I am ricocheting.
As this blog seems to have already taken a confessional turn it feels right to use this space to help me explore and document, if only for myself, my struggle as I ricochet.
Initial observations: I am very lucky to have a good, well-paid job. Not as well-paid as it might be in other sectors (I work in not-for-profit) but a job I believe in; a job I do well (reminding myself that this is true and I am allowed to be proud of it is a bit of a personal focus at the moment); a job that makes a difference to people who are struggling and need help; a job that makes a difference in society. I pay my taxes, willingly and gratefully.
Secondary observations: I am single, capable, perceptive, resilient, strong, patient, thoughtful, caring. I believe I have the capacity to be a good parent – I make no claims that I will be an excellent parent, but I believe I can definitely be a good-enough parent. I am willing to commit everything to my children. I am willing to learn, to seek help, to look deep inside myself to find my best self for my children. I have thought about adopting for a long time; but for many years felt defeated by the fundamental logistics of above all money. Ultimately though I stepped forward and entered into the fray, my belief curve travelling from I can’t see how, through maybe and perhaps I could, to I would, and finally coming to rest at I will.
Over the past two days I have been immersed in my adoption Stage 2 course. It has been challenging in content, humbling in the generosity of adopters coming to share their reality, thought-provoking in presentation, delightful in the opportunity to meet new friends, demanding in emotional strength, inspiring in signalling new areas to read and investigate.
Above all though it has been bewildering and draining as it has added fuel to my ricochet.
What did I know already about my much-wanted future single adoptive motherhood?
I knew I’d be exhausted. I knew I’d be balancing impossible demands. I knew I’d get it wrong, often. (I hoped and was determined I’d get it right overall.) I knew I (we) would most likely be financially strapped. I knew sleep would lose out to first children and secondly earning a living to keep a roof over our heads. I knew I had so much to learn and that the child or children in my future – my children – would need me to be 100% there for them, learning and learning and always always putting them first. I knew I would need reserves of strength and resilience and patience and belief that would test me to new limits that currently I can’t even conceive.
I also knew and I believed that this is the most important thing I could do, and that I can and will do it.
On our course we looked at trauma, at contact, at attachment theory, at life stories, at brain development, at therapeutic parenting. All of these I had touched on already in my reading, in my thinking, in my learning; and all of them I had picked up tiny inklings about from the amazing online community I have been privileged to join and have been so warmly welcomed into through Twitter and this blog.
Throughout though I have ridden the ricochet. I can do this. How will I make it work? I will do this. How can I make this happen? This is my future. Is this even possible?
Both adoptive parents we met were women who shared their pain, their learning, their frustration, their joy, their parenthood. I thought anew about quite how important being absolutely on time every day at the school gates would be as one mother explained that the very few times after two years when her sister (who they know and love) met her children they struggled. I considered how difficult it must be when your child needs you to meet them for lunch from school every day to help regulate their stress and calm them so they can cope with their afternoon in the classroom. I pondered on the challenges of puberty and the demands that children with trauma experience in adolescence. I saw the exhaustion and heard about the essential parental survival time of a few hours to rest and recuperate (let alone clean, maintain the house, wash clothes) during school hours. Neither mother undertook paid work in addition to their parenting role. It seemed hard to truly understand how they sustained the demands of their unpaid parenting work.
There were many times when my fellow potential adopters shared their pensiveness and learning, when collectively we acknowledged the challenges of the journey ahead of us all. A few of the men (all in straight couples) said it would be good to hear the father’s perspective – clearly this has a whole range of connotations but I imagine the single sex couple on our course would also have wanted to hear any experiences from the perspective of the parent “coming in from work of an evening”. (As the only single adopter I was presumably already viewing and viewed through a slightly different lens.) At the end of the last session we went round the room and shared our thoughts on the two days, and although I was the one who explicitly chose to refer to my emotional ricocheting I don’t think I was the only one riding a rollercoaster. I am, I sometimes worry, too brutally self-aware, too engaged with my emotions, indeed too able (even happy) to be honest about where I am – I think it disconcerts and can even unsettle some people whose brains work very differently – but ultimately it is part of me and part of what makes me ultimately strong. However, while others maybe were sharing the emotional elements of the rollercoaster ride I was on, I wonder how many are also now questioning the economics and the sheer possibility yet again.
That job I started this post with, the one that makes a difference for others, the one that has over the years been my small contribution to society through what I deliver and through the taxes I pay, and which also, crucially, enables me to pay my bills: where does that fit in with the need to be at the school gate, or to sit and hold a child through not just five minutes but two hours of a flailing tantrum?
And so I ricochet.
There is a cool, calculating cost/benefit corner in my brain, which reminds me calmly but clearly that should I succeed in parenting one or two of the many many traumatised children we have been talking about in the last two days to enable those children to reach their very best potential, I will have truly made a contribution not only to those children but also to society that compares well with the contribution made by anybody. It can even back this up with data given the known costs of caring for a child in the care system compared to the costs of parenting in a sustainable household.
Meanwhile, the loving, committed, caring, thoughtful, determined parts of my brain tell me that I can indeed succeed at this task, given the chance, despite all the challenges that the last two days have shown me I face.
Joining the conversation though, the third part of my brain that coolly assesses reality and takes into account housing, food, fuel and clothing costs, and gently, repetitively, points to the need to meet Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at the bottom as well as higher up, puts forward questions galore.
Perhaps there is a fourth part of my brain that is biding its time, allowing these thoughts to experiment and develop and vie for attention, a fourth zone that will eventually draw all these competing analyses together. I actually believe all this thinking and self-doubt is probably valuable, an important mechanism for forcing me to truly confront the difficult realities in front of me. I have faith that I will come through, and all my thinking and doubting will ultimately lead to a place of added strength and self-knowledge, of greater awareness and capacity.
Yet, my goodness it is wearying, and emotionally draining – acknowledging which in itself raises yet more reasons to doubt. For however much I believe, if I find this so tiring and I question so much, can I really manage the so much greater challenges ahead of me?
The ricochet continues.