is love enough? (adoption/foster)

Is love enough?
Pam Parish, a woman who writes insightful words over at www.pamparish.com,  asked for input on the “love is not enough” idea in a Facebook adoption group. I had quite a lot to say about the subject since I’d heard Nancy Thomas speak on “Love is Not Enough.” I had disagreed with Nancy to a point, and I constantly hear other parents use those words, “Love is not enough.”

Here’s what I shared with Pam (with a few additions), which she posted on her blog: I think it all depends on what a persons definition of LOVE is. Is love putting a roof over a child’s head, providing clothing, toys, entertainment, taking them on vacation, being there for them when they need it?

Or, is it much more than that?

Is it providing consequences to teach them how to live life? Is it holding them when all they’ve done is push you away? Is it living through the ugly and dirty moments when we feel such hate being slung our way? Is it moving on with each day even though we don’t have strength to even look at the dirty dishes in the sink?

I feel it’s all of the above and more.

This is HARD because our children came from HARD. I believe the knowledge of this begins with the original training foster and adoptive parents receive before a child is placed with them. Although we never truly understand what it takes to raise a hurting child until we are living with them day to day, I feel I had a better starting place than many. Because of our training, I was able to empathize with my children and I knew it was going to be HARD.

My love has been enough, but then my definition is probably different than most.

I see where some adoptive parents are coming from, we hear others say, “I would love to adopt, children just need love,” and maybe they don’t realize the amount of “love” a hurting child needs. One mom on the Facebook page said, “Those who look at our family think, ‘Look, all they needed was a family to love them.’ ” But, that family knows how much “love” it has taken to heal their child.

original photo by joeymc86 via freeimages.com

Is love enough? Some might say, no. But does your love include educating yourself and learning about trauma? Love should be all inclusive. As I was working on this post, I received an email from my dad. He had listened to my radio interview, and said, “I know you have developed a relationship with Payton and the two of you are very close. One thing to remember is it is a continual learning process.” I think that process entails love, a love that is willing to try to do the best, and be the best for a child. It includes loving through the process and in the process.

Love is a big word. Our children need a big love and we can do it.

I am rewarded daily for the immense amount of love I’ve poured into both my children. When Payton runs to me after school, yelling, “Mommy!!!” and gives me a big hug, my heart is filled. It used to be that I showed up at her school and she wanted me to leave and didn’t want me to help her with her craft. Now, she WANTS me to sit with her on her classroom floor and read with her. Now she gets slightly jealous if I help other kids in her class, whereas before, she couldn’t care less where I was or what I was doing.

Love is a big word. When children come from trauma, they need a big love to carry them through.

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does your child like their therapist? (adoption/foster)

 

liketherapist

*These tips are for those who use therapy to help their children, I am not recommending that all parents take their children to a therapist.

In We’re Our Child’s Best Therapist, I wrote about how, well, exactly that, we’re our child’s best therapist. Why? Because we know them best and we are with them more. This doesn’t mean every family who has a therapist on board should chuck them out the window, that’s not what I’m saying. However, it’s imperative to take home what you learn in the therapy office and implement the techniques at home. You can ask your child’s therapist what they suggest you do to follow through.

They may have you ask your child questions in a different way, look for triggers that upset your child, or provide sensory activities for your child. (All of these recommendations are great initiatives even if they aren’t recommended by the therapist.) You are an essential component to your child’s healing, the more you can help your child outside of the therapist’s office, the better they’ll do.

You will also need to use your intuition. Intuition comes in handy throughout all aspects of adoption related issues. Always keep your antennas up when introduced to new advice coming in. Weigh it and decide whether you’re comfortable with what you’re being told (whether you’re reading it in a book, blog, or website, or hearing from a friend, relative, or professional), or what’s being done with your child.

Our experience with an attachment therapist taught me the importance of listening to my Mommy Intuition (Dad’s also have this intuition if they’re involved with their kids). Not all attachment therapists are like the one we met with, but it’s important to be aware of what the therapist is doing with your child. If, at any time you feel they are doing anything harmful (emotionally or physically) you have the right to stop it immediately.

This may be embarrassing for some of you, and you may be in a situation where you think if you wait it out, it will get better. Understand that you are your child’s voice, younger children may not say anything if they’re uncomfortable, or know how to express what they think or feel. If your older child comes from a neglectful or abusive background they may not say anything either.

The therapist we took my daughter to didn’t hurt her physically, but it two visits she made it very clear to Payton that her behavior was her fault, without even getting to know her. She told Payton how horrible she’d been to us. This is true, but Payton wasn’t acting out towards us, being belligerent, controlling, and manipulative because she wanted to, it stemmed from her early childhood, and blaming a child does not heal them.

