Saturday, July 27, 2013

Surviver's Guilt

Yesterday was another great day. I got to do most of the first day of the 16 hour training that we call PPAI in Minnesota. It's the training people have to take in order to adopt from the Minnesota Waiting Children program and it's a great group of people. I feel good about being able to tell them my story and helping them learn from my mistakes. We know so much more now about brain trauma and how to parent children who have it that it is great to be able to share that with people before they start parenting kids from hard places.

After the training I was able to have dinner with my friend Michele. I just spent 10 minutes trying to find the picture that I know I put on this blog the last time we had dinner -- which I am pretty sure was 4 years ago. She and my friend Meg and I all met on an AOL message board back in 1997 when we were getting our home studies done. Between the three of us we adopted 30 kids in 30 months, and then went on to adopt a few more -- I think maybe the total is 33 or something between us.

Anyway, I had a great time catching up with Michele -- Meg has since moved to Colorado so she couldn't join us and we missed her. Of all three of our stories mine is the easiest. I don't know why or how that happened, but it makes me want to complain less... and it makes me have survivers guilt.

We are all wide-eyed, passionate, naive. We adopted hard kids. We fought to get hard kids in some situations. We gave it our all. We were invincible and resilient. And today all of us are still standing. But I haven't had to endure the things either of them have.

I spent the early morning hours today putting togehter a slide show of my kids -- then and now -- and realizing how far they have come and how grateful I am.

Today Dominyk, Leon and Wilson are coming home from a missions trip. I have missed them and can't wait to hear about their trip. Last night I said good-bye to Tony -- more on that later -- and I actually have mixed feelings. Kyle and Christy celebrated 3 years of marriage and their son is a month old now. Isaac's mom Courtney is bringing him to spend the night with us.

Life is good. God is good. And I am sad for my friends whose lives have been so challenging -- but I am grateful that they are still the resilient people I have always known, able to see some good in their situations.

I get to train some more today and then Kari and a panel of people are going to come and she is going to train them. I am looking forward to my day....

But before I hit publish ... I read this today -- posted by my friend Kim Stevens. I'm sure she would want it shared with as many as possible....

For Melvin - A Message of Love and Unconditional Commitment

It is with a very heavy heart that I write this week’s CCN news. Our youngest son, Melvin, lost his battle with heroin addiction this last Tuesday. He was only 21.

Mel came to us at 2 ½ years old with no language, no understanding of what it meant to be part of a family and no capacity for receiving affection. Every day with him was worthwhile – he challenged us, he caused us hurt and worry and he brought us such joy. Melvin’s smile, his laugh could light up the world.

As a fellow adoptive parent, I know how difficult it is to love and stay committed to a child who is unable to receive, appreciate or reciprocate that love and caring. In fact, that pain is one of the contributing factors to adoption breakdowns. We wonder if anything we have done or can do will make a difference. We wonder what will become of our children. But our children are not intending to hurt or anger us out of choice. It is their response to loss and trauma beyond their control and understanding. I firmly believe and have seen the proof that if we can just hang in there long enough, we can and do make a difference.

Many of you have heard stories of Mel over the years and listened to me talk about how much he taught his father and I. There were countless moments when he pushed us to the limit and today I can only say how grateful we are to have had the time with him we did and to know that we never stopped loving, believing in, and being there for him.

I want to share the most recent and most important lessons he taught us. Close to three years ago, Melvin overdosed for what we later found out was the second time. The doctors told us that he would not survive the traumatic brain injury and we all prepared for his death. All of us except Buddy, his dad, who knew he would survive. If you have attended a training or lecture of mine, you know that Dr. Bruce Perry later told me the constant massage and touch we gave him were what saved his life that time. I wish we could have been with him last week to hold and save him again.

As the doctors predicted, he was not the same person after his miraculous recovery. We received the greatest gift; Melvin opened himself up to love and appreciation. He came home within two months – frustrated that his basketball shot was way off, walking a bit slower, forgetful, and without any memory of what happened or his time in the hospital. Those were challenges, but were nothing compared to the positive changes. We had a whole new boy who could give and receive affection, appreciation, joy and hope.

For the last fourteen months, Melvin struggled to find and maintain sobriety. I have lost count of the number of programs he graduated from, was discharged from, or was kicked out of for all kinds of infractions. Each time, he get right back to another and continue to try. He wanted to “get right” and become a drug counselor for other young people struggling with addiction. I have been reading dozens of messages from people he touched – every one talks about how he helped them stay strong, how he inspired them or gave them hope.

