scene she painted became so alive in my mind.

The book has scarce mention of God, but the whole story is a Christian allegory, based on The Prodigal Son. This parable is a fabulous story, timeless, and appealing to those of all faiths and none, but I did feel that occasionally more could have been gained in The Gardener’s Daughter from not feeling so constrained by the parable – the allegory, I felt, still could have been very clear even with a few different aspects.

Another thing which slightly jarred was the mention of Facebook and ‘selfies’ – the book is set in 2003, when neither of these existed!

Still, none of these niggles were enough to kill my enjoyment of the book. I warmed to the characters, got wrapped up in the fictional town and locations described, laughed along at the humorous scenes, and was on the edge of my seat for several chapters towards the end, as the plot thickened and the climax approached.

The Gardener’s Daughter was fabulous summer reading for me, and will be fabulous Autumn reading for you! Simply click hereto order a copy for yourself or a friend (why not get an easy Christmas present under your belt for a friend or family member who loves to read?). It would make superb book club material too, as there would be plenty to discuss.

BUT – before you do – publisher Instant Apostle has given me a free copy to give away. To enter, simply join my mailing list here – or, if you’re already on, leave a comment below. Deadline this Saturday 1st September, 9pm BST.

Giveaway now closed – congratulations to Jenni who won!

Disclaimers: I was given a free copy of this book to review, but never publish reviews of anything I don’t enjoy, so you can be confident I’m telling the truth, and that this is in fact an excellent book! This blog post contains affiliate links – if you click through and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to yourself, helping me to keep providing free articles on this blog. Thanks for your support!

Why not check out some of my other reviews?

Adoption and Vicarages: How do I keep children safe in a ‘public’ family space?

'Bonjour' door sign with text reading "Adoption & Vicarages: how do I keep children safe in a 'public' family space?

The adoption process involves several home visits.

Your social worker doesn’t need to see a show home (thank flippin’ goodness for that) – but they do need to see that you have the space for a new child/ren, that you’re able to keep the home clean and tidy enough to nurture human life, and that there are no obvious safety hazards for a young child.

Our situation, as the fortunate inhabitants of a ‘free’ home (my husband is a vicar – the vicarage comes with the job) had its pros and cons when it came to these visits.

The pros were plentiful: we have enough bedrooms for an extra child or two (vicarages are supposed to have at least four bedrooms as standard), there is plenty of space to play downstairs, and we have a decent-sized, child-friendly garden.

Location is also important, as isolation can be a huge cause of post-adoption depression (as it can be with post-partum depression). On that front we ticked all the boxes too, being within an easy walk of shops, cafes, the library, our church, several toddler groups, a gymnastics centre, a swimming pool – and we live directly opposite the primary school.

In many ways, our home and its location were a gift to us (and our social worker) as we moved closer towards our adoption panel.

But on the second occasion that our home was ‘inspected’, there was something we couldn’t hide.

It was blindingly obvious that someone was living in our spare room.

There was more luggage than one might bring for a night or two’s stay, so we couldn’t have fudged it, even if we’d wanted to.

The man in question was a friend of ours, a new member of our church, a Dad of similar-aged children to our own, and someone we trusted. He’d had some accommodation problems which had left him temporarily homeless, and we were happy to step in. He must have stayed for two or three weeks at the most – no big deal.

If our social worker had visited on either side of that fortnight, she’d have known no different. And, by this point, she’d got to know and trust us, so there was never any question of her stopping us from going any further in the process, but her visit, and her discovery, provoked an important question.

“With all the ways your home is used for others, how do you ensure the safety of your children?”

It was fair enough – and fortunately we were in a position to be able to answer with confidence, having already thought through this issue with our two birth children.

In order to share the answer with you, let me back-track a little and explain the concept of a vicarage. It’s a home owned usually by the Diocese, sometimes the church, which you and your family can live in rent-free for the duration of the time you’re working for a particular church.

Vicars might be single, or they may have large families – but the vicarage needs to be suitable for all – hence the four-bedroom rule (although some have five or six). They also tend to have gardens and be in a convenient location for the church/es for which the vicar is working.

Another aspect is that they are supposed to have two reception rooms – specifically so that the family has somewhere to go when meetings are being held – and also a study, which is supposed to be accessible without guests having to go through the house.

In other words, there is the expectation that the vicarage will be used for church meetings and business, but also that any family members should have some privacy and protection from those coming into the house.

Now there isn’t specifically an expectation that there will be a spare room dedicated to anyone who’s in need of urgent accommodation – but it kind of makes sense that, if you’re a Christian and someone is in need and you have the space, you will accommodate them. I’d hope this would be true of any Christian with a spare room, not just those living in a church-owned house.

