In my practice I often see adult adoptees who seek treatment for trauma experienced in their adoptive family. However, I also see some who weren’t traumatized, but who were desperately unhappy in their growing up years. In the latter group, it occasionally seems to me that the parents were doing the best they could to manage the challenging behaviors of the adoptee. That is, the parents weren’t mean or abusive or neglectful or blaming. They were simply overwhelmed and under supported in their attempt to raise a child with adhd & fasd, & odd & ocd & rad etc.
These situations cause me to reflect on how my children perceive me as they reach adulthood(9 grown up, 5 still growing). Most of the adults seem to recall their childhood with me as being pretty good. Most have some wonderful memories mixed in with the reality of life in a behaviorally challenged household; but, one or two have some pretty negative stuff about me. One felt that s/he was never good enough for me. As we’ve worked through that in his/her adult years, we’ve recognized that this developed as I sought service after service to help with his/her severe learning deficits. S/he doesn’t feel the same way about this anymore, but the years of feeling *not good enough* damaged him/her and nearly wrecked our relationship. I don’t know what I could have done differently, but as I seek help now for my children who are still growing, I make sure I balance the need for help with the acknowledgement of what they do well. I thought I was doing that with the grown up kid, but apparently not well enough. I don’t know if it will turn out different for the younger ones because they have very different personalities and they didn’t experience pre-adoption neglect and abuse so their basic self concept is stronger. Well, I know that sooner or later they will advise me of their perceptions and I will learn some more.
The thing I reflect on the most, however, is whether they perceived me as loving and caring and nurturing and whether they recall ever having fun as a family. When they looked at me did they feel they were looking into the eyes of someone who
loved them deeply? I’ve never been able to be the mom I thought I could be, or wanted to be. I’ve felt broken at times. I’ve felt too tired and depressed to try anything more. I’ve felt angry and I’ve expressed that anger too strongly and in ways that didn’t do a damned bit of good for anyone. But, that wasn’t all I presented as a parent. I know I did a lot really well, too. I know there were days, times, events in which I was really in top form and my parenting was the best. Which do they recall as adults?
I don’t want to be remembered by my kids as an angry mom. I don’t want to be remembered as a mean mom. I don’t want to have created any part of what they have to resolve as adults. I want to be remembered as a mom who, despite moments of failure or exhaustion or anger, was a mom who made them feel loved. After all, that was the whole point of being a parent, wasn’t it?
So, that’s what I strive for now. I will never be perfect, I will have moments of anger again. But, as I experience the impact of living with children with severe behavior disorders, I will keep most in mind that if I want to be remembered well in the future, I had better manage well in the present.
So, I’m going to be in Albany, New York in May doing a key note and some workshops at the NYSCC conference. If you are attending, please look me up and maybe we can have coffee or lunch. In the meantime, remember, you are entitled to a better day. And don’t forget to check out my youtubes and slideshares and my Hazardous Parenting facebook page for free resources on parenting children with challenges.
Be sure to check out this new research on how the father creates fasd – we’ve been waiting forever for this!
Before we start – sorry about the weird insertion of the Contact Form – I don’t know why it’s there and I can’t get rid of it – so please just skip over it and read on.
So, here’s another thing I think should be in pre-adoption programs and never is —— I hear so much talk in the adoption industry about how pre-parented children want parents. Well, that’s a lie. I don’t think they want parents, I think they want the parents with whom they began life. Just sticking them with any set of parents ten years later doesn’t meet that most basic need. Yes, I believe adoption is a vital means of providing safety and security to children and its a viable means of creating family – but – that doesn’t mean that older children want new parents. They don’t want a mom and dad – they want their own genetic mom and dad. I know, those parents may be violent, they may be child abusers, they may be addicted to substances, they may be really, really awful at being parents, they may be unknown or not remembered, they may not even want to be parents – but that doesn’t change the basic biological drive of the children to be with those who created them.
I’ll say again, I still support adoption. I just think we need to be more honest with the adoptive parents and with the older adopted children – that is, we need to acknowledge that we are the second choice for the children and we may pay for that as they act out their emotional trauma for many, many years. The children don’t understand that this is the dynamic that fuels their anger at the adoptive parents and the burbling emotional discontent that seeps into all of their relationships. How could they understand this when no one acknowledges it?
