Sunday, November 25, 2012

Great article ...

Combatting the Holiday "Gimme Gimmes" with Foster & Adopted Kids - Part I

Do the holidays transform your foster or adopted child into Veruca Salt?

Those of us who parent adopted or fostered younguns have all probably been exposed to this commonly held idea that somehow our children should be "grateful" to us for "saving" them from a life of [insert something awful here - poverty, addiction, homelessness, abuse, neglect, etc.] Most of us who have taken the time to learn more about foster care and adoption roll our eyes at people who tell us how lucky our kids are. We either tell them "No, we're the lucky ones", or we regale them with a lecture about how even though adoption or foster care can be positive things they are also rife with grief and loss. Or we grit our teeth and just move on. We certainly do not expect our kids to be grateful towards us for "saving" them, we don't expect them not to feel grief or resentment about their being with us instead of their birth family, and we try not to expect them to be any more grateful than a non-adopted child would be. But what about when our foster or adopted children actually act the exact opposite of this myth of the grateful adoptee? What about when they act downright spoiled and entitled?

I have noticed with my older foster son that the holidays bring up all kinds of issues. One challenge for us is that he starts to get the "gimme gimmes" (also known as the "I wants") and seems more than a little like Veruca Salt from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory:

No matter what we buy him, it isn't enough. It's not the right thing. It's not as much or as good as what he should have gotten. In fact, a full two months before Christmas and Chanukah, he was telling us that he already knew we weren't going to get him anything and that the holidays were going to suck. He even tried to tell us we didn't get him anything last year (um, yeah, right!)

It's early November and I can see the selfishness rising, rising, rising like a tide that is about to attempt to flood our family life emotionally. But is it really selfishness? Sure, it's bratty, spoiled, and entitled behavior... but I have some suspicions about why this is the case with so many foster and adopted kids:

Kids who really did not have enough when they were with their birth families, whether they were short on food or were not able to celebrate the holidays due to poverty, have anxiety about scarcity. Even though part of them knows things are different now, they are trying to prepare themselves ahead of time for the massive disappointment of going without. The holidays were always a let-down, so it's better to prepare themselves for another let-down than to let themselves be hopeful. Therefore, they start to focus on all the things they want but that their parents won't get them.
Foster children or children adopted at an older age may worry that they are not going to get treated equally to biological family members when it comes time for the holidays.
Kids who had scarcity in their previous lives may have a really obsessive relationship with the few things their birth family did provide (such as presents at holidays, or having nice clothes even if they went without meals). Kids who had scarcity before but in their adoptive or foster homes have since gotten used to having lots of "things" may have developed an unhealthy level of investment in material things, combined with lack of confidence that they will always have their needs met. Their self-esteem may be greatly based on what they own.
Foster kids and kids who live in group homes or orphanages rarely get to own much of anything that belongs exclusively to them and that they can trust will remain with them. If this is part of your kid's history it may cause them to seem over-attached or under-attached to belongings.
Children may miss what they remember of their birth family's holiday traditions, even those that have nothing to do with gifts. Perhaps a child who's acting like an entitled brat about what they expect to get as gifts at the holidays is actually a child who is simply mourning the loss of the smells, sights, tastes, and feelings of holiday celebrations with their birth family and hoping to get some solace through extra attention from you or from material comforts like toys or candy.
I've been told many times that kids who have been through a lot of loss and trauma often get what is dismissively referred to as a "victim complex." As they enter puberty and beyond they start to feel like the world owes them something - Maybe a lot of somethings. They may feel like having money or material things they want can help provide restitution for the ways in which they have suffered in their life.
Those of us whose foster or adopted kids have behavioral and emotional issues may be more than a little tempted to help quell the child's outbursts with material rewards (toys, treats, etc). This may lead them to expect that an outburst or causing a scene at the store will result in them getting what they want. Also, some kids may have had birth parents who were unable to set limits with them, resulting in kids experiencing that the way to get their desires met is to act demanding.
Foster kids, in particular, may be very aware of the ways in which their lives are different than the lives of their peers. Having the toys and clothing their peers have, or even more and better things, may help them feel like they'll fit in better or be able to override any stigma that comes from being a foster child.
Let's face it, we may bring some of this "gimme gimme" awfulness on ourselves by overdoing holidays and buying too many toys when our kids first arrive, as a way of making up for not having a lot in the house for them yet, or as a way of helping them not feel as sad about not being without their birth families for the holidays. We may unconsciously buy them more than they need in order to make them like us, inadvertently teaching them that the holidays are all about their every want being fulfille.
And let's not forget, foster and adopted kids are children first and foremost. Most kids just get crazy around holiday times, just ask any parent you know. Selfishness is a trait all parents have to teach their children to overcome because children are inherently ego-driven creatures and most of us are raising them in a very consumerist culture. This is not exclusive to children from trauma backgrounds or who are fostered or adopted. But there are many ways to teach children to question consumerism, to feel empathy for others, and to engage in acts of charity.

An upcoming post will focus on how our families can find meaning in the holidays beyond gift-giving. You can help me build that post by answering these questions and encouraging your friends to do the same!

