How the judgement of others set me free

I’ve always struggled with Christianity, ever since at 19 when, after confessing “I may be a homosexual” to a kind pastor at a lovely friendly church, he told me that if I prayed hard enough “the power of prayer’s expulsion” would ensure that I no longer felt homosexual urges.

What he didn’t know was that I had spent the previous nine years ‘praying the gay away’ – every single tear-filled night. I was already deeply saturated in self-loathing and so the moment he spoke I knew two things: that if God himself couldn’t help me then I was not going to change, and that organised religion, however kind and well-meaning, was not interested in who I was, but only in who I was not.

Over the years since that conversation, I haven’t changed my mind. Organised religion seems to exist primarily as a framework through which to judge others. It reassures the adulterer, the liar, the fornicator, the thief, the misogynist, the bully, the hypocrite and the ‘faithful’ that they are saved because they attend a members-only club, one that legitimises judgement, hypocrisy and hate through the medium of a rule book written thousands of years ago by men, for men. Just watch the crowd in the video at the bottom of this post to see what I mean. Bigotry, hate and spite hiding fear behind the Bible.

I know there is much good in the Bible, and that there are good Christians, and I have always believed that Jesus was a radical liberal, a man who judged only those who judged, and who welcomed the outcasts, the poor, the sick and the ‘freaks’ of his time. He knew that what matters is what is in your heart, not what words were in your mouth. He understood that only love without judgement is true love, and that love with judgement can never truly be love.

However, I am profoundly grateful for being judged. It is the judgement of others that has forced me to expand my universe, to use my own experience of being condemned to look beyond what someone wears, how they speak, who they love, their skin colour or their gender – and to try to see who they are underneath all that. I try hard to judge a person only on what is in their hearts and on their actions (believing them to be interdependent). Not based on what they believe, which book they read or which group they belong to.

And now it is the ‘unjudged’ I feel sorriest for, because being judged has truly liberated me. The world is more colourful, and more deeply textured than I could ever have imaged at 19, and I’d like to thank that pastor for his words thirty-three years ago. They set me free, but not in the way he could have hoped or imagined.


Corinthians 13 New International Version (NIV)

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Video: The Prancing Elites 





Anonymous – Meeting the siblings (and facing our fears)

This blog comes from an anonymous blogger. It will become clear why they felt unable to post under their own identity.

I need to get this out of my system, but I am doing it anonymously, as there are so many risks involved with sharing this, but so much information that may help others in the community, I have asked some bloggers to host it for me, so apologies if it leaves you feeling it comes from nowhere.

We have been a family brought together by adoption for over 10 years. There are a few of us in the family, however, it always struck me that given we read our children’s CPRs and all the other information we receive, if we are lucky enough to receive it all, there are extended family who naturally become our family.

My children’s siblings are always a part of my life, they are family too.

Over the weekend we were lucky enough, after three years of trying, to meet the now adult siblings of our children. A surprise message out of the blue 3 years ago instigated this meeting. It has taken us all this length of time to be able to feel able to do it. Our children were not involved. You may think that cruel, but right now they are not ready for it, and they may never be.

We met in a train station coffee shop – we felt that it needed to be somewhere that we could all feel as comfortable as possible in – as we all knew that the anxiety for us all would be immense.

I hugged sister – I was not sure how it would go, but she hugged me back. I got emotional but kept it together.

We bought coffees and we began to chat. There were no awkward moments…. It flowed.

Our first lesson: We knew all about them…. They knew nothing about us – NOTHING. They lived for the first few years not knowing what had happened to their siblings. No one had told them they had been placed for adoption. Youngest was removed from a holiday he was on – and that was the last she saw of him.

Our second lesson: Appreciation that they had been adopted. Despite the first few years of their not knowing, they have learnt enough about our children to know that they have been well looked after, and cared for, attempting to repair the damage that they have all experienced. They acknowledged that the trauma will have been more intense for our children as they had differing placements and the worst experience of our care system you can imagine.

