Take that (adopted) kid away from his culture, please!

Adoptive parents sometimes assume children understand where they are coming from (don’t steal, don’t hit, be nice, etc.) Conservative parents tend to think these guidelines are universal, but orphanages have their own subculture, just as a birth country has a culture. Habit and survival trump conscience and many times government trumps or replaces God.- Positive Adoption: A Memoir

Orphanages have a culture. Homes have a culture.

“Children placed into an orphanage shortly after birth receive little one on one care. No matter where in the world the orphanage is located, this early placement can affect a child’s development and create attachment issues.

Whether the abuse and/or neglect occur in utero or after the child is born, the results may be similar.”-Parenting the Hurt Child 24ea3-img_0976

Homes with neglect have a culture. Abusive homes have a culture.  Alcoholic homes have a culture. Stable homes have a culture. Communities have a culture.

Culture- the behavior and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group. (dictionary.com)

Before you close out this post, read a bit further- let’s talk about the culture that some children come from and decide whether we want to continue it or not.

  • Neglect- the culture of neglect says, “You do not exist!” (Dr. Karen Purvis)
  • Abuse- the culture of abuse says, “You are not worth anything!”
  • Hunger- the culture of hunger says, “There will never be enough!”
  • An Institution- the culture of an institution says – Communism
  • Alcoholism- the culture of alcoholism says, “You never know what’s coming next, the good guy or the bad.” Anxiety. Unrest. Hypervigilance.
  • War- the culture of war says, “You will never be safe!” Fear. Torment.

Obviously, I’m not talking about celebrating Chinese New Year or St. Nicholas day or whatever traditions or holidays your child’s birth country celebrates.  I am saying, take a moment and ask what they celebrated or if they did at all. We think of culture as visiting museums, attending concerts, going to a play or state park. Many children from hard places (whether adopted domestically or internationally) have never done any of those things. Their culture has been survival.  Foraging for food or if they are fortunate -playing soccer with a tennis ball in the halls of an orphanage (true story).

I asked my son Gregory (21 years old now, had just turned 6 when adopted) what sort of culture he remembers of the museum-art-play-field trip sort while in the care of the orphanage. NONE. He said there were a few field trips with the local school, but he and brother Damian skipped them, choosing instead to ride around town with the orphanage’s bus driver. Probably the most of that sort of culture those kids ever got.

I remember the first field trip we took the kids on (while still in Poland).  Damian and Gregory were glued to the rail at the front of the bus, leaning over as far as the bus driver allowed, drinking in every scene and asking questions. Questions. Questions.

So, before you slap that ethnic costume on your child (and I’m not saying not to) find out what sort of culture they experienced, if any. And then make sure they have the culture of security, of felt-safety. Of constancy. Of knowing there is food there for today – all day- and tomorrow too. Let them know their belongs are not communal property.

Before you decide to continue your child’s culture, find out what it means to them first. Does it mean connection? Does it mean disorganized? Does it mean hunger? Does it mean stealing-to-get by? And then…… start building a new foundation. A new foundation of trust.  Then… you can celebrate.

Ten Things We ALL Need to Know About Attachment

Attachment is as simple as it is profound. The infant expresses a need and the parent meets that need. The infant becomes secure, trusting that Mom/Dad/caregiver will meet his need. A parent regulates for the child. The parent feeds the child when he is hungry. The parent regulates. The child is cold. The parent wraps the child in a blanket. The parent regulates. The child cries a lonely cry and the parent picks up and comforts the child. The parent regulates. Eventually the child can begin to self-regulate. That is the beauty of attachment.

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“When abuse and neglect occur, they can interrupt the attachment cycle-leading to serious problems in the formation of the personality and most likely affecting him throughout adulthood. When the cycle is not completed and repeated, difficulties may arise in critical areas such as:

  • Social/behavioral development
  • Cognitive development
  • Emotional development
  • Cause-and-effect thinking
  • Conscience development
  • Reciprocal relationships
  • Parenting
  • Accepting responsibility”

Parenting the Hurt Child

1. Attachment begins in the womb.

Negative stressors can affect early attachment. A woman wrestling with thoughts of abortion or adoption has increased cortisol levels which damage the brain and immune system of the baby in utero. A baby adopted at birth still has a high risk of attachment issues. Thoughts of abortion, a negative lifestyle. Days of worry and lack can cause stress on the baby in the womb.

