I remember when we first brought our daughter home, the uncertainty of what to do in certain situations was so great I felt like we were starting from scratch, newbies in the parenting realm. Clueless.
The reality is, we were starting from scratch because parenting an adopted child added a gaggle of new layers to the parenting gig we were used to.
Our biological children have never experienced trauma or rejection or abandonment They have a felt safety with us that has never really been challenged. So, when they act out or misbehave, most likely the root of that behavior is fairly straight-forward: i.e. they are selfish little boogers like the rest of us.
And while our adopted kiddos fall into that same category, there is simply more to it. They have experienced trauma and rejection and abandonment. They have felt unsafe in a big way, whether that was as a newborn or toddler or an older child. Those kinds of life experiences make an impact.
So when one of my adopted kiddos acts out, the root of their behavior could be attributed to the fact that they are selfish little boogers, or it could be something more. Something like fear. Fear of being rejected or abandoned again, because no matter how long they have felt safe with us, that fear is hard to let go and can manifest itself in strange, subtle and frustrating ways.
The fear still shows up in our daughter from time to time, but the uncertainty of how to respond is less than when we began. Maybe the lines have become a little less blurred as she is able to express herself more. Maybe (thanks to readings, DVDs, classes) we know a little more.
Whatever the reason (a little of all of the above I'm sure), when she is upset, the cause of the behavior is easier to nail down and on our good days, we deal with it more effectively. The cause may be fear (or something else related to her past), or it may be typical 5 year old behavior, but our experience with her over the years gives us a clearer direction of what to do.
Over the weekend we went out to eat as a family. While we were waiting for our food Zak became quiet. When the food came he refused to eat. When it was time to leave he didn't want to go. He resisted when I went to put him in his car seat.
It brought back those feelings from when we brought Suhn home. Feeling unsure of what to do or how to handle the situation. Wondering what the root cause of the behavior was? Is this adoption related? Was there a trigger in the restaurant that reminded him of something in China? Is this a grieving moment? Why didn't he eat? What should I do???
It turns out that he wanted a milk shake and when I told him no, he decided not to eat until he got the milkshake and when we left he realized he really wanted to eat. We figured it out, gave him his food, had ice cream when we got home and all was well with the world again. In this case, I really believe it was more along the "typical" 4-year old behavior lines than fear-based acting out, but it can be really hard to tell the difference.
Especially in the beginning, when the wounds are fresh and the communication is lacking.
Thankfully, this time around it doesn't feel quite as scary or overwhelming. Experience is a beautiful thing, and we feel better equipped and less uncertain. Even so, the same mantra holds true from our first days as adoptive parents to today: one day at a time; one foot in front of the other; and lots of prayer!
Interested in learning more? Below are a few resources we have found extremely helpful in our adoptive parenting journey:
- www.empoweredtoconnect.org This website is FULL of resources, articles, recommended readings, videos and information about the Empowered to Connect conferences. If you are an adoptive parent, you should go to one of their conferences. I guarantee it will be worth it.
- The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis
- The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel
- Wounded Children, Healing Homes by Jayne Schooler
- Talking with Young Children about Adoption by Mary Watkins, Susan Fisher
- TCU Healing Families DVD Series