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Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Thoughts on Attachment

I have been thinking about posting this for a long time, but I was worried about response. I don't know why I do that. I just do...... But it is still on my mind, so here goes:

If you don't read my posts often, I am mom to 7 children. Our first 4 children were boys. One was full term, three were preemies, born at around 30 weeks gestation.
My first husband and I divorced. I will not give the details here, just that it was a traumatic event for everybody involved. My children had no father.

I remarried, after 3 1/2 years. My wonderful husband Mike, adopted our sons.

Then, when our youngest son was 19, we adopted our first daughter through the foster care system. She was 5.
Then, we adopted a year later, a little girl almost 6, who was from Ukraine.
Then, we went TO Ukraine and adopted her best friend 10 months later.

So, all 7 of our children have had trauma issues, adoption issues, and really have had varying attachment issues.

Before I understood what attachment issues were, I knew we had some sort of problem with our 3rd son Joseph. I never connected that him being hospitalized, for a few weeks could effect him, but it did. And THEN, what really effected him, was ME being hospitalized for almost 2 months. He was not the same when I left the hospital and went back home.
In fact, all of them, were clingy, but he is the one who didn't recover quite so easily.

He is also the child who is very, VERY sensitive. And this is what brings me to this post.

We have 3 very different daughters, all who have experienced EXTREME trauma.
Being taken away by the police, and going from foster home to foster home is traumatic.
Being born and abandoned, not being touched and loved, living in a TB Sanitarium (dungeon) and finally an orphanage and then being adopted and having that adoption disrupt, is EXTREME TRAUMA.
Being born and abandoned and being in a "left to lay" room for her first 4 years, and then being transferred to an orphanage, and finally being adopted at nearly 8, is EXTREME trauma.

Yet, they are all flourishing.

We did our homework. We studied and studied. And some of what we studied made us cringe. Is it true that you have to use tactics like "strong sitting" or "forced holding" to make a child connect with you?
I tried to put myself in that position of being forced to hug a person I may not want to, and it made me feel nauseated. If I didn't TRUST somebody, why would a therapist think it was ok to force me to hug them or be held by them?
That doesn't make any sense to me.
Ok, it DOES make sense, if you are only thinking that by EXTERNALLY controlling another person, their heart will eventually line up with what they are doing on the outside..... I think this is false and dangerous.
Can it work? Maybe. But why would we want to do that?

I can understand the idea of limiting things for a newly adopted child. Too many things can overwhelm. Too many choices can overwhelm, and can backfire. I know when I get overloaded with too much in put, I cannot function well. How much more is that true for a child on stimuli overload?

I think as parents, many times, we want our kids to heal, NOW. We want them to just get over the past and move on. After all, we are good people. We are doing everything we can. So what is their problem?

Back to putting myself in my kid's shoes. If I were a little kid, and had never been able to trust anybody. Why would I trust me? I went and looked in the mirror. WHY SHOULD I TRUST YOU???
I was looking at my expression. Am I frowning or do I have a welcoming look?
Do I look happy or grouchy? I was making all these faces to see what somebody else might see. Frankly, if I were a little kid, and didn't know me... some of my faces might be scary.
Noted something to work on. Looking inviting. Looking welcoming. Making sure my face lines up with my mood. :)

Of course parents have to be parents, by leading and guiding, and we cannot give in to every whim of our children. But sometimes I think we make our no's so many and our yesses so few, we frustrate our children unnecessarily.

Instead of waiting for our children to ask for something. Why not be pro active and provide it? Why not get them a 2 dollar ball that will bring them joy? Why not have a snack ready for them BEFORE they ask? Why not help them with their bedroom to get it clean or help them put their clothes away or help them make their bed? Why not help them put shoes on if they are frustrated? Why not help them pick up toys by singing a fun song and coming along side to show them how?As you help them, they will learn to do it WITH you. This is a form of bonding and attachment. Why not try and keep our no's few and our yeses many? Why not?

Why do we have to be drill sargents?

Feeding them, comfort foods, giving them a bottle of warm milk, rocking them, are ways to facilitate attachment. I think they work much better than forcing a child to talk about things they don't want to talk about and then give somebody a hug.

This is one of the huge issues I have with formalized counseling. There are so many different people out there, who hang up a sign and call them selves a counselor. They have the degree. Therefore that makes them a good counselor. NOT!

Our children are not to be experimented on. Try this? Oh that didn't work, well try that? It is horrifying.

How about treating them like you want to be treated? How about getting to know them?
I didn't get to know my husband overnight. I learn something new about my children every day.
I have to study what makes each one of them tick. What are their thoughts ? What are their feelings? Who are they? What has shaped them? I don't like to make assumptions.

If we assume we know somebody elses feelings, they can feel stomped on, and why try?

I don't know if I am being clear or not.

I am not against counseling. I am against most counseling that aims at a child and forces them to face things they are not ready or prepared to face.
They have their whole lives to come to terms with past issues. And you know what?
Many times those issues resolve themselves.

