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

Dear World,.png

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?

If you’ve appreciated this post, why not join the Desertmum community for weekly emails about adoption, parenting, faith and – let’s face it – whatever bandwagon I’ve jumped on for that week?

You may also enjoy:

Party, party, and then – you guessed it – another party! (What I’m Into – September 2018)

Books

Along with my Book Club, this month I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. I really enjoyed it, bearing some similarities to Eleanor Oliphant, which I read in June.

9780241248782.jpg

The title character, like Eleanor, has had a less-than-ideal upbringing, in a dysfunctional family, and now struggles to cope with aspects of everyday life that the rest of us take for granted. Lucy doesn’t necessarily notice or verbalise these struggles, but they become implicit through Strout’s deeply incisive writing, which I enjoyed very much.

The book however, is not mainly about Lucy’s struggles (as an adopter, I tend to read everything through an ‘early life trauma’ lens even when the author hasn’t necessarily intended that!), but more about her relationship with her mother, who comes to visit for a prolonged period when Lucy finds herself in hospital. The pair haven’t spoken in years, and now Lucy is married with two daughters. The ensuing conversation sheds light on Lucy’s upbringing, the characters of the two women, and on what might be going on elsewhere in Lucy’s adult life.

I found it a fascinating read, if slightly frustrating in its ambiguity. I like a little bit of uncertainty (“it could have been this…”, “maybe she felt like this…”) but I also like to know what the actual story is, as I never trust my instincts to have got it right! But maybe that’s the point.

Anyway, it was not a long read, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys this type of story.

Food

There has been A LOT of party food (read: cake) kicking around Casa Desert this month. ALL four of my kids had the audacity to be born in September, and I know that every time this month rolls round, God is laughing at His amazing joke of putting all four of these September-born kids into the life of a Mum who is liable to get a little too party-obsessed.

Yeah, funny. Thanks God.

Actually, the joke is working. I’m chilling out about the kids’ parties. They’re not as much of a mission as they used to be. These days I’m tending to just book a bouncy castle, open a packet of cheesy balls, and let everyone create their own fun. Imagination never hurt anyone, right?

And, to bring this back to the subheading, I don’t really do much with the food. It mainly comes from packets. This year we made some (pretty nice, if I say so myself) chocolate cupcakes from Twist (quite possibly the most helpful, foolproof and scrumptious baking book ever) – but only really for something to do with the twins, who can’t get enough kitchen time at the moment.

Then there were the Birthday Cakes. Listen, I’m hardly Bake-Off material, but I like to try, OK? A mermaid one for Missy (now 7):

Spiderman for Monkey and Meerkat (now 4 – geez, where did that go?):

And a football one for Mister (9! He’s 9! Double figures next year! Someone remind me when I’m supposed to get the hang of parenting?):

Music

George Ezra.

That’s about it really. He sits neatly in the very small overlap section of our family’s Venn diagram when it comes to musical preference. The catchy melodies and simple, repetitive words appeal to our kids, who can remember all of them (even the 4 year olds). The Orbison-esque voice and use of brass give it a vintage sound that Desert Dad and I appreciate. Perfect!

And – for those of you who are fans of George Ezra AND a cappella (as well as those of you who are not) – you absolutely have to watch this:

I love that this isn’t even a gig…they’re just warming up!

My articles

15358754798031725905703.jpg

This month’s piece for More than Writers explored one of my (many) misadventures with DIY this summer, and its application point for writing and editing.

Home for Good published my piece on What the Church needs to know about Invisible Needs. I feel a bit arrogant saying it’s an essential read for all those in church leadership – but I’m going to put myself out there, uncomfortable though it is, for the sake of all the many traumatised children who attend our churches each week and struggle in ways many of us never notice.

My Aussie friends Mike and Helen started an awesome company called XCeptional, which helps people with autism get into employment. They run training, provide software testing for clients, and work with companies who want to become more inclusive.

