Never mind ‘lean in’ parenting, how about some lean out time!
This might be common to a lot of parents having taken a straw poll among friends; the summer holidays are bloody hard! The difference in having an adopted kid is that it's often even harder. I look on jealously as neighbours and friends pack their kids off to camp, cousins and grandparents. We know that Angel wouldn’t manage more than a night away from us. In fact, she doesn't even weather an activity day camp very well. Too many other personalities to navigate. The reality is that even school is tough for Angel and if she could, she would like to be with both me and hubby all day, every day and recently that’s just what she’s had.
We got back from a week in Weymouth a few days ago. We stayed with my Mum, which Angel loves and my Aunty came on the last night too, whom Angel also loves. We went to the beach every day, despite some windy weather, braved the sand storms, went to the arcade, the fair, shopping and the movies. Angel is very good at making friends and so she found other children to play with on the beach but was often moody at the end of the day.
At the end of one day standing in McDonald’s, she snaps at me for asking something so inconsequential I can’t even remember it. I’ve noticed this a lot more recently and I think it could be hormones, the involuntary roll of the eyes, the ‘Kevin-esk’ grunt when asked to do something. Sometimes she does it and then remembers herself and says sorry, immediately after, literally like she can’t stop herself doing it.
Me - You need to find a way to rein in the rudeness. What do you think it is? Hormones? Angel - No, I just find it really hard to say goodbye to my new friends at the end of the day.
She wells up a little. Of course. I had forgotten how hard goodbyes can be for her. I think of this huge family of siblings out there in the world that she doesn’t know and the large foster family she came from and my heart hurts. Angel is so outgoing and fun to be around, it's not hard for her to make friends but I can feel her desperation sometimes and I feel sad we couldn't offer her a bigger family.
As we left Weymouth, Angel had a cry because she was upset at leaving Granny and Aunty. I gave her a cuddle and she settled down. However, when we got home she went into loud humming mode which I know means she isn’t in a good place. I hiss to hubby, ‘Doesn't it drive you crazy?’ He just looks at me like I’m being mean and shrugs , ‘Maybe that’s just what she needs to do.’ Arghh! But I lean in, I play with dragons, I stay close but, boy, am I tired. Then she wants us both to do bedtime and I feel I can’t say no and then she can’t sleep and then I’m in her room until 10.30pm! Arghh, arghh and more arghhhhh!
Next day she is a lot better and I’m able to say that we need to go back to taking it in turns to do bedtime. It was fine on holiday but we need to be able to have a bit of adult time too. She grudgingly agrees.
We are chatting later in the park and Angel says, ‘The worst thing about growing up is I get less and less time with you and Daddy’. I am flabbergasted having just spent pretty much every hour of every day for the last week not only with her but pandering to her desires and needs. In fact I am only working two days a week this summer so I have never spent more time with her!
Then it hits me. I realise that whatever I do, whatever we do, it will never be enough to make up for what she missed when she was little. I am devastated and infuriated in equal measure but in a way it's also freeing too - if nothing we ever do is going to be enough, then good enough will have to do!
I realise that in being ‘lean in’ we have let a lot of things be led by what Angel wants and actually it's important we don’t let her dictate our lives to the point where we become resentful. I realise I am feeling resentful and I remember the very wise advice of a child therapist, ‘Don’t let her tyrannise you, as she will feel the tyranny in herself.’
I go home, have a long chat with hubby and we come up with some new ground rules.
If she stays up later than 9pm (which sometimes she might because she is ten now), then she needs to be able to put herself to bed. Teeth, PJs, get into bed, kiss from Mum or Dad and go to sleep on her own. If Mum or Dad need to stay, it needs to be lights out by 9pm latest.
It's adult time from 7pm and that means if we are watching TV, she needs to give up the remote and we can decide what to watch (I am so sick of watching animated kids movies!). Obviously it will be something she is able to watch too but if she's bored by it, she can play or read a book, not moan until we watch something she wants to.
When we talk to her about it, I explain, ‘You know how you have TV programmes that you like to watch? Well Mummy and Daddy have programmes they like to watch too and if we have to put you to bed at 10.30pm, we can’t watch our programmes as I’m too tired and then I get fed up and that's not good for either of us’. She took it well. I almost felt like she knew she had been getting away with a lot.
That night we don’t get in from the park until 8pm and then she watches some telly with Daddy and I take myself off upstairs to read my book and write my journal as it's ‘adult time’ and I don’t have to be forced to watch telly if I don't want to! Yay.
They come up to bed at 9.15pm.
Me - Wow you’re doing bedtime on your own are you?
Angel - starting to cry a little ‘ Mummy I don't think I can manage it yet’
Me - giving her a cuddle, ‘No worries, it's only just past 9pm, I’m sure Daddy can stay tonight but that means we need to come up at 8.30pm tomorrow to make sure it’s lights out by 9pm.’
She nods vigorously, obviously deeply relieved.
Slowly slowly, we make some speed. What's that thing that Michael McIntyre said? ‘You never love your kids more than when they are asleep’! And I’ll add, when they go back to school!