“My kid is so angry all the time, I can’t seem to get him on the right track!”
These are just some bits of conversations I have had with adoptive/foster parents. Kids getting kicked off the bus, suspended from school, kicked out of kid’s church. I could say, “Been there. Done that,” and sometimes I do, but that is not enough. Adoptive/Foster parents need real tried and true info to help them on their journey. We parents need to understand where the behavior is coming from, what’s going on inside the child’s brain, and what we can do to help foster attachment as well as moral and physical development.
If you adopted a cute cuddly baby or toddler and he suddenly starts behaving in off the wall ways, you may be asking yourself, what have I gotten myself into and what happened? What did I do wrong? I used to ask myself this on a daily basis. When rotten behavior burgeoned its ugly head and morals seemed non existent, I cried, disciplined and when traditional parenting didn’t work, I delved into research. That doesn’t make me super woman. I am definitely not a super hero. What it did for me was bring me out of denial. I was denying that there was anything different between them and my bio kids because I felt like it meant I loved them less. It didn’t. That was a lie. The other lie that was difficult to battle was “you’re not being fair!” from the bio kids. I had to approach dealing with behaviors differently in my adopted children and it was evident that I was doing things differently. I wish there was a magic wand I could wave over my bio kid so they could understand I am parenting two different backgrounds, a set of kids from a secure foundation and another with no foundation of family. You can’t base fair on two different circumstances to begin with. It wasn’t fair that my adopted children had traumatic beginnings. Let me get back on track here, education is the key for parenting children from hard places.
A New Perspective.
Out with the old. In with the new. That is the perspective we must take in parenting children who have had trauma in their lives. Adopted/foster kids don’t come with a clean slate that we can write on. They come with a chalk board full of past. We must acknowledge that and focus on child rearing that meets them where they are, not where we expect them to be. For example, we expect an eight year old to act his age, yet if he has had a traumatic beginning, he may only have an emotional age of three or four. He may lie, because in his mind, he believes you will believe exactly what he tells you because his brain is only developed to the stage of a three year old. Four year olds think you only know what they tell you.
It’s a difficult thing, this re-shifting of parenting. It’s a bit easier if you think of your children as half their physical age and measure their brain development rather than their shoe size. If they have poor impulse control, they are using only the downstairs brain, it takes time and consistent parenting to help these kids move to the upstairs brain. Kids who have not had the opportunity to explore truth and fiction may struggle with the two, not matter their age.
Raising children from hard places helps me understand the portion of scripture referring to renewing my mind. When raising these children with cognitive dis-regulation due to early trauma, it takes a constant flow of education, a renewing of the mind in how to meet these kids where they are mentally, physically and spiritually.
. Check this video out for help in handling lying.
Gifting a set of tickets (non professional) for the Show Hope Empowered to Connect Simulcast today! How do you enter? Share this post on Facebook and tag The Whole House (you must tag to be entered!) For more info on the simulcast including how to order tickets, find it here. Drawing at 9pm!
The water in the pot hit boiling point and air bubbles pushed to the surface in symphonic cadence disproving the myth that a watched pot never boils. Two faces peered into the pot mesmerized by bubbles.
“Hey, does water have air in it?” my youngest shouted.
“Yes, remember the model of the H2O atom you made?” I answered
He ran to the family room mantle and grabbed his model (that’s where we keep our atom models, where do you keep yours?) and slid back into the kitchen yelling, “I got it! I got it!”
*Dance of JOY*
Aha moments are priceless. I can’t buy them with Mastercard. I can’t download them on iTunes. I can’t get an app for them on my phone. I can’t order them on Amazon. I can’t order them at all. I wait for them.
I can SOW, but the reaping comes much later. This is true for everything, but with children who have learning challenges or attachment issues, the wait may be longer. The victory is all the sweeter if I can maintain my peace during the waiting.I remember THE WAIT during in my pre-adoption journey. I had been living in the pre-adoptive limbo for so long I didn’t think it would ever had an end. Adoptive parents know this limbo well, the paper work is finished (finally). The home study is complete (yay). INS has approved. Finger prints are inspected. Everything has been forwarded to the proper authority in_________(fill in the blank). Then comes the most excruciating part. WAIT FOR THE CALL. Yes, I remember those instructions. Simple right? The hard part is finished. WAIT, an inactive state, right? Rest, sit down for six months, have a cup of coffee with your WAIT.