I do believe that most parents can bond to any child, but I don’t think that most older children can bond to just any parents that come along, at least not for many years. Sooner or later they will, but that underlying need to be with the original parents will hold them back for a long time. I have heard countless people say “There are so many waiting children that need a mom /dad”. Nope, they need the originals. Yes, they can learn to accept the new ones, but that takes time, effort, tolerance, and acceptance on the part of the parents.
I look at my own children and I believe they all have strong attachment relationships with me and they are well bonded to the larger family unit. However, I also believe that the struggles that we went through with those who were adopted at an older age could have been lessened if we’d all accepted that I was the second choice and that there was a stronger need going on for my kids.
I don’t believe that access to the original parents would have helped, because these people were still highly dysfunctional and their whereabouts have not always been known to us – I saw that when access to the originals did happen (via facebook) it often created even more problems for my kids – they had to reconcile their underlying and unacknowledged needs for the fantasy of the birth parents with the reality of who these people were. More pain and more heartache for my kids as they struggled with this, but it was something they had to go through eventually in order for them to finally make me their first choice. The point is that they eventually made that choice – they had rebelled and raged and rejected enough to move away from accepting me as a parent simply because a social worker made the placement; and, instead, they chose me because I’d lasted long enough and loved them hard enough to earn the right to be their mom. And, it is not an entitlement, it is something we parents have to earn.
I hope I haven’t made this sound like I’m treating this like a contest where one parent has to win the prize of a being a parent.Indeed, there is no contest and little to win in the world of adoption. I’m trying to say that this is yet another dynamic that we have to acknowledge – that just because some policy allows for parents to be chosen for older children, it doesn’t mean the children’s biological needs have signed on.
Okay, time for me to leave the office early today and go for my swim that I missed this morning.
Take care of yourself and have your best day possible.
If you have the time and the inclination – please check out my adoption course at Udemy.com or my powerpoints at Slideshare.com or my videos at Youtube or the daily tips at my Hazardous Parenting facebook page.
Now that I’m swimming every day I have some time for thinking. I try to focus on the feeling of the water and get some kind of connection with the Universe but that seems to last only a couple of minutes and then my mind wanders. Something that has been rolling around in my brain for a long time and I’ve been dwelling on the last few swims is about how everything in adoption involves changing the people involved.
For the child, there’s the unfathomable change of having to become the child of someone they’ve met before and to fully belong to people with whom they have no genetic connection and usually no previous relationship. This is not usually how it’s presented, but its what really happens. Whatever survival skills the child has used prior to the placement are no longer effective and are often downright disliked by the new parents – so the child has to figure out how to behave in a way that is acceptable to the new parents. The child usually has some kind of brain challenges such as fasd or the harm done by early neglect and abuse so it makes turning into a new person even harder as their own brain works against them. When the child can’t change fast enough to suit others, then she’s rolled off to a therapist for some kind of attachment therapy – and again, more people expecting him to change and evolve into this new person.
I know that the change is not just to suit other people’s versions of what this child should be or do – after all, you can’t just leave a child to self harm, or to harm others, or to behave in ways that will get her totally rejected by society – but, for the child, it very often feels like an overwhelming and unspoken demand to turn into someone different.
I recall how stunned I was when one of my now adult sons was still in his angry phase and he said (or yelled) that he could never be good enough for me. My jaw truly dropped when he said that, because I couldn’t see where such a thought could come from. After all, I had only been trying to help him acquire skills and resolve the issues associated with fasd, adhd, multiple learning deficits, early neglect and abuse, multiple caregivers, etc. But, when I truly put myself in his place, I could understand that to him, getting all the supports and the help would, of course, feel like nothing about him was okay.
Then, of course, there’s the change that parents go through. Nothing we believe about life or parenting is relevant to or effective with the behaviours that are presented to us by each new child who enters our lives. I don’t know of any pre-adoption training (other than the one I offer on Udemy.com) that clearly states that who you are when you enter adoptive life is not going to be who you are two years later. We learn soon enough that we aren’t good enough – we have to learn a whole new set of parenting and life skills, and we have to challenge ourselves to manage the ghosts of our own histories that are triggered by our new child. And, most of us have to learn to live through years of our child’s chronic non-compliance and on and off again rejection, and some of us have to learn to live with chronic violence. We also have to learn new and usually awful things about ourselves (new adoptive parents rarely believe me if I tell them that they are going to sink to levels of anger and pettiness that they didn’t know existed).
