If your family is a blend of kids by birth and adoption/foster care, or if you had an established family created by adoption and then added new children from “hard places,” don’t miss this interview with my daughter, Annarose.
How do siblings in the family feel, and what do they experience, when you add children to the family through adoption or foster care? What if the new children come with lots of challenges?
Annarose, the middle child of eleven, talks about the challenges and blessings of being a sister to kids through adoption.
If you’d like to listen on your phone but don’t know how, follow these simple instructions. I’m hooked on podcasts and listen to them when I’m driving, walking, cooking, cleaning – anytime I can pop an earbud in without ignoring the people around me.
I realize I haven’t been posting the episodes here on One Thankful Mom. I’m not sure how I missed the obvious – I’ll be sure to do so in the future.
The new school (the one Wogayu now attends) was wonderful. They embraced us, supported her, and met her needs as well as they could.
Unfortunately, the speed of the downward spiral was rapidly increasing and despite a wonderful therapist, EMDR, all of the therapeutic parenting we could implement, respite, prayer, and a loving community, the first day of Christmas break led us to a crisis of such proportion we found ourselves in the emergency room followed by hospitalization.
The gift of that crisis was unexpected – and we didn’t see it as a gift at the time. Kalkidan was finally able to get the real help she needed in residential treatmentat a wonderful program, Intermountain, in Helena, Montana.
Initially, we felt such a deep sense of failure and shame – we weren’t enough, all the help we had sought wasn’t enough, our love wasn’t enough.
This cut to the core of who I believed I was as a mother.
But we serve a loving God, and he began something beautiful. When we were reduced to nothing but ashes, his spirit blew over us and he began to heal and restore. It’s a long story, too long for this post, but He truly does make beauty from ashes.
He began the slow, painful process of healing our beautiful girl and healing us.
I want to add a note to those of you who are in the very hardest places. This cutting deep to my core – this shattering of my identity as a mother – I know I am not alone. Many of you are also working through the tearing apart, processing, and rebuilding as you walk through your journeys of parenting children from “hard places.”
Know that you are not alone. Know that this is a journey and you need others with you. You may need a professional to guide you or a wise friend. I send you my love and wish you were sitting at my table with me – with big mugs of tea and coffee, and a box of kleenex being passed around as we talk. I think of you and pray for you right now.
Thank you for sharing your day, for showing up and reading my words. If you were with me four years ago, thank you for remembering with me.
Want to know what can bring about a fight, flight, or freeze response in even the calmest parent?
Being in the passenger seat as your child practices driving.
Not long ago a friend of Claire’s was very upset because her mother “lost it” when the teen made an error while driving. She’ll be the first to admit, it was a pretty darn big error which involved a near collision, multiple cars, and horns honking.
A fair amount of freaking out ensued – driver, mom, younger siblings.
Hearts were pounding as adrenaline rushed through veins. We’ve all been in that kind of panic at some time in our lives.
Words were spoken – the kind that fly out of your mouth before you can even think. Those words were followed by another exchange of words. Which were followed by some very hurtful words – the kind you wish could pull back into your mouth and away from the ears of the one who heard them.
Thankfully, nobody was hurt and the teen was able to pull the car off the busy street and into a parking lot where she promptly got out of the car and refused to get back in. Remember, flight is one response to a stressful or traumatic situation.
I can’t blame her.
Understanding the Brain (and Trauma)
When she told me the story, she was very angry with her mom. I asked questions, and the additional details gave me a better picture of what had happened.
It was clear that some basic miscommunication had led to a very stressful moment.
We talked about how she might have been feeling as a young driver – how frightening it must have been. I asked if she felt embarrassed about her error and maybe even ashamed. It’s very vulnerable, and a little scary, learning to drive.
Then I gently talked about what her mom might have been feeling. This led to a simple explanation of the brain and how we all react to trauma. I even shared the hand model and how we “flip our lids” in stressful moments.
In times of stress, our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that allows us to think clearly and have self-control (the “upstairs brain”), can “flip,” or no longer be in charge. Then we are no longer thinking clearly as our brain is taken over by the more primitive part of our brain (the “downstairs brain”). We drop down to our basic stress responses of fight, flight, or freeze. Our emotions rule us. We lose our filters and self-control.
Here is Dan Siegel, author of several of my favorite parenting books, including The Whole-Brain Child, describing this in a video:
Understanding the Brain Helps Us Understand Each Other.