Our third lesson: If only we knew then what we knew now… Yes, contact is a scary thing…. And it would have needed careful planning, facilitating and reviewing… but had I known that these siblings sat not knowing, not knowing where they were, who they were with, were we monsters, were we cruel, did we love them – that could have been easily remedied.

Their first lesson: Their siblings have been loved and cared for… to see the relief on their faces was worth every single minute of over ten years.

Their second lesson: Their siblings have very similar issues with attachment, trust, anger to them.

Their third lesson: Never assume adoption is always a bad thing. Family and friends had been rather critical of adoption….. as you would expect, and that was the siblings impression as a result. They see the difference it has made.

I did cry… I felt so patronising and insulting to these two brave souls in front of me, who had been through just as much in their childhood as my children – and I was the one crying. To be told that they are grateful that their siblings have such fantastic parents blew me away. I sniffed, sister held my hand, and I gave myself a good talking to – this was not about me.

We spent three hours together, and we have so much in common. We will meet them again, and that was a mutual decision by us all. We feel they are more a part of our family now than ever.

Their decision to share what their message will be when they do all eventually meet was upsetting, and I leave you with some of it:

“If you are expecting to meet our parents and for them to be the parents you hope for, then don’t – you will be very very disappointed.”

Thank you for reading.


Why I hate adoption (and my very mixed feelings on National Adoption Week).

Caution: This is a wild offensive rant that solve no problems, probably offends everyone whilst being simultaneously a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. It is not my intention to offend (well not overly) but sometimes that niggling voice in my head just needs to be heard.

Every year many of us ‘adoption bloggers’ pop out blogs on what we think about National Adoption Week and so here’s this year’s contribution from me.

First of all, I think it’s important to say that I hate adoption. When at my bleakest I know I hate everything about it. Obviously, like most ‘thinking people’, I hate the need for it <cue sad but resigned face>. But it’s more than that. I hate the fact that there’s a voice in my head that says “This model cannot be right”.  I hate the fact that I feel like a willing conspirator in a system that we know tackles the symptom and not the cause, and that by supporting adoption in and of itself I am arguably reducing the pressure that forces social change.

I hate a model that demonises and penalises those whom society has broken. I feel uncomfortable when I see fellow adopters focus on their joy at having children, whilst seeming sometimes to avert their eyes from the cause and the cost of their joy “Of course I would rather it hadn’t happened, but as it did…”.

I feel uncomfortable when I see those who say they are ‘adoption advocates’. Really?? How can you be? It’s horrible. How can you advocate for adoption without campaigning against the causes of adoption? Please do both. And if you do, bravo, because you are a better person than me: just firing at the players from the sidelines and doing neither.

You’ve no idea how many times my mind plays with the idea of burning the whole thing down. It’s the voice in my head that says “Let’s call a national adopters strike and deliberately put off all prospective adopters”. In my mind it’s simple: you want better adoption support? Refuse to adopt until you get it. If you think adoption is the wrong answer to one of the most important questions we face as a society then let the whole system collapse and then let’s see whether there is a better way forward. Yes, I know that it isn’t an option in the sense that those we seek to protect could suffer most, but I cannot believe I am alone in thinking this. I sometimes struggle to understand what other leverage we have to change a broken system.

I hate the fact that every £ invested in the ASF should have been spent ten years ago in helping the mother of my son come to terms with some of the brutal childhood experiences that made her the grossly neglectful Mother she tragically became. Just like her mother before her. And her mother before her.

I’m not a naïve utopian (well, obviously I am) but I’d rather start with what should be and compromise from that starting position than seeking to fine-tune a flawed model. It’s why I read The Guardian and my Father read the Telegraph. He believed his worldview started pragmatically, mine ideally.  I am entirely comfortable with that.

