Saturday, September 15, 2012

This is a Reminder to Myself

butterfly makes breakfast

Zinashi has been having a rough go of it lately. I think that's how I want to say it. Because at the end of the day, she is sweet and snuggly, and no, she doesn't want to try again to sleep all night in her own bed, she wants to snuggle in the big bed like always.

Adopting a child who is old enough to remember what happened to them that led to their entrance into your family, but still so young that it is all infinitely more confusing than it is for an older child, is not without its heartbreaking trials. We've had many, many days lately of outright refusal to do reasonable household chores. We've had fears exaggerated to the degree that there was wailing and clinging over a deck of trivia cards. It has been frustrating and maddening, and I've been at my wits end more times than I can count. I've been patient some, but mostly I've gotten more frustrated than is reasonable. Because nothing, and I do mean nothing, was working to motivate her to do the simplest tasks I asked her to do.

The mark of a strong-willed child is that the child will accept whatever consequences come her way in order to do what she wants to do. The child weighs the options, get their way and face a consequence, or acquiesce and get a reward, and the child decides it's worth it to face the consequence so they can do as they wish. I saw this today. She was willing to give up her butterfly wings, which are currently her very favorite possession, in order to call the shots. She felt the need for control so acutely that she was willing to give up everything and make both Elvie and me suffer in order to have it. 

She wasn't doing it because she is a mean-spirited child. She wasn't doing it because she is a spoiled brat who is used to getting her way all the time. She is a good girl, a thoughtful girl, a girl with amazing character. She was misbehaving because she has hurt in her past. Because two years ago a series of major decisions were made about her life, and she had absolutely no say in the matter. She didn't choose to leave her first home, and she didn't choose to spend six months in group care, and she didn't choose Jarod and me as her parents. These choices were all made for her. Big choices, which led to huge changes. And there was nothing she could do about any of it. And she remembers that.

So when I ask her to clean up the toys in the office, or use the bathroom before we go out, or get ready for rest time, it's not a huge mystery why she refuses. It's because she can. It's because for one moment, she can say the no that she wanted to say so many times when it really mattered, and she can actually not do the thing she doesn't want to do. She can grab the control over her life that she so desperately wanted to have when everything that mattered to her was stripped away. It makes so much heartbreaking sense. We are coming up on the second anniversary of becoming her new family, and so much of what she experienced is rising to the surface. 

People look at me with doubt sometimes when I talk about parenting differently to respect Zinashi's hurt. I don't know why. I don't understand how a person can evaluate what she lost and think that she should just be fine with it, that there should be no lasting effects because she's in a loving family now. She was in a loving family before, and look what happened. Would you lose your fear if you were her? Or would you maybe, just maybe, get a little desperate when you remember what happened?

I would get a little desperate. I would get a lot desperate. And that is what I want to remember every single day as her mother. That this isn't about the task I'm asking her to do. It isn't about me or about Jarod or about Elvie or about anyone else. It's about loss. It's about heartbreak. It's about pain. I am her mother, and may heaven help me to fight hard to do everything thing I can to heal her broken heart every single day.

25 comments:

  1. Yep. Exactly. Keep up those night runs or whatever else you find to take care of yourself.

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    1. Thank you. I know that you understand, and that helps me so much.

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  2. Not to mention regular 4-year-old boundary testing behaviour! Obviously it's extremely important to keep in mind the specificity of Zinashi's traumatic history, but it might also de-dramatize the situation somewhat to think that Z is acting in a generally age-appropriate and new-sibling-appropriate manner...
    Good luck, and as Barb said keep taking care of yourself.

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    1. We definitely get normal 4-yr-old boundary testing around here, but unfortunately, this behavior is not that. I can handle that! I can outstubborn the most stubborn child! I was a career nanny for many years, and I'm familiar with normal boundary testing, normal strong-willed behavior, and normal new sibling behavior. This is more than that. It is far more intense and far more constant. With kids who are behaving in a typical fashion, there is always a currency that will motivate them to do the right thing. It might take awhile, but they'll do what you ask them to do if certain consequences and rewards come into play. When it's about trauma, the currency is control, so there's not much you can do if you can't give your child control. (And I can't, because what she needs to know above all else is that I am still the mom.) In this case, to de-traumatize things would be the wrong thing to do, because this is about her trauma.

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    2. That sounds right; and I hope you didn't feel I was questioning your interpretation of the situation.

      Re a thread below, I've had really wonderful experiences with Theraplay and would recommend it too if NMT doesn't work out.

      In the meantime, I wish you chocolate and courage in large doses.

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  3. THIS. This right here! This is why we pulled our daughter out of school to homeschool and baby her for as long as it takes. Not that she's being spoiled or getting away with anything but now she's suddenly processing everything that has happened to her, everything that she didn't have a voice about, and she's (excuse my language but) losing her damn mind.

    I can't blame her. I look at everything that's happened to her and I want to curl up in a ball and sob about the injustice of all of it.

    It is frustrating and hard though. Those moments when she's refusing something so simple when it would be so much easier if she would just trust me and say yes - I admit I lose my patience with her more than I should.

