Most of the time on my posts I talk about what helped us in the past, as our children were growing up. Like having supportive people around, learning about attachment theory, and looking after ourselves. However today I want to talk about some of the things I now wish we hadn’t done or had done more of.
I hope this post will help other parents and carers with young children, and for educators and professionals it might encourage you to continue supporting vulnerable families and fighting the good fight with them.
As you will know, if you’re read any of my previous blogs, I have three adopted children who are no longer children. They are 19, 20 and 22 and we have had them for 15 years this year. It has been an incredible journey, one with many ups and downs and one I certainly don’t regret. I wouldn’t be without my children and even in the worst times we’ve managed to muddle through eventually (might not have felt so good at the time!).
I was on a training call last night about ADHD as I’m trying to understand it more for my middle son, and in my work as I come across so many young people struggling with this now. They were talking about time and the fact that ADHD’ers don’t do well with future time or any time for that matter. I can see this very much in my son – there is now and not now. When he wants to do something, he really struggles to wait or even get the concept of “we’ll do that another day”.
One of the phrases they used that has stuck with me was past negative or past positive. That when we think about the past, we have a negative or positive bias or perspective. When I look back on our past as a family there are some things I regret and things I wish we had done more of. As my young adult children struggle with the next stage of their development there are things we could have done when they were younger that might have made this stage easier. So, today I am going to tell you some, I really hope it helps others and encourages you to keep fighting for some things now that could make things so much easier later.
Fight for a diagnosis. For my daughter especially this has become a problem. She was very avoidant as a child and her difficulties were attributed to Attachment although never officially diagnosed. She did receive a statement in year 6 when she was assessed by an educational psychologist based on her emotional needs. When statements moved to EHCP’s in about year 9 for her she was not awarded an EHCP as the authority felt she was “coping well and doing ok”. I didn’t appeal it at the time as the school she was at said they would continue to support her as they had with the statement. This was fine for then but now at 22 without an EHCP we are really struggling to get her the support she needs. I wish I had appealed that decision then and fought for more assessments to find out exactly what her challenges are. We are now having to navigate the very muddy waters of adult social care, mental health, housing, and universal credit to get her the help and support she needs. A diagnosis would really help this, but trying to get that done as an adult is so much harder than as a child (and that’s hard enough!!).
Look broader than Attachment. For our two eldest I wish we had known that many of the other possible conditions are masked by trauma and the impact. I do believe their early trauma has had a huge impact on many areas of their early development, and continues to, but there may have been other challenges too. Now for our middle son he has an ADHD diagnosis which has explained a lot to me. Whilst he didn’t appear as a ‘typical’ ADHD’er (whatever that is) when he was younger, maybe if we’d have asked more of professionals to assess him, he may be in a better place now with his anxiety and in his education results. The impact of ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is something we’ve not pursued with professionals either and the health implications including addictions and mental health are now appearing. Of course, this is not to say that the impact of trauma doesn’t underly all of the other challenges they may face, or in fact be the catalyst for addictions, mental health difficulties and things like ADHD now, but if we’d have known more about the full picture then maybe we could have pre-empted some of the current difficulties.
Focus more on the harder problems. This one took me a while to consider whether to write about because there were lots of reasons for this – but in hindsight I wish I had of pushed through the barriers more to reach my daughter at an earlier age. She was 7 when she came to us, 5 when she went into care and at that young age had experienced all kinds of trauma that caused her to withdraw and use adaptive behaviours that are difficult to break. Arriving with her two younger brothers, both energetic and demanding in different ways, her defence was to withdraw which in all honesty we let her do. One of the problems with being outnumbered of course is that sometimes you take the path of least resistance to survive. Now I wish I had spent more time bringing her out of herself and helping her to trust. Much of her struggles now in her early 20’s is related to her need to be self-reliant and her inability to trust.
Of course, with any of these three areas I could justify them all and tell you exactly why I didn’t do what I now wish I had, but the fact remains – if I had done them who knows how easier things would be currently! Even as I’ve been writing this, I’m saying to myself “we couldn’t have known”, and “we did the best with what we knew”, and that is true. It’s never too late as I do believe my children’s story, like anyone’s, isn’t over until it’s over. They are processing their early experiences still, and will continue to, as we all do. I only hope that they have experienced enough stability to keep them grounded as they battle life’s storms.
We can learn from our failings as well as our victories, so I hope this is helpful to someone out there for where you are at right now. This was not to say woe is me, or to get any feedback to say we did a good job – it is purely to help those who are in the earlier stages to reflect on what they might focus on to prepare their children for growing up.