The Attachment Cycle and Breaks in Attachment

Where Attachment Issues Begin

Children who struggle with attachment issues need time to attach to one or two parents. Otherwise, they will remain unattached yet be superficially engaging to strangers. They may look like happy-go-lucky, well-adjusted children in public, but in the privacy of the home, they demand control. They are miniature terrorists (or large ones, depending on their age), ruling the household with anger, violence, and battles choreographed over insignificant things in order to control their environment. 

It is a sort of self-soothing. These children had to meet their own needs early on. No one was there for them. They need to know their needs will be met, and they believe they must meet them themselves — so they do. However, the way they accomplish this goal is painful in a family. 

In an orphanage, stealing food may be acceptable as a means of survival. In a family, stealing is definitely frowned upon. In an orphanage, lying may be the norm. In a home, it is not. Beating up other children to get things from them may be just another Tuesday afternoon. In a home, beating a sibling to get a toy or any other item is absolutely unacceptable. Sneaking into the staff kitchen to eat their sugar may occur on a regular basis in the orphanage, but in a home, sneaking into Mom’s room and taking her possessions is not. 

It is not that these children want to be hoodlums. They aren’t even trying to be difficult. They just have some faulty presuppositions leading the way. In their early life, someone failed to meet their needs. They did not attach to anyone. Because of that, early on, they learned to meet their own needs. It started with them losing the ability to communicate — they stopped crying. Crying is a baby’s only form of communication, but babies will eventually stop crying if no one ever responds.

“An infant born into neglect learns slightly different lessons. For him, the bonding cycle is short circuited. Instead of experiencing need, high arousal,  gratification, and trust in others, he experiences need, high arousal to the point of exhaustion, self-gratification, and trust in self/self-reliance. Eventually this child develops less need, less arousal, more immediate self-gratification, and no involvement with others. He is likely to develop habits to gratify himself that may include rocking, head banging, sucking on his hands, hair pulling, etc.. He may grow up detached from others, appearing vacant and empty. He has few emotions and desires no interaction from others, even acting if no others are present in a room.

He has effectively learned that he can —  and needs — to trust himself.” – Adopting the Hurt Child

Humanism tells us that everything is done by the power of a man. It teaches that man is able to sustain himself without God, without the Spirit. Studies on attachment beg to differ. Man is not sufficient on his own. He can not sustain body, soul, and spirit alone. The spirit of the child vacates when there is no attachment. He is like Cain, roaming the earth with no meaningful connection. Cain tried to meet his own needs rather than accepting the mercy and love of His heavenly Father. He was unattached and demanded his way. In the last chapter, we discussed the end result of that.

“Infants deprived of their mothers during the first year of life for more than five months deteriorate progressively. They become lethargic, their motility retarded, their weight and growth arrested. Their face becomes vacuous; their activity is restricted to atypical, bizarre finger movements. they are unable to sit, stand, walk or talk.” -Rene Spitz M.D.

Children who have been traumatized in infancy and early childhood cannot be expected to behave or respond to stimuli in the same way as children who have not. As an example, consider two cases that were presented in my adopt/foster class. 

There are two babies: Baby A and Baby B.

Baby A has been celebrated since the positive on the pregnancy test. She has listened to symphonies, classic children’s books, and poetry in the womb, as well as mommy and daddy’s reassuring, loving voices. When she was born, the video camera captured her debut. Mom, Dad and Grandparents cried joyful tears. She rode home in a padded car seat, wrapped in fuzzy lamb’s wool. 

At home, Mom and Dad talked and cooed to her every waking hour and told stories of her latest feat to anyone who would listen. Baby A took her first steps into daddy’s outstretched arms, waiting to receive her. Baby A had it all — a clean, loving, secure environment with loving parents to cheer her on.

Baby B, on the other hand, was called a mistake from plus sign showed on the pregnancy test. In utero, he heard only negative words about the rotten luck of being pregnant. Sometimes, he got knocked around or felt a little weird and woozy after mom drank. He was born premature, too small, and with numerous health problems due to Mom’s hazardous life habits. 

