When crying is good
The last few weeks have been a little more torrid that normal at play school drop off for our three year old daughter.
The advice around socialising your adopted child differs. Maintaining a routine that has previously included contact with other children is often an important part of transition to the adoptive home.
Conversely, ensuring there is sufficient, dedicated, uninterrupted time for the child to become used to their new surroundings and build a bond with their adoptive family is also imperative.
Both our children had a routine while in their foster homes which included attending various play group like activities. Our son was three when we adopted him, so he had been used to fairly regular attendance at a play group close to his foster home. Our daughter was eighteen months old, so had attended sessions more akin to mother and baby drop-ins.
Our very experienced, knowledgeable and wise social worker told us we would know when the children were ready to widen their circle. She recommended we allow the children to acclimatise to their new environment and family for a few weeks before deciding when the time was right for them to be introduced to groups of other children.
"You'll know the right time for them, your instinct is most often correct," she said. And indeed, we found that advice to be true.
Our son needed external stimulation and some socialising amongst his peers within a couple of months of his move to live with us. It was a longer period with his sister. She being younger, we felt less confident about introducing her to the unfamiliar and busy environment of the play school until about six months after she had joined our family.
We have come across friends and people we have mentored through the adoption process, who have been given much more hard and fast rules by their social workers.
Ranging from "you shouldn't consider introducing your child to a play group for at least six (or even in one case twelve) months post their placement". To "they should begin play school immediately to retain the rhythm of their routine."
Our view has always been that each child is different. Listening to social workers, the foster parents and most importantly your own child, the adoptive parent can make a judgement as to what will be best for the child.
And if it doesn't work, then try something else. There are no hard and fast rules. No right or wrong way. As with so much around adoption.
Our daughter joined her play school without a problem. Having attended a taster morning we dropped her off for her first full morning at the play school with some trepidation. Taking her designated helpers hand she went off quite happily. Unconcerned at being left with some else.
This experienced mirrored our son's in the same situation. Attending play school for the first time he had happily gone off without looking back at all.
There was a difference between the two when it came to collecting them.
Our son showed relief at our appearance to collect him when the time came. Running to hug us as we appeared, clearly having been looking out for us.
Our daughter was compliant and happy to see us, but didn't show the same level of anxiety as our son. There had been a small part of him that doubted we would collect him. Our little girl showed no sign of similar feelings. Being younger and having been at home longer, we assumed she was more secure in her knowledge that we would return, that she was part of our family. That she had no doubts about who her parents were and the home to which she would return.
Rather sweetly, after about three months, she began to run up to and hug whichever of us had gone to collect her, kissing us and saying "I missed you." It was repeated slightly parrot fashion and our suspicion it was a mimicked behaviour was confirmed when one of her little friends did exactly the same thing to her mother in front of us a few days later.
Still, it was a lovely greeting.
So, life continued pretty normally for fourteen months.
Our daughter would go off happily on the days she spent at play school.
Once she turned three we increased the regularity of her attendance, taking advantage of the additional Government funding for pre-school care. This had no discernible impact on her feelings towards being left, or her behaviour upon being collected.
Until the last two months.
We went on holiday at half term, our first holiday away as a family where I can truly say we gelled as a four. No jealousies. No upsets. The children played contentedly together, comfortable with one another and their surrounding.
Adoptive parents will often tell you there is a point at which suddenly your adopted child seems to relax, suddenly aware of, and content with, their new family. Secure with their place in the order of things.
Our experience has been that this is a gradual process. There have been two or three occasions for each of our children where we have identified that point being reached. Each time denoting a deeper, more permanent attachment.
Returning from our half term holiday we recognised another of those steps had been met for all of us.
Why then was our daughter so distressed at being left at play school? She cried. She clung to my leg. The staff and I had to use various distraction techniques to enable me to leave and encourage her to stay.
Of course, once I was out of sight, the play school staff reported she was fine. The happy, confident, gregarious, charismatic child to whom they were used.
It didn't happen every time, but often enough for us to become concerned.
Gentle questioning elicited little indication of what could be happening.
Was she unhappy at the play school? "No."
Had anyone been mean to her? "No."
What was wrong then? Our little girl just "wanted to stay with Daddy."
J recognised suggested the solution. "Maybe she's just really bonded to you,she doesn't want you to leave because she loves you so much she wants to stay with you."
A simplified version of that question was put. "I just want to stay home with you. Forever." Our daughter answered.
Sweet sadness. Our little girl was no different to any other child wanting to remain with their parents to whom they are irrevocably bonded. A really good sign.
Just this once, crying was good.