Monday, 29 July 2013

Chapter 16 – Friends: the second home-study visit


It was a week or so after our first meeting with Denise, the Earl Grey was brewing nicely in the pot and some Duchy Originals were arranged on a plate saying, “Eat me, eat me...”. We were ready to resume trawling through our pasts for Denise’s benefit.

It’s strange dredging through past memories and mining them for significance. It’s not something which we generally do. We certainly don’t do it in chronological order. One of the exercises which we had done on our Prep Days was to think through the key developmental moments from our personal histories and chart them on a time-line. Alongside each event we had to indicate whether it was an “Up” arrow or a “Down” arrow. Looking back over what I consider to be a broadly happy childhood it was fascinating to see how many arrows were pointing downwards rather than upwards. It seemed that happiness and contentment were a continuum which was punctuated by traumas of different types. I suppose I should be glad that it wasn’t the other way around!

We each worked through our charts with Denise throwing in comments at certain points and pausing to discuss others. At one point I described how, after a house move I ended up for a term in a school where, for those three months I, was regularly bullied. “Excellent!” said Denise. “Pardon?” “Ah, well, yes... in terms of you being able to demonstrate that you can empathise with how a child who’s lived under a threat of physical violence might feel. That’s the sort of thing that Panel can pick up and which can be helpful.”

Well, that made sense. Similarly a spell in hospital when I was about four – the separation anxiety from which I could still conjure up surprisingly vividly when I thought back to it. In fact, it surprised me the strength of emotion which was still associated with different life events from my childhood when I looked back on them. It was also interesting how time spent musing on earlier periods of my life seemed to unearth more deeply hidden memories from underneath those which were occupying the space in the upper layers of my memory. Often just little details and fragments of memory but intensely felt nonetheless. However, it was a truly fascinating process.

On and on, the questions went, digging into what made us tick as individuals and as a couple. All helping Denise get a feeling for us and potentially useful evidence for reports in the future. During the final Prep Day we’d been shown the format of the paperwork which would be worked through across the home study. Denise went through a thick sheaf of papers with us and explained how she would approach each of them. Some we’d work through together, some as homework. Finally we got to the sheet which had raised eyebrows the most in our group sessions. The “Sexual Preferences Chart”. On this we were supposed to discuss with our social worker and set out, on paper, the boundaries of our sexual exploration individually and as a couple. What we both liked, what one of us would like while the other was wary of and what was off limits. Denise pulled it out from the lever arch folder, blushed very slightly and looked at it for a few seconds. “Well, I don’t think we need to bother with that one.” she said firmly while folding it carefully into four and popping it into her bag.

Phew! I’m sure that it would have been fine had we done it. However, in reality we don’t actually live in an episode of “Friends” where such detail is the stuff of coffee bar conflabs! The thought of discussing that sort of detail with someone with whom we were still only just becoming acquainted was even more off putting. Denise clearly felt the same way.

An example eco-map taken from the internet
And so we turned to study the eco-map which we had prepared over the last few evenings. It’s a strangely clinical thing to do – to list and analyse your own network of friends and acquaintances to see what benefits you can derive from that relationship. The provision of emotional support was, of course, one aspect of that. Ironically this more nebulous element was the easiest to set out. But that wasn’t enough. What about the practical, day to day assistance? Who would babysit your children on that evening when you simply HAD to get out of the house and be yourselves again? Who would nip down the shops to pick up a pint of milk, a loaf of bread and a tin of beans for you on the day you’re both laid up with the mother of all flu?

After the discussions at the Prep Days other questions started to occur to us. Did our eco-map demonstrate the right mix of ages, genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religions, cultures? How would the Adoption Panel view this when they considered our paperwork. We managed to put these thoughts out of our minds. Second guessing ourselves was bad enough without starting to third and fourth guess ourselves too.

However, there was something Denise asked us to think about which did merit further consideration. As a childless couple in our 40s we had, unsurprisingly, gravitated towards friends of a similar demographic. Those friends who did have kids were now in the throes of GCSEs or A-Levels or, indeed, packing them off to university. As a couple with a (probably demanding and difficult) young child, how would these groups react. In particular what about friends whose child-free status had been forced on them rather than a lifestyle choice? Would they throw themselves into our new adventure or would they withdraw? Would seeing us with a child simply be too painful for them? Good point and one to mull over. Where would we find fellow “young” mums to swap toddler woes with? How would we find new networks and how would we break into them?

Armed with some helpful comments and advice we promised to complete the eco-map in the next week or so. As our next two sessions would be a little different from normal Denise set us a long list of homework to do. Drawing up a day in the life before and after placement with a child. Doing an audit of what we did with our time, our leisure, our responsibilities, our chores, our work and then commenting on how each of those would change after placement. What activities would we reduce and what would we drop...? Crumbs...

Finally, Denise asked how we planned to get additional child care experience. We were both helping out at the crèche at our church. My wife had already been making arrangements with work to temporarily reduce her hours so that she could help out at a local crèche. For me it had been more difficult and work considered that they were being more than generous accommodating the various social worker meetings. More mid-week days off weren’t really on the cards. However, Denise thought that just the crèche wasn’t really enough. “OK” I said, “I’ll check out whether the local Cubs or Beaver troops could use another helper.” At least that could be done in the evening or at the weekend. And what was another CRB check form between friends?

Plenty to be getting on with between now and our next meetings with Denise... two solo interviews and a detailed questionnaire on our personal attachment styles.


Suddenly Mummy said...

Sexual Preferences Chart?!?!?!! Really?! I'm quite horrified by the very thought!

Vicki TBB said...

We too were required to take time out to gain experience with children. I ended up taking a few hours a week off to work in a local nursery, and hubby was very lucky to have a firm who ran a community responsibility scheme, and during his working hours he volunteered as a Women's Aid refuge nursery as a positive male role model.
It wasn't easy though, and on top of all the other time off we needed, our employers got a little hacked off. In reality, I'm not sure that either of our experiences were useful anyway!

Thanks for sharing with the Weekly Adoption Shout Out x

Three Pink Diamonds said...

Made me smile that you too had some biscuits ready for your social worker.

Enjoyed reading your blog!

Anonymous said...

I definitely wouldn't worry too much about finding the right mix of other parents by age or the age of their kids, if I were you. Every playground is filled with Mums from 20 to 50, as well as grandparent-carers. What you'll really need is a friend, whatever shape or size!