Were we selfish?
Are we being selfish?
In the moments of intense navel gazing J and I occasionally indulge in, this one theme comes back to the centre of the conversation often.
It's usually as part of a conversation about the children.
OK, it's always as part of a conversation about the children. In fact, there aren't that many conversations these days that aren't about the children. Are they happy? Are they settled? Have they had a good day at school and play school?
Is the child who was being mean to one of them still being mean? Why are they being mean? Is it because they have two fathers, or is it just that their little playmate is currently in a mean mood?
Was the disapproving look from the well dressed lady in Waitrose because our three year old told her proudly she has two daddies? Or was it because our daughter was doing so with a colander from the display on her head?
Were we selfish to think we were the right people to be parents? Was our decision to adopt purely for our own benefit? Were we so arrogant as to think that we could offer our children a stable and happy new family, when the 'family' we offered them was one so different to the traditional concept?
Who has creating our family really benefitted? Our children? Or is it that we are just fulfilling a desire for societal 'normality' that our sexuality wouldn't otherwise have offered?
We challenge ourselves in these conversations, often repeating the same themes and arguments. Sometimes finding new perspectives to bring to the debate, encouraged by events during the intervening period.
And each time we come to the same conclusion. No.
Our son had an awful time through the first three years of his life. His birth family were abusive and neglectful to one another and to him. When he was taken into care he was placed in a foster placement that very quickly broke down and ultimately did more damage.
Finally, in the few months before his adoption he was placed with a foster family who provided the love and stability he needed.
There our little boy began his process of healing. Not least by receiving love and kindness from his foster mother and thus beginning to combat the negative memories he had of both his birth mother and his previous foster mother.
Our son had been a victim, that's beyond doubt. But he had also learnt from those experiences. He'd learnt how to manipulate a situation to his advantage. He'd learnt how angry and demanding behaviour was the only way to get attention. He'd begun to learn to be like his birth parents.
So whilst he desperately needed stability, love, tenderness, compassion, he also needed to unlearn many of the behaviours he had witnessed and considered normal. That meant boundaries and consistency. It meant being kind yet resolute.
We were able to set those limits. To provide both security and structure.
That's not to say a heterosexual couple or a single adopter could not have done so.
Knowing his past. Knowing the pain, hurt and confusion he had faced, the instinctive reaction to our little boy was to smother him with love. To forgive his misdemeanours. To explain his challenging behaviours as purely the consequence of his past and to treat that only with compassion and tenderness.
It has often be difficult not to carry the guilt felt, as an adult, for the appalling behaviour of other adults towards our son and to allow that to guide our actions. To relax boundaries. To let him continue repeating some of those learnt behaviours.
Figures show that one in five adoption placements break down. Anyone who adopts children faces challenges. Ours have perhaps been no different to most and, quite possibly, much less than many. When reflecting about the last few years we feel that both being male added something intangible but still positive to the task we faced.
Our daughter was younger when she was taken into care. She carries less 'baggage' from the past. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you will know, however, that she can be challenging in her own right. That deserves a blog post of it's own. But still, the same applies.
In conclusion, I return to the word resolute. We have had to remain resolute and strong, often while feeling quite differently inside, in order to help our son understand and overcome his demons. To ensure that his future does not reflect his past.
We won't know for many years, perhaps ever, if we have been successful. We do feel that both being male made this task somehow easier. That knowledge at least has provided an antidote for our own anxieties.