UK adoption: Are adopters too sensitive?

January 11, 2014 14 Comments

I wanted this post to be about adopters within the UK adoption arena and our mindset once we have our children placed with us.

Adoption in the UK has been under much scrutiny in recent years, and pressure is increasingly growing for local authorities and agencies to not only recruit the right people, but also to prepare them for adoption as quickly as possible.

This, in theory, will generally result in serving looked after children well (though I can think of a few arguments against), but is it in the best interests of the adopters?

Sermon on the local authority mound

sermon main UK adoption: Are adopters too sensitive?Throughout the adoption process, we were preached to about understanding the difficulties of raising adoptive children. In no uncertain terms, it is communicated that adoptive children need to be parented differently than children who have avoided the care system.

Whilst I have whole-heartedly subscribed to this notion, and continue to practise fatherhood under this premise, it does raise a little red flag for me.

Saying adoptive children need different parenting would indicate that there are ‘types’ of children. To put this in non-pc, and derogatory terminology:  ‘adoptees’, and ‘norms’.

As we all know however, each child is different; all unique, and as such require very specific parenting. Also, by segmenting adoptive children, does this not go against previous teachings to ensure that our society is inclusive, as opposed to exclusive?

So, does the theory of adoptive children needing different parenting actually fall down?

The perpetual social worker monologue of being sensitive to the child’s needs has effectively taken its toll on us as parents. Maybe, as we hope, in a positive way – many of you will know my stance on social services, and that I vehemently defend them – but (and the point of this post is such) how do we know that this approach to parenting adoptive children is always correct; one size cannot fit all?

Thin skin and brain washed

Every facet of parenting that my wife and I experience we now put under the microscope to see if we need to ‘adjust our settings’ and apply an adoptive approach.

The boy is two and half or thereabouts, still experiences teething difficulties, is still learning to speak, right in the midst of his terrible two’s and seemingly powered by a nuclear reactor. He bites, scratches, hits, cries, moans and the rest, and each time he does it, my wife and I start compiling the agenda for the impending behavioural summit that takes place.

It feels like we have been brain washed into treating our lad as a tarnished, grief stricken soul each time he acts out, and that discipline should always come second after care.

Now, I don’t really think that I am being brain-washed but I just wanted to demonstrate how we sometimes feel. I wonder if we have inadvertently become overly sensitive, and possibly reading too much into ‘the adoption thing’; like we have walked the adoption line so tightly, that we dare not stray from it, even to the potential detriment of the wee man. I would hate for adoption to become an excuse for certain behaviour. Perhaps our expectations of the boy should be higher?

This problem is ours to solve, and we will continue to do what we can for him, but I am curious if any other adopters feel the same? UK adoption is heading in the right direction – I firmly believe that. I also know that the job of a social worker is incredibly difficult, so I certainly don’t intend to offend, rather, to discuss. I am also very aware that I don’t have the answers, yes I have theories, but that is all they are, so I would welcome any feedback or comments in the normal form – If you can add anything to this, then by all means share.

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About the Author:

Andrew is an adoptive father, and stay at home dad. Having adopted his son in January 2013, he is a new adoptive parent, but well versed in the adoption process. He is a married, coffee drinker, Xbox addict, and a Marketing graduate. Andrew McDougall is an alias he uses to protect the identity of his adopted son.

Comments (14)

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  1. Al Coates says:

    It is an interesting subject matter, many times when I have described my adopted children’s specific behaviours I have been told that ‘all’ children do that. Sometimes this has felt very patronising being said to me by experienced social workers and close family members. I understand that the spectrum of behaviour that can be considered ‘normal’ in children is so broad that it is often difficult to know when behaviour can be attributed to difficult early life experiences. As a parent of several adopted children with a broad range of experiences, from entering into care at birth to severe neglect and abuse I often question their behaviour.
    You wrote that you feel that you’ve been brainwashed to believe that discipline should come second to care, if we consider discipline and care as two separate entities then perhaps we have been brainwashed. Your turn of phrase made me think about our family’s parenting style. How we manage our children’s behaviour could be described as therapeutic but we cut no slack, there are consistent boundaries, there are always consequences but we manage all of these in a manner that takes into account the impact of the child’s experiences. We don’t sent for time out we have time in, we don’t discuss consequences until tempers have eased etc etc (read the books, go to the seminars). Within this context the reason for their behaviour is then irrelevant.
    If we feel we have to pussyfoot around our children then we will always be on the back foot and feel hamstrung as parents. We need to have the confidence to discipline our children appropriately and effectively.

  2. Debbie whitehouse says:

    Really enjoyed reading this article. I have adopted 2 children (they were placed with us feb 2013) and a lot of your article rang true with me. As we went through the adoption process it was drilled into us to watch out for certain behaviour and to be aware behaviour could change as the child grows. Once they were placed we found ourselves scrutinising everything they did or said looking out for any signs of distress or issues we needed to tackle. We were encouraged to attend adoption play and stay sessions and “normal” mainstream play and stay sessions were discouraged. Though I found them well run and the kids enjoyed them I also found going to “normal” play and stay sessions with non adoptive parents more benificial. It gave me the chance to talk about behavioural issues and more often than not the other parents would say he/she used to do/or still does that. I found it really reassuring that not everything my children do is down to them being adopted but normal childhood behaviour. I am aware I have been very lucky with my 2 and I’m sure issues will arise and need to be dealt with but, and I know s/workers won’t like me saying this, but sometimes you need to draw a line under them being adopted and just get on with being a “normal” family.

