Routine, transitions and the summer holidays


Like many children who have experienced early trauma, our little one thrives on routine.

In the early days of her placement with us, she’d need micro-detail about what was going to happen. For her it had to a be a minute-by-minute breakdown such as “we’ll put our shoes on by the front door, go out and cross the road, take the bus into town”.

She’s made huge progress over time.  As I’m sure has been the case for many children, lockdown benefited her enormously. While there were some challenges early on, the extra time in and chance for additional re-parenting did her a world of good.

She enjoys new experiences and challenging herself in ways we previously wouldn’t have been able to imagine. But understandably things do ebb and flow and sudden changes to routine can easily throw her off track.

As much as school does pose challenges, it also gives predictability, structure and the kind of routine she craves.

Fun and unpredictability

The advent of the summer holidays, like so much in life are fraught with contradictions. On the one hand the break is good for her and her newfound love of trying different things can be explored, but there is much which feels fluid, unknown and potentially scary.

Often, it’s the transition that is difficult. Be it a small one like getting ready to go out and putting her shoes on in the hall, or something much more profound. In fact, often the little things can mushroom into something significant for her in that moment. I sometimes have to take a step back and remind myself that it’s an underlying feeling as a product of her trauma, which is manifesting as a response to something seemingly innocuous.

She also can struggle with unstructured time as it’s an unknown and can drive uncertainty and anxiety. Avoiding this as much as possible has been key for us. We’ve also reflected that next time we may use visual timetable to help her in this area even more.

This year’s summer holidays have been brilliant for her in many ways. She’s been able to see the children of other adoptive families in our circle, get better at riding her bike, go on holiday and much more besides. But it’s also been challenging. Throughout the joy and discovery, there have been patches of doubt, upset and longing for her usual routine.

On many mornings she asks if she’s going to school. Once the regular reminder that it’s the holidays has happened, it’s time to give her a clear idea of what’s going to happen. Often, she can reset quite quickly but the emotions can go from nought to a hundred seconds.

The contradictions of adoption

All adopters are used to the sharp contrast between the happily ever after images that abound of adoption and the realities of adverse early experience. There can of course be lots of joy at the progress a child makes, but this is often mirrored by the challenges, which are never that far from the surface.

In a way the holidays this year have felt like a microcosm of our adoptive experience to date. Both the challenges and joyous elements boiled down into an intense six-week period.

During this period, we’ve seen much of what she’s learnt in the last year consolidating. She’ll be cracking out incredible words or spelling things out and I’m left thinking “where did that come from?!”

The time we’ve shared this summer as a family has been great in many ways, but it will of course be good to get back to the structure offered by the new school term. I’m sure this is a pretty universal experience for families.  There are lots of great things about the summer holidays, but equally as a parent, you look forward to the return of normality. For me, this is only made stronger by those elements that come with adoption.

As August wears on and we start to work our way inevitably towards the pull of autumn, with its impending chill, beauty and hint of sadness at the end summer, I feel this transition is a nice allegory for the challenges, joys and inevitable changes inherent in the life of an adoptive family.

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