In the movies, the moment when a parent adopts their longed-for child generally comes at the end of the film, the ‘happily ever after’ moment. However of course, in real life, adoption and parenthood in general just aren’t that simple. Theo and Marie* have been together for over 10 years.They made the decision to adopt 5 years ago and were matched with twin girls, Rosa and Marta whom they have had for 2 years.
Here, they tell us about the challenges they have experienced after adopting, forming a new family, how it affected their relationship as a couple and how counselling from the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships could have helped them to adjust to family life.
Before the adoption
Although our relationship was strong, the idea that we might not have children put a strain on us as it felt like we were both part of a jigsaw puzzle that had missing pieces. The decision to adopt was one that helped galvanise us. It was a good job we were so together and strong as we entered the road ahead. We simply couldn’t have foreseen the emotional twists of the adoption process, hand in hand with the heavy administration demands of the process and the sheer time commitment.
The latter part of the process of contact with the girls was what we thought it would be, exciting, nerve wracking and ultimately exhilarating. If we were honest we had been through so many different assessments and meetings and had read so much materials as well as talking to other parents we felt ‘ready’ as could be. The other side of the picture – when the girls were ours – seemed like something that would be more natural and simple. We weren’t exactly keen to consider the more difficult possible consequences of our new life.
Having the girls
Like any parents we devoted as many waking hours (and some non-waking!) to the twins. Our fantastic girls needed us and we went to every length to give them maximum love and support. With the whirlwind of friends family as well as new working patterns the first few months proved the most intense of our relationship. Although we didn’t immediately have time to think about it, there were warning signs.
Because our lives had been relatively ordered and tranquil prior to become adoptive parents we had always talked and communicated a lot about our relationship issues a great deal so disagreements and misunderstandings were few and far between. However it’s only when we look back on it now that we see that the growing number of small niggles were developing. It was something we were not used to.
In the midst of our sky high expectations of life as a family, we both seemed to forget that we still had a relationship to take care of too.
Somehow we had assumed it would all be alright, but we both had the sense that things were now different. For instance, we knew our social life would change but we stopped doing things together almost totally without the children.
Pressure on our relationship
The result was I felt resentment building up about a series of seemingly unrelated issues, such as, the time Theo got home, how often we were seeing the grandparents, and what food to give the kids, any number of issues really. Because of the demanding and tiring nature of young children the argument points were often at stressed stages of the day – bedtime, nap time, when the children were unhappy.
It took us a while but when we finally started to talk we worked out that there were a whole host of unanswered questions and concerns about our roles that we were storing up and not airing and they were bottling up and stifling open communication. These were pushing us apart as a couple and creating doubt and questions in our relationship, such as:
Am I being a good parent?
- Have the role changes (Theo carried on working while I stayed at home) shifted the balance of our relationship, this relates to money, housework, sexual patterns
- Why didn’t we prepare for this – should we have spent more time planning our response to adoption?
- How do we even approach talking about the challenges and negatives – no one wanted to put a ‘downer’ on things!
- Are we different being adoptive parents – are our problems unique or common?
- Are our children more challenging or is our anxiety transmitting to them and affecting their behaviour?
- Is it normal to argue this much?
We reached the point where we realised that we needed to bring ourselves together, but it was so hard finding the right balance between relationship and parenting.
Taking action – realising we were not alone
We still are not sure how we reached that ‘stop a minute point’. Eventually it seemed obvious that we just needed to stop going round our own ever decreasing circles and start to do what was normal for us, share experiences and ‘get out there’.
The first thing we did was build a small local network of fellow adopters, which we built off our own back.
Sharing experiences with other adopted parents was really helpful, especially those with kids the same age. The old cliché of a problem aired comes to mind, but what was refreshing for us was the different range of experiences we could talk about and the variety of help and titbits we shared. For instance we didn’t know that as parents of looked after children we were eligible for up to 15 hours of term time free childcare from the term after they are 2 (rather than 3 for from birth children.) and this isn’t widely communicated. Once you start sharing information like that it doesn’t take long for the more emotional issues to come to the fore too. Very quickly we built some strong friendships.
These friendships enabled us to share our problems and also freed up space for us to talk about adoption and address them together. We would continually find that our friends too had far les time for themselves and shared anxieties about being a proper ‘couple’ again and that on its own made us feel better!
Then there were more particular aspects of the new family that we found methods to cope with by talking to our group. For example, bonding issues were important to share. With adopting speaking and walking children, the rejection can seem more hurtful to the parent and dealing with that can be tough. If you have only had the children weeks or months, when they reject you and don’t want you to do things for them or want to push you away this seems more hurtful than if it was a child you have had from a baby. Many of the people we talked to expressed their surprise at how tough this was and the lack of advice on offer.
While we have those adoptive families locally that we still keep close contact with, it was vitally important to have and keep friends with natural birth children. It was a really valuable reality check that all kids are the same and doing the same things at the same time. As we are outgoing we found this easy when we focused on it but it can often be difficult breaking into the mother/child groups as friendship groups were often formed from birth.
Professional support – this could have helped
Over the last two years we have talked to many couples who really struggled and depended on the stretched resources of their social worker for support, which they could not always offer. One thing that is true for nearly all adoptive parents. After the final court order, the social workers disappear and it is all down to you.
We wish there had been some professional help with our relationship afterwards rather than having to find out for ourselves. Our extended networks took us from a place of questioning to feeling really more connected and happier as people and parents, but with the amazing journey of adoption you are never far from the next extra challenge.
Overall, our relationship is now strong and we are able to reflect on the most rewarding two years of our lives One thing is for sure though– children and parents need more support in order for the new family to bond and also to show how the adult relationship can thrive at the same time, to create the new family unit.
*Theo and Marie are pseudonyms to protect the identity of the couple and their children.