If we keep telling our children,"YOU MUST DEAL WITH THIS NOW" and not just let them learn to trust first, I think we remain in a flux of trauma that they can't get out of. It is almost like a trap that will induce anxiety and inflict more trauma.

I could see with my own girlies, that if I were to require they talk about something they weren't ready to talk about, it would shut them down totally. I don't see why we would then try to force them to talk. Some would say, "it is a control issue". Well, maybe it is. But can't a kid have control on how they feel? Do we have to take that away from them too?

Maybe WE are the ones with the control issues? Sometimes, I think we unnecessarily induce the rages in our children, by being confrontational, or impatient. A typical child may not respond in an external rage when they are "manhandled", but I can tell you from personal experience, there is internal rage. Just learning to control the external does not change the heart. And I certainly don't want my children to feel so "controlled" that they cannot express themselves to me.

What I have experienced over the years, is that both in my own life, and those of our 7 children. When they are ready, they will talk. And it doesn't surprise me at all, that some of how they felt, they didn't know why or understand why, they just knew they felt it. I would never want to put words into their mouths and tell them why.
It may not be why!

I can only lead them to the source of all healing. I CAN do that. I CAN guide them. I CAN love them and help them learn to trust me, through example.

They WILL come along eventually. It may be just a little at first. For our little Sarah who had so many hurts and reasons NOT to trust, I just love it when today, 5 years later, she trusts me with her most personal secrets and feelings.
She didn't do this at first. In fact at first, we didn't even cuddle.

I could not just pick her up and expect her to reciprocate a hug or snuggle.
She was more stiff. She would try, but I could sense it was too much for her, so we used lots of distraction, like painting toenails or counting fingers etc. She was VERY independent, and took care of herself! Number one FIRST! In working with her over the years, much of that behavior has subsided and she is a real true integral part of the family, showing love and care for everybody. But it didn't happen over night.

I keep hearing that love is not enough. It is spread all over the news. If you are talking that "Love the emotion" is not enough, then, I can agree with that.

But true LOVE is not just an emotion. It is the action of doing what is best for the other person, and yes it is enough. It will not fail. It will eventually reach the most wounded heart, because we are designed to be loved. It is just that some of us are convinced we are not worthy of that love.

I guess, this is a long ramble to say, our children will attach, when we give them the room to do so. We cannot have expectations that will hold our children to this litmus attachment chart. They are people; complex little people. They need to be respected too.
Our children can do much more than survive. They can THRIVE!


Diana said...

I wish more people could understand attachment in this manner. Shoot, I wish more people understood attachment at all! That goes for both biological and adopted children. I, too, also cringe at many of the techniques out there designed to "heal" and "foster" attachment. They are harsh and only generate more fear and overwhelm and invite control.

Even more than that, though, my stomach literally turns when I hear adpoptive parents say "My child is firmly and securely attached" only after a few days or weeks or even months. They refuse to believe or accept that their child was physically, psycologically, and emotionally scared by trauma and they continue to parent them using logic, control, and other fear based, domineering methods. And then they wonder why they're so exhausted and why their kids just aren't getting it and are going more and more and more crazy. I wish I'd realized sooner that these methods don't work at all for adopted kids...and they really don't work in the long haul for any kids. I very much regret some of the tactics we used on our bio daughter when she was young. We saw everthing as a rebelious and stubborn choice she was making, not an expression of overwhelm or fear that it really was. We're now having to do a lot of undoing now.

You are 100% right about the rages, too. I have at times been guilty of tripping them myself because I let my own exhaustion or overwhelm take over rather than staying in a place of understanding and compassion and trying to listen to what my kids were really trying to tell me. The thing that is so important to remember about rages is that they are SO muich easier to ward off in the beginning they they are to stop. It really is worth putting in the effort up front.

What I'd love to hear from you, my wise and experienced friend, is some ways to allow kids to SAFELY and APPROPRIATELY express the anger and hurt that are driving the rages. Yes, it comes when they are ready, but in my case, when it does come out, it still often comes as a bomb.

I also DO think it is important for kids TO talk about and explore their past. That's why play therapy has been so helpful for my kids. It's given them that safe haven to do that exploring at their pace and their level without any expectation or demands. Until they were able to start doing that and clearing out and processing some of that junk, they literally didn't have the emotional space available to even start thinking about attaching.

Even Heather Forbes herself talked about the need for kids to be able to consciously process trauma, especially as they get older. But, the way they are allowed to play in therapy (typical trauma play and lots of naturally occuring reinacting of the events) generally isn't appropriate in normal settings and it most certainly isn't appropriate to engage other kids in. How have you dealt with balancing this need for kids to process their trauma and express anger over it with keeing things loving, present, and compassionate in your home?

Erika M. said...

