Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You Part V

Hi, thanks for joining me for the series “Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You.” If you missed the introduction, you can find it here. Last month, our focus was PLAY and ways to play or use home therapy for free. We’ll have more posts on that in the future, but the theme for the month of June is “Adoption.”

“You can’t take my games away!”
“I’m not going! I hate you!”
“I wish you wouldn’t have adopted me!”

These are some of the words I have heard in my home from the more verbal children. Some kids don’t ever get to the stage of being able to connect words to feelings. They lash out in other ways. Broken toys. Knifed couches. Biting. Head butting. Hurt kids have an emotional state as fragile as a dandelion gone to seed. 15738141450_d335362e31_o We parents can mistakenly assume that these children don’t want to be loved. They push everyone away. Think of it as “opposite land.” The more a child pushes away, the more his need to connect. Every word spoken in defiance, every fearful act, every act of violence means this:

  1. I do want to be loved and accepted. It is my deepest desire, just like anyone else on the planet, but I don’t know how to get there. Will you help me?

Being a parent of hurt children is a tough almost impossible job. It’s as if we are reading a road map in a foreign language. We must learn this new dance of attachment in order for the child to survive and then thrive. If we keep reacting to the behaviors in traditional parenting, parent and child will suffer, again and again, we will traipse around the mountain of disconnect until we have worn the trench so deeply we cannot see the light. We must train our ears and our responses. Connection is work. It’s not sweet-sappy-let-you-get-away-with anything-work. It’s ignore our own feelings work. Our right to react must be squelched. It must be us parents who make to the leap over the chasm the child has created and connect. How do we do this?

1. Stop reacting emotionally. I know. This is the painful truth. We must not participate in the luxury of a reaction. Think of connecting with your child as a full time job with benefits. The benefit of an eighty hour work week (of not reacting emotionally) may be a pinprick of light. A tiny smile. A hug. A cuddle. A conversation. If you are confused about what I mean about reacting emotionally, just think of something your child does that makes your blood boil and follow your thoughts to your last reaction. Did you yell? Threaten with grounding forever? Promise never to take that child anywhere again? Or buy him anything again? (Guilty of all of the above.) Guess what happens in these scenarios? The kid has got our goat. All of the goat is in his pen. He won. We lost. That battle is over. No growth. No connection. Now think of the same action or word that make your blood boil and while you are not angry, think of a logical consequence. Write it down if you have to. Here’s a simple one for me:  My son leaves his shoes beside the shoe cubby in the middle of the floor. I asked him a bazillion times to pick them up. He ‘forgets’ every time. So, I charge him a dollar for my labor of picking them up. And I told him that bit of news calmly. Now, when he forgets and sees me heading toward the shoes, he jumps up and races me for them. And we laugh. That’s a simple example. but you get the idea. Most of the time, the behaviors of hurt children are much more serious in nature. The principle is the same. Decide ahead of time how you will react. Give a consequence without anger. Keep your goat. Dr. Purvis quote 2. Do something fun with your child while you are angry. We cannot make our emotions go away. If your child breaks something in an angry fit and you have followed the last suggestion and given him a consequence. You are firm, but not a crazy, yelling, mad momma. You deserve a medal. Here’s the catch. You may still feel mad. You will still feel like you’re going to blow a gasket. And you will want to stay away from the child. You may need a few minutes to hide in the bathroom and pray or text a friend and pray. Then come out and do something fun. This is the time to connect. You can do it! Every time you don’t engage in anger, you build a connection opportunity. When you do something fun with your child after he has a meltdown, you are communicating love at his level. You are saying, “You are valuable. You are worth loving!” You are connecting and that is every human’s deepest innate desire.

Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You Part IV

Hi, thanks for joining me for the Series “Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You.” If you missed the introduction, you can find it here.

I stood in front of the mirror, brushing my hair  before heading off to an appointment with my counselor. Thoughts of the day’s events wrestled in my head. I rehashed my reactions to youngest son’s behavior. My shoulders tensed and my jaw set. I set the brush down, pulled my hair with both hands and screamed  Get out of my head! I felt raw. And as if I weren’t a person any more, but as if I were a robot reacting to every move my son made. I was controlled by his mood, his defiance sunk me into a depression, it washed over me like a cloud of darkness. When I awoke in the morning, my first thought was, “what is  he going to do today and how can I make sure he has a ‘good’ day?” I relayed this info to my counselor.

