Tuesday, May 26, 2015

the good, the bad, the ugly

Because adoption is such a unique and fragile time in a child's life, there are times that go unmentioned.  There are dark moments that carry over into days that go unmentioned not because we, as adoptive parents, are ashamed of these hard times, but they are just that.  Hard times.  And we don't like to keep reliving them over and over again especially with people who only see the good and wonderful times.  Adoptive parents are quick to post a happy time, an achievement, and growth with our new child, because we have overcome a hard time with a good time.  Of course, the smallest things are HUGE for us and our child.  "My child just gave me a hug when I asked and she didn't push me away or hit me."  "My child held my finger while crossing the road inside of kicking me."  "My child came running to me when something scared him/her."  All excellent milestones for adopted kids to overcome.

As abundant as the good times seem, I'm here to say there will always be hard times with a child who has experienced such great loss at an early age.  Are our dark times behind us?  No.  Do we continue to experience hard times?  Yes.  Are the hard times becoming fewer as the days go by?  Yes and no.  Will she outgrow the hard times?  No.  She has a lot to process when she grows older and we share her story with her.  How would you react?  How would you cope if you were her?

So what do these hard times look like?  The worst meltdowns and tantrums that one can imagine, and nothing makes it better.  No toy.  No food.  No tv show.  No game.  No story.  Nothing.  In fact the only thing that will help is time.  Time to sort it out.  Time to cry it out.  Time to hit, punch, kick, scratch, slap, yell, scream, push, cry.  And then it starts all over again.  The hell of living through a toddler grieving, feeling alone, and afraid of losing again.  The cry of an adopted child who is grieving is the most horrifying cry that has ever been heard.  There is a difference between the grief cry and a "regular" 2 year old cry.  So does that mean that Paisley still experiences grief crying and hellish tantrums?  Yes.  Who does she hit, slap, kick, scratch?  It's mainly me who receives most of the physical abuse when she is upset, but she also causes physical harm to herself.

Shocking?  It can be for those who aren't educated in the adoption world.  Now you see why we don't talk about the bad times.  They are hard.  When you have a child who is becoming fluent in speaking and understanding English, it is especially hard.  Won't she outgrow these tantrums and learn that she has a great life now?  Maybe, but probably not.  Paisley has a unknown past where she may have experienced abuse and neglect.  The sad part is that she may not ever remember these things happening to her, but she will just know that certain things and situations may trigger a bad memory or past experience.

How do you help her in those dark moments?  First thing is to always be present and never leave her. As hard as it is to listen to that cry and take the physical abuse, it will be 10 times worse to leave her...alone.  Isolation is not the key for adopted kids.  They have been alone their entire lives.  Feeling isolated only fuels bad behavior and does not help resolve the reason for their crying.  Second, we try to focus her abuse towards something else such as a pillow, the couch, a chair, a stuffed animal.  If she is going to hit, we want her to learn to not hit people or animals, but to hit other things if that helps her.  She is 2 so what physical damage will she do to a pillow that she hits?  None.  She is aware that she does not need to hit people or animals and has even repeated me when I tell her that.  However, in the heat of the moment, it's hard to remember that and her initial reaction is to hit.

Third, we encourage her to use her words so physical abuse will not be her "go to" every time she is upset.  We will always encourage her to express her emotions whether she is mad, sad, frustrated, or anxious while using her words and to always be respectful when voicing her opinion.  Would it be wrong for her to say that she is mad because she wanted watch another episode of cartoons rather than go to bed and does not agree with our decision?  No.  When she starts saying that we are bad parents, then we have a problem.  No child should feel like their opinion is wrong if that is how they feel and they are voicing their opinions.  Too many times as parents we feel children should always be submissive and obey everything we tell them while keeping their mouths shut.  How will that help the child in the future to voice their opinion and discuss their beliefs and what they feel is right?  It's not about being controlling as parents; we must guide them to the right while listening to what they have to say so we can help them sort their thinking. We have a long way to go before Paisley will start voicing her feelings to us when she is upset, but we like to let her know that it is the better option rather than hitting.

What happens when she isn't crying and she starts hitting?  We show her a lot of grace.  More grace that you would think a child should be shown.  Why grace?  Because we were first shown grace and shouldn't our children?

Our very last resort in order to get her attention is "time in".  "Time in" is similar to "time out" but it involves the parent(s) to be present while the child is thinking about what they've done.  Our "time in" consists of 5 minutes of sitting on the ottoman and talking about what was bad and how it should have been handled.  We focus on the "redo" and making her redo her actions so they are the correct way for how she should have acted. This helps rewire her brain to know the right way to handle things. Again still showing a lot of grace as we patiently wait for her to get the "redo" right.  Isn't 5 minutes a long time for a 2 year old to sit in "time in"?  Not when it takes 2-3 of those minutes to get her attention and look in our eyes.  Our focus with "time in" is turning everything around us "off" so we can focus on her and how to best held her recognize right and wrong behavior while figuring out of her trigger was an adopted behavior or regular 2 year old behavior.

We will NEVER spank Paisley since we don't know if she experienced physical abuse, and we do not want to surface any bad memories of physical abuse with her.  That would completely devastate her and undo all of our progress of making her feel safe, loved, and to trust us.  Are we against spanking our kids?  No, but a spanking to her could feel like abuse rather than discipline.  It breaks my heart at the thought that someone could have touched her in an unloving way.  We always want her to associate her parents with a loving and safe touch.

So why share these hard times about adoption with the world?  It's important to share these times, because it isn't always great and wonderful.  Paisley still doesn't know that her new life as a Todd is the best thing to happen to her.  Is she happy?  Yes.  Does she express love?  Yes.  Does she love her new parents?  I'd like to think so, but it's hard to say.  We have to teach her love and how to love others.  This is why cocooning is so important in the beginning stages of bringing a child home.  If the child's relationship with his/her new parents is not solid, then that child will have a hard time forming healthy relationships outside of the home.  This isn't a new concept because parents teach their bio kids the same thing.  It is just harder and requires more focus and time to teach a former orphan how to love when that child has never received love.  I can't imagine families who bring home their new kids and immediately start the loving process with any and everyone who the child comes in contact with.  That teaches the child that all people love and care for the child and to not be cautious of strangers.  This can fuel dangerous behaviors in kids as they reach adolescence as well with seeking out love from the wrong people in the wrong ways.  We do NOT want Paisley to seek out indiscriminate affection.  She has a mom and dad who love her and will do anything for her.  We want her to seek us out for affection first, and other relationships will fall into place when the time is right.

I understand that our way of parenting is not widely understood or received, and that's okay.  Adoption might not be your calling, but it is ours.  We've sat through hours of training by professionals who have researched and observed experiences and situations from adoptive families who have lived through it all.  We were prepared for the hard and dark times that we are still living in and will continue to experience in the future.  We are ready for that and know Who is protecting her. Does that make us experts in adoption parenting?  No.  Will we always do and act the way that we should for Paisley's sake?  No, because we are human, and make mistakes.  However, we will always make what we feel to be the best decisions for her at that time even if it means pulling her close and staying at home for a few days.  When those times happen, we ask that family and friends to not be offended or their feelings hurt.  It isn't personal; we are doing what we have been called to do:  care and make sure that Paisley can live the best and balanced life.  Somehow our parenting has been working, and she continues to thrive in the best way possible.  All praise to Him for her progress!  We are so blessed with Paisley and truly the good far outweigh the bad.