This book is subtitled “The Small Stuff, The Big Stuff and The Stuff In Between”. Sally Donovan, as you might know, wrote a book about her adoption of two children entitled No Matter What. In this, her follow-up book, she guides adopters and prospective adopters in how to deal with those children once they’re home. Sally and her husband Rob didn’t have much adoption support until several years after they adopted, so Sally wrote this book to tell adopters the things that she didn’t know in the beginning.

TL;DR — If you are a prospective adopter, and don’t read many adoption books, please make this one of the ones that you do read. 9/10.

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This book is mostly application with only limited references to theory. Sally starts out exploring what a parent needs to therapeutically parent. She then moves on to ‘Establishing the Basics’, talking about morning and evening routines, dressing, mealtimes. She strongly suggests that adopted children need so much routine that it can become stifling to an adult who craves change.

The next couple of chapters deal with holidays, weekends, and after-school activities. She addresses social networking and how careful we need to be as adoptive parents. Adopted children are often, even years after placement, emotionally younger than their peers and so must be much more closely supervised than one might expect given their age.

The book moves on now to talk about how difficult it can be to have to repeat the same lessons over and over, dealing with regression, and toilet issues. Then on to anger. This section might be an eye-opener to readers who haven’t been exposed to a lot of training on attachment issues. Sally talks about the anger expressed by her son. She explained how she finally, after years of his anger causing destruction (mostly in his bedroom), learned from a professional how to do a safe hold so that he couldn’t hurt himself or anyone else. This seems a real turning point — once Sally and her husband learned to deal with their son’s anger this way, his anger finally started going away.

The chapter on brothers and sisters was fascinating to me. I hadn’t up to this point read anything specifically dealing with siblings. It’s obvious that the author’s two children weren’t properly assessed as to whether they should be adopted together or separately. I understand from our social worker that now it’s a requirement that children who are to be adopted together be assessed specifically about how they would cope being together.

Life outside the home is the subject of the next chapter. The important point here is that while the parents can to a certain extent control what happens, outside the house it’s not possible to be in control.

Moving on, it’s obvious that Sally is extremely antagonistic toward what’s called Life Story Work. When a child is placed for adoption, they’re given a book that has information about their past. It can have photos of their birth family, their foster families, and possibly pictures of their former homes. In order for the child to process their past, they need to occasionally look at the pictures and read the ‘story’. Many children find this information extremely distressing. Some social workers advise making the books available, but being led by the child about looking at them rather than initiating it yourself.

The penultimate chapter is all about caring for the carer. It’s not possible to therapeutically parent when the parent is not emotionally healthy. There’s a danger that when exposed to their child’s trauma day in, day out, that an adoptive parent can experience secondary trauma. Sally recommends paying attention to one’s emotional and mental health and not letting  the damage and stress build up.

The book wraps up with a mish-mash of ‘Practical Techniques’. There are plenty of helpful nuggets here.

This seems to be a book that could be dipped into as time goes on. We’ll be keeping this one in our library.

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