When we understand even the most basic aspects of how the brain responds to stress, we increase compassion for one another.
It turns out, this teen’s mom had a traumatic car accident years ago and was particularly triggered by the event. Understandably, her stress responses were even more reactive than normal.
I encouraged her to talk with her mom and try to reconnect. I mentioned that moms are completely imperfect – I should know.
This simple way of understanding the brain and how it functions is useful for all ages, from very young children to adults. This mom didn’t hate her daughter or think she was stupid. She was flooded with stress chemicals, her brain was overwhelmed, and she reacted.
What Can We Learn?
The next time you’re driving with your teen, or in a similarly stressful situation, make a hand model of the brain (don’t worry, nobody will even notice).
When you feel yourself starting to stress and you feel like you could “flip your lid,” hold those fingers down over your thumb.
Give calm instructions. Take slow deep breaths. Say a little prayer.
And above all else, remember you love this amazing kid.
Each child knows the task they must accomplish in the morning before school. We all pitch in and most days it works pretty well. On the weekends, we all do more substantial chores to keep the house a bit more pulled together.
Long time reader and friend, Melodie, commented on my One Thankful Mom Facebook page, “I love these ideas. However, I’m still stuck with a child who rages every time a simple task is asked of her. I know this is another blog post for another time but I would love to hear your insights, Lisa, about how our raging children can also learn simple life lessons.”
Well said, my friend.
Let’s talk about chores and kids from “hard places.”
These are my quick thoughts this morning as I get ready to wake my kids and start the morning rush.
Chores for kids from “Hard Places”
1.| Consider how long your child has been home.
If your child is new to the family and you’re still adjusting to life, keep it simple. If chores make the child feel she is part of the team, by all means, do chores. If chores trigger big feelings or behaviors, save them for later.
Learning to trust you to meet her needs, finding her place in the family, staying close to your side and helping you with your work is all more important than accomplishing independent chores.
2.| If chores cause rages, it’s not a battle worth fighting, especially before school.
In our family, we learned it was important to keep Kalkidan’s before-school routine as short and simple as possible. The fewer triggers (including words) the better. We figured out how much time she needed to get dressed, make her bed, do simple hygiene, eat, and get out the door, added a little bit of wiggle room, and that’s how much time we allowed for her morning routine.
When she was little, I woke her at the right time. When she was older, she was allowed to leave her room at the right time. The fewer interactions she had with siblings during the before school rush, the better. We tried to keep her mornings calm, which was a challenge. Eating a good breakfast was FAR more important than completing a chore.
An after-school chore done side-by-side with a parent may work better for a child who is more easily dysregulated. After dinner help (which we don’t assign, but do together as a family) is also a good option.
3.| Set the bar low enough for success.
I love a clean house and I really want my kids to do a good job on their chores, but I also try to be realistic. Some kids are more detail oriented than others. Some are anxious in the morning and in a hurry to complete it, others are perpetually distracted or running late. I try not to be too uptight.
In many ways, I’m trying to help them form good habits, as well as keep our house from slipping into a complete mess. I want them to learn a dishwasher really can be quickly emptied, a bathroom can be wiped down in just a few minutes, the family room can be vacuumed in the same amount of time it takes to complain that it’s just not possible to get it done.
A house cleaned imperfectly is still cleaner than one not cleaned at all. Saturday chores are done more carefully and thoroughly, I also check them more consistently!
4.| Give choices.
If you have a child who is easily dysregulated over chores, you may want to offer choices. Depending on your family size, you could say, “Would you like to empty the dishwasher or sweep the kitchen?” In my house, we have a chart for multiple kids, so that wouldn’t work well for me. I also don’t currently have a child who struggles with which chore they need to do.
Doing a chore at all can be a problem – but which chore they do is not the issue. When all else fails, I give kids the option to do their chore after school rather than before. If my teens have big plans for the weekend, I give them the fun choice of doing their Saturday chores Friday afternoon or even Thursday evening – they love that. I’m a super nice mom that way.
Right now I have a child who wants to leave for school as early as possible and we have to place restrictions on how early the vacuum can be turned on in order not to wake siblings. I won’t go into the details of this, because, believe it or not, it’s actually complicated. I’ll just say, parenting is hard and sometimes it bends my brain in too many directions.
