As a parent we want to build a bond with our child and when I adopted my son I thought it would be relatively easy to do. After all, I'd had some training, done some reading and was used to working with children, how hard could it be? Oh, how naïve I was. The adoption preparation course really didn't prepare you for real life. Or at least not in my case, and I know many adopters feel the same. I'm not sure if it can really prepare you though, or whether I didn't want to think it could go wrong and feel virtually impossible at times. Either way, it was a shock when I became a mum and it wasn't as smooth, or easy, as I'd imagined.
My son was seven when he moved in and he wanted a forever family, however the shock of actually getting one and then moving to another part of the country with a complete stranger was very hard for him. I also wasn't what he had dreamt of. I'm single and have cats. He wanted a mum and dad, a dog and a red front door (mine is black).
Building a bond took a lot of time and effort. I put in lots of boundaries and routines, and was quite strict, which definitely helped, as well as being very consistent. It meant that my son knew what to expect rather than trying to guess. It certainly wasn't easy and I didn't always get it right. Sometimes I'd move the boundaries to make life easier for me, or not be as strict, particularly if he was having a meltdown. Giving in was just easier. Whilst it helped me in that moment it didn't help my son as it confused him and made it harder the next time I did keep the boundary in place. He needed consistency to help him feel safe, without it he could become very anxious and controlling.
So what type of boundaries and routines did I have:
• Mealtimes were at the same time every day
• Use of the iPad was limited
• Our days had the same routines
• I had a calendar on the wall so that he could see what we were doing
• The house rules were on the wall
As time went on and my son settled, I was able to slowly ease off and release some of the boundaries and be less strict. It took time for him to be able to manage that and some days were better than others. Even now, sometimes he can cope with having a less structured routine and other times he can't, so I play it by ear a little and see how he is and what I think he can cope with that day. When I get it wrong I know about it!
Having boundaries and routines isn't just because my son is adopted, I'd have those as a parent anyway to help him learn, but for children who have experienced trauma, they are important (in most cases) to help them feel safe.
Parenting a child who has experienced trauma isn't easy. It affects their whole being and can have a significant impact on the parents as well. The child's behaviour may seem 'normal' but it's often normal with the dial turned up to full volume. It's not always the case of course, but if you know a family who have adopted and you think they are too strict, or rigid in their approach, they are doing that because they need to, so please help and support them. You'd be surprised how much they will appreciate it.