Baby B spent months in the hospital due to his health issues. Mom didn’t come back, and Baby B became a ward of the state, to be placed in an orphanage after his release from the hospital. He spent three months in the hospital being poked, prodded, examined. The nurses loved him, but they didn’t have the time to hold him the way a mother should. 

At first, he cried, hoping someone would comfort him, but eventually he gave up crying and understood that logical consequences don’t exist. He must fend for himself. When he is picked up, he experiences pain — a new IV, a new test, surgery, etc. He begins to associate touch with pain. When he is released to the orphanage, the conditions improve, but he has too many responses to relearn. The staff tries to comfort him and feed him, but he is lethargic and unwilling to attach. He does not thrive, remaining underweight and behind physically and emotionally. 

This is when the adoptive parents step onto the stage and enter the play.

From the beginning, these two babies have had two different worldviews. Baby A thinks she is the best-loved baby in the world. Everyone loves her. She is secure, and she knows that if she has a true need, it will be taken care of. Baby B feels lost and alone. He feels it is up to him to meet his own needs.

Child A has attached to her parents, while Baby B remains in a detached state. This diagram demonstrates the cycle of attachment:

When this cycle is broken in infancy, the baby is not able to attach to a parent/caregiver and may develop some form of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), depending on the severity of the neglect and the extent to which the parent did not respond to the baby’s needs.

“By mere definition of neglect, it is undeniable that children placed in orphanages at birth or at a young age are, in fact, victims of neglect. This is not because the orphanage staff doesn’t care for and love the children. Instead, it is because a child’s individual needs cannot be met in a group situation.

Out of necessity, children living in orphanages are forced into a routine, without the freedom to respond to physical and emotional cues relating to hunger, discomfort, bathrooming, pain, thirst, or a desire to be nurtured. The result is a pseudo-independence that mirrors the self-parenting label attached to neglected children in America.” – Parenting the Hurt Child

Three of my children came from a loving and secure environment, and four of them came from the environment described above. As I parented all seven together, I received different responses based on their past experiences. 

As I mentioned before, Baby A and Baby B respond differently to stimuli because of their vastly different introductions to life. It only makes sense that an adopted child may respond differently than a biological child. His response today is based on his past rather than his present experiences. This does not mean that the child is bad or that the situation is irreparable; it just means that the child needs retrained.

The Work of Helping Kids Attach

I’m running out of time. I need to hurry. That is the language of our culture. It is not the language of the hurt, unattached child. It was not the language of my daughter Ania. Like the women in The Music Man, her way was pick a little, talk a little — or, actually, talk a lot. 

The incessant chatter of an unattached child can be unsettling, frustrating or wearing if you are hurrying. It was for me. The clock ticked loudly in my head, but Ania didn’t hear it. As we headed out the door and I helped Ania put on her coat, boots, and gloves, she talked, offering me little assistance. As I cooked, she talked. As I cleaned, she talked. When I folded laundry, she talked. When I bathed her, she talked. 

When I was schooling her and required her to answer a question or repeat something, she shut down. Tears streamed down her chubby cheeks, and her glasses fogged over. Why?  I required it of her. It wasn’t on her terms. It was on mine. She was not in control. I was. 

Children with attachment issues do not like things to be required of them. To them, that feels like giving up their power and the control they have over their environment. That control is important because it’s how they ensure that no one hurts them again and no one starves them again — no one. Giving in to a phonics lesson is painful. Bombarding Mom with incessant chatter is power.

I took Ania’s chatter as an invitation into her world. As she chartered while I loaded the dishwasher, I gave her dishes to put in. When I set the table, I gave her silverware to set. While I did laundry, I let her stuff the washer. It wasn’t long before she was working and talking about the work. “Now, I am setting the forks on the table, momma — you see that?  I put the forks on the table.” 

She slowly moved from meaningless chatter to chronicling her day. From there, she developed the ability to have a conversation. Much more slowly, she started answering questions during schooling — albeit with tears running down her cheeks.

Attachment is so much more than physical needs being met. It is an emotional connection. In the 1940s and 50s, doctors were discovering through research (that I do not condone) that a baby needed his mother and longed for his mother not just as a food source but as an emotional connection. 