Waiting is a part of life, right? I wait at the grocery store, the cell phone provider, the doctor, the dentist, etc… What I do while I wait determines how I feel about the time spent. I am assured while I wait- it will eventually be my turn. I need to have this attitude with my children. As I sow, I know I will eventually reap. They will reap the ‘aha’ moment and I will reap the joy with them.
“Cast YOUR bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”- Ecclesiastes 11:1 I will find it after many days. Not two days, not two minutes. Many days. If you are sowing connections, lessons or training with your child. Don’t give up. WAIT. Have a cup of coffee with your wait. Read a good book. Relax. You threw your bread out on the water, let God take care of it. The tide will come back in and wash upon your feet cool and tickly, you will laugh and be full of joy as you cast your bread, your sustenance, your life, time and energy upon the water again.
“A tiny plane blipped across a map of endless ocean at the front of the cabin. I gripped the plush blue arms rests. I battled claustrophobia while my three children, courageous and ready for this overseas adventure, raided the snack cart every time it squeezed past. My husband Jerry snoozed. It was November 1999.
Focus on the goal, I commanded myself. You are going to adopt your new children.
I grabbed my purse and fished out the precious Polaroids of Damian, Gregory and Ania, sent airmail from the orphanage. The prospective members of the Guire forever family looked directly at the camera, as if staring straight at me instead of the lawyer who had snapped the photos in a hallway of the orphanage:
Ania, a pumpkin-faced four-year-old gripping the drapes behind her, willing them to swallow her up; Gregory, a Peter Panish five-year-old sporting an Indian feather cowlick and mischievous eyes; Damian, a somber faced seven-year-old with a worried soul in a young body.
What compelled me to board a plane, fly to a foreign country and adopt strangers?
God in His wisdom built the foundation of society on the family: Adam, Eve, a beautiful perfect home, and the command to be fruitful and multiply. Adam and Eve ate the only forbidden fruit and sin entered the world–the great divorce of heaven and earth. The first family was torn apart. Adam and Eve were ripped from the garden and from the connection with their heavenly Father”
Adoption is like walking in the middle of the movie and taking a seat. You didn’t see the beginning. You’re not exactly sure what sort of plot or family you stepped into. This paragraph gives you a bit of my story and you have joined me in the middle of it.
Jerry and I had the seed of adoption in our hearts when we married in 1985. We were in the midst of communications with a pregnant teen mom to adopt her infant (early in our marriage). She changed her mind at the last minute.
Ten years and three kids later, we opened the door to adoption again. We started with phone calls, information packets and not a lot of headway. Then an adoption coordinator called us from Huminska’s Anioly and asked us some pointed questions, “Are you going to fill out the paper work? Will you take three children?”
We said, “Yes!” to three and headed down the adoption road at full speed. Of course anyone who has traversed the adoption road knows that means at a snail’s pace most of the time. And yet, every time we filled out a document or put our finger prints on paper or had another visit for the home study, we felt as if we were one step closer to those children.
Two weeks before our travel date, we got a call from our adoption coordinator,Tracy, “there’s a baby! A younger sibling! Do you want him?”
“Of course!” We couldn’t imagine leaving the little on behind. Tracy didn’t know the sex of the baby or if he was eligible for adoption. She only knew through some research on the attorney’s end and a question while interviewing Damian who asked, “what about the baby?”
The judge said “NO!” to our pursuing the adoption of the infant. He was easier to adopt out and other Polish couple should get the chance. The Guire family flew to Poland with INS approval to bring back four children.
Front row: Hunter, Gregory, Ania and Rafal
The first meeting in Warsaw with our attorneys in a hotel lobby was tense. Jerry asked about the baby. “Forget about the baby! Focus on the three you came to adopt!”
We couldn’t let it go. We prayed. It was all we could do. We were in a foreign country with no power, no say in what would happen next.
“The next day dawned gray and cold, just like the one before. I felt as if I had entered an old black and white movie and I hoped it wasn’t a Hitchcock. I packed everything back in the suitcases and we hauled the luggage down to the lobby. We were traveling with Walter and Bartek to Pietrokow, where we would meet the Director of Orphans.
Walter was already surly-faced when he arrived. He rushed us out of the lobby into the stinging gray air. I was stuffed in the back of a small taxi with a seat belt embedded in my hipbone and a child on my lap. The windows remained permanently fogged, blocking my view of the city we were leaving and then the countryside as it flew by. My children, tired from the previous day, settled back into their seats and ventured an occasional, “How much longer?’