To his father, his siblings, his niece and nephew, his aunts, uncles and cousins he could finally say “I love you.” Throughout these last months, there has not been a text, message, phone call or meeting with him that has not included the words “Thank you, I appreciate it,” and ended with the words “I love you.” Now that we can’t say or hear those words again, we truly understand the importance of treating each moment as if it could be the last.

Melvin wanted to do something good in the world for others and I believe that he has and will continue to do so. His big sister called me earlier today to tell me that she has finally found a job after being unemployed and unemployable for several years. She has enrolled in a local community college and will start in September. She says she was inspired by Melvin and wants to make him proud – he is the angel that will sit on her shoulder and help her along the path. His brothers have made it possible for Buddy and I to get through this horrific time. His other sister is doing all she can to stay strong and stay healthy. And his recovery community has asked to participate in his memorial so they can bring a message of recovery to other struggling young people as well.

Today and every day I am asking each of you to honor Melvin’s memory and support his desire to do something good in the world…

Parents – stay committed to your children no matter what. When you think you cannot do it for another minute, that is when they need you the most. Look to other parents to help you hang in there. If we can keep our kids connected to us, they always have a chance to heal from their wounds. It takes time, it is not easy, but it is the promise you made and you must keep it.

Child welfare workers – commit to ensuring that no child grows up and leaves care without a family. When you meet with resistance, fight it. When you get discouraged, seek hope. When you run up against a barrier, challenge it. For every child there is a family and each child and youth has a right to one. The question you can keep pushing is, “What will it take?” and then pursue that.

Community, providers, courts, and legislators – do your part. These children belong to all of us. Vow to not let stigmatization, budgetary issues, politics or indifference guide your choices. With every action, vote, decision you make, ask yourself, “How will this affect this child, all children?” If you aren’t satisfied with the answer if it were your child that would be impacted, then it is not acceptable for any child.

Finally and most importantly, youth – know that you are special, that you are worthwhile, that you have a voice you need to use, and that you are loved and valued. Ask for what you need, find allies in your peers and adults, believe that you deserve and can have a family of your own, and believe in yourself.

With love, deep sadness and hope,


Friday, July 26, 2013

Did 26,286 families say no to God in 2011?

Yesterday was a great day. I got to meet and talk to 3 pastors and a church administrator about adoption, focusing on my passion for older children with special needs both in the US and around the world. I have some ideas of how to further engage the church in having a realistic view of this issue and in preparing them to do this adopt and raise the children with tools we didn't have 15 years ago.

I also spent some time yesterday finishing the book "Kisses from Katie." I have checked out her blog. I am amazed by Katie, but by how she explains things in her, I'm not sure she would want me to be. Her story makes me feel guilty for internally complaining about the uncomfortable bed and the rediculous excuse for a shower in my Day's Inn (I'm out of town getting ready to train today). And her book, with it's vivid description of the filth, disease and poverty in Uganda, makes me ask myself why.

I heard a sermon about 30 years ago called "God has no Plan B." We are it. He is caring for the world through His people -- through us. We are Christ's body -- His hands and feet on earth -- and there IS no other plan.

You do the math... Katie says the very same thing in her book but I've been saying it outloud to people since I did the math in January for the first time.... 153 million orphans, 2.2 billion Christians. Only 7 percent have to adopt one and there will be no more orphans. Oh yes, I am aware of the complications and that it doesn't always go as planned and that it isn't easy, but my point is this: God has more than provided for the care of the orphans and fatherless that break His heart -- He has His Church. So I have to believe that some people are saying no when He asks them.

I was thinking about the kids who age out of foster care without a committed adult in their lives. Maybe adoption isn't the answer, but what about those who don't even have ONE person committed to them for life. Quite possibly that number is way lower than the 26,286 of kids that aged out as quoted by AFCARS in 2011 -- many of them could have had a person like that because that isn't reported in the statistics, but I want to use a number -- substitute it for whatever number you feel comfortable with. And then ask the question with me.

I do not believe that God cares for kids that way -- that He would intentionally let them walk out into the world at an age where their frontal lobe is still developing without anyone to turn to in crisis. Could it be that He had a plan for each of those 26,286 and asked His people to adopt them, but they all said no?

And what about the millions of children on this planet that are sick, starving, bug-infested, covered with sores, and lacking in even the simplest pleasures of life like pure water? Is God ignoring them? Or is He asking us to do something about it and we are ignoring Him?

