Sally has asked to post this here, away from her blog.
When you become a parent, there are a thousand people just waiting to tell you all the things you have to do. You have to buy this sort of car seat, and that sort of toy. You have to feed using this method, and get them sleeping through by that age. As they grow, you must nurture this talent and that skill, or go to these activities.
I’ve always been deeply suspicious of these people, who mostly just want parents to feel paranoid, so they’ll part with more cash.
When I was younger, I was in foster care for several years, before being adopted. In the family that adopted me, there was another little boy who had already been adopted – from a different family to my own.
There were four of us, growing up, and we all played together. We took picnics together and went to cubs. We walked to church, and school, and played football and rode our bikes. Our parents, as far as I can tell, treated us all exactly the same.
But my middle brother was always just that bit different.
While the rest of us were fairly law-abiding, my brother had a recklessness and a habit of breaking the rules. He scorned us as ‘boring’ and sought out friends who took risks and broke the rules. Life on the straight and narrow never really appealed, for whatever reason, and over the years he drifted away from our family, telling us he felt more comfortable with other people, other places.
My brother was found dead over the weekend, alone, in his flat. He was 41 years of age.
It’s too early to know how or why he died. It is a pretty shocking end to anyone’s life – but while I’m deeply sorry for him, I can’t say I’m surprised. His life was always headed to a foregone conclusion.
I once asked my Mum why she thought our brother turned out so differently to the rest of us, and her explanation was that in those months when he was living with his birth family, he wasn’t nurtured.
She told me that when I arrived in her care, at 18 months of age, I’d already been moved between a number of care placements. But I’d arrived with a list of my favourite things to eat and drink, and letters telling my new foster carers all about me – it was obvious the people who cared for me before had really CARED about me, and wanted me to be happy.
In contrast, when my brother landed in care, he refused to be hugged. My Mum looked after loads of foster kids over the years and she says my brother was the only child she ever knew who stood rigid while being hugged – he never relaxed into the embrace. Because he’d never been loved. He’d experienced serious neglect and harm in those early months, and he was so, so damaged by that.
So I guess the long and the short of it is that designer Moses baskets and singing classes and breastfeeding are all great. They’re all beneficial and fun and good, good things. But as Nat King Cole used to say: First of all, let there be love. Because without that, there’s really no way children will get a happy ending.