    Thank you for writing this. You're not alone in it and it's hard every day. But they have been through things we can't imagine and parenting them with respect to that history is essential.

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    1. I'm intimately familiar with the experience of watching a child lose her damn mind. Here, let me pass you some of this chocolate I'm using to self-medicate.

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  4. Have you thought about getting Zinashi some outside help to help her manage some of these feelings that are arising? I'm not suggesting you pass what's going on with Zinashi off to someone else, but I know that you mentioned in the past that a chiropractor was extremely helpful for her. Or, given the quality of your medical insurance, I'm sure some sessions with a play therapist or child psychologist would be covered. I know you are doing an excellent job as her mother to provide consistency and care, but it might help to look at it this way - Zinashi's emotional trauma was as severe as Elvie's physical one, and medical professionals were the people with the best expertise and tools to handle her needs. That may be the case in this situation too.

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    1. Yes! We are looking for a chiropractor in SF who does NMT, which is what she had in Kansas City that helped with her sleep issues in such a dramatic way.

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  5. I can't speak to the experience of adoption but I can relate to some of what you describe in this post. My father passed away when I was 8 years old and for many years after that I struggled with intense fears of losing my mother. The fears were so intense that they would become very, very real to me. It progressed to the point that every time she drove somewhere I would feel as if she had died in a car accident...not because I was being dramatic but because, to me, she had died. That was how real the feelings were. Imagine that happening to a kid on a daily basis. My mother did not seek out therapy to help me through this period. She was a young mother and 25 years ago therapists weren't as common place as they are now. The ramifications of this experience and the lack of treatment were long lasting and now, with children of my own, I still feel the fears come back occasionally. Clearly I don't know you and haven't read your blog for long so maybe you've talked about your thoughts/feelings on therapy for Zinashi. I can so relate to this post and just wanted to speak to loss from the perspective of an adult who had a major loss as a child and what I wish might have happened to help me deal with all those feelings that I didn't know how to verbalize.

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    1. Carrie, thank you so much for commenting and sharing how it felt for you as a child to lose a parent. It is so valuable to me (and to others, I'm sure) as a parent to hear from you. Your voice is so important.

      We are definitely open to therapy; what we used for Zinashi before that was therapeutic was neuromodulation technique, and if we can't find a practitioner here in the Bay Area, we will seek other forms of therapy. We are exploring that option first because it was so effective at getting to the heart of her fears before, but we are open to whatever will help her.

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    2. I lost my brother at 6, my dad got cancer (but fully recovered) when I was 6, all my grandparents in a car accident at 8, and my mom at 12. I just got on with it. Tons of trauma. But it's the only life I know. Yes, it was sometimes scary when my dad was late and downright terrifying when he had heart surgery because, well, he was ONLY relative and therefore had absolutely nobody else in the unlikely even something went wrong in a typically routine valve replacement surgery. Kids survive. The alternative is so.much.worse.

      Zinashi's willing to give up butterfly wings and everything else she values rather than clean her room? So be it. She is a small child, you are a grownup and I fail to see how indulging in her control games is going to make her a better-adjusted adult or you a saner mommy.

      *****************

      As an aside, my "traumatic" childhood had absolutely nothing on my parental grandparents' childhood: my gradma survived Dachau, my grandfather Auschwitz. Both were the ONLY members of their ENTIRE families' to survive. They were 9 and 12, respectively, at the time. Therapy wasn't an option, nor was homeschooling, as one cannot be homeschooled if one has no parents.

      My theory is that this whole angst/trauma/attachment thing is, to a large extent, and upper-middle class creation: If you have parents who CAN take you to therapy and quit their jobs to homeschool you, a kid can fall apart because they have the LUXURY to do so. It's a Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs thing... so a kid needs to be pretty far up before they have the brainspace to devote to having giant tantrums over cleaning their room. There don't seem to be a whole lot of say, Haitian peasants without access to clean water or rural villagers in war-torn Afghanistan encountering these sorts of parenting issues.

      Mankind has survived for hundreds of thousands, millions of years without EMDR and attachment therapists and people, somehow, coped. Your daughter is a survival. She has coping skills. If only you would GIVE HER THE OPPORTUNITY to use them.

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    3. Hi, Cayte. I'm really sorry about your losses. I know that people process loss in different ways, and I'm glad you've found a way to move forward that works for you. However, I don't think that your way is a way that works for everyone, including my daughter.

      My daughter shut down completely after her losses and would not have eaten except that someone fed her by hand every single day until we came to her, and then we took over until she was secure enough emotionally to be ready to start feeding herself. It's pretty clear that you figured out how to keep eating and grew into an adult. Good for you!

      If you've read more of our blog, you'll know that we do not allow Zinashi to have control, that we believe it is counterproductive. I'm well aware that I'm the grown-up, though Zinashi sincerely wishes otherwise. She'd get to eat a lot more cake for dinner and never have to clean her room or do her chores if that were the case. She would also be attending school all day and be miserable every single night. She's five, and she can't make those choices for herself. So we as her parents chose homeschooling, and we as her parents set limits so that we can thrive as a family. If you have a problem with how we do it, feel free to make different choices for your family.