2. Medical Trauma can cause breaks in attachment

A child born with medical issues that require surgeries, separation, tests, time spent in the NICU can cause breaks in attachment and sensory issues. When a child’s first touch is pain, he may have an aversion to being held. Light touch may send him through the roof and he may also be immune to pain.

3. Attachment is plastic.

A child who has attachment issues can attach. When children’s needs are met consistently by emotionally responsive care givers, they learn to trust and attach to others. Over time, with lots of experiences of their fears calmed and stress soothed, they begin to develop the capacity to comfort themselves in times of stress.

4. Relationships are brain food.

The best way to grow the brain is with relationships. When you spend time with your child playing games, wrestling, having a tea party, building Legos, you are feeding his brain. Play Therapy was developed to help children with growth and development and emotional modulation and trauma resolution. Who knew fun was so important?

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5. Adopted/foster children are not the only children who have attachment issues

Any child who has breaks in attachment due to medical trauma, neglect, abuse, inconsistent parenting and an unattached care-giver can have attachment issues. Also, children with parents on active military duty may display some signs of attachment issues. Children who attend a day care with not enough one on one attention can suffer breaks in attachment. Laura Schlessinger refers to daycares as day orphanages.

*if your child has to be in daycare, make sure there are enough workers to love on your child. The best daycare are in home with a mom or grandma and a smaller ratio of children.

6. Giving your child material things will not produce  attachment.

We love to give our kids gifts. I understand. We love them. But, things do not replace time and connection. A toy truck will not guarantee a connection unless it is coupled with time spent. Buying your son a baseball glove is a great idea and the connection comes when YOU actually pass ball with him.

7. Attachment takes time, time and more time.

If your child came into your home with attachment issues, he will not attach overnight. It takes time. Lots of time. Don’t give up with you see regression. Just keep pressing forward. We all have regression. Ever try a diet and do great for a week and then eat two slices of cake and give up? Been there done that. Don’t give up on your child, someone already did. You cannot erase his past, but you can parent with the past in mind. Keep pressing forward for his sake. When he has a bad day, say ‘this is a bad day, tomorrow is another day’ and then find something good. There is always something good in the day. It may be something as simple as he has food in his belly and you put it there.

8. You must be present to attach.

I often hear of parents adopting older children (internationally) and putting them into school the week they come ‘home’. It breaks my heart. In many instances, the children just have a whole new set of people to manipulate and not attach to (if they are severely unattached or have RAD-Reactive Attachment Disorder). The best thing you can do for your newly adopted child is be present, twenty-four seven like you would a newborn. Feed them. Read to them. Sing with them. Cuddle with them (if they are not in sensory overload).  You be the one to meet every need. You be the one to attach to because you are there. Academics can wait a bit. The truth is a child stuck in survival mode cannot learn anyway. A child marinating in anger and fear is stuck in the downstairs brain and needs help to work his way upstairs so he can learn.

9. Attachment is transferable (foster parents)

Foster parents amaze me! They are the super heroes of attachment.

I’ve met some amazing foster parents through all my years of phone/email/in person counseling foster/adoptive parents and running a support group. One foster Mom relayed this at support group-

“I have been asked on multiple occasions Aren’t you afraid you will get attached to the child(ren)?” Her standard reply?

“That’s my job! I attach to the children so they have the ability to attach to someone else!”

She knows the secret!  Attachment is transferable!

10. They can’t- not they won’t

Most children that come into the foster/adopt arena are disorganized in their attachment. The ones who were supposed to take care of them hurt them. They may be asking When I have a need, do I come to you or do I run? Their greatest desire is to connect to you. Their worst fear is connecting to you.

We adults have the ability to use our upstairs brain and not get on the level of the child. We don’t always do that, I understand, sometimes we have meltdowns. But, here is some amazing news, the more you connect and redirect your child, the more his brain rewires in that directions. And then, his can’t becomes can. Don’t keep counting the times you verbally duked it out with your child or tried to get him to listen to reason. Start sowing seeds of connection. Connect, “I hear you, that’s tough, what happened, tell me about it…..” You cannot redirect until you connect.(More here) You cannot connect unless you are the adult using the upstairs brain.

The brain can be rewired. Attachment is possible. It takes time. It takes work. It is worth it, don’t give up!

