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Super Advice from an Adoptive Parent

If you haven’t checked out Reddit’s Adoption community, it’s time. Here’s an example of the amazing support you’ll find in the adoption sub. This post, written by a parent who’d like to be anonymous, is in response to a heartfelt plea from another adoptive parent. I’m telling you…go: Reddit.com/r/adoption

 

Dear friend,

As an adoptive parent, I feel for you and appreciate that this is incredibly hard. And hard in ways that are triggering. And hard in ways that are deeply despairing.

We fostered a 9 year old with the intention of adoption and finalized last year (2 years later). He had been through a lot – the adults around him have consistently failed him. Instability, violence, abandonment, inconsistent schooling, serious felony activity.

Our first months were actually very harmonious. As we built trust, it got very intense. Defiant. Screaming. Running out of the house. School refusal.

This is where I get you. Holy crap this is the hardest thing I’d ever seen or done. I’ve never been good at self-care, had some of my own unprocessed issues, and could not get a hold on how to help him. I was depressed and desperate. But a few things helped.

My suggestion is that you immediately need to embrace two thoughts.

  1. It is harder for her. Majorly. Exponentially. Crisis level. Imagine going through what you are now with fewer words available, less brain function, less history of what success looks like, no ability to reach out, no one to talk to who knows you well, little understanding of self, no books to read, nothing. Navigating all this. It’s major. It’s bigger than those of us who were not adopted can possibly understand. I’m not saying you don’t know this, but it’s gotta find a way in.
  2. Your self care now has a major goal. It’s for all of you. And it’s tough. It may be the hardest thing you ever do, but you all need this.

Ask yourself:

1. Am I mentally healthy enough to make this child a major priority – right where she is at?

2. Are my therapeutic interventions working? Are they focused on getting me and our family to a healthier place?

3. Can I get the help I need to get regulated and strategic enough in my response to create health?

4. What environment do I thrive best in? (Assume that is one that is relaxed, trusting, comfortable, where you can let loose and be real.)

5. Can I create that for her too?

The system really blindsided you in a sense. That is awful and they need a course correction, but the good news is there is a lot of information out there that will clarify what these kids go through. It’s always been there. You just have to go get it. Like now.


Please seek out adoption-competent and trauma-responsive therapy if that’s not who you are already seeing.

It may truly be that you need to let her go, but get a heck of a lot of adoption-competent and trauma-responsive help. Be an open book with therapists, tell them exactly what is happening – especially the hard stuff, even when you lost your $%&.

Her actions are absolutely to be expected.

I hear that you were surprised and unprepared. And I feel that big time. But this is heads up textbook for what she’s faced/facing.

She isn’t going to be able to verbalize it for a long time. But it has to come out somehow. All that sadness, and shame (misdirected of course). All that anger from being separated and disconnected from what she knew. The lack of control. The mystery and being rudderless.

She is using her body and voice to shout I AM HERE. I AM HERE. I AM HERE. I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE VERY MAD. I DON’T KNOW YOU. I’M IN PAIN.

It will not be logical or linear. Not her job. Not possible.

Our therapist early on told us our only job was “to be a soft place to land.”

This was a major shift for us. We are all told parents must be tough, disciplinarians, correct every off behavior, teach respect. I believed all of that. And it’s not without some merit, but so much is overridden here.

We decided we had to lead with “soft” and “soft place.” When we deviate from that, things get worse.

It was a slow start.

And we did that through self-care, tons of reading, getting our triggers 30% more in check, and remembering we were not parenting a typical child in most ways.

He is developmentally much younger. It sounds like she is, too.

Regarding consequences: she’s too young and too traumatized to learn that way. They (counselors) need to be helping you find other methods. She has not had agency. Things won’t land the same way.

I’d also do a lot of reading around auditory processing and trauma. Can she understand the countdowns you mention?

Are they working?

If they aren’t working, ya gotta pivot.

The pivoting is exhausting, but worth it. And some months, we suck at it. But now about 2 years in, we’ve learned several things:

-Isolation makes it worse; we only walk away to calm down or self-care and then we must come back. Time outs = no.

-Telling him he can’t go somewhere doesn’t work at all. He’s used to disappointment, punishment, disconnect. Not a help.