Article-Mistakes-That-Startups-Make.jpg

I love what they do, and often wish I could support more but I’m sooooo far away – so when Mike asked me to write them a blog, I snapped him up! Take a look at ‘One Mistake Start-ups are Making – and Three Ways to put it Right’.

Here on the blog, I shared the second and third of my trilogy, reflecting on the Living Out Identity conference I attended back in June. If you’re interested in the church’s response to sexuality, give them a read. They discuss whether celibacy can equal fulfilment, and how a church can be Biblically inclusive.

if only 1 in 4 girls are happy - what are we doing wrong_

I shared five questions that adoptive parents should ask prospective schools when looking round, and asked what we’re doing wrong as parents, when only 1 in 4 girls aged 7-21 call themselves ‘happy’.

20180920_210459-978138081

I also went giveaway-crazy, reviewing both The Father’s Kiss and A Really Incredible Feast. And there’ll be more giveaways to come in October – stay tuned.

Articles elsewhere

Do you ever read something and get the feeling the writer has reached inside your brain, pulled together all of your incoherent thoughts and expressed them more eloquently and articulately than you would ever have done?

I love it when this happens! When my friend Laura shared this article on Facebook, I have to say I was blown away. You try reading When Kids won’t bow to your Idols and see if you don’t feel mightily challenged and entertained all at once.

IRL

  • Parties! Three of them, to be precise. Missy had Unicorns and Mermaids, the twins had Spiderman (very loosely adhered to, I might add), and Mister had the easiest one of all: Football! (Think: kids, muddy food, a ball and some food, and that’s pretty much it.)
  • Sleep! Actually, not much of it. Pray for me in October!
  • Books! Some progress! Still nothing to report to you, but hopefully very very soon… Suffice to say, there’s been enough progress that I’m feeling pretty excited!
  • Christmas Anthology! Out soon! I have a reflection in it! If you’re on my mailing list, look out for a special subscribers-only offer in your inbox very soon. And if you’re not on the list, join now! It’s fun – I promise.

Only 1 in 4 girls call themselves ‘happy’ – so what are we doing wrong?

coffee-791439_640.jpg
Image credit: Pixabay

I don’t take a paper.

I mean, I barely have time to read my own name on an envelope, so working through all the many articles contained in a broadsheet is a luxury belonging – for the moment, at least – to another existence, one where I’m not permanently covered in PVA glue.

(Also – the Internet. Free news stories at your fingertips.)

But if I did get a paper, it would be The Guardian. (Ooh, I can feel you judging me already! Intellectual middle-class elite, as Stewart Lee would say – and I, of course, would howl with laughter whenever he did because there’s no point denying it – and anyway, as an Oxbridge-educated middle-class person, surely he’s pretty safely in this demographic too?)

ANYWAYS.

I had some glass to wrap, so thought I’d buy me a paper, and thought it should be The Guardian since if I found myself with any spare time I might prefer reading a few of its words over, say, The Yorkshire Herald. (Not knocking the latter – I’m sure it’s an excellent read. It’s just – you know – time.)

It was one of the front page stories, though, that sealed the deal:

“Sharp fall in number of girls who feel happy”(The Guardian, 19.09.18)

You can read the full story here – but, to summarise, a recent study has found that only one in four girls aged 7-21 describe themselves as ‘very happy’.

if only 1 in 4 girls are happy - what are we doing wrong_.png

I asked my daughter, barely two weeks into this age bracket, whether she felt happy. “What – now?” she replied.

“Now, yes – but more generally too. In life. Do you feel happy?”

“Yes.”

“Honestly?”

“Yes.”

“You’d tell me if you didn’t, right?”

“Look at my colour-change sequin armband, it’s so cool!”

It’s fair to say I don’t have a lot of ‘deep’ conversations with my daughter, whose idea of a disaster is forgetting to bring her unicorn squishy to bed.

Of course I was mildly relieved by her answer, but I’m not resting on my laurels and giving myself a parenting trophy just yet – she still has adolescence and young adulthood to come, and the wheels may yet come unstuck.