How do you battle the "gimme gimmes" around the holidays?

How do you instill in your children, whether biological or non-biological, a sense of holiday meaning that goes beyond gifts?

How do you teach altruism, charity and sharing to children whose histories have led them to have a fear of scarcity?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Little Victories

When things are bad around here they are really bad. It can wear you down, leaving you exhausted and nerves exposed. It makes you feel you can't handle one thing. And then you find peace. I am glad we have been experiencing some calm with Sweetie. It is so easy to get caught up in the chaos and not appreciate the little victories that are occurring all the time. Things that most parents just expect out of their children become our little victories. When she can for even just a moment, trust that we are going to take care of her needs, that is a victory. When she can get pushed by a kid at school and not hit back that is a victory. When she chooses to study for a test instead of playing a game that is a victory. These are all things that Sweetie's diagnosis say she can't do. But she is doing them! Yes, for every big step forward we take a step back, that is why specialist refer to it as the dance of attachment. The important thing is there are these steps forward. When I am at my wits end I remember these victories. I remember that just 2 months ago the littlest thing would set off tantrums that resulted in broken doors and holes in walls. I could not even breathe without her making a nasty comment. Now when she gets frustrated she cries, and she gets over it. That is a HUGE victory! So I know in my heart of hearts we are getting through. We may be exhausted, but we are changing her life. I pray daily that it is enough. It has to be enough.
Tomorrow is National Adoption Day. We have been invited to participate in Charlotte National Adoption Day events at the Charlotte Courthouse. This should be a great thing. I have no clue what emotions that may surface from this. But we will deal with what ever comes our way.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Just when you think it will all be ok...

There are times that being the mom of a kid with a severe case of Reactive Attachment Disorder sucks! There I said it! It is exhausting, trying and most of all it is heartbreaking. You lose everything that you hold close to you. This week it was one of our dogs who paid the price. Sweetie was outside with the dogs and the kids next door were outside. She asked one of the girls if they wanted to pet our dog and lifted her up over the fence. That is when their dog jumped up and latched on to Darlings paw. It's owner had to tackle the dog to get it off. While they were trying to get the dog off Darling she bit Sweetie and the neighbor in the hand. Sweetie's injuries were minor as were the neighbors. Darling was not so lucky. She has broken bones and the paw was almost torn off. Since Wednesday we have had to keep her pretty sedated and on multiple pain medications. She had to go in 3 times so far for procedures. They were finally able to suture up the site yesterday. We now have to take her back weekly. She will have to wear the splint for at least 8 weeks.
To most they see this as an accident. To us it is a symptom of the much deeper issues of Sweeties Reactive Attachment Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. First, the incident happened because she would not listen. My husband told her 5 times with in 5 minutes of the incident not to pick up the dogs. The neighbors told her not to put the dog to the fence and then she lifted her up over the fence. Sweetie does what she wants to do because she can and more so because you told her not too. She has no concept of what she did as being wrong. She also has no empathy or sympathy for Darling or for Cris and I. It is really hard for me right now to still love her unconditionally. I have to remind myself  that she does not know of empathy because no one showed her any. All of the years of abuse and neglect and no one cared enough to do anything about it. How do you learn right from wrong when those that are suppose to be protecting you are hurting you? We have had to make some major hard choices around here. With the direction of our attachment therapist we are removing our dogs from the home temporarily, to give them a break from Sweetie. She torments them daily. She chases them, yells at them and now this. This is awful for me. This is the hugest sacrifice of my life. I love my dogs as if they are my children. The worst of the consequences of Sweeties actions came today when animal control showed up because our neighbors reported Darling for biting the neighbor. ( I know messed up right...). They informed us that she needs to be quarantined for 10 days away from other animals,kids and anyone she does not already know. Then we realized the worst, Darlings rabies vaccine had just expired while we were going through all of the stuff with Sweetie at the behavioral health hospital. The law states if the rabies vaccine is not current that she would have to be quarantined at Animal Control. This broke my heart. I am serious. I have not sobbed this hard since Leah was taken from us. All I could do is pray. I knew that there was no way that anyone at animal control could keep up with Darling's care for her injuries at animal control.
God answered my prayers and the officer came back to say that because of her injuries and medications they would allow an in house quarantine. Shelli has agreed to take her for the week.
So for the last night Darling is here with me as I type this blog. She is heavily medicated with pain meds and a sedative. I am praying for God to help me forgive Sweetie for this. I still pray for her healing. I pray for her to feel our unconditional love and start to believe that we are not going to fail her like everyone else has. For her to believe that she does not have to control everything to be safe. That we will take care of her and that she only has to worry about being a kid. We need her to feel that it is ok to follow what we say because we will not put her in harms way and we are trying to protect her. I pray for her to really feel for others. We are working on trying to help her be a family girl. But it is uncertain if she is capable of living in a family. Our therapist believes that residential may be the best for her. The program that she recommends is an attachment program that has weekly family therapies and works on teaching her to be a part of a family. There is normally a long wait for this program, however there is an immediate opening now. I am so torn on what to do. I did not spend almost 2 years fighting to gain a daughter to just send her away. But I do not know how much more to take. When is it too much? I do love Sweetie in a deeper way than I have ever love another person. I just don't know if that is enough. Part of what weighs on my heart so heavily is that this is the holidays. Our first holidays together. She already knows due to the vet bills that will be well over $1000, Christmas is going to be very slim compared to what we had planned. But this is also our first Christmas, the first one I would have my own family for. Am I being selfish to want to have this? Lord knows that Sweetie will most likely sabotage the holidays because she does not feel worthy of having such good things.I will wait and see how things play out.
The harder it gets the more I know we had to do this for Sweetie. We were right to adopt her. She deserves to have a family. She deserves to see right from wrong and most importantly, she deserves to be loved, no matter what.
I am sorry if there are a ton of typos, I have only gotten a few hours of sleep in the last week and I am exhausted. I wanted to make sure I got this down in my blog. I know there are many of you who follow along, but this is most importantly a place for us to go back and see where we were. We can see how far we have come! At times I need to look at that. We have come far! The last few days have been tough on Sweetie. We now do line of sight parenting as you would a 3 year old. She has to have permission to do anything at all. She has had to talk and talk and talk some more about the events of Wednesday. She is not allowed to touch the dogs if they are in the house. We have had to become ultra strict with her. And she has not had one tantrum. I am proud of her for this. It is not in my nature to be overly strict, but we need to be. And she seems to be responding well to it. So, if you see me with Sweetie and think I being harsh, please know that right now she can not handle extra excitement or a ton of gifts. We are concentrating on things that do not involve gifts. So,this holiday season we will be working more on traditions and on giving to others.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Orphan Sunday

