Tag Archives: attachment

Home

I was going to sit down tonight and write a pity post about how hard it is to watch your special needs child struggle out in the real word….about how hard it is to watch his difficulties unfold before children and adults who do not understand….about how painful it is to be reminded that your child will most probably never lead an independant, “typical” life…. about how hard it is to let go of “normal” when all you want to do sometimes is fit in and be able to do things that other families get to do.

But I’m not going to give you the story because it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Tonight at dinner, I thanked God that our family is not “typical,” that we have been given a chance to travel a difficult path in order to fulfill our calling, that we have had the chance to live beyond ourselves and spend our lives pouring ourselves into something that matters….

Because tonight at dinner I realized just how blessed we are. Tonight we went around the dinner table and everyone stated something they were thankful for. I saved Big Brother for last because I just knew that a) he wouldn’t understand the question and that hearing our responses would help him understand or b) he would give an answer that involved something that was meaningless or that didn’t make sense. Boy was I wrong. He is always proving me wrong! Without a second of hesitation, when it was time to answer the question of what Big Brother was thankful for, he immediately and clearly said “home.”

And that is why from this day forward, I will look at all those “typical” families I see and think “man, you have no idea what you are missing out on…”

I am so not worthy of the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. We may be travelling a road that is bumpier than others, but wow are the rewards so sweet!

Empowered

This weekend I attended the Empowered to Connect conference with my friend Adrienne. I have been a big fan of Dr. Karyn Purvis, who coauthored The Connected Child, for a couple of years now. But I never imagined that this precious woman would radically transform my life during 16 short hours of of training. She gave me something that I desperately needed…..

HOPE.

Hope that profound healing for my children is not only within my reach, but that I am more than capable of being the agent of change in my children’s lives. I had read The Connected Child several times, but it wasn’t until I saw Purvis’s trust-based relational intervention in real life that the light bulb came on.

I’m not going to lie. We were in denial about some of the behaviors and attachment issues going on in both of our kiddos. Times were tough and the stress level was becoming high. I was beginning to really worry about how to discipline in the way they needed me to. Our ways weren’t working. I felt like we didn’t have a handle on any of the issues that were growing in our home. I was starting to feel extremely stressed. I felt really sad to be in such a place of uncertainty. I needed real strategies for behavioral change that wouldn’t mess up attachment and healing. Little did I know that help was on its way.

So back to the conference. Um, yes. It had to be divine intervention that this conference just happened to be coming to [my town] precisely at the time I needed it most. Truly. It came just at the right time. Then Adrienne asked me if I would like to attend with her, and the rest is history.

I can’t really give you a synopsis of what I learned. You need to see it and hear it for yourself (they do have dvds available). But here are the notes I took that really stood out to me in regards to correcting difficult behavior while building attachment and nurturing healing:

There is no fix, there is only healing.

Connect, connect, connect in order to correct.

From birth to age 2, infants get 1000′s of “yes’s” from us before we ever have to give them a “no.” Older adopted kids don’t get those thousands of yes’s in which to build trust with us before we utter our first no. We have to find a way to give them as many “yes’s” as possible in order to build trust.

Deal with the behavior, but remember the goal is a relationship….and ultimately profound healing.

We must give our children the voice they lost during their institutionalization and trauma, when their voice went unheard and their needs went unmet. A baby cries to be fed or changed. In an orphanage, a baby doesn’t cry because they know no one will come. You could hear a pin drop in River’s orphanage room–a room filled with with over 20 infants. They had all lost their voice.

The world should stop when your child speaks to you, in order to show them they have a voice.

A child should understand that safe people listen to them….that they have a voice with a safe person.

The early trauma and neglect damaged our kiddos brains. Neurochemistry analysis confirms this. The sensory processing centers, the nervous system, neurotransmitters, insulin receptors, etc are all disregulated. Even after years in a loving family, they are disregulated. We have to literally help change brain chemistry in order to heal our children…and in order to bring about attachment and behavioral change.

Behaviors are only going to get worse until the brain is changed. We are rebuilding the damaged foundation that was laid during an early life of trauma.

In order to give them the voice they lost, there must be shared power. Shared power doesn’t diminish parental authority. The one who has the power to share is the one who has the authority.

Shared power, not domination.

You are the coach, not the warden.

Make it about the resolution. That is the end result….a successful resolution that leaves you even more connected. The conflict should end with the child succeeding. At no time during the conflict should the child feel anything but precious to you.

The IDEAL approach helps you do this.

When you are a partner in healing, you can teach your child anything.

This is not a quick fix, but a lifetime investment.

This style of parenting will look odd and plain wrong to parents whose children don’t come from hard places.