The trauma we experience in adoption isn’t just from the behaviours, it’s also from the changes we undergo. Most of the children eventually turn into the successful adults we had believed they could be, and most parents eventually turn into the kind of parents the children need us to be. It happens. But it takes a toll.
Well, that’s as far as my thinking on this has gone so far. I’ll be swimming all next week too so maybe some more will come to me on this topic. Maybe you have some thoughts on this too. I’d love to hear them.
If you have the time and the inclination, be sure to check out my Hazardous Parenting facebook page for daily coping tips; and, my youtube videos for interviews and tips; and, be sure to have your best day possible.
Wow, what a marvelous holiday season I just experienced. Probably the best in many, many years. My not -so- littles were in pretty good form most of the time, no real rages, only the regular daily tempers, foul language, and screaming sib fights. And on 24th and 25th of December we had most of our grown up kids (and their children) in and out of the house for visits and dinners and gift exchanges. It was so incredible to see these young adults doing so well and all treating me and each other with love, kindness, laughter, & tolerance. Five years ago I had no hope that this day could ever exist – I couldn’t foresee a time when our family could have such a positive and affirming and emotionally connected experience with each other. I guess that’s one of the advantages of being around a long time, I get to see how things turn out!
The season also reconfirmed my belief that attachment, and all the brain development and emotional regulation that it involves, doesn’t really happen until adulthood, when the those children and youth who have walked and fought on that that dangerous path of growing up and healing have reached an age and a stage of brain development where they can look back and see that we were walking that path with them, and that we are still here.
I also know, more than ever, that I should have taken better care of myself along the way. I do that now with my not- so- littles still presenting stress and challenges. In fact, I recently received a really bad set of results in my last health check up and so I’m more determined than ever to focus on my emotional regulation and to make my well being the priority. I have faith that regardless of what it feels like at times, my not- so- littles will grow up to do as well as my older children have done, and so sacrificing myself along the way is just plain stupid. I can pull back, regroup, and take the steps that are necessary to ensure that when they are young adults, they too will be able to see that I’m still here.
So, I’m back to blogging, back to healthy living, back to writing, back to my clients, and feeling great.
Check out my 5 new videos on Youtube – and don’t forget the Hazardous Parenting facebook page of daily tips and strategies. Next week, I’ll be starting my Hazardous Parenting blogtalk radio program.
Remember, you really are entitled to a better day.
After four gruelling months of training for my family mediation license I am finally finished and I don’t have to go away again for the foreseeable future. Of course, my absence and my focus on the training has triggered all of the latent abandonment issues in my not so littles and we are all paying a hefty price for this. Ah well, such is our lives. I’m going to take a few weeks off work so I can recuperate and get the family back into its normally twisted shape instead of the way it is now.
I have lots to look forward to besides rages and foul language hurtling my way on daily basis. Jason and his little boy will spending a week with us. I haven’t had a Christmas with Jason in over 15 years so this could be quite wonderful. Just to be clear, I have never been estranged from Jason, we are very close, but he lives quite a distance away and was in a long term relationship and they couldn’t ever both get the time off work to travel. Anyway, it seems like this last year has seen a huge maturing and settling of some of my grown kids. New and positive relationships and a few grandchildren in and out of the house – it’s far better in so many ways than I could ever have anticipated.
Thanksgiving, a clue about what Christmas will be like, was great. It was so fascinating to watch the grown up kids interact. One of them rejoined our family this year after an absence of 6 years and so it was a time of everyone getting to know him again and that group of sibs learning to relate as adults. It was one of those days when I wished I had accepted the reality show offers so we could prance and glow for the cameras. Of course, I would have had to make sure the cameras were gone later in the evening when the raging began, but those few hours were something I will always remember and hope to see again in the 25th.