Love. Spirit. A person is not made whole by their physical needs alone being met. We each have three parts: spirit, soul, and body. A baby recognizes his mother by her smell, the sound of her heartbeat, and her voice, and he can be calmed by these factors alone. Yes, he wants to be fed — but his emotional state is just as important. Rene Spitz’s research confirmed this definitively. 

Babies need that connection to their mama for physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. When separated from their mothers, children’s physical development halted and regressed. We call those development delays. The “vacuous” face mentioned in the quote above signifies a loss of spirit. No emotion is visible. David describes his loss of spirit over and over again in the Psalms. It is a dangerous place to be. It is a pit. It is dark. 

“He drew me up out of a horrible pit [a pit of tumult and of destruction], out of the miry clay (froth and slime), and set my feet upon a rock, steadying my steps and establishing my goings.

And He has put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many shall see and fear (revere and worship) and put their trust and confident reliance in the Lord.” (Ps. 40:2-3)

The difference between David and these unattached children is that He had a relationship with the Lord. When all was said and done, he cast his cares upon God. 

It is my job as a parent to help my child out of the horrible pit of unattachment. Ania developed new habits and patterns as she did these “beside me” jobs. Incessant chatter turned into real conversations. Although she was learning great life skills, those were a secondary benefit. The attachment was the real prize. Today, she feels confident in sharing real thoughts and feelings with me, and she respects my input, even when she doesn’t agree with it.

*This post is an excerpt from:

Want to hear more about attachment? Listen to:

Episode 106-The Attachment Cycle

The attachment cycle is as simple as it is profound. The infant expresses a need, the parent meets the need. This happens thousands of times and the child becomes attached, secure in the expectation he will be cared for. Kids who come to us through adoption/foster care often have had breaks in attachment. Join Kathleen as she shares what this looks like in this episode of Positive Adoption. Grab a cup of coffee and be sure to share this episode!


The Guire Adoption Story

I stepped off the plane into gray. It looked gray. It felt gray. Jerry and I dragged the kids through the empty airport to retrieve the luggage and then outside to hail a taxi. Neither of us said a word. I wasn’t a world traveler and I never expected another country to feel different, but it did. Poland felt like it was covered in a dense fog of depressing weight.

We arrived at the hotel with less than an hour before the first meeting with the law firm handling the adoption. We checked in at the front desk and rode the elevator up to our room. The kids explored our two-room suite while I went to the restroom to splash cold water on my face and reapply my smudged makeup. My adrenaline surged when I thought of how far I had come. I was in Poland! I had survived the plane trip! The children that I had been journaling to and loving from afar were within driving distance!

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I had been living in the pre-adoption limbo for so long I didn’t think it would ever end.  Adoptive parents know this limbo well: The paperwork is finished (finally). The home study is complete. Yay!  INS approval. Fingerprints inspected. Everything has been forwarded to the proper authority in ________(fill in the blank). Then comes the most excruciating part: WAIT FOR THE CALL.  Simple right? The hard part is finished. Wait, an inactive state. Rest, sit down for six months, have a cup of coffee with your wait. Then, suddenly, the CALL. The labor has entered the final phase in the adoption world.  The birth is coming!

“There are three siblings eligible for adoption:  two boys, Damian and Gregory and a little girl, Ania. They’re seven, five, and four. She wants an answer tomorrow.”

Want to know more? Listen to The Whole House Podcast, Episode 3, Guire Adoption Story-

Our host, Carly leads the way with some great questions  Amerey and Kathleen answer. So, you hear the prospective of mother and daughter. There are some surprises in this episode that even our team member, Lori says ” I didn’t know about”. You can listen to her reaction on the podcast. Listen and have some tissues ready. You will laugh, cry and then do both again. After your listen, I hope you leave as friends and join us next week again for The Whole House Podcast!

Positive Adoption A Memoir is being re-released in February with the cover above and a bonus- A Study Guide. This Study Guide is designed to be used with an Adoption/Foster support group. If you don’t belong to one, that’s fine too. We’ll be going through it online with The Whole House Book Discussion starting March 5th (we will make sure we remind you)!

You can still find Positive Adoption A Memoir here!

