“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

 

 

 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Souris on October 12, 2017 at 11:57 pm

    Thank you for writing this. As an older child of adoption I am so happy to see the material and advice that is now available to adopters. This was not the case when I was adopted in the 70’s. My parents didn’t know the things you do and with 4 biological children already there wasn’t the time or resources to do what you’re doing now. I was 7 years old when I was adopted and separated from my 11yr old brother. My only security was removed and I was left to live this new life. It was scary and I felt alone. I had to be independent to survive but I wanted more than anything to connect with my mother. To this day I have never heard her say she loves me because we never had a chance to bond and connect. What you’re doing is so important. Don’t ever apologize for it. You are stronger than you know and those 2 wee people are counting on that. I’m counting on that. Take your time. We need you. You are making a difference and more than 2 lives will be better because of you.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Julie on October 13, 2017 at 12:35 am

    Cindy, this is so honest and beautifully written. It is hard to imagine how hard it must be to work on attachment with an older child while still figuring out how to cope with the behavioural challenges of each child’s age as well. You and John are doing an incredible job raising these two beautiful children and your investment in honestly writing about your experience will help others through this process as well. I admire you greatly and wish you all the love and joy of parenting as well as alone time in the bathroom and fewer than two temper tantrums per mealtime. Hugs.

    Reply

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