Today I want to talk to you about two different couples.
The first couple are twenty somethings who have settled down, gotten married and bought a beautiful house in the suburbs. Both have jobs they love. They both work hard and earn good salaries. Both have careers where there are plenty of opportunities for promotion should they wish. They work full time and most weekday evenings are spent enjoying home cooked meals together, visiting family, going on the occasional mid-week night out or just having a bit of time relaxing at home. Their home is stunning. Each room is beautifully decorated, it is spotless and smells amazing – lots of scented candles from The white Company adorn the place and each bathroom has Molton Brown Soap and Handcream as well as soft, luxurious White Company towels.
At the weekend, they spend lots of time going to events with friends, eating out, shopping and having fun. Despite a large mortgage, they still have plenty of expendable income to buy accessories for the home, and items for themselves. They also have money to go on holidays each year. Their favourite place to go being New York where they stay in Upper East Side and do LOTS of shopping as well as sight seeing. They also go lots of weekends up to the North of Scotland to do lots of hillwalking and photography.
They each have their own hobbies that they pursue during the week. He helps out with a Scout group and she visits sick children in hospital. They have a close knit family and a strong group of friends that they like to spend lots of time with, going walks, going out for lunches/dinner with or having them round to the house for BBQs.
They both take a lot of pride in their appearances too. He is always wearing designer shirts and she is a huge shoe, handbag and accessories fanatic. Her clothes and shoes are not designer but they are just well matched together and chic. It is rare not to see her in a pair of heels – even in the kitchen cooking! She also likes to get her hair done, go for the occasional massage and get her nails done by a therapist or will frequently do them herself.
They are careful with their money, still putting some aside for the future, but money would not be seen as an issue – if they see something they would like to buy, generally they can afford to get it, or at least have the money saved by the following month.
They are a very close couple who like to have their own hobbies, but prefer to spend most of their other time, doing and seeing things together. They are immensely happy.
Now lets look at our second couple.
They are thirty somethings with two adopted children. He works full time at a job he loves but his hours are immensely long. His journey to work is an hour and a half each way just now, meaning he leaves for work at 6.15am and doesn’t get home until 8.30pm. He also has to work the occasional Saturday too. She got a year’s adoption leave from her work then decided to take a 5 year career break with a view to returning to work (part-time initially) once the children were settled at school. However, the children both have attachment issues and have found school highly challenging. She therefore has to be ‘on-call’ all the time. The children wouldn’t be able to cope with breakfast and after school clubs and so it has been decided that she will remain as a stay at home Mum.
Staying at home is a huge job in itself. Because her husband is away before the children get up and after they go to bed, she is the full time carer during the week. This means making breakfast, sorting lunch money, getting the children to school, doing all the washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning. She is then there when the children get home from school and so she does the homework with them as well as dealing with frequent meltdowns that happen, mainly because of something at school. She then makes dinner, tidies up and puts both the children to bed. She has spent 5 years fighting for her children within Education because attachment issues aren’t all that well known about. She hates cleaning – especially when it seems to be just be done then ruined straight after. She needs more than just days of cleaning and washing. She therefore works from home blogging about life as an adopter and volunteering with Adoption UK. She gives advice to teachers, Headteachers and fellow adopters. He is amazing at dealing with all the big jobs – fixing the endless amount that needs done, DIY jobs and cutting the grass etc. He has to try and fit this in around family days at home over the weekends as he is home too late at night to start making too much noise.
She doesn’t have time to really get a proper break. Weekends are when her husband is home and so it is full on family activities. She is very thankful for the fact her husband puts the children to bed on a Friday-Sunday and gets them up on a Saturday and Sunday morning because she needs that break.
Both rarely see any of their friends anymore. They attempted trying to give each other one weekend day off a month to catch up with their own friends but it just seemed to be forgotten about as they were so caught up in family life. They also planned to go out together once a fortnight once the children were in bed and they could get a babysitter, but again, it got forgotten about. They feel they rarely see much of each other too. His long hours mean they only see each other for a couple of hours at night and thats when both do some of their own hobbies individually. They are together at weekends, but being part of a family day isn’t that ‘alone time together’ that they both crave. She has occasionally been invited out at night during the week to go on runs or walks, but she can’t because she needs to wait until 8.30pm.
Their holidays are twice a year for a week at a time – that’s all they can afford because their accommodation always costs more due to the nature of their children – they have to give each child a separate room, so they can only look at 3 bedroom properties. The children get very anxious about going on holiday and so they have ensured holidays have only been in the UK.
Money is okay – they budget each and every penny to ensure there is enough to cover the endless amount of food they need, the clothing for the children, tools to mend the multitude of broken things around the house. They put aside money each month for birthdays and Christmas and for the holidays. This means they each, personally have a small budget of £100 each to spend. If they go out with any friends for dinner, it has to come out of that budget. So whilst money is okay, and they are thankful that they have what they do, they rarely get the chance to treat themselves to anything – its the essentials only.