Thinking About Adopting Mini Seminar

thinking about adopting seminar

Have you been thinking about adopting or foster care and you don’t know how or where to start? Have you started filling out paper work or getting a home study done and you just would like to know what to expect next? Or maybe you are fostering or have adopted and you would like to talk to some folks who understand your journey and you can connect with. Join us! We would love to have you!  We only have room for ten couples and those spots are going fast! Email Kathleen at PositiveAdoption(at)gmail.com to reserve your spot (replace at with @).
Date: September 24, 2016 (Saturday)
Where: Joe and Throw, Fairmont WV
When: 10-12 (the postcard has a typo)
Who:  up to ten couples who are thinking about adopting/fostering or who are already doing so.
Price: 10 per single, 15 couple
Schedule:
10:00- introductions
10:10-10:30 Panel answers preset questions about adoption/foster care
10: 30- 10:45 Ciarra McCartney shares about her experience in foster care
10:45- 11:00 Molly McCartney (of the Beacon Barn) sharing about adoption consulting
11:00-11:15 Tacy Lane shares about World Orphans
11:15- 11:30 Conversation and questions with Kathleen Guire
11:30- 11:50 Free time to converse
11:50- Closing and prayer

Adopted Children Adulting

My eldest son had come over for a few hours and helped me hang some outdoor lights for a party.

“I want to move back home and go to college.”

This wasn’t the first time he had brought this up. He had been renting a house with roommate and working in a respectable job and being diligent. He just felt stuck. I had been praying for this moment for years. Not that I think everyone needs a college degree to be successful in life, just the fact that he wanted to better himself. To move forward in his adult life, so he was prepared for marriage and a family.

Adopted children often get a lot of flack for not entering the world of adulthood at what society thinks is the proper time or missing it altogether. I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding when it comes to what adopted children can or cannot do. They can become independent barring, any severe neurological or physical challenges. The misunderstanding or flawed expectations come when raising a child from a difficult beginning, understanding that the child is half his chronological age emotionally and then blatantly expecting that child to magically adult at eighteen, nineteen or even twenty.

Children from hard places find it difficult to push through physical or emotional pain to success. This is often because pain before (emotional, physical or mental) has only yielded more pain or more negative circumstances. Like a young girl I knew who cleaned her family’s whole house regularly and meticiously , but was not allowed to sit at the dinner table with the rest of the family because her step-father said she was not his ‘real kid’. Do you think she had a positive picture of sowing and reaping at home?

Or the child who was beat up in the middle of the night in the orphanage. He may overreact to someone grabbling his elbow or a sweat bee sting. I’m not talking about sensory issues, I am referring to the ability to push through minor pains for major victories. It may be the pain of sore muscles for awhile when a kid joins a sport team. Children from hard places may view the pain as a message in their brain that reads, “I can’t do this! I shouldn’t do this!” or may assume because they can’t do things perfectly the first time that they are a failure.

 

Here’s another example of my teen son with a power washer. He had the machine set up and ready to go. I had done all of the power washing of the patio around our pool and asked him to do a small section. I thought he would enjoy it because he is meticulous when it comes to detail. He struggled with a few issues, the hose fell in the pool, the electrical cord was headed in the same direction. The machine shuttered because it hadn’t had time to build up pressure.

“That’s why I don’t do this! I shouldn’t do this!”

I explained that I had the same issues with the power washer. Kids who struggle with pushing through because of the foundation of their past don’t need talk therapy, they need affirmation therapy. Don’t ignore your child’s fear of pushing through. Acknowledge it. Talk about it. Recognize it and put it it’s place. Help them move from flight, fight or freeze in the downstairs brain to the upstairs where sense and reason reside.

Help them with time and patience come to conclusions such as:

  • Nobody can do things perfectly the first time.
  • My muscles hurt from swimming laps, I’m not dying.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes, it is how we learn.

