Tim and Sara’s story
Tim and Sara were in their early forties when they first considered adopting and were eventually approved for a sibling group of three when they were 42 and 43 years old. Josie is now 15 and their twin sons, Dillion and Craig, are one school year below aged 14. Sara spoke to us openly about having three very tall teenagers in the house and the different ways that they all do amazing things: the mud, the fighting, the cooking and the endless need for new shoes for growing feet…
We first considered starting the adoption process after a failed course of IVF with the NHS. We went for some counselling and the lady who saw us said we were too old to adopt and that agencies would not consider people over forty. We came out of there feeling that our lives were over. We did not even dare speak to any other adoption agencies to confirm the details because, at the time, we could not face any more heartbreak, rejection, or negative news.
We started to consider adopting from overseas, thinking they might be more lenient on ages and that is when we spoke to lady from our local authority who said “Don’t be silly, you are never too old to adopt”. We felt like we wasted a year or two, but we eventually got to where we wanted to be. We have our family now, consisting of three great but grumpy teenagers.
We always knew we wanted to adopt siblings because we always felt that single children had no one else to play or fight with. Initially, we thought we would just adopt one at a time, but when we started to think about it, we realised if we adopted siblings they would always have each other, they would not be coming to a strange place on their own, and would always have each other to lean on and turn to.
We didn’t have any real concerns about adopting siblings, but we quickly realised that they never slept, and we would never have any time out or alone again, and they are all still awake, all the time, even now, 13 years later!
When the children were matched with us, Tim and I both had full-time jobs in London. I took the first year off as adoption leave and then took another two years off as a career break. Then we started looking at child care and realised it was so incredibly expensive to pay for three kids that it would not be worth me going back to work. At the same time, we felt the children were particularly needy, especially our daughter Josie, who we felt needed that extra reassurance. She never quite felt as secure as the boys. Josie was very self-sufficient, grown-up for her age, and had learned to look after herself. However, she needed us in other ways.
Preparing for the children to come live with us was really exciting. Josie was two and a half and the boys were twenty months old. It was chaos and has been chaos ever since. The boys have always shared a room and they are competitive about absolutely everything. And they argue, a lot! They argue over their height, their feet size, school, art, chemistry, maths, German, sports. They argue over everything. When the boys were little, if there weren’t arguing, they would be found sharing a chocolate bar. They have always been more of a unit of two. We have always sensed that Josie is a little outside looking in. What we know now but didn’t at the time is that Josie had quite a few more foster carers than the boys and had not always lived with her brothers. Josie only joined her brothers three months before we became a family unit. We think Josie was shocked at suddenly becoming part of a big family. Obviously, we are all older and wiser now, and can all get on a bit better.
In the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 we all agreed that the boys could not be in the same room together when trying to do their schoolwork, so we had one in the bedroom and the other in the dining room. That seemed to work better. Josie just keeps out of the way and gets on with her thing. On their own, they are amazing kids, but as soon as you put them together, there can be a big explosion.
It was quite a while after the children came to live with us, that we got any life story books from the children’s social worker. We knew that their birth mother was too young to look after them and had a lack of parenting skills that meant she had just been unable to look after them and had neglected their needs. We were lucky that there wasn’t any evidence of abuse. So that was the explanation that we would stick with and use whenever they asked. They seemed fairly content with that, until one of the boys aged 3 asked about his birth father. We did not have any information about him and it was horrific helping the children to come to terms with managing that information. To help the children feel more secure with us, we just tried to do more together, as a family. We wanted to constantly reassure them that we were there for them, so we made decisions together and reinforced the family unit constantly wherever and whenever we could, including making sure we always ate our meals together.
Josie was diagnosed with Autism at age 10 and as part of that, she finds it very hard to throw anything away. Josie’s bedroom is very neat and tidy until you look into her wardrobes! They are crammed full of things. She tells me “You can’t throw them away because they are part of my memories”. So what I have done is found clever ways for her to keep old things. Like making cushions covers for her to stuff old clothes into. It helps that since Josie’s diagnosis I have taken the time to learn a lot about Autism. I’ve worked with lots of steering groups and represented parents for various things and become more aware of ways to apply therapeutic parenting strategies.
The boys are so very different from each other. Craig is neat; Dillion is very messy and just drops stuff on the floor. This is problematic because they share a bedroom, and we all just have to get on with it. The boys love anything to do with sport, basketball, table tennis, running or mud. They practice and practice and practice until they are the best. Now they have gone their separate ways Dillion plays rugby and Craig plays football, but they both support each other and are happy to watch and cheer each other on. Craig is serious and sneaky: this year’s birthday card from him said “From your favourite child”. He is clever at working out what he needs to do, to get where he wants to be. And he has the charm to pull the wool over my eyes. Dillon is often in trouble at school and has detention at least once a week, for back-chatting teachers mostly. However, educationally, working at home during lockdown has worked really well for him, because there are fewer distractions and he is doing really well.
Josie is very different, she is not great with friends, she used to beg me to home school her. We specifically choose a secondary school where she could be unknown. During her first year at secondary school, she was picked on and bullied. Her Autism has not helped, because she speaks in a factual way and does not dress things up in a conversation. She is doing all right now and has one good friend. She does not want to get involved with any of the clubs and sports at school but she enjoys Police Cadets and has recently enjoyed a Youth Club for high functioning kids on the Autistic Spectrum, which I’m really pleased we found.
I would say to anyone considering adopting siblings that it is so nice for a family to be kept together. One child could be lonely. You soon get yourself into a routine, and with mine all being at a similar age, they were hungry at the same time, they all had a bath and went to bed at the same time, they even filled their nappies at the same time!
It is hard, but it’s so very rewarding. They each bring so much into our lives. It is lovely when you get to the stage where you can ask them to help out with stuff, like get the plates out for dinner, or lay the table. That’s when they start to realise that they’ve got something important to contribute and feel like this is the place they belong, their family, and their home.