May 19, 2010

Adoption and Issues with the kids

Recently a family that I know of, who brought home their little girl at the same time we brought ours home, has had to disrupt their adoption. Their little girl is six, like our two girls currently are (MayMay's birthday was last week, and Bella's will be at the end of july. They are about as close together in age as two siblings can be.)

It has been breaking my heart. It has been making me anxious, wondering why the heck we ended up with such whole, unhurt children? Am I blind? Am I not seeing things I should be worried about? It has really added some stress to the last two days for me. I'm in a state of mourning when I don't need to be.

I've been searching myself and wondering why I have such a hard time accepting good things that come to me. When I married Skywalker, I felt like it was too good to be true, that I ended up with such a handsome, intelligent, funny, alternative, kind, mild-tempered, distinguished, friendly, loving person. How could this be? Surely something more was in store for me... for instance, I was sure he was going to get washed away on our honeymoon. So I asked him not to go swimming at the (admittedly rather dangerous) beach we visited, but instead stay and wade with me and be safe. I used to worry every time he left the house that he wasn't coming home again. I used to worry I'd find out something that threw him in a whole new, less-perfect light.

It hasn't happened.

It never will.

And it doesn't do me or my husband or my kids any good to be worrying that I'm being naive simply because there's nothing wrong.

OK, I've been hurt. There is that.

This last couple of years have been so healing for me. I never doubt Skywalker anymore. I just revel in the fact that he is so awesome and he's my husband, and I do my best to live my life worthy of him. I try to think of what might make him happy and do those things because he is that way with me.

With these kids, I need to do the same thing. Revel in their amazingness. they have come through SO MUCH (and I mean, not just starvation and sickness, losing their family, but some abuse, too.) My kids open up to me sometimes about Ethiopia and I'm amazed that the beautiful, simple life they lead there, and also horrified at what they've had to deal with. And they're OK.

Having said that, I don't think it's fair to me and my worrying mind not to admit it hasn't been hard, and there haven't been issues. It's also not fair to prospective adoptive families not to let them know there may be hard times, but your kids can still be OK and your family can get through it. I want to make a list here of the things our family has overcome in this, for this purpose. Because I AM being overly rosy and naive and inducing other potential adoptive families to be that way, too, if I sugar coat our own experience.

What we have dealt with:

1) Rejection of Skywalker. This has been the most gut-wrenching part of the whole thing for me, but it's almost gone. I still see one of my little girls get frightened once in a while around him, but I realize now there are reasons for that and she loves him sooo much and those moments disturb her just as much as me, when she feels them.

2) Entitlement. Crying, anger, almost deep mourning every time I say no to something they want. I've had to be kind of iron-fisted about this (not literaly, I do not punch my kids, of course) and say, if you whine you get to spend time away from us. Whining is too hard for me to listen to. This is also gut-wrenching in a way, because they come from a situation of having had so little, and I can give them so much. But you can't say yes all the time, not if you want to raise children that are going to be happy, functional adults. And not entitled spoiled brats (which does happen... it's easy to do. I could so easily see myself doing this with my adopted kids especially, it would be so much easier.) For a window into some of the dangers of giving kids everything in an adoption situation, read the article at this link.

3) Clingyness and "fake" crying, manipulation with smiles and overly dramatic sadness. This is actually a sign of attachment disorder, the shallow interaction/attempt to manipulate, and it's not fun to be on the receiving end when you're the parent and you see enough to know it's fake. One of my kids in particular does this. It's a survival tactic they learned when they were in situations where their needs weren't provided for unless they got more attention than the kids around them. This has subsided quite a bit over the months, except when my little girl gets in a stressful situation. But I've learned, when the giggles and big smiles and wiggly flirtatious "peek-a-boo-with-strangers" starts happening, that what she needs, is for me to pull her onto my lap and give her a big hug, keeping her close to my body, then maybe turn her toward me and help her feel secure for a moment or two, then redirect her. Sometimes she'll cling to me for a little bit. Mostly she can handle things now with redirection. The tough thing about this challenge is it makes it hard to take the kid seriously, and to enjoy the moments when she truly is being cute, and not manipulative. It engenders feelings of resentment... makes me, at least, want to shove the kid out of my lap and tell them to go away. But you can't do that... that's not what they need. And eventually, things get better. I'm being very, very honest here. Please don't judge me--these are all feelings, not actions (most of the time, at least.)