It is through reaffirming that the child is feeling pain or stress (yes, I’m sure your arms do hurt, you swam for a long time) to a reasonable and logical understanding (your arms hurt, but you aren’t dying, you will get stronger). These concepts move a child into his upstairs brain and need to be reinforced in the early stages of adulating which begins at home. Yes, your part time job is hard. You have to sweep floors and that takes time and energy, but you did it. You can keep doing it. Or that online class is giving you a lot of work to do, but let’s not quit. Let’s break it down and decide what to do first. This translates into college or moving out of the house years when you say, yeah, you have to pay the bills first and then you can go out to eat. These sound so simplistic and so easy to grasp, but for a child from a traumatic beginning, they are not. The concept of cause and effect is muddled by early experiences. The ability to push through to victory must be coached and affirmed in the same baby steps that would have occurred had they been with you from the very beginning. You are going back and filling in the gaps and redefining the world with your child. Be prepared to continue to assist for years to come. Don’t stress or compare. Enjoy the journey and celebrate victories!  Adulting is difficult for all of us and a child from traumatic beginnings need encouragement and understanding. He may need help longer than other adult children.

Linking up with Kristin Hill Taylor! Join us!

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Why the Church Needs to Adopt/Foster Children

The Orphanage

It’s in the dark, pre-dawn hours. The orphanage is quiet and I am awake. I can’t get back to sleep. I fluff my pillow and sit up in bed, leaning against the iron frame of the bed. Sleep hasn’t come easy this month that we have lived in the orphanage. I am running on adrenaline and my heart is in overdrive.

Hubby Jerry and I flew to Poland and then rode to Sulejow to adopt a sibling group. This was a small village, destroyed by the Germans in WWII, just 15 km from the first Concentration Camp in Poland. We moved into the orphanage after living a week in a castle turned hotel.

The Emotional Burden

At least there was real heat in our quarters in the orphanage as opposed to the frigid castle. I still couldn’t sleep. You see I wasn’t prepared for the emotional overload. My mind skipped back and forth between joy and grief. Overwhelming joy that we were adopting. Overwhelming grief that I couldn’t take every child home. It ate at me. It gnawed at me. I played games with these kids. Hiked into the village with teens. Watched them smile while they played with my video camera. And I couldn’t take them home.

The interesting thing about orphans is they look appealing from a distance. We can form all sorts of platitudes, we can quote James 1:27 and intend to raise money for orphans. We can intend to adopt someday. As a church, we can vow to fulfill the mandate “to care for widows and orphans” while we sit in comfortable pews and take communion and remember the death and suffering of our Lord. but, up close, you can’t ignore suffering.

The interesting thing about orphans is they look appealing from a distance.

Orphans are humans who need connection.

I couldn’t. I wasn’t prepared for the faces of neglect, swarming around me vying for attention. It’s nothing like in the movies. I couldn’t just smile and move on. Poverty envelops those children and strips them of the most basic of human needs – connection. They want to matter, just like every human being on the planet. They want someone to look them full in the face and say, “YOU MATTER. YOU ARE VALUABLE. YOU ARE LOVED.” Neglect says, “You don’t exist.” Abuse says, “You don’t matter”

Every life Matters no matter what Politicians say.

While Hilary Clinton, looking weary and worn down, states on camera that an unborn child doesn’t have  Constitutional rights, she devalues life once again. Life is valuable. Everyone with a beating heart and breath in their lungs holds value. You cannot set a dollar amount on life. The Constitution or rulers don’t set the value. It is there. You cannot snuff it out.

The Church should be adopting orphans and/or fostering.

The church should be adopting orphans quicker than they bag their groceries at the self check out. We should be proclaiming from the rooftop the value of life, that Christ died that each child might have life and have it more abundantly. We should not be participating in stealing, killing and destroying life. That is the enemy’s work.

We must first recognize our own value.

Why don’t we see the value of adoption? The importance of it? Because we first don’t value ourselves. We see ourselves as sinners instead of saints. We see ourselves as beggars instead of sons of God.

We don’t recognize our own adoption. We don’t realize that we have received the Spirit of Adoption by which we cry  “Abba, Father!” We don’t know that before the foundation of the world, God chose us, actually picked us out, destined us to be adopted as His own children (Ephesians 1:4,5). Read that again. Let it sink in. YOU ARE CHOSEN. YOU ARE LOVED. YOU ARE A SON OR DAUGHTER OF GOD.  You are not an orphan, wandering lost, looking for acceptance. You have it. You have been pre-approved.