The second therapy session took it even further. She didn’t physically harm Payton, but it was traumatic for her. I made a HUGE mistake that day. When you have a child that is so out of control, and you’ve worked with dozens of kids and had great success, you’re at a loss for what to do when it comes to your attachment challenged child. What I didn’t realize like so many others is it takes time + consistency + compassion + dedication + so many other ingredients. I thought this attachment therapist could help. I was wrong. There are therapists who can help hurting kids, she just wasn’t the one.

Another therapist, Scott Chaussee, had been available to us through the Department of Human Services. We’d only utilized his services on a couple occasions. (He’s the one who taught us the healing benefits of rocking and helped us with Payton’s sleep issues.) We hadn’t talked to him in a few years, but he called days after that therapy session that went completely wrong. Go ahead and tell me there’s no God and I’ll give you dozens of instances such as this.

Scott wanted to do a brain scan on Payton (Dr. Bruce Perry had trained him – how awesome is that?), and while he was in our home we talked about the attachment therapist. I wanted to get his opinion since he was familiar with attachment and was of the same opinions as Dr. Bruce Perry. In the end, he said that if someone doesn’t like their therapist, adult or child, then he doesn’t see how therapy can take place. He also said he feels play therapy works best for children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

On the first point, I definitely see what Scott is saying. If I was supposed to talk to, open up to, and receive direction from someone I didn’t like, therapy would fail. Scott is right, it’s the same for our kids. If our child doesn’t like going to therapy, what benefit is it? If the relationship between therapist and child is stressed, how will meeting with that therapist help your child heal? I don’t think it will.

You’ll have to be careful and use that intuition I mentioned earlier, because if you have an older child or teen, they may hate therapy, because, well they don’t want to be there. They don’t like talking and it’s hard for them to delve into the past where the pain thrives. You will need to decide whether it’s the child making a ruckus because they don’t want to attend therapy or whether it’s a founded opinion. Listen to your child and validate their opinions, they may not be correct, but they have the right to be heard if they can share them appropriately.

If your child attends sessions alone and they share what’s going on, and red flags are raised, talk to the therapist. Ask your child if they would mind if you attend therapy with them for a while.

It’s also important to remember that older children may have been to therapy while with their bio parents or foster parents. You may not know what that experience was like for them, in fact there’s probably a considerable amount of their past you don’t know.

We can learn about our children, we can help them by listening to them and letting them open up to us (you can read how to do that here). Help your children by listening to your intuition, and be in contact with the therapist at all times.

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time + time + time (adoption/foster)

healingtakestime

This world is full of immediate gratification. We can ask Siri and she will answer, we don’t even have to look on the internet. And speaking of the internet, we can look up anything we want, buy anything we want, whenever we want. We have fast food and fast flavored coffee, immediate books on our iPad (yes, I’m an Apple junky), and we can start our car from inside a building. (I don’t have that feature on my car, but I sure do want one.)

Because everything in our society is instant, parents think they’re hurting children should be bonded within months of entering their life. They think their child’s negative behaviors, should stop, they should lull off to a sweet slumber, and they should understand consequences and the rules of the house within a short period of time (and a few months is a relatively short amount of time).

I think of what happened to hurting children like tearing down a garage. We tore ours down to build a larger one and add a level on top, the deconstruction was quick and not too difficult (for big, strong, burly guys anyway). However, the rebuilding process takes a LONG time, it’s detailed, involved, it’s time consuming, and it’s stressful.

For some children, the tearing down process didn’t take long, even infants are greatly affected in a short amount of time by neglect, abuse, and trauma. Children are even affected in utero by what the birth mother does or doesn’t do. Just as a garage demolition doesn’t take long, neither did it take long for our children to be broken down.

And, just as the building up process takes a long time when creating a new deservecommitmentstructure, so does the building up of our children. It takes work, dedication, compassion, and understanding.

None of us want to face a battle and know it won’t end tomorrow. I find it helpful to remember what happened to the hurting child, and where they came from. Their trauma affected them beyond what we can see. So, focus on the positives and keep moving forward, you can do this.

Here are some links to help you out:
why consequences and rewards don’t work
the importance of consistency & routine
detecting attachment issues
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants)

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the intelligence behind a hurting child (adoption/foster)

littlebee

I talk frequently about our children and their brains, how a hurting child’s brain is less developed than a child who’s had a typical upbringing (love and consistency). I talk about their inability to think logically, and that’s why consequences and reward systems don’t work. However, none of this means that a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized isn’t smart. I think all of this can be misconstrued and parents can assume their children aren’t intelligent, when that’s very far from the truth.