Is there anything I can do, as a mum, to prevent this?

To answer, I need to go back a few stages and ask why this story bothers me so much. Why do I care that lots of girls are unhappy?

Primarily because it feels like feminism is failing.

We are trying so hard to ensure girls are able to access what boys can in terms of opportunities, jobs and family life, and yet we’re failing to enable them to access lives which are happy, content, low in stress and enjoyable. Does this seem slightly off-balance to you?

The media thinks people like me, who choose to stay at home for their children’s preschool years, are a failure. The statistics say that I’m a bad example to my daughter, who is less likely to have a well-paid job, and more likely to make the same waywardly irresponsible decision I’ve done, if she ever has kids.

I disagree. Or maybe I agree, but I don’t think it matters. What’s the good in having a well-paid job if you’re not happy? What’s the good in a glittering career if your mental health is in a poor state?

I mean, you can do both, right? It is possible to be simultaneously successful and happy. And having a stay-at-home parent is by no means a guarantee of future happiness. But if such a high number of the 7-21 age group are describing themselves as ‘unhappy’, I’d wager that a decent proportion of the 21-35 age group are struggling too – and that means we need to rethink some of the identity information we’re feeding to our daughters.

I’d love my daughter to do well professionally – and, trust me, I’ll be her biggest cheerleader in this – but at the expense of her happiness? Not a chance. We need to hear more feminists validating girls simply for being who they are, not endlessly needing to achieve more than the generation before them.

The two major reasons girls cited for their unhappiness were exams and social media.

Let’s look at exams first. Please forgive me for the gender generalisations – I know this doesn’t apply to all girls, everywhere – but, on the whole, girls get more anxious, care more what others think, and take what others say more to heart than the boys around them.

As I said – not every girl is like this, but then we’re not talking every girl – we’re talking about 75%, so hear me out.

Teenage girls don’t need to be told how important their exams are – they’re already far too aware. Every time you mention a deadline or an exam, they take it on board and their stress goes up a notch.

Teenage boys, on the other hand, could be repeatedly told how much work they still needed to complete, and the short time frame they had in which to do it – and still they would choose video games over coursework. Every time. They’re just not that fussed – and, at this age at least, they don’t tend to have as much personal motivation as girls.

I’ll repeat my caveat: this is not all teenage boys. But, when I was teaching, this described a majority of the boys in my classes.

And there’s another aspect at play. I wonder whether girls are a little more conditioned to work hard at school, because we’ve grown up being told to believe in ourselves, yet aware of a history which has trodden us down, dismissed our views, and diminished our achievements?

Deep-down, we feel like the underlings (even though we know we’re not), and that gives us a drive – sometimes a desperation – to put our all into school exams.

Again, this isn’t true for every girl – but I think, with hindsight, that this might have been me at school.

Girls usually outperform boys in school exams – but it’s boys who end up with the higher-paid jobs in adulthood. So clearly school exam success is not an indicator of future life success. There are multiple factors, many circumstantial, that propel someone into a well-paid or high-level job.

Most girls won’t be told this, though. Our high level of personal motivation, as well as our ability to enjoy intrinsic rewards, mean that we want to do well for ourselves – not just for the glitzy job waiting for us in our 20s.

The other chief cause of girls’ increasing unhappiness is social media. As the report says, “Relationships are an essential element of contentment and it may be no coincidence that 10 years ago, girls of all ages were socialising more and comparing their lives online less”.

If you want a statistic to go with that, in 2009 69% of girls met up with their friends at each others’ homes, compared with just 21% in 2018.

It’s not rocket science, is it? If you replace real, deep, committed, do-anything-for-each-other friendships with shallow, image-based liaisons through Instagram and Facebook, who are you going to unwind with, offload onto, rant at? Pent-up feelings will just increase your anxiety and stress, and decrease your overall contentment and happiness.

So, the million dollar question – can we do anything about this?