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  6. Outstanding post and so spot on. Would you mind if I posted a link to this post on a Canadian adoptive parent online group?

    Also, with control issues arising from trauma, loss and intense fear at a very young age, Theraplay (not play therapy, but Theraplay) can be a terrific intervention to increase a young child's sense of safety. We just adopted a toddler and are about to start Theraplay even though we don't know yet whether he will struggle with trauma or developmental trauma issues. We feel it will be nothing but positive for him even if he ultimately doesn't "need" it.

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    1. You are welcome to link to this or any post I write if it would be helpful to others. I'm so glad that what I share can be useful in some way other than just for my own cheap alternative to therapy.

      I've heard so many good things about Theraplay. I will definitely be checking into it.

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  7. Thank you for this post. I really needed a reminder to have more patience with my son. When he came home at seven months (from the only foster home he'd ever known) we had major issues with bonding and attachment. He's now two and only in the last few months have we hit our stride as a family. He got sick four days ago and is better now, but his old, clingy, whiny behaviors appear to back, and driving us crazy. Thanks for the reminder that he is entitled to parents who push back their frustration and just let him be, when he needs to be held all day or just wants to ask the same two questions over and over again. It's comforting to know as parents we're all in this together. :)

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    1. I'm so glad that what I wrote helps. I need the reminder as much as anyone (thus the title); it's so hard to remember what is at the heart of the issue when the behavior is so frustrating.

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  8. Yes and yes. We are one year home with our siblings. Our 5 (ish!) son is a lot like your Zinashi. Our first months were so hard; the fear, anxiety, loss of control, living w/ no context were overwhelming for him. And when we finally began to hit our groove we sold our condo and moved...not far,maybe 8 miles. But it was everything to him. Oh, and it coincided with our one-year-home. I now get what people were talking about re: trauma-versary. We have 2 months of sucky behavior and I wasn't always the "therapeutic parent" I wanted to be. Your little Z is coping with a lot right now. Our kids with tough pasts go to a different place when they feel anxious, out of control, jealous, etc. You know her well. you are doing a great job.

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    1. Thanks, Meg, for everything in this comment. It makes me feel better to know that others go through the same thing and struggle in the same way to consistently be parenting therapeutically. It's so hard sometimes, isn't it? Thank you for the encouragement.

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  9. Beautifully written, and just like Meg said, you are doing a great job. Therapeutic parenting is so, so tough. So many triggers to uncover and dissect. So many decisions to make on a moment-to-moment basis. Hang in there!

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  10. Having seen you and J in action, I swear to you that you're doing it (fabulously), and it's working. Maybe right now you're in the "one step backward" phase of "two steps forward, one step backward" but I bet if you continue to dig deep enough to keep going in the direction you believe in, you'll get those two steps forward from Z. Hang in there.

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  11. Your empathy for your daughters leads you to so many profound insights. Thank you so much for sharing this. This must be so trying for Zinashi, and so trying for you too. I second others' encouragement to seek out therapists in your area--if anything, it makes time in the week for Zinashi to focus on her trauma productively rather than through conflict. It kind of makes sense that it would come out more now, after the tremendous upheaval of Elvie's arrival and hospitalization. Every time you stand firm with her when she pushes you away you are showing her she can count on you, that your love is unconditional. Maybe she wants that reminder a lot now and wants to probe for its boundaries (though it would be a lot more fun if this desire came in the form of snuggles!).

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  12. Again, beautifully written. And very helpful. It helped me understand why my daughter cries when I pick her up from school. Granted, she is not adopted and has not gone through such extreme changes. And she used to hate leaving school. But now, when she sees me, I think the fear that I won't be there to pick her up, how much she's missed me and her papa, comes flooding out in wails and tears. Your words helped me understand something that was baffling me.

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  13. I realize this is an old post, but I stumbled across you at Disney Baby and have spent a week getting caught up on your blog, and I just feel so compelled to comment on this post in particular and thank you for it. I do not have any adopted children-my two boys are biological children, but my oldest son, who is just shy of 3, is a special needs child and has been through surgery, therapy, 8 different moves due to a complicated situation, and completely abandoned by his father; what you describe here made me completely rethink some of my son's actions. He's been saying no a lot, quite forcefully, and though I believe most of it to be because he is a toddler, I am beginning to realize that, duh, he has been traumatized-perhaps he is trying to exercise the control he lacked in the other situations. I would also like to say just thank you for all your posts-some of your ideas have helped me with my own son, and given me thoughts for more ideas to use in the future with both of my boys. You are an amazing woman and mother, and your family is absolutely beautiful!

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing this, I can certainly use this today! We have a little heart broken child here as well. He's 3 years old and said to me today that I was mad at him and that he was sweet and that momma didn't belong to the family, only daddy and him. He wants to have control too and is sometime so sad. Other times he's a happy easy going little boy. But trust is a big issue when all the ladies in your life gave you away. Thanks for your story! Annemieke, from Holland.

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