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In this life we can not always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.." :) Mother Teresa

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“I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me.”
― C. S. Lewis


I believe in the sun even when it's not shining. I believe in love even when I don't feel it. And I believe in God even when He is silent. (quote found on the wall of a concentration camp)

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Issues With The Older Adopted Child

There is much going on in the news about adoption, about older adopted children, about the possibilities of RAD, (Reactive Attachment Disorder) PTSD ,(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and FAS. (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) And if  those children can have successful adoptions.

I would like to explain what I  believe happens to children when they have abuse and neglect or alcohol exposure, and WHY I feel, "traditional" parenting, in these cases many times does not work, or why I believe it could cause delay in attachment and healing, and unnecessary hardship on all.

Because of trauma.... our children can be all over the age spectrum. They may be 11 in their body, but 3 emotionally.  When parenting them, you really have to understand if they are 3, that is where you parent them.  It is one of the hardest concepts to grasp, because you don't WANT them to be 3. You want to reason with them like an 11 year old...
What we have found, is if you reach them where they are... those gaps will fill in and your child will no longer be fragmented.

In my own children's cases, they all have vastly different backgrounds and experiences, the one thing that we have found that DOES work, is a consistent, unconditionally loving, stable, environment, where they were allowed to go through the grief process and heal.

Yes, our children grieved.  When they realized that their normal, all those years wasn't really normal, they finally allowed themselves to grieve.  If we can see the different stages our kids go through clearly, we will recognize grief.

There is NO way to determine how a child will react to a new family. If that could be predicted, there would be a whole lot of "do it this way" books out there.
Instead, our children come home with a very heavy suitcase of emotional baggage.... (think piles of Christmas Lights all wadded up and needing untangling)  and no instruction manual.
I remember Alli saying, "Every family says I am in a forever family."..... So we dropped that phrase from our vocabulary.

Our children come,  having lived, apart from us in a totally separate life. They have celebrated holidays, or not, in other countries and with different traditions. They have good memories and bad memories.  And we, before we got them, were used to how WE did things....
They cried themselves to sleep more times than not, and quivered with fear at the thought of being harmed in the middle of the night.
Sometimes they were tied down in their beds, and nobody came when they cried. So they stopped crying.
They learned very quickly that nobody will look out for them, and if they want food, they better get all they can, because it is scarce and nobody cares that you are hungry.
They learned that other kids are wanting the same things you do, and if you don't get it first, you may never get it, because there isn't any rule about fair.
They learned that it doesn't matter what you wear, because it isn't yours anyway.
They learned that there is something called a Mama and a Papa, and everybody wants one, but they don't really know what they are, really.
They learned that caretakers can be indifferent, sometimes downright mean, and sometimes nice. You never know what your are going to get.
They learned that some children leave with Mama's and Papa's and they cry because they miss them.
The caretakers tell them that they are the lucky ones, because the one that left will be killed and sold for body parts, so don't cry.
This is just a FRACTION of what they know when they come home.

Their world is very different from what most people experience  growing up. They don't know baseball, football, restaurants, church services, zoos, parks, beaches, and birthday celebrations.
They don't understand all the food. They don't get that the bed will be there for them tomorrow too, and they don't have to fight for a blanket anymore.
They don't get that mom and dad will love them.... forever.  In fact, many times, they don't understand what a mom and dad are for.
They get a little freaked out by all the attention and pull away. It is so foreign.  It takes a long time to unravel the world of the orphan.
SLOWLY.... layer by layer, emerges a new understanding, and a new dawning, that is both comforting to them, and painful at the same time.
It is comforting for a fleeting moment when they dare to trust, just a smidge... and painful when they realize just a taste of what they missed their whole life.

They hoard food. ( some call it stealing)  I don't believe a child can STEAL food.... food is for the needs of the family members and if they need food.... they NEED it, so FEED them.
(Alli has gained 10 lbs and 2 1/2 inches in 7 months and eats non stop. :) She is still very thin)

Sometimes they become collectors of the most interesting things..... when you find it... don't accuse, take notice, "Oh, I was looking for those nail clippers,  or, the flashlight is best kept in the kitchen drawer so we can remember where it is.  Would you like your own flash light? Simply ask them to put the item away or remind them where it belongs... whatever it is. :)  This may be a process that takes awhile to recover from. 
They may lash out at a sibling out of a lack of understanding that love is not scarce or limited but flows freely for all. LOVE THEM. And love the child lashed out upon. Encourage them to be part of the team.  We didn't adopt the girls until the boys were older. With the girls, they are very close in age.  We didn't adopt in birth order, but close enough. Alli is the youngest by 7 months.

