My heart has been so heavy for you ever since I read your comment yesterday and I have been praying for you and for your family. I know that sounds trite. Frankly, when you're in the midst of something like this, when there seems to be no way out and nothing you can do to change the situation, everything sounds trite. And believe me when I say I understand this feeling. That would be the stuck-in-a-hopeless-situation-of-my-own-causing feeling. I've been there. Some days I am still there.
I was speaking with another mother of many the other day who is interested in adoption and has been asking me questions. I try not to sugar-coat our experiences when talking to potential adoptive parents because it is far better to know what to expect than have unrealistic expectations. As I was relating our experiences, I could tell she was wondering a bit why anyone would choose this path and why we would be adopting for a third time. And as I listened to myself, I have to say a part of me wondered as well. Because as I relate the difficult or yucky or (well, there is no other word for it) horrible parts, it sounds pretty bad. I go back and read those early posts from bringing TM home and I realize that I have conveniently chosen not to remember everything. (And for my son's privacy, I do remember not sharing everything... or even coming close.) I am surprised when my past writing brings it all back. It is not a lot of fun to feel as though you are living with a human time bomb, never knowing what is going to set him off or when. And living with someone who doesn't want anything to do with you is not really esteem building. And because most of this drama is saved for the immediate family, outsiders rarely get to see what life is really like and have no inkling of how much chaos one small child can throw a family into.
When I was in the midst of the worst of it (and even difficult times now), what I was looking for was someone who had been there; who knew what I was going through, and could tell me that there was hope. That at some point in the future, things would get better. I would hold onto whatever glimmers of hope I could find and cling to them as though they were a life line. Which, looking back, was exactly what they were.
Dear Anonymous, I want to offer you a little shred of hope for you to cling to. Things can change, even after three and a half years. They can get better. You don't have to live the next ten years in a form of purgatory, waiting for your son to hit the age of 18 and move out. Nothing is too hard for God, even a situation which seems entirely hopeless. Hopeless cases are His specialty. I will continue to pray for you and I am sure many of my readers will join with me. (Please leave Anonymous a comment saying that you will pray!)
Not knowing you or your situation, I have no idea what avenues of help you have already tried. Please, if you are feeling at the end of your rope (or before you get there), look into an attachment therapist, if you haven't already done so. But there are some other things adoptive parents can do to help as well. Perhaps what I am going to say, you have already done, but if by chance even one of the things I am going to list is a new idea (or because it may help someone else), I will write it. Here are some things I actively did in order to try to help myself love my child and to help my child heal (remember, we are both still a work in progress):
- Try to think positive thoughts about the child. This is not always easy. It is so much easier to rehearse all the lists of the negatives, but this does not help you attach to him. Negative thoughts only give credence to the desire to push him away and make it easier to do so.
- Be sure to smile at him and say a kind word, at least once a day. When I thought about it, there would be entire strings of days where I realized I never smiled at my son. Not once. This is not a confession I am proud of. No one is going to love a person who never smiles at them or speaks kindly to them.
- Look into Theraplay. I went to a training seminar at one time and found it extremely helpful. If there is not a Theraplay center near you, I would say that it is worth it to spend the big bucks on the book. It is filled with therapy exercises which you do with your child. Most of them just look like fun little games, but something big happens while doing them. They are actually creating bonds between you and your child. I found the most encouraging part of the training to be listening to another mother who had completed the therapy with her children. It was the moment when she confessed to not wanting to do them with her child because she didn't want to have positive feelings toward her child. Things had been too hard. It was an "Aha!" moment for me to realize that I was falling into that same trap.
- Do what you can to improve the mood of your house. You can't control what the child does, but you can control other things. I found that I had to have praise music on all the time. I found Scripture set to music especially helpful. The Seeds of Courage CD played all the time. The words to one song still come to mind if I am feeling despairing:
I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on the rock, gave me a firm place to stand, set my feet on the rock, Lord here I am.
Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am you God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand
- Read blogs by others who are parenting children who are challenging. Two that have been particularly helpful and encouraging are A Bushel and a Peck and His Hands His Feet Today (written by a real life friend of mine). They are honest about the difficulties, but also provide hope that healing can happen. Welcome to my Brain is also on the list. While I don't have to practice therapeutic parenting to the extent this mother does, I sometimes check in with her and always gain some good advice or insight.
- Educate yourself. I have read so much about attachment, trauma, therapeutic parenting, and the brain that if I were in school, I probably could have gotten a degree out of it. Also, Karyn Purvis has some really excellent videos, produced through Empowered to Connect, that are worth watching. My book list is extremely long. (If you are interested in what is on it, let me know and I'll write it out.)
- Find support. I'm pretty sure without my good friends, I couldn't have made it. These are friends who are adoptive parents themselves and understand what life is really like. I can tell them the worst and they will sympathize and not think any worse of me. They also won't say those helpful words, "Well, you asked for this." Sometimes you just need someone to listen, commiserate, and laugh and cry with. Sometimes hearing what other people's children are doing, makes me feel like I'm not alone. If you do not currently have friends like this, start praying for some. It's best if they live close, but if you don't have a large adoptive population in your community, you may need to make use of the telephone.
- Wear out the knees of your pants. Truly. Get on your knees and place this child in God's hands. Ask for healing. Ask that He give you a heart for this child. Ask Him to help you love this child. Confess that you have not always parented this child the way you should have and ask for forgiveness. Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray over your child, pray on his behalf, and ask others to join you. Thank God for this child. God does not make mistakes, even though it may feel like it in the short term. (And I believe that 3 1/2 year is still short.) God made this child and loves him. Ask to see him with God's eyes.
- Fast. Prayer for big things nearly always goes hand in hand with fasting in the Bible. Take a fast for your child. During that time, pray for healing... for everyone. This is not a magic bullet, but we are instructed to fast. This act of sacrifice and obedience is powerful, because God is powerful. There are different ways to fast. One is not more correct than another. It is the heart behind it that is important. I have done day-long fasts as well as choosing a meal to give-up each day long term. (I find it is also an excellent opportunity for practicing patience as well. I am not a pleasant hungry person.)
I found sometimes what seemed the simplest thing was the most difficult, and in the difficulty I became aware of a hardness of heart that I hadn't acknowledged. I found I didn't want to think nice thoughts about my child; I didn't want to smile at him; I didn't want to do pleasant things for him. I was so angry and scared and hurt that I wanted to make him as miserable as I was feeling. At that point, I got to add revulsion at myself as well. And my plan didn't really have a chance of working anyway. My child was already feeling so angry and scared and hurt that I wasn't changing a thing. I was just confirming what he already knew to be true: that no one loved him and there was nothing lovable about him.
But back to the beginning. Why would someone knowingly choose this path, or choose this path again? Or perhaps a more telling question would be would I choose this path again knowing what I know? If I had a choice, would I willingly put myself back in time and choose to adopt this child?
I don't even have to think about it. My life is richer for having come through the fire. It wasn't a painless process. It wasn't easy. I suppose I could have gone on with my previous life just fine. There wouldn't have been anything wrong with it. I might have even done some good in the world. But would I have had the experience of knowing in a deep, deep way how much God loves me and how he has adopted me? If there is no mud and mire from which God needs to drag you, do you know He can? It would have been the safe life. It would probably have been easier. But safer and easier are not always better. And I wouldn't have had this son. This son for whom I have fought and battled. This son who is frustrating and loud. This son who is funny and energetic and caring. This son whom I love.
So, Anonymous. I will pray for you and your son. That God will protect you both through the fire and that what comes out the other side will be more beautiful, stronger, and lovely than what went in. Life can get better than it is now and someday I pray you will look back and say that it is better than your old life.