“Thanks for all the Fish” by Cindy

Fall has long felt like a time of transition and beginnings for me, so it feels appropriate that now is the time I have chosen to say goodbye to blogging.

I have had a blog off and on since around 2003, when I blogged my adventures as a volunteer in Mozambique (epá!, how much I learned about myself there!), through to 2006 when I blogged about going to teacher’s college in Sydney, Australia (I later deleted that whole blog for an unremembered reason), through to running an organic farm in the beautiful Cowichan Valley and getting married, through to living in bustling Calgary and navigating fertility treatments, through to moving back to Ontario and becoming foster parents to a beautiful newborn boy, through to becoming parents to two amazing children who keep us on our toes. Blogging has helped me process and helped me feel connected to people I have met throughout my adventures, and I will always be thankful for that. Now, I plan to direct my writing efforts more ambitiously and maybe actually finish one of the dozen novels I have started (none of which are any good, but you have to start somewhere, right?).

In the past year or so, I have become acquainted with adult adoptee voices, and it has become clear that there are more than enough adoptive parents sharing their stories, and the time is long overdue to listen to adoptee stories*. In fact,some people believe that parents sharing their stories is unethical as children cannot consent to their story, and there is a lot of legitimate anger towards “saviour parents” who use their adoption story for profit. I believe that anyone who knows me knows I have been careful to share only what I believe my children would be ok with me sharing, and that I shared only in the interest of helping others understand the trauma of adoption. I now know, however, that there is a plethora of blogs and articles and books out there to support adoptive parents and help them understand what their children may be going through, and I no longer feel that I have anything to contribute that hasn’t already been said numerous times by people who have said it much more eloquently than I can. 

A few times, friends have asked if they could put a friend in touch with me to talk about adoption, and the answer will always be ‘yes’. Our story is far from over, and these blogs have only touched on some of what we have experienced in these past three years. 

I still, of course, have many thoughts that I would like to share, and many topics I could write epistles on, but I do feel that this blog has run its course. So, with no further ado, thanks to all my loyal readers who have given me so much support throughout the years. I couldn’t have done any of it without you.

*I want to put a little caveat here – I went into a bit of a rabbit hole after discovering the pervasive anger and resentment held by a number of vocal adult adoptees. I began to think I was the bad guy in the story of my children’s lives, and I began to catastrophize a bit. Our therapist, thank goodness, brought me back to reality by pointing out that the people who did receive the kind of support to work through their trauma while growing up that we are attempting to give our children, likely do not feel the same need to be vocal about their experiences, so I was probably getting a bit of a skewed view. I do believe it is extremely important to listen to these voices and continue to support making needed changes to the system so that fewer children have to suffer the trauma of familial separation. I also believe that sometimes, unfortunately, adoption is the best option for the children. I am deeply grateful for my children, who are wonderful little beings who I would never have even known without adoption.

“Adoption is Trauma” by Cindy

I wrote this post in support of Adopt4Life’s Time to Attach campaign. I can’t imagine how much more difficult the first two years would have been if I hadn’t been able to be home full-time.

http://www.adopt4life.com/time-to-attach-stories-blog/adoption-is-trauma

“The Lost Post of 2017” by Cindy

Look – I found another one, even older than the last. Looks like I was considering “Parenting Expectations” as the title.

Some people actually ask it out loud. To my face. They look at my tired overwhelmed eyes, and they sort of laugh and say, “So, is motherhood all you dreamed it would be?”

How could I have dreamed this? How could I have known what it would feel like to suddenly have two kids who I barely know clinging to my legs as I try to wrangle some sense of order into our cluttered house and days? I have literally and figuratively tripped over my kids so many times in the last few months, that I am not sure I even know which way is up anymore.

Is motherhood all I dreamed it would be? Oh, how my first instinct is to call you a pompous ass and remind you that I didn’t just decide one weekend that it might be nice to adopt a couple of kids and head on down to the Kid Store and load a couple into my cart.

Yet, I recognize that there is a hidden element of empathy in that question. Like you know that I couldn’t possibly have imagined all that I feel.

Did I know that parenthood would be hard? Of course, I did. Did I know that I would be tired and overwhelmed and lost? I had a pretty strong suspicion that would be the case. Did I know I would sometimes resent the demands these children would place on my attention and time? Also, yes.

I knew that this was going to be the hardest thing I would ever do in my life. I really did. And yes, I chose this. I chose this in a way that not all people have the opportunity to do. I had a lot of time to think about whether or not I really wanted to be a mother. I even had time to seriously consider going through life childfree. I saw my friends wrestle with their transitions into parenthood, and I recognized that we could probably live a happy fulfilled and somewhat more free life if we remained a childfree couple. But my heart wasn’t into it. My future, despite having the best life partner I could imagine and a really cute dog, somehow felt barren.

So, even though it was a very conscious choice, it also wasn’t much of a choice. When we were presented with these kids, we thought we couldn’t possibly have imagined a better match, so we felt like it was now or never. We could dive in and do this thing, or we could go through life wondering if we should have.

Our gestation period was short and intense – about 6 weeks of visits and some makeshift renovations to make the house more kid-friendly, and then, we became full-time parents to two fully-formed children aged 6 and 2.

Perhaps naturally, it wasn’t long before I was began to feel pretty overwhelmed. At first, we weren’t able to leave either child alone during waking hours for any amount of time. I remember one day, John came home from work, and I said, pleadingly, “I haven’t had a chance to poop all day.” Sure, I was followed into the bathroom every time I went, but there was only so much toddler-wrangling I could do from my perch on the potty, and I wasn’t really used to having an audience of two with my pants around my ankles.

Although I was a little surprised at how quickly I lost all sense of privacy, I was most surprised by my reaction to it. This is what really sucks: I am not the chilled out, ultra-loving mom I imagined I would be. I am kind of a bitchy mom. I have been disappointed in my reactions to normal parenting moments many times. I should have felt overjoyed when our daughter started climbing into our bed for a morning cuddle in the morning. Instead, I felt irritated by the disturbance. I was shocked by how angry I could feel in the face of perfectly normal toddler defiance. I have thrown a temper tantrum, just to see if it would help (It did not). I do not have unending patience for playing the same imaginary game over and over again. I feel jealous when my kids have more fun with other people than they do with me, and still, I struggle to spend enough time just being silly with them. Perhaps worst of all, I do not enjoy being smothered in child kisses.