Today is Orphan Sunday. A day that brings awareness to the millions of children around the world that are without families. Everywhere else in the world they are known as orphans, but not American children, they are called fostered youth fostered youth is less traumatic than being orphaned. As Americans, we like things neat and pretty. We push aside and hide things that we deem undesirable. We rename things to make them sound less harsh. But the reality is there are still over 500,000 orphans in this country, with 100,000 of them being legally available for adoption right now. In this country, with all of our resources, this should not exist!
I have experienced first hand how broken this system is. I know families that have worked hard for months and even years to adopt, to just get frustrated because the process to become an adoptive parent is too difficult. I have had to give back baby Leah after we nursed her back to health, to her drug abusing, neglectful parent who continues to get herself in to domestic violent relationships. And now I am the mom of a special needs child who went back and forth between a abusive and neglectful family and foster care. My heart breaks to know that most of these kids become damaged emotionally to the point that most people would not even try to parent them. And they then eventually age out. These are the kids that we have failed. Kids like my Sweetie's biological sister. She is only 14 and has become so damaged by the years of abuse and neglect that she would rather live on the streets than be in a foster home. Can you image you have been hurt and failed by every adult in your life? Who would you trust? How could you trust? If Cris & I had not been led to adopt her, Sweetie would surely follow in her sister's footsteps. I can not bear to think of this long. To think of Sweetie living on the streets, having to do what ever is needed to survive makes me sick. But the harsh reality is that many of these kids do end up this way. Those who age out of the system have no where to go and noone to call family. Can you imagine having noone to come to your high school graduation? To have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving or Christmas? With noone to love and noone who cares? How do you survive that?
I will not lie and say that parenting Sweetie is not challenging. It is the most difficult thing I have done in my life. I am tested daily on how much can I love unconditionally. But, how can I not love her with all that I am and even with what I am not? I often hear from people how I should be commended for adopting her, as if she was not worth being adopted. Like she is a lesser person. This is really offensive to me. Yes it is hard, but it is I who receives the blessing. I am the one who has gained from this relationship. She has opened my heart to love more than I ever imagined possible. I have spent years protecting my heart from getting too close to anyone. Yes, I am a "good person", yes I will do anything for anyone, including perfect strangers. But when it comes to truly deeply loving someone and letting them completely into my heart, it just does not happen that often. But she has done it, she found a small little crack in my wall and wiggled her way right in. I will be grateful to her forever for allowing me to experience this kind of love. A true mother's love.
With all my heart I know this is something that I need to do again. I know now is not the time. Sweetie It may be years before we can do it again. Sweetie needs individual time and affection right now. It might even be once Sweetie has gone off to college or where ever her path may lead her. I have a longing to be the mom of the children who have been deemed unfit for a family.  I would adopt them all, just so they had a place to belong. Someone to call family. To just not be alone in this world.

- I started this blog early this am when I could not sleep and stopped because I finally got sleepy.I am glad I did stop. The message today at Warehouse 242 confirmed this for me. Our message in service today was this... "To care and not do something is not caring at all." That God's opportunities to care for others are never convenient and always come at a cost (money or time). The opportunities are all around us. It may be helping a neighbor, feeding a stranger or it may be a greater sacrifice and opening your heart and your home to a child or children with no family. I know this is not a calling for everyone. And I do believe it is a calling. But if it is something you have been called to do, I promise the blessings in the little things make everything worth it.