I don’t speak as one experienced in the ways of hormonal daughters, but – never one to withhold my opinion when there’s an opportunity to inflict it upon others – here are some thoughts anyway. Please add yours in the comments.

Encourage a healthy attitude towards exams. Offer perspective. Speak of the future. Allow adult family members and friends to share their stories of school success and failure, and how their lives have turned out positively, especially if school wasn’t always a positive experience.

Encourage hobbies and interests from a young age. It’s no good trying to persuade your 15 year old to take up judo at the start of Year 11. Start young: let your girls (and boys) explore different hobbies, so that they learn how to relax without the requirement of a screen, and also so that they know where their strengths lie, if not in academia.

Have clear boundaries for phone use/screen time. You can find ‘contracts’ all over the Internet intended for parent and son/daughter to agree and sign, regarding phone use. It’s pretty much impossible to control everything your child sees or hears online, but you can at least help them to set healthy boundaries in terms of usage so that they don’t get burned.

Make it easy for your daughter to socialise. Build friendships from birth. Teach the importance of loyalty and kindness, and how we repair friendships after disagreements (particularly important for girls). Have an open home to her friends – let her know she is always welcome to invite them round for actual, meaningful interactions.

Don’t spend so much time instilling your own dreams in your daughter that you squash her ability to develop at her own pace. We need to stop pushing our daughters towards greatness, and start spotting where they shine, where they’re happiest, and encourage them in that. We can do this from birth, and it pays dividends in the long term.

Encourage healthy body image. Let her see your own flawed body. (Sorry, no offence. But it is. And so is mine.) Talk about ‘staying healthy’ rather than ‘losing weight’. Shield her from your own obsession with image, if this is a problem area for you (or talk together about battling it).

Do things as a family. If family habits are forged early on, such as eating together, taking Saturday day trips, or playing board games, this gives your daughter a solid base from which to explore the world. Our ability to relate to others come first from our relationship with our parents, so invest your time wisely. It’s not the occasional ‘deep chats’ which build a parent-child relationship, it’s the regular hanging-out, the silly and the absurd, the laughter and the not-doing-much.

Don’t blame yourself. Exams and social media might be the biggest two factors in unhappy girls – but they’re not the only ones. And you can’t protect your daughter from everything. Neurology, friendships, school environment and many other factors can play a part in a child’s mental well-being. If your daughter is struggling, don’t beat yourself up about it – but do try and get as much professional help as you can. Brushing issues under the carpet is no place to start.

Over to you – is there anything we can do to change this ‘unhappy’ generation?

If you enjoyed this, why not check out:

And don’t forget to sign up to my wonderful Desertmum community, with weekly emails about all things parenting/faith/adoption/exhaustion. It’s ace!

if only 1 in 4 girls are happy - what are we doing wrong_.png

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

5 Questions to ask a Prospective School (when your child is adopted or fostered).png

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.

***

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!

If you enjoyed this, you may like:

And for weekly doses of all things parenting/family/adoption/faith/chocolate, I’d love you to join the Desertmum community! I’ll even send you Ten Survival Tips for Newly Adoptive Parents as a thank-you.

5 Questions to ask a Prospective School (when your child is adopted or fostered).png

How do I connect with my 8 year old son?

how do i connect with my 8yo son_.png

A year ago, my son moved from Year 2 to Year 3.

I thought this was simply a matter of moving up a year, like Year 1 to 2. Apparently not. There’s been a noticeable change in my son’s attitude – and my friends say the same about their sons too. These 8-year-olds are displaying more sulkiness, stroppiness, rudeness and even aggression.

Mister’s teacher taught his class in Year 1. Although she’s enjoyed having them both years (and done a great job both times), she’s reported increased confidence and cheekiness. In short, they’re more likely to tell her when she’s made a mistake!

This change in attitude has given us a new challenge as parents. How do we establish boundaries? Should my son have his say in what he is and isn’t allowed? What discipline measures are effective?

But there’s another aspect to this. Just as I’m seeking ways to connect with my son, our interests are starting to diverge. His main two hobbies are football and video games – neither of which I have any interest in. (OK, save for the World Cup. That was pretty awesome. But otherwise.)