I look in the mirror, and I think, “What the hell are you doing? Do better.”

Having kids is indeed amazing. Being a parent is sometimes not.

And, yes, I know this is true for most, if not all, parents. Especially for those of us who have a very well-trained self-critical eye.

There is another side to this, though. When I am feeling well-rested and rational, I am able to be a bit more compassionate towards myself. Even though these kids are mine, they are also kind of strangers. Now and again, I am reminded of how little I know about them, and I feel bewildered by the amount of responsibility I have for these small powerful strangers.

Not sharing a genetic link to my children is not a huge loss to me. Who knows what my genes might have passed along? Blood may be literally thicker than water, but it isn’t much metaphorically thicker in my book. Other than wishing I could answer some of those family history questions on medical questionnaires more completely, I do not miss having a blood tie to my children.

What I do grieve is the loss of that initial connection. I can only imagine what it would have been like to feel these children grow inside me, to see them open their eyes for the first time, to become attuned to them as infants and carry that bond through the years. We didn’t get to have that with these kids, and even more heartbreakingly, they didn’t get to have that with us. We have lost so much time.

Our relationship is profoundly affected by the loss of what we didn’t get as a family, and that will always be the case.

I didn’t dream of that.

My vision of motherhood also did not include me becoming an emotional detective trying to figure out what part of my child’s trauma is informing this behaviour so I can formulate a healing response. Neither did I imagine keeping our distance from extended family so as not to confuse our children with too many new attachment figures.

Truthfully, I am a little pissed about the fact that our journey into parenthood is complicated. I am really pissed that my children’s journey into our lives had to be laden with hurt and loss. They deserved better. They deserved to have parents who lovingly took care of their every need from the very start of their existence. So, on those days when I am not at my best, I have reason to be extra pissed at myself when I don’t give them better.

Anger makes me bitchy, and then I feel angry at myself for being bitchy. It’s all a bit of a bitch.

We really are trying very hard. We want to do right by these kids and give them all they deserve, and there are moments when we believe that we are exactly the right parents for them.

 

 

“The Lost Post of July 2018” by Cindy

So, I promised myself I would sit down and start writing again when the little guy started JK this year. It is now November. I’m not sure how that happened. Anyway, as I was about to start a post, I happened across this post, which I apparently never finished or posted. From over a year ago. So, without further ado, here is the lost post of July 2018:

We celebrated our “familiversary” the other day. Of course, there were cupcakes. Not homemade ones like I wanted to do because sometimes I just do not plan my time well (like scheduling a PAP smear when I need to be making cupcakes.  Oops.).  Still, we had fun singing happy birthday to ourselves and watching the little guy get cupcake all over his face. I had also somehow managed to get a photobook put together and ordered in time for it to arrive on the exact right day (pure luck), so we had a visual account to look at of our first year together as a family, and the kids got homemade stuffed animals a friend sent to welcome them to our family. It was nice.

When I think of the year that has passed, so much of it seems a blur. I try to remember how strange it felt to suddenly have two children and realize I had no idea what I was doing, and it seems so far away, and yet, I still feel like such a new mom. And really, we are still new parents. Our family is one year old, and although we have learned so much in this year, we are acutely aware that we don’t know what we don’t know.

I try not to spend much time thinking on the things I wish I had done differently, but sometimes, they sneak up on me (like – did you know you can stay with your child in schoolyard on the first day of school? I didn’t. She marched in there like she was ready to befriend the whole damn place, and I let her. Now, I know she must have been so anxious, and I wasn’t there because I thought I wasn’t allowed to be.). Which of those things have made a deep impression on their young minds? Which are the ones they will be telling their therapists about when they are old enough to comprehend how my screw-ups have affected them?

So, instead, I try to focus on what I think we have done “right” so far.  We have had some successes, and overall, we are definitely starting to feel like a family.

We know that we hit the jackpot with these kids. They are lovely little humans who love life and want to be loved. They even seem to want to be loved by us, and that is no small thing. Kids who have to change families for any reason can be quite legitimately reticent to seek and give love in their new families, and we know of parents who are giving their all in loving kids who are actively trying to push them away, and I can only imagine how exhausting that must be. We always speak of helping the kids attach to the parents, but we sometimes forget that parents need to feel attached to the kids, too, and parenting some hurt kids must feel like deciding to hug a cactus and keep hugging it no matter how much it hurts. Attachment is not a one way street, and for most people, it is not a ‘love at first sight’ experience.

I wish I could say that my heart warms to those stories where people speak of seeing their children for the first time and just ‘knowing’ that that child was theirs, but it doesn’t. There was no choir singing in my head when I first met my children. There was terrifying silence. I looked at their faces and saw their fear and hope, and I immediately felt inadequate. I had no idea how to help these little strangers feel safe and secure with me. I didn’t want to come on too strong, but I didn’t want to be aloof either. I wish I had gotten down to their level and said something simple and heartfelt like, “I am so happy to meet you”, but I honestly have no idea what I said. I think I stood there smiling awkwardly while John broke the ice with some dad jokes (he wasted no time getting into those, I tell you).