It's simplistic to think of things in those terms. It's controversial to indicate that possibly -- in a land where many people feel a daily $5 mocha or latte is a necessity -- WE are responsible. Is God providing enough for everyone the world and yet we are taking so much more than our share and for THIS reason children are dying every day?

I don't like these questions. They run around in my head and they bug me. And yet today, I will most likely run through a drive through for a nice cool drink or snack and think nothing of handing over my card to be swiped. I am equally guilty and I don't like it.

So when I think of those 26,286 kids in 2011 I can't help but ask myself why God didn't do a better job of caring for them. And then I realize that He did a great job ... He called His people. It may not be as simple as 26,286 families saying no to God. But what if it is.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

And yet another post with a tapestry theme...

I took a quick trip down memory lane this morning. I put the word "tapestry" into the search box of my own blog and read the entries where I mentioned that word in my blog posts. There were several. And every time I used the word "tapestry" I was talking about the same thing...

I am very much a people person. I have a strange personality, a little gruff sometimes, way too harsh most of the time, and I probably make some people have neck hairs standing on end every time I walk into the room. But I like myself quite a bit (my parents fault for overdone self-esteem cultivation efforts they undertook during my childhood) and I also love people.

However, I don't like small talk, mingling, or simply meeting people for the sake of networking or with some goal in mind. I like getting below the surface and having interchanges that impact me and others on a deeper level. I love to hear the stories of people... not just their facts... but the ways their lives have been shaped by their experiences.

So that's where this whole tapestry thing comes in. Sunday Bart was preaching about foundations and was talking about individuals who impact us. And I started to think once again about how incredibly grateful I am for the now thousands of people who have been a part of who I am. I see my life as a tapestry and every person is a stitch in that work of art, forming the person I am continually becoming.

Adoption has changed the kind of tapestry I may have had without it because it has introduced me to a lot of people who are nothing like me. Up through college I was surrounded most of the time by people who shared my values and ideas. We were part of a secure and very comfortable subculture and I could have easily chosen a life where I surrounded myself by people just like that.

And while there is a certain amount of beauty in a weaving made up of only two or three colors, the most striking and beautiful tapestries include multiple bright colors. While I am referring to race and culture to a certain extent, I'm also talking about socio-economic status, value systems, religion, etc. The more people I let in my life who are different than me, the more colorful and beautiful my tapestry becomes.

Because of adoption I have met foster families, guardian ad litems, and social workers of my children. I have met some of their birth families. I have met fellow adoptive parents, special ed teachers, probation officers, mental health workers, residential treatment staff, bailiffs, and others. The people my children have chosen to be friends with, or even have children with, have introduced me to so many others much different than myself. And I am a better person beacaue of these people.

I was reminded of this again yesterday when I met with Nasreen Fynewever for a few minutes. She is a beautiful, delightful, intense, talented person who lives her live intentionally. An adult adoptee from Bangladesh, she has a unique pespective. I loved hearing her story and I learned a tiny bit about a country I knew nothing about. Now I want to learn more regardless of how and when our paths cross again.

We met for one hour -- both of us very busy people -- but now there is a new stitch of a different color in the tapestry of me. And I'm reminded to celebrate the ways that God has used adoption to provide me with a more colorful weaving than anything I could have planned or imagined myself.

Adoption isn't easy. It's complicated and messy and stretches us and hurts us and enlightens us and develops us and settles us and heals us. It's an amazing journey not for the faint of heart. But regardless of its hardships, it is also one of the most amazing ways that God uses to create a stunningly beautiful tapestry, rich and deep, that is the person we each become. And for that I'm so very grateful.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On the list of my top ten pet peeves....

I know that when you read this your first response might be "Then do something about it." But if you know ODD well, you know it's not worth the effort.

After saying that let me say this because I can't put it on Facebook because it will just start an argument. But for the last 5 years one of the top most annoying things in my life has been unemployed adults sitting in my house watching Tru TV while I try to work. To me, it just about sums up the life of a loser in a small snapshot of their day.

If you are a fan of Tru TV I apologize, but when there are more words bleeped out than there are words spoken, that's a warning sign of something that does not indicate a high level of intelligence.

When I was in Mankato I just left the house and went somewhere else to work when that was happening. But here I do have a job. Except that today is Sunday and I was trying to do some digital scrapbooking but only got one page done above and I have to stop. I don't have an office so I am stuck at the computer in the family room with Tru TV calling me a witch with a b every three words and listening to bleeps and to top it all of and make my blood boil the room is filthy and the person watching the TV is supposed to have cleaned it.