The pivot is almost always to getting to the calmest place possible.

Not reacting with intensity.

No raised voices.

No shaming (read everything you can on shame and consequences).

-Rigid thinking is a brain thing. Inability to self-regulate is developmentally appropriate and staying inconsolable, intense, etc. is both the reality of small kids, and also connected to trauma. Had to learn this over and over and over again.

This goes doubly for kids who have been exposed to drugs in utero and have had brain issues.

-Remembering it’s about him. It sounds weird, but remembering it is about him, his process, his need for love and trust where there had not been any, his growth, his stability shifted things for me. I have to be the adult. The one who either gets my !@#@ in check or finds another responsible adult to be regulated.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have and sometime have a lot of challenging thoughts and fears. I still screw up, and I still need to focus on me, but it’s freed me to get myself on my own track of learning how to parent a child who has been through adult-created hell and to have him on his own track of building ease and comfort and trust.

-Respite. I had to find ways to take breaks. Sometimes a parent handoff to my spouse, sometimes calling a friend, sometimes just breathing while he is watching a movie or at school.

-Read. I’m a moderately regular reader, but now read pretty much constantly. The information we need was not given to us. The books on trauma and care of kids whose adults have failed them weren’t relatable until I was deep in. Now they are a godsend.

And read everything you can by adoptees. The happy, the angry, the bitter. These voices may not be speaking directly from her experience, but over and over again, I get insight into his behavior and needs from listening to folks who have been there.

This is the big secret in the process that agencies still don’t get.

Adoptees who are sharing what life has been like for them are peerless as our educators.

Shifting our focus to read books by adoption therapists and adoptees has been essential. And focusing our reading on trauma and child development.

This is one of the very best.

Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues.

There is a website called Land of Gazillion Adoptees. No, they are not writing for us, but their words and resources, to me are part of trying to understand what his voice might say were he not his age and still with so much fresh pain and challenge. Love me through it. Respect my story. My privacy matters. I’m not magically healed because I have a new pillow and home. It has to be ok for me to feel rage. (Please pardon the putting words in mouths of others – but these are what I have heard that have shifted how I parent).

 

I just want to say that walking away if you know you are going to have to fake a robust investment in her health, if you can’t parent this child, may be quite humane.

She needs adults who want to get on track ASAP and who can work on it literally every day. And it’s undeniably exhausting.

I wish you peace and for her, so much comfort and safety and health.

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How to Stay Married for 15 Years…Part 2

Continued from Part 1

  • Don’t Speak

Needless to say, we broke up.

Seven years later, I saw him. We chatted (in real life, not online) for a few minutes and exchanged addresses. I was attending college out of state. For two years, we made casual connection via letters (yes, on paper, written in pen). I tried to explain what I’d meant, all those years ago. He said I did a better job this time.

We were both dating other people.

Life happened. We lost contact again.

During that time, our respective relationships ended. I decided not to date anyone seriously for a year; at the end of the year, I prayed.

“God, if you could send me someone exactly like him, but a Christian…that would be perfect.”

God did one better.

Him.

A year later, we were dating, doing our best to follow God. Together.

 

  • Speak

I wanted to marry him when I was thirteen. I wanted to marry him nine years later. When he asked me, on Christmas Day, I couldn’t speak.

We’d discussed engagement and even picked out a ring but he fooled me. “Let’s wait to get engaged until you finish your Master’s degree.” Next year.

Then he bought the ring, created an elaborate, beautiful scavenger hunt and asked me to marry him. I was so shocked and overcome, I stood with my mouth open, gasping like a landed bass.

When he’d waited long enough to be concerned, he asked, “Are you going to answer me?” With one word, I gave him my whole heart, forever.

A year later we tied the knot. Jumped the broom. Got hitched. Smashed the glass.

Best. Decision. Ever.

  • Feed Him before Midnight

Learning the rules of cohabitation is one of the most important lessons in marriage. Food guidelines are especially important to communicate.

A mentor during my college days informed me that “healthy dinner together” is key for family togetherness. Research from Cornell University shows she was correct.

Determined to get it right, I cooked elaborate meals upon arriving home each evening.

Two problems:

  1. we both worked long hours (7 pm or after) and
  2. Hubby had hypoglycemia; he needed to eat frequently to maintain sugar levels.