Look at that – I came back to a regret despite my wanting to avoid them. OK, let me list a few of the things that we did and still do that I think helped us over this year. Time for some heartening bullets:

  • Letting their foster mom take the lead on transition-related planning. Other than a few developmentally-and-situationally appropriate night terrors from the little guy, the kids have been good sleepers the whole year, and I know that has to do with being able to transfer the security that had been built for them in the foster home to our home
  • Scheduling the day around food. We implemented a fairly regimented schedule of feeding even before the kids moved in – breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner, and we always sat down together to eat at those times. I also made sure to always have emergency snacks in my purse (Fruit-to-gos and protein bars), so the kids could quickly rely on being fed. Our daughter later told us that the one thing she worried about before meeting us was, “are these people going to feed me?”, so I am very glad that we put effort into that. This schedule also had the benefit of breaking the day into activity periods. During my days of overwhelm, I often found myself thinking, “I just have to make it until snack time/lunch/dinner/bed”, and since one of those was never far away, it always seemed doable.
  • Speaking of bed, we also started bedtime routines. We did the same thing for each kid – bath, teeth, story, song, sleep – and that repetition provided comfort, and allowed us to nurture them. Over time, our daughter requested more of cuddle at bedtime, and even the independent toddler started to accept more contact at bedtime.
  • Ensuring that we were the only ones providing personal care and feeding for the first six months. We even implemented a “you get hugs from Mommy and Daddy” rule for a while, and we have since expanded it to a few trusted adults, but I really believe that setting up these boundaries has made a difference.
  • Restricting screen time. We have not set a daily or weekly limit, but we often go days without any screen time. For much of the year, we only allowed a show or two at a time, and we always watched anything with the children. Now, we are a bit more lax, and have to admit to using the screen as a child-minding device from time to time (the kids will sit together without fighting for at least one full episode of Paw Patrol or Daniel Tiger, and sometimes I just need that). I do allow our daughter to play a couple of educational games or watch Storyline Online on the tablet or computer from time to time, but we have been fortunate in being able to keep this from becoming a daily need. We have found that because of the stimulating effect that screen time has on the kids, we have to balance the short-term benefit of some calm time on the couch with the inevitable energy surge that follows, and sometimes, it just isn’t worth it.
  • Singing a lot of children’s songs. Singing together feels very connecting, and the kids love it. In addition to getting a lullaby every night, we often sang during family walks and on car trips. John even made up a song (plagiarizing a children’s tune, but he gets credit nonetheless) that we sing after bathtime while they are rolled in a towel and rocked in our arms, and it was a brilliant way to help the kids experience that feeling of being rocked by us (since we didn’t get to rock them when they were babies, we look for ways to recreate some of the key baby bonding moments).
  • Using a toddler-carrier to carry the little guy when I could. I still need to do more of that.
  • Keeping our daughter home from school once a week as an attachment day. This gave her a break from school and gave us both a chance to reconnect mid-week. One of my greatest struggles is finding a way to give both children the one-on-one attention that they desperately need. We were very fortunate that a friend was able to have the little guy over for a couple of hours on those days, and being able to focus my attention on our daughter often made a dramatic difference to how our week was going.
  • Setting up family traditions. Before dinner, we each share one thing we are grateful for that day. We do family movie night every Sunday, and we eat pizza while watching the movie (we usually use naan bread as pizza crusts and we top as we like – the kids usually get sauce and cheese. Mine always has olives because pizza without olives feels like a waste somehow). We take turns choosing the movie (this allows us to mitigate the princess factor), and it has proven to be a comforting tradition. We also recently instituted Saturday sundaes (much to John’s chagrin) partially because our daughter tends to feel deprived by how few sugary treats we allow, so I was hoping that knowing there would be one major indulgence every week would help her accept the lack of treats the rest of the week (also, I really love sundaes). I think it is working, but the debate on that one is still alive.

Honestly, though, I have spent much of this year feeling quite overwhelmed and grouchy. I may have mentioned this before, but I turned out to be a much bitchier mom than I thought I would be. Normally, I am a fairly quiet mild-mannered person, but when it comes to parenting, I can be a fire-breathing dragon. I’m working on taming that fire.

 

“Mother, Heal Thyself” by Cindy

About ten months into this adoption journey, I realized that I was not OK. I couldn’t get through a day without crying, and not only was I not enjoying playing with my children, but I also couldn’t think of anything fun to do. Every day felt oppressive, and I felt like I was constantly failing my children.

When we adopted, we didn’t just become parents, we became therapeutic parents. I knew that in order to help my children heal from their trauma, I needed to show them what precious beings they are and help them feel loved, and I just couldn’t find a way to do that. I made sure they had everything they needed externally  – good food, appropriate clothing, time outside, unstructured play time, structured play time, stories, songs, outings, etc., but I couldn’t look them in the eyes with the unconditional love and adoration they needed to see. I had read enough of the parenting books and articles to know I was not doing well.

inner peace

I felt alone. I had been trying to find an adoption competent therapist since the beginning, and I had done the lengthy intake for the local children’s mental health organization (waiting list approximately one year), and I was surprised by how difficult it was to find someone. I had also been waiting for the Pathways to Permanence course to run in an area close enough that we could attend, and when the most local one was cancelled due to lack of registration, I insisted we drive over an hour to attend the next closest course. I needed to talk to other parents who had adopted, and I needed to feel supported by someone other than my husband (as amazing as he is). The course was extremely important, and I strongly recommend every adoptive parent take it. Here was a group of people who understood why love is not enough, and why I sometimes resented having to deal with the impacts of my children’s trauma because I wasn’t there to prevent it.

Through the course, I got the names of two therapists, and one of them was able take us on, even though it was over an hour’s drive away. The four sessions our daughter and I had with her helped me a great deal. I learned that I needed to change some of my language and explicitly say things like, “because I am a good mother, and that’s what good mothers do.” This was not intuitive for me. I stopped saying things like, “We are going to leave in 5 minutes, OK?” because even though my “OK” was me checking for listening, it came across as me asking the then 7-year-old for permission. She encouraged me to give our daughter fewer choices and helped me see that it was too soon in the attachment process to try and empower our daughter. Then, the therapist went away for a month.

In the meantime, I realized that I could not be the mother I wanted to be while I was feeling so out of touch and hopeless. So, I went to my family doctor and asked her if she had ever heard of Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome, and we quickly agreed on an anti-depressant. Within a few weeks, I began to feel more like my normal light-hearted self. Things got a bit easier.

We were connected with another therapist whose office is a bit closer, and we continued to work on adjusting our parenting to meet our children’s needs. One thing I have had to work extremely hard on, and I am still struggling with this, is that we need to not say “no” to our kids. This is for real. These kids hear the word “no” as a rejection of them, and it goes straight to their core of hurt. When our therapist told me this, I said I understood that, but wasn’t it also important that they learn how to accept a “no”, given that they have to live in the real world? Her answer was simple, but it has made a huge impact on me. “Yes,” she said, “but not yet.”