I know you're saying that you'd put a stop to this if you were me. I wish you'd come over and do it. :-)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Bad

You'd think by now my buttons would all be broken. I have parented kids with ODD or conduct disorder since the first day of 1998. That's over 15 years of arguing, resistance, escalating behaviors, being sworn at, demeaned, ordered around, and belittled. Every button I have has been pushed so many times that you would think they were broken. But apparently not.

This morning our son who came at 20 months almost 17 years ago, who is now eighteen and unemployed (a long and annoying story) was up early. He's never up early. But our new dog (yes, a beautiful golden retriever mix that we "adopted" yesterday from an animal rescue place) apparently woke him up and so as I was trying to get out of the house I was accosted by a fairly large, very annoying person determined to argue with me.

And I responded poorly and it escalated and by the time I walked out of the door I was annoyed and angry and he was calling me what apparently is my nick name... a word kinda like witch but different.

So on my way to work today I was thinking about all this and realizing that all through this journey I have been the one who, 90% of the time, determines the outcome of any argument or discussion with my children. My response, either gentle, calming, soothing and kind or argumentative, angry, rude and obviously annoyed, is what takes us to the next step. I choose how much things escalate by what I do.

I wish it were different. I wish I could blame it on them. But the truth is, I'm the one who controls the emotional environment in my home based on the way that I respond to my children and their special needs.

This isn't intended to be guilt producing for me or anyone reading the post. It's just a factual observation. And it isn't true 100% of the time -- there are times when kids are going to rage on even if I respond perfectly. But if I can keep from getting sucked in, a term I learned long ago from my friend Cindy, things go better. But I can distract, divert, and change things with humor, kindness, understanding and compassion more often than not.

I've gotten better over the years. I've learned some things. My buttons have gotten harder to push. But again today, as I have had to do so many times, I have to inwardly acknowledge my mistake and say to myself, "my bad." Not my favorite thing to do.

Maybe next time I'll do better. I hope so. If not, I'll forgive him, forgive myself, and keep on moving on like I have for 15 years.

Part of why I can do that is that the first child who taught me about ODD is now a 26 year old married elementary school teacher with an adorable newborn who is living in his own new starter home that he and his wife had built last year. He is very responsible, pays his own bills, attends church, and is living the American dream. Not bad for a kid who didn't have permanency until age 11 and was so defiant I was sure he'd self destruct.

I screwed up this morning. I've screwed up thousands of times. But I don't give up. I still plan to improve and respond better the next time. Maybe by the time the last one leaves home I'll have this figured out. :-)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sitting back and watching them shine....

I am a control freak. I admit it. But I'm less of a control freak than I used to be.

For years I ran my family ... almost like a drill sargeant runs his platooon. I told them what to do, where to go, where to sit, how to act, and they listened to me once and a while. But most of the time their issues just made them oppositional and I set them off by simply being a mother figure and being in the room. So sometimes, now that 10 of the 12 are adults, I just sit back and watch and am finding that the lack of my presence actually helps them function better.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was a great one. Even though the parents of our grandson who was being baptised are not together, they acted civil toward each other and were both very pleased (as were we) at how meaningful the baptism was. We had dinner together afterwards -- Eight of our kids, a boyfriend, a babymama, a daughter in law, three of our four grandchildren and my mom.

I didn't sit with them during church nor did I tell them where to sit. But they all sat together in the first three rows. I sat over by the baptismal font by my mom so I could get pictures. They were perfectly appropriate... all of them. At lunch I didn't tell them where to sit and they managed to work it out so everyone was happy. There were no conflicts at the table, no arguments, no tears. It was just a nice day.

It's fun to be finally be mature enough to shut my own mouth and sit back and enjoy things without having to attempt control every move. Without me "provoking them" by suggesting they do things differently, they managed OK.

My mom mentioned to our daughter-in-law last night (she was a day care mom for years and years while I'm growing up so she knows a lot about babies) that Silas, the newborn, probably senses her tension when she is trying to sooth him and he cries for hours. I realize now how that the same thing probably applied when my kids were younger. My tension was escalating everything for them when I was attempting to calm them as they raged or argued or fought with me.

It's only taken me seventeen years of parenting to get mature enough to shut my mouth and sit back and watch. Obviously I couldn't have done that on a regular basis back when they were younger, but I certainly wish I could have been calmer and less controlling. We might have had a lot more fun.

But there is nothing I can do about those days... I can just remember yesterday and apply it to future events. Sometimes it's better to just sit back and trust them... and occassionally, when I can do that, they shine.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

They multiply...

