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Adopters - how do you handle insecure moments?(13 Posts)
I've two adopted children who I love so very much and they are very much 'our children' but whenever I read adult adoptees stories they are angry or resentful or don't have good relationships with their adoptive parents. My two are very young and I am just starting life story work my DD at her instigation in an age appropriate way.
Is it just that the only adoptees who write about it are unhappy, because the happy ones don't feel the need, much like many things in life I.e. The bad gets written about more than the good.
Every now and then I worry and think that my best will never be good enough if my kids will grow up angry anyway. I'm very focussed on helping them to process their adoption as they grow up and there are other adopted children in our wider family and amongst our friends. We do our very best to be a happy, fun filled family and I think for the most part we acheive it.
Can anyone offer me any wisdom in this area? I wonder if adoptees who are angry are hurt by their adoptive parents, or really by their birth parents but the adopters are carrying the can so to speak, or if it's a rejection issue on both sides, or just a major personality clash. I had an unhappy childhood but wasn't adopted, maybe that's why I worry as I wouldn't want my children to ever feel as I did.
Are you going to get it perfectly right? Almost certainly not - and neither am I BUT you are, from the sound of it, trying to give your DC age-appropriate honesty, safety, a sense of belonging based on their wider family and on life story work, and you're reflecting on this as you go along. You also mentioned you were letting your DD lead the pace, which is great.
I do think you're right, that perhaps those adoptees who share their less happy stories may be over-represented. They often have insights we can all learn from, although their experience of how adoption was handled (lots of secrecy etc) is hopefully very different from today's practice/recommended approach.
You specifically mention concern about growing up "angry" - I would say that from my limited experience, my adopted DC and the 6-7 others I know, often find it harder to communicate and regulate strong emotions. So putting extra effort into supporting them with learning to do that, can only be a good thing IMO.
SusanHollander I think that often those who do talk about their pasts a lot (in many circles) are maybe the ones who are angry or upset. Many who are not angry or do not feel unhappy at the way their life has worked out do not feel the need to speak out so vocally, in all kinds of situations.
I would say that there are a few pointers I can give based on having a birth child who is very emotional at times (including angry) - a ten year old dd, and having a relatively calm son by adoption (aged 4) who has been with us for almost 18 months.
a) don't try and deny or smother anger and sadness if/when they appear, it doesn't help in the long term. Go and see the film 'Inside out' for more ideas! Try and help your child to understand anger and sadness, name them, work out how to resolve those feelings in a non-violent way that works for them.
b) Be nice to you and remember you are doing your best, do not set up unrealistic impossible standards for yourself, your child will be watching and if you are setting up impossible goals for yourself then your child may follow suit - a definite recipe for disappointment and possibly for anger!
c) Try to model good ways to resolve issues in your own life (much harder than it sounds).
d) build in fun... make time for rituals (we sniff the fabric softener and choose our favourite - after years of buying the cheapest we buy the best we can afford and find the fun it)
... say yes' when you can like going to the park, or watching a longer TV show on a Friday night stay up or yes to that sandwich filling or cake in the shopping trolley that is not on your list - I think we all worry about spoiling our kids or being a pushover, sometime they need a little spoiling and they need to feel they are getting to choose.
Make fun of situations, read 'How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk'.
I wish we could get a dog, cat, hamster but we just can’t right now, actually I wish we could get a unicorn (don't try this with teenagers or with kids who take things too literally or can't distinguish fiction from reality!)
Most all make time for hugs and cuddles, we do back rubs, we do 'dot and dash' -
something like this www.mamalisa.com/?t=es&p=1123&c=23,
We do play fights, tickling, occasional gentle pillow fights, we wrap in towels to hug after his bath and snuggle in bed.
We hope and pray all these things say you are loved and valuable.
But remember these kids have suffered a trauma many of us have not and if the trauma is not dealt with in their childhoods and understood properly then they need specialist counselling and help to do that. For many the real crux, I think, is that the child is valuable, lovable, precious and wonderful, but the experiences of early life may make them feel they are none of these things. Those negative emotions cannot just be wiped out and replaced with positive ones.
The parenting needed is therapeutic; it goes beyond hugs and cuddles. Sometimes it is daunting. But I do believe it is in many cases possible to change what the child believes about themselves, the brain can adopt and learn new stuff but that old blueprint is there. In times of trouble and stress the child may return to that old blueprint of what they think life is really like.
My last one e) is make time for talk - turn off the TV and radio, maybe do not make eye contact, maybe at bed time.
My son and I lay side by side on his small bed and I say "Is there anything you want to talk about?" For the first year it was Betty (not her real name), his beloved foster carer. When he ran out of kind words to say about her I supplied some, she is lovely, kind, beautiful, she really loved you. Now he rarely speaks about her but we do meet up a few times a year and she is, indeed, an angel.
