Busting a few myths – a Bristol mum’s experience of adoptive parenting

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Today’s post on Bristol Mum is kindly provided by a reader who is an adoptive parent of two children. She has written this article as she wishes to address a few common misconceptions around adoption.

It was National Adoption Week in England last month – this year’s theme being #SupportAdoption.

Now, while no one can knock a campaign for finding forever families for children in need, I always have mixed feelings around some of the messages put across by the media during this time.

As an adoptive parent, while I of course wholeheartedly in #SupportAdoption, I do wish that the media portrayed the realities of today’s adoption landscape a little bit better (we are living in a very different age to the adoption experiences shared via the wonderful programme Long Lost Family).

My husband and I adopted two siblings 2 and a half years ago, and over that time we have come up against many barriers to getting much needed support, due in large part to myths that exist around adoption (in my opinion perpetuated by the media).

This is my attempt to address just a few common misconceptions I’ve come across regularly when talking with well-intentioned family, friends and professionals.

Our children were removed from birth family for their safety – simply put, they experienced trauma and neglect on a daily basis, and their needs were not being met consistently.

They were taken into care aged 2 and 3. Anyone who knows anything about child development will know that those early years are critical to brain development, so trauma and neglect can have a lifelong impact.

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1) All children need is love and they will be fine

Just as you wouldn’t expect a soldier on return to his/her family from a war to recover overnight from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a child will not recover quickly (and probably never fully) from having had a traumatic start to life.

Love is vital and goes a long way, yes, but we know we face years of therapeutic parenting ahead of us to support our children’s healing.

They have missed out on experiences which are critical for moving through key developmental stages and it is our job to provide some of those experiences and begin to fill in some of those gaps.

We are accessing professional help with this, and we are aware that we will need to keep calling on others to provide our family with support as our children grow up and their development and understanding of the world and their place in it changes.

Just because our children are in a stable home, they have experienced huge trauma and loss and need to live with the impact of that for the rest of their lives, so it’s far from a fairytale situation.

2) The children won’t remember any of the trauma they experienced – they were so young

Our eldest does have some concrete memories, despite only being 3 yrs old when removed from birth family, but mostly our children’s bodies/brains have retained sensory memories from their early days.

As a certain smell of perfume or piece of music might evoke strong memories or feelings of deja vu in an adult, there can be so many daily triggers which may cause a child who has experienced trauma and neglect to flip into survival mode.

They might not be able to explain what is happening, or why, but strong feelings can be easily triggered and they need help and understanding to work through and manage these big feelings which can often seem to pop up from nowhere.

Our son gets triggered by deep pressure touch and flips into fight mode, for example, so physical play with peers is a huge challenge for him and he needs particularly close supervision.

3) Children aren’t always told that they are adopted

In the era we are now in, adoptive parents agree that they will share information with their children as and when appropriate, and are encouraged to do this as early on in life as possible so as to begin a narrative and create a safe space for ongoing discussion.

Our children have life story books to help them to work through where they came from and how they came to be where they are now, and conversations taken place almost daily (more often than not something is raised by the children themselves) around what happened in birth family, and how the children came to live with us.

4) There is no longer any contact with birth families after children have been adopted

This is situation-dependent, but it is common for written agreements to be in place for regular letterbox contact between birth families and adoptive families (managed via social services) – at the heart of this is the idea that birth family continue to pass information on which will help with the adoptee’s life story and help them to make sense of their identity. We write back and forth twice a year.

I am very honest with parents who ask me what it’s like to be an adoptive parent – it can be both wonderful and extraordinarily challenging in equal measures.

By pretending things are any different is to deny an opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges my children can face, and therefore an opportunity for them to be better understood and supported.

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Many thanks to the Bristol Mum reader who provided this post.

If you would like to find out more about adopting a child in Bristol please visit https://www.bristol.gov.uk/social-care-health/adoption.

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