When Dr. Bruce Perry talks about a traumatized child’s brain being smaller, it means certain areas haven’t developed fully. It doesn’t mean the processing areas aren’t functioning, it means the areas that control the social and emotional haven’t developed fully. A hurting child is aware of what’s happening around them, they are able to manipulate, they can give you directions and street names, but solving A=B issues is very difficult, even impossible for some, hence the logical consequences don’t compute.

In the book Little Bee, two girls have escaped an England prison, where they’d been held as illegal immigrants. Little Bee says to Yevette, “You aren’t dumb, Yevette. All of us who have got this far, all of us who have survived – how can we be dumb? Dumb could not come this far.” It’s so true, and something that parents need to understand about their hurting kids, they aren’t lacking intelligence, it only looks different.

Bryan Post writes, “In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, researcher Mihaly implies it’s no mystery that individuals of genius nature are in fact genius because most have all experienced life-altering trauma. In essence, he explains that in environments of neglect and abuse the child does not receive an equivalent balance of cognitive/social/emotional experience, therefore a neurologic compensation occurs. Whereby what the brain does not get emotionally, it compensates for cognitively, thus a very intelligent child. The catch, though the child may be cognitively advanced perhaps even brilliant, rarely can this be accessed because of the constant emotional hijacking which occurs when the trauma brain gets triggered and takes over.”

For those who don’t enjoy reading about brain development, essentially what Mihaly said is that while our children weren’t developing in the social/emotional area of their brain, the cognitive area had adequate time to mature.

My daughter, Payton, is just one example of this. She had extreme difficulty with controlling behaviors she knew were unacceptable, she wasn’t able to figure out A=B for consequences. [If you do A (behavior) then B (consequence) happens.] Yet, when I spelled out “ice cream” when she was two, she knew what I was spelling, and she could give me directions to the grocery store. She was reading books at age four, and I could go on and on with her knowledge of where she was and how things worked. This happens so many times with kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized.

Dr. Bruce Perry has also said, “If you have relational poverty you walk around as a dysregulated person. You’re more vulnerable to trauma…and it’s harder to learn new things.” Perry describes the one who is in relational poverty as a high risk child or one who’s in foster care. Also, just because a child has entered your home or been there for a few months, it doesn’t mean they’re no longer in relational poverty. It takes time for relationships to develop, especially when a child has learned no one can be trusted.

This is also explained well by Joseph LeDoux, “In times of stress, our thinking becomes confused and distorted and our short term memory is suppressed.”

Hurting kids are constantly under stress until they have made significant attachments, even while they’re making attachments they will slip back into a stressed state.

stresssuppressesmemory

On the topic of stress affecting our memory, even I can attest to this. I walked into a Starbucks earlier this week and stood at the counter, it was the first time I’d been at this particular store, but I had ordered this particular drink dozens of times, yet I froze. What was it that I order every time? See, it happens to all of us…I think.

So, there’s a good chance your child is intelligent, it just may be hiding underneath a lot of pain, or you may see it and wonder how your child can be so smart, yet not obey simple rules. I hope this gives you some insight into your child and what’s going on inside of them.

These links may be helpful in learning more about a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized:

detecting attachment issues
why consequences and rewards don’t work 

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why consequences & rewards don’t work for hurting children (adoption/foster)

consequences

You can listen to a recording of this post, just scroll down to the bottom of this page and don some earbuds. 🙂

“My child doesn’t respond to consequences, I can take away anything and he doesn’t care.” “Rewards mean nothing to my daughter, I can offer an ice cream at McDonald’s or a new Wii game, it doesn’t matter to her.” I hear these stories ALL. THE. TIME. It’s as though all of us who have children who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized live in the same house! Yes, every child is unique, but there are many similarities in hurting kids.

One of the similarities that’s common in hurting children is their response to consequences, discipline, and rewards. At some point in your journey, you may have been encouraged by other parents to read Love and Logic or attend one of their seminars, other parenting advice may be thrown at you, saying, “I promise, this works.” The problem is, there’s a missing link, their child probably didn’t experience trauma, neglect, or abuse, or at least it didn’t have the same affect on their child.

Love and Logic, Have a New Kid by Friday, as well as other parenting books and classes have some great information, but they aren’t the cure-all for a hurting child.

When we were struggling with our daughter’s behaviors a friend of mine (she had adopted domestically) suggested I read Have a New Kid by Friday. She said, “It works. Find something she cares about and remove it if she makes a wrong choice.” I said, “I’ve tried that.” She replied, adamantly, nodding her head, “There’s something.” I read the book anyway, there were some good ideas, very helpful ones for children who aren’t hurting. But, why don’t consequences and reward systems work for kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized?

