What’s in a name

Little Legs had lived with her foster family for practically all her life when we met her. She was three and a half years old.

I had spoken on the phone to her Foster Mummy a few weeks before intros were due to start and had a lengthy discussion about how much Little Legs knew and understood about her planned adoption. Her Foster Mummy felt that Little Legs didn’t really have much of a grasp on what was about to happen. Her Social Worker hadn’t really done any preparation work with her and there was concern about telling Little Legs about us before the Agency Decision Maker had ratified Matching Panel’s decision.

She had no work done with her that we know of, in order to prepare her for the most enormous change that was about to happen. She had no frame of reference for what adoption would mean: the new home she would have to move to, the new grown ups who would take care of her, the new sisters she was gaining. The loss of everything and everyone she had ever known in her whole short life.

Imagine that for one moment.

In your grown up understanding of family and safety and permanence and sense of belonging.

And then remember that she has none of that.

In the thick of the decisions and the emotional stresses of that period of our adoption adventure, we went with what was suggested by those who were supposed to know best. With hindsight, there are elements that I wish we had fought harder over. But there’s no do-over. We work with where we’re at. Little Legs’ Foster Mummy had been honest with me and said that Little Legs calls her and her husband Mummy and Daddy (Jane and Joe, not their real names). Mr Six wasn’t concerned, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. She had lived with them practically her whole life. What else was she going to call them, especially with their other children in the home? She actually switched between calling her Mummy, Grandma and Jane.

Little Legs’ lovely foster family had a handful of children and a close extended family. Foster Mummy looked after her Grandchild (Little Legs’ best friend) most days, hence Little Legs calling her Grandma from time to time. They are a wonderful family, who have grieved their loss as Little Legs moved to become part of our Family Six. We are hoping to keep them involved long term, as they are central to Little Legs’ existence.

We were ‘introduced’ to Little Legs via our Photo book the day before Introductions started.

I know.

One of those things we would fight over, with hindsight. In our Photo Book we are called Mummy Kirsty and Daddy Sam (also not our real names ;-)). Little Legs stuck with those names for the first few weeks covering Introductions and Placement. For Mr Six, she called him Daddy Sam for a good couple of months, while she sussed him out.

Sixteen months later, we still don’t really know what she understands about her adoption. We use the ‘real life’ words for everything. We talk most days about Jane and Joe and their children. We have her scrapbook that Jane sent to us earlier this year. It’s a beautiful piece of life story work that is relevant to Little Legs and helps her to make sense of her life with them. It is full of joy and memories and very significant photos and occasions.

It was funny how once she came home what she called us became irrelevant. The key issue was to help her to cope. To learnt to trust us. Eventually to love us. We didn’t need to gain a sense of ownership of her. For us the key aspect is to love her and to help Little Legs to understand her story. To understand that these figures in her life have all played a significant role.

Comparing notes with other adopters and asking for advice from the fabulous Twitter Adoption Community highlighted for us that many adopters go through the concern of what our children will call us. Some worry more than others. Some don’t see it as an issue. Some adopters speak of their first meeting with their child(ren) calling them Mummy/Daddy immediately from the outset. Greeting them at the door with it. Others have similar experiences to ours, where it took weeks, even months, for their child(ren) to choose to call them Mummy/Daddy.

Little Legs knows she has a Tummy Mummy. She has no conscious memory of her birth Mum, but without a doubt there are memories in there.

Little Legs knows she had a Foster Mummy and Daddy. It helps that my sister and brother in law are foster parents, which has helped her to understand a little bit about foster children moving on.

She knows that we are Mummy and Daddy. At times I know that they are just words to her. Just what our other girls call us. So we talk about what it means. We talk about her Tummy Mummy, her Foster Mummy, her Mummy.

But at times, I see it. The understanding that she knows we are her Mummy and Daddy. That we love her and will always take care of her. That we will keep her safe. That we are her family.

It will take time, years, for her to fully understand and make sense of her story. And we will walk that journey with her.

At this point in time, we are talking with her. We are looking at her scrapbook. We are answering the questions as they arise. Alongside that we are fighting to get her some support. To help her make sense of what those names mean. To help her to understand how her past has shaped her identity. We are nagging. And emailing. And chasing. She should have had this support for the last sixteen months that she has been part of our Six Family. She should have had this support over the last four and a half years of her life.

So we call and email and text and call again. And we will get our Little Legs the support and understanding that she needs, in order to help her future. In the context of her understanding and working through her past, the names she calls us aren’t important.

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