Its not always easy the whole friends and social thing for adopted children and adoptive parents. In our case making friends proved difficult for Jazz and keeping them hard for me.
Because our lives are not quite the same as an “average” family the things that are tricky for us are not often considered at all by others and why should they be. Things like the fact that your child may not be able to cope with generally accepted “age appropriate” topics in school or socially. We struggled continuously with television that despite being on before 9pm, tackled head on, subjects like drug use, violence, abuse and drinking…..oh how society loves to talk about and portray drinking and drunkenness like its the best and most amusing thing in the world. (In reality alcohol causes some of the worst problems in relation to health, crime, violence and child abuse).
As alcohol was a real problem to Jazz’s birth family it has remained a problem to her that is ingrained and almost impossible to shift. This makes content on television and out in the world socially, a minefield of potential triggers. Some of our worst moments have been having planned an event to within an inch of our lives, somebody is really drunk on the bus on the way there, or on the train or at the event when we get there. Why is it that they always want to talk or sit next to us?
Sometimes an innocent attempt at friend making by Jazz, for example to try to chat to a trendy young (under 18) shop assistant or fellow party goer results in them saying stuff like “Im so hungover I got completely trollied/stoned/off my head last night”
This is then followed by cries of “why can everybody else drink and take drugs and not me you’re ruining my life…its not fair…I hate you”. This would I guess be classed as normal teenage behaviour if it wasn’t for the fact that it was usually followed by hitting, spitting, breaking and melting down for up to a week.
The same thing happens with mobile phones and Facebook. We tried over and over allowing a mobile phone for years but each time it resulted in the desperate ringing, too often, of the few people I could trust to be in her address book. Then whenever she was feeling anxious a call would be made to 999. The last one resulted in the police turning up at my door (I didn’t know she had called) and as she was sixteen, them telling her the next time it happened she would be arrested.
Facebook has just entered the world of Jazz as she is chronologically 18. Its OK so far but I’m on pins wondering what she may see and how vulnerable she is to potential public criticism.
Its not that Im some old fashioned puritanical mum. I was a rebellious teenager myself (sorry mum!) and went out into the world with gusto as soon as I could. But for traumatised children the world has a different feel to it. Innocent people can cause triggering without having any idea what is going on for you, and this can include close family. At times I felt we had changed our lives to suit staving off trauma triggers so much that we were almost Amish.
In our therapy sessions we described me as being like an editor for Jazz between her and the outside world. When she was younger we had a code word to be used in public situations. If she felt triggered to anxiety she would say “spiders” to me and we would find a quiet spot to have a chat and try to breath back towards calmness.
This whole situation has made it hard for Jazz to make friends over the years as they soon drop her when she displays what seems like peculiar or embarrassing behaviour in public. The extent of this problem made school impossible for her and an overall nightmare for me. The overriding feeling for me was one of great sadness watching her innocently putting her little cheeky smiley self forward and being confused and sad as she was rejected by both individuals and peer groups.
Having a traumatised child also made it difficult for me to be accepted socially especially in new situations. Without explaining our whole life story by the school gate or at the sports day or by the hotel pool on holiday I would be judged as the “bad” mother who had parented my child in a away that made her thump their little treasure, poo in the bushes or kill the stick insect on the nature project.
In my own friends group some just found it too hard to stay around. Having been the friend with an open house and an open ear for years, suddenly arranging to see me was like a military operation…and at times a top secret “Hello Hello” style affair. Don’t say this, don’t mention that, whisper your information, excuse me whilst I keep half my eye, brain and concentration on what she’s doing whilst we try to speak. It some ways it has been like having to keep up the vigilance of a mother with a new born baby, but longterm.
The really positive thing out of it all is that for both Jazz and I the friends that remain, who have stood by us through years of ups and downs, are the best friends in the world. It makes me feel very emotional, in a good way, as Im writing this to think how much they have supported us and taken the learning and tricky bits out of our situation and turned them into gold. Im not sure they realise how supportive and crucial they have been.
I especially have the utmost respect for Jazz’s young friends who have shown their wisdom, knowing and loyalty from being very young and despite being tested to the limit. One of them is now a young married mum and the other newly engaged. We will always be there for them and support them in their family lives as they have done for us.