Because many adopted and foster children don’t care about the material world around them.

Often they don’t have a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket when they’re young, they aren’t connected to anything, so removing it doesn’t make any difference to them. Neither are rewards important enough for them to turn off their strong emotions and behaviors for them.

The logic part of Love and Logic doesn’t work because hurting kids don’t think logically, their brain isn’t calm enough or reasonable enough to do so.

Their brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for since their birth. This DOES NOT mean they aren’t intelligent, oh no, most children who’ve been through trauma are very smart (all about that in another post), but logical they are not. Not until they’ve made significant attachments.

These kiddos are constantly in fight or flight mode. There are three responses that children have to trauma – fight, flight, and dissociation. When looking at the trauma response in adults, Putnam says, “Among the constellation of symptoms associated with the trauma response in adults is dissociation. Dissociation is simply disengaging from stimuli in the external world and attending to an ‘internal’ world. Daydreaming, fantasy, depersonalization, and derealization are all examples of dissociation.” Putnam goes on to explain what happens to a soldier during battle and how dissociation can take affect, and he concludes, “It is this very ability to dissociate which can keep soldiers alive.”

It is much the same for our children. They have connected to the world around them; what’s going on, where they are, and who is present, not a person or item. They were in life preserving mode before they came to us, and it’s going to take a lengthy amount of time to learn that their new parents and caretakers can be trusted.

It will take more than a few months to learn they don’t have to fight, flee, or dissociate from their life any longer. I’m not encouraging you to throw out all consequences or rewards, we need to use them to lay a foundation for their future. Your child still needs to know they can’t get away with hitting, tearing apart the house, or yelling.

Some ways to begin to curb your child’s behaviors are through time-ins.

Time-ins are time with you, if your child is small enough, that means sitting on your lap, preferably while rocking (make sure you are safe and not harming your child). If your child is bigger, you can have your child sit in a chair near you. You can also have your child do something with you, preferably not something fun if this is being utilized as a consequence.

Using natural consequences lays that foundation I mentioned earlier. An example of this is if your daughter draws on the couch with a marker, she can’t use markers or crayons for a set period of time. (I don’t recommend using natural consequences with food related instances.) Remember that you may not see a difference in your child’s behavior, they have to make attachments, then their brain will calm down and heal so they can think logically and care about those around them.

When you have a child who’s come from a neglectful or abusive situation, your parenting techniques need to be tweaked.

Dozens of times I’ve seen parents of older biological children say, “My other kids turned out great, what’s the problem? It can’t be me, because I did it right four times.” What they don’t see is that parenting a hurting child and one who’s been loved consistently is vastly different. Parents think they can implement the same techniques they used with their biological children with their hurting children and it will all turn out the same. Sadly, they’re wrong.

Hurting kids come with a whole different set of rules, and many of those rules are difficult for us to understand. One big one is that it takes time. Lots of time. Are you willing to be patient with your children? Are you willing to show them love, read on this website about how to parent your child, and be consistent?

  • A child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized will react differently than a child who has been loved consistently to consequences, discipline, and rewards.
  • Hurting children aren’t connected to the material items around them, so removing them won’t make a big difference immediately. You can use these discipline techniques, but understand you are laying a foundation for later.
  • A hurting child’s brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for consistently.
  • A hurting child doesn’t think logically because their brain isn’t calm. This doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent!
  • Often dissociating is what kept our children alive in their neglectful, abusive environment, and this will carry over to their new environment – your home. It will take time for them to heal.
  • Use time-ins when behavior is unacceptable. CHOOSE your battles. Use consequences and rewards to lay a foundation.
  • Parenting techniques for hurting children need to be modified.

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Be sure to check out my CONTENTS page for more posts on how to help your foster and adopted children and your family.
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the importance of consistency & routine (adoption/foster)

consistency&routine

I looked up “quotes on consistency” for this post. What I found was in direct contradiction to what I was looking for. Oscar Wilde says, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” Aldous Huxley said, “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only complete consistent people are dead.”

For the sake of being a rock in the shoe, let’s address the latter point. My in-laws are the most consistent people you will ever meet; dinner at five, dinner at Dollar Scoop Chinese on Friday nights, small group every Thursday night, spaghetti for lunch on Wednesdays, and grocery shopping on Tuesday nights. Point is, they are consistent, and they aren’t dead.

Both quotes are made by writers. It surprises me that writers would reference consistency in this way, as most would say they have the same routine every day to accomplish their writing goals. Most inconsistent writers aren’t writers, they are wannabes.