“You’re codependent,”my counselor said.

codependent-of or relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way. (dictionary.com)

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As I said in another post, “Hurt children have a knack for making us adults feel out of control (tweet this). They do know how to push our buttons. They seem to own a special button locating radar. Once they find the button, they push it mercilessly. And we adults, like puppets on a string flail around, flopping from hot to cold at their will.”

This brings me to the fourth thing your adopted child would like to tell you:

4.If you feel what I feel all the time, we will become codependent and I will rule your emotions like an out-of-control terrorist.

When we subject ourselves to this control, we become codependent. We are happy if our child is. Subdued if he is angry. Emotionally unstable if he is and we find ourselves going out of our way to create a pseudo perfect environment so the child will not _____________ (fill in the blank). This is the same dance the alcoholic and the codependent spouse or family member jitterbug. The codependent family member feels as if it is her responsibility to keep the environment perfect and that it is her fault if the alcoholic or drug abuser becomes abusive or has other repercussions.. She feels totally responsible for someone else’s everything. She lacks power because she gives all her power to the alcoholic/drug abuser.

What does this look like with a child? See my intro, I couldn’t even brush my hair without thinking about him. He filled my thoughts every waking moment. I spent my thoughts either worrying about his reactions or planning a new strategy for helping him. Planning, scheduling, those are great tools, but I wasn’t using them as tools in this instance. I was striving. The stress of raising this hurt child combined with the stress of every day living sent me headlong into a deep depression.

I must say, I slipped into the pattern of codependency pretty easily, I came from an alcoholic family. I had gotten out of old patterns, but this last kid kicked me right back into them before I noticed.

What can you do to break the habit of codependency?

1. Be a separate person.

This sounds so basic. So simple. It’s not. Any of you raising hurt children know this. Any day can be like riding a tidal wave and surviving a hurricane and tornado all in one. It might take you pulling your hair in front of a mirror and a counselor telling you to take back your power (your ability to act independently).

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If your child has a meltdown because he doesn’t want to eat dinner when you do, do a chore, go to the store, do his school work, etc., then give the child a consequence, don’t react to the behavior after the consequence and make the choice to keep your power. Do whatever it was that you were going to do without the child controlling you. Make the cookies. Eat the ice cream. Go to the store.If you have  to cancel a trip because of the child’s behavior, sit down and read a book. Call a friend and talk about something that has nothing to do with the child and let him hear you. Work in your garden. Paint a picture. Write a story or do  whatever it is that makes you ….you. You are a person with gifts and talents. Use them in the middle of raising children. Don’t wait to be a person.

2. Take a vacation from guilt.

It’s easy to get stuck in the guilt trap. Our hurt children can keep us there. Remember, “You are not responsible for the trauma that happened to me before I came into your family, but I will act like it”. We have the power to release ourselves from the trap. So, take a vacation from the guilt. Stop thinking, if I would have done something differently, he would have behaved differently. If I would have stuck to the schedule, if I would have gotten up earlier, …..If. If. If. Some of these things may be true and we learn from our mistakes, we don’t need to wear them like a garment. If you feel as if you missed up, confess and move on. Don’t wear it (tweet this).

Remember, you are not responsible for the way your child reacts, you are only responsible for yourself. Your reaction. Your giving of the consequence. So, take my advice, leave the guilt garment behind.

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3. Be responsible for yourself.

Don’t skip this one!  One thing I hear from adoptive parents is they are worn to a frazzle. Take care of yourself.

One week, after a long week in a house full of meltdowns, my youngest daughter and I needed a break. We packed up and went to a hotel near some outlets (about an hour and half away from home). We walked ourselves tired in the hotel gym and swam in the pool. We ended the night soaking in the hot tub. The next morning, we hit the outlets and went home later that afternoon, tired, but refreshed.

