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.
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!