Strong black tea for me this visit to Blogville!
I have learned so much in these last few weeks! In my career I used a term I referred to as, “Sudden Onset Parenting” (S.O.P) for adoptive parents and kinship caregivers. I would usually be explaining that typically there are no nine-month preparation time frames involved in adoption or kinship. One day you are living your life like you do every other normal day and then suddenly, a child needs you! Sudden Onset Parenting! Ready. Set. GO! Rearranging rooms, washing sheets, finding or buying car seats, booster seats, high chairs, cribs, twin or bunk bed frames . . .
I had the privilege of joining in on an adoption support group meeting the other evening ( I advise you to join one of these support groups, they are amazing) and the subject of short notice for being selected for a child came up. One person talked about how they got a call on Friday for a baby to arrive on Monday! That started a chat about becoming parents or primary caregivers with very short notice. Sudden Onset Parenting!
Typically, S.O.P. children or youth do not arrive into families as newborns though sometimes that happens. Usually, they come to you with some experience. You know those beautiful You-Tube videos about soothing newborns or infants? Well, there are no videos on You-Tube about calming and supporting a four-year-old who is suddenly and unexpectedly living at grandma’s house. There are no videos that prepare adoptive parents for what happens when the pre-placement period ends and the infant keeps crying unconsolably, or the toddler/preschooler refusing to eat while crying for their previous caregiver, or the child or youth tells you where to go when you suggest they might want to unpack some of their stuff and put it away. Nope, there are no videos to empower you and reassure you that you know what you are doing, that what you are doing is right, or even acknowledging that you can only do the best you can. There are some resources out there but who has time to search? Your worker can offer support but usually not when its often needed, like at 1 a.m., 3 a.m. when no amount of soothing is working; or at 7:00 a.m. when all you have are “The Worst Cereals EVER!” in your cupboard.
There are no videos for grandparents who clearly have “never raised children in their lives” and are “so LAST YEAR!” or maybe, “LAST DECADE” even. “Make sure you are in the house before dark” is replaced with, “turn off your screens” or “I don’t care if you saw it on Tik Tok, you are NOT trying that!” There are no videos for kinship caregivers about how to . . . “do, don’t do, allow, don’t allow, cook it too long, don’t cook it long enough, turn up the heat too high, keep the room freezing, don’t read the story right like mom does, or don’t sing that song the way dad does.”
Remember when you were the favourite aunt, uncle, older sibling, cousin?
Now you are, “THE WORST PERSON EVER!” for the child or youth relative you are suddenly caring for.
I’m 63 years old. Do you know how far down to the floor it is? My grandchildren think it’s easy to reach because they are so much closer to it! I only pick up that race track piece when I’m already down there for my yoga. When I’m standing and I identify a tiny race car as a tripping hazard, I simply kick it under the couch. That dinosaur figurine with its little claws stuck in my slipper, well, now everyone can hear me walking down the hall, so what. Complaints like “but we always have a bubble bath when we come here for sleepovers, and we play in the tub and blow bubbles . . .” are met with my response of “Well sweetie, that was then and this is now, get in the shower and hurry up.” “Oh, and before you go to bed, can you get that tiny race car that slipped under the couch for me?”
Without trying to reveal any of my family’s confidential information I will say that recently I have found myself in a scenario not unlike kinship. Sudden Onset Parenting of two grandchildren under the age of 8. They suddenly moved into our home with one parent who has experienced a physical injury. The other parent works in a different community during the week, commuting on weekends. No problem, right? The kids love sleeping over, right? Maybe on occasion, but apparently not every night indefinitely. Instead, I hear, “I WANT TO GO HOME!”, “I want to sleep in MY BED!”, “I miss my CAT!” “I miss my DOG!” (Just don’t miss the school bus is my thinking.)
COVID hit my external support system first and then, shortly thereafter, it hit directly in my home. Minimum five days of isolation . . . translation? NO SCHOOL for the kiddies and NO LEAVING the house for the rest of us. I seriously panicked at the thought of no TIM HORTON’s Tea for 5 whole days minimum!!!! (But my dear friend Jennifer had my back, even Timbits for the kiddies. THANK YOU!!!)
So, all that to say, I have always had a respect for people experiencing Sudden Onset Parenting (S.O.P.) but now I have an even greater respect because of this personal experience. I see the absolute necessity of reaching out for support through friends (hugs Jennifer), family members (when they are not COVID isolating), and support groups such as Adopt4Life, Cangrands, Adoption Council of Ontario, and many, many more. Just use a search engine and plug in key words like “kinship support”, “adoption support”, “customary care support”, and you might even find a group right in your community! These folks are walking a similar walk and can help carry your backpack when you need them to.
All I know is that when I look into my grandchildren’s little faces, I remind myself that they didn’t ask for this, they would rather go back to the lives they were living before moving in here, that they miss their “normal” as much as I miss mine. I just wrap them in my arms and appreciate that we can be here for each other, like family is supposed to be. WE GOT THIS!
I would love to read your comments/experiences. If you would prefer to share them privately, rather than this public forum, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Deiulis' personal and professional journey sparked a passion to write a book that offers an opportunity for children to learn about how they came to be living together as a family or living with another family.