“Desi cries every time we’re in the car, no matter what I do she won’t stop,” Jason complained to his friend.
“Oh, don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it, Zavier did that when he was young too,” replied Zack.
As parents of hurting children we hear this often, far too often. Our friends and family share their similar experiences on everything; picky eaters, criers, infants having difficulty weaning from the bottle, problems with potty training. We hear of teens who act out, use drugs and smoke to escape. Friends tell us of their teens who don’t listen, pre-teens who are promiscuous.
But there’s a difference, our children didn’t get a healthy start in life with love, care, and affection.
They were neglected, wondering when they’d be fed, never held, never soothed when they cried. They were abused, beat on, hit when they cried, yelled at when they asked questions, and heinous acts were laid upon them that we don’t even want to contemplate.
So, when an adoptive or foster parent says their child cries when they’re put in the car, we have to think outside of normal, outside that box that feels so comfy and safe. How many of our children were driven away from all they knew, in a vehicle? Most.
When children are abused and neglected, even thought it’s terrible and frightening, it’s all they know, it’s familiar. So, when that social worker drives them away from their home, it’s daunting and scary. They don’t know what to expect, they definitely don’t expect something better.
Even if children who lived in an orphanage before joining their adoptive family weren’t abused, leaving those walls is harrowing, sometimes that orphanage is all they know, and maybe it brought something better than starving on the street in a frozen desolate country. When any of these kids are taken to a new place, it’s scary.
Maybe Desi, who cries every time she’s put in the car had a terrifying experience in a vehicle, and when that door closes, those horrific memories come back assaulting her, and she cries.
Maybe Desi is afraid her new family will take her and drop her off with someone new, because whenever she was put in the car, she was abandoned on someones door step and her mom didn’t pick her up again for weeks.
People who don’t live our lives and contemplate our children’s circumstances don’t get it. A few days after our son, Jeremiah, came to us, I was visiting with a friend of mine. When I mentioned that he cried all the time, she said, “My mom said my brother was like that, he was colicky.”
Yeah, we could chalk it up to colic, and a very small part of it was (because we worked on changing his formula and finally found one – plus gas drops – that decreased his crying by a minimal percentage), but a majority of his distress was caused by something else. Trauma.
Jeremiah’s biological father had let Jeremiah cry, he didn’t sooth him, and didn’t feed him nearly enough. Eyewitnesses saw him pushing Jeremiah around town in a stroller, while Jeremiah screamed, his bio father never doing anything to help the newborn. The same eyewitness saw the bio dad pushing Jeremiah in a stroller around town when it was fifteen-degrees outside (he wasn’t going to work, his travels sometimes had no purpose).
Jeremiah hadn’t yet learned that crying wouldn’t bring any comfort, it takes time for infants to learn that crying won’t bring food, a soothing back rub, rocking, holding, someone to change a dirty diaper, a mother to sing lullabies to help him go to sleep, a nightlight for the overwhelming darkness, something to look at from the bottom of the empty crib.
Until a child learns that crying gets him nothing, all he knows is crying, because that’s what babies normally do to get what they need. All Jeremiah knew was crying and being uncomfortable.
So no, avoiding the real issue and hearing that my friend’s brother had colic too made me mad. Sometimes our friends and family forget what our children went through, or they try to pretend, and want to believe that everything’s okay. They don’t believe that extensive trauma causes a plethora of issues, they don’t think people treat infants and children so horribly, to them it’s impossible to believe. Sadly, parents and caregivers do these horrific things and we need to recognize it if we’re going to help our children.
Another thing our two children did was stay awake on long road trips, even one that lasted twelve-hours. We’ve heard from other non-adoptive parents that their children don’t sleep much in the car either.
Neither Payton nor Jeremiah slept in the car for several years after they came to live with us, whether the trip last three-hours, seven-hours, or twelve-hours. In Payton’s case, we know she was left with strangers constantly, we’ve heard horror stories about some of the people she was left with. She lived in several foster homes before she came to us, and it’s no wonder her eyes were peeled on the road ahead when we took long road trips. She held them wide open as if invisible toothpicks were holding her eyelids open, no soothing, comforting words could convince her all was going to be okay, she could rest. No words, No actions. Just time.
Friends of ours adopted their two girls from Korea, and they’ve told us their daughters did the same thing, it’s as if it was exactly the same story, only different kids from another country.
There’s a really good chance Payton did this because she was afraid we were going to take her somewhere, drop her off where she would be abused, and never see her again. It broke my heart. But because my heart broke, I was able to help her in the ways she needed. Getting mad doesn’t fix it, blaming the child doesn’t fix it.
Having compassion and a willingness to meet your child where they are and dedicating yourself to them is what fixes it.
No, Payton didn’t do this because she was “that way.” It wasn’t a “normal kid thing.” It was trauma based, and we needed to recognize this.
So, when a hurting child hits, we don’t blow it off and say, “It’s just boys,” we have to address it where our child is, talking about what’s going on inside them, discussing feelings. Maybe that child’s father hit him, and taught him hitting was the answer, thus you have a child who hits, and it’s not “just a boy thing.” Saying “Stop it Daniel!” won’t help (although you still intervene), you have to dig deeper, get down to those feelings.
When friends and family tell you, “My kids did that too, she’ll grow out of it,” or “Don’t worry about it, it’s a kids thing,” or “It’s normal,” know that your story is different. Your kids didn’t have their beginning.
Your kids need you to recognize this and help them through it in an understanding and compassionate way.
What do you do when others give you this parent mantra? Do you respond, and how?
Here’s another post that will help you meet your child where they are:
What Emotion is My Adopted/Foster Child Dealing With?
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