Nick King's Blog

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

Behaving badly

Friends came to visit us recently.  Friends who have just been approved as adopters.  They came to meet the children and to talk, as so many prospective adopters do, about our journey and what they might be able to learn from it.

We talk to many people about adoption.  Some in groups.  Others come to visit us.  They stay for a cup of tea.  Ask what they want to know, what they need to find out.  Then they move on, onwards on their journey, we hope, to a new family as warm and life changing as ours.  

Whilst not anonymous these interactions are usually fleeting.  A rest stop to gather information along the way for those we encounter.  Another tap into our experience for us.

 

So, it's unusual for us to entertain people we know to talk about the same issues.  Perhaps it was their familiarity. Perhaps it was just an off day.  What stood out for us and, I fear, for them was the consistently awful behaviour of our son throughout the visit.

 

It's tempting.  In fact easy.  To present our family as some wonderful, slightly alternative version of the Brady Bunch.  We bumble along, sharing sadness, overcoming adversity, doing silly things and having fun.  

All of that is of course true.

Maybe it's an unconscious effort on my part to present a consistently positive picture.  Maybe it's about self validation - 'we can't possibly have children who are embarrassingly naughty'.  Maybe it's I just don't want to put people off.  

But looking back over this blog I realise that I haven't really described how challenging our children can be.  

 

There are some consistent triggers to our son behaving badly.  Generally they have lessened over the years.

In the early days those triggers would be external.  Would often come out of the blue.  Would be a reminder of his past and of his experience.  They sometimes resulted in a meltdown. At other times a tantrum.  Very occasionally behaviour that was not only bad but also deeply embarrassing as he openly replayed scenes from his past that he, as an under three, should never have witnessed.

As time moved on those reasons for poor behaviour receded.  Now they are generally those associated with feelings of jealousy.  Of wanting to attract attention away from his younger sister as being five years younger she, inevitably, demands and receives a greater amount from those around her.

 

So it was on this particular day.  Through lunch, an afternoon walk and a shared cup of tea our son's behaviour was demanding.  Petulant.  He shouted.  He did naughty things.  He invited conflict and welcomed remonstration as an opportunity to focus attention back on himself.

Our visitors remained calm.  Polite.  Unmoved by the scenes being played out in front of them.  They were attentive and friendly to both our children in an even-handed, equally measured way.  

This didn't satisfy our little boy.  He pushed his sister out of the way to obtain their attention.  He demanded and sought our collective focus through any possible means as soon as it was taken away from him.

 

The behaviour, of course, wasn't about anything other than validation.  Some of it was because he is eight.  Some of it was because these were new people he'd not met before and it was therefore a cover for feelings of nervousness he had being in their company.  Much of it, I fear, was an ingrained fear of rejection.  Of not being noticed.  Of being a nobody,

Our son was last a nobody many years ago.  He's been the centre of our and many other people's attention for much longer.  And yet that fear remains.  The need to be noticed.  Just in case he's never noticed again.

 

I fear that need might have shaken the resolve of our friends to adopt.  Their hopes challenged by the drama played out in front of them.  Their fears heightened.

A saving grace is that the consistently poor behaviour was out of character.  Small versions of the scenes that afternoon are played out by us all daily, but they are fleeting.  Easily resolved.  Another experience learnt.  

Additionally, I am reliably informed universally by friends, the school, clubs, that the behaviour is not repeated outside of our company.  Reserved for the environment in which he feels most safe.  Reserved for occasions when he'll be judged least.  That for us is a real comfort.  That he has a sense of propriety around others reduces the risk of trouble as he gets older.

 

Even so, I am left regretting the scenes our friends witnessed.  They visited to obtain encouragement for their journey to adoption.  I fear they left feeling quite the opposite.  

But then again, a small part of me is glad they witnessed it.  There are tough days with any child.  There are perhaps more frequent and tougher days with an adopted child.  Hiding them away behind a veneer of fun and positivity presents a distorted reality.