I also wonder how consistency is contrary to nature. Don’t Monarch Butterflies migrate to Mexico every winter? Don’t deer follow the exact path each time they go to the water source, and isn’t that why it’s called a “game trail?” Don’t Salmon swim hundreds of miles back to their hatching grounds to spawn?

If nature is so dependent on consistency for it’s survival, wouldn’t humans need some of the same?

What about children who come from neglectful, abusive, and traumatizing situations where they didn’t know if they were going to eat again, who was going to take care of them, if they would be going to school not, or if they would celebrate their birthday.

Our hurting kids worry excessively, and the above mentioned scenarios are only a clip of their life movie. We can take action to relieve much of that anxiety.

Consistency and routine are two important aspects to helping our children feel safe and know what to expect.

By implementing consistency and routine in our children’s daily lives, we build trust, and trust is another key element in helping our hurting kids heal and attach. If a child cannot trust their primary caregivers, they will feel their life is spinning out of control.

If you spin around until your world becomes tipsy, what are you likely to do next? Probably look for something to stabilize yourself. You are going to try to gain back that control you lost. It’s the same with our kids. They want consistency and routine, when they know what to expect, it will cut down on the worry, the questions, and the behaviors that stem from not knowing what will happen next.

When our children don’t know what to expect, they will feel the same way they did in their neglectful and abusive situation.

They weren’t able to trust their previous caregiver, nor will they be able to trust you if they don’t know what’s happening day to day. They will feel lost and out of control. You can help them stabilize by providing a consistent environment that incorporates plenty of routine.

Here are some ideas on how to implement consistency and routine:

  • If you say something, do it. This will require giving thought before you say anything, whether it be a plan you’re making, or a discipline you’re going to put into place.
  •  Keep daily and weekly routines as consistent as possible so your child knows what to expect each day. IF events in your week are going to be different, let your children know well ahead of time. Also, calendars are great ideas, something simple like a printed list of days and what happens on each one.
  • Stick to bedtime and waking routines. This will also cut down on behaviors because they know what to do and what is expected.

Do you have consistency and routines in your every day life? Does it seem to help your kids? If you are a fly by the seat of your pants type, is there an area that you can begin to incorporate more consistency and routine?


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Santa’s big secret: to tell or not to tell (adoption/foster)

santassecret

Our daughter’s been asking the question since she could talk, “How does Santa get in?” With no chimney protruding from our roof, our answer was, he’s magic. That response would appease most children. Not Payton. “Will he use the front door? Will you leave it unlocked?” Well, we didn’t want to cause worry, having her think that anyone can just pop in whenever they want, packages in tow or not. So we stuck to, “He’s magic.”

Every year she’s had questions about this Santa guy, the Eater Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. A few years ago we threw out magical flying food for Santa’s reindeer (oats mixed with glitter, an idea my husband’s sister shared with us when they visited with their daughters). Her girls loved it and didn’t have questions. But you could see the concern gnawing at Payton when we tried to feed some poor starving trailblazing deer. “How will they find it?” The oats and glitter had fairly disappeared in the snow or the grass, whichever it happened to be each year.

I had a feeling the Santa front wasn’t going to last long. Because all the afore-mentioned and because I am horrible at keeping secrets. Yeah, it’s really bad, mostly when it comes to gifts and not blurting aloud what we bought the kids, when it was supposed to be from the good ole jolly guy.

This past week I was in Payton’s room, she had called to me after she went to bed. I could hear a little fear etched in her voice, and I wondered what it could be. “How will Santa come? I’m always awake at night.” I asked if she was scared of Santa, and she nodded her head. I asked again just to make sure. Yep.

Decision time had come. Do I let my daughter continue to believe in Santa and be frightened of the big man in the red suit totting an extra-large beard or do I tell her the truth and crush any sort of child-like fantasy? Some parents scoff at me because they’ve always been honest with their kids about these fairy tale characters; the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa. My husband was one of those kids that didn’t have the chance to dream about the great Claus because his parents were the honest ones. I, however, came from a family of liars. Well, not really unless I want to be added to that category because I let Payton believe the same.

I remembered what it was like trying desperately hard to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, waiting to hear any creak in the floor, or a thump as Santa left something for my brother and I. I remember the flight to my parents room as soon as my brother woke me (yes, I always slept later than he), begging them to go to the living room and SEE. I remember the thrill of eyeing the presents under the tree, waiting for us. They are still very special memories, and I wanted my daughter to have the same.

Problem being that my daughter didn’t come from the same background I did. Although she’s tremendously better now, worry has always been a part of who she is. She’s also very intelligent. She is able to think through things and figure out that Santa + no chimney = no Santa. Or, if Santa did come down the chimney, he would surely break a bone, if not several. Many of our kiddos who come from difficult places are highly intelligent, even if you don’t see it, it’s likely there beneath the surface, or you are being fooled.

