Tag Archives: family

The Traditions That Glue Families Together

What makes a family?  For many people this question doesn’t ever need asking, but for those of us who have assembled a family through adoption it is a relevant one.  So many things do not make our families.  They are clearly not made by a shared genetic heritage.  I am no more biologically related to my children, than I am my husband.  There are many aspects of our own experiences of being parented which we cannot hand down either and so we have had to learn new ways of parenting.  But nevertheless, the Donovans, the four of us, are a strong family unit.

Our esteemed Social Worker, Mr R who has helped us through some tricky times, recently talked to us about family traditions, ‘you know’ he said, ‘the sorts of things that are particular to your family, little phrases, particular names for things, days which are marked in special ways’.  He described these family oddities as the glue which sticks and binds and is the starting culture of a shared heritage.

Of course, when put on the spot for something like this, the mind goes blank.  (It is like being asked what your favourite books or albums are and inexplicably your brain is only able to access the late 1980s – ‘yes I very much enjoy The Bone People and kd Lang).  So to Mr R, Rob and I both looked as though we lacked the imagination to create even the flimsiest of traditions.  The obvious family traditions are woven into the Big Days such as birthdays and (breathe out first) Christmas.  But for many adoptive families, the Big Days are littered with landmines, which are exploded by the trip wires of vague memories, broken attachments and shame. So for our families, more than most, our traditions have to be rooted in the every day, the mundane and also the bizarre.

Here are a selection of some of my favourite Donovan family traditions:

  • the person who creeps downstairs early in the morning and eats biscuits and cake decorations is known as ‘the cupboard fairy’, we all know her human form, but we do not speak her name, for she knows who she is
  • the cloth which removed all signs of food around tiny mouths after mealtimes was affectionately known as ‘the magic flannel’, it has gone out of use, but it’s memory continues
  • ‘I’m Thinking About My Doorbell. When You Gonna Ring It?  When You Gonna Ring It?’ by the White Stripes is the family anthem, we all know the words and can air drum along to it, the little Donovans are yet to understand the true meaning of the lyrics
  • we have our own Donovan family ranking system for swear words which starts with ‘arse’ and ends with, well, a word which came up when whilst we were reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the eldest Donovan child, which I shall leave for you dear readers to deduce.

And all these strange terms and quirky little songs and the memories which they hold, all play their part in giving us a shared language with which we can celebrate the good times.

Let Them Eat Baked Beans – is there something in the UNICEF report for us all?

After several years of dealing with our childrens’ challenging behaviour (as it is somewhat euphemistically referred to) we were lucky enough to get help from a brilliant social worker specialising in fostered and adopted children.  If I could boil his message down into one easily digestible mouthful it was this: spend every moment you can with your children, it will help them to feel secure and will lessen their opportunities to fail at things.  He did not recommend that we kit up with Apple products, a flat screen television and an x-box kinect.

Ground down and brain turned half to jelly, this didn’t sound too appealing at first.  And I thought I was already spending lots of time with them.  He persisted.    ‘Forget about what the house looks like, forget about making wonderful meals, eat Heinz beans every night if it means you can be with them and do whatever they want to do.’  That part was music to my ears.  I bought baked beans, plus eggs and some grated cheese (I still have my standards) and therein began a big transformation in our family.  We watched hours of Almost Naked Animals, Barbie Swan Lake and Deadly 60 together.  Then after our beans on toast, we watched The Simpsons, or rather the children watched me laughing at The Simpson’s (why’s that funny mum?/well that man there is Richard Nixon… never mind’).  It wasn’t all television.  We made things, like paper money and toilet roll people, we cooked, we had a sports day in the garden.  Hardly the stuff of a mumsnet blog, but it made the most remarkable difference to both of our children.  They became calmer, less confrontational, we talked about things, we had fun.  They came to understand when I was tired and needed to doze through ‘Tracy Beaker’ and sometimes they happily took themselves off to play in their bedrooms.  Whenever things get difficult now I restock the tin cupboard, ignore the mess and get down with the kids.

In 2007, a UNICEF report found that children in the UK are the unhappiest in all of the industrialised world.  Yesterday they issued a report which tries to explain why this might be.  Their conclusion?  We try to compensate for spending inadequate time with our children by showering them with material goods.  And guess what?  It doesn’t work.  And this applies to families of all social classes and all races.  Maybe there is a lesson in there for all of us.

http://www.unicef.org.uk/Latest/News/Research-shows-UK-children-caught-in-materialistic-trap/