The thing that makes all this more complicated is that, inevitably, a vicar’s work will bring him/her into contact with vulnerable people, some of them very damaged.

So, when your home is also a work-space, and when that work involves vulnerable adults, it’s important to put up some boundaries to protect your family, not least if you have adopted or foster children who are particularly susceptible. Here is a longer version of what we told our social worker.

We are careful about who we invite into our home

Yes, we’ve had alcoholics, recent prison graduates, thieves and drug users in our home for meals or to watch a sports match. But they’ve all been people with whom my husband has built a relationship through a church ministry. Often I get to know them too, and they become friends.

Our boundary is that we wouldn’t invite cold-callers into our own home – if someone unknown to us were to ring our doorbell and ask for a meal or some accommodation, we would support them in getting what they needed, but we wouldn’t physically bring them into our home.

And it should go without saying that we would never tolerate drug use, or excessive drinking, in our home. Fortunately, those invited in have always honoured our family in this respect.

We are careful about when we invite people into our home

We love to host meals for others, especially Sunday lunch, which we’ve found can be a great ‘levelling’ meal for lots of different people to come together. But this is a specific invitation for a specific time of the week. And while we have an open home to those we know well, we are careful to invite more vulnerable/less well-known people at specific, appropriate times.

The boundary here is that if I’m home alone without my husband and someone comes to the door, I’ll have a conversation on the doorstep but won’t invite them in. And we’ve never initiated the kind of culture where people can just show up (although we absolutely have this culture with those we know well).

We are careful about who stays the night

A meal is one thing – an overnight stay is totally different. There are numerous safeguarding issues involved when someone, say, with a criminal record is in your home with your kids while you’re asleep, not to mention the awkwardness of having to shoo them out the next morning.

The friend in question who was staying temporarily with us when our social worker visited was already a trusted friend, someone we saw regularly and had got to know reasonably well. He wasn’t a risk to our children, he was not addicted to drugs or alcohol, and he has no criminal record.

Our boundary here is that we err on the side of caution. Those who stay are either pre-planned friends and family, or local friends who suddenly find themselves in need of a bed – I think there have been around four of these over the last four years in this job, so not a huge amount.

We supervise our children at all times

This sounds obvious, but we make sure we’re always with our children – that they never have any 1:1 opportunities with those who visit. We don’t nip out and leave others in charge of them. The only people to babysit are trusted friends and family.

As much as anything else, this protects the adult in question. If we have a vulnerable adult staying with us, we need to protect them too – and having the responsibility of looking after your host’s kids is not a burden they need.

Whilst sacrificial hospitality should be a hallmark of all Christian homes, not just vicarages, the sacrifices we make should not involve our children.

After all, giving a loving, stable home to children who otherwise wouldn’t have one is a radical and sacrificial act of hospitality in itself.

If God has called you to care for vulnerable children, they are your first priority and nothing you do with your home should endanger them. Instead, our homes should be places of refuge and safety, peace and joy.

But, as God directs, you will find ways of sharing these things appropriately and safely with those outside of your family too.

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Eleanor Oliphant, pulled pork and a sexuality conference (What I’m into – June 2018)

Books

Wow. Just wow. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine certainly lived up to its hype.

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This was our Book Club’s choice this month, and I was delighted as it’s been on my list for months. Eleanor Oliphant lives an isolated life, devoid of any meaningful relationship, hobby or interest – beyond drinking vodka on her own all weekend to get through the gap between her working weeks.

Without giving anything away (because you really do need to read this book for yourself!), it’s fairly apparent from the start that there’s something unusual about Eleanor – but what it is unfolds gradually throughout the book.

I loved the hopeful way the book ended (not to mention the exciting twist in the last few pages), and I found the whole thing immensely enjoyable – laugh-out-loud funny at times, as author Gail Honeyman captures Eleanor’s straightforward, literal thought processes perfectly.

Again, without giving too much away, I particularly enjoyed this book from an adoption perspective. Although adoption isn’t a theme in the book, the impact of trauma, neglect and abuse is explored, sometimes making for difficult reading, but always sensitively and wisely handled.

In short – read this book! Seriously one of my favourite books ever.

It didn’t take me long to finish, but everything else I started this month didn’t get finished, so you’ll just have to wait till next month for more books!

Food

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Of course there were plenty of BBQs, and general al fresco eating this month – BECAUSE EATING OUTDOORS IS SO MUCH MORE FUN AND LESS HASSLE. And because – look at the weather! Even in the North!