In all of her years helping deeply traumatized children all over the world from all kinds of difficult backgrounds with all different levels of cognitive functioning, Purvis has never encountered a child who was not capable of profound healing and profound behavioral change.

We watched many video clips of this intervention being used in real life with very troubled children and adolecsents. It was shocking to see it in real life….to see how powerful this intervention is. Absolutely amazing.

In the short time we have implemented these radical changes in our own home, I have seen monumental results. We are not perfect. This is not a quick fix. Meltdowns still dominate our days, but now everything is different. Now we are empowered and we know that the profound healing our kids need is right within our grasps. And that is precisely the inspiration we needed.

I purchased one of the training dvd’s for Jim to watch along with me, so that we can be on the same page and present a united front. If you find yourself wondering how to reach your children from hard places….how to bring about healing and behavioral change, please borrow this dvd from me. I will happily mail it to you to view. It will change your life and the lives of your children.

Because

“Biology is powerful. It choreographs an invisible, important, tightly-stepped mother-baby dance. There is an extra base-level of connection inherent in a biological mother-infant relationship, a connection knit by nature, and that connection is perfect trust.

Adoption is different. Not in what we feel for our children, but in parenting around loss, both our children’s and our own. A securely attached biological child who hasn’t been abandoned by a birth parent would never believe that his mother would permanently leave him, for any reason. Primal loss will always be a deep, dark possibility for our adopted children, because the unthinkable did happen to them. It happened to them, it severed their connection, and it spun them halfway across the world.

….We can work to replicate the natural dance of attunement…..the music is there, we just need to teach our children to trust our lead, hold on tight and to follow our steps.”

-”A Different Dance” by Jean MacLeod, from Adoption Parenting, Creating a toolbox, building connections

——————–

Little Man had a good first day of school yesterday. He has never been in school before so it was a big deal. He did very well and had a blast. When I arrived to pick him up, however, he had a blank stare on his face. Little Man never has a blank stare on his face, never. When I walked in, he looked straight through me and not at me. This is very unusual behavior for him. Usually he jumps up and screams Mommmy!!!! when I return after being gone. But not today….today was different. He was quiet and stoic and it scared me.

He was worn out when we got home and he asked to snuggle with me on the couch. We talked a lot about his day and then he said something that shocked me.

“Mommy, I was afraid you weren’t going to come back and get me.”

He said it almost in a whisper with tears about to fill his eyes. The look on my face must have been one of pure horror and shock because he quickly added in “I’m just teasing you, Mommy.” And then he grabbed me tight and didn’t let go.

This is the point where my heart physically hurt. We had talked for months about every detail of school, especially emphasizing the fact that Mommy will pick Little Man up exactly at three o’clock each day…that mommy always comes back…..that mommy always will be the one to pick Little Man up…..that school is just during the day, etc. He knew the schedule and he knew I would come back. When I worked, he stayed with the nanny and he knew that mommy always came back. It was no big deal. That work was just during the day and that it was a part of life.

I know he knows. But at a deeper level, it is evident what he fears.

I had intended to write about something different entirely in this post, but I find that it’s not important right now. Maybe later.

School is good. Little Man did a good job and I’m proud of him. Yes, he banged his head and his teachers are perfectly ok with it. But because I know his fears, it’s so SO hard for me to let him go just yet. So when I anxiously fret over my son’s first day of school to the point where I make myself sick with worry, it’s because of that fear….because I know it lurks within…..because although Little Man deals with his own pain, I have mine, too. Letting him go is so scary for both of us, not because it’s merely a big transistion, but because it seems we are still both healing from the past.

Six months and a welcomed first

Six months ago we stepped off of a plane in {our town}, weary and jetlagged. I held the hand of a child who had mentally and emotionally shut down long before he ever set eyes on me. During the entire 18 hours of air time home, he only occasionally made a single sound…a low growling grunt. He never once looked at me. He sobbed constantly during the few hours he managed to sleep on the plane. It was not the cry of a child, but a low, sad whine that is impossible to attribute to anything less than a cry of pure trauma. I secretly feared the weeks ahead. I wondered who exactly would it be that crawled out that shell. Would he be gentle and sweet? Would he be a raging mess? Would he even come out at all? Would he reject me and his new family? Who was hiding inside? I was scared of all the unknowns.