Why I didn’t send my internationally adopted children to counseling fresh off the plane

 

In the book Solomon Says, a young girl named Tracy is removed from the home for sexual abuse at the hands of her father. She is labeled ‘sexual abuse’.  Tracy says of a foster home she liked,

“The only problem was they put me in a sexual abuse program. We had to drive about sixty miles every Monday to get there. And I was feeling, ‘Why am I getting punished for this crap?” They’re preaching at me all the time about how this isn’t my fault. That’s what bothered me. They’re all saying, ‘This isn’t your fault.’ And I’m —‘Fine, I think I got that point now, I know that.’ Every time I said anything, ‘This isn’t your fault.’ ‘GOD, i know. Would you just tell me something besides that all the time?'”

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  1. Adopted children need time to feel secure.

Kids don’t need to feel like there is something wrong with them. Many of them already feel that way because of past abuse and neglect.

My kids were fresh out of the orphanage where they had spent the better part of two years. For the youngest minus the five months in the hospital it had been his whole life. There was a natural therapy going on. It was a new set of suppositions. We will eat meals regularly. There will be food available all the time. Mom will bathe me. I have clothes to wear. Mom and dad are in charge. They read me stories and tuck me in. The kids didn’t need anyone to tell them that orphanage style living wasn’t the highest on the food chain. They knew it. Instinctively. They didn’t want to go back there. The children wanted roots. Stability. Yes, survival mode reared its ugly head daily. Regressions came and went. Triggers sent kids off the deep end. But, here’s the thing- my kids were raised by ‘social workers’, doctors, etc, professionals were high on the fear factor list for my children. The last thing they needed fresh off the plane was to be embedded once again in the social system. No, they needed time to be part of a family with a mom and a dad. Those wounds were fresh and they needed the salve of security not probing questions to open them up again.Kids don’t need to feel like there is something wrong with them. Many of them already feel that way because of past abuse and neglect.

  1. Counseling is good. However, it is not good for everyone, all the time.. There is a time and place for everything.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven:

2 A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted,(A)

3 A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up, Ecclesiates 3

My face went numb. My arms tingled. I looked in the mirror at my scarlet blotched neck and splashed water on my face.I was at  high school at a basketball game with friends. My parents were bowling nearby and I got stuffed into an ambulance while authorities tried to get in touch with them. (No cell phones). And then asked questions about my drug use. I didn’t use drugs. I didn’t drink. I was having a panic attack, my first.

My first counseling session was during my freshman year of college. Panic attacks reappeared. Mom put her foot down. I only went once. My face red with shame. Anxiety ruled the session. I wasn’t ready to face what ate at me. I needed time and maturity before I was. So I took my proverbial shovel and buried it. During the college years, I had several healing baby steps. And some relapses- a bout with an eating disorder and a few more panic attacks.

15855532426_bef22c648a_oCounseling is great at the proper time. When someone needs help and asks for it. Recognizes the need. I didn’t recognize my need, not yet. I only recognized the problem which I thought (as many hurt children do) was me. It never occurred to me that it was circumstances that had happened to me.Thankfully, God, in His omniscience, knew my suppositions and he put me in a group of gals who had a hunger for the Word and prayer. We dug deep into the Word together, talking and counseling each other for hours on end. That intense time was another chapter in my healing journey. I had begun to believe that all I needed to heal was God, me and some friends (which is true sometimes). But, God shot that belief out of the sky. I ordered a book Healing is a Choice: 10 Decisions That Will Transform Your Life and 10 Lies That Can Prevent You from Making Them after a friend suggest it. The first lie? “All I need to Heal is God and me.” I threw the book across the room.

“You are willing to acknowledge that there is something that needs attention. You admit there is smoke, but you balk at the notion of fire. You admit to something, but deny that it needs attention from others. Rather than stay isolated inside your own solitary cave, you hole up there with God, expecting God to meet every need and heal every pain. It does not happen, because that is not God’s plan. God’s plan is for us to connect with each other to facilitate healing in our lives.”

I didn’t want this to be true. I wanted to work it out with God in my own home. I didn’t want to open up, to be vulnerable. Problem is, I stuffed until there was no room left in body, soul and mind. Then fear. Anxiety ruled. I didn’t want to drive. I didn’t want to leave the house. When I brought up memories with siblings, theirs were different or they were still so deep in denial they couldn’t relate. So, I made the call, hand shaking, sweat pouring, clenched hands, shallow breath. If you are not sure if you need to see a therapist check out this post by Marty Walden here.