As I'm trying to get back into the habit of blogging, I am trying to figure out how to catch everyone up on what is going on in all of the kids lives without being too specific and it ain't easy. Part of the reason is that there are so many extra people involved now who can easily google this and read through the blog that I'm hesitant to mention people by name.

In retrospect, I had really stupid expectations in regard to what was going to happen to all of our kids when they "grew up" and reached eighteen. I never really thought beyond that, except that I had this preconceived idea that our parenting would be done. They would be adults. I assumed they would do what I did... go off to college, stay there, finish, get a job so they could support themselves, and stay moved out.

But as some of my other friends with neurotypical kids are finding this isn't true yet. With the unemployment rate at around 25% for adults 18-25, there just aren't jobs out there for them. Those who aren't college material have an even harder time, and even those with college degrees are ending up having nowhere to go but home after incurring all that debt. These friends and I have been passing around the quote, "the only day that is more sad than the day your child moves out is the day they move back in." :-)

So they don't move out... or if they do they come back. Subsidies end and they stay (or, if they are college material, subsidies end and you have college to pay for). Financially we are more strapped than we ever have been before and the demands from them are high. I'm sure that if you haven't been in this place yet you have all kinds of ideas about how you would say no, but each situation is unique and it's more difficult to say no that you might think.

The other challenge is that they multiply. They meet someone. They have a baby with that someone. They get connected with their kids' other grandparents, and so do we. And now we are in a phase of getting to know birth families who we are also connected to.

So I'm learning what most people probably anticipated before... kids don't disappear and go away when they become adults, they actually multiply.

I wouldn't want another life and I don't regret adopting as many children as we did. I just think I would have been more prepared when I realized just how many relationships we would be juggling when I'm reaching an age where there is no room for any more facts in my head. We are now connected to a long list of folks whose relationships we are attempting to maintain when I can barely remember where I put my keys.

During a stage of life when people my age were expecting to have their nests empty and lots of time to do things alone together, our lives are more packed than ever. In the last month we have seen all of our grandchildren and their parents, and 11 of our twelve children. We have met three birthparents. We have gotten to know a new girlfriend and met a boyfriend's parents for the first time. We have gone from 3 kids at dinner one night to 9 expecting to eat the next night. Add all of that to my full time job and I'm tired.

But the depth and the power of those relationships, the meaning they bring to our lives, isn't anything I would trade for something more simple. It is an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and get closer to my kids and what's his name... oh yeah, Bart. :-)

So if you are in the process of adopting several younger children, I guess I'm giving you a heads up. Think about whether or not you will be able to afford to support them all when subsidies end. Think about your emotional capacity to take care of them, and their children, when they become adults.

If you can do it, go for it.... it's a wild and wonderful ride. But do it with eyes wide open and be prepared for a VERY full life fifteen years from now!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

What's your Side A?

Soon after our daughter gave birth to our first granddaughter a few days after her 17th birthday (read more about that here), Bart went to the Festival of Homiletics. If you aren't sure what that is, it's a conference on the art of preaching. As part of the conference he heard amazing sermons and came home and told me about one of them.

He explained that the preacher was talking about how the old 45s had two sides. One side was typically the hit song of a group, but back in those days they had to put a song on side B. Side B songs were known for being mediocre at best. In the sermon, the preacher talked about how in our lives we sometimes start out playing our side B song. At some point in life, things fall together, and we find ourselves on Side A. The purpose for our life becomes clear and we find ourselves playing our "hit song."

Bart said, in conclusion to him telling me that story, "Maybe our grandchildren will be our Side A."

When people have asked me in the past why we have chosen to adopt our children, I talk a lot about breaking the generational cycle of poverty, abuse, addiction, mental illness, etc. and giving kids a choice by letting them live a different kind of life. They still have free will to decide how they want to live, but at least they have seen a different view of the world. We have children who have parents who have been in foster care and even grandparents who were, so joining our family has allowed them to see a different way of life. And the lives of their children, because of us, will be better.

We have four grandchildren now and while their lives are not perfect (though the most recent one has a chance at a fairly idyllic life), they are having a better start than their parents did. I had the "if you don't want to raise children like _____ you better not drink during your pregnancy" conversation with the moms as soon as we found out they were expecting. All of them have had parents that have gone overboard on the attachment piece. They are developing at a normal rate, are smart and learning quickly and daily (I love to see all that brain growth happening before my eyes as I listen to them request things repetitively from us or their parents), and they have a backup. If things got really bad, there's always us.