We rarely dined before 8:30 pm, and often ate much later. When Hubby breezed through the door around 7 pm and made himself a PB&J, I took offense. My homemade chunky pasta sauce wasn’t worth the wait?

Hindsight, and all that. I should have prepped meals to pop in the microwave, enabling us to eat earlier.

As it was, we had a daily tiff about the sandwich because I saw it as a personal affront to my culinary skills. He just needed to eat something. Anything. For a while, he acquiesced to my inane request and waited for dinner. During which time I made the acquaintance of Mr. Hyde (also known as Hungry Hubby).

Have you seen the candy bar commercials “for when you’re hangry” (angry because hungry)? It’s a thing.

I learned we could both be happier if I had a PB&J waiting for him. We still ate dinner together. Win-win.

 

  • Don’t Fight

Argument. Screaming match. Fight. Spat. Tiff. Row. Scrap. Knock-down-and-drag-out. Rumpus. Squabble. Brannigan.

Doesn’t really matter what you call it. Our first years were peppered with provocation. We both grew up in…vocally demonstrative…families. Angry? Yell. Mad? Yell. Annoyed? Yell.

The greater our passion surrounding a topic, the higher the decibel level.

I once heard a preacher say, “Church is the only place people shoot their own wounded.” He was wrong.

In the art of war, Hubby and I were Picasso and Van Gogh. We tossed barbed words, insinuations, blame and comparisons like grenades. We wounded each other with abandon.

Sometime around year five (during a lull in the storm), Hubby asked, “Have you ever noticed? We only yell about stupid stuff we blow out of proportion. If an issue is important, we work together to solve the problem.” He suggested we decide to stop screaming. We agreed.

Other than a stint in year seven when we were both acting like idiots (and I’ll admit freely that I was being the bigger idiot), we’ve managed to uphold our arrangement.

One of my proudest moments: last year, a counselor asked our children how they feel when “mom and dad have a big fight.” The kids looked at each other, confused, then said, “Daddy and Mama don’t fight.”

With a condescending grin, the counselor said, “Sure. So…how do you feel when they yell at each other?” The kids shook their heads.

“When they argue,” he tried.

“Daddy and Mama just work together on everything. They never fight,” the kids told him.

Since then, we’ve had a couple arguments (mostly stemming from occasional hormone fluctuations during which time I may become…unreasonable), but overall, we hold to our agreement.

Feel free to steal this idea; eliminating fights is great for the blood pressure.

  • Fight

As I mentioned above, Year 7 was not our best.

We almost broke up for good. Hubby had a bag packed in the trunk of his car. We discussed logistics. He said I could keep the house. I said I’d probably move out of state. We thought we had no options.

It’s easy to feel alone in the midst of a struggle. Even more so when it involves marriage; you’re separated from the person who should be your best friend.

If you’re smart, you don’t involve mutual friends, family members or work colleagues (they’ll take sides, hold lifelong grudges and give bad advice since they have no vested interest, respectively). That means, though, that you experience solitude in the grief.

Thankfully, a slightly older couple befriended us with the intent to mentor us. They could see our struggles; they’d been in similar straits and recognized the signs. Thanks to their care and committed support, we survived.

Help came from two other odd sources:

  1. Recognizing that a large percentage of our troubles stemmed from my issues, I went to a counselor who looked and sounded like Elmer Fudd, but everything he said made sense. 
  2. Our good buddy freaked out, telling Hubby, “You can’t leave. You’re the only normal married people I know!”

Fight, but not each other.

Another friend told us to be like mules.

“When horses are threatened, they freak out and run around, accidentally kicking each other. Predators can take them down. Mules put their heads together and kick out at the danger. Keep your heads together. Your spouse is not the enemy.”

Here’s what we learned: Love is a choice, not a feeling. Fight for your relationship. Anything worth having comes at a price. We fought—against our own selfishness and desire for an easy out—and won.

If you’re thinking about divorce, this guy has some good advice.

Fight FOR each other.

Continued…

How to Stay Married for 15 Years…Part 1

Our anniversary is February 24.

Wow…45 looooooong years.

Ha, just kidding. 15 years.

