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A life of shattered expectations

by Adoption Legal Centre in Adoption Breakdown, Nigel Priestley posted May 23, 2022.

The challenges of work/life balance face many adoptive families. I know from my own family life. We must pay the bills and we want to be the best parents. Is it possible?

I have been advising a lawyer who came to me for advice on s20 – the pressures at home had become impossible. She was in a position she would never have imagined herself in. Her story resonated with my experience of so many parents who come to me for advice. Guilt, regret, shame went hand in hand with a recognition that for her, work has provided support, care and validation when she felt that she was failing as a parent. Work was both a pressure and an oasis.

This is her story:

“I have been with the same firm since I qualified as a lawyer. I had been in the job a number of years before adoption. My boss acted as an adoption referee for me.

My then partner and I adopted 2 siblings, a boy and girl, aged 2 1/2 and 3 1/2.  We loved them absolutely from the first moment we met them.

Throughout the adoption journey, it was a close circle of friends at work that made me keep going. They listened to me. They hugged me, brought me chocolate, gave me pep talks…

I recall the adoption courses and the social work visits. We were naive enough to think love conquers all and a secure and happy home will mean that any early trauma will be worked through.

Returning to my job after adoption leave left me with an overwhelming sense of guilt. I wondered how I would juggle it all. The leave had been more difficult and isolating than I had anticipated.

I knew something was not quite right with my son.  In hindsight, instinct is the one thing you should hold on to as an adoptive parent as sometimes it is all you have. I felt that I had not done enough with them or perhaps not valued the time we spent together, and that we should have done more things.

When my son moved from reception to year 1, things came unstuck for us. He really started to struggle. He was assessed as having sensory processing difficulties and attachment disorder. It was fight or flight and we never knew what a particular day would bring. Often, we had no warning and there was no trigger.

Work were supportive in that I managed to work flexible hours and Friday was a non-working day but really I would use it to catch up! When things were really bad, I would sit outside my son’s classroom with my laptop or papers and providing he could see me there, he was able to participate in class.

We never had external childcare as it didn’t work for our son. We relied on ourselves and grandparents who were and always have been phenomenal. We were permanently worn out.  Most people would not have known much was amiss. He presented as engaging, funny, kind and articulate.

We had some post adoption support which I found exhausting as I wanted a solution. There was none. Our world became smaller and more isolating, as the exclusions continued, our son hurting staff, other children, A&E visits. There were no party invites. We were challenged by other parents about our son’s behaviour.

I was home every day for when he got in from school. I would work into the night to make up the work hours and probably to switch off from the gnawing sense I was failing him so very badly. Nothing I did was enough. It was getting worse. The therapists, fellow adopters, family, specialists had no answer.

By year 2 he was on 2:1 TAs and in a room on his own, he was violent on a daily basis or running away. I was in the room with him or sat outside.

One Friday I had to go to Court for a matter I had been involved in for a number of years as there was a really significant hearing. We had a great result and then I had a text to say my son had been excluded. I remember the guilt and shame of having put work first and the price he had paid as a result.

I recall a daily state of exhaustion, late nights either catching up on work or dealing with my son, or the paperwork. There is so much paperwork. I could never travel overnight with work as it just didn’t work for my son. If I had a trial, I would have to do a day commute no matter the distance. A part of me needed the constancy of that job for some form of validation.

At the point we had been through lock down. We ourselves were permanently anxious.  Our marriage slipped away. We had been so busy with everything else, we forgot to nourish that.

Our son had started to escalate again to a red rage more frequently, becoming aggressive and violent. He was older and bigger now. One night he hurt me, floored me with a kick. When I got up, I scratched him. It was an accident. I emailed his school the next morning to let them know. By 7pm that evening I was arrested for aggravated assault.

In this time the support from work was phenomenal. When I was arrested my boss arranged for Solicitors to be there for the interview on my arrest. My boss collected me from the station in the middle of the night. A colleague from work sat with me the next morning and brought me breakfast.

I wasn’t charged. It was dropped but not until after 3 weeks. I was not allowed access to my son and only allowed supervised access to my daughter. My daughter was unable to be with my ex-partner due to the violence of my son. He became violent with my ex-partner every day. I could do nothing as I was prohibited from contacting him and if I broke the bail conditions, I would be facing prison. These were possibly the worst 3 weeks of our lives.

The child protection plans were dropped with Police support.

We were on our knees, sometimes physically but mostly this mental exhaustion and weariness that whatever we did wasn’t enough. That time resulted in our son moving to residential care.

There were days where I had been physically beaten and I had the police out and then got up the next day and carried on in work as if neither of us had a care in the world. My boss and a close group of friends at work have been there when I needed them.  Some days burying my head in a tax file was what I needed, others it was a hug, and a coffee and chocolate.  I needed a job for so many reasons. I also needed the people in work and the support that they gave when I needed it. I have handed in my notice at least four times when I just couldn’t cope. Each time people in work would sit and talk me through what was going on and what they could do to support me. They never judged.

 If someone said to me  give up your job and all will be well with your son, I would in a heartbeat. If only it were that simple.”



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