So maybe some of our kids won't ever realize what we have done for them. They may resent us and never quite understand the sacrifices we made. They may be angry for a long time over the mistakes that we made. Maybe our parenting was mediocre at best.

But perhaps, as Bart suggested, we are now living our Side A. It sure seems like it in other areas of our lives as things are falling together for us professionally. We get to see our grandkids often -- not as often as we would like, but as often as all of us can make it happen. We love them... watching their personalities develop as they immerge as little people, very different from one another. We know that without us they would not exist, even if it is just because without us our children would not have lived in the place where they met the other parents.

Being a grandparent is a wonderful thing, and it just might be that our grandchildren will be our number one single, our hit song.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Managing Anticipatory Grief

In looking back over the past few years and asking myself what I would have done differently, I realize that I should have done a better job of managing my anticipatory grief. In the past, when my kids were younger, I had many of these thoughts:

"Oh my goodness, I just don't what I would do if I had a child that ended up in jail."

"I'll never make it through it if one of my girls gets pregnant."

"I just couldn't bear it if I had a grandchild I seldom got to see."

"If one of my kids were to walk away and stop having contact with me, it would break my heart."

If you've been a reader of my blog for a long time, you know that all of those things have happened to us and many more that I never dreamed would happen like fighting a couple CHIPS cases, being the victim of what felt like domestic violence, only my spouse wasn't the abuser, having kids in out of home placements, psych hospitals, and the list goes on and on.

And you know what? We're still standing. In fact, there are days when we are down right happy and everything seems right in our world. Not every day, but some days.

At this time all twelve of our children are in contact with us. I have heard from all of them, and seen 11 of them in the past 4 days. I have seen three of my four grandchildren (all in the same place) and I will see the other one this weekend. Most of them are in a fairly good place and all of them are having some kind of connection with us ... and some of them even seem to have many of their attachment issues resolved.

There is a downside to many of their lives... only two are completely independent of our financial support for example...and one is in jail... and I could go down the negative road, but am choosing not to.

The point is all of the "I would fall apart if...." things have happened and we're still here." Bart and I have done it without every needing a drink, a pill, or a joint. ;-) We have an awesome support system and a faithful God, a lot of determination, and a good relationship and we are OK.

Worry about the future adds so much to our lives and I really believe that by the time disasters like the ones we pray never happen come, we have been strengthened by the cycle of growth (suffering, perseverance, character, hope) to the point that we can handle whatever comes our way.

I don't offer specific advice to people much any more, especially those parenting adolescents with a history of trauma. I simply share with them that if you wait long enough, they almost always come back around, even if it is just for cash. :-) Very seldom do we lose our kids forever because we have done something wrong or were bad parents.

Being patient, hanging in there, loving them no matter what, and taking care of ourselves are key components. And one other thing. When your kids are not at home, for whatever reason (ran away, psych hospital, RTC (though I hope not), don't spend all that time fretting. Take care of yourself and enjoy the peace.

It's my expectation that fifteen years from now, or maybe twenty, depending on how old your child is, you're perspective will be like mine -- if you just hang in there. All the horrible things that you hope never happen may happen, but you'll still be ok...

Take care of you. Surround yourself with a great support system. Make a spiritual connection with whoever you see as your "higher power" and cultivate that relationship. If you're married or in a relationship, find times to have fun together.

Let go of shame, blame, and worry and be free to realize that you are strong enough to make it through whatever comes your way!

Friday, July 05, 2013

Sharing in Their Suffering

(The picture above was 11 of our kids at Easter plus three grandkids, two grand-baby mamas, and a grand-baby daddy's sister) It's kind of hard to see when it's , but if you click on it you can see the full picture.).

I have learned a lot over the past year... a lot about many things that I did wrong as a parent. Sometimes it makes me sad. Sometimes it makes me angry. But I have to remind myself that I did the best I could. But I also feel it is important that other people learn from my mistakes. It is too late in the case of some of my children . . . but it isn't too late for many with whom I work and who read the stuff that I write, even though my stuff isn't always that refined.

I never set out on this journey to re-traumatize children. When we started adopting we were trying exactly what we were told to do. We were told that our children with Reactive Attachment Disorder were children of rage who were needing to learn to relinquish control and trust their caregivers. In order to teach them this, we were instructed to break them down -- to take away everything from them and make them earn it back. We were told that we needed to never show our own pain or frustration, but that we should remain the strong ones and never back down. So several of my children who were the most disturbed were the ones who ended up having the most consequences, being most separated from us, and the ones that we re-traumatized the most.