Hubby and I are the happiest married couple I know. We have fun together and LIKE each other (there’s an idea) and I can’t imagine being with anyone else.

Okay, I lied. Occasionally I daydream about Wolverine. (Not Hugh Jackman, mind you. Wolverine.) But geez, who wouldn’t? Watch. He’s not wearing a shirt. Tell me I’m crazy.

Disclaimer: if you don’t want to see comeuppance for trying to kill one’s daughter, stop the video at 1:45. 

You watched the whole thing, didn’t you. Twice? Shameless hussy.

Since he self-heals, I have a feeling some of that muscled beauty is computer generated. I feel so cheated. 

Anyway.

This is about real people.

In addition to being the happiest, we’re also in the running for “Longest Time Hitched to the First Person You Married” award among friends in our age bracket. People sometimes ask us our secret, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Whether you’re

  • married
  • thinking of getting married
  • filling out a FarmersOnly.com profile
  • recovering from being caught mousing around AshleyMadison (I still can’t believe that’s real)
  • a confirmed bachelor(ette)
  • a confirmed bachelor(ette) with a Tinder account

this advice will change your life.

Or it will give you yet another reason to say, “Thank God I’m not THAT screwed up.”

Either way, I’m happy to help.

Ways to Stay Married for 40 15 years

  • Begin with a memorable encounter

Rain forced P.E. classes into the gym; the teachers called, “Run ten laps and then you can sit with your friends!” I still remember the sound of sneakers slapping and squeaking on the gym floor. Thankfully, this memory has no smell. “Sweaty teen” is one of my least favorite odors.

Not “like yesterday” but still very clear: I jogged around the corner closest to the padded grey wall under the basketball hoops. Home stretch; one more side, then I could relax.

I hit the wall. Hard. Not of my own volition. I heard a chuckle as he trotted away.

“That jerk pushed me into the wall. He’s gonna pay.” I sped after him, tomboy that I was, fully intending to pound him. Or at least give him a good punch in the shoulder. He turned, grinning. I reconsidered.

I was thirteen (he thought I was fifteen). He was sixteen. I was in ninth grade; he was in tenth. He was the sweetest, most respectful guy I’d ever met. And he had great biceps (still my favorite). No doubt in my mind: we were going to grow up and get married.

He asked me out. I said yes. We held hands.

Then I told him to go to hell.

  • Tell him to go to hell

I didn’t just grow up in the buckle of the Bible Belt; I lived on the prong. Everything in my life revolved around Christianity. We attended a very conservative, legalistic church. When the doors were open, we attended. I never felt a connection with anyone my age and often felt “not good enough.”

Sometime during my elementary years, a young lady visited the church wearing jeans and leather—typical 80’s style. An older lady approached her and said, “honey, you need to dress properly for church.” The girl never returned.

I knew this was wrong. By the time I met Hubby, I knew I could never invite him to our church. His family didn’t attend church (strike one) he rocked a mullet (strike two) AND he listened to ROCK MUSIC (you’re out).

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Photo Credit: John Philip Green

None of those are Hubby, but this page could have been from our yearbook.

So then, I went to Bible camp. At camp, we learned that we should only date other Christians because then we’d have similar goals. If I wanted to go to South America as a missionary (and I did) but married a guy who didn’t see the point, things could get sticky. The speaker noted that generally you only marry people you date, so it makes sense to date people you could marry.

I was heartsick, knowing we didn’t see eye to eye. I decided to write him a letter to try to explain. Perhaps, I thought, he might decide to also be a Christian.

Being a socially inept fourteen-year-old did not help my communication. I didn’t realize how my letter came across: “hey, I just found out you’re going to hell.”

I do not recommend this as a relationship tactic.

 

Continued…

Great Chocolate. Bad Advice. Part 1

I’ve learned not to listen to my chocolate.

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I don’t know if your chocolate presumes to advise you on daily matters, but mine does so with the dogged intensity of a foil-wrapped yenta.

Admonitions and exhortations, bagged and available for purchase in your local supermarket. Or at least, in mine.

Some of these gems put me in mind of the suspect guidance provided by the chintzy gypsy machine in our local arcade back in the late 80’s. “Esmerelda” bullied all the pre-teens into feeding quarters into her slots on our way to the PacMan and Centipede consoles.

