There used to be footage on the news channel of a journalist being followed through some wore torn battle zone. The reporter was walking towards the camera man, who was filming whilst walking backwards. Behind the camera man was a chap guiding him. You could easily miss him, but he was so vital to everything that was happening. To the viewer all they would see would be the reporter, walking along. To my children I have always been the camera man’s assistant. I am in the background. Always there, always ready to protect, guiding away from danger. Now they are teenagers I have to be more discreet, even more in the background. They still need me, still need to know I am around, ready to help out if things get sticky. The difficulty for us all is they want their freedom, to spread their wings, but they are still so dependent on me.
They are in their mid-teens now. They now catch the school bus. My memories of the school bus are of noise and chaos. It is good to know that my two can actually cope with the hustle and bustle. I think it’s the routine of it, and being with their mates. There is always some drama, some crisis, but they cope. The thing is, the bus driver. He likes them. He thinks they are loveable rouges. He looks out for them. He calms them down when they are getting too excited. Once one of them fell out with his mate, he jumped off at the next stop and started to walk the seven miles home. The bus driver slowly followed him, stopped at the next stop, and waited for him to get back. As he got back on, the bus driver jokingly charged him a fare. There was no scene, no repercussions. He had been allowed to calm, and then to get on the bus without a fuss. The bus driver is our camera man’s assistant.
My two rarely go out with their mates after school. I have orchestrated their evenings with military precision. They volunteer at the local scout group as leaders. They go to cadets. They go to basketball. Each activity is a car journey away. I take, I wait, I bring back. I get the shopping done, I see my parents, or write articles for Adoption UK in a well known fast food outlet, with a Hot chocolate. They can’t cope with wandering about the streets. They have to have structure. They are still extremely vulnerable. Will agree to anything to be accepted. On the times they have gone out it has ended in chaos, it usually spills over at school. It’s safer and easier to organise things. When they were younger, one of them found a group from school, they were all messing about. They told my lad to climb on to the roof of the social club, so they could get a photo of him up there. It was easier to do it than say no. By utter chance, the local community police officer came round the corner, got him to come down, and send everyone on their way.
Last year one of the lads was going through an especially rough time. Things got too much, and he took himself off from school. He was not sure where he was going, he just needed to be away. So he started walking. He had not made any plan or destination. I heard from one of his friends what was happening. I was already on my way home from work. I sent him a text. Just touching base, all normal, saying that I was the way home. Nothing back. I sent another one, checking if he was still going to cadets that night. Nothing back. I rang him. It rang and went to voicemail. I knew he had his phone on and it had a signal. I launched the phone finder app on my phone, and through the magic technology I could see where he was. I set off. I saw him the field. Walking towards me, I pulled in near a hole in the hedge. He walked up to me, I asked if he needed a lift, he got in. We went home. We said very little on the way home. I said he must have had a hard day, and I bet he was hungry. We always end a crisis with food. It shows them I care, it shows them they are safe.
Both my two are in scouts. They have been away for some weekend camps. They cope. They miss home. They miss their beds. They miss the routine. They find the “banter” difficult. They can’t distinguish “banter” is joking. To be fair, neither can I! I hate banter. It sometimes is an excuse for bullying. The “matey” pushing around confuses them. After a couple of nights of sleep deprivation it can be too much. They are like large bottles of fizzy drinks. Every time someone pushes, or jokes, or comments, their bottle is shaken. Once they are home they release their lids. They invariably come home and explode. They can be angry. The relive all the negative things they experienced, they re-enact episodes, but with the replies and responses they felt they couldn’t do whilst away. I unpack their bags. I run the bath. I listen to their stories. I have a huge feast ready for them. Then we have hot chocolate. That helps to re-attune. Helps put the lid back on the bottle.
What are my handy hints for parenting from a distance our adoptive teens? I have no idea. I know what doesn’t work.
• Walk away from those who say “All teens do that” . They have not walked in your shoes, how can they understand? They have not lived twenty-four seven with a traumatised teen. They have not seen the swings of behaviour from two year old to eighteen year old and back again with seconds. They have not had the rages, the meltdowns which last for hours and hours.
• Even if you trained for the SAS, MI5, and Microsoft, had a PHD in Dyadic developmental psychotherapy, and worked in a hedgehog rescue centre you still need to be ready for everything.
• Be kind for yourself. Do things for yourself. Eat cake, lots of cake!
• Don’t take it personally. If they are doing things or saying things that are hurtful or disagreeable, don’t take it personally. Doesn’t make it right, but don’t take it personally.
• Find someone you can debrief with. Someone who won’t blame or judge you.
• Eat more cake!
• Be their camera man’s assistant. Guide them, let them make mistakes, but be ready to support and help them in the background…
Published in Adoption Today June 2016