This has permeated into other aspects of our parenting. Do kids need to learn to help out at home? Yes, but not yet. Do kids need to be able to take care of their own things? Yes, but not yet.

When a child is an infant, we teach them that the world is safe and that they are loved by meeting their every need, usually before they even realize the need. There are no “natural consequences” for an infant. We do not try to discipline or punish them because we know that would only hurt them. It doesn’t matter how old our children are when they come to us; when they come, they are in an infant stage of attachment, and they need the same kind of constant nurture and interaction that we give a newborn to help them attach to their parents.

In some cases, like ours, an earlier insecure attachment further complicates matters, and it takes a long time and a lot of work to help that child unlearn that adults are unreliable and learn that their parents are safe. My case, like that of many parents, is also complicated by my own insecure attachment style. Parents with insecure attachment raise children with insecure attachment, so I am working so hard on trying to change so much of my default reactions so that my children can develop a healthy secure attachment with me. I have to heal myself in order to be the mother I want to be. In the meantime, I have to deal with the impacts of the mistakes I make every day. It is exhausting, and I can honestly say have never felt so incompetent in my life.

We focus so strongly on attachment because no other aspect of childhood development is more strongly associated with positive outcomes than secure attachment. Yes, attachment is more important than literacy. I sometimes have to remind myself of that.

Many people wish to minimize the impact trauma has had on our children and their brain development, and we often feel that only the people closest to us and those who have also taken this journey understand what we are going through.

Through being the operative word. We are going through. We have to believe that over time, our love and therapeutic parenting will help our children heal. Still, we are coming to accept that we cannot kid ourselves that they will not continue to feel the effects of their trauma for the rest of their lives. Our children lost everything and everyone they knew, more than once. They will always feel those losses, and we can’t fix that. All we can do is be there.

So, we keep learning and growing and making mistakes, and learning and growing some more. Some days are harder than others, and some days are amazing. And that’s just how it goes.

courage

 

 

“What I Didn’t Know” by Cindy

Well, we are 8 months into this adoption journey, and I have to admit that I feel overwhelmed a lot more than I would like to admit.

It would be easy to say that I didn’t know how hard it would be, but the truth is I did know it would be hard. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t feel that it would be hard. The immense distinction between those two is surprising. I think that is a kind of defense mechanism – if we could actually feel it, would we still choose it?

Oh, the discussions we had. We read the scary book, we talked about the resources and support we have, we told each other that we are good partners and we could figure out anything we need to figure out. The PRIDE training we received through CAS was great. I wish everyone could take that training and gain a better understanding of the experience of kids from hard places. So, I knew that our kids would be impacted by the trauma they experienced and that they will have to process that repeatedly throughout their lives. I knew that we would have to get to know these kids as we get to know ourselves as parents. I knew that we would probably not always love being parents. I knew we would have to adapt to lifestyle changes and new priorities.

I didn’t know:

  • Just how pervasively the trauma would impact on our parenting and decision-making. As much as we would like our kids to have all the experiences and relationships they deserve, their trauma means that we need to be very selective and cautious about where we take them. We don’t tell them about day trips ahead of time because we need to be able to make the decision on the day whether or not we think they can emotionally handle that stimulation. This is hard for us because we spent so many years avoiding certain events because we didn’t have children to take, and now that we have children, we are avoiding events because our family just isn’t ready, yet. Cue visceral grief over the unfairness of it all – it’s not fair that these kids have to miss out because adults in their past screwed them over, and it’s not fair that we have to miss out because biology screwed us over.
  • That my default parenting style would be totally different from my ideal parenting style. This has definitely been my greatest area of frustration and growth. I thought that I would be calm, easy-going, flexible, and affectionate. It turns out that I have a subconscious belief that children should obey their parents, and I feel triggered when they question my authority or act with defiance. I want to parent with connection, but when I am triggered, I accidentally parent with anger, and anger is counter-productive to building attachment. So, yes, while parents with securely attached kids can get away with responding in anger to their kids sometimes, parents of kids with attachment disruptions or issues cannot.  We still do, of course, and if we handle it well – apologizing and taking responsibility for our feelings – we can minimize the damage done, but then we still have to deal with our guilt for flipping our lids. Cue parent-guilt to the extreme.
  • How hard it would be to juggle getting things done and giving our kids the attention they need. Yes, we knew this would be difficult – all parents struggle with this on some level. I think what we didn’t know is how awful it would feel to rather wash dishes than play Barbie with our daughter. I slip into getting task-focused much more often than I thought I would. More guilt for that pile.
  • How frustrating it would feel to have no control over parenting decisions made before we entered the picture. There are the big things, of course, the things that I can’t talk about, and on some level, I was prepared to be a therapeutic parent for the tough stuff. On another level, I wasn’t quite so prepared to deal with the frustration of not having had the chance to build family traditions from birth (see an upcoming post on the Easter fiasco).
  • How heart-breaking it would feel to know that my kids love other moms more than they love me right now. I absolutely understand why this is the case. It is completely logical that they would have more love and trust for the caregivers they knew longer. They also feel a betrayal from losing that relationship, and so I logically know that this impacts on their ability to develop trust with me. But it still sucks. I can only hope that one day they are able to trust me as their mother. I can only hope, but I cannot expect.
  • That it would be hard to love these kids sometimes. There, I said it.  Sometimes, I resent their intrusion into my space, and that is so unfair to them. They didn’t choose this – I did.  In the first few weeks, we delighted in every move they made to come closer to us.  We want them to want to be close to us and to depend on us. That is what they need for their optimal brain development. They need to have adult caregivers that they trust and depend on and that love them unconditionally, no matter what.  At first, I was able to see every opportunity to help them as an opportunity to build attachment.  Here’s the thing that I get on a logical level – kids ask us to help on things that don’t matter so they can build up enough trust in us to ask us for help with the things that do matter.  Yet, even knowing this, I feel irritated when they ask for help with things they can do on their own.  And let me just say that Irritated Cindy is no fun to be around, and I dislike myself for inflicting her on anyone. There’s another good chunk of guilt to throw on that pile.
  • How much harder it would seem to have 2 instead of 1.  We thought, “Great! Insta-family! We’ll get it all done at once – it will be great!” In reality, it is literally impossible for me to give both kids all the attention they need and deserve, and there are times when they each need my full attention, but I am unable to give either of them what they need because I need to care for both of them. It is frustrating to think that if I could give this one 100% of my attention, I could deal with this situation and build connection, but I can’t do that. I love them both, and I am glad they have each other, but sometimes, I think one would be so much easier.  I cannot believe there are families out there that adopt sibling groups of 5. That is just crazy talk.
  • How hard it would be to maintain healthy self-care while learning to be a parent. I do not want to admit how often John and I end the day by bingeing on junk food and Netflix. We know it is not healthy. We know we can take better care of ourselves, but it is so hard to feel motivated at the end of the day to not turn to the comfort of the couch and some carbs. We are so lucky that our kids are pretty good sleepers, and we know we should be able to take advantage of that at the end of the day, but our brains just want to shut off. We are managing to lessen our guilt by reminding ourselves that even though it feels like much longer, we have only really been parents for 8 months. John likes to say that we have twin 8-month-olds who are 7 and 3. This is a succinct way of saying we are new parents, and we really don’t know what we are doing. We hope and expect it will get easier, but in the meantime, let’s throw a little guilt over the unhealthy habits onto that guilt pile. It isn’t quite big enough, yet.
  • How powerful routines would be. What a lifesaver to have a schedule to guide the day when I am feeling overwhelmed and unable to make decisions. On many days, I am only able to look at one chunk of the day at a time. I just have to make it to snack time. Then lunch time. Then snack time. Then dinner time, and then bed time.  Made it. Now, time to feel guilty for just making it through the day instead of cherishing the moments. Wow, look at the size of that guilt pile!

