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.


MsMP said...

Great advice!

MsMP said...

Excellent advice!

Azmomo2andcounting said...

I wonder what you do instead of consequences. As a new foster parent who feels so lost I wonder if there is an alternative?

Lee said...

A great post! I am so glad you shared. We too were told to be fairaly rigid when we began our adoptions. "start as you mean to go on" was the mantra at our trainings. It is only over the years that I realized that does not make sense. You can have an end goal but get to it in smaller steps. And it is a lot more about healing and relationship building when we do.

Dawn said...

Wow, this is dead on!!! The more adoptive parents that can read this, the better. Amen!!!!

Jenny Goff said...

Absolutely beautiful!!!!!! And you are exactly right!!!!

jonavia1 said...

Thank you for this post. I feel like you were talking directly to me. It was exactly what I needed to hear today. Someone was telling me about some statistics regarding PTSD she heard on Dr. Phil about children in foster care. Do you have any info on that? I miss you and Kari's blog, you both have helped me so much. I can honestly say I am a better parent because of you both!