Back to school – an adoptive mum’s perspective

Lots of parents are getting their children ready for going back to school. Some children will be excited, some nervous, some happy and some sad.  For my children going back to school is complicated. They are not nervous. They are not scared.


The girls have known too much change in their lives, too much loss, too much fear and too much rejection. Going into the unknown can only fill them with all consuming fear. Of course we adoptive parents know that exposing our children to these experiences develops some resilience. They will survive and know that they survived. But to see how they suffer to get there is tough for me as their mum and even tougher for them to experience.

So what have I done to help them? I gave the new teachers pupil profiles for each of my girls detailing their behaviours and suggesting ways to deal with them. The girls had lots of extra transition work before the holidays. They also did extra visits to their new classrooms and met their new teachers several times. And I had a long planning meeting with eldest’s new teachers.  Youngest was given handmade presents from her key teachers. Over the holidays we have had postcards and letters from old and new teachers.  They have had transition books to look at over the holidays with photos of the new teachers and classrooms. I have gently talked about school and what will be the same and what will be different. We have thought about the nice things at school. And we have talked about what their bodies are telling them about how they are feeling.

And so we are here. Tomorrow they go back to school. You can imagine what the last few days have been like. We have had the full range of behaviours and emotions. I won’t share the details but they certainly have been struggling with all those big feelings and I am the only safe person to direct them at.

Today I have been quietly packing their bags. There seems to be a lot of stuff! Between the two of them they will be taking back:

Transition books

Weighted lappad

Transitional items – Small has my teddy with her at all times in school. I’ve slept with it all summer so it definitely smells of me!

Photos of me and grandparents

Visual timetable cards which school lent me over the holidays

Chewigems and spare Chewigems

Fiddle toys

Spare underwear and socks as both wet in school

Emergency snacks – the girls keep a snack bar in their books bags at all times so they know there’s always enough food for them

Notes in coat pockets – telling them I love them

I think that’s it! I’ve done all I can to prepare them. I hope that school are equally as prepared to play their part tomorrow and that the girls have some positive experiences on ther first day back.


Do you sometimes look at your children and get overwhelmed by their vulnerability? I’m guessing all parents not only adopters would answer yes to that question.

I watch my 7 yr old and the general turmoil which is her usual state of being. I see her tip from calm to calamity in seconds with alarming regularity. In public places I see her make a beeline for unfamiliar older children and adults following them round and trying to ingratiate herself. At home her every action screams notice me, give me more and more of your undivided attention but she is unable to accept that loving attention when it is proffered by me. Yet when we’re out and about she demands and welcomes attention from total strangers.

Generally the calm and rationale part of me says:

I should concentrate on the here and now,

I should try not to think too far ahead.

I can’t be sure what the future may hold.

There’s no point worrying about things that may never happen.


But she is my little girl. She may not want to be but she is. She is difficult and challenging, often wishing she was not my daughter. But she is indeed my daughter – unconfident, frightened and incredibly vulnerable. I want to gather her in my arms and protect her from those who might harm her as she grows up. I want to lock the doors and keep her away from the world.


Every now and again, in weeks like this one, questions jostle into position in my head, crowding out my more reasoned thoughts:

How do I continue to show my love for this child who believes she is unloved and unlovable?

How do I meet the needs of a child so resistant to me?

How do I keep a child safe whose very pores scream out her vulnerability?

How will I protect her from herself and from others as she gets older?


There are no definitive answers to those questions.

I will wait patiently for the fear to pass


24 hours in 250 words


  • Bought a swimming pass for the summer today and they gave me an extra week free. Their cleaner said she’d bring a cuppa to poolside for me when I come on my own.
  • Spent a few hours with my friend and her funny toddlers while the girls were at school; stress free and a chance for a good chat.
  • DD1 managed to tell her new LSA she doesn’t like being tickled. Wow!
  • Took the girls out for tea tonight and they were in great moods. When we left not only did we get vouchers for a local attraction but they also gave me the girls’ meals for free.
  • In the restaurant DD2 said “I’m full. Can I leave some ice cream?” Wow again!

thumbs up and down

And the other stuff…

  • In DD1’s memory book of Year 2 they’d staged a photo of her sitting on her class ‘pupil of the week’ chair. DD1 said “that’ll always remind me that my teacher never thought I was good enough to really sit there”. Grrrr
  • This morning I was greeted by the sight of a decapitated wild rabbit in the living room. Guilty cat nearby. Lucky me getting to pick up a bunny head and bunny body before breakfast.
  • DD1 ate a huge amount without chewing, even when I pointed out she was full. Came home, spent an hour kicking off in her room and is throwing up every 10 minutes :(

Is it my fault?

Before I adopted I had a successful career. I would like to think I was well respected and pretty good at what I did. That involved dealing with many other senior professionals in different fields. That was easy, even enjoyable, for me.

So how is it that now I am unable to successfully advocate for my children? How is it that I find parenting them so hard?

Is it me? Am I lacking in resilience? If the girls were with someone else would they have got the help they need by now? Or even worse – if they were with someone else would they not need any help or support?


Is it all my fault?

I’m managing to deal with the girls’ school – that’s exhausting in itself; trying to ensure they consider the girls’ needs when they plan lessons/activities without alienating staff. Not easy when eldest’s teacher rolls his eyes every time I mention that she is struggling. And now trying to gently lead them to a decent plan for transition into the next school year; trying not to tread on toes whilst achieving the best outcome for the girls.

I’m managing to speak to the GP to get a couple of physical issues dealt with for my youngest. He is at least listening and has made referrals for her.

But for the rest – I’ve walked away for now. I’m relieved to have CAMHS out of our lives. I feel sick when I get a letter or email from the placing authority. How ridiculous is that?! I feel weak. I feel ashamed of how weak I am.