That said, I am both a Guardian reading lefty adoptive Dad and a businessman, and I realised this week that there’s an absolute connection between these two roles and National Adoption Week. In particular, it struck me that National Adoption Week reminded me of one of my favourite business tales. It’s a tale that demonstrates what can happen when you confuse the ends with the means. It’s the story of why so many American railway companies went bust in the mid-20th century.  They went bust because they had wrongly told themselves they were in the business of running railroads. They went bust because they failed to remember their job was not to run railroads but to get people and goods from Point A to Point B. And so, inevitably, because they confused the means (trains) with the end (transport) the newly formed airlines ate their lunch. If they had focused on the end they may well have started airlines themselves.

National Adoption Week risks championing the means over the end – which is not adoption but permanence, preferably within the family of birth, in a safe environment where families have access to all of the resources they need to thrive and the benign family-centred monitoring required to ensure the safety of the child.

The role of National Adoption Week should be to bring about its own elimination. Each National Adoption Week we should do as The Open Nest did this week at their conference The Myths & Monsters of Child Protection and talk about what we can do to prevent its need. We should campaign to help birth families break the cycle of violence, abuse, neglect and poverty, we should campaign to get families the help they need, and against the demonization of the poor and against injustices within the child protection system. We should march against those welfare cuts that impact children, for an effective CAMHs and high-quality non-judgemental support for families who struggle under the weight of what is stacked against them. We should campaign against ourselves and against the myth of “breaking the cycle” – as if adoption was somehow a ‘tough love’ solution that opens the eyes of the underclasses to an alternative possibility. It doesn’t, they aren’t and it isn’t.

Of course I know deep down that for some children adoption may well be the best outcome, and I know that some birth parents cannot or will not be ‘saved’ by liberal do-gooders like me, I know that solutions may be generations in the making, but we should never forget that is a truly terrible question to which adoption is the only good answer,  and we should campaign as steadfastly for its elimination as for its promotion.

The Adoption Promise

I’ve tweeted about this before and got a good response but it’s been such a powerful tool for us I thought I’d expand on it a little…

Our fabulous little man has been processing. In this case he’s been processing what adoption means. He’s been doing this by becoming an endless series of characters for himself that need adopting. “Fluffy kitten/ Robot/ Stick insect/ Pinky Pie needs adopting. He doesn’t have a family, will you adopt him?”.

Part of this has been driven by the (now to me) hateful Lego Batman Movie (shakes fist in air “Curse you Lego”) and it’s fucked-up adoption narrative, but part of this is just the general curiosity you’d expect. If Lego provoked it then I guess I’ll settle for calling it a silver lining.

This had been going on for quite a few weeks, and we’d been responding in broadly therapeutic terms with a standard script but we saw the opportunity to use this vehicle to formalise his understanding of what adoption meant, and the importance and irreversibility of it, by creating an adoption ‘contract for him.

We called it The Adoption Promise because a promise is something children more intuitively understand and I wrote it up, printed multiple blanks, and each time a new foundling comes along – whether human (rare), animal or mechanical (there are a lot of orphan robots out there) we have read it out to each other (Dad, do we promise…) or to him (Robot, I promise to you) and then signed it and handed it over to him for his ‘signature’.

Why am I sharing this? Not to boast, but because it has become a surprisingly powerful tool – at least for someone of his age and with his understanding of his situation.

  • It has completely neutralised adoption as being an awkward topic for us – it has become something warm and affirming (for now of course)
  • It has become something that in the family we now know off by heart. I read it to him and he will mumble along to my words – he knows what the adoption promise means
  • I get to read our promise to him whilst looking in his eyes. It is surprisingly intimate and he can see our seriousness. He loves it.
  • We have framed it in relation to the (early) concept of ‘the law’ and how once it’s signed it is unbreakable “No matter what”. 

What has been most interesting is the way that these arms-length identities and his own self are starting to converge (“It’s XXXX the Kitten” or “It’s robot XXXX in disguise”) and we take that as being a very positive sign. He now feels safe enough for us to make the adoption promise to him directly (or nearly him).

