**Updated from original post, October 2018**
This is the story behind how Big Happy Life came to be.
Simply put, the bigness of my life got in the way of the happiness of my life. I became depressed and, for a long time, lost sight of the strength I had within me. It was the replaying of an experience I had in 2014 that helped me make sense of how to move forward. That experience helped shape my thinking about life and how to take control of mine.
It was an overcast day in September and my husband and I were seated in a room with eleven other expectant couples, all of us prospective adopters. We were there to hear from experts and have our eyes opened to what lay ahead. We had all chosen to adopt through Barnados, which meant all of us would adopt children who had experienced early life trauma beyond the in-built trauma and loss that often accompanies adoption. Trauma at any stage of life leaves scars but the deepest are said to come from early life trauma because of the damage caused to the developing brain.
The clear message throughout our training was, “Although you can love your adopted children just as you’d love a birth child, they have a history and a story that will affect them for the rest of their lives. It’s your job to respect that and help them make sense of it. You have to be ready to accept them and their stories along with everything else that comes with the package.”
In our training, Barnardos helped us make sense of what this meant by letting us experience it through a variety of exercises and activities.
One such exercise took place late on the first day. To start, our trainer asked for a volunteer to come and stand in the middle of the room. The volunteer was to represent the adopted child. A woman volunteered and once she had taken her place at the centre of the room, the trainer tied a piece of string around her waist before asking for a second volunteer to represent the birth mother. The second volunteer went and stood a few feet away from the ‘adopted child’ and the other side of the same string was tied around the ‘birth mother’s’ waist.
Then the trainer asked for a third volunteer – the birth father. She took a new piece of string and tied one end around the adopted child and the other end around the birth father. This process was repeated with more volunteers, representing foster carers, social workers, siblings, school friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Once the scene was set, almost all of us had volunteered so most of us were standing with string tied around our waists. The room looked like a giant wheel with string spokes; the ‘adopted child’ at the hub and everyone else in a circle around her.
“PULL!”, instructed the trainer and we all pulled our strings.
The adopted child cried out and her body buckled as the strings pulled against each other and tightened around her.
“STOP!”, shouted the trainer.
“When you adopt a child, you aren’t rescuing them.” She said, “Yes, you give them a safer, more stable and loving environment but they are grappling with immense loss. It’s your job to help your children make sense of their story and come to terms with all they have experienced and lost.”
The exercise was incredibly powerful and has stayed with me ever since, not least because my oldest child still misses her “old mum” as well as friends, grandparents and siblings she adored and rarely gets to see anymore.
I often think about the woman at the centre of that string wheel and how it felt hearing her cry out. My daughter rarely makes her hurt visible. She will cry about a challenging maths problem but not about life’s bigger struggles or the devastating losses she has already experienced. I remind myself that just because I can’t see the pain doesn’t mean there isn’t any.
Years after the training, it was me who was buckling and crying out in pain as the strings of life pulled on me. It occurred to me that each of us is at the centre of our own wheels. We all have people, things, tasks and expectations on the ends of dozens of strings, all pulling on us – some for better, some for worse and some because we never let go. It also occurred to me that the bigger life gets, the more strings we add.
As I thought about myself at the centre of my wheel, two things dawned on me.
- I had misunderstood the point of the original exercise. The learning I took from it at the time was that I had to ensure I managed things in an effort to reduce the pulls on my children so they could cope. That wasn’t it at all. My job was to help my children grow strong enough to manage the pulls themselves.
- To do my job as their mum, I had to learn what personal strength felt like and develop it in myself if I was ever going to be able to help my kids develop it.
Prior to that realisation, I spent more time berating myself about how I was letting them down, how I had failed to become the parent I had imagined I’d be.
After that realisation, I made it my mission to keep strengthening myself so I could one day become that parent.
And that is how Big Happy Life was born.
The ideas I share here are the ones that work for me. They help me achieve 3 things.
- Feel in control of my life and the choices I make
- Weather the tough stuff
- Be a role model to my kids so I live the kind of life I tell them is possible.
It these are important goals for you too, visit bighappylife.co.uk for more information and resources.