When dad came to pick us kids up for summer visitation, the departure was swift. We packed our bags in the trunk of his current car and rushed down the lane, leaving a trail of dust behind us, Mom growing smaller in the distance. This is the moment the fear gripped me. The familiar faded and the unknown lay before me. The tense anxiety choked me while my stomach churned. Down the highway we sped to another unknown destination; Dad rarely bothered to sit down and explain where we were going and what it would be like this time. The landscape changed from the hills of West Virginia to the bluegrass of Kentucky or the plains of Iowa, where once we raced beside a tornado as it ate up the fields beside us.
Every year, it was a new home in a new state. And every year, it was the same unstable summer, with our travel and activities dictated by someone else’s moodiness or alcoholism. New places did not fill me with hope. They were foreign landscapes with no known retreats or safe hideaways from the too-familiar emotional climate. The unrest filtered down to me and cemented my fear and presupposition: There is nothing good in the world.
This journey was not on my terms, it was on God’s. There was absolutely nothing I was in control of: when I could go to the bathroom or what mode of transportation I would use or what foods would be available to me. This was not about my comfort level. It was dependent on my trust level.
God does not hand out easy passes. What God requires of me is always greater than I think I can handle. If I would have succumbed to my fears, I would still be at home. I would probably be living comfortably with three children, but it would not have been God’s perfect will for me. It would have been trading something of eternal value for temporary ease. I would have gone through life feeling as if something were missing if I had ignored the still, small voice and listened instead to the bawling fear.
After several hours of driving, we pulled into the snowy little city of Pietrokow. The taxi wound around into the heart of the city through snow-covered narrow streets of old stone buildings. We skidded into an icy drive: the office of the Director of Orphans. She came outside to meet us. I leapt out of the car to drink in a breath of cool fresh air. Walter had already stepped out of his taxi and was speaking to her. Bartek appeared by my side and asked,
“She wants to know if you want to meet the baby?”
My mind whirled. See the baby? Meet the baby? Was this some sort of cruel joke?
“Well, yes, of course,” I answered quietly, scarcely daring to hope.
Walter spoke again and Bartek interpreted, “She wants to know if you want to adopt the baby. She says that she will speak to the judge for you.”
I suddenly felt giddy. In one day the impossible had become possible.”
The Guire family increased by four in January of 2000 and the four new Guires were able to join us in the states in February of 2000.
There is much more to the story and you can read it by ordering Positive Adoption: A Memoir in which I weave the story of my childhood with the story of my children’s adoption.
Ever wonder what you can do to support adoption/foster care? Maybe you don’t feel as if you can take a child into your home. Maybe you already raised your children and you aren’t ready to start over. It may be that you have a heart for adoption,but it’s not time for you to walk the adoption road, a few more things may need to fall into place. The good news is, you don’t have to adopt/foster to support it. You can support those who do and it’s not terribly difficult.
External religious worship [[b]religion as it is expressed in outward acts] that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need, and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world.” James 1:27
*If you missed the beginning of this series, you can find it here.
4. Don’t judge the parents by the child’s behavior.
Good parents who have successfully parented bio children are suddenly labeled the ‘bad’ parent at church, school, field trips, if the adopted/foster child has behavior issues.
These behavior issues can be a lack of brain development. Both abuse and neglect can halt brain development causing a child to freeze developmentally while his peers soar past him. A child from a hard place is typically half his physical age emotionally. An eight year old will acct like a four year old. The child may have no self-regulation skills whatsoever. He may grab food off someone else’s plate, kick, hit, yell, get kicked out of Kid’s Church, steal hot chocolate (in bulk) from the church kitchen (true stories, I don’t make this stuff up).
These behaviors show a lack of self regulation, not a forever problem. Some adults may try to wish these away, saying things like, “He’s a good kid, maybe you are just too hard on him.” The problem is,this glazing over the behavior or blaming the parent doesn’t heal the child, it hurts him. These behaviors are a result of his past, something that happened on someone else’s watch. In order for the child to heal, his brain needs to develop in areas it hasn’t. He needs to gain some upstairs brain skills. The child can do this through attachment. Yes, attachment grows the brain.
Here’s the catch, parents are correcting which is difficult when a child is not connected. The child needs time and reason to trust. Don’t assume the parents aren’t working on it. Don’t assume because the child continues in these behaviors that he isn’t being parented well. He may be catching up in attachment, development and being truly parented for the first time.
Homeschooling adopted children is a great option, not the only one, but a great one. I think when i say that I homeschool my adopted children, it’s as if I took the easy road, I had it in the bag. I can tell when I explain our education choice, a person has that look on her face. I took the low road, right? I didn’t have to get them up in the morning and they could do school in their pjs, right? Wrong (well, maybe pjs sometimes).
