A post with an unpopular view

As you know, my mom visited this past week, and then we drove her to Iowa so she could visit my brother and his family. For most of my people, this was alright. They were sad to see Grammy go, but understood that we will see her again. Most of my people. In fact, all but one of my people were okay. And then there was R.

We have had a very long few days here with R. Having Grammy visit, and then having Grammy go has triggered my poor girl beyond measure. Since R. is still exhibiting some extreme indiscriminate affection, she feels most comfortable finding emotional fixes from people whom she doesn't know or who she doesn't see very often. Because I loosened up me vigilance a bit about who R. gets to cling to for my mother... grandmothers get special passes... in R.'s world, that made Grammy even more appealing.

And then she left.

She left just like every other person has in R.'s world, except her adoptive parents. I hold no illusions that she probably figures that we will disappear as well at some point, and some days, I think she would probably be okay with that. We are the last people she turns to for her emotional connection. Her choice, not ours. It's life with extreme indiscriminate affection. I figure we have at least another two years, though I wouldn't be surprised at three, before we see the tide turn. In the meantime, we keep loving her, and continue to keep her world very, very small.

As a result, R. has been crying and crying for all the people in her life who she loved and who were the most transient. True connection is too scary and painful when you think you are going to lose it eventually. This constant changing of care givers combined with a rotation of people who just wanted to love on the poor orphan girl, has not been kind to this child. The lesson? People leave. You don't need to connect with anyone because sooner or later some nice person will come along who will hug and kiss you and buy you good things. None of this is consciously done, I will add. At some point, it becomes an innate way of dealing with the world.

J. and I have become experts in knowing when the other is reaching our limit for rational thinking, and will tap the other out. Even M. got a taste of things the other, and usually R. finds M. to be her very favorite person. M.'s plummet in the ratings was caused by having had the nerve to say no to a request. (In R.'s world, they only way she can judge that someone loves her is if they always give her what she wants. Once again, this is both a trauma response and a learned, unconscious response on her part.) Real relationships are hard.

Why do I write this? A couple of reasons. One is that life is not always rainbows and happy trees around here. It's hard work for everyone to deal with the aftermath of trauma. We do our best, but sometimes it just doesn't seem to be quite enough. Some times the best you can do is tap the other out so the parent on edge can get a break.

The other? Indiscriminate affection is created. Sure it can be from a lack of consistent care giver, but when you combine that lack with people who mean well, it makes it even more toxic. Please, if you have a desire to help orphans, do so indirectly unless you are willing to commit years to the same place and be a stable, consistent presence. If you want to go and spend a week or a month, giving hugs... passing out treats... playing... having fun... please stay home. I know this will rankle more than a few people. But the truth is, you would be doing this for you. To make you feel as though you had made a difference. True you made a child smile. You made a child smile, and then you left. That child will probably never see you again. And one more time the child experiences that fact that people leave. Nice people leave.

We live every day of our lives with those consequences. I don't know if our daughter will ever fully understand that we are permanent, that she can trust us, that she doesn't have to look for true affection elsewhere. It is not pretty, and it is not fair. To anyone.


Anonymous said…
I am not (currently) an adoptive parent, but I work in ministry specifically geared toward vulnerable children. I greatly appreciate your wisdom.

We personally support a "foster" home for special needs children in China. In many ways I think this home does phenomenal work (they work very hard on the bonding process), BUT, they often (especially in the summer) have a revolving door of short term missionaries come through. I have often wondered if this practice isn't really damaging to the children. What you've shared confirms that it likely is.

I agree, I think it makes us feel good to say that we went and played and hugged and laughed with these children, but then we hop back on the plane and that's it. This breaks my heart.

My prayer is that these children would experience Christ's healing grace. As we know, though, grace comes at a cost. And there are still scars. I hope I don't sound deluded.

I wonder, too, how this can work in the foster system. Or for ministries like Safe Families? Have you ever written about foster care?

Praying for R and you all as you love her and try to help her heal.


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