Issues With the Older Adopted Child

Issues With The Older Adopted Child

(originally written in October 2011)

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) The questions have been asked, 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 Sweetie 4 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.
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.
(Sweetie 4 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 and  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, Sweetie 4 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.

(Since Sweetie 4 came home 2 and a half years ago, she has gained 40 lbs and 8 and a half inches.)

Comments warmly welcomed!

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