Routine Routine Routine
Given the differences between our children. The age at which they were placed with us for adoption. Their gender. Their respective backgrounds. There has been little commonality between our experience of their adoption.
One thing does however stand out when we talk about our experiences of the last five years. That is the importance of routine in helping both children acclimatise to and feel secure in their new home.
Our son's foster carer mentioned it first when we met her prior to the beginning of our son's transition from her family to our own.
Sitting on the sofas in the Family Room of our local Adoption Services office we discussed the plans for our son's transition. At that point, before Christmas, some three weeks before our son's transition began, he had been living in B's foster family for only three or four months. She herself had therefore had to manage his settling in to her own family after his first foster placement had broken down.
"He likes his routine," she said in a prescient comment that turned out to be an understatement.
We carried that comment with us into our transition week. Difficult to achieve in the first few days while we based ourselves around the foster family's home. Easier once we were bringing him to our own home each day.
Starting with a some quiet time while we packed whatever he had brought with him that day in his room we would then watch some tv together before going out for a walk.
The weather that January was particularly cold and snowy, so our walks were invariably short ones that also included some snowballing and snow man construction.
After lunch. Ham sandwiches, always ham sandwiches. We would do a puzzle, he would help with some housework and then we would prepare him to return to the foster home.
When the final day of transition came and we brought our son home for good he took his things up to his bedroom as soon as we got through the door. Returning he went into the sitting room ready to watch some CBeebies.
Over those first weeks we maintained the routine as best we could. Inevitably there were days when this just wasn't possible. Those days needed management and preparation. No more so than the day of my mother's funeral which was just ten days after our son had joined our family permanently.
The arrangements required family friends came to stay with us. Strangers in the home in the early days of an adopted child into a new environment is never good. We therefore prepared our son as best we could. Showing him photos, explaining what was happening in an age appropriate way and, additionally, providing much reassurance that this was only for a couple of days.
In the end visiting strangers turned out not to be a major issue. The return of his social worker who, outstandingly, offered to care for our son while we attended my mother's funeral, was a greater hurdle.
Our relationship with social worker is deserving of a blog of its own. The experience being universally positive, but the resonance of uncertainty, impermanence they brought with them for our children always made their visits difficult ones.
So therefore much more preparation needed to go into ensuring our son didn't draw the wrong conclusions from his social workers' visit, or our absence that afternoon.
As the weeks went by we settled into a routine that repeated day after day. Providing comfort, consolation, unthreatening drudgery for our little boy.
I was still working, trying to become a Member of Parliament, so J was left at home to largely care for our son day to day.
His routine would consist of breakfast, laundry, housework, games, tv, lunch, walk, more tv, dinner preparation, dinner, bed. Round and round the days went. No differentiation. No deviation.
Our son was happy. J was bored silly. But his tenacity worked. Rapidly our son settled into our home. The social workers and independent reviewer were amazed at our first review meeting how settled and happy our previously troubled, unhappy, anxious little boy appeared.
We slowly began to try things that were out of the ordinary. I've spoken previously about how a visit from J's mother and sister caused some upset. That was something of a disaster.
More successful were our attempts at a day out. As the Spring came and the weather improved we attempted trips to the local park, a theme park, for picnics.
Sometimes they worked. At other times they were clearly ill-timed. On those occasions we just had to give up. We called them 'Give Up Days'. Days when the plans we had were clearly not going to happen. Too much. Too soon. Too far beyond the boundaries our new son could accept.
On those days we would retreat to routine. Adding additional time on the sofa, cuddled under a blanket, watching Disney DVDs.
We learnt from our son with our daughter.
When her very experienced foster parents suggested that routine would be key we nodded sagely, recounting our experiences with our son.
Being considerably younger she settled more quickly. Her memories of birth family almost non existent. Her memories of foster family rapidly fading.
However, routine played its part. Again I was campaigning for a political office. Again J was the main carer. And the routine was remarkably similar. This time it just included afternoon naps.
Give Up Days still played their part. Much to the chagrin of our son once the summer holidays came and our plans sometimes needed to be changed. We managed the jealousy and disappointment as best we could.
But the experience was less stressful. The upset less. The routine less long lasting. The rhythm of our lives slipping much more smoothly into being a four.
It's a hugely underrated virtue.
I commend it to anyone considering adoption.