Through teaching the class on adoption competency for therapists two years in a row, and from follow up conversations with people in the class, I have been learning a great deal about the brain and trauma and how it works. There are those that are now saying that until we deal with grief and loss issues and trauma recovery for kids they will be unable to attach. So attachment work is secondary to dealing with grief and loss.

Go with me into the history of one of my children. Removed at 4, he had been separated from his birth parents and put into foster care where he lingered for over 5 years and was in 15 placements. He then was placed into an adoptive family which disrupted, but where his younger two brothers were allowed to stay. Finally at 11 he came to us. If we were to map out his losses on paper what would they look like?

If his birth family, and each of those 15 placements, and in his first adoptive placement, had two or three people or things that were important enough to him to grieve their loss, that means that he would experience a minimum of 34-51 losses before age eleven. But it is probably a lot more than that. Think about the "siblings" in each foster home and in his first adoptive family. The caregivers in those families, their pets, extended family. Then move to school -- a favorite teacher, a best friend. Church? A pastor, Sunday school teacher, youth leader, friends there. And what about pets? Favorite toys? It is possible that my son had 100 losses that he could not articulate and had never grieved.

So coming into my home with all that loss and pain, what were we taught to do? Consequence. Remove privileges. Do what all parents do and send the kid to his room when his behavior wasn't desirable. And in all that, he was never allowed to grieve and his "trauma trigger" of abandonment was just pushed again and again. Each time I asked him to go away from me it was a reminder of over 100 losses.

He was filled with pain, filled with loss, and since kids don't talk about their pain, they act it out, his behavior wasn't perfect. I interpreted it as defiance, unjustified anger, and it frustrated me. If he could just learn to behave, then I would be able to establish a relationship with him. But hugging a porcupine? No thanks.

Back 2007 I attended a seminar about inducement and summarized it this way:

Induceent makes SO MUCH SENSE. The idea is that children who are abandoned feel many emotions -- anger, grief, loneliness, out of control, crazy. When they are finally in a place where they feel safe, they attempt to communicate those emotions but it is too difficult. So instead, they attempt to create those emotions in the person with whom they are beginning to build a relationship.

Unfortunately, as newly adoptive parents, many of us see those attempts to help us understand how they feel as behaviors that must be stopped. We begin to feel all the things they feel-- anger, grief, loneliness, out of control, crazy. So we decide that we cannot handle them and get them away from us, instead of allowing ourselves to relate to them and with them becaue we now understand how they feel.

But by that point this child was already 19, so for him I started to "get it" too late.

So when we invite a child into our lives who has been traumatized, we have an invitation to share in their suffering. Whether we like it or not, we will share their pain. They will show us their pain through their anger and unkindness and we have to figure out a way to work through it. Interestingly, I was catching up on Cindy's blog today and read this entry that talks about how hard this is for us as parents. Sharing in their pain means that we deal with secondary trauma every day.

My parenting has changed a lot in the last 6 years. Consequences are avoided -- they don't work anyway. I am more aware of the inner workings of my children and why they are the way they are. But my days of parenting children are almost over. I am living with young adults trying to make their way through making sense of this loss and wondering how much better off they would be had I known what I know now.

People ask me, "Knowing what you know now, would you do it again." And I say, "Yes, for sure, but I'd do it differently."

If you are not a person who shares my Christian faith you can skip this part, but in hearing the phrase "they are sharing their pain with you" the other day, I thought about these verses from Philippians 3.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead

We share in His sufferings so that we might also share in His final victory.

There are a couple of stories that I'm hoping to blog if I can find the time that will share a bit of those victories for our kids. We have the privilege of sharing in their victories but to do that we must first share in their sufferings.

There's no way anyone can call what we do easy. But if we seek to understand our children, if we share in their sufferings, if we pull them closer instead of pushing them away, and if we simply hang in there ... keep swimming as we learned in the Finding Nemo ... day after day and year after year, and if we do those things long enough, those moments of victory will come.

Count on it.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

They are OK.... and so are we

I know it's been forever since I blogged. I know I need to get back to it. But so many things have happened that take so much of my time. Let me bullet point the major ones:

1) My work at Bethany is very time consuming but awesome. We are doing really good work with families and we have big dreams to expand our post-adoption support for families. My staff is incredible and we work together very well. I'm very motivated and excited about all that is going on there.