Wait, you say, I thought this was an anti counseling post? No, it is when the time is right, therapy is good. It is good to have someone to walk beside you on the healing journey, not to be dragged along kicking and screaming the whole way. Then it does more damage than good. Healing is only healing if the wounded is ready.The woman with the issue of blood had to find Jesus and touch Him. She went out of her way. She wanted to be healed (Matthew 9:20-22). Two blind men followed Jesus ‘shouting loudly, Have pity and mercy on us, Son of David’ (Matthew 9:27) .  Often we adoptive parents must cover our wounds and parent while we watch our children suffer with their own. They lash out at us verbally knifing those scars of ours, but they don’t see, they don’t recognize their need. So we wait. As I said, two of my children went to the same therapist i currently go to. As teens, they were ready. Also, they are bios. The children who were adopted may take longer to recognize the need. Be patient. Don’t push. Another option, get some counseling for them. By that I mean go to a counselor in lieu of them going and then quietly  put into practice what you learned for them.

This is not a therapy bash. I had a steep learning curve when it came to counseling outside of my own comfy home or safe in the confines of the church pew. God can use your friends. He can use the Word, but, if you, like me think you can do it alone, He may challenge that. At the same time, remember your adopted children may not be ready or willing to relive the trauma just yet. Therapy at the wrong time can cause more trauma. A child with a shame based nature needs some time to attach to parents and become secure before he examines the chapters of his former life. When he realizes the first few chapters are getting in the way of his right now, he is ready. But, he must come to you in one way or another, grab the hem of your t-shirt or yell loudly in the street,’ I NEED SOME HELP HERE!’

 

*I use the therms counseling and therapy interchangeably in this post! Both have the same goal. Therapy is from the term Psychotherapy which means a long term approach to healing and a doctorate behind the name. Counseling has the same goal and usually denotes a master’s degree in counseling. Both are effective.

Restoration is a gift

♥Restoration is a gift.

“I guess I didn’t realize my mom had given me a gift,” I said to daughter-Amerey as we headed to an antique mall.

“Mom, you gave me the gift too! All of us girls have the gift!”

I have never lived in brand new turn-key house, at least one that I didn’t see projects that needed completed. That is not to say that I haven’t lived in a nice house with a roof, windows, walls and all the necessary items. I even lived in base housing where all the walls were white. Everything was functional, not beautiful. But I had a Mom who loved beautiful things. She loved restoring furniture and homes. After my step-father retired from the military, we bought an old farmhouse, trekking from Denver, Colorado to small town in WV to find it. That old farmhouse boasted a pepto bismal pink mantel and many, many, many layers of wall paper.

After school would find mom stripping layers of paint off of hundred year old wood and some of us girls right next to her. What a thrill it was for her to watch that paint remover bubble up, scrape the putty knife and see that glorious wood. Years before the farmhouse, Mom was always antiquing. Finding an old buffet and chopping the legs off, then refinishing it to suit her style. Our stereo sat on that buffet for years. Now it sits at the end of my bed.

She gave me the gift restoration. As a girl, I didn’t appreciate the gift. To see a stack of baseboards waiting for me at the end of a long school day was not always a welcome sight, but it gave me something to do.

 

So, I picked up the habit. I renovate. I think my girls have the habit to. Right now, I have a corner hutch waiting for me to put a few coats of polyurethane on it.  I antiqued it granny smith apple green.

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But, Mom didn’t just renovate furniture. She made something beautiful out of something someone intended to discard. She believed in restoration.

And Mom also gave me the gift of seeing a broken person as someone valuable.She believed in the restoration of people too. You see, God is the great renovator. He believes in restoration. He walks through the world flea market and finds discarded treasures and he restores them.He combs the world-wide orphanage and looks for the abandoned, rejected and lost. And he gives them the gift of restoration.

He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him—not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.-Psalm 23:3

If you feel broken, discarded, unwanted, not the best flea market find, know this friend- Jesus sees you as a valuable find. To Him you are a treasure. He can see past the pepto bismal pink paint and He can see you restored to the glory that is already in you. It is there. The glory of you is just hidden under your guilt, your shame and your self-loathing. He doesn’t give you value. You already have it. He paid the highest price for you while you were on the discard table in the back of the flea market. He ran straight for you. Then He paid in cash with His life. Jesus believes in restoration and He wants you sitting at the refurbished family table. He saved a special place just for you, the antique, walnut, refinished chair! ♥♥♥

 

 

Do adopted children feel like your own?

“Which ones are yours?”

Often, when someone finds out that some of my children were adopted, the question asked is, “which ones are your real children?” Awhile back, I was sitting outside with a few of my kids and that question came up and I turned to Ania and thumped her on the leg, “Are you plastic?” I asked.

