It is not often that we do something together as a family, but this evening we actually sat on the drawing room carpet and spent a couple of hours playing World of Warcraft Monopoly. The children were bored, and could find nothing better to do than annoy each other. I suggested we play the new Monopoly and they jumped at the idea. It’s good to know that we can still just about manage to do something as a family. It needed two parents present, and the language and what passed as conversation between Jo and Billy resembled a toxic ping-pong. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable evening. No one cheated too outrageously or sabotaged the game. Losers retreated in good grace. Once it was finished and packed away the children returned to annoying one another and had to be separated. Billy wanted me to watch him play Grand Theft Auto in his room. Watching Billy on the X-Box isn’t exactly my idea of entertainment but it is a while since he asked me and I’m glad that he still wants the company. I could at least admire the graphics and imagine myself in sunny California instead of chilly, dank England.
I remembered one of the last occasions we sat and played together on the same floor. The children were about four and six, and I had had a series of phone calls asking whether we would be prepared to record something for National Adoption Week to go out on regional TV news that evening. Their production schedules were obviously very tight, and I was unhappy about doing anything without the children’s consent. They were at school and the TV crew wanted to be there when they got home and take a few minutes of film with a voice-over commentary in order to promote adoption. Not only was there the issue of consent, but the children would generally arrive home tired and grumpy and be quite hard to handle. However, I finally agreed and had a word with the children as I collected them from school. I tried to explain what would happen and what it could mean if people they knew saw the broadcast. They were delighted with the idea, and for the first and last time we sat down to play a board game as soon as they arrived home. I think they just managed to hold it together for the two or three minutes of filming before the scene disintegrated into the usual chaos. The next morning several staff, parents and children who had seen the piece on TV greeted them both as celebrities, and Bily and Jo revelled in the attention. Most of those who saw it wouldn’t have known that they were adopted, so it was quite a nice way of introducing and normalising the fact.
I have over the years responded to requests to speak to adoption preparation groups but the offer has never been taken up. I rather assume that when discrete enquiries are made the organisers of these groups decide that our family experience is too complicated or not sufficiently positive to pass muster. It’s a tricky balance. One doesn’t want to put off prospective parents, and I remember myself being frustrated at what seemed to be a generally negative view of adopted children. On the other hand, I’m not sure that new adopters are well served if their expectations are unrealistic, or the stresses and strains of what usually turns out to be therapeutic parenting underplayed. The support available for adopters is still pitiful in most areas, so there is a natural tendency on the part of social workers to talk about attachment issues, or the need to set boundaries, in the abstract or hypothetically, but not reveal the full extent of particular children’s trauma and needs and what this can mean in terms of parenting for many many years to come. Perhaps writing this blog is my response to this conundrum.