Why I'm not always giving warm and fuzzy adoption support

We all survived our first day of school. It was relatively calm and peaceful and drama-free. My incredibly detailed and convoluted schedule looks as though it is going to work, since we got through it today, even with having to do explanations every twenty minutes. I can't even begin to tell you what a huge hurdle this was, especially after the school nuttiness of last spring.

While that was going to be the bulk of today's post, I realize that it isn't what I want to write about at all. Today, I feel as though I need to explain something, whether the intended audience ever actually reads it or not. Facebook groups are often a breeding ground for taking self-offense whether the intent was there or not. They are also a poor way to explain oneself afterwards. Thus...

Dear New Adoptive Mom,

I'm so sorry if you took I wrote to you the wrong way. I do mean to be supportive. I do know that the early days of adoption can be difficult. I do know that our new adopted children can surprise us with behaviors we weren't expecting or quite know what to do with. I know because I've been there.

I've been there with that new adopted child. The one who isn't falling into line as I thought he should. I was a good parent. I knew what I was doing. I had five other terrific children. Clearly I had the right stuff and was on top of my game. My husband and I were consistent in our parenting, took a long view and knew that what was cute or easy now, may not look so cute or be so easy when the child was older. We were willing to make the tough calls and the unpopular decisions. And then that new child joined our family. Of course, we knew the transition would be difficult. It's a big change, after all. But we also knew that starting out right, setting appropriate boundaries, making the child feel secure that we were in charge were also important.

At least we thought we knew.

We were wrong. Oh, so very wrong. If I am extremely truthful, our son's current issues are in part due to our own lack of understanding and compassion and patience in those first months. We were so afraid of doing something wrong; of having an ill-behaved child; of being thought bad (or worse, push-over) parents that we sacrificed our son on the alter of obedience and rules and 'good' parenting. I would give just about anything to go back and get a giant do-over for those first months. I know I can't be guaranteed that it would change the future, but I think it would, and it would let me ditch the guilt that still lingers.

There's the back story to why I might sound harsh or not-so-understanding or even pleasant. We made mistakes. Some big ones. And we are still paying for them. I so wish that someone would have come up beside us and told us that being compassionate and patient and not worrying about the future would be the better parenting option. I don't take advice well, especially if I am sure I'm right, so I probably wouldn't have paid attention at first. But things do linger and I ponder them and it might just have made a difference in the long run. That person would not have been popular with me at the moment, but the cognitive dissonance that was begun, might have changed the course of our trajectory with our son. Later on, I would probably come back and thank that person, and call them blessed, for the role they had in our lives. But no such person appeared, and frankly, way back then, people just didn't know as much about trauma and the effect it has on children's brains as they do now. I can't tell you the number of parents from that time who have said to me, "We just didn't know."

And we didn't know. The best adoptive parenting advice out there was not connected, but extremely consequence-based. Everyone would learn over time that this is possibly the worst form of parenting for children hurt by past trauma. It was a very difficult lesson for many of us to learn, but we have all seen such healing in our children because of our new, different, and odd parenting methods, that we cannot keep silent.

I will not stand by and watch other people repeat my mistakes if I can help it. I will say something, because that is what I wish someone had done for me. Even if I didn't like it or them at the time. This may not make me the most popular person, especially on Facebook groups, but that's not why I frequent them. I caused my son untold pain by not understanding what he needed; by not starting out on his side and helping him through all the hard. Instead I wanted to be sure I had a well-behaved child, one who listened, who did what was asked and ate what was in front of him. Instead of being a coach, I was a dictator and not a terribly benign one at times. When I see the same type of thinking and behavior in other people, I am afraid for that family. I know all too well what the future may hold if that type of thinking and parenting continues.

I'm all for being a cheerleader for parents. It's a hard job. But I can't sit back and cheer when there is nothing to cheer about. One month home is still too early to care about anything other than making the child feel loved and secure. The child is still in shock. The parents are still in shock. There is not a whole lot of rational thinking going on. If you ever wonder how to react in any situation, think about this: Imagine if your child... the one you gave birth and have raised... were suddenly visited by a couple from another country who didn't speak English and took that child away with them. Forget your own grief over this at the moment and imagine how your child feels. If he is young, is there any way you can explain to him what is happening? You know this child well. You know what he understands and what he doesn't. How will he feel with these new people? Will he like their food? Will he sleep well? How long will it take, this child of yours, to feel comfortable in an entirely new culture and family. A couple of weeks? A month? I hope you are saying to yourself, "That's crazy! It would take a long, long time for him to feel comfortable. Heck, it takes a month just to adjust his sleep schedule for Daylight Savings Time." Now look at your new child. It is the exact same thing for him. The fact that he was not living with his biological family does not change the enormity of how he feels about what has happened. In fact, it makes the change that much harder because adding in a family is also a completely new experiences as well. Treat him as you would want your child to be treated in a similar situation.

Go slow. Expect little. Be kind.

You will not ruin your child by doing these things, and you might just prevent a lot of hurt.

The mother who wishes she could go back in time and give herself a good lecture


Carla said…
Thank you for this post. I'm not dealing with adoption trauma, but I do have a difficult son and I needed this reminder/wake up call to really focus on our relationship. I feel like I'm doing nothing but correcting him all the time, and I need to change some things (about me) now, so I don't regret it later.

I so appreciate your honesty about your own failings. The blog world tends to look so pristine simply because you, as a blogger, get to choose what you show us, the audience. Thanks for tacitly giving us permission to be open about our own failings with others. (Although I have to wonder at who in the world would look at me and think I have it all together! Ha!)

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