As the weeks passed, I realized that Big Brother’s transition home was going to be a long one. He had trouble understanding what had just happened to him. He had trouble understanding rules and boundaries and he had trouble understanding how to function outside of an institution. He was scared. He was stressed out. He would get up in the mornings and pace the house for hours, looking for a way out, acting as if we didn’t even exist. He cried and whined over every tiny thing. Screaming was his only form of communication. He gorged himself on food and water until he made himself sick. He hid food to eat later. He drank anything that was remotely in liqud form. Slowly he began learning English. Slowly he began to learn rules and consequences. Slowly he began to learn that he was in a family and that this was different than before. Slowly, a sweet, eager-to-learn, affectionate child emerged complete with his own little personality. In a way, it feels as if we have just met since the “real” Big Brother has just recently made an appearance.

The real Big Brother has no problem making eye contact with his family. The real Big Brother has become clingy and affectionate at home. The real Big Brother knows that food will always be available. The real Big Brother plays with his brother on occasion, but always follows his lead. The real Big Brother can express his needs in words. The real Big Brother stays by my side all.day.long and never wants to be out of my site now. The real Big Brother feels safe and loved. The real Big Brother feels happy. The real Big Brother has a long road ahead of him, but we are not scared or anxious.

He has made more progress in the last six months than I thought he would make in two years. If you have been around us in real life, I think you can see this clearly. I could not ask for more.

But tonight, for the first time, I got more.

I have been tutoring in the evenings after hubby gets home from work. Tonight when I returned home, I was telling Little Man hello. Big Brother heard my voice, came running to where I was, smiled, ran up to me for a hug and said “mommy home.” He leapt into my arms and it was one of the greatest feelings in the world.

My heart exploded.

I cried.

I secretly sighed a huge sigh of relief.

I grinned from ear to ear, then reminded myself that while it’s nice to celebrate, there is still more work to be done.

I’m still giddy. It might have taken six months, but it was so WORTH it. All the hard work, all the sacrifice, all of it. Totally worth it. Being Big Brother’s mommy is hard and exhausting, beyond the limits of parenting a typical child. But in many ways it is so rewarding. He has a heart of gold and it gives me strength to keep on going.

Happy six months to special little boy who has taught me that there is nothing life can throw at you to ever take away the joy that lives inside your soul. My goofy, singing boy who always keeps me on my toes…I truly love you more than you could ever know. In one more day, you will officially become one of us and I couldn’t be more excited.

Adopting? What I wish I had known.

This is kind of a long post, and I’ve been typing this for months now but just couldn’t get it all together. I’ll give it a shot now and hope it doesn’t sound disjointed. I’m going to tell you about the things I wish I had known beforehand, but I’m glad to know now. Maybe sharing these thoughts could help anyone else who is just starting out.

So here it is….my one piece of advice I could offer anyone who is thinking about adopting or has just recently adopted (especially older children): I think co-sleeping is the bestest ;)

Yep, I just wrote that. This is the post that makes some people cringe and others smile with delight. I’m not just going to talk about co-sleeping only, but I will mention it a bit.

When people ask me what my number one piece of advice is when it comes to adoption and adoptive parenting, it’s this: co-sleep with your child.

I wish I could scream it from the roof-tops.

That’s it. That’s numero uno on my list. I know it’s difficult, I know it’s not “accepted” in most traditional parenting books or schools of thought, and I know most just don’t like it. I also know that some children actually don’t like it either.

But this is the way I see it….attachment is the lens through which a person views their entire world, for the entire length of their life. How a person responds to every relationship, every life-decision, and every adversity thrown their way is deeply shaped by the attachments formed in early childhood. The research shows this to be true, as does the numerous stories I’ve heard first-hand from those living a life formed from early trauma. Attachment is my only concern right now with Big Brother. I don’t care that he doesn’t know his ABC’s yet or that he takes down every picture from the wall everyday (ha, he does!!), he can learn all of that later. Right now, it’s all about attachment.

Co-sleeping has been the best attachment tool in our arsenal. Admittedly, I never intended to co-sleep with my children. We were forced into it with Little Man due to his violent self-soothing tactics he had formed in the orphanage (and I do mean violent). I am thankful, however, that I have been able to witness how supportive it is in first forming meaningful attachments. It’s one of the best ways I’ve found to begin an immediate bond. Night time is the scariest time for our children. What better way to show them, night after night, that you are right there for them when they need you most…that you are the last thing they see/hear/feel/touch/smell when they fall asleep, and the first thing they see as they awake. They smell you, sense you, touch you all night long. They start to equate comfort and safety with your touch, your smell, your voice….you get the idea. I just think it’s the bestest (yes, I know that’s not a real word, I teach Chemistry, not English, so I think it’s allowable!).

————————————————————-

My children came to me deeply hurt and traumatized. I cannot parent them in the way the “books” tell me to. I cannot pretend that they’ve had happy, normal, stimulating, healthy lives before meeting me. I cannot pretend that if I parent them like a biological child, that attachment will just happen.

It won’t.

