Posts Tagged ‘change’

“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.

adoption

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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“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.

we're adopting

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)