  3. Richard says:

    Have been there – “Am I making all this up?”! After 9 years and seeing our 2 girls go from 3 & 5 to 12 & 14, I have 2 responses. Firstly, the therapeutic approach seems to be working – they’ve made amazing steps forward. Secondly – my point of sanity: every time I meet adopters who have also got/had birth children, I ask the same question. “Is it really different”. Every single response over all these years (mistyped it ‘tears’ at first – foud for thought!) has been an absolute ‘yes’. So I’ve constantly been reassured, our perspective that this is ‘extreme parenting’ and that our kids need something different and special is valid and, for them, necessary to enable them to best participate in life fully.

  4. Sarah says:

    As an ‘adoptee’ and having just had a child I have started to feel that actually parenting any child is a ‘different kind of parenting’ to the one that our western society believe it should be.

    Understandably (in some cases) with parents struggling to make ends meet and keep up with the housework children are expected to be in their own rooms by age x, to be sleeping through the night at age y and to generally sit down and shut up immediately after learning to do so, just to make the household run the same as it did before the little one came along.

    I believe little people aren’t given the space to really feel and to understand their emotions. A small child can’t understand why he’s getting so upset over not having ‘that toy’ or ‘reaching those keys’ but those emotions are still just as real as an adult not getting the job they applied for or being told they can’t afford to buy the next iphone up. An adult can reason with the feelings they are experiencing but babies and children’s brains aren’t developed enough yet to understand that. All children need a sensitive approach, adopted or not.

    As an adoptee I understand that perhaps I may have started off without the building blocks needed to trust the world around me. But so many children who aren’t adopted struggle with this as well. Parents are either unwilling or unable to provide the emotional and responsive empathy.

    I may in years to come find that I am parenting my child wrong, but I believe you can’t be too sensitive to babies and children. I’m not saying to give children everything they ‘want’, instead children should be given everything they ‘need’ and the skills to be able to manage their feelings as they develop.

    Hopefully though in years to come, this ‘different’ and ‘extreme’ type of parenting will become the ‘norm’


    • Sarah, thank you – an excellent response. Let me ask you this. One problem I have right now which relates to this is about sleeping.

      My son struggles to sleep through all night. The first question is – is this something to do with adoption, or just that he doesnt sleep well?

      Secondly – how do I respond? Do I go to him and reassure him, potentially paving the way for him to learn that all he has to do in the middle of the night is scream, and we come running.


      Do I take the hard line, and try to encourage him to sleep in his own room, and get used to sleeping through, and that I won’t come to his aid every time he calls – this potentially making night times worse and increasing whatever fear he has?

      I don’t expect an answer – there are things I know that I can’t share, so no-one has more info on this than me but – I have no idea what to do, and am completely torn as to what to do for the best.

      It may or may not be anything to do with adoption, but I am paranoid that I will do the wrong thing.

      So do I do what they want, or what they need… indeed, what do they want, and what do they need????????
      Andrew McDougall recently posted..UK adoption: Are adopters too sensitive?My Profile

  5. Sarah says:

    I know you don’t want an answer but this is what I would do! (and am doing!) Do what you feel is right and is right for your family. Don’t get too worried about it all (what other friends/family/professionals say) and try to follow your instincts, if you are as empathic as your posts lead me to believe you are, all will be well!!!

    Your little one may be struggling because of insecurities in relation to adoption, but he could just be suffering from night time/ separation anxiety as children do. You are more aware of it because of the information you may have been given in relation to adoption (which I don’t’ think is a bad thing!).

    I believe that the more groundwork you do at the beginning to help children feel safe and secure, the less may be needed in the future. I understand the difficulty with working out what a ‘need’ and a ‘want’ is but you know your little one better than anyone else and thats where your instincts come in :)

    If it is a ‘need’ then you wont be setting yourself up to have him screaming just so you will come running, he will trust that you will come when he needs you and this will reduce any fears he may have. This is very different from spoiling a child by giving him more chocolate and toys than he could ever ask for.

    If your partner, family member or friend was crying – would you walk past them and tell them its for their own good – they need to learn to deal with things on their own? You could say it would depend on the circumstances but even if they are doing it for the millionth time and ‘crying wolf’ I feel that there is always a reason they are doing it, its just sometimes really difficult to see the reason why!

    I don’t know if i’ve just helped or confused things further sorry!!


    Ps. there are a lot of myths about ‘sleeping through’, I for one know that I cant sleep very well without at my husband or my childhood teddybear with me!! I would scream blue murder if I was told that had to change. I know other fully functioning non adopted adults who are just the same so I don’t think thats down to adoption!! (or maybe it is!??!?!)

    (Gentle routes to helping him sleep could be to give him an article of your clothing (that smells of you) , perhaps create a substitute ‘you’ like a stuffed toy that he loves to get to sleep (but buy more than one incase one gets lost or you’ll be back to square one! – there are lots of resources on line)

  6. Rv says:

    Very interesting post. I am glad I remember my chilhood quite well because I was raised by two loving parents from birth…. and I was a very odd and anxious child with a lot of behaviour that probably would have been put down to adoption had I been adopted. I had huge sensory issues (wore neither socks nor gloves til the age of 8 because I couldn’t bear it), huge sleep issues (couldn’t sleep, wouldn’t sleep) and huge separation anxiety issues (my parents basically couldn’t go away and leave me until I was about 12). I went through a very strange power battle over food as well, with lots of weird eating until I was 10. I’m now a pretty normal (I think, although maybe we should have a vote from my friends!) adult and I think it has made me appreciate that personalities, not experiences, can dictate a lot of our behaviours. A childhood family friend, who was adopted, had none of my behavioural difficulties (and neither did my sister).

  7. Ivavnuk says:

    For a slightly related, differing perspective, kind of rant I had recently – you could have a look at this :

    It’s a bit too late for me to write a response as clear and helpful as the ones above I’m afraid. I’m in the land of broken sleep too and nows my chance ! ;-)

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