Hair cuts are done at home – she does his and the kids and then she gets a neighbour to come and do her own. The makeup and clothes she wears are ones she has had for years. She frequently has to buy new jeans as that’s her staple wardrobe – jeans, t-shirt and trainers. She is too tired to consider anything else. She bought a shellac machine to do nails at home, but rarely gets the time to do them.
They are both extremely happy within their wee family unit, but this kind of life is extremely hard – especially for her and especially during school holidays. 7 weeks being with the children 24/7 on her own.
She eat, sleeps and breathes all things attachment and a lot of the time, it really takes its toll – she becomes completely and utterly emotionally, mentally and physically drained.
She sees lots of friends having children and then returning to work and this makes her a little bit jealous – they are able to have a life outside of their family because their children are able to have that routine. Whilst there are a few jobs that could potentially be done during school hours, they receive a small adoption allowance that helps to pay for some of the extras that are needed for the children. If she was to return to work to earn a little extra pocket money for herself, they would lose the allowance as it is means tested. She therefore just has to be happy with things as they are. Last year they were delighted to find a cheaper mortgage – it was going to mean an extra £100 a month coming in which would help to pay for all the clubs etc the children do. However, the adoption allowance was cut to reflect that, so they were no better off. She considered going back to work 3 days a week, but because of the cost of childcare that would be required before and after school, and the fact that the adoption allowance would be taken away, they would have been £200 worse off than they currently are, so that wasn’t an option.
The children are very ‘hard’ on the house – lots of rooms are needing painted, the whole house needs decluttered. There are lots of boxes of home accessories up their attic, but the children can be violent during meltdowns and so those which held any meaning had to be put away for safety. The children’s bedrooms have been recently decorated but that used up all the money they had aside for the home improvements. Everything else will just have to wait.
Any clothing, home accessories etc tend to be from supermarkets. They try to do bulk shopping from Costco every couple of months to get cheaper soap and other toiletries.
She is just coming to the end of the 7 week summer holidays and she is drained in every possible way. His working hours are so long and he too is physically tired. The children can still be extremely hard work and demanding at weekends and so he too becomes mentally and emotionally drained. They both feel they hardly spend any quality time together, they struggle to have time for their own individual hobbies and they miss it. They also miss the ability to treat themselves to some nice things too.
Two VERY different couples but as you’ve probably guessed- they are the same people, M and I. Only one was us before children and the other, now – 5 years after adopting our two boys. Of course we love being a family, and we love our boys unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t miss aspects of our life before children.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it all, and it has been making me really quite sad. I miss the Lora of before – mainly because I was just that, Lora. I was a person with a career and money and lots of friends. Now, whilst I do still have a really good group of friends, I am always seen as a ‘Mum’……I feel that the Lora I once was has slipped away and it scares me. M and I had a long chat about it the other night and he feels the same. We have been so wrapped up in the struggles of family life, that we have completely lost a sense of who we are as individuals and as a couple. I have made a plan to hopefully, start bringing things back around slightly again.
Firstly, we are sticking to our proper, out the house date night once a fortnight. On alternate weeks, we will get a dine in for £10 and have a candle light dinner once he is home and the boys are in bed. No phones, no laptops, just us.
Secondly, we are going to each have a designated day off a month. We both need it. I would love if sometimes we could get it at the same time i.e together, but that is highly unlikely!
Thirdly, we are going to start arranging to meet up with friends again, but we know that there will be friends that we meet up with on our ‘day off’ and then there will be friends to meet along with the children. We feel the best for the latter of these, is fellow adopters. I have been meeting up with a group of fellow adoptive Mums and it is like therapy! We just ‘get’ each other with no need for explanation. We can say what we want without any judgement. There is quite often a lot of swearing!!!
I am then (as I am the one struggling the most) going to have a list of ‘self-care’ tasks that I am going to do each week. These are:
1.Exercise – Running, hiits, & hillwalking and Flexibility exercises at least 3 times a week
2. Healthy Eating – real foods with minimal treats
3. Water – drinking at least 2 litres per day
4. Great Outdoors – daily walk
5. Home Improvement – small task each day (365 tasks per year)
6. Daily Affirmations – Done each morning
7. Thankfulness – End of the day, write gratitude points for the day
8. Daily Kindness – A small task each day to brighten someone elses day
9. Personal Care – Regular massages, facials, nails, hair, tanning (one each month from my allowance)
10. Relaxation Task – colouring, reading, relaxing music.
11. Meditation – 10 minutes of daily meditation/mindfulness.
All of these, as well as our free day and date nights are all going to be written in to my diary so that they HAVE to be actioned.
Self-care is so important. It’s about investing in your mental health as far as I am concerned. I honestly think that if I don’t start doing these things, then I could be heading towards some kind of breakdown. Someone on twitter the other day mentioned ‘respite.’ I really do wish this was something given to all adoptive parents. Being a parent is so hard, but being an adoptive parent, with all that comes with it, is just double the task. Sadly, this is only given to those in crisis….
I am hoping this plan of action with really help M and I. After all, we can’t possibly be the best parents if we can’t also learn to look after ourselves.