She never delivered on her promises, unless her “tall dark stranger will bring money to your universe” prediction referred to the leering, greasy-haired arcade attendant. He replaced quarters eaten by Galaga, so…I guess that counts.

 

Dove, I appreciate your attempt to bring moments of peace and happiness to my existence. (And with that new Salted Caramel line, you may claim absolute triumph.) However, it’s time to either

  1. find new writers or
  2. stop presuming what’s best for my life.

No offense.

Because, let’s be serious. If I followed most of the wrappers’ advice, my life would be in shambles. (Also, if I followed most rappers’ advice…but that’s a homonym for another day.)

Let’s pause to consider a few of these nuggets.

Keep the promises you make to yourself.

Right. On the surface, sounds like a great plan. This, of course, depends upon the flavor of your declaration.

During a recent conversation with myself regarding a child who shall remain nameless, I didst covenant with mineself that if such shenanigans as were occurring should perdure, said urchin’s nether regions would soon benefit from the application of velocity plus acceleration plus mass (also known as The Swatter).

Before you string me up and send me to Child Protective Services, please note that The Swatter is a plastic toy paddle that bends in half. It is a noisemaker.

AND, getting back to the point, although I promised myself that a swat was in order if crazypants did not cease and desist singing opera past bedtime, no paddle made appearance.

BECAUSE I DID NOT LISTEN TO MY CHOCOLATE.

If I listened to my chocolate, all manner of horrible promises might be kept. “If that kid doesn’t quiet down, I’ll…” “If they don’t stop throwing spaghetti at each other, I’ll…” “If my child trips the principal one…more…time…I’ll…”

Okay, that last one never happened. Thank goodness.

The assistant principal did tackle the five-year-old hyena to prevent yet another school-building escape, but he did not trip her.

A plethora of threatening parental promises stream from our consciousness all day.

Don’t give me that look; I know I’m not the only one. We don’t mean to keep them; it’s almost a habit. A tactic to manage the stress.

I like this better:

No one should keep all their promises.

Especially when you work with hyenas.

 

Indulge in dark.

Yes, the intent is convincing me to buy more chocolate. I get that. But let’s think about this one for a moment.

My kiddos love night-lights.

When I’m ready to sleep, I much prefer darkness. Even as a child, the only time I wanted light at night was to read Little House on the Prairie and Narnia under the covers.

Books are the reason I spent four years in braces; all that time spent reading with a flashlight between my teeth so I could use both hands to hold the book. These new-fangled headlamps available in the DIY store…my eight-year-old self would have cut off a big toe to get one of those. Probably even my own big toe.

For sleeping, I love dark. Flashing lights from a computer or cell phone drive me nuts; I have to cover them with a sweatshirt or other article of clothing dropped bedside (because yes, I do that).

Sometimes even a light outside my room is too much. At my aunt’s house, we leave the bathroom light shining in case of mid-night emergencies. The glossy wood floor reflects the light under the door and casts more light than you’d expect. I sleep with a pillow over my face to block the glow.

Following choc-advice, I could flip the light switch and sleep in blessed pitch.

And then, after sunup, I’d have to clean a bedside puddle because one of the kids couldn’t navigate through the blackness.

Keep your light shining.

 

How about this one?

Do what feels right.

Parent or not, I’m sure you’ve experienced that moment in which you think, “I really can’t live through another moment of _______________.”

Of course, we can and do live through it, but we don’t feel that we can.

Think of the last time you experienced the end of your wits. The frayed rope of nerves unwinding just a bit more…

  • you lose your job
  • he/she/they cheat (on a game, on a test, on you)
  • that child sasses you ONE. MORE. TIME.
  • he pushes
  • she yells
  • baby’s still wailing and you’ve changed and fed and burped and rocked
  • they scream and bicker and fight
  • your eye begins to twitch

In that moment, be honest—what do you FEEL like doing? Scream, yell, slap, hit, walk away, self-medicate, drown (yourself…others…all of the above) in alcohol or bad behaviors or the bathtub.

Nothing good.

This advice, excuse my French, is CRAP.

We must not do what feels right.

We must do what we know to be right.

Always.

And especially when our nerves are jangled and unraveled.

 

The last one is my favorite.

Continued…

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