Crossing the class barrier to create a happy family

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Peter and Jo Rado, an academic middle-class couple from Reading, have four adopted children. Jason, now 22 years old, was the second child to join them. He was nine years old and from a poor working-class background. Here, Mrs Rado tells Kate Hilpern about the difficulties of crossing between classes during the adoption process.

"When Jason came to us, all he wanted for dinner was pie and mash in front on the television. He found it very hard that we expected him to sit at the table with a knife and fork and make family conversation. Things like that may be trivial battles for many families but, for us, they highlighted so clearly the difficulties of Jason having to adapt from one class of family to another.

" ... He did not really know where he belonged. Although we made a conscious effort not to try and change his South London accent to sound more like ours, there were times when we picked him up on pronouncing his ts, and I think he was resentful ... In fact, he still feels he has to be a chameleon. Just as he changed his speech and behaviour according to whether he was attending state school and fee-paying school, he admits that even now he speaks more precisely when he is with our extended family. As a result, he does not feel as relaxed as he could do.

"In fact, we took him out of the state- school system because he didn't seem to fit in but he faced the same problems at private school. When you're adopted, feeling that you belong is so important and when you don't have a clear idea of where you fit, this can loom considerably. And being academics meant that both of us could be around in the daytime and so either of us could pick him up from school. Whilst that seems nothing but positive on the surface, it seemed to make him feel that he stood out even more.

"Before Jason joined our family, he had been used to funfairs, loud music and wall- to-wall television. It was a huge shock to him to find that our family interests were museums, visiting National Trust properties and having holidays abroad. He went along with it until he was around 14 and able to vote with his feet - which he certainly did. I can remember endless difficult outings when he was a very unwilling participant. Hobbies can be so class-orientated and we never realised the complications that can cause.

"Then there were the music lessons, which we felt were so important as a result of our love of classical music. We paid for Jason to have cello lessons, because it was clear he had a musical ability which was not being tapped into. But again, it was an activity that was alien to him ... we hoped he would enjoy music, art and reading but he resisted it all. Whilst he can look back in hindsight and wish he had made more of it, it was understandably difficult for him to adjust.

"The last summer Jason spent with his natural family was disastrous for him and he is now grateful that he did not stay with them, despite the fact that he has been in touch with his birth mother recently. And whilst we feel Jason's life has been richer and fuller than it could have been with the problems that his natural family were suffering, we never forgot that was his home at one stage ...

"One thing Jason used to comment on throughout his upbringing was the amount of money we gave to charity. It was as if he felt that money should have been spent on him, now that he was getting used to a more affluent life, and that he was missing out as a result. We buy many clothes from charity shops and he would often be resentful. Now, Jason says he considers himself somewhere in the middle of both types of family. Upper working class is the expression he uses. And despite all the problems and uncertainties he has had to face as a result of cross-class adoption, he does stress that he now feels he has the rare opportunity of having a deeper insight into both worlds ..."