Hello. My name is Gavin Andres.
I have been an adoptive father to my two wonderful children for four and half years now. My daughter was five years old when I first met her, and my son was just three.
When my wife and I were going through the adoption assessment process, I noticed that many of the books about adoption were written by women. Well, at least most of the useful and practical books anyway. You know, the ones that are actually written by adoptive parents and therefore contain some first-hand advice on how to bring up children who are traumatised.
There was very little literature on what it was like to be an adoptive father. So, after I had been through the process myself, I decided to write such a book.
I wanted to provide a male insight into what it is like to be a dad with a therapeutic approach to parenting. “You’re the daddy we wanted” is the result.
Writing about some of the parenting strategies that have worked well – and many that have not – has been a great way for me to improve my relationship with my children. Self-analysing my parenting style in this way, has helped me become more “Empathic”, more “Accepting”, and more “Curious” towards my children’s feelings. By the way, to complete the P.A.C.E. therapeutic parenting model, I have always had a pretty “Playful” approach to being with my children. I suspect this may be common amongst other adoptive fathers.
The empathy and the accepting parts are the difficult bits!
Anyway, that’s enough about me for now. I have led you into this blog by promising to share a few tips on being an adoptive father. So here goes:
- Time is precious; make it count.
As a full-time working father, I often feel that I am apart from my children too often. This can hinder my relationships with them, because the one thing that my two children need more than anything else is loving parental attention.
Time – that after a stressful day at the office – can be tiring for me to provide.
But, my goodness, the time I do give to my children is magical. Even if it is just making sure that I am the one to organise the bath and bedtime routines, or sitting next to my son as he goes to sleep. (He finds it difficult to go to sleep without one of us in the room.) Or, better still, spending time playing games, reading stories etc. etc.
Another aspect of making sure that time counts, is how quickly the various phases of their growing-up pass. I would give anything for just one more day with my son when he was only three or my daughter when she will still into ‘girly’ things such as fairies and princesses.
- Stay calm when the going gets tough – which it will!
Staying calm when I am being shouted at, or the children are showing extreme and/or upsetting behaviour, can be hard.
My adopted children do this frequently. It is one of the hardest aspects of being an adoptive father. But sadly, due to what happened to them during the years before they came to live with us, this type of behaviour is completely understandable. In fact, I know that some of these behaviours are healthy. They help the children to deal with their strong feelings about the past.
In the heat of the moment, however, it is hard to accept some of their more extreme behaviours. But, I have learned through bitter experience, that it is much better to empathise with their mood, rather than trying to challenge it.
“I am sorry that you are feeling this way” and “I know that you find this difficult”, are good phrases to use when trying to help a distressed child. They also help me take the heat out of the situation without letting my own emotional responses take over.
- Don’t over analyse.
My wife and I analysed our children’s behaviour all of the time during their early weeks and months with us. Were they attaching to us? Were my daughter’s tantrums and my son’s stubborn retreats into his own shell, normal behaviours? Were they caused by anything we were doing? Was this a sign of trauma which might develop into bigger problems in the future? We would spend hours analysing and discussing such matters between us.
Don’t follow our example in doing this! Whatever will be, will be. Just apply common-sense and get on with it. Trust your instincts. Over analysis leads to self-doubt, and self-doubt leads to indecision. Indecision is likely to lead to worse outcomes.
So, resist the temptation to analyse. Discuss what is important, and just go with your gut-reaction.
- Say, “I wonder why…?” a lot!
This is the single most useful piece of advice that I have been given by the various social workers and therapists who have been involved with our adoption. It is very easy to remember, and can be applied to many potentially awkward situations.
For example, my daughter says, “I don’t want to go to school.”
Before I was given the above advice, I would likely have said, “You have to go to school”.
This closes down the conversation, makes me seem uncaring and is also likely to escalate the situation into a full-blown confrontation.
These days, I would say, “I wonder why you don’t want to school?”
Instantly, I come across as more curious and empathetic. Furthermore, my daughter is now more likely to tell me the reason why she doesn’t want to go school. Maybe I will learn that there is something practical I can do to help her? Speak with a teacher, discuss a coping mechanism with her?
Now, imagine how useful this approach is in more extreme situations. By the way, these are typical examples of the situations we have had to deal with as adoptive parents:
- “I hate my life.” “I wonder why you would say that?”
- “I hate you!” “I wonder why you would say you hate me?”
Bit of an insight there into some of the more challenging aspects of being an adoptive father!
- Make time for yourself and for your relationship with your partner.
Giving my two wonderful and gorgeous children the chance of a happy life, is something that I am hugely proud and passionate about. It defines me in a way that nothing else in my life has ever done. Even if, ultimately, we fail to turn them into, at least reasonably, happy adults, I will always consider this mission as the most important thing I will ever do.
But adoption is a challenging route to fatherhood. It can be all-consuming. It can easily take over your life completely, if you let it.
So, my final piece of advice is both simple and important:
Make time for yourself. Make time for your partner. Make time for your relationship.
There we are, ending as I started with the ‘time’ word.
But ‘time’ as an adoptive father, it has to be said, is richly, richly rewarding!
Thank you for reading and to Adoption Matters for allowing me to be their very first guest blogger. If you would like to write a blog for us, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read more tips and insight on being an adoptive father from Gavin at www.adoption-book.co.uk/blog and you can follow Gavin on Twitter @adoptionauthor