When you need to instruct them, sometimes it won't be received.... those are rocking chair times. :)
(What do you mean I need a bath? I only took one once a week in Russia!)
Sometimes you just have to repeat, repeat, repeat,repeat.... "Yes, we take a bath every night. Remember? We talked about this?"  If they have possible FAE, they won't remember. We have to be patient until it becomes habit. :) Try reading a story to them while they are in the bath... or sing to them... Make up all sorts of silly songs for all sorts of things including cleaning rooms, making beds, etc.

As they begin to come to an understanding, they start to test the waters abit..... "So you love me? PROVE IT!  Nobody else has ever loved me..."
And the testing begins. 
Some see this as the "End of the Honeymoon Period".

I choose to see it as the beginning of REAL healing.  When a child feels they are finally safe.... that is sometimes when they can really grieve.

This is also the period of time where  a parent can lose control IF they do not  understand what is going on. The child tries to bring the parent into THEIR norm of control and chaos, because THAT is where they are comfortable.  The PARENT MUST RESIST this, and carefully, like a surgeon of the heart, bring the child into the world of peace and a new reality of belonging, of being cherished, of being LOVED.
It is a very humbling experience to be the parent of a child who is so needy, but doesn't believe they have a need. It is heartbreaking to  truly love a child who has never had the experience of being loved.
It is very challenging to try to guide a child  who thinks they don't need guidance. :)

I think sometimes we try to rush things, or  we think they SHOULD KNOW THIS BY NOW, (whatever it is) and we get impatient just doing life... And when we do, it backfires.  The unconditional love, suddenly has a condition and the child picks up on that like a strong radar signal going off.   And the wall goes up, and that is when the negative cycle can begin.... and some, unfortunately never get out of it.  
It turns into a button pushing fest for both parent and child.... and it will require that WE AS PARENTS stop it!   And I mean stop the cycle in a loving wave of acceptance and comfort. When they think they don't need it, we are there anyway. When they reject us, we are there anyway. When they hurl insults out of deep pain, we  are there anyway.... and we wrap our loving arms around them and keep them safe. And if we have children already in our home, we include them in the process teaching them also, to put themselves aside , and love unconditionally.   You become a team, a wave if you will, of love.

And then..... out of the ashes... a little bud of hope appears.  It starts to grow, and as you tend to that little bud, sometimes it will try to retreat and hide.... the sun is just too bright.... and the new world is just too scary.  One of the reasons it is so scary is because of a fear they just might lose it. They might lose  what they are beginning to love.
And so, when that happens, sometimes they try to make the inevitable (in their minds) happen. They try to make the process of rejection get sped up, because the anticipation hurts too much.
Unfortunately, THIS is the time, when many people throw in the towel.  They have given all they feel they can give.  They do not understand why the things that work on most kids isn't working on theirs.
They think, if I get a little harder, or punish a little more, that will make them understand.... when in reality, what they are dealing with is fear and  grief.  You cannot punish fear and  grief out of a person. You have to comfort and reassure and slowly guide them out to safety, in the process teaching them right from wrong, respect vs. disrespect, responsibility and how to love.  Loving instruction with unconditional acceptance.... goes a long way.
When you gain your child's trust....  (trust cannot be forced) and they know they are in their home to stay.... that is when real learning takes place. 

Is it a TALL order??  Ummm... Yes it is.  But it is so worth it. EVERY minute of it. Because in the process, not only your child grows, but you grow to in ways you never imagined. :)  The Lord leads and guides us along the way, and we find that our prayer life is MUCH improved! :)  We come to a deeper understanding of what GOD has done for us, through HIS sacrifice for us.
And we get to see our children turn into healthy, happy, productive kids that are no longer looking back, but looking forward to a newness of life that they never understood they could have.  And when we mess up.... an "I'm sorry can go a really long way!" :)

Tonight, Miss Alli spent a good amount of time in the shoppe with her dad. She was having so much fun out there she wanted to stay longer. :)   She also has kitchen duty this week.  Since she was having such a good time, I decided I'd go ahead and do the dishes.  I had just started when she came in. I was very pleased that she said, "Mom, that's my job, I'll take care of it!"..... So I was the helper and we did them  together. :)  7 months ago, this would not have happened.


Holly said...

I don't know why I read this whole post, since it's not really relevant to me (I'm not an adoptive parent (though one day I might be!) and I was not adopted as an older child), but I did; and found it really interesting!

I love your perspective on things, it makes a lot of sense.

I also really like your new header - the updated photos look great. :)

Unknown said...

What is an "older" adopted child? Anyone, who is not a newborn?

This is another one of your so perfectly written entries! Thank you!

Milena said...

I will copy this and read it until I know it by heart..... Our girl is only a host child, but we still see so much of this. After the best moments came the backfire, every time.... i really need to understand her better.
Thank you for being such a well of knowledge!

