Imagine this…you’re a new parent bringing your little one home for the first time. You’re nervous. How will you know what to do? What if they don’t stop crying? What if you don’t stop crying? Will you ever sleep again? While you’re stepping into the unknown (often in a state of shock), you can find comfort in the fact there are millions of people in your shoes right now, facing similar challenges. At the very least, you and baby are biologically primed to connect: Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.
Now imagine your little one is traumatised. Angry and afraid. Desperate to be loved but terrified of being held. Processing experiences most people won’t have to endure in their lifetimes. Perhaps they’re not so little anymore. Maybe they don’t trust adults much. The stakes are high. You’re being watched and assessed. Will you get it right? You’ve spent the last year or so trying to prove you’re good enough on paper – now it’s for real and you desperately want to make things okay, to be the best parent you can be to someone who doesn’t yet know what love feels like…
From darkness to light
Adoption has brought an untold amount of joy into my life in the form of two uniquely wonderful, heart-expanding wildlings; our son in 2012 and our daughter in 2017. It’s been an intense period of growth, inner change and understanding; I feel as if I’ve learned more in the last decade than I did in all the decades preceding it and think of our children as my ‘gurus’ (a spiritual teacher who awakens the heart, the literal translation of guru is ‘from darkness to light’).
After going through the adoption process for the first time, it was a year or two later that my husband and I realised how institutionalised we’d become, how in trying to ‘get it right’ and ensure the social workers thought we were capable tick-box kind of people, we’d drifted away from our sense of joy and trust and connection to a wider community. We entered parenting from a place of emotional and physical depletion.
The power of a doula
Prior to adopting, I’d worked as a holistic therapist and doula supporting pregnant, birthing and post-natal women and their families for over ten years. Once I slowly pulled myself out of the emotional dislocation of early adoptive parenthood, I became aware of how much I had craved the support and nourishment I’d offered my pregnant clients. I realised that if adoptive parents had a doula or care-person, they’d feel more connected and calm. They’d be able to parent a traumatised child with unconditional love because they were basked in it. Taking care of the carer is what humans have done in societies for millennia, knowing that in doing so we’re naturally taking care of the cared for.
After our second adoption process, the idea for Adoption with Heart – ignited during those early years with our son - began to gather momentum. I wanted to find a way to reach out to other adoptive parents, to nourish and nurture them through the process and beyond. As the years go by, I realise that so much of parenting well is about parenting ourselves, learning to love ourselves so we can love our children unconditionally. Being the grown up even when that feels (really) hard. Healing our triggers so we don’t lose it with children whose past pain means they’re going to seek them out.
Taking care of the carers
What does this care look like? At Adoption with Heart it’s heartfelt courses for pre- and post-adoption. It’s listening and support – what I call ‘adoption doula-ing’. It’s meditation, massage and time in nature. It’s simple, transformative tools that can be used every day to further connection, to our children and ourselves. It’s listening to the inner voice that guides us to joy and healing. It’s taking care of the carers so that they can be the parents their kids need and deserve.
I really believe in the joy of adoptive parenting. Back at the beginning of our journey, I used to feel disheartened by the doom and gloom stories and wanted to find a path that reflected my belief in the power of love and of being held and healed by nature and community. I hope that over time Adoption with Heart will help other adoptive parents find their path to peace, love and connection.
The Adoption with Heart ‘Holistic Home’ Tips
Slow down – If there’s anything 2020 has taught us, it’s the gift of slowing down. Many adopted children thrived in slower-paced homes away from daily stressors and relished the opportunity to spend more time with family. All children flourish in attentive presence so make time every day to tune yourself to your child’s pace, to see the world through their eyes…and to take deep, slow, mindful breaths.
Delight in your child – Everyone – EVERYONE! – deserves to have someone delight in them. What lights your kid up? What makes them laugh? Even if it means listening to grime music for half an hour, or being regaled with potty jokes, really focus your energy and attention on their JOY in something. Feel the delight. Laugh with them. Let them bask in the warmth of your loving attention.
Prioritise your health – Don’t be tempted to sacrifice your wellbeing through the misguided (and prevalent) belief that entirely devoting yourself to others makes you a better parent. Your child needs you to take care of your physical, emotional and mental health so you can parent with heart. Every time you make a choice based on listening to your body and heart, you’re also modelling the power of intuitive self-awareness to a youngster who may well need that skill more than their peers.
Discover the power of unconditional love – ‘Love is all you need,’ sang the Beatles. And while your toolbox is by necessity full of various ways to promote connection, loving your child through all life’s challenges is the greatest gift you can give them. When that love feels hard to find, it’s time to boost your unconditional love for yourself. However counter-intuitive that sounds, bathing yourself in warm acceptance gets you into a state of ‘lovingkindness’, a tender opening of the heart from which you can share love unconditionally.
Create a network – Humans are not designed to parent in isolation. Our species evolved through creating supportive communities, people who understand and can share the joys and challenges. Forging a network of other parents, friends and elders committed to hope and healing can offer light on the darker days.
Seek joy – When life is drudgery and the days drag, when it feels like you’re stuck in demanding de-escalation and you’re exhausted, set your compass for joy. What did you love doing as a kid? Dancing, roller-skating, painting? Skipping, singing, swimming? Read an inspiring book, watch a film that lifts your spirits, take a walk with soaring views, get outside, lie on the earth and watch the clouds. Show your children what seeking joy looks like and encourage them to join you in the quest.
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