The fact that my son is not turning into me doesn’t come as a surprise – but I’m absolutely determined not to lose the relationship we’ve spent nearly nine years building.

For Mister’s first two years we did everything together. We went to groups, did baby yoga and massage, swam together, and made new friends. We hosted playdates, and went to play at others’ homes. We even hill-walked together on one occasion, just me and him.

Even with the addition of his sister, and later his brothers, I don’t think there’s anyone he’s spent more time with than me, nor I him, over the course of his life.

We have too much history, Mister and I. We were best buds from day one, and he taught me how to be a Mum. So – what do I do?

How do we connect with our sons when they start to drift away from being Mummy’s boys? How do we keep communication open so that boundaries can be discussed, negotiated and established? How do we stay close so that when adolescence hits, they still have a secure base to turn to?

I’ll admit I don’t have many answers. Please fire away in the comments, as I’d love to get some wisdom here! But here are a few things I’ve noticed in the last few months.

Shared rhythms

I’m grateful that, way back before we got to this stage, our family established daily shared rhythms. For example, we always eat our evening meal together at the table, and we always read the kids a bedtime story.

It might not seem like much, but these two simple acts ensure that, every day, I’m connecting meaningfully and positively with my son at least once or twice. Of course, we usually connect more than that, but for those days where we’re just not speaking the same language, at least we still have meals and story time.

Dad is important – but he still needs Mum

Mister has definitely made the switch from wanting me around to wanting his Dad around. He shares more interests with his Dad, and connects more easily.

For those of you who are single Mums to young sons, I encourage you to find some great male role models now so that, as your boy grows, he will have some people to relate to and let off steam with, when he can’t do that so easily with you.

But don’t delegate everything to Dad/other male role models! Even when he’s reluctant, I still make regular effort to converse with/hug/connect with my son. He won’t do it in front of his friends, but when we’re at home, he often asks to hold my hand, cuddle or kiss. Boys still need – and love – their Mums. Hooray for that!

Notice his positives

Yes, my son can be angsty and aggressive, shouty and rude. But, on the whole, he is a kind, thoughtful boy, who’s a great big brother and makes us proud every day.

If I’m not careful, I become the kind of nagging mum who no one wants to confide in. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t find ways of gently encouraging our boys to put their laundry in the basket or give us more than five minutes’ notice when they have homework due, but we can do this with grace and love, always remembering that our role is to teach our children these skills – they don’t just absorb them.

And the advice to ‘pick your battles’ is wise here too. I’ve learnt not to worry so much about the state of my son’s bedroom, for example, although I did intervene the other day when there was literally no floor to walk on. But, you know, other than that 😉

Don’t tease

Our family likes a bit of banter.

OK, we like a lot of banter. And we’re pretty sarcastic. We frequently have to check with each other whether we actually meant something for real, or were just using sarcasm.

But any banter at the expense of my son’s feelings is not good. Usually he enjoys being included in this way, and gives as good as he gets, but on occasion I’ve felt that we overstepped the mark in joking about something he’s passionate about.

It’s easy to make fun of how much Mister loves geeky football videos or Roblux – but the reality is that he’s trying to work out who he is (and who he’s not). If my wisecracks are purely about trying to score points from those listening, if it’s all about making me sound like I’m witty and quick and cool, at the expense of my son’s feelings, then this needs to be stopped. I’m effectively saying ‘Your identity is wrong’ or even ‘My needs override yours’ and that is really hurtful.

So I’m learning to raise up and encourage my son – particularly in front of others.

Try and show an interest

Even if it kills me (and it hasn’t yet), if I have a few spare minutes when the other kids aren’t making demands I’ll sit with my son while he plays Minecraft or watches football, and ask questions and try and learn about his hobbies.

This is kind of obvious good advice, I guess, and yet it’s so hard to actually put into practice when football is SO BORING and video games are SO NONSENSICAL.

