For National Adoption Week and World Trauma Day 2023, Jim Clifford and his adopted daughter, Molly (22), compare experiences of their adoptions, 45 years apart and find common threads of sunshine through the dark clouds of fear and trauma.

Jim was adopted as an infant in the early 60’s.  As an adult, he and his wife, Sue, adopted nine children between 1990 and 2008, and one extra moved in and stayed, too old to adopt, making up the ten that they now count as their family.  Molly, their youngest, arrived at nearly eight years old.  It was her third attempted adoptive placement. She’d had many broken foster placements prior to that, having come from a birth family experience of extreme violence, danger, neglect and abuse.

Trauma can profoundly affect one’s mental and emotional well-being, leading to physical symptoms and strain on interpersonal relationships. When trauma remains unresolved, it can express itself through intense emotions, negative thought patterns, challenges in recalling past incidents, diminished self-worth, and paralysing fear.

World Trauma Day 2023 encourages people to come together and share their stories, just like Jim and Molly have done here. This focus aligns seamlessly with National Adoption Week 2023’s theme of individuality and relationships, highlighting the deep connection between the shared and the unique experience adoptees contribute to fostering understanding, connection and healing.

These are also flagged as key topics in Sonnet’s 2022/3 work on the impact of adoption, and are explored further in Jim and Molly’s conversation below:

Molly: I get that I couldn’t stay with a birth family caught up in drug use and dealing, in knife and gun crime, with the violence spilling over into the home…and then there was the abuse and neglect.  Social Services had to take me into care, but what about you, Dad ?
Jim: Sometimes it may not be safe for the child to stay in the birth family.  The other reason is if it’s not possible for the birth family to care for the child, and that is likely to be permanent.  I was in that situation – indeed in the early 60’s it was very hard for any single mum to keep their child…but that’s another story.
Molly: I never met your Mum and Dad – they’d both died before you adopted me.  What was your childhood like ?
Jim: Mum and Dad were loving and hugely committed to my brother and me.  They followed a similar approach to parenting as the Playfulness – Acceptance – Curiosity – Empathy (PACE) one that we followed with you.  I was remote and emotionally shut down when I arrived but they gradually helped me to open up.

Then, when I was 6, my adopted dad died.  We were left with few savings, little income, and no house.  The Adoption Agency offered to take my brother and me back into care.

Mum said no – she’d made a promise to us and was committed to the utmost.

Molly: That sounds bad – and must have been really tough on your Mum.
Jim: Yes – Mum was grieving, but had to take care of two young children who’d lost another parent on top of the separation trauma and other experiences from birth.  I was in a state, and it took Mum many years of effort – and heartache – to bring me round.
Molly: I gave you and Mum loads of heartache, didn’t I ?  I used to lash out at you, try to hurt myself, and do so many dangerous things.  You must have been so worried, so often.  Do you remember when I climbed out of the car window on the motorway, or when I used to get nightmares and climb out of the house at night and run away ?
Jim: Yes – but that wasn’t you, that was the fear and trauma – and the flashbacks – driving your reactions.  We used to sleep in shifts to listen out for you so we could help you as you needed us.  The toughest bit was sharing – feeling – your trauma, and carrying it with you.   Looking back there were funny moments too – many of them.  We helped you to experience the toddler’s messy play you’d missed when you were tiny – water, sand….
Molly: {smiling}….and bubbles…you bought a bubble machine.
Jim: ….and you found out that bubble mixture poured into the back of the TV isn’t a great idea….
Molly: …mmm….it blew bubbles for a short time….and then stopped, and we needed a new TV.
Jim: We’ve certainly had some fun in that ‘Playfulness’ bit of the PACE approach.  It’s also been about Acceptance – accepting your feelings and that your behaviours told us how you were feeling.  The Curiosity involved sharing your view of the world, and trying to show you ours – kinder, softer, less frightening – and the Empathy involved understanding and caring for you when you were hurting.
Molly: It took eleven years after I came to you and Mum for me to realise I could trust you.  I saw that others in my life had let me down but here were two people – you and Mum – that had always been there, loving me whatever happened and whatever I threw at them.  It has always been about your love, your patience, your understanding, your commitment – you often talk about the promise you made to us all – and putting your own needs aside, or at least mine above yours.
Jim: Just as I was reached and turned around by my Mum’s and Dad’s care, so you’ve really built it from there, haven’t you ?  I love spending time with you, and you can always make me smile.
Molly: You have enabled me to see I can afford to love – to be kind and gentle rather than angry and frightened – knowing that I am truly loved.

All that time when I was hurting and couldn’t trust the Real Me was hidden.  I was angry, and focused on attacking first before others attacked me…because that’s what I’d learned in my early life.

The real me loves animals and the countryside, is very concerned about global warming, and the needs of people who are homeless or refugees.  The real me wants to protect and care for others, wants to give where it’s needed, and wants to help people, and be close to people who love me.  The real me is excited about history, about how other people live, about travel, about social concerns and politics.  I have been able to discover so much that feeds that excitement since I started to trust and to listen to you and Mum.

Jim: I have loved seeing the real you emerging and becoming such a force for good.  I so enjoy sharing my excitement about knowledge with you, just as my Mum and Dad did with me.  I was so inspired by them, and can see so much of my experience in what I’ve done since.
Molly: You and Mum, and my experiences with you have affected me in so many ways.  I know now that I can make a difference, and really am coming to like the real me.

I’d say to anyone thinking about adoption – it’s definitely not easy, and the commitment is big – but you can make such a difference.

Jim: Yes – the rewards are massive, not least building a deep and lasting relationship and seeing a young person’s individuality blossom.
Molly: That relationship with you and Mum is so precious.  I know that adoptive relationships can be as deep, fulfilling, valuable and meaningful as any parent-child relationship.


Jim and Molly Clifford, Dad and Daughter

We feel this blog is a contribution to creating a compassionate space where narratives are acknowledged and validated and feelings of isolation are diminished.  We hope it helps promote the coming together of individuals to share their experiences, fostering understanding, connection, and healing.

Published On: October 17th, 2023Categories: BlogBy

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