The words “I don’t deserve to be happy” are not ones that you relish hearing from your teenager, but all too frequently as adoptive parents we see and hear these kinds of sentiments from our children, because there is a deep rooted belief, for some, that this is their truth.

COVID19 and lockdown restrictions are having an unprecedented impact on the mental health and well being of all of us, and for children like ours, who really struggle already to untangle the web of muddled thoughts in their brain, it is frightening to think about the knock on effects of all of this.

But this feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing, the lack of confidence and hope for their future isn’t something new – as parents we’ve been trying to manage this for many years. Our children arrived in our home damaged and we were well aware of the lifelong journey to heal that damage, but significantly under-prepared for the twists and turns, the highs and lows.

The other night – we had another outpouring of emotional warfare, where we once again dropped everything and devoted 100% of our attention to our teenager. It took all my strength and emotional resolve to not burst in to tears and feel angry with the world, to want to just smother him in a cuddle and not let go… But  I summoned my parenting super-powers and tried to recall all of the knowledge and learning from the books on therapeutic parenting and the hours we had spent on the couch with our family’s DDP therapist to help sooth this hurt, this was not a ‘healing the hurt’ moment.

Every parents natural instinct is to say “It’s ok, don’t be silly, that’s not true – you are loved, you are fine, you deserve to be as happy as anyone.” But DDP teaches us to not default to this position, putting a plaster over these wounds won’t cause it to scab and scar and heal over time. So I bit my instinctive lip and tried to sit and listen and learn. I didn’t say “you can be happy” instead I asked “Why do you think you feel like that?” and “what has brought this up for you today?” As much as it hurts us as parents to not be able to ‘fix it’ it is really important to show that we are listening and we are allowing our children to explore their grief, the pain and the cause for those feelings. 

Our son believes that because of his early life experiences, his genetics, how he came in to the world and started his life, that he can’t be a happy person – he struggles to see a future where he will find a partner and live happily ever after. It breaks my heart to know that he is fighting these feelings and that I can’t just create happiness for him. But I hope that I can continue to be the right kind of parent, to show him empathy and support and live this journey alongside him, so that one day he will believe he truly does deserve to be happy as much as anyone else.

Listening to Dan Hughes’ recent webinar for Adoption UK was such a useful reminder to me of how impactful the little techniques of DDP and PACE parenting can be. As adoptive parents we are not healers… we are cheerleaders, coaches, taxi drivers, motivators, comfort blankets, cwtch and cuddle givers, we can reflect like a mirror and refract like a prism, we can sooth and massage and ease the hurt and maybe in time – I hope – all of that will lead to their healing.

It’s a good job our love is never ending. But don’t get confused – the Beatles were wrong – 'All you need is love', is bull, it takes a hell of a lot more than love!