Christie M said...

Hevel, after reading Primal Wound.... I would say the second they are neglected in any way. But, their experience isn't etched in as with a child who has had continual neglect.

Many of those adopted as newborns experience abandonment and guilt issues too, and I don't want to diminish that.
So suffice it to say: Adoption is Great Loss with Great Gain.... and it is a confusing web to figure it all out. :)

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with everything you say, and we are living proof. We took the path of unconditional love with Alina and oh how it has paid off. She has been home 10 months and the transformation in ALL of us has been amazing.

We have three very well adjusted biological sons. We QUICKLY realized that the parenting style we used with them had very little bearing on how to parent Alina. It was a fresh new start and we had to start all over again. So we did. We dove in and read books and talked to adoptive families, like yourself.

Parenting an adopted child is hard. WAY hard. There is no way to describe it. But as you learn, you begin to see changes and it makes it all worth it.

We cannot tell you how much we love our daughter. And I know she loves us very much. I like to say, "we are earning our stripes."

I think today I am going to write a post that speaks to the turning point in our family when the transformation began and how hard that night was on our family.

Great post, as always, you are right on, and you are the best for sharing your stories for all of us to learn from.

Blessings on all of you.

Autumn said...

Awesome! I have been reading your posts for a long time, and storing them in my memory bank. And while they made sense, I know I have not really understood them until I have my children at home and see these things before my eyes. I had a little taste of that last week on my first visit, and was able to see some of the words I read come alive right before my eyes! How happy I will be to have this knowledge when I start needing it the most!
Is there a BCLC book I can buy? I want to be as "armed" as possible! Any suggestions on how to lovingly parent/instruct while your child is still learning the language? I am starting to learn as much of the language as possible before they come home. And while I'm a quick study, I'm not THAT quick :)

Chris said...

Thank you...your word pictures make this stuff a bit easier to read.
Now if I could figure out where to buy a gallon or two of patience...

Unknown said...

Perfect timing for my life right now!! Things are getting more under control but constant reminders are the norm and always will be. Just learning how to get through the regressions and reminding us how far we have come.

Thanks for all your support, this is why I contact you for assistants. Your girls are true testimony to what you preach.

Anonymous said...

I really like your thoughts on this topic and I so appreciate your insight. I have linked this post to my blog because I think you have really pinned down issues associated with adopting children who have a history all of their own.

This is probably the first post I have seen that is blatantly honest about the difficulties of adopting an older child and how an adoptive parent simply *must* really put their money where there mouth is regarding unconditional love as a steady, stable and safe energy/force that with time and patience allows these children to grieve what they have lost and heal from the past that lead them to you.

I am so glad for your wisdom and I am so glad your daughters have such understanding parents where they finally and truly feel safe...or at least are learning to feel safe.

And kudos as well for dropping the *forever family* bit. As a Guardian ad Litem and child advocate, I cringe when adoptive parents use that term. It's like they are setting themselves up for failure, because most kids ARE going to say to themselves, "Oh yeah? We'll see."

Anonymous said...

I need to read this post every morning to help me do better during the day. My intentions are good but I sure do struggle mightily.

Do you still do the parent support group? I think hubby and I could use some extra support.

Christie M said...

When Alli came home 9 months ago, we concentrated specifically on bringing her into the family so there was no time for a support group, but we are ready to start. :)

I would love to meet somewhere on a regular basis once or twice a month.

Tracy said...

We adopted sibs (now 15 & 8yo) almost 3 years ago and are still learning about "different from bio" parenting styles and how to blend these kids with our biological kiddos (now 10 & 8yo) .

Thank you so much for this post. It is wonderfully written and so appropriate - for anyone who has adopted, is thinking of adopting, or knows someone who has adopted.

I am a new reader to your blog and look forward to reading and learning more from your insights and experiences.

Christie M said...

Tracy, Thank you for reading! Welcome to our crazy life. :)

Gina said...

Just found your blog and reading your posts. I could not agree more. I've been very blessed with my adoption of a girl age 2.5 who is now 5. All "bad" behaviors are from fear and grief and remembering that has helped. (Well hunger and being tired too causes problems.) When I do forget these things and lose my Schmidt I make sure I apologize. Explain where I went wrong to my child and start over. I treat her with respect and in turn she is giving it to me.

Christie M said...

Thank you Gina for your comment! :)
Welcome to our blog. :)

Unknown said...

Very beautiful post regarding older child adoption. I totally agree with the point that they "test" you after the honeymoon period with bad behavior because they've been abandoned and unloved for so long, but this is also a good sign because it means they feel safe to be themselves. Hope Allie is doing well now :)

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