My personal favourite was the yummy pulled-pork recipe you see above. It’s a great one for a busy day, because it takes about 10 minutes to get all the bits together and whack in the oven – then when you get home from your busyness, you’ve got a fabulous meal waiting for you with very little else needed except buns and coleslaw (although we did chunky chips – also easy – and some cooked veg for fussy little eaters).

And I successfully made canneloni for the very first time! I realised the problem was in the piping bag – so, in the month where I tried to reduce plastic usage by buying a shampoo bar instead of a bottle, I offset this by buying a roll of 100 disposable plastic piping bags. Eek. Sorry, world.

It did help, though. The result was amazing (this is the recipe I used). Sadly, I don’t have a pic of the finished article, so (just for evidence, so that you believe me that I actually pulled this off) here’s a pic of the cannelloni, all neatly piped and ready for some sauce, cheese and a half-hour in the oven.


Music

Not being at all gadgety or Internet-y, I was absolutely delighted to discover that Spotify was indeed as wonderful as everyone says it is. I bought a 99p 3-month trial so that I could put together a soundtrack for our Summer Fair (see below), but within an hour or listening for my own benefit, I was totally converted that THIS IS HOW I WANT TO LIVE FOREVER, THROWING OUT ALL THE CDS AND NEVER USING ANYTHING OTHER THAN DIGITAL MUSIC EVER AGAIN.

Until the hubs reminded me that our car only plays CDs. Oh well.

Through Spotify, however, I discovered Lily Allen’s latest album – I’ve kind of lost touch with her since her first album, but this one was perfectly accessible and just brilliant. I like how her music’s grown up with her, exploring different territories lyrically (divorce, being a working mum, etc.) but musically having the same quirks and emotional sweetness of her earlier stuff.

My personal favourite on the album was ‘Three’ but, honestly, there’s not really a dud song on there.

Stage and screen

download (2).jpgWell, having read it last month, our Book Club had to watch The Light between Oceans, didn’t we?! It’s good, and well worth watching – obviously not as good as the book (did I really need to say that?), predominantly because so much detail has to be left out – detail which changes how you view the secondary characters – but it’s a powerful film none-the-less.

download (3).jpgWe finished the UK House of Cards (the old one), and, much as I’d enjoyed the three series, I was hugely disappointed by the finale, which felt like a cop-out along the lines of “…and then they woke up to discover it had all been a dream”. I really felt that, with the clever plots and dialogue thus far, the writers could have come up with something better. Anyone seen it/share my views?! Feel like I’m kind of on my own here in 1990s British drama territory.

Articles

Some great stuff this month!

I’ve started to think a bit more about transgender and sexuality issues (and no, this is not my way of announcing my impending transition).

I absolutely loved Living Out’s Identity conference (see below), and interestingly I’ve started to find a few non-religious voices speaking out against the ease of gender transition (not against it per se, but concerned particularly for under 18s, and their vulnerability when it comes to their gender, and decisions which could have an impact they’re not expecting). This article is long but well worth a read – it’s one mother’s story of her daughter’s desire to transition.

Not on my watch is Krish Kandiah at his best, using Fathers’ Day to ask men whether they’ll step up to the challenge of caring for the most vulnerable. Adoption and fostering are two ways to do this, obviously, but they’re not the only ways. Our society has one particular definition of ‘real men’, but the Bible may be calling you guys to something different…take a read!

This article, about some fiery female missionaries who were practising Christian feminism way before the #metoo movement, was fascinating.

How disability makes a church strong spoke right to my heart about how vital inclusivity and diversity are to our church communities. I’m becoming so passionate about this!

And I’m really enjoying Abby King’s blog at the moment. She’s a fellow ACW member and writes a really thought-provoking devotional each week. I’m finding it so relevant and considered. Have a read of Why it helps to know what you really want.

On the blog

I was privileged to review The Mermaid who couldn’t, a fantastic book aimed at adopted children.

For Fathers’ Day, I published two pieces: some musings on the idea of having no father, and a tribute to my husband, who’s a wonderful father to our four kids.

In response to 5 Valuable Work Lessons from Maternity Leave which I mentioned last month, I wrote about five valuable work lessons I’d learnt from my nearly nine-year ‘maternity leave’…

To celebrate National Writing Day last week, I took up this writing challenge (“I feel most free when…”) – and then shared a few thoughts having watched the wonderfully thought-provoking ‘Gone Fishing’, featuring Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer.