But have you ever been on a walking tour led by someone passionate about what they’re showing you round? I think we all catch someone’s excitement when their eyes light up and they explain a new idea to us enthusiastically.

It’s like this with my son. If I listen carefully to what he’s saying, I’ll catch his excitement. Football, video games, or whatever he’s into that week, won’t be the boring stuff it used to be. It will be exciting, because my son is excited about it, and he is making me excited about it!

Learning from our kids is actually really great, because they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our love and nurture – and now look at them! Teaching us all kinds of things we’d never have known otherwise!

Parenting Mister is a little harder this year than it was last year – but it’s us who need to adapt, not him. He is simply doing the hard work of growing up. We are here to love, support and guide him as he discovers the person he was made to be.

Do you have, or have you had, an 8 year old boy? Does any of this resonate? What’s your advice?

And, for those of you with girls, do you face challenges similar to these, or different, or is it much easier?! (Please tell me it is!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

You may also be interested in:

Want to read more like this? Want an exclusive freebie, ‘Top Ten Survival Tips for Newly Adoptive Parents’ mailed to your inbox? Sign up for my newsletters!

how do i connect with my 8yo son_.png

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.

51X1zN1nS2L.jpg

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

20180626_173521.jpg

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):

20180617_083612.jpg
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.

IMG_20180621_134127.jpg

* 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.

20180621_122801.jpg

Want to read more random musings from someone you don’t know? Sign up to my emails! I’m really nice, will never bombard you with too many emails, and I’ll even send you ‘Ten survival tips for newly adoptive parents’ when you sign up! If you decide you don’t like me, it’s easy to unsubscribe. Click somewhere in this paragraph, if you hadn’t already noticed that you could.

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!

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. Click through, make a purchase, and I will make a tiny bit of commission at no extra cost to yourself. One day, all these commissions will buy me a chunky Kit Kat.

5 valuable work lessons from a nine-year maternity leave

audaciousness makes you do (1).png

Last month I shared with you ‘5 valuable work lessons from maternity leave’ from the Jasiri blog (a wonderfully thought-provoking new blog, if you were looking for one to get your teeth into!).

I was nodding along with every single one of Naomi’s points. Yep, that had absolutely been my experience too.

But I was also inspired to respond. I guess you could say I’ve had a rather long ‘maternity leave’ (nearly nine years and counting). If you asked me, of course, I’d say it’s just been a career of a different sort, but if you frame it in the context of ‘leave’ from paid work, then there are definite lessons I’ve learnt which are helping me now I’m starting to return to work. 

The five which I’m about to share don’t discount those that Naomi wrote about – I agree with all of them! – but simply add the perspective of one who’s been out of paid work for quite some time…

1. Use every minute

There are no two ways about it: I am simply more productive now than before I had kids. Nine years of cramming in cooking, laundry, tidying and cleaning to the tiny corners of life left free after four kids have been entertained, fed, bathed, read to, taxi-ed around and fed again have taught me to make the most of every scrap of time I get.

I won’t say I never faff about. I’ve been as guilty of spending 20 minutes scrolling through Harry and Megan pictures as the next person.

But mainly I can’t rely on having time ‘later on’ – whether that’s this evening, tomorrow or next week – because my kids might get ill, or there may be another crisis. So I have to do things now – there’s no putting them off, and the faffing is greatly reduced.

In work terms, it is this heightened productivity that has made me utilise my writing times more effectively. I drop off the kids, open my laptop and crack on, knowing that those five precious hours ahead of me will soon be gone for another week.

2. Plan, plan, plan

In order to use every minute productively, especially when you’re fitting in ‘lifemin’ around caring for your kids, you need to have a really good idea of what needs doing and when. When are you going to collect that prescription, buy that present, send off that form?

I’ve learnt to work everything like this into my diary. As ridiculous as it sounds to write ‘pay for school dinners’ or ‘count hot dog rolls for BBQ’ alongside ‘Swimming lesson’ or ‘Toddler group’, if I don’t plan my days and my week like this, I simply forget the things that keep our household running smoothly.