Wow.......... I don't know what to say.That was a good and long post. I am very happy where I am, and I am loving you,Dad, my sisters, and my brothers.God is good. He has given me a wonderful mom and a Dad with a family.I think you and dad are wonderful parents and I am thankful that you wrote this post because I know how you fell.I love you very much and I will never stop.I am living with a wonderful loving and Christian family.I will tell you again that I love you very very very very very very much.


Rebecca said...

Thank you for sharing those thoughts, Mom. Although my child hasn't had any real trauma to speak of, he is the son of that very sensitive boy you described in your post! This was good food for thought, encouraging and convicting.

And I like Erika's comment too. =) I'm so glad to be part of your family!

Sandy said...

Wow - this is one of the best things on attachment I've read on a blog. It's so great that you recognize that these issues are not just limited to adopted kids either. These responses to trauma are common to all animals.

I say animals because I really equate a lot of this to some experiences I had training horses as a kid. Kindness always goes farther than harsh treatment with all animals. A horse is an animal that by his nature wants to be part of a herd. Kids by nature want to be loved and part of a family. Both can be turned mean and fearful by harsh treatment or denying them their basic needs.

I am not experienced with kids (though they've always gravitated to me, and me to them) so as we've prepared for our adoption, I've drawn on the horse experience. As a young person, we could never afford a horse that didn't have some kind of behavior problem, and so I spent a lot of time retraining horses that had been "ruined" by other people's harsh methods or neglect. Some of the things people do to animals is really astounding...people who would never hit a human being will beat animals for the smallest infractions! Or starve them as a punishment. Or neglect to find them a new home when they can't afford to take proper care. Or just treat them as if they can't feel pain and fear. It's terrible.

All animals feel hunger, pain and fear just like we do, and that stuff sticks with them.

One of the first things I learned is that you can set the tone with a fearful horse by being calm, slow and predictable in your movements. Be pleasant to be around by providing treats, a scratch behind the ears and a pleasant voice, don't focus on or harshly punish the bad behavior, but make sure to notice and reward the good. That's how you teach animals to trust people again, and I think it is a lot the same with kids.

It sounds wierd, I know, but all of our learning about adoption has really made it clear to me how much of parenting traumatized kids is similar to working with abused animals. The fight or flight response is similar for both I guess. That is the thing that drives a lot of the behavior we hear about - the kids are angry or afraid...and either way, they will try to protect themselves!

Christie M said...

I am going to try and write a separate post on what we actually do.

Thanks Becca. :) I love you to.

Erika, you KNOW I love you babe! You are such a dear heart.

Sandy, I totally get the horse connection.
We do use animals around here, and I will blog about that later.
But you are right. There are similarities between gaining an animal's trust and a traumatized child's trust.

I remember Papa Dima, on his blog describing our Sarah as a "wild animal in a cage with EXTREME consternation in her eyes". This was a Ukrainian minister who visited the TB Sanitarium where Sarah was. He said that she was sitting in the back of her crib glaring.
He said she did 't get up and hold her hands up like the other children. When he inquired about that one, the doctor said, "don't worry about that one, she is too far gone."

So sad. Yet, she is so happy now. You would never know that description could have ever fit her. Makes me cry to think about what humans can do to their children.
And it makes me cry to think what we do to try and make them better.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I wish every foster and adoptive family could read this post. What a truth that "Just learning to control the external does not change the heart." Here is my example: I recognized a former middle school student at a university who came from the harshest, strictest, religious family I have ever seen. She had dyed her hair blue and was dressed in goth-like attire. There is no doubt to me that this devoutly Catholic mother had parented to the letter of the law, from a place of fear. I still pray for this family.

"We want our kids to heal, NOW. We want them to just get over the past and move on." Who knew that a toddler, too young to remember his 1st 20 months, could be so affected? Well, I do now! This week marks our 10th year (and counting), on the road to healing...and there IS joy in the journey!

How true that "some of how they felt, they didn't know why or understand why". (Empathetic) validation is something that I learned through BCi with Heather Forbes. Before BCLC, I was all about fixing our son's problems. I definitely had no plans to wander in the desert! But thankfully, I am learning to accept that "I can only lead them to the source of all healing."...step by step, day by day.

Thank you for blessing our lives, Christie with the wisdom God has given you. You have laid out a road map of hope for struggling parents.

Christie M said...

JJ, thank you for your encouragement. :)
You are so MISSED around these parts!
Can't wait to see you soon. :)

Anonymous said...

I like so much of what you say! I have never been a fan of many attachment theories either. True love, as you describe it, certainly helps a heart to heal. It is good to read that your girls are doing so well!

The McEacherns said...

Thanks for this post! I currently re-reading The Connected Child, and this pretty much completely concurs with the concepts presented in that book.

Christie M said...

You are so welcome! I really like Karyn Purvis's book. My support group is going through her book and study guide right now. We are on chapter 8 and I think will dwell there a little longer! A LOT of great information!

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