Go into all the world.

With that truth settled deep in our spirits, we must go into all the world and preach the Gospel which has the power to save souls. We should be sharing this news with those who need it most, the spiritual and physical orphans.-those who have been rejected, neglected, abused and abandoned.

 

If you don’t have a heart for the lost or the orphan, then go visit them in the midst of their pain. Go participate in their circumstances. You can’t watch suffering on a screen and understand. You cannot have empathy for something you have not lived through yourself. Ask God to give you the gift of understanding the suffering of others and the hands to do something about it.

Should You Attend the Empowered to Connect Conference?

Remember that old commercial, “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids!” That rabbit never gives up, he keeps trying to capture his share of the sugary cereal.

That’s the same scenario that plays out when people see the banner, post or tweet about the Show Hope’s Empowered to Connect Conference (April 8th and 9th) They think, “Silly me, that conference is for foster and adoptive parents!” It’s not just for for adoptive/foster families. It may be for you:

 

If you counsel  families and children….

 

If you are a teacher…

If you are a judge….

If you are a psychologist, teacher, therapist, have a special needs child, have a specialization in child development, work with children on the spectrum or work with children on a daily basis, this conference is for YOU.

If you are scratching your head, wondering what T.B.R.I. (Trust Based Relational Intervention), watch this intro video and share!

If you are interested in attending the Show Hope Empowered to Connect Simulcast and you live in the Fairmont, Clarksburg, Bridgeport, Morgantown (WV) area, you can find more info here. If you would like to attend and live elsewhere, click here to find a location near you. Hope to see you April 8th and 9th at the Empowered to Connect Conference!

*For CEUS, make sure you register here. This is a separate registration than regular attendance and MUST be done online.

Continuing Education and Fostering and Adopting

“How do you handle lying?”

“My son is stealing every day, what should I do?”

“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.

What happened?

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!

Linking up with these ladies:

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Self-Care, Adoption, and Compassion Fatigue

I stood in the bathroom, brushing my hair before an appointment. My son was having a hard day and I couldn’t stop thinking about how to respond, react, or help him. I kept playing out different scenarios in my mind and trying to come to a solution. I grabbed my hair and gave it a tug and said to my frustrated image, “Get out of my head!”  I needed to think of the appointment in front of me and focus on it instead of on him.

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When raising a child from a difficult place, we can develop what experts refer to as “compassion fatigue.” It is usually used to refer to professionals such as paramedics, nurses, counselors, and so on, who get overwhelmed with the input of negative second-hand stress. What about a parent raising a child who has come from a traumatic beginning or with developmental delays or a capital letter syndrome (ADD, ADHD, Sensory issues, on the spectrum, FAS, etd..)? Yes! Parents can and do experience compassion fatigue because parents can’t go home at the end of the day.

 

Psychology Today describes compassion fatigue as a type of Secondary Post Traumatic Stress. Compassion fatigue is a somewhat common phenomenon that affects medical workers, social workers, and even pastors. It stems from witnessing or hearing about traumatic experiences in the lives of other people and feeling helpless because you can only do so much to help.

Helpful practices to deal with compassion fatigue:

  1. Exercise. I cannot stress this enough. I know. It’s the last thing I feel like doing when I am stretched to my limits and experiencing compassion fatigue. I just want to fall into the sofa and watch Netflix mindlessly or read a book on my Kindle and ignore the world. Exercise helps. It does, even in small snippets. A walk around the yard, running up and down the stairs a few times. I used to do both of these when my children were all small. I didn’t have huge increments of time, nor could I leave them to do a full exercise routine. When it got to the point that I could, I often exercised at 10:30 pm, which a visiting friend told me was crazy!  I needed to exercise so I didn’t go crazy. It released all the pent up frustration! “Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A workout at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.”- www.mayoclinic.org
  2. Set limits to your activity with breaks. I struggle with this. I want to be productive. I want to get it all done. That’s a wonderful goal, but it isn’t the best goal. The better goal is to enjoy life. To set limits to activities so you can settle down in the moment and when it over, cherish it, not just move on to the next thing.
  3. Have a personal life apart from your child -It doesn’t have to be something that takes you out of the home every night, it could be as simple as a book club. It can be sewing, teaching a class or two, refinishing furniture. Not only does this give you something else to pour into, it let’s your child see you doing something meaningful and he will one day, want to follow suit.
  4. HAVE a SENSE of HUMOR- I have found that my children who have struggles with impulse control, behaviors, FAS, etc. (put yours in the blank) are not those things, they suffer from, but they are awesome human beings with a great sense of humor. I just had to stop trying to fix them and listen.
  5. Talk about it. Find an adoption/foster group where you feel safe sharing and talk. Don’t just listen. This sort of outpouring of your feelings is a good release. It’s a kind of confession that cleanses the soul that you can move forward.
  6.  Determine your emotional limits and stick to them.Determine your emotional limits