Once I was someone different. But this is who I have become…

Working with Schools – a balancing act

This year I moved the girls  from a large multicultural city school who had lots of experience with children with attachment disorders to a small village school where they admitted they had none. The previous school looked great for the girls but failed to put anything concrete into action.

I have to admit that I’m a fairly demanding parent but with good reason:

Firstly I have already had to move the girls twice already – once while they were at nursery and then again at the start of this school year. I can’t let that happen again.

Secondly I was open about the girls’ difficulties before they were accepted at the school and the HT promised they would care for them and was prepared to do things differently for them

When the school gets it wrong it has a devastating impact on my children and on our home life

Lastly I am a teacher myself and I am expected to provide an outstanding level of care for every individual I teach, I expect nothing of them that I don’t do myself for any of my students who need it

School 2

So how has it gone?

Well it’s not been perfect. There have been a couple of teachers who seem unable to grasp the reality of the girls’ high levels of anxiety in school. This has been very frustrating to say the least and has sadly caused considerable damage which they seem oblivious to. But to be fair the school’s leadership have stepped up to support us and one teacher now emails every night without fail to tell me any arrangements for the next day even if just to confirm it’s a normal day. This means I can let my daughter know what is happening the next day and also head off any issues I can foresee that the teacher does not. Things are still very difficult for her in school, I know she does not feel safe or contained. I have had to accept that I cannot change these teachers’ opinions so I just need to work round them and minimise any impact on the children as much as possible. Happily neither will be with the girls next year.

But there are some wonderful teachers/LSAs too. The LSA who has devised a secret signal for my 6 yr old to let her know she isn’t coping. The teacher who will call my daughter to her side to offer gentle calming support during a challenging activity. Comments to me saying – we are doing X topic in PSHE and I know it will be a sensitive topic for both the girls. Or another saying – I realise you may have considerable fall out at home this afternoon after we do Y in school. And emails saying – we really want to support both you and the girls. These things are priceless to me as they show there are staff who are starting to understand how much the girls struggle despite the smiles they plaster on their faces at school. Crucially these members of staff accept that I know what the girls need to function in school and they don’t blame me for their tricky behaviour at home.

I guess it’s as simple as this – iinstead of blaming me they believe and trust me.

I knew that this would be a steep learning curve for the school. And I was right.

Happily staffing for the girls has been carefully chosen for next year and the school are also having training soon on trauma and attachment. I have great hopes for next year!

Long time since I’ve blogged

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged and there are several reasons for that. Sadly there are a couple of people who read this blog and take some pleasure in our tough times and that has put me off writing for a long time. There also came a point for me where things got so bad that I just couldn’t face putting it in print! But here I am anyway…

I am living with a child who loathes the very fact I exist. It amazes me the amount of venom that my now 7 yr old hurls at me. As a therapeutic parent I know I should rejoice in the fact she now feels safe enough to show how she feels about me. But it is relentless. She recently said quite calmly ‘I don’t know why I feel this way about you but I just hate being anywhere near you. There’s nothing about you I like’. I would feel a bit more comfortable if this was said in anger but she almost seems confused by the amount of hatred she has for me. If I even sit in the same room as her she clearly shows how disgusted she is by me. This is how she is about 95% of the time when we are alone as a family. Obviously in public it is all smiles! She is devoid of empathy so is oblivious to the impact this has on me. On the odd occasion when I have broken down in tears she has shrugged, looked blank and walked away. Mostly I feel sad for her. This is no way for a 7 yr old to live. She seems so alone.


I’m a single mum so it’s not like she has another parent to love and to give her the love and physical reassurance she needs. I hate the fact she goes through life unable to accept my love, my cuddles or even a gentle touch – it feels very wrong to me and she deserves so much more than this. I also worry about the impact on my younger daughter who sees this every day and has become even more anxious and clingy as her sister’s behaviour has deteriorated.

There is no help for people like us. That has its advantages as I no longer have the additional stress of dealing with unsupportive professionals at Camhs or the placing authority. They have made it clear we are on our own. So we plod along surviving a day at a time and hoping that something is going to change for the better

Forever is a long time

Today’s optional theme on Adoption Social’s Weekly Adoption Shout OUT is ‘FOREVER‘. Goodness me this one has got me thinking this morning. My confidence is a bit fragile at the moment. And so the word FOREVER overwhelms me rather.

Perhaps I should think focus on the positives of FOREVER for my children first. I was listening to a recent interview with Julie Selwyn of the Hadley Centre at Bristol University and in it she referred to the study; Pathways to Permanence for Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity Children (2008). The majority of Asian children in the study had their adoption plan rescinded by the end of the data collection. In the interview she summarised findings from the research that found “Asian children wait the longest to be placed and they’re the least likely to be placed. Those who were placed tended to be very young, under the age of two. There was very little interest in older children…

My children are Asian – they were over the age of 2 at placement. Their FOREVER was going to be changed to long term foster care till I appeared on the scene. So for my lovely girls I hope that their FOREVER will be different because they have me and the logical part of me tries to remember that.


But FOREVER has another meaning for me. FOREVER alone, FOREVER exhausted, FOREVER trying to manage the girls’ struggles on my own, FOREVER fighting the system for what my children need and deserve.

Do I sound negative? Please forgive me. I don’t mean to be. I don’t parent the girls in a negative way – honestly I don’t. I put a lot of time and effort into creating opportunities for them to experience success or make tiny steps of progress and I celebrate it joyfully every time it happens.

And I do access support where it’s available if you’re wondering. Though most support I find transitory and at the end of the day I am a single adopter, these are my children. It is for me to deal with this, to make the decisions and to try to ensure we survive as a family unit – which is the very least my girls deserve.

And for today at least FOREVER seems like such a long time.