Getting better at planning has been SO useful on my writing days. Each Monday is scheduled with assignments well before I get to it, meaning that I can start work straight away, rather than having to spend half an hour wondering what I should do today.

3. Be audacious

If you don’t ask, you don’t get! Yet in my pre-kids working life, I often lacked the confidence to realise my dreams. The fact that what you’re asking for often benefits the other party is something I’ve learned through my voluntary work since having kids.

I remember the first time I negotiated with a photographer to run a reasonably-priced photo-shoot for families at our toddler group – I felt wonderful! Yet all I’d done was given him a rather lucrative opportunity to make a fair bit of money over a two-hour period – so it worked well for both of us!

This attitude has developed through the other voluntary work I’ve done, not least in my current role as PTA Chair. We’re always asking shops and businesses for things – and we’re not scared to put ourselves out there!

As I’ve recently turned my focus to writing, I’m not scared to approach professionals – writers, bloggers, editors and publishers, to ask for what I need, or offer my work to them. Sure, it’s always going to be nerve-wracking to show your work to another who might be critical, but audaciousness makes you do 100 things in the hope that one of them will pay off.

4. Build good foundations

I am the Queen of Impatience – I like to fit a lot of different things into my life, and I hate it when one of them seems to take forever, robbing me of something else I could be doing.

But parenting has taught me patience, the importance of a long-term view, and how it’s worth taking time over things to get them right.

For want of making my children sound like my ‘projects’ (they aren’t, but they are also kind of my job, so it’s a bit of a blurred boundary), I’ve seen that the hours you spend reading to them, even when they’re crawling away from you, pay off when they’re older and learning to read, and suddenly you realise – WAHEY! They have a vocabulary! They can put letters together because they know what word is expected in that context!

I’ve learnt that biting my tongue and intentionally practising patience when my kids and I cook together (THIS TAKES A LOT OF PRAYER) results in some pretty amazing chef skills eventually. (My 3yo twins can crack eggs like pros!)

This has helped me as I’ve started a new career, particularly when considering my aims. Instead of having a monetary target, I’ve realised I need to spend time building a good foundation: writing to the best of my ability, using social media well, building my audience, connecting with like-minded others. I don’t know where my writing will go in the future, but I do know that it will only go somewhere if the foundations are good and strong.

5. Focus

I’m an ideas person, and always have been. Looking back at my teaching career pre-kids, I was trying to do everything.

On reflection, I should have chosen one thing and done it well. Three years as Head of Music could have made a real difference to one aspect of the school’s musical life. Instead, my legacy was confused and haphazard.

Nowadays, I’m not making the same mistake. My kids have taught me how to focus on them while juggling a lot of other balls – and I’m determined to put this into practice for my work-life too.

As I write, there are many projects I could be getting on with – writing for businesses, charities, magazines, blogs…not to mention The Book. Yes, I’m frustrated that a couple of these opportunities have had to be shelved for the moment, while I concentrate on finishing the book and other urgent projects, but it’s more important to focus on these jobs, rather than to become distracted by all the opportunities, and end up missing them all.

***

A footnote:

I’ve written a few times about being a SAHM – how it doesn’t need to mean intellectual suicide, how it is a valid feminist option, and how we women work just as hard in the home as out of it!

I don’t believe that being a SAHM is always the best option for families, but my words come from a place of frustration towards what I see communicated in the media: that educated women are wasted if they don’t earn money, that SAHMs spend their days watching trashy TV, or that raising kids is not a worthwhile endeavour for someone with brains.

I hope my words offer encouragement to anyone who’s walking this path, or thinking about walking it in the future. It can be a totally awesome thing for you and your family – and, as I’ve shown, develop some amazing skills for the workplace too!

Want to read more like this? Sign up for my emails and I’ll send you a copy of ‘Ten Survival Tips for Newly Adoptive Parents’ absolutely free!

audaciousness makes you do (1).png