Elsewhere

Whilst I still feel like a blog novice (after six years?! How can that be?), people have started to ask my advice when thinking about starting their own blogs. So I put a few thoughts down in my ACW More than Writers blog this month: “Why and how should I start a blog?” Do have a look if you’re in this position.

Other

* I went to the beautiful wedding of a lovely new friend – it was down-to-earth, simple, and God-centred.

* We finally found a Fathers’ Day gift for DD that he liked and didn’t complain about (he doesn’t like ‘commercial festivals’ and never knows what he wants for the non-commercial ones):

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God bless Pinterest.

* I went to watch my boy play cricket for his school (having no idea whether he knew the rules or not). It was a lovely, relaxed tournament for Years 3&4, with the Years 5&6 matches clearly taking on a bit more formality (read: they had rules). Our school did really well, winning our group and progressing to the semi-final where I think we came 3rd (?). Anyway, it was a great achievement for a school which doesn’t have loads of kids paying for additional sports coaching. We were all very proud!

* We had our school Summer Fair! Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while will know what a big deal this is – our PTA only started last year, and this is our second Summer Fair. We were aiming to improve on last year’s £1000 profit by a couple of hundred, but I was sceptical about actually reaching it. In actual fact, we made over £1400 – smashed it!! It was also just such a lovely afternoon, with great weather, and a brilliant atmosphere amongst all the families who came.

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* The most exciting thing for me this month – and possibly this year (you can tell I don’t get out much) – was a child-free 24-hour trip to London with my good friend Izzy to hear Tim and Kathy Keller speak on Identity and Sexuality. Oh my goodness, they were superb! The first hour was like an undergraduate Sociology lecture – the second was a brilliantly packed sermon. After lunch Kathy stormed it with some practical guidance for churches, then there was a brilliant panel made up of the Kellers and a couple of LGBQTI+ Christians. I couldn’t type my notes fast enough! I hope to be able to share a few thoughts with you on this blog over the next month or two…let me know if you’d be interested.

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Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m into’ blog posts. Do check them out – you may discover a fantastic new blogger!

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Can you imagine having no father?

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I can’t imagine how it would feel to have no father.

I can imagine a remote father – detached, preoccupied, no space in his life for children. I can imagine his regret and guilt at having been talked into a family he never really wanted – or, perhaps, the absence of regret and guilt, as time starts to justify the distance that’s grown between him and his kids. I can imagine the loss, the sadness, the shut-down, the self-preservation of the children who long for his time and know they will never get it.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an absent father – living in a different town now, perhaps with a new wife, new life, new kids – remembering birthdays (or not), sharing a week together every summer, occasional weekends. I can imagine the awkwardness for a child struggling to fit into a different family every now-and-then, having to adapt behaviours and routines for different sets of parents.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine a neglectful father – leaving everything to Mum, putting his own needs first, not noticing the children who require his help to regulate their emotions, because he can’t yet regulate his own. I can imagine the children who grow up thinking this is what family life is like: Mum raises the family, Dad does what he likes.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an abusive father – letting his anger control him, free-flowing with the insults, the lies, the manipulation, the fists. I can imagine – although it pains me to write it – a father who cannot control his lust, who does the unthinkable, who abuses the trust of those who have no one else to rely on.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

No father? Obviously, at some point, there must have been.

But was that a father? Or was that a few drops of bodily fluid, moving from one body to another? Two lucky sperm which made it, which kick-started two new lives, unbeknownst to the person who ejected them from their being?

And now, somewhere, that person walks free, unaware of the lives he has created. He may pass them in the street – or he may be living on the other side of the world – and we will never know. Was he old or young? Tall or short? Does he have other kids? A wife?

I can’t imagine – because the possibilities are infinite.

What was his ethnicity? Was he unemployed, or was he a CEO? Was it a romantic liaison, or a one-night stand? Did he pay?

Okay, so maybe I am imagining. But imagination usually starts with reality – and here, there is no reality to know of. No clues, no evidence, no memories and no one to ask. With endless possibilities of what this sperm-donor may have been like, I’ll likely never guess the real him.

And the kids – how will they respond? Not just knowing little, but knowing nothing. Future Fathers’ Days, when they’re old enough to understand. “Best dad” cards taking on a new meaning. Adolescence, and wondering whether emerging character traits come from him. DNA tests when they meet their future partners.

There wasn’t really a father. What might have turned into one was actually just a couple of seeds, fertilising a couple of eggs.

But God likes seeds. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. Seeds planted in good soil will produce a healthy crop.

And a seed from a man can fertilise an egg, creating a life which God dreamed up many millennia before it happened.

