It’s a mantra that all adopters here frequently. Usually it’s a loved one, who is genuinely trying to helpful when you’re describing some of the challenges of raising your child. They smile, tilt their head slightly and crack it out – “they all do that, don’t they?”
It’s a simple statement grounded in a want to provide reassurance, comfort and solidarity, but in most instances it misses the point. Be it an oversensitivity to noise, hitting other children or some other challenging behaviour, it’s understandable why someone would contextualise such challenges within the experiences they have of children. The difference being that most people’s experience of raising or looking after children don’t involve early trauma.
Knowing a child’s triggers
I’m still a fairly recent adopter, but in the time our little one has been with us, we’ve understood the triggers and can usually tell the difference quickly between a trauma response and a general ‘young kid thing’.
Like most adopters, I have regular conversations with others that touch on trauma and navigating it. Whether you’re an adopter, foster carer or special guardian, you’re going to have a window on early trauma and more specifically how it manifests in the children that you care for.
It doesn’t matter if a child is removed at birth or adopted later, the seed of trauma will have been sown. Of course, it can manifest very differently, but those early memories or the visceral internalised impact of the loss of their birth family will be there.
In wider society, there is little understanding of adoption in terms of being fundamentally about the raising of children with early trauma. It’s often portrayed as a ‘happily ever after’ situation, rather than the start of a very long process. My partner and I have very understanding friends and family who have come on a journey with us with regard to our little one’s early experience. Of course, we can’t instinctively expect people to just get it. It is after all the reason that adopters go through rigorous training and many undertake lots of reading and additional learning as they come into it.
We of course sometimes get it wrong, but we’ve come to know our child’s triggers pretty well. They can manifest differently, but there are certain situations and times when particular patterns of behaviour are likely to surface. We have our own strategies for dealing with them, which are a combination of thinking around therapeutic parenting, non-violent resistance and good dose of trial and error!
Handling challenges in a therapeutic fashion in public can be challenging, as much of what you do runs counters to the expectations of traditional parenting. Personally, I’ve learnt to ignore disapproving looks and baffled expressions. Although to one degree or another, dealing with disapproval is an experience most parents have!
Over time, I’ve come to really value the conversations I have with and support I get from other adopters. This might sound like an obvious thing to say, but that mutual support is so important. A discussion or bit of solidarity from someone who has experienced or is experiencing the same thing can go a long way.
Of course, family and close friends are great and provide a lot of support but having conversations with other adopters is invaluable. In fact, one of the bits of advice that I would give to anyone going through the process, is to build your network around adoption.
When I’ve had a chat with another adopter, I often find it easier to smile and nod if I hear “they all do that, don’t they?” from someone else that I know.