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  • That it would be the little moments that would make it all worthwhile. Like when the 7-year-old makes a joke that shows she gets our sense of humour, or when the 3-year-old sits patiently at the dinner table with his food in front of him and turns to me and says, “What grateful today, Mommy?” I thought that being called Mommy for the first time would be the most powerful moment, but it wasn’t.  It was just a word to them, so it wasn’t loaded with meaning for me when they began to use it. For me, it is these small moments when something gels just a little bit that show we are becoming a family unit.

And we are becoming a family unit. We have come a long way in 8 months.  When I think of how much has happened and how different we all are already, I am amazed that it hasn’t even been a year, yet. Still, if I had really known how difficult it would be, would I have still chosen this? On most days, I would say, “for sure”.  But there are some days when I think I was a bad choice to parent these kids, and I made a mistake in saying I could do it. Thank goodness I am not alone.

And thank goodness there are amazing resources out there to help me learn.  I have, unfortunately, wasted some time on resources that turned out to be outdated, so if I can save you some time, or you only want to read a couple of books, here are my current favourites: The Connected Child by David R. Cross, Karyn B. Purvis, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine (I actually think that this book should be included in the PRIDE training or assigned as pre-reading – although I struggle with the Christian bias, it is an amazing resource), Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham (and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by the same author). Karen Purvis also has a number of good Youtube videos about TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention), which are worthwhile checking out.  I am also finding Diane Poole Heller’s Healing Your Attachment Wounds (which is an audio book) to be quite enlightening in helping me understand how my attachment style is impacting on my parenting style.

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One step at a time.

“The Anger Factor” by Cindy

I have been through a bunch of new mom phases in the last few months (excitement, anxiety, overwhelm, equilibrium, disequilibrium)* but the one that has surprised me the most is the one I find myself in now: anger.

I consider myself to be a pretty calm and patient person, with an open-mind and lots of empathy. Right now, I am feeling a lot less accepting and calm, about pretty much everything. I feel pissed off.

Yesterday, after two pretty epic meltdowns from our daughter (meltdowns may now become known as ‘flipping our lids’ thanks to this video: “Why Do We Lose Control of Our Emotions”, which I recommend watching with your kids), the little miss and I sat down to draw what makes us angry.

This is my picture (sorry if it seems that I am rubbing my obvious prowess with stick figures in your face – you, too, can learn to draw stick figures):

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That’s our family in the middle there, walking forward together (that little brown blob is our dog). The left side of the page represents our kids’ pasts. There’s our daughter crying alone in the crib in the bottom of the page, and our son getting a loving start from a wonderful foster mom, who he no doubt misses a great deal. The darkness from their pasts reaches forward to infect their futures, which I hope is sunny and bright, but I do not have the power to remove the hurts of their past. I can only hope to help them develop the skills to handle their losses and make the most of their futures. Note the look of overwhelm so expertly expressed through line art in our faces.

I feel angry about that.

So, in the spirit of venting that pot of anger, here are some other ways I feel angry about that:

*no kid deserves a rough start. (period)

*people who are not able to care for kids are able to have lots of kids, while people who would give kids an amazing start are unable to have kids.

*likely, their birth family never learned how to care for children because they were never cared for properly, so I feel angry about the lack of community that allowed that to happen and continue to allow that to happen.

*my kids will probably always wonder why their birth family wasn’t able to care for them (for kids, this means: “why didn’t they love me enough?”), and they will wonder that no matter what I tell them (and to be truthfully truthful, I can’t help wondering it myself – parents do what they need to do to care for their kids, right? Everyone I know would. I think).

*I missed out on years of bonding with my children (including in utero), and I cannot get that back. I missed first foods, first steps, first words, first illnesses, first giggles, first cries… all of it. No words can truly express the profoundness of this loss, and my children feel it, too. I love these kids. I really really do. But I probably do not love them as much as I would if I had had them from birth, and I feel guilty and angry about that because they deserve that deep connected love, and I feel like a failure for not being able to provide that now, when they need it most.

*people who have not adopted and have not read the literature about the experience of adopting or being adopted, cannot understand how our parenting journey is different, and I feel pissed that even though I got to join the “mom” club, it isn’t quite the same club as all my friends (yes, it is a wonderful club, nonetheless, but it is still different).

