Grandparents and Other People (part 2)

I wrote about this subject before we even knew about Pickle, but what I wrote back then hasn’t changed

In fact, I’m quite proud of the fact that I “got it” so totally and utterly at that time. But hey, it’s because I listen. And, it’s because we needed to listen and we needed to get it. For any child moving in to your lives, this is so fundamentally important that I thought I’d jot down what I feel now about other people getting it, understanding it, listening and respecting everything an adopter says. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this would and should apply to anybody in relation to any child.

I was told a story the other day by a friend. She’s got 2 boys, by birth. When she had her first boy she was at her Mother in laws house. She was cradling and rocking her baby who was crying. Her Mother in law walked over to this young, new, vulnerable mother and took her baby off her and proceeded to comfort this baby while telling him “my baby”.

I’m going to pause for a moment so the ones of you that are sane and right in the head can gather yourselves to get your breath from reading about this utterly selfish and disrespectful act. For the ones of you that are thinking “what’s wrong with that” you need a good dose of education about attachment and a big kick up the arse quite frankly! How dare that grandmother behave in such a selfish way! Who did she think she was? What gave her the notion that she had a right to do that to a new mother?

Now, imagine you’ve adopted a child, a child who has to learn who their parents are. They have to learn that they go to those parents, for everything. Love, security, safety, comfort, warmth, milk, food, nappy changing, cuddles. Birth children don’t have to “learn” in that sense because (unless people keep grabbing that baby away) they will have received all that care from the parents for a long long time before they start being picked up, comforted and looked after by other people. Those attachments to the parents are in place, firm, secure, solid, tight. But if your child is 15 months old when you meet, those attachments aren’t there, they don’t exist, nothing. It doesn’t help when your 15 month old appears to be doing ok. Everyone seems to think that once a child moves in, everything is done, complete, everyone lives happily ever after, the end! But it’s not like that and it has to be kept in mind that these children, no matter what their age, have been ripped from the only life they’ve known (or twice or three times removed) and its a huge task to make those children feel secure and safe, loved and nurtured.

It’s also a huge task to help these children to understand who their parents are, their primary carers. It all may appear like its going really well from the outside and, for us, it is, but the situation still needs a lot of work. We, and everyone else, still need to be mindful of the situation as it stands. We are only 5 months in and it feels like people have forgotten we are still on a journey. I’ve had people pick my daughter up when I’ve asked them not to. I’ve had people carry her off, away from me so I’m left feeling like a spare part wanting to carry my own daughter (thank you very much) and I’ve had people comfort her when she’s upset which is the biggest “no no” you can do with a child who is building their attachments with his or her new parents. When people have done those things I can tell you now it rips me apart. What’s funny (not ha ha!) is how people react. Their first response or question is usually “but was she [your daughter] ok/comfortable/happy when she was picked up/carried away from you?” [by someone shes met twice!] And my response is always “yes”…..but THAT’S THE POINT!!!!

Our daughter came from a very large and very busy foster family where anyone and everyone would walk in, pick her up, play with her, feed her and comfort her when she got upset, fell and hurt herself or just needed a cuddle. If we allowed anybody and everybody to pick her up, carry her away from us, comfort her or even just pick her up and hold her in front of us, where is the difference in her life? How will she ever work out that we are her parents?  The other people in an adopters life HAVE to listen to the adopters. You have to respect what they say and you have to follow their guidelines on how to behave. You have to be patient. It may be months and months before you can even pick the child up. Do not get offended or defensive about it because that will not help the adopters. Be understanding to what a huge lifestyle change these people have had and be kind and thoughtful always. And don’t put the adopters in the awkward position of either having to come across as rude and risking offence (can I have my daughter back please?) or just letting you do what the hell you want  (because they don’t want to offend you) for your own gratification of cuddling a child….who will cuddle anyone!!!!! Stop and think about how your actions are offending and upsetting the adopters who are new parents.

These words of advice apply to everyone. Friends, family, even the grandparents. They are all fundamentally, and for reasons of understanding the situation, “just other people” for a little while. Adopters are a different breed. They have not adopted to give you a grandchild/niece/nephew. Please respect that and never claim “ownership”.

Encourage the relationship between the new parents and the child. Don’t ever ever encourage your own relationship with the child over that of the parent. So if the child runs to you for comfort, by all means show empathy, support, love and kindess as you normally would but, with an arm around the child, encourage them to go to mummy or daddy. Quite often I will get asked “but what if you’re in another room, you wouldn’t want me to just ignore the child if they’re hurt/upset?” And I say of course not, but that’s just taking it to the extreme. We’re not asking you to become robots with no feelings for the child. We’re asking you to respect us, as the parents. So if they get upset and we’re out the room then you’d comfort the child while at the same time bringing them to us while telling the child that you are “finding mummy/daddy”. It’s not that hard.

The same goes for picking a child up and walking away with them. I had a scenario where a friend did this to me and, as always, my daughter was fine/happy/laughing. But, again, that’s the point. We were 4 months in to placement and my daughter had met this person 4 times. That’s not an awful lot of times. So, no, it wasn’t at all right that she was swept up and carried off by my friend who I’d had plenty of conversations with about what not to do which made me realise just how difficult it is for people to get it and to listen and take it in.

It IS hard. It IS unusual. And it may not feel right to anyone else. But it is right and I wish that people would listen. I often get the comment that “but it’s not normal” applied to everything I say. It’s not normal for grandparents not to comfort an upset grandchild. It’s not normal for friends not to pick your child up and carry them away to “give you some space”. It’s not normal for a child not to be allowed to run off at a playgroup without you staying so close you become a helicopter parent. And everyone is right, absolutely and totally right.

But this isn’t a “normal” situation and people need to remember that. 

Things to remember;
  • Listen to the adopters and take everything in. In fact, get them to write you a list of “do’s and don’ts” if that will help.
  • Do not pick the child up without first being told that it’s ok to do so. You can interact with a child without having to pick them up. Get down to their level on the floor or sit on a chair.
  • Do not comfort the child, under any circumstances, if the adopter is there. If the adopter is out the room comfort the child while at the same time going to find mummy or daddy.
  • Do not interfere with the adopter parenting the child.
  • Talk to the adopters. One of the things we really struggle with is that whenever we are with other people they forget we are there and we end up not being talked to.
  • Stop asking when you can take the child out on your own. You can’t. For a very long time.
  • In fact, put quite simply, step back and allow the adopters as much space and time as they require to settle in as a new family. This isn’t about anyone else other than the new parents and the child. Be respectful of that, always.



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