In this story, a tiny, blue bird feels different to her yellow sisters. Her singing is not the same as theirs. She wonders what her special song might be & her mother encourages her to set out to find it. She travels far, seeking advice from a crane, an owl, a mean-looking crow, and other birds. It is only when she comes home again & her mother is there, ready to hear of all her adventures, that the little songbird finally discovers her true voice. Here is a tale both of self-discovery, & of how a caring parent can help us to feel truly seen & heard.
Issues of identity & belonging can be confusing for fostered & adopted children. Many who come to family therapy are trying hard to make better sense of their life history, who they are & where they fit in. They can carry a sense of being bad, or ‘other’. These challenges can be heightened in adolescence, when the developmental task of separating from family & moving more towards friendship groups kicks in. If a child has experienced trauma & loss in the past & struggled to make secure attachments, then venturing out on a journey of self-discovery can be fraught with difficulties.
Understandably, parents & carers worry greatly when their vulnerable child starts to seek more independence, especially if they are impulsive, have poor problem solving, or limited social skills & may place themselves at risk. It can be very hard to accept their child cannot be completely protected from the dangers and challenges ahead. In family therapy, parents can be given time to reflect on this. To explore how to provide ‘good enough’ parenting & what being a ‘safe base’ for their child to come home to can look like.
We know that children are most likely to make good use of us as their safe base, if they have confidence that we listen & give them our time. Practice talking with them about the small stuff, & it’s easier for them to talk to us about the big stuff later. Communicating acceptance for their thoughts & feelings, helps children feel that we ‘get it’. They are more likely then, to join with us in making sense of their experiences. They may also be more receptive to us helping them with problem solving & decision making. We may not always be able to prevent them hurting, but we can give them confidence we are always there to help them recover.
The tiny songbird looks very vulnerable as she flies off to find her own voice. It must take courage for her mother to let her go. Courage to accept that her child is an exploring, inquisitive, challenging individual & that part of any parent’s role is to facilitate this exploration with love & bear witness to it.
I believe beautiful picture books like The Blue Songbird have appeal for little ones & older ones, too. There’s a simple message that there’s no place like home. & there is a gentle celebration of acceptance & love, & how it can help a child moving towards independence find a sense of identity & belonging in the world.