You see, there is a Father after all. A Father who was intentional and loving from the start. A Father who wanted these children to be born into his world, to take their place in family life, to come into relationship with Him.

Yes, it matters that there is no earthly father. But no, it’s not the end of the story.

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The Mermaid Who Couldn’t – review and GIVEAWAY!!

Being removed from your biological family, at whatever age it happens, has life-changing impact. There will be negative emotions and responses which feel so intuitive, that the idea of ever shaking them off seems impossible.

The more resources which help children and parents to navigate these tricky emotions, the better! And so I was thrilled to find a copy of The Mermaid Who Couldn’t on my doormat recently.

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Image credit: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Written by adoptive parent Ali Redford, The Mermaid Who Couldn’t (illustrated by Kara Simpson) tells the story of Mariana, a mermaid neglected by her mother. Mariana is found and nurtured by a turtle, Muriel, and the book depicts Mariana’s journey from the deep, dark depths of the sea, up to the fresh air and light of the mermaids’ cove. This is a wonderful metaphor for vulnerable children to latch onto, offering hope and encouragement.

Just in case you might be thinking that this sounds like an overly-simplistic message for such a book to portray, let me reassure you that the journey from dark to light is never portrayed as straightforward. When Mariana first surfaces from the sea, for example, she feels totally useless, as she can’t sing beautifully like the other mermaids – so she dives back down to where she was. She is sad and angry that she hasn’t been able to ‘survive’ in the light – but doesn’t know how to make things better.

Even towards the end of the book, when Mariana is in a much better place, there comes the line: “But if she feels low, as she sometimes still does, Muriel is ALWAYS close enough to remind her to look up at the sky…and sing her own sweet, mighty song”.

Mariana’s background, whilst it hasn’t been loving or nurturing, is not dismissed – instead, she is encouraged to sing “her own sweet, mighty song”. This validation of her experience reassures both parents and child that, however damaged a child may be, he/she is a unique individual, with a very special contribution to make to society.

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Image credit: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

The Mermaid Who Couldn’t uses a lot of helpful emotion words – useless, scared, sad, angry – to encourage the reader to voice their feelings. I liked this very much – small children struggle to understand, let alone articulate, what they’re feeling, so putting this language into their vocabulary, via a character who has experienced a similar background, can only be a good thing.

And – this sounds obvious, but I’ll say it anyway – the fact that the story centres around a mermaid, i.e. a mythical creature, makes the whole thing rather more detached from reality and, therefore, much more approachable for a vulnerable child. Anything resembling real life more closely might just be a little too uncomfortable.

This said, there are a few phrases or sentences which might be distressing to some children. I don’t believe they should have been excluded, as they may start important conversations for the children who read them – but of course every child is different, and some are more sensitive to language than others.

I really loved the bold illustrations, and found some of the facial expressions in particular very moving, subtly depicting the different emotions Mariana feels throughout her journey. But a couple of my friends weren’t sure about them – I guess it’s all pretty subjective, and certainly not a reason not to buy the book!

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Image credit: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I recommend The Mermaid Who Couldn’t wholeheartedly – it’s a great book to have on the shelf. Whilst aimed at children who are adopted or fostered, it could be successfully used with birth children whose families were preparing to adopt or foster. It would also be a fantastic addition to any school library.

The author and illustrator have clearly intended this book to be aimed predominantly at girls, as they’ve previously released a ‘boys’ version: The Boy who Built a Wall Around Himself. It’s definitely helpful for children to be able to see themselves in the story, but in the interests of gender equality I like to read my children books containing heroes of both genders – so I read this with my 3 year old adopted boys, as well as my 6 year old birth daughter, and it was appreciated by all.

As the book is aimed at ages 4-9, I was not expecting my 3 year olds to start long, deep, meaningful conversations with me after reading this book, but I trust that as we keep it on our bookshelf and return to it regularly over the next few years, the conversations will start to unfold. Any resource which makes this easier is a godsend.

Now – onto the fun part – Jessica Kingsley Publishers have kindly sent me a giveaway copy, so to be in with a chance of winning, simply sign up to my newsletter – or, if you’ve already done so, leave a comment below. This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Katherine H who won!

And, if you haven’t already, why not read my review of The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting? It’s another brilliantly helpful JKP publication.

You may also like to check out my Adoption Pinterest board for more blogs and articles I’ve written on all aspects of adoption.

A couple of disclaimers: I was given a free copy to review, but all views are my own, and I never recommend anything I wouldn’t buy myself. Affiliate links are used in this email – if you click through and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no cost to yourself. Thanks for your support!