*there are unwelcome ghosts in my children’s lives that I cannot exorcise, even if I had the right to do so. My kids have a right to remember and love their birth family, and I can’t help feeling a bit jealous of that. Then, I get angry at myself for not being more compassionate.

*I often feel overwhelmed by the responsibility I feel to not only be the best parent I can be, but to also be the kind of parent that can make up for their losses, to be better than anyone else would be; because if I can’t be the best, then maybe I didn’t deserve to get them in the first place. And I am not the best parent in the world. Some days, I really kind of suck at it. And I feel angry about that.

*I am angry that there are other kids in need of loving families, and I can’t help them all.

I used to teach that anger isn’t actually a feeling, but a reaction to a feeling of fear, pain, or powerlessness. My anger reaction is based on all of those. I am afraid I am not the mother my kids need. I am afraid that despite trying my hardest, I will not be able to help my kids have the future they deserve. I am afraid that I will unintentionally inflict more harm on my kids with my parenting. I feel hurt by all our losses, and I feel powerless to change their pasts.

So, yes, my anger pot is pretty full right now. Don’t even mention Trump to me. I mean, really. I can’t take it.

Still, I hate ending posts on a negative, so let me assure you that I am deeply grateful for these kids. I have a lot to learn about resilience from these guys. They amaze me every day, and I am growing as a person and becoming a better mother. I think. I hope.

Somebody asked me yesterday what I enjoyed most about my son, and I said his humour. But I was lying because I thought it might sound weird if I said, ‘his eyes’. There is something so beautiful about this kid’s eyes. There is a depth to them I don’t expect in a 2-year-old, and yes, the sparkle in them is amazing when he laughs.

What I enjoy most about my daughter is her joyfulness. She has an inner effervescence that fuels an amazing imagination and an ability to find fun in almost anything. She also has beautiful expressive eyes. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the hurt and need I see in them, and then in a flash, they can be filled with delight and mischief (in a good way – although I wish the word ‘poop’ was a little less hilarious to her).

I know that I am not alone in struggling with this adoption anger, and I hope, over time, I will come to accept how my children’s pasts have helped them to become the amazing people they are. Right now, though, I might not have as much patience as you have come to expect of me. Fair warning.

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*Please note: I made these stages up based on my personal experience (n=1)**

** I think I have used that correctly, but I never took stats, so just enjoy how cool it looks

“Our First Christmas” by Cindy

I really want to write a more detailed update about our family’s transition, but for now, I want to say a few words about Christmas.

Leading up to the holiday, John and I struggled to respond to the, “you must be so excited about your first Christmas as a family” comments. Excited wasn’t exactly how we were feeling. Fucking terrified might be a bit closer.

Christmas is a loaded time of year for most people. Consider what it means for kids dealing with the loss of loved ones. This was the first year they weren’t going to see people they loved from their past. This was their first year with a new family with new traditions and rules. They didn’t know what to expect, and even when they were having fun, they had to wrestle with feelings of guilt for betraying the loved ones they have lost. We knew that no matter what we did, the holiday just wouldn’t feel quite right for these kids, so we tried not to overload ourselves with expectations. We anticipated supporting our daughter through some rough emotions, and we knew that the young lad would likely also feel that there was something missing but be unable to tell us what it was.

On our side, we wanted to carefully consider what traditions we wanted to continue and start. Yes, there were too many presents under the tree. My bad. (I don’t really feel bad about that). We also wanted to visit our extended family because that is part of what Christmas is for us, and we wanted the kids to know how many people love them, but we were worried that it might prove overwhelming for all of us. In the end, we decided to risk it. This way, we thought, they would know what to expect next year, and maybe going through the tough stuff this year would make it easier for next year (just ignore those more experienced parents laughing in the background). Basically, we wanted to embrace the magic and fun of the season without overloading our kids. We tried to keep the excitement calm, as much as possible.

Now that we are back home and settling into our home routines, and recovering from my brutal Christmas cold and John’s bout with a Christmas flu, we are feeling like we did OK. Our families were wonderfully understanding, and the kids had a good time visiting, ate delicious food, and got more presents than they needed. Yes, there were some tears that needed to come out from time to time, but I think we managed to use those moments for building attachment.

It was also kind of exhausting. At this stage of attachment-building, we have to maintain a level of vigilance that other parents do not. As my mother-in-law pointed out, it’s a little like having a newborn. You can do whatever you want, but you will deal with the consequences. Leave the child with someone for a night out, and you can expect some readjusting time when you get back. Give the child access to too much sugar, and clean up the vomit from the sink at 10 p.m.

We are still new parents. We are still learning how to adjust to our new life roles, and, like most new parents, we are grieving the loss of who we used to be. We also grieve for our children’s pain. It’s not fair that these kids had to go through what they had to go through in order for them to come to us, and even though we are so happy they are our kids, we are sad that they and their family had to experience such loss in order for that to happen.

But, we cannot change the past, so we focus on what we can do today and tomorrow (next week is way too far ahead for me to think about, but you can talk to John about that), and we just keep doing the best we can, learning, and then doing better. We think.

More on that one later.

So, with careful planning, a little calm excitement, and some super supportive family members, Christmas was filled with wonderful moments, and I hope that is what our children will remember.

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The aftermath… I sort of feel like this – a partially-controlled and somewhat satisfying mess.

“Adoption Update 1” by Cindy

This may not be the most positive post.  I am tired and grumpy, but maybe this makes it a good time to be real.

This is hard.

Let’s get this out of the way – they are amazing kids. Truly. We cannot believe how lucky we are. Our now 7-year-old daughter is a super charmer – positive, affectionate, creative, funny, and clever. Our son is an adorable 2-year-old busy exploring the world and learning every day.  We have a lot of fun with these kids, and we are happy to be their parents.

But sometimes, it just feels harder than it should.

Aside from the regular challenges of parenting – trying to get enough sleep, living in a messier house, trying to figure out ‘natural’ consequences for undesirable behaviours, losing all sense of privacy and alone time, trying to manage cooking and cleaning while also giving the kids enough attention (and it is never enough), adjusting to completely new life roles, etc. etc. etc… there are the additional challenges that come from adopting.