As my not so littles were putting up the trees (yes, we have two) last week, I was reminded of how many years and how many children have decorated the tree with Christmas music going and hot chocolate and home made sugar cookies for snacks. I had one child who hated that and he and I always had conflict because I insisted that he participate. I wonder what the heck I was doing? I know that I was trying to give him Christmas memories but clearly it was about what I thought should be the memory making event and I seem to have ignored what mattered to him. I bet that if he recalls those times at all, the memories would be about our conflicts and what a miserable time he had. Now, it seems so simple to just set up the event and let those who want join in, and those who don’t -well, they don’t. I think I was still trying to create a neurotypical fantasy family and grabbing at anything I could to pretend that we were like other families. I wonder what I thought was wrong with the reality of who we were? Well, I’ve learned, and ironically, the not so littles and a grandchild are now the ones who insist we follow the family traditions tree decorating. They even insist on the same music each year and the same cookies.
So, I resume my daily struggles to parent from my heart and not from my temper as we get through this over stimulating season and re-gain some capacity to manage abandonment related behaviors. I take strength and feel hope from my grown up kids who treat me with such love and kindness. These are the same kids who hated me only a few years ago. Yes, I have hope and strength and love, so onward I go.
Take care and I wish you the very best of the season.
Check out, if you have the time and the inclination – 1) my new website http://www.lifespanmediation.org 2) my Udemy course on adoption 3) my Youtube videos (more to come -interviews and other helpful tidbits) 4) the Hazardous Parenting facebook page.
I haven’t ever taken this much time off blogging since I started a number of years ago. I miss all the connections I get from this blog, but truly, I’ve been soooo busy with all the mediation courses I’m taking that most of the time I just can’t scrape another minute out of the day. This will all end in mid December so then I’ll be back complaining about everything and you might wish I was busy again.
I’ve had a lot of people asking me why I’m training to be a mediator- well, I think there are many, many adoption situations in which mediation would be of more use than counselling. After all, in the adoption world we are often dealing with a lot of things that aren’t going to change, or at least they aren’t going to change now, so best to just to work out a tolerable arrangement. What are some of those – well, how about mediating access with recently surfaced genetic parents. Or, disputes between agencies and parents. Or, parent/teen conflict. Or, perhaps the saddest —–mediating a separating and parenting arrangement when adoptive parents split up. That happens more than the adoption industry likes to admit. However, there’s no denying that raising extremely challenging children can be one of the factors that sink a marriage.
When adoptive parents split – well, there are issues and concerns and costs that many don’t understand. After all, how do you work out parenting time with a child who can’t manage change or transitions? We can agree that the primary consideration is the child’s best interests, but what do you do if the child needs both parents but can’t manage going from one home to another? Or, when a child who can’t manage loss suddenly loses daily contact with one parent, and maybe with a sib who now lives with the “other” parent, or when the parents both have to move. Oh, and then, there’s the whole issue of what happens if one of the parents starts to date again and the child who can’t adjust is expected to deal with blending family issues. Well, I don’t think counselling works for that stuff nearly as well as mediation, so that’s what I’ll be doing.
I also undertook this training because I need to spark my brain. I don’t know everything in the therapy world, or the adoption world, but they are familiar worlds and I’ve been using the same neuronal circuitry for those since…a long time. So, this new direction will get my decaying neurons lighting up again and keep my cognitive processes functioning for a while yet, I hope.
I’ll still be doing my regular practice and trainings etc, but I am sure hoping this becomes the larger part of my day. We’ll see.
In the meantime, have your best day possible. You really are entitled to a better day.
Check out my Youtube videos and my Hazardous Parenting facebook page, if you have the time.
I was listening, yet again, to someone go on and on about the *secondary* trauma that we parents experience. Oh my, I deserve a medal for my restraint. Let’s get this straight, friends, our trauma isn’t secondary, it’s primary. Many of us live for years with children and youth who simply can’t achieve or maintain any form of emotional regulation due to the conditions of temper dysregulation disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, fasd, adhd, trauma including ptsd, bi-polar disorder …..the endless list…..these conditions result in children who are verbally, emotionally, and often, physically violent.
We live with their explosive and violent behaviors day in and day out for the years in which we are raising them. We try our best to get them all possible services and the right therapies and the right meds. We love them unconditionally. We make mistakes as we try to be the best parents we can be, and we hang in there. But the violence goes on and on and on, and it is part of our daily lives.
