Nick King's Blog

I've done some pretty cool things, but nothing's as cool as creating our family

Why didn't you come for ME sooner?

"Why didn't you come for ME sooner?"

We were sitting at the breakfast table.  Our one year old daughter had left to play in the sitting room, leaving our six year old son, J and I sitting at the kitchen table.

Our son sat at the head of the table, with J and I either side of him.  I looked across at J, seeing the same concern and confusion in his eyes I was also feeling.

 Our little boy was visibly upset, looking down at his untouched breakfast, hunching his shoulders, downcast, oozing rejection.

"You left me with them! You went and got her when she was one. Why couldn't you have got me then? Didn't you want me?"

 

This conversation in the midst of the school Summer Holiday.  Our daughter had come to live with us in the Spring.  For the first couple of months we had enjoyed a honeymoon period, during which our son had been kind, attentive, enamoured by his new sister.  

Our honeymoon had also coincided with the school's Summer term.  Our son was therefore distracted by his school work.  Also by the myriad of activities a village school provides as distraction at this most active time of year.  The school picnic.  Sports Day.  The school fete.  The village fete.  Outings. 

Just prior to our adoption of our daughter our son had shocked us both with a tearful, shocking admission that he had feared our daughter's arrival would herald his needing to move on from the family.  It had taught us that no matter how much reassurance we offered our little boy, he would need continuance of that. Active, involved, tangible reminders that he was part of our family forever.

We'd therefore been assiduous in ensuring our son had one to one time with us at weekends and after school.  Taking the opportunity of his sister's afternoon nap and earlier bed time to concentrate upon him.

Once the Summer holiday came, whilst that focus on spending quality time with him continued, proportionately it became a smaller share of his time with us.  He became much  more aware of the amount of care his considerably younger new sister needed, and the time and focus this removed from him.

He was, at times, able to elucidate the jealousy he felt.  At others he was not.  

He went for the negative attention approach.  Any attention, even of the negative sort, was better than none for our son.  Therefore there would be endless demands for attention at moments when one of us was trying to deal with our daughter's needs and was therefore unable to comply.  Changing her nappy. Bathing her. Dressing her.  

Our son reverted to a much younger child.  Crying more frequently. Demanding hugs and cuddles. Moving in to sit on our laps just as his sister was about to do so.  Resenting the compromise of sharing a knee each.

However much we tried to rationalise and manage the negative approaches, we inevitably ended up telling him off, making him unhappy, confining him necessarily to time away from us on the 'thinking step'.

 

Our conversation that morning was as a consequence of this. Our son's behaviour was making us unhappy.  It was upsetting his sister.  It was most of all adding to our his own distress.  We recognised that unless we dealt with the situation proactively we faced a downward spiral of negativity, recrimination, resentment.

 

Gentle probing of our son elicited some recognition that his negative behaviour was as a consequence of jealousy.  There was, however, clearly something deeper, which we wanted to get out in the open.

What was it?  We pressed a little further.

"She's the lucky one.  She get's everything.  Your time.  New clothes.  New toys." He said.

"She came with nothing.  Just like you did," I explained.  "We've had to buy new things because she has so little.  We've made sure you have new things too so you don't feel left out."

Our son stayed quiet for a while.

"It's not just things." He said.  "She's lucky.  She has a new family when she's really little.  She wasn't left behind."

We were confused.  J very gently tried to tease out what our little boy meant.

Showing a sudden burst of passion our son's resentment burst forth.

"Why didn't you come for ME sooner?"

"You left me with them! You went and got her when she was one. Why couldn't you have got me then? Didn't you want me?"

We were taken aback.  Another of our assumptions was shattered.  

We'd assumed our son understood his background.  We'd explained what had happened to him on numerous occasions.  We'd framed for him why he had moved from birth parents, to foster care, to us.  His Forever Family.  We'd answered his questions about his past honestly and openly.  

We realised in that moment that we had not properly addressed the issue of why the interventions that eventually removed him from an abusive and neglectful home had happened sooner.

"We didn't know about you." I explained.

"You should have done!  You should have found out!  You found out about <sister>!" Our son was confused and angry now.

"Had we known, we would have come straight away.  People stepped in to help you as soon as they knew.  As soon as we knew about you we wanted you to be our son." My explanation seemed, to me, to be insufficient.  

Our son thought for a moment longer.

"Why couldn't you have come for me sooner?" He repeated. "I could have been with you for longer, like <sister> is going to be.  The bad stuff wouldn't have happened."

"No, that's true." J said.  "But the bad stuff has made you who you are.  You're a strong little boy.  You know when to be kind.  You know when to be nice.  The bad things made you realise what's good.  And you're good.  Very good.  You have a good heart."

 

That's a story we now repeat often.  Indeed, I've repeated it to our son while writing this blog.  

Looking over my shoulder he read the heading.  What's that about?  I repeated the bare bones of the story.  

"I don't remember that," he said.  "So why didn't you come sooner?"

We had the same conversation again. More calmly. Less shocking. With greater understanding.

And we'll have it many, many more times.