5.| Focus on what matters most.
If you are really struggling with your child, and you are simply trying to survive each day, forget about chores.
If you can afford it, hire somebody to clean your house and lift as much off your shoulders as possible. Take care of your child’s most basic needs for food and love, and take care of yourself. You may have so many appointments for medical care, therapies, and school meetings for your child that you can hardly breathe.
Be sure some of those appointments are for you too. Find a therapist to help you process your own trauma and grief. This is hard work, friend – such hard work. If you need to see a doctor to treat depression or anxiety, make an appointment.
Take care of your spiritual needs. Join a Bible study or go to church; a sweet friend of mine goes to daily Mass twice a week for her own sanity and faith. Go outside and take a walk – breathe. Find one good friend who understands you and call her regularly.
All for today, friend. I hope this is helpful for you if your kids are struggling and you are deep in the hard stuff with them. Remember, our kids regulate to us, they can’t calm if we aren’t calm with them.
Let go of anything that isn’t absolutely necessary and do all you can to keep yourself calm, breathing, and as present as possible. Take good care of yourself, friend.
I’ve been thinking about adoption and attachment lately – the challenges, the hard work, and the outcome.
Many of us have worked hard and achieved secure attachment with our kids. Many of us have worked hard and haven’t.
Or we’ve found the sweet spot of secure attachment with some of our adopted children and not with others.
I know a lot of adoptive families and we all want to be the best families we can be. Yes, we get tired and have days when we want to throw in the towel, parents and kids alike – especially teens.
While it’s not easy to be an adoptive parent, it’s no joy-ride being an adopted teen either, especially one adopted at an older age.
Let’s Talk About Attachment
In the ideal sequence of life, a baby is born and cared for by a loving adult. They establish a rhythm: the baby has a need and the adult meets it over and over again.
I cry and somebody comes. I’m hungry, and I’m fed. I’m cold, and I’m warmed. I’m frightened, and I’m comforted.
The baby learns her voice will be heard and she trusts her needs will be met.
This establishes a pattern of felt-safety and trust with the adult. She develops secure attachment with her primary caregiver who becomes her anchor.
When a baby’s needs are not met, or inconsistently met, secure attachment does not develop. In its place, a variety of insecure attachment styles form.
Most children from “hard places” do not come to adoptive parents with secure attachment. They come to us with trauma histories of varying degrees and a variety of attachment challenges.
Through intense therapeutic parenting, hard work in therapy, and meeting our children’s needs over and over again, we have an opportunity to heal wounds and help our child develop secure attachment.
This is a beautiful and amazing gift.
Russ and I spent hours rocking our adopted children, feeding them bits of food from our hands, giving them milk from sippy cups and bottles, developing eye contact, and meeting their needs over and over again.
What if Secure Attachment Doesn’t Develop?
As much as we all long for secure attachment, and as much as we work very hard to achieve it, sometimes it doesn’t happen.
Who’s to blame?
Should we blame ourselves? Our children?
What if we could all be free to say, “It’s not your fault. It’s not mine. The damage to attachment happened in the first year of life when neither of us had any control. We all did the best we could, and here is the really good news – there is always hope.”
Maybe our goal is to lay the foundation for our older children to become Earned Secure by teaching them to give and receive love, providing them with safety and security, and sharing joys and sorrows with them?
Perhaps in some cases, we’re preparing their hearts for a future of earned adult attachment — and that is all that God is asking of us.
Leave a comment and let me know what you think about this – I really want to know. This topic has been rolling around in my head all week. I guess if you look back at the older posts, you can see it’s been on my mind for a few years.
Beza and I fly to New York tomorrow where we are speaking at a fundraising gala for the foundation that gave us a large grant to fund her adoption many years ago.
We’re quite excited! We speak Wednesday night, then get to sightsee in NYC all day Thursday and see Wicked that night. Friday we’re going to the ocean, then Saturday we’ll make the long trek home.
Russ is my hero for managing everything here while I’m gone while also wrapping up the semester. It’s not easy when one of us is away, but we want to say, “Yes” to this for Beza. It’s not often something this special comes along.
I plan to post on Instagram while I’m gone. Speaking of which, I posted my very first IG video on my “story” last night. I’m still not quite sure about it, but I’ll keep trying in addition to posting photos, especially during our week away.
Have a fantastic week, friends. Much love to all of you.