Monday 17 November 2014


So after calling our adoption agency and asking for some help, we've been plugging into some local post-adoption support.  We've been having some assessment sessions with an attachment-focused therapist, and getting regular calls from a social worker.

"Do you want to come along to a twelve-week attachment parenting course?" she asked me. And I didn't want to- of course I didn't - but I said yes anyway, because I'm starting to suspect that we're on some kind of List Of Troubled Families, and people on that list need to take all the help that's offered to them, right? You know, just in case it ever comes up in court.

I'm joking.

(I'm not entirely joking).

Anyway. It's not that I don't think attachment parenting is important. I do, of course, and that's why I've already read a ton about it, talked a lot about it, used a lot of the techniques. I don't do it perfectly, of course, but I do know the basics and then some. So does Jay. "We don't need to go on a course," I said. "It's not that we don't know this stuff. It's just..."

Just what? Was it really just that I thought I already knew it all? No, it wasn't that. I sat there on the first night of the twelve, brittle with tension, staring at the leaders and wanting to be anywhere else. Fifteen of us sat around a table, drinking tea from an urn and eating supermarket cookies. The leaders - let's call them Anne and Brenda - ran through the list of what we would cover during the course and yep, that was all stuff we had heard before. Brain development. Connection.  Trauma. Attunement. Etcetera.

We started talking. Even at the start, in the first session, I could tell that A and B were full of ideas, but the ideas made me kind of angry. I could barely even hear what they were saying without my subconscious leaping up and objecting.

Make sure your child has had enough food / That's difficult if he won't eat
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep / He already gets plenty of sleep. That's not the problem.
Don't overschedule your child / is three meals a day overscheduling? Because otherwise we're golden
Try reducing conflict / I'm not the one who is neurologically addicted to conflict.
Try being more playful and joking around / Is THAT a joke?

I got mad when they mentioned stuff we were already doing - because I already knew it didn't work - and I got mad when they mentioned stuff that we weren't doing - because how could I possibly, possibly do anything more than I was doing ?

It felt to me like I was walking into that room with my arms already full, already carrying more than I could manage. You know, things like my son is five and I can't go to the bathroom alone, things like he needs two hundred percent of me and I'm empty, things like what is wrong with me? Why can't I manage, and the related they made me go on a freaking parenting course.
it's really amazing what a talented artiste I am. 

And then, they were trying to hand me bright ideas, shiny new tools for fixing our situation. But it just felt like more things to carry.

And I couldn't carry any more things.  So I let the bright ideas bounce off me instead. Not because they were no good, but because I couldn't, psychically- in fact, almost physically - let anything else in. The last few months - okay, years - have felt like a test of endurance - a marathon. Except the finish line keeps on getting moved, or something - this mixed metaphor is getting a little confusing - and the only way to keep going is to keep on giving everything in a way that I really didn't know was possible. Your stress levels are in the clinical zone, said the psychologist a few weeks ago and I thought well, duh. 

This is why I didn't want to even think about the new tools. After all, it's not like I'm not trying. I'm giving this thing everything I have. I'm carrying as much as I possibly can. 

And so I felt Do not give me any more things. I cannot possibly carry any more things. I am already carrying all of the things. 

But we continued to go to the course, of course, because we liked A and B, and the other couples were nice too, and we'd said we would and we still think we're on the List Of Troubled Families. 

We got homework, and it was do something nice just for yourself. So I went to see the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery and it was fantastic. 

I felt a little lighter for doing it. I appreciated the push. And the more sessions we went to, the more I realised that these people really knew what they were talking about. They weren't trying to give us advice in a vacuum. And the other people around the table were going through things that were similar to what we were facing. 

And after a few more sessions, I found that I was willing - and able - to take on some of the new ideas. It wasn't that these ideas were any better than the ones they told me first - in fact, many of them were exactly the same - but something important had happened. Without ever being explicit about it, A and B (and the group) had managed to take away some of the things I had been carrying. After some time talking and thinking and brainstorming and sharing and workshopping, it was as if they had said here, let me take that away from you. 

And of course, once I lost some of my big bundle of Things, I found I had some space in my hands. Space to try picking up some new tools and trying some new things. Things like trying different ways to be playful, like trying different language for conflict resolution, for implementing new structures in the deadly hours between 4 and 7pm. 

We all need help sometimes. 

And if you are the helpee - well, learning to be the helpee is not easy, especially when it's being an official helpee like we are right now. The hardest thing for me, maybe - I had to trust these people before I could hand them any of my stuff. They were probably willing to take it off me at the door, but I couldn't see it. If you are carrying around all of the things, it's very difficult to think straight, sometimes. All the blood that your arms are using to carry things takes away what your brain could really use, and that can make a person panicky or prickly. Or maybe that's just me. 

I'm glad I trusted them. They have been trustworthy, and I'm extremely grateful.  

I think there's some stuff I want to remember here next time I'm the helper, too. 

If you're the helper, sometimes new tools are not the first thing that people need, no matter how shiny and wonderful they are, no matter how many things they would fix.  Especially if it's family stuff. That mother is a person, not just the Family Fixing Mechanic. Sometimes, you have to take away some of what they are already carrying before they can even pick up that tool. And people who aren't willing to do that probably aren't going to be any help at all. 

(Sidebar 1 - sometimes it's enough to just notice that they are carrying it. I find that when someone says that looks heavy I already feel like things are a little lighter). 

(Sidebar 2 - On reflection, I think, actually, this is why drive-by advice is So. Very. Annoying, especially if you are in crisis mode. Giving advice without offering to carry any of the things that the person is already carrying is like someone has coming along and saying "Catch!" and tossing an armload of stuff at someone who already has their arms full. It doesn't matter how great the stuff is; I can't catch it. Which is just another way of saying that there's no point telling someone how to improve their life if you aren't already busy being their friend). 

That's it, really. 

I I've been gone for a while, and I intended to write about some of what we've actually been learning, about some of the help we've actually been getting. But I could never quite do it,and I think it's because I had to learn some of this stuff first.