So, how come we’re the only group of people whose trauma is not acknowledged? How did it come to be that others believe and expect that we can live like this and not be emotionally harmed? Truly, I reject any notion that I failed or that I’m weak or that I’m not a good enough parent just because I acknowledge and seek help for the trauma I experience. I hope you don’t either. After all, you can’t begin to recover until you’ve identified and acknowledged what you are experiencing and found the appropriate help for you – not just for your child.
By the way, sorry for being away so long. I’m really busy with my training for the Family Mediation Certificate. Love the training but I’m squeezing in lots of courses in a short period of time so hard to find those spare minutes for connecting via the blog.
I hope you are well, or at least well enough, and I hope you have your best day possible.
If you have the time or the inclination, check out my training video at Udemy and the stress management tips on facebook (Hazardous Parenting site) and Youtube.
I’ve had a number of inquiries lately from organizations wanting to book me for speaking engagements over the next year or two and it seems like a lot of upcoming conference themes are about looking at the positives in our children. That’s great because there are many of those and we need to focus on them. I also really support looking at our kids from a more holistic view rather than simply from the pathologies. However, I think have to be careful not to slip into denial when we try to float in hope and strength and forget that we are actually swimming in a sea of complex behavioural disorders.
I experience this often when new parents contact me wanting counselling for their newly placed, severely acting out, child. They have been led to believe that as long as they have the right supports and the right therapy then their child will soon become just like a neurotypical child. Oh, they understand maybe it will take a few months or a year, but they are sure I can make it all better. And, if I can’t, then there will be someone else whose books they have read who will know what to do. So many therapists promise that the children can be healed soon and the family can be like ……well, like their fantasy of what their family should be.
I feel sad when I tell them what I believe, which is, that yes, someday your child really may do well in life. But, it won’t be in 6 months because the brain doesn’t change that fast and, some parts of the brain that have been harmed by fasd won’t change at all. I also tell them that if they want counselling services from me, then they need to understand that most of the time and energy will spent with the parents, because they are the ones who will have to a) reduce their expectations of their child b) increase their expectations of themselves c) change the fastest and d) change the most. Really, it kind of makes you wonder how I get any clients at all.
My own experience is that many of the behaviours simply have to be lived with = as parents we have to learn to let go and disengage. We really need to get it that every moment and every event and every interaction doesn’t translate into a teachable moment. As a parent, I look back on how much time and energy I spent/wasted always trying to help my older children enhance their social skills and manage their tempers and so on and so on and so on. I realize now that those efforts were so little of what actually helped them – what really worked was that when they got older and the emotional dust began to settle, they saw that I was still there - and that I still loved them, and that I was still willing to give help and support when needed. That’s what made the biggest impact. It was never about the therapies, or therapists, or child care workers, or parenting strategies – it was only about me hanging in and hanging on.
With my younger children, I spend more time disengaging and I put more energy into the quality of all of our lives, including mine. Many disagree with my approach, and that’s good because every approach to our lives has something to offer. Families need a wide variety of therapists and therapies from which to choose and thank heavens there are so many.
Hey there, have your best day possible.
If you have time, check out my Stress Reduction Tips on Youtube and on my Hazardous Parenting facebook page. Pretty soon I will actually have that Internet Radio Show up and running, too. Oh, one more thing, I have a new set of powerpoints up at Slideshare – this one is about the dynamics of Pre-parented children (that’s my term).
Take a minute to watch this magnificent video on how thought changes the brain. So magical and spiritual and just plain exciting. The part we have yet to fully figure out is how to help ourselves and others (ie our children) buy into the need to change, or really, to create a better version of ourselves.
That’s really what it’s all about as far as I’m concerned. I’m never going to turn into someone else, however, much my teens would like me to, but I could be better at being me – I could be nicer, more patient, and more emotionally well-regulated….and so could my kids. Ah well, since I’m the adult, I guess it’s me who has to lead by example. So, before I leave my office I will spend some times visualizing that better version of myself and I will pray for some speedy neuronal growth.
I’ll also get back to more regular blogging shortly – summer has been busy and I’ve been all over the place but I’m home for a while so I can get some routine going again.
Take care of yourselves and have your best day possible.
Don’t forget to check out my Udemy course and my daily Hazardous Parenting Stress Reducing tips at the Hazardous Parenting facebook page.