People who innocently ask that question do not understand true adoption. The concept of adoption was not man’s idea, it was God’s before the foundation of the world according to Ephesians 1:4,5. Since I often quote this verse, I will paraphrase it for the sake of time. He foreordained for us to be adopted into His family before the foundation of the world.

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Each of us were not an after thought in the family photo. It was planned before the world was formed that we would be part of the family. It was His intent from the beginning. We are His real children.

This is not a new debate. It was the debate of the newly formed Christian church shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven…

“As pig-flesh eating Gentile believers-formerly goddess worshipers and Caesar magnifiers and all the rest began confessing Jesus as the Messiah, some Jewish-Christians demanded to know, “Are they circumcised?” This meant of course, “Are they really our brothers?” Russell Moore, Adopted for Life

Here we Christians are a couple of centuries later running around claiming our inheritance, our sonship, the outpouring of grace as if it were truly ours and there were no arguments about it to begin with. We claim not to be plastic, but real children of God and we are accurate in our belief!

Here’s the deeper, real issue. We Christians love to compartmentalize things. We say things like, wait, a minute, that is spiritual. That idea fits perfectly on my theology shelf, right next to the dusty Concordance. Real life is flesh and blood children that we adopted from an orphanage/foster care/adoption agency. We know they are not our real children. They came from a different womb. A different culture. These children had to learn to eat our food. Live in a house, trust us. Hmmm. Sounds like just what I was talking about. Us. We Gentiles. Different culture. Different color skin than the first adopted children. When we compartmentalize or refuse to think on these things, we set ourselves up for faulty thinking. Screwtape says to Wormwood (demon to demon):

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

“We thought of having our own before we adopted.”

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I have heard this statement out of the mouths of so many wanna-be adoptive parents. I get it. It is just semantics. Just a phrase. Instead of saying, “I want to birth a few children before we adopt” people tend to say, “Ahhh, we’ll have a few of our own first.” And that is fine, as long as the meaning is clear and it is not a mindset. A mindset could lead to trouble further down the road. If you are always calling bios as ‘your own’ than the distinction can trickle down into your attitudes and actions. You know. Favorites.  Which ones of us who were raised in families with favorites liked it (if we weren’t the favorite). “Why can’t you get better grades like your sister?” “Are you wearing THAT? You should get some fashion sense from your sister!” I’m not inciting communism. I am asking for unified families. Brothers and sisters who share equally in parental love and discipline (when needed). Everyone is chosen. Everyone is approved.

“I don’t know if they will feel as if they are my own.”

I wonder how someone feels like my own. My husband feels like my own. We have been married for almost thirty years. When I first met him, he seemed…well, different, strange, for lack of a better word. He has an overwhelmingly outgoing personality. I am an introvert. I like to talk to small groups of people. He wows everyone. EVERYWHERE. It took awhile for me to get used to. But, I did. Now he feels like my own. And, to put it in its place, it is just a feeling. Not a fact.

When we moved into the orphanage fifteen years ago, to spend time with our potential Guires, the food was weird. The language was different. The habits were different. My children were new to me. It took me awhile to adjust to them. I remember the second morning of our stay. I was fresh out of bed, my hair frizzing out in its morning way. I hadn’t had my cup of coffee so my brain was flat and sluggish. One of the caregivers brought tiny Gregory to the door of our apartment, “he wanted to see his new Momma,” she explained and left. My first thought, I don’t want him to see me yet. My hair is a mess and I have no make-up on. He was six years old. I don’t think he cared. But, he was new to me. I wanted to impress him. Be the best Momma ever.  The truth is ‘feeling like my own’ takes time. Connection takes time. Especially with older children who have come from hard places. AND….. at the same time, it is a mindset. I loved them from the moment I saw their blurry photos, no before that when I was journaling to them. But that feeling that they were my own took a stack of experiences together. Memories. Stacked upon memories.  They are Guires. They are my own.

If you are thinking seriously about adopting/fostering and you have the FEAR the children will not feel like your own, don’t throw the idea of adoption out the window. Adoption is a process similar to any relationship. Even birthing a child through your own womb does not assure instant perfect connection. I remember bringing my first born home from the hospital and thinking, those nurses are crazy to let me take her home. I have no idea what I’m doing! With time and experience I learned. I learned to recognize her kinds of cries. The same is true with adopted children. We parents have to learn their ways and they have to learn ours. It is a process. They are our own before we feel (or they feel) as if they are. Feelings are fickle. Don’t rely on them. Rely on fact. On truth. Don’t let fear stand in the way of your destiny.

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