She did the most amazing job of caring for our son before he became our son.
It is important in these conversations he feels able to talk freely and express how he feels and I do hope he will continue to feel that whatever he says I will want to listen. The same goes for my birth dd. It is so tempting to want to squash what they say and replace it with the 'correct' view. but we need to make sure they feel free to say what is on their mind, and if what they say is blatantly untrue, we need to correct them in a way that shows we have been listening etc. Not easy, at all.
So that was...
a) don't try and deny or smother anger and sadness
b) Be nice to you
c) model good ways
d) have fun
In no particular order (and I bet I have missed out masses - I am learning too!)
I have read... In parenting we are building a fully grown person, and we are not working alone! They are also building the same fully grown person. Ultimately they will gain the upper hand, our job is to ensure they have the most beautiful materials to work with.
Must go to bed. Bless you.
Great advice given already.
I am not an adopter but read all of the posts here with interest. If you look on relationships/AIBU chat you will see a lot of threads where people complain about their parents. Lots of "toxicity" and people going no contact.
So no, being peeved off with your parents is certainly not exclusive within adoption. My advice to any parent is to do your best but realize that no one is ever 100%. I know I had a lot of issues with my own parents until my own children got a bit older and I realized that parenting is bloody hard!
Thank you so much for these responses.
italian what amazingly wise words you offer; please share these wherever you can amongst adopters as they are so helpful and will help many I am sure. I'm going to look the links you've supplied.
I'm feeling a lot better about it today, our children have been with us two years and on the whole I feel ok but I do get days where I worry a lot about messing it up. We're very honest as a family, we don't hide away from difficult things, and in my own life I've faced a lot of tough things head on and got the appropriate help to process when necessary so I'm trying to extend that approach to my kids. One of our children was especially traumatised and we've learned (the hard way and through trial and error) that the approach needed is completely different and there is no such thing as 'spoiling' an insecure, traumatised child ....as a result he gets a lot of physical comfort, I've spent whole days just holding him even though my arms were burning!
I've more to say but my DH is hurrying me along to go to the park and get off MN so I better had ....
SusanHollander thanks for your kind words.
As i was typing I forgot you had already adopted so please do not think I am teaching my grandma to suck eggs! Your kids have been home longer than our son so you are more experienced in adoption circles! Our daughter was quite easy for the first five years so we only really have five years experience of dealing with a difficult child! (Se is very dyslexic and her behaviour got worse in Year 1).
Re please share these wherever you can amongst adopters as they are so helpful and will help many I am sure. that is so nice to say. Thank you. thanks
Re * I do get days where I worry a lot about messing it up.* I wonder if this is actually 'your issue' ad not about your ability to parent about an internal feeling of needing to be perfect etc? If so you can challenge these feelings in your self but you may need some help by talking to someone or by reading the right book on being a perfectionist, not necessarily on parenting ! (JUST an idea.)
Re ...in my own life I've faced a lot of tough things head on and got the appropriate help to process when necessary so I'm trying to extend that approach to my kids. That sounds spot on to me.
I used to get anxious about new things until a dear friend (a wiser older lady at church) pointed out all the times I had faced new things and done well. Sometimes remembering how we coped before is a huge help. All situations are new to some extent but also familiar and the emotions and feelings are definitely familiar. Doesn't mean we need to always do the same thing buy the skills employed in one situation can work in another!
Re One of our children was especially traumatised and we've learned (the hard way and through trial and error) that the approach needed is completely different and there is no such thing as 'spoiling' an insecure, traumatised child I am so sorry for your dear children's experiences. Our son was 'lucky' in that he was not too traumatised but he suffered and as a result is quite an emotional little lad.
Re * ....as a result he gets a lot of physical comfort, I've spent whole days just holding him even though my arms were burning!* I have no idea if it is proven (think it is - e.g. orphans getting contact in an orphanage surviving as opposed to not)...
I know very few of the kids on here will have come from orphanages but I am just using that as an extreme example because it has been studied a fair it.
When we are upset even mildly a hand on the shoulder speaks volumes that a look or a word cannot! IMHO.
Say more when you can, we can all learn from each other. smile
Honestly italian none of what you said was teaching me to suck eggs, the things I'd heard already I needed to hear again. I've just bought the 'how to talk' book, I've heard it mentioned a lot on MN so about time I bought a copy! I think you are probably right in what you say - my insecurities are actually about me and not about my children, and I would do well to remember that.
Sometimes adoption feels so 'big' but we need to take it one day at a time. At the start of the holidays I cried that I couldn't do 6-7 weeks as my DD is being especially 'threenagery' at the moment, and my v.sensible sister told me not to think in terms of weeks but to think in terms of each day....totally worked. I was looking too far ahead which I think I tend to do a lot.