I didn’t choose homeschooling my adopted children because it was easy. It wasn’t. It isn’t. Their fears don’t disappear because I homeschooled. Their developmental delays didn’t vanish because they were home. I didn’t let them hide and settle in comfortably where they were academically, emotionally and physically. I challenged them. Every day. It was/is hard. For them. For me. And so worth it.
Last weekend, daughter Ania and I hiked to Raven Rock, about 1.5 miles to the overlook and I’m pretty sure it was ten miles on the way back, straight up. Homeschooling is like the hike. It was rocky terrain. The climb was steep. We babbled all the way down, ignorant to what lay before us on the way back. Still we enjoyed the view, both ways. We high-fived when we hit the finish line, dripping in sweat and in need of food. Homeschooling is not an even ride for adopted children. They may babble excitedly about the year until you hand out some assignments. It may be rough terrain, but the view when you and your child crest the hill, when he gets a concept, when he understands a problem, when he conquers. It’s breath-taking.
So, if you choose to homeschool your adopted children, there are some things you should do.
Find a support group.
I host a Mom’s Tea at our local homeschool co-op (THESIS) every Friday during the school year. I think I got asked to host because I am on the older/wiser side of life, but this tea has been such a blessing to me. There are so many families homeschooling special needs children nowadays and the Moms at the tea understand. We have common goals and common struggles. We support each other. One Mom shared with me that she wouldn’t have made it through her first year of homeschooling without this group!
2. Don’t be afraid to throw out the formal curriculum for a season.
We parents can get so caught up in our children being academically on target that we forget that some of the children came from hard places. They don’t know how to be part of a family and we are more concerned about the fact that they cannot write their name. Practice some life skills and family habits for a while. Read books aloud. Again and Again. Practice sitting at the table for a meal as a family. Talk about what families do together as if it were natural. “See, you can do it, we sit at the table and eat together because we are a family.”
“We do chores together as a family.”
“We play games together as a family.”
3. Don’t be afraid to backtrack.
My eight year old son knew how to read and write when he joined the Guire family. The only problem for him (and me) was in Polish, not English. He had made it clear he wanted nothing to do with his native language and we had to go back to the very beginning. The alphabet. Phonics. And we did. I didn’t want him to be embarrassed, so I made sure he was in the room when the younger kids were covering phonics lessons so he got double duty.
A lot of parents are afraid their child’s education may have gaps if they go back and recover the basics instead of moving forward with the rest of his peers. I say, the child’s gaps will be wider and more noticeable if you don’t backtrack. The truth is, no one knows everything they need to know when they graduate. No one knows everything. There is always room for improvement and education is a life long habit, not a brick and mortar building. It is emotional intelligence, critical thinking and character, not just book learning.
4. Don’t try to school like everyone else.
The culture of the United States is sameness, whether we admit it or not. Never has Pete Seeger’s tune, Little Boxes rang true as much as it does today.
“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there’s doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.”
We are all trying to be the same. Just go to the sidelines of your child’s soccer game or swim meet and listen. Watch. Kids are wearing basically the same thing. Moms talk about school projects, work, recipes, shopping or their kid’s progress. We try to measure up and fit it to some sort of agenda we learned on the side lines.
Education has increasingly gone mainstream. No child left behind means teach to the middle of the class while kids at the top and kids with learning delays fall behind. No child left behind cannot work because it doesn’t fit each child’s need for education. We don’t have the resources and manpower in our school system for all of the children with special needs, learning delays, emotional issues and then there are the kids who knock the IQ tests out of the park. So, why would we bring these kids home and do exactly what the classroom is?
Why would we mimic the classroom for the child with ADHD or a child on the spectrum who cannot hold still? Why would we follow the What Your Child Needs to Know Guide when a six-year-old child missed so many days of school in his former placement that he doesn’t know how to write his name? When he doesn’t know the difference between a letter and a number?
Find out what your child needs. Does he need to learn to be part of a family? Does he need to go back to the basics? Can he read? Can he sort colors? Shapes? Does he know what money looks like?
Homeschooling is not for everyone. I’m not knocking the school system. I come from a family full of hard-working educators. I know some awesome teachers, child psychologists and administrators. If you decide to homeschool your adopted child, it should be based on what he needs, not what other’s expect of you,not what everyone else is doing. Choose the best choice for him long-term and enjoy the journey.