Tag Archives: Adoption and Trauma

Doing Right by Hope

I listen to a podcast called, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. A recent episode explored the feelings of a father and daughter who lost their wife and mother to cancer when the daughter was just a toddler. The father remarried and never really discussed his late wife, so his daughter was never sure whether it was ok to talk about her.

As I was listening to the show, I started wondering am I doing enough to make Hope feel comfortable talking about her birth family. We have a relationship with a portion of her birth family, and that has been a little hit or miss just based on Hope’s desire. I made sure that I got numerous pictures of one of her parents and they are hung prominently in our home. I have made it clear that whenever she is ready to visit her family, I’m down to make it happen. She expressed an interest in her birth mother, I looked for her and found her. When she said she was satisfied just knowing where she was but didn’t want contact, I put the info away and told her she can have it whenever she wants.

I’ve told her numerous times that if she wants to talk, I’m here. Anytime, anywhere.

And yet, I do wonder if I’ve created the right environment for Hope to feel like she can tell me what she needs around accessing her birth family.

I have learned that my daughter’s feelings about her family are complicated. There is a lot of loss, feelings of rejection, anger, but also love and affection. I know that my daughter can sign a birthday card and say that she hopes to see them soon, but when I ask to schedule a visit she says no, what she wrote was really just a pleasantry.

Early on, I fretted that her birth family would be upset that I was keeping her away from them. We are a four hours’ drive away but are connected by phone, email and social media. We’ve visited several times; of course, they would like us to visit more often. I don’t want to put up roadblocks to reunion if that’s what everyone wants. The reality is that my daughter’s idea of reunion and theirs don’t jive at this point. I’ve learned to be really honest with them about what she’s going through and how much contact she wants. Those are hard conversations to have with a family that also feels like Hope is the prodigal kid, who was lost and now found. I try to make sure that cards get sent, pictures and band concert programs are mailed so that they can see she’s doing well, but truth be told, there’s not much contact between Hope and her family.

On the daily, we don’t talk about her family of origin much either. Occasionally something will remind her of an episode from before my time and she’ll share it with me, usually something funny, sometimes something dark. The dark stuff is always very sad, and honestly, those are the stories that more often get repeated…verbatim. Therapy has helped her write some new scripts, but old habits and trauma die hard. Occasionally, I’ll ask about a parent and she’ll share a little story or shut down the conversation, depending on her mood. This is how we roll; I don’t have much to compare it to, so I guess this is normal. I listen to adult adoptees and know that it can be super complicated. I know that Hope will come into her own and decide if, how and when she wants more of a connection to her birth family. I just don’t ever want her to feel like she doesn’t have my support or that she can’t bring it up in our home. I try to follow her lead on creating and sustaining chosen connections.

On the whole, I feel like I’ve tried to create a space that supports her, values her family yet consistently prioritizes her emotional needs. It’s hard though; it’s complicated. I find myself wondering if I’m doing enough or too much sometimes. Hope is getting older; emotionally she’s still pretty young despite her gains over the last few years. I see her turning into a young adult; I see her questioning a lot of things about the world and about herself and about her personal history as she lived it and interprets it. I know in the coming years I’ll be transitioning from active parenting to a parent-guide of sorts as she comes into herself and launches into the world. I have no idea whether what I’m doing on the birth family stuff will bear fruit—or even what that means, honestly. I just know I want her to be happy and healthy, and I want her to know I’ll always ride hard for her.

I hope I’m doing right by Hope.

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Connected and Ish…

We’re a little over a week into the year, and I already feel like I have hell in a hand-basket in my home. Trying to get routines back in place is hella hard when there was a two week break, followed by two days of school, followed by three snow/cold days. The bull-ish has set in for real around here, and Hope has fallen back into her typical routine of whatever it is that she does.

I understand. I get it. There’s the trauma stuff. There’s the anxiety and depression stuff. There’s the ADHD stuff. There’s so much stuff. Tons of stuff, binders of stuff, lots of stuff.

And then there’s me on repeat about rules, expectations and routine. All of that ish is busted. It just seems to go into the ether and float away, and I’m peeved as hell.

I mean, if you live an illogical life, and there’s someone there to simply tell you what to do to carry on, then well, just follow the dang directions. It ain’t hard.

But alas, that would be logical and our greatest attribute is being illogical, so it’s not just hard, it’s like mythologically hard. Like Sisyphus hard.

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Via Giphy

And I’m supposed to practice “connected parenting.”

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Via Giphy

This parenting style requires that I move beyond and over the illogical parts to reframe and try again to connect to my daughter, building new healthier neuropathways…blah, blah, blah.Yeah, ok. I am all in on the connecting and moving forward, but errrr…uh….I find that what they don’t address in those books, on those videos and in those workshops is that parents have feelings too. We’re people, living and breathing imperfect creatures who also do dumb ish. They don’t mention that our hearts hurt from also feeling rejected and stepped on by our kids and isolated by families and friends who don’t have a clue what we’re going through. That even as we *know* intellectually what’s going on with our kids and develop/have the skill set to deal with it, this trauma parenting mess is some epic, next level bull-ish, and it makes ERRBODY feel some kind of way almost all the damn time. #webothmiserable #alot

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Via Giphy

In all that soft spoken, “the child’s reptilian brain, blah, blah, blah” there is a failure to acknowledge we have our own primitive brains too, no matter how well adjusted or how much work we’ve done on ourselves. (I know that there are many folks out there who think that adoptive parents should go through more intense screenings and training, but trust: We are still emotional creatures, you can’t screen/train that out of us unless we are just going to have Sheldon Cooper as the archetype AP).