“The helpers’ symptoms, frequently unnoticed, may range from psychological issues such as dissociation, anger, anxiety, sleep disturbances, nightmares, to feeling powerless. However, professionals may also experience physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, general constriction, body temperature changes, dizziness, fainting spells, and impaired hearing. All are important warning signals for the caregiver that need to be addressed or otherwise might lead to health issues or burnout.”-Psychology today 

There is some discrepancy in the church body about this point. Some believe that you should pour yourself out without discriminating. Jesus kept boundaries. When the crowd got to be too much, he went away.  If you have a family that you can’t serve or children that you cannot parent because you feel like you are drowning all the time, it’s time to take stock of your emotional limits. What stresses you out the most and how can you work through it or hand it off (if possible)? When one of my children was having some serious issues and I was doing everything I could every day. It was wearing on my physical and emotional well being. I was exhausted.  My daughter took over doing some of the grocery shopping for me for a season. It was a blessing. It wasn’t forever, I wasn’t dropping my title of manager of the home, I was delegating. Delegate. It’s okay. Maybe (if your kids take a nap) you can sit down and read while they nap or watch one of your favorite HGTV shows. You don’t have to be “on” all the time.

 

If you feel as if you are suffering from compassion fatigue, don’t wait to start treating yourself. If your health fails, if you aren’t there for your family, then what?  You need to take care of yourself. You are valuable. You are loved. You are worth it.

 

 

 

When Your Adopted/Foster Child Doesn’t Love You

Ania, Amerey (and baby Moira and Cecilia) and I stopped at the playground by the Mon River after lunch one day. The weather was sunny and close to sixty. It was nice to get outside. Cecilia tromped around the playground trying every nook and cranny, joyfully waving at other kids before she camped out in the sandbox. Amerey and I sat on the bench next to sandbox and Cecilia began a conversation with a Mom and a little boy on the other side of the fence.

 

“Is that Mom speaking Polish?” Amerey asked me.

“I think so. I need to hear one more thing to be sure.” I waited for the Mom to say something else and I said, “Yep!”

“I knew it,” Ania said, “something deep in the back of my mind recognized it!”

“Okay,  go talk to her!” I said.

Ania alluded to the fact that she wanted to relearn Polish and she might want to go back and visit Poland. Years ago, when Ania was small, this may have sent me into an inner emotional tailspin.  Not now. I love it!

I walked over and talked to the sweet, shy, beautiful Polish lady and blurted out (okay, butchered) the Polish phrases I remembered and both my girls joined in. Pretty Polish Mama grinned when I said them but hesitated when I asked questions. So, I said my farewells and we left.

“Someone has been very mean to her,” Ania offered as we walked back to the parking lot, “people make me mad!”

Flash to the Past.

What insight. We don’t know any of the sweet Mama’s story, but Ania could read her pain. Suddenly, I was transported to an orphanage in Poland with four-year-old Ania, in a heap on the floor, crying and angry. Again, back in the states, over and over, she said no to my parenting, no to my loving advances, my parenting style. She didn’t want to eat when she needed to eat. She didn’t want to go outside, because she was afraid. She didn’t want to enjoy the swimming pool because she didn’t understand the physical laws of nature and that floaties (and Mamas) will hold you up.