Big Brother is a newborn to us. We treat him that way. We respond to his each and every need. We are wiping the slate clean and staring over.

And no matter how hard I try, and how much I make up for their early neglect, I cannot overcome the primal wound (being dissociated from their birth mothers). Even once my children are securely attached (Little Man is thankfully there already), I know that attachment issues will rear their heads throughout my children’s entire lives. Some parent pretend this isn’t true. But it is, and ignoring it helps no one.

Instead, I’ve spent the last 4 years arming myself with every resource imaginable. Hubby and I decided long ago to use the attachment style parenting in the way we raise our children.

I also know something else, and this is what I tell everyone who is thinking about adopting: sometimes, healing is measured in years, not months. Little Man came home at a early age (1 year) and Big Brother at nearly 4 years old. BOTH had/have a lot of healing to do.

I laugh when people come home with a new child and within weeks claim that the child is securely attached and doesn’t remember a thing about their past. What a bunch of phooey. What are they thinking?? If I was abducted by aliens and forced to live on a different planet with a strange new family, I surely would not feel securely attached to them after only a few weeks. I’d be looking for an exit strategy for some time…no matter how nice they seemed or how good the new house was…I’d want out.

But that’s exactly what it’s like; it’s like being abducted. And yet we expect our children to come home unscathed. It doesn’t happen that way. I don’t care if it looks like it happens that way…it doesn’t.

So like I said, healing is measured in years, not months, for some of us, anyways. This is certainly true when it comes to parenting a traumatized child. I have been judged, criticized, critiqued and berated in my pursuit of parenting Little Man in the way he needs to be parented. But still, it doesn’t bother me, because I know something that other parents don’t: parenting a traumatized child looks very different from parenting a child who’s never known anything but a calm, stable, nurturing environment. There is no way around it. There is nothing anyone could say that would convince me otherwise. Why, you might ask? Because…well, I’ve lived it, and I’ve seen what works and I’ve seen what doesn’t. From the deepest, innermost core of Little Man’s being, he needs to be continually uplifted, encouraged and shown that he is worthy of love simply for being Little Man. He needs to be reminded daily that “families stick together” “families are forever” “mommy and daddy always come back” “nothing you could say or do would make us stop loving you” and sadly “there will always be food available to you.” Yes, even at age 3 we have heard the most unusual remarks from him that scare us to our core, not to mention our struggles with food. DAILY we repeat what Little Man needs to hear. We do this because he needs to be reminded…which still breaks my heart. I want to get past adoption related issues, but for some children, it takes more time. I never would have thought we’d still be dealing with some of these issues, but we are.

And of course, now we are beginning again with Big Brother, whose issues are even more far-reaching.

We have already battled unthinkable prenatal experiences, malnutrition, neglect, institutionalization in an overcrowded, underfunded orphanage, cultural and language change, emotional and behavioral demons and I’m here to tell you…others just don’t get it. So when I feel the need to defend my parenting choices to others, I calmly reel myself back in, collect my thoughts and simply say “You are very blessed to parent a child who has never known severe physical and emotional trauma and neglect during the most formative months of life. That must be a wonderful feeling– to know your child has never suffered in such horrific ways. I choose to put my ‘image’ aside and parent my child in the way he needs, not in the way that is socially popular.”

I know, perhaps that’s not the best thing to say. But it’s true. To watch your child fight HARD against their past is indescribable. The pain is so raw, so real and is so far into uncharted territory that it still sometimes takes my breath away. All I want to do is take that pain away from my child, to wipe his slate clean and pretend that none of it ever happened and that the effects will slowly fade over time. But I know better. I know how deep the battle scars reach. I know that in our case–for both boys–healing is measured in years, not months. Small steps in the forward direction are grand victories to be celebrated. And we do celebrate every chance we get.

I have sacrificed and grown so much in order to become the parent that Little Man and Big Brother need. It’s hard, sometimes. I’ve gone to great lengths to parent with compassion and encouragement, to “unlearn” typical parenting techniques and expectations, and to remember that the way in which Little Man and Big Brother view their world (whether they realize it or not) is through a lens of loss and neglect. For someone else to waltz in and disregard all of my hard work and my sons’ hard work, not to mention the numerous nights of tearful strategy planning, enrages me. My sons are fighters and don’t take my job lightly.

I thank God for teaching me these lessons with my first child. Big Brother is a fighter, but he has a lot of demons to battle. We will overcome them. But I know it will take much more than any parenting book could tell me.

————————————————————–

OK, if you made it to the end…who are you…don’t you have something better to do, haha!? My boys are down with the flu, that’s my excuse. What do you think about co-sleeping? Yes, no? What other attachment techniques do you like? I’m all ears!