We are framing the adoption promise and putting it on his bedroom wall with all three signatures and whilst I am sure it’ll get thrown across the room in his teens for now we’ll embrace this success in making lemonade from lemons  – and hope that our experience could be useful for others.


They fuck you up…

My mother had a terrible childhood. Abandoned at a few weeks old to the nuns of a London convent, then reunited months later only to be placed on a train two years later to her Father now living 300 miles away, this following the (even now) memorable death of her sister in the bed beside her and, presumably, the final loss of any normal functioning her Mother had once been capable of.

Armed only with a Paddington-style label around her neck she was met at Kings Cross by a feckless Father who had received only two hours-notice of her arrival, only soon to be packed-off at the outbreak of the war, and dispatched to rural foster-care. Eight years later, following a cruel no-notice removal desired by neither party, she spent the rest of her brief childhood in a series of children’s homes and foster homes, punctuated only by the death of her beloved Foster Mother.

The final days of her childhood were spent back in sporadic touch with her Mother, by then remarried, but with the heart-breaking instructions that she was not to disclose her real relationship with her Mother “You must tell him you are a daughter of a dead friend”. And, just in case she had not been sufficiently rejected, her Father emigrated to New Zealand.

It’s no surprise therefore that my Mother has issues. At 82 many of these have blurred into the general eccentricities that constitutes ‘a character’, but it seems unlikely that the root of these do not lie in her childhood. For reasons of her longevity it is sometimes difficult to see these as the classical patterns of attachment that are so raw and exposed in youth – but over time they have formed the grooves of behaviour that her personality now travels in.

Two of these are those two core beliefs of the attachment disordered that there is not enough love to go around, that, and low self-esteem masking as it’s belligerent opposite. She can be overly-sensitive, insecure and jealous. Her relationship with my Father had a traditional husband wife dynamic, but also the subtle neediness of someone for whom abandonment and rejection were real, and primal, possibilities.

Another marker, less of attachment, but of the trauma of her childhood is my Mother’s fear of her own relationship with her daughter. My sister has been the unwitting casualty of years of being parented by a woman who was so terrified of repeating the sins of her mother, and so absent of a maternal role model to relax into this always difficult dynamic, that in retrospect it seemed doomed from the start. Add to that the cruelty of my Father’s clumsy and damaging affair just when my sister was passing through her vulnerable teenage years, and the inevitable impact of his behaviour on an attachment-damaged wife, and the die was cast. On the rare occasions nowadays that they are together they each resemble not so much their real characters but their respective anti-selves of Jung.

I, on the other hand, have arguably benefited from my mother’s trauma – a boy, always the favourite, always an unthreatening dynamic and always a port in the storm that is my sister and her. For me, our relationship, has largely resembled a normal one – except that it has also cost me my relationship with my sister. We all pay.

Where am I going with this? My Mother had no chance: untreated and ignorant of the damage inflicted on her, she approached her own relationships through the prism of her damaged childhood without the correction of self-awareness. How could she not? These were different times. Indeed, the science of epigenetics looks likely to lead to the conclusion that the transfer of an echo of her trauma was unavoidable, and my sister had no chance of avoiding the collateral damage of that story. That is a possibility for my son, because of his own Mother’s tragic childhood, that sends shivers down my spine.

Trauma is the cruellest of masters, and attachment disorder is the anchor of too many damaged lives. This is why we do what we do, not a personal crusade to avenge my Mother, but seeing in my own family that cruel or neglectful parenting does not just impact on the parented, if unaddressed or acknowledged, it ripples out from them over their own lifetime capsizing the lives of so many others in its wake.

As Larkin says:

Man hands on misery to man/ It deepens like a coastal shelfGet out as early as you can/ And don’t have any kids yourself.

It’s good advice, and deep down we know the truth of it, but we took the opposite view. Our child was already had, so if our legacy is that our son is just a liitle less fucked-up than his Mum and Dad, and my own Mother, then perhaps we will have made the world just that little bit better.