When Payton told me she was scared of Santa, I told her to wait a minute and I went to chat with Justin. This is a two person decision if you are married, so I told him what was going on (he knew she had been concerned before about a strange man entering our house), and he agreed that I could tell her Santa isn’t real.

That was hard for me. Really hard. I was sad to tell her the truth, but then it felt kind of strange knowing that I had lied to her about Santa and the others. I then had to make sure that she knew Jesus and God ARE real, yeah, think I’ll need to work on that one for a while. She actually smiled and thought it was kind of funny that we’d been the ones to fill the Eater baskets, fill the Easter eggs and hide them, and put out presents from Santa.

Our kiddos have a lot of worries, many come from scary places. We need to think about adding to those fears, whether they have a conscious memory of their past or not. You can tell if your child seems overly fearful or worries more than he should. Maybe it would’ve been better for us to have begun this thing differently, no Santa, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy. If it had been up to Justin, that would have been the way it was done, but I got my way, and I’m seeing that it probably wasn’t the best.

Does your child have an unusual fear of Santa? How have you dealt with it?

thankful therapy

thankfulnesstherapy

I thought the post I wrote last week would be the last one until after Thanksgiving, then I began thinking about just that; Thanksgiving, and what it means.

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen people posting daily about what they’re thankful for. Awesome idea. But it’s hard to be thankful when your children are hurting, acting out, and life is not what you expected. Some of you have kids who wrote the book on strong will. Some of you sacrifice your life daily for your child’s needs. Some of you have angry children who are attacking your world constantly because they’re scared. Life is hard, and the last thing you feel is thankful.

Yet, ask yourself where your children came from. Are they in a better place than they would have been if you hadn’t adopted or fostered? Adoptive and foster parents tend to get stuck in this idea that says, “I didn’t save my child or rescue my child,” in fact they can get downright angry when someone says this about them. But I love to ask if your child is better off with you. Would your son be sleeping in a comfy bed, enjoying family meals with people who love him if he were in an African orphanage? Would your daughter be well fed and warm at night if she was on the streets in Russia? Would your son be safer with a mom who’s doing drugs, and has different men over every week, and doesn’t take care of his needs? I doubt it, and I doubt you are saying yes.

Since this is where you are, and where your child is, you can be thankful for your kids. You can also be thankful they are safe. No, it’s not easy, but can you find things to be thankful for? I would encourage you to find attributes in your child that you can be appreciative of. Your child won’t fit into every category here, but ask yourself the following: Does your child…

  • follow directions?
  • eat veggies?
  • do school work without arguing?
  • enjoy creating art?
  • get along with siblings?
  • have manners?
  • think of others?
  • like to read?
  • follow the morning routine well?

Your child may not do any of these well, or at all, but there is something positive about your child, even if you have to dig to find it. They do have worth, and if you can build on those positives, it will help your relationship grow, and that’s the main goal.

Why is being thankful important? I clearly remember the Thanksgiving after we adopted Payton from foster care. It was only days after her adoption was finalized and we were standing in a circle with family members telling what we were thankful for. Someone (left to be unnamed as to avoid great controversy) said they had nothing to be thankful for. I was quite angry because my precious daughter was now in our arms forever and it was the most thankful I had ever been (we knew she was now safe and a year of fearful anticipation was over). I also saw that the thankless person was miserable. When we can’t find anything in our lives to be thankful for, we dwell on all the negative, and that list can be great. If we focus on what we are grateful for, we have a fuller more joyous life.

Why do I care if you are thankful? I care that you find something to be grateful for because I want your family and your kids to thrive, not just survive. I don’t want this to a Thanksgiving and Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate) that you try to get through as fast as possible, I want you to enjoy it.

Our hurting kids are hurting, and there are days when there aren’t positives to be appreciative of. So what else in your life can you be thankful for? I am truly sorry if there isn’t much, but my hope is that you can find something. Maybe it’s something simple today, like rain or a warm house, maybe tomorrow will bring something else.

I am thankful for all of you who have chosen to care for the orphan, foster child, abandoned and neglected. Without you, they wouldn’t have much to be thankful for. Thank you for all you do! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Here is another post that might help: finding joy

avoid holiday hassles

avoidholidayhassles

We all know the holiday hoopla is fast approaching. Some of us look forward to it, but for many it brings a mixture of depression and anxiety, filling us until it’s all over and we can say it’s two-thousand-fourteen.

No matter where we find ourselves, many of us will be visiting family or friends during the holidays, and some of us will be playing host. This can create added stress onto school activities, social gatherings, special events, the present parade, cooking, and shopping. So what can you do to make that visit with Granny Beatrice go better? Communicate.