Thankfully, by the grace of God, I didn’t take this personally. I had done that with my first child, sporadically thinking that she didn’t love me because of the way she was acting. She didn’t sleep, she didn’t want to be hugged and cuddled. Then I discovered she had some health issues after a ten-day stay in the hospital, my perspective changed.

Glorious Dreams of Parenthood

I think we parents have glorious dreams of parenthood in our minds when we adopt. We can’t wait to be a family. We will love the child and he will love us and all will be right with the world. Picture perfect, right?

What if, as Ania said, “someone has been very mean to them,” what if they don’t trust? What if they have been rejected? Tossed about by circumstances and from home to home? What if the person who was supposed to care for them didn’t follow through and do it?

In order for a child to love, he must feel secure. What if it takes years for a child to feel secure? Can you hack it? Can you keep loving, keep pouring into the child while he pours out hateful words or falls on the floor in a heap?

Your Adopted/Foster Child Will Wound You.

It’s inevitable in any relationship that we will be disappointed. We will be wounded. It’s sometimes a shock to our system when the wounds from our adopted/foster child come so frequently and viciously. We parents can wonder why we are sticking this out when we feel as our adopted/foster child doesn’t love us. We want to give up when we parent with love, make sure the child’s needs are met and the return is “I hate you!”

Your Adopted/Foster Child Will Expect You to be Perfect.

It’s such a strange phenomenon. Our child’s birth parents are far from perfect (as are we).  A child who has had trauma will accept scraps from bio parents and expect x-boxes, phones and pure gold from foster/adoptive parents. It can be infuriating, devastating and cause us to doubt why we are doing this in the first place.

Kids are used to Trauma.

Kids from hard places, i.e., any child from the foster care system is used to trauma. It’s their normal. We are a new normal. We parent from the idea or supposition that the child has value. We value them. We value our possessions and care for them. The child doesn’t value themselves or possessions. It’s a paradoxical. When we are able to think of it from their perspective, we can understand why they accept scraps from bio parents. Bio parents gave them scraps before and with a hope that it would turn into something more, the child accepted it. You give love, security and the best. The child begins to expect that from you even if he doesn’t act appreciative. Keep doing what you are doing. Don’t withhold love just because your child isn’t acting loving towards you.

Love is not a gushy feeling

Love is not a gushy feeling. It is an action word.

Love is a commitment. Love is kind when kindness is not returned. Love is patient when others are impatient. Love hardly even notices when someone does something wrong. Love forgives. Love’s hopes are fade-less in all circumstances.

When we sign the adoption decree, it means the child is part of the family, it does not mean that family is part of the child. Through the history of Abraham, we learn about “faith without works.” He believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness, he had an account labeled “righteous.” When we adopt/foster, we have an account labeled “family” and we have to put works into that account in order for a child begin to love us back. When I say love, I’m not talking about chubby toddler arms wrapping around my neck giving me a hug (that is wonderful), I’m talking about believing, trusting that Mom and  Dad will meet the child’s needs. It’s the kind of love that says, “I feel secure, I know you are there for me.”

Fast Forward.

Fast forward sixteen years, Ania is twenty years old, an amazing young woman. By that, I mean she loves others and has empathy. She sees pain and responds to it because she remembers the pain. She understands the need for family and she loves her family. You see, Ania didn’t trust me at four and all these years later, she does. She knows I will be there when she needs me. For example,  when she took her car into the dealership for a check-up and she texted me and asked me to come to pick her up. She didn’t ask me before she left because I was working out and she knows I can’t exercise and talk at the same time. She told me later, “I knew you would come to get me, so I just left.” This brings tears to my eyes. She knew I would come and get her. That’s huge!

Are you parenting a child who “doesn’t love you”, i.e., isn’t attached to you, doesn’t trust you? Are you ready to give up because it is difficult? Don’t. Please, just don’t. Family is more than just a name on a piece of paper, it’s a safe haven. Your home can be that safe haven. It will take time, months, maybe years, but you will have those pinpricks of light when the child comes to you. The light may be something as simple and profound as “Will you help me with this math?” Or when the child trusts that you will have a snack when he needs it or that you will pick her up at the car dealership.