2) My dear daddy died on May 11. He passed away two days after I left Arizona, having spent nearly two weeks there with him, six of them with he and I alone in a strange city at the hospital. They were wonderful times and I could feel the prayers of my family and friends surrounding me. He was an incredible man and was sharp as a tack right up until his last couple days of life. He died of renal failure, so wasn't in much pain. He lived to be almost 91 and he had way more friends in heaven than he did here on earth. His body was so worn out that I could see he was tired of being in it. So I was ready to let him go, and my mom was ok with it too.

I have to share this for those of you who do not do Facebook and haven't heard this story. The very hour he died I had a dream (if you want to know exactly what time you have a dream, have a bladder that requires you to get up every 90 minutes at night). Anyway, I been back to Mn for two days and the night before Mother's Day I had a dream. I dreamed that I had gone to the hospice home where had been living for a few days and they said he wasn't there. They gave me instructions to drive around back behind the home (the home was located in rural Arizona). In the dream, I rounded the bend and the view opened up to this huge beach. My dad was there, rolling himself down the beach in the sand in his wheelchair. Suddenly he stood up and started to run. He did somersaults, he did cartwheels. He jumped with glee. I woke up right after that with such a sense of peace.

The next morning during church I got a voice mail from my mom. It said, "He did it Claudia! Dad got to be with his mom on Mother's Day." She had told me the day before how special that would be and I had asked her, 'Won't that make Mother's Days sad for you in the future." She responded, "No! I would be delighted if he could be with her on Mother's Day.!"

3) My amazingly strong mom finished packing to move to Minnesota by ay 29 (the tickets had been purchased to move both of them here on May 7th, so a lot of the packing was already done). She is in an assisted living facility here in Minnesota and has been for about 5 weeks now. She is an inspiration to me. 84 years old and so positive, strong and full of faith. I talk to her a couple times a day and see her at almost every day. I'm enjoying being able to spend time with her and having my kids get to know her. She appears to be adjusting well to having my Dad gone. She keeps her emotions in check and sees each day as an adventure. I know the secret of her strength -- she has been at prayer by 4:30 a.m. every morning for over 65 years.... I think that makes a person way stronger than I'll ever be. Her faith would amaze and inspire you like it does me. I'm humbled to be around her.

4) We have been reconnecting with several of our adult children. Salinda and Gabby lived here for a few weeks and are still here off and on. We have reconnected with the one son who does not like to be mentioned here -- he was in a serious car accident a few months ago and now comes up here for doctors appointments and has been stopping by. His son was with us for his first birthday. Rand has spent several weekends with us and Jimmy is currently home from Job Corps. Even though we bought a smaller house on purpose, they still come and fill the couches. It takes a lot of time to stay connected with them ... but it is typically fun time and not nearly as stressful as it has been in the past. Even though John is in jail and he and Courtney aren't together, Courtney brings Isaac up often to see us.

5) We are still enjoying an active social life with new friends who are so fun to be with. Bart has to control my urge to schedule every free night and remind me to relax sometimes.

6) We had another grandchild! Kyle and Christy (who are married) had Silas Allen on June 26th. He is adorable and the whole experience was so peace filled. If you know anything about the relationship between Bart and Kyle, you will know how meaningful it was when Kyle placed Silas in Bart's arms for the first time and said, "we have chosen a middle name. It's Allen." The whole world seemed to make sense at that moment because Bart's middle name is Allen.

7) We have had three kids in the past few months reconnect and begin to build relationships with birth family. This has been positive for them and certainly interesting for us, but quite emotionally taxing. If I blog more I may tell some of those stories.

8) We have had school drama including not having any of our 3 seniors graduate. Tony got his GED at job corps but moved home, not out, and the other two didn't manage to graduate. Leon will be trying his senior year again next year and Ricky has moved in with an older brother. Not sure if he will go back to school but he started a job this week.

So, I've been busy, eh? I decided to pop into blog world because today we went to the lake with Mike and Kari back near Mankato. We had a great day -- the best our families have had together ever. All of our kids were appropriate -- 8 of our 12 were there, and one grandson, and 5 of their six showed up and they're granddaughter was there! Significant others were there too and a husband... it was a really, really good day.

I guess I wanted to blog tonight to say this ... it does get better. The hard times do seem worth it. There are struggles, still, but there are times now where we can honestly say that it feels OK to be us... that things make sense in a weird way.

We have 10 adult children now. Only 2 are under 18. We have four gorgeous grandchildren. We look back at the many years of turmoil and we realize that we did many things wrong. The new research now about brain trauma, connection, etc. would have helped us so much. But thanks to God's help, we haven't given up, and they are all OK. Not perfect, but OK.

And so are we.