Self-care is under-rated. Adoptive parents can suffer from codependent behaviors and compassion fatigue (tweet this). We feel what our children feel. We tend to look at the bigger scope of things and may often over think things, bearing more than needs to be carried. For instance, when we hand an ice cream cone to a six-year-old, we may be thinking of his past, his time in the institution without ice cream, etc. The child may be thinking, this ice cream is good.

Take care of yourself. Take breaks. Eat food. Drink water. Exercise. Take a weekend away. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

When you have to ask your child, “Have you been drinking your water?”

I couldn’t go on the field trip that day. I sent my son along with some friends. I packed a water bottle and lunch for him. It was going to be a scorcher. And then,… I worried. I had to be somewhere else that day and all I could think of was my son. Did he drink anything? Did he eat? I’m not an overprotective, helicopter Mom. I’m a realistic one. I know my son. He will save his water so he “has it for later.” He will save his food because he’s “not really that hungry right now”. The sad truth is, he doesn’t know how to self regulate. He doesn’t recognize his body’s own needs. He doesn’t have a signal that his body is thirsty or hungry.

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Why doesn’t my son recognize these needs and meet them? Why doesn’t he self regulate? It all stems from neglect in his first year and a half of life. Neglect impairs the brain. It stops the brain from healthy growth. The effects of neglect are worse than those of abuse. Ignoring a child (and not attaching) is more damaging than not feeding the child.

When a child is attaching normally in infancy, the parents regulate for him. mother covers him when he is cold, feeds him when he is hungry, changes him when he wet, etc.. Eventually, the child begins to self-regulate. He recognizes the need to eat and asks for food. He recognizes thirst and asks for a drink. He grabs a blanket or sweater when he is cold.

The neglected, hurt child does not, CANNOT, recognize his own needs. This is why my son does not drink his water on field trips or eat his lunch. A hurt child needs his parents to regulate for him. Here’s the hard part: we parents may be judged for telling our teen to eat and drink while we are on a field trip. We may be viewed as controlling or the helicopter parent especially from those who believe that kids will naturally work these things out (and they usually do if they haven’t been neglected).

I have one thing to say: we adoptive parents have to get over it!  It doesn’t matter what other people think about our parenting skills. Our job is to keep these kids alive and give them the parenting THEY need, not the parenting their peers need. Take it from someone who knows. My kids have had some close calls because I tried traditional parenting here and there and hoped my children would catch on to what their peers were doing. I hoped they would drink water when everyone else did or eat when everyone else did. Didn’t happen. I had teens on multiple occasions spend all day in the hot sun at a picnic and not drink or eat anything only to come home sick at the end of the day, dehydrated. I once got a call from a friend who had one of my kids thirteen hours away at Disney world. My teenage daughter was very sick and she didn’t know what to do. “Did she drink anything today?” “Well, she carried a water bottle around all day but I didn’t ever see her drink out of it.” She was dehydrated. I called it. My friend made her drink several Gatorades and I gave her husband, a doctor, permission to put an IV in her if he deemed necessary. A few hours later, my daughter was back to her good-natured self.

Dr. Karen Purvis says that hurt children walk around in a dehydrated state most of the time. Our bodies are seventy percent water. Water gives our brains the electrical energy for brain function.

“Just as an automobile needs fuel and motor oil to run properly, a child requires nutritious food and an optimum flow of neurotransmitters to keep brain circuits operation smoothly. A shortage of nutrition or neurotransmitters can disrupt the nervous system causing behavioral and thinking disturbances.”- The Connected Child

Where do we go from here? You teach your older kids who may never receive the hunger or thirst signal properly to have some strategies for life. When my youngest daughter started her first part-time job, she forgot to eat or drink all day. And I noticed the symptoms of dehydration. Muscle cramps, dizziness, loss of balance, serious stuff! So, we worked out a plan. She began taking water, Gatorade and food with her to work. She sipped her water all day. She ate peanut butter sandwiches on break whether she felt like it or not. A few years later, she still doesn’t recognize her body signaling thirst, but she does recognize the signs of dehydration. The other morning she stumbled in my room with some serious leg cramps.

“You know what I’m going to ask you, right?”

“Have you been drinking your water?”

“Yes, and go eat a banana!”