One thing I didn’t quite anticipate was the feeling of loss I have related to how I thought I would parent my children. Although we may eventually get to parent our kids the way that we thought we would, for now, we have to parent differently. We have to strike a balance between parenting in the way they are accustomed to (from previous parental figures) and the way they need for building attachment, and sometimes that means we completely ignore what might be developmentally appropriate. We actually need to strip them of some independence so they can learn to depend on us as parents, and that is hard for us to do and hard for other people to see and understand.

There is also a kind of subconscious added pressure to be a good parent when you have decided to adopt. Not only did we choose to become parents very consciously, but we also had to convince a whole bunch of people that we would be good at it. And like every parent (or so I’ve been told), I have those moments when I think someone else would do a better job than I am doing. Only in our case, someone else doing our job was a real possibility. It feels like it would be extra tragic if we screwed up this parenting thing now.

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Here is another loss I didn’t anticipate – I feel sad that I cannot let other people become close to our kids right away. I cannot let grandparents and aunts and uncles and close friends become supportive caregivers because we need our kids to bond with us first. If that sounds harsh, it is because it is. It sucks. However, in the long run, we know that anything that sets back our attachment process hurts our kids, so we are trying to be strict. In fact, we recognize that in our initial excitement, we were not strict enough on this in the beginning, so we have had to tighten things up a bit. Ask me how much fun that is.

I look like a crazy over-protective mom who won’t let her son crawl into the facilitator’s lap at play group because I need him to sit in mine. I need him to want to be on my lap more than he wants to be on anyone else’s. And right now, he doesn’t. So, strangely, until he only wants to sit on my lap, I have to stop him from sitting on other people’s laps. When we start to see some separation anxiety, we will celebrate, and paradoxically, that will be when he is allowed to sit on other people’s laps. I think.

I realized today that this is part of what makes this so hard. I deal with all the regular messy Mom stuff, but I don’t get the unconditional love that comes from attached kids. I don’t get that recharge because to my kids, I am just another adult caregiver who may or may not be there in the future. I know I will be there, but they have no way of understanding or believing that because that is not the reality that they have lived. I cannot blame them for that, but I can’t help feeling a little resentful from time to time. I get the same superficial affection from my kids that they would give to a funny stranger on a bus. That is not as much of an exaggeration as you might think. I see those other parents at play group letting other parents step in and help out, and I look forward to the day that I can step back a bit, but for now, I have to maintain a level of vigilance that can be quite tiring. Good thing they are so cute.

A few months ago, I was more concerned about the reality of adopting a school-aged child than a toddler. I believed that the toddler would have an easier time attaching to new parents, and that doing the activities that promote attachment would be easier. I am not finding that to be the case. Somehow, it is easier to understand what a 7-year-old might be thinking than what a 2-year-old might be thinking, and our daughter seems to desire many of the attachment-building activities like rocking and cuddling. The 2-year-old is literally harder to pin down. The toddler carrier our friends got us is amazing, and I wish I could carry him in it more, but I hurt my back a few weeks ago, and that has made things a bit more difficult. Sometimes, he asks to be rocked and then immediately wants down. The other night, we were struggling to help him get to sleep, and in desperation, I swaddled him in a big blanket. He cried and struggled to escape, and when I put him down, he asked to be swaddled again. He needs what he doesn’t want, and he can be so stubborn about refusing what he doesn’t want. At the same time that he is craving independence like all toddlers of his age, he needs to learn to be dependent on us. I can’t imagine how confusing that is for him.

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We know we are not alone in this, but unfortunately, there is no local support group for adoptive parents. So far, I have only met one person who adopted an older child, and I met them by chance. It was such a relief to talk to someone who truly got it. There is an online community through Adopt4Life that I am connected with, and I am hoping to meet some other adoptive parents soon, but it is not as easy to connect as I thought it would be. I do sometimes feel quite alone (you know, except for John, who is characteristically amazing).

If you read my post-script to my previous post, you know that I am aware that Post-Adoption Depression (sometimes referred to as PAD) is also a thing (I read the book), and I am glad I was aware of it before we started. We know very well that we need to work hard on self-care, but let’s be honest – it’s awfully hard to figure out when it is OK to not be around when we need our kids to believe that we will always be around. We definitely want to be there anytime there is an opportunity to give comfort, and that means bed-time and wake-up time is especially important. The curling season is about to start, and my goal is to find a responsible teenager to babysit one evening a week because I want someone I can trust but who will not come across as too much of a parental figure.

I now understand why so much of the literature talked about cocooning for a few months when your children first arrive. We sort of tried to do this, but we kind of failed. We were too excited for our kids to meet everyone and see how many wonderful people are in their lives. I now see that in addition to taking the time to build attachment, there are two other reasons for the cocooning – one is so your kids are not overwhelmed, and the other is so that you are not overwhelmed. We went to a couple of family events this summer, and I am pretty sure I looked like a deer in headlights. At one event, I couldn’t even manage an intelligible conversation with anyone. Even though I was surrounded by people I like and enjoy talking to, I wanted to run away. We are the super-vigilant parents we never thought we would be because we have to be. It’s an adjustment for us and an adjustment for the people who know us.

At the same time as wondering if we introduced our families too quickly, I am super appreciative of how supportive our people have been. Our families have welcomed our kids unconditionally in a most beautiful way, and I am so grateful for that. Close friends have also been amazing – their offspring horror stories have helped me put some of my kids’ behaviours in perspective, and that is more valuable than I could have expected (and we haven’t even started toilet-training, yet).

People often say that there is no manual for parenting, and there is no handbook for adopting, either (although we do think there could be something – more on that later, perhaps). Fortunately, there is a lot of excellent literature that is helpful. Whenever we take a step back to check in on how we are doing, we recognize that all things considered, we are doing great. Both our kids are learning and developing despite going through a major transition, we are getting good amounts of sleep and eating well, and we are having fun as a family and getting to know each other.

I know that I have so much more to be grateful for than I have to complain about, so even though I am quite tired, and some days I am a much grumpier mom than I would like to be, I am OK.