What do your children need? How do your children act? What will you need to do that’s different than other families? What do you need your family to do for you?

Explanations go a long way to help our family and friends understand what your child will be doing while spending time together, it will help them understand the special treatment or things your child needs. When we got together with family for Christmas one year, our son, Jeremiah, was fascinated with the string of lights and ornaments on the tree. Our extended family all looked like wide-eyed monkeys on adrenaline when Jeremiah stood close to the tree and touched the bright, beaming lights or the sparkling ornaments. He has Autism. I explained what was going on, it calmed them down a little, and I think understanding why he wasn’t leaving the tall, sensory overloading Christmas tree alone helped. It was a starting point.

There have been situations we’ve needed to head off before we arrive at someone’s house. When Jeremiah is outside his environment and we can’t go outdoors, it’s best to play movies he likes. This is a little bothersome around the holidays because of football games, but they were able to deal with some missed field goals while Lightning McQueen racing across Route 66.

That year I sent an email to all who would be there explaining that Jeremiah would be watching movies, we also added that he doesn’t do this at home (because we wanted to avoid any judgement up front). You can gauge your family and determine what needs to be said and what doesn’t. I don’t condone extended t.v. time for Autistic kids, but if we ALL want to enjoy the holiday, our child needs to be content, and if movies do the trick, okay by me.

In the past, my daughter has struggled with attachment issues and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. We’d had experience visiting extended family members, and a a few things came up that we wanted to avoid before we arrived. Those were that Payton couldn’t handle being told something and then having it changed, she also tended to sabotage anything fun. We kindly explained this to our family.

We asked they not tell Payton about any activities we were going to do. For example, please don’t say you’re going to decorate a gingerbread house before you realize there won’t be time to do so. Don’t say you’ll go sledding before you find out that the child didn’t bring any snow clothes. This can be true for any child, but the outcome can be much worse for a child who has attachment issues.

We also avoided telling Payton of anything we planned to do. Number one, because anything can get cancelled for numerous reasons, and two, she would sabotage anything. To her it was a test to see if we would still do that “special” thing with her (equaled love in her mind) even if she misbehaved.

Our family is learning, but Payton has also healed significantly. This year Justin and I were talking about what we would do when we went to see some family. We were trying to be secretive, and of course Payton wanted to know what we were saying. I thought she could handle it at this stage, so I told her we were probably going to go to the Aquarium. She was really excited, she’d been wanting to go back for a couple years. Then I got a text from my dad, they were thinking of going to the zoo since it was a such beautiful weather. I cringed, I had already told Payton what we were doing, would she be able to handle the change of plans? I broke the news to her, I used some paradoxical parenting, something I rarely do anymore. I said, “You’re going to get really mad when I tell you this. It’s okay, you can yell and stomp your feet.” She smiled and said she wouldn’t. I told her the new plan and she proved that she has come a long way, she said, “Okay.”

This year we will be having another friendly conversation with family about their expectations of Payton’s obedience. Although Payton is doing awesome, she’s still a child, and she’s stinkin’ smart. She knows when she can get away with ignoring someone’s request. When we aren’t around, and even when we’re near, family doesn’t expect her to be polite or follow their requests (many times they aren’t formulated as requests, but as, “I think your mom wants you to wash your hands.” It needs to be, “Wash your hands please.”) I know, it puts pressure on Grandma and Grandpa or Aunts and Uncles to lay down the law, but if they don’t let her know they expect good behavior, she’ll push it. She also has a certain little thing called a strong will.

Other families deal with this same scenario. A family I know went to visit Grandma, and while Grandma was preparing a pickle tray, their son, Caleb grabbed a pickle and said, “My pickle.” When your child has attachment issues and other diagnoses added on top, this behavior isn’t shocking at all, but this wasn’t something Caleb would have done at home. He was making attachments and his behavior was improving, but when expectations were lowered, he still struggled some.

Being around others who don’t have the same expectations we do can sometimes cause our children to backslide. It’s a training process both for our children and for those who are frequently involved in our life. They need to know what we expect and be willing to back us up.

These conversations we’ve had with family have dangled between congenial and heated. The outcome will depend on how you approach them, the tone, and words you use, so contemplate those three factors. It will also depend on your family and friends. Are they judgmental or accepting? Do they have experience with special needs?

Let’s review some questions to ask yourself when considering what to share:

  • Does your child do things that are different than others?
  • Does your child have needs that are special?
  • What will you need when you visit family or friends for the holidays, or act as host?
  • Do you need family/friends to avoid saying certain things?

