If there was one statement that hit home more than anything else at Refresh this weekend, it was one said by Debra Gray, author of Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience after Neglect and Trauma and Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents.
She was talking to an audience of people who were raising younger children adopted either internationally or from foster care. I don't have a direct quote, but the general idea that she was trying to get across was that if children do not attach to you when they are younger, there is no motivation for them to obey you when they are teenagers. And if you end up with teenagers who have no motivation to obey you, your lives are going to suck. Except she didn't say suck because it was a Christian conference. And she also didn't say suck because she is much more professional than I am and knows that you don't say suck on your blog or when you are speaking if you want to sell books. Which is why her books sell and mine take up space in Bart's walk-in closet... which actually is really fair because how many couples do you know that have a master bedroom with two closets and the guy gets the walk in ... just sayin ... but I digress. A lot.
Anyway her point is so valid. I am living with several semi-attached children. It is not because we made a choice NOT to put into practice what we learned -- it's simply that when our kids were under 12 we didn't know any of this stuff. There weren't books about how to help kids attach or recover from brain trauma. There weren't Ten Tips listed that you could read with just a click. And so we did what every well meaning person did and we attempted to parent our kids with love and logic and apply consequences. And the result is that we have at least one adult now who defines his younger years by saying he was punished for things he didn't do -- spending his childhood in his room. Of course, it's an exaggeration, but it is what he remembers.
I'm not one who spends a lot of time regretting. It's a fairly wasted emotion because there is nothing that I can do to undo the past. I can't change what has happened. But it became clear to me on Saturday that I can help to spread the message. I can be like the poster child for what not to do. I can use the hard lessons we have learned to explain to parents that it is worth doing the hard work now, so that your future will be a better one.
So when you read about being Playful, Loving, Attentive, Curious, Empathetic and how you need to spend lots of time loving on kids in spite of their behavior, you can conclude that that is way too much work -- that you don't have the emotional energy for it. Or you can look ahead and think about the future benefits of parenting that way and do it no matter how tired you are.
I don't know that things would be different if we had had all this information back then, but I do know that we would have more positive memories with some of our kids and I would feel better about what I had attempted to do. I don't beat myself up about it... no point in that ... but I do see areas where I failed.
I shared some tidbits about my family this weekend with the people at the Refresh conference. If I was superstitious I would conclude that I had jinxed it. I proudly told some women that we had one son who had stayed out of prison since August and then found out later he had just gone back in. And then Saturday I mentioned how well John had been doing, only to find out that that night he had been arrested on some pretty serious charges and for the first time in history both he and his brother are listed on the jail website together.
So... my words to you are pay attention to what you're being told about attachment. Learn about it and apply it. Learn to truly enjoy and love your kids, despite their behavior.
And one more thing that occurred to me today: Make sure that you do attachment work with your compliant children as well as the ones who act out. Ricardo is now couch surfing apparently, refusing to come home, and we are realizing that even though he has never caused any real problems and is very calm and compliant generally, that his attachment issues have to be much more severe than we realized.
I think that's enough and I don't have time to proof this today so if there are some serious typos just remember that I never said I was a great self-marketer!