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Unless, you know, it’s a little weird that I find memes strangely comforting these days.

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PS – Here is a great handout I found that talks about adoption phases (looks quite similar to phases of group development): http://www.ocwtp.net/PDFs/Trainee%20Resources/Assessor%20Resources/Normal%20Phases%20of%20Pre-Finalization%20Adjustment.pdf

 

 

 

“Suddenly Mommy” by Cindy

So, this amazing thing happened this summer. When I turned 40 exactly a year ago, I was feeling a bit lost and stuck. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I felt overwhelmed with choice and stuck in the overwhelm.

Today, I am overwhelmed by how much has changed and how much I have to learn about my new role in life – as Mommy.

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When our foster resource worker called to tell us about these two children who were ready to be adopted – a sibling pair – we weren’t even thinking of adopting. We were waiting for a foster placement call, so this call was quite a surprise. Even more surprising was how excited we got by the idea. Because of the older child’s age (6), we had to decide whether or not we would adopt these two before we could meet them, so our main question (as it should be for any prospective parents) was whether or not we actually still wanted to be parents for life. There were some pretty heavy discussions as we tried to figure out if we were on the same page or even in the same book, and in the end, we were able to move forward together, confident that we would be able to parent as partners (at least most of the time).

Meeting the kids was such a surreal experience. Here were these two fully formed people who were being introduced to their new parents while their foster mom and two workers looked on, and I had no idea of what to do. John was amazing – as he always is. For a few weeks, we had visits, and then an overnight, and then two overnights, and then 4 overnights, and then the move-in day arrived. We went from John and Cindy to Daddy John and Mommy Cindy to Daddy and Mommy in a matter of a month.

Imagine being introduced to a child with a history you know little about and making the decision to love this child, no matter who he or she turns out to be, for the rest of your life. It was nerve-wracking, and I can’t imagine what it felt like for these two little people. If I am being honest, even as I was worried that they might never love me as a mother, I was worried that I might not love them the way a mother should.

I was fortunate to be able to talk to a friend who has adopted, and she assured me that it was OK not to feel totally attached right away; she reminded me that love is an action and grows through the action of giving love. Caring for the children every day creates the love. Every time I rock my crying toddler son to sleep, every time I brush my little girl’s hair or help her through a ‘learning to bike ride’ meltdown, the love inside me grows. Even when I am, shall we say, a little tired. I have learned to apologize when I am overly grumpy, and we now have a saying in this house that goes something along the lines of, ‘it’s OK, even though you made that mistake, I still love you.” It always gets a smile and a hug.

People say that love is all you need, but I will be eternally grateful for the books I read to prepare myself. I am a naturally reserved person, so if I hadn’t read those books, I would have focused on waiting for the children to come to me, which would have been terrible. I learned that it is my job to initiate and direct the relationship (which sounds like ‘d’uh’, but wasn’t a natural conclusion for me). I have to teach these kids what it is like to have a Mommy at the same time as I learn what it is like to be a Mommy.

We didn’t get that chance to bond when they were infants and grow together, so there have been some awkward moments (bath time!), but we have come a long way already. Both kids now initiate hugs (sometimes, I actually find myself wanting space!), and we are learning how to negotiate whining and tantrums and shut downs (I know that trick all too well, Missy), and we are having lots of fun. We have a long way to go, and who knows how long this honeymoon stage will last, but for now, we are getting to know our kids as they get to know us, and we are learning more about what kinds of parents we want to be. We expect there to be some bumps along the way, but we are starting to feel more confident in our ability to handle those bumps, learn from them, and move forward as a family. Of course, we will not be shy about asking for support when we need it!

A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined that things could change so quickly and in such an incredible manner. Somehow, these kids seem perfect for our family, and we couldn’t have envisioned that it would be possible to find such an amazing match. In our case, it was a matter of workers getting to know us a bit through a foster placement and then thinking of us when these kids became available. The adoption list is not ‘first come, first serve’ – it is a matter of finding a good match, and we think we are a pretty good example of the system working. On our side, I’m not sure we would have been so open to adopting older kids if we hadn’t had the newborn experience with our foster baby. Sometimes, taking any path can lead you to the right path.

While we are in official adoption probation, the legal process won’t be started for at least six months, so we have lots of rules to still follow (although fewer than we had as foster parents). We won’t be able to post any identifying photos until the legal process is completed, for example, but we get to choose whether to give the children over the counter medication etc. We can expect that it will take at least 9 months for the whole thing to become legal – and it could take many years if we end up needing more support.

As part of our transition to parenthood, John and I have chosen a new last name for our whole family. It was important to us that our children share our last name, and we just couldn’t choose between our two last names, so we created a brand new one. We were certainly inspired by friends who had done the same, and we feel fortunate that our families understand and support us in this.

So, while my amazing husband takes our kids to the store to get supplies for Mommy’s birthday, I am at home writing my birthday blog post because this year, everything is different.

And I am so happy.

 

PS – the books I read to prepare included: Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos (really enjoyed this – a good story and good preparation); Building the Bonds of Attachment by Daniel A. Hughes (cried a lot at this one – both terrifying and inspiring); The Connected Child by David Cross, Karen Purvis, and Wendy Sunshine (borrowed from the library and like it so much I ordered it from Amazon); Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge; The Post Adoption Blues by David Marshall and Karen J. Foli (good to be aware that this is a thing to watch for); In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You to Know About Adoption by Elisabeth O’Toole (this is what we recommend to friends and family); Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents by Deborah D. Gray (haven’t quite finished this one, yet, because I needed to take a break to focus on toddlerhood…); Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers by Melinda Blau and Tracy Hogg (Some good ideas here, although I read it knowing that it wouldn’t all be applicable in our situation – our kids have been through the trauma of placement, so we need to consider that, and so The Connected Child is more applicable). I also read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (anything to help strengthen our couple relationship as we enter a whole new phase, and it is applicable to children as well – the idea being not to only express love in one language, but to recognize that we may not have the same dominant love language as the people we love, and so we may need to show them love in their language rather than ours).

 

PPS – the title of this post should be sung to the tune of “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors (of course)