4) Hoarding and intense jealousy over "stuff." One of my girls feels a need to collect boxes, bags, containers of all types, and gather "stuff" she likes and keep it there. Over christmas this changed to "giving presents." She'd gather her stuff and make neat little packages out of paper and ribbons or rubberbands or string, and hand it to you... you'd open them and out would come a shower of buttons, papers with little drawings, hole-punch confetti, used up stickers etc. This is something that I have just watched. It hasn't interfered, in our case, with anything or made life difficult... so I'm just letting my girl heal as fast as she feels able. The jealousy thing, I've had to just discourage the whining and taking. When we first came home, she'd snatch stuff that wasn't hers and hoard it... I gave her consequences for this and made sure she understood that I didn't mind that she wanted stuff, and that she kept it with her in containers, it just couldn't be other peoples' stuff. And when someone else got something she didn't get and she got mad, I'd remind her of a time she got something others didn't, and tell her that whining wasn't making me want to give her anything. Sounds harsh. I probably need to find a better technique, or maybe eventually even figure out a therapy situation for this, as this is the only thing that continues pretty strongly out of all the discouraging behaviors we've had to deal with. It has also gotten better, though.

5) Strangers. My girls have learned to talk to strangers, because they lived their life among strangers for several months. I don't think it's attachment-disorder level socializing, as they stay close to me and don't go snuggle on laps or anything. But I have had to teach them about strangers vs family. I still have a problem anytime a new person comes into our home, though. SOmething about them being here, in our home, makes my girls think they're just as safe as any family. ANd we need to work on that... but then my biological kids do this, too. Especially if it's a boy that my sister-in-law brings over... which is a tad worrysome.

6) When they first came over, the kids did act out in small acts of violence on the other kids when they were upset or threatened. I gave (admittedly severe) consequences for this from day one. I'd put them in the room for about 30 minutes. They'd tantrum and throw stuff around in the room. One kid wrecked a set of drawers. But I can handle broken drawers, they mean nothing in the eternal scheme of things. Pretty soon my kids could recite this mantra. "no hitting. no biting. no pinching. no pushing. no kicking. no screaming in anybody's ear." And the problem tapered off pretty quickly.

So... I want to say this: my kids are AMAZING adopted kids. They are so good, and our issues have been so minimal. These things are all things that normal kids would do if they went through what our kids have. And they have recovered so quickly it's amazing... at 9 months post, we feel like things work out really well, our family is a family, and my bio kids provide just as much parental angst as the adopted kids do. It has evened out. We're a functioning, working unit... that is the goal of adoption.

Don't expect that your experience will be to turn poor impoverished orphans into little angels. Have you ever met any kids that were little angels all the time?

Don't expect to bring home kids who are going to be soooooo grateful for you and what they have now that they won't act like kids who've been uprooted and destabalized.

Adoption is hard work, and there's no getting around it. If you plan to adopt, expect the hard work. Expect to be enraged at times, disturbed at times, in a state of intense mourning at times, expect to be dazzled at times, touched at times, so full of love you could almost burst at times. Expect to be overwhelmed but also overwhelmed with love.

Anyway, that's my mental spew... do with it what you can. :)


Allison said...

All so true, and I can identify with all of what you have written. Adoption is hard and good and scary and amazing.

I am riding out the pain with my daughter, and at the same time, I'm seeing what a wonderful, loving, smart, funny, excellent person she is. And I can take NO credit for any of that...she came that way.

What a blessing to be able to do what we're doing.

Busy as a Bee in Paris said...

wow! that was awesome sara! thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the truth - sometimes it's easier (for people in general) to share only the roses of life, and while it's also easier to listen to, it can set up a facade that leads to disappointment. I'd rather know the truth - that roses have exquisite fragrances, deep vibrant colors, & also sharp thorns worth being cautious of when handling.

You send a great message of patience & rejoicing for growth & healing for you & your family. While I've not experienced adoption, I can still relate with your emotions of struggle & progress.

Kate DW said...

Thanks for sharing the truth - sometimes it's easier (for people in general) to share only the roses of life, and while it's also easier to listen to, it can set up a facade that leads to disappointment. I'd rather know the truth - that roses have exquisite fragrances, deep vibrant colors, & also sharp thorns worth being cautious of when handling.

You send a great message of patience & rejoicing for growth & healing for you & your family. While I've not experienced adoption, I can still relate with your emotions of struggle & progress.

Margaret said...

Have I mentioned lately that I like you? A lot?

Thank you for the honesty, about your family and about your own reactions and feelings. I've been learning about honesty with myself, and it's a hard thing to do sometimes, and good to have models of people who are that way.

Amyjo said...

Thanks so much for the insight into adoption.
As an outsider, this has brought up some things that D and I had not yet considered..

Putz said...

hi ther allison, i forgot you are going through the same things as our nosurfsahra

Putz said...

hi allison