I hope this helps you to have a better holiday with your family and friends! For those of you in the USA, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

HARD is the BEST thing I’ve ever done

original photo by kaniths via www.sxc.hu
original photo by kaniths via http://www.sxc.hu

We shared our adoption story (in short) with our church on Orphan Sunday, Well, since this post is all about honesty, I should say, Justin shared and I stood by. I had the easy part. Afterwards, we welcomed questions from anyone interested in fostering or adopting. One of the women who chatted with me, let’s call her Kaylee to protect her privacy, is an adoptee and was exploring this option of adoption for herself and her husband.

We talked, she asked questions, I had some answers, and I shared more of our story. She went away from that conversation thinking something very different than what I expected. She hadn’t decided to move in any direction of adoption, nor had she closed the door, but she was overwhelmed with emotion as she realized what her adoptive mother had given her and gone through for her. Before we talked she had a deep and profound respect for her mom, but when we finished there was something more that she had come to comprehend; it hadn’t been easy for her mom.

Why hadn’t it been easy for her adoptive mom? Because her mother is very me&P2012sensitive. I can relate, because I am extremely sensitive. Every day it’s hard for me to be in relationships with others, every day it’s hard to put myself out here on a blog, every day confronts me with pain. Then why did I do that foster and adoption thing that was so hard and seems impossible for the sensitive like me?

As Kaylee and I talked, she mentioned what we do. She said, “It’s not that it’s great that someone else is doing this (something Justin mentioned during his memoir spiel), but it’s WOW, that’s amazing. I’m not putting you on a pedestal, but what you’ve done is admirable.”

I’m not like some other adoptive parents who dislike hearing this, but I did want to tell her my truth. My truth is that I am flawed, deeply. My truth is that I am extremely sensitive. So, you would think I’d have avoided foster care and adoption like the plague.

But no, I had jumped on that plane headed to China immediately, well figuratively, but I wanted to hide in the baggage compartment when it came to foster care. Why? Because it looked hard, it looked impossible for the sensitive; me. When husband brought up the option of fostering while we waited to begin the process for China (I wasn’t old enough to apply), I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to jump in and get my feet muddy. I didn’t think it would change me, I didn’t think I could handle all it involved.

Payton&Jeremiah2012Was I wrong? An emphatic YES! Because when we really ponder what brings out a better us, what teaches us compassion, what changes us from the inside out, it isn’t the easy, it’s the HARD. If we think of world changers, I would bet their lives haven’t been cushy. I bet something happened to them, something moved them, or else they are consistently placing themselves in the middle of HARD.

I don’t mean that I have come out at this end (because my life is still being transformed by special needs) an awesome person. What I mean is that before I began this journey, I thought I knew about God, love, and faith. I hadn’t arrived, but I thought I was getting a handle on it. I didn’t. That handle I was grasping fairly burned up in my hand and I dropped it. I have found that I didn’t know much about God’s power, loves abilities, and faith’s transformation. It has all come crashing in on me, in a good way. I look at life in a new way. I see people in a new way, or I am still working on it anyway.

People don’t want HARD. But what if I told you HARD will be the best thing you’ve ever done? I love this quote by Brene Brown, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. “Perfect” and “bulletproof” are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be–a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult conversation–with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.”

I want to go back to my sensitivities. My heart is fragile, just ask my poor husband, he could write a series of books on it. Yet, I have seen how God has put an armor around my heart, not so I can’t pour out love, but so that some of the hurt my children can cause doesn’t make it through. What have I been through with them that could have hurt me beyond repair? Well, my son and daughter both bonded with my husband long before they did with me. Consider my daughters diagnoses and my son’s Autism. We also went through fostering them. My heart could have been pounded into the floor, but it wasn’t. Yes, I’ve been hurt, and yes it’s been hard, but it hasn’t had nearly the effect someone who knew me before all of this would have imagined.

When Kaylee shared about her adoptive mom, she told me how sensitive she is. Kaylee said, “I never told my mom, ‘You’re not my real mom!’ I think that was God’s way of protecting her, He kept me from making such hurtful remarks.” I believe she’s right. There can be so much about this journey that’s hard, but God is God, and when we trust and believe He will help us, He will. We are not on this journey alone

After writing the rough draft of this post, I read the November 2013 issue of Payton11.2012Adoption Today, in it Lisa Harper wrote, “If we didn’t have dark nights, we couldn’t experience the peachy glow of sunrise. If we didn’t ache, we couldn’t experience relief. If we didn’t suffer brokenness, we couldn’t experience restoration.” She’s right, and she should know because catastrophe struck her three times in one day. Now that’s living through HARD and still having the courage to move forward.

Has something in your life been HARD and changed you? I would love for you to share.