Ref what you said upthread about blueprints being changed, I've recently learned more about therapy in adoption and that when a child is young their brain is like elastic. It can be moulded and changed. As times goes on the brain hardens and that is when things like trauma if not addressed early enough are 'set in' if you like and require a lot of work in later life, even then the scars and effects remaining to an extent. I found this fascinating. I'm in the process of watching a six year old with severe trauma going through therapy (not one of my children but a child close to me) and have been amazed at how much she has changed and improved in a few short sessions. She was adopted at the age of two and after much pushing from her mum is now getting the help she needs as her trauma is obviously not just going away on its own and as you point out I think, it's never just about 'time and cuddles' with trauma.
I would definitely urge any adopters reading this to really push for therapy if your child needs it, I can't get over the changes in her.
Thanks SusanHollander yes the brain, I knew nothing about it until we adopted.
The blueprint thing was said to us, during adoption training, along the lines of that you can make strides and develop etc but when really stressed you will go back to your blueprint. Not necessarily back to it for all the time but briefly back to what you know.
I like science because if this is all true, and you can't help but have a blueprint in there then it is still not a case for despair because what you need to know is how to deal with it.
I think you can talk to that blueprint part of you (my words) and tell yourself what you need to hear - e.g. whatever you are feeling you are valuable you are worth it etc etc. These lessons take a life time.
I am an anxious person with a slight eating disorder (over eating) who had OCD as a teen. When very stressed that OCD side r emerges ever so briefly and so does the over eating big time! I need to tell it back off, I am free of the OCD (except in my eating) and I feel being aware of it helps me. It is not set in stone, but it is very real.
I think knowing the difficulties we all have from our experiences/life (actually I had a pretty happy home life and loving family) means we can learn to fight them when they pop up. I now feel very much that nothing is 100% nurture or 100% nature, some things are in our genes and some are about the experiences we have. The bits that are about experiences we can create new experiences and over time, doing and saying and thinking the right thing again and again we can re-learn some stuff, eg re-learn not to be bone crushingly shy etc! But some stuff is just part of us, like my dyslexia (which my birth dd also has).
Any way, it is all fascinating and I feel if more parents knew all this it would make bringing kids up easier/better! I was a parent for 8 years before I learnt this.
Hope you don't mind me gatecrashing.
I did post a while ago...we have been linked to a little girl who's entire family are involved in sexual abuse. Many are in custody. This will be a very difficult story to tell one day. If anyone has any experience of this please pm me.social workers skirt round the issue and can never answer how we will tell DD one day. I know we are strong enough to parent her together but at times it feels overwhelming.
I'm sure many stories are overwhelming and very difficult and emotive.
A very good book (some of the legal bits may be outdated) - The Protector's Handbook by Gerilyn Smith
A website and organisation for people caring for children who've been sexually abused:
My nearly 10 year old has executive processing disorder which can make him very angry.
When I'm being the best parent I can be I can help him a lot with dealing with his anger, when I'm substandard not so much
My aim is to get it close to right more often than not, to be honest when I haven't handled things well and to model for him what an imperfect but overall pretty decent person looks like.
Yes I think people who have an unhappy story to tell use social media and other outlets for their pain and I can't blame them for that if it helps but I don;t think its necessarily representative of the norm. I also think that a previous poster who isn't adopter is right when she says read the relationships board about toxic parents and you'll see that adoptees don't have the monopoly on being screwed up by their parents!
I think adopters have a head start - we know (kinda) what we're dealing with, we get some guidance (kinda) and we appear to set ourselves some higher standards. All of that is fine but as a wise old owl once said to me "perfect is the enemy of good" (the owl may have been misquoting Voltaire...) which I take to mean don't waste too much effort on trying to be perfect when good is good enough and you can use your energy in making more things "good" more quickly in the time you will take trying (and failing) to make things "perfect".
I am on a wonderful FB group that has a lot of adult adoptees and though adoptive parents do tend to dominate, the moderators are also good and stop us doing so. Many of the adoptees say "look, all of us are angry some of the time, nobody is angry ALL the time, everybody is angry a little of the time. Stop stereotyping us as 'angry' or 'happy' adoptees. Everyone is a little of both."
And I think those are very wise words.
Many of the adoptees were placed as babies but some as older children, some through foster care, and some internationally (some of whom were in orphanages before placement). Some of their adoptive parents sound like they were doing their best and pretty much following what would be recommended nowadays, some were honestly malicious and racist (and any birth children would probably have gone NC too), some rather "of their time" e.g. thought it best not to talk about adoption.
But with the best will in the world and modern understanding and seeking all possible help for a child, and even where children don't have conscious traumatic memories, children will still learn as they grow older that their birth parents couldn't or didn't want to care for them, and that's got to be upsetting in itself, even without adding in awful things that happened to children in their early lives, adopters who were taught as children themselves it's best not to talk about difficult things etc. etc.
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