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Via Google

There is never a discussion about how there are parenting moments—some trauma, some SPED, some just regular old run of the mill day-to-day stuff—that is just real bull-ish. Yeah, parenting is effing hard.

This week I have been on slow burn. Hope did some dumb stuff; some of it emotionally driven and some executive function influenced. Oh, I get how it happened. I get how the levers and buttons of her brain got us here. I get it. But I’m still simmering because it’s so ridiculously stupid. It just shouldn’t happen.

I’ve fought the desire to be confrontational. I’ve fought the desire to drop hammers. I’ve wrestled with natural consequences vs what I really want to do (rage if that wasn’t clear). I’ve just sat with it. I’ve emailed and texted my daughter when I knew that physically allowing audible words to come out of my mouth anywhere near her would be a really, really, bad idea. I have resisted doing everything that is in my naturally occurring combative nature to do this week. #winning

This week has been about restraint.

I am a wild Chincoteague pony pawing to get out and trample everything in my path. There is a bit in my mouth, and a saddle and reigns on me to just try to keep control of myself. Inside I’m an effing hot mess.

Yeah, they don’t tell you this ish in PRIDE, or those other parenting classes or any of those stupid parenting books for any kind of kid. Well, I’m here to tell you parenting ish ain’t academic.

I’m just trying to get through each day with some kind of peace of mind that I will not throttle my kid because she did some dumb ish that sometimes she literally can’t help doing. I exercise, eat right, have a cocktail, and try to get in bed early to just get some rest. I sing spirituals…because yeah, just because.

Most of all I try to keep my pie hole closed.

I’m not not speaking to my daughter. I just can’t handle but so much interaction right now; it just ain’t safe. Breakfasts are made, dinners are had and some workouts are done together. But I’m chasing solitude and peace to calm my frazzled emotions.

Someone asked me just today if I ever imagine what my life would be like if Hope hadn’t become my daughter. I can’t even imagine that; I have no idea. It was such a fit. I adore her, more than I ever thought I was capable of loving anything, I love her. It’s an expansive thing. Life has taught me that the thing that brings you that kind of love will try you to extreme.

Yeah, we’re there. Right now. Right here. We are so there, and I’m trying my best to parent the hell outta Hope.

All connected and ish.


More Than Love?

An interesting article was posted yesterday to the Today show’s website: Life After Adoption: Is Love Enough?

The essay is an autobiographical account of an adoptive mom who struggled to raise her son who was deeply affected by a traumatic past. Her essay posited that love simply is not enough when you are trying to help a child heal from their past.

Micah Johnson, host of the radio show, Unscripted, tweeted me, and others, this morning to ask if “is love enough” in adoption?

I started to tweet back and realized that I would be responding in like 100 tweets, so I figured I’d just turn it into a post on my own blog.

Is love enough in adoption?

Well, it depends on how we’re talking about love and how it’s expressed.

My short answer is no, it’s not enough. Managing my life with Hope at times is a second job filling the role of caseworker. There are appointments to be made, emails to write and follow up with, doctors to consult with, therapists to consult with, new therapeutic approaches to research, school social workers to touch base with and teachers to get together because they don’t understand what’s going on with my daughter.

It’s another job, and not an easy one. Right now, I’m finally breaking down and considering horse therapy for Hope—forget about the expense—I’m trying to figure out therapeutic goals, timing, and logistics to just get my daughter to an appointment once or twice a week at a facility that’s 40 miles away. But I think it will make a difference, so I gotta figure it out.

I think of it all like a project management situation. At times I have to be very clinical about the whole thing because if I let myself feel too much of the emotion of why Hope needs whatever it is that she needs or the secondary trauma that sometimes I catch because of the drama, I can’t make it all happen. I have to compartmentalize the ugly, heavy emotional stuff so I can get her therapeutic needs met.

It’s easy to compartmentalize all of the project/case management as separate from love for my daughter, but I make it happen because I love her.

It’s not more than love, it’s part of the way I express my love for her. Is it different than me packing her lunch, which I do every day? Well, not really. Is it different that typical parenting stuff like picking her up from band practice? Meh. The truth is: all this stuff is the kind of parenting my daughter needs and I do it because I love her and want her to have the opportunity to grow into her best self.

It’s extra, and it looks like more than just the hug and kiss that I get from her before school in the morning, but this is our version of a ‘normal’ loving home.

My love requires some extra stuff, and my love has required me to learn about stuff I never anticipated needing to know. This love has demanded different kinds of activities of me in supporting her. The needs were different, so the responses were different. This love can break my heart repeatedly as I try to help Hope. The love hurts sometimes. It sometimes even appears counterproductive. But in the end, it’s all love.

No, it doesn’t mean I love her more than other people love their kids or that I get extra heaven points (they would be nice tho!); it just means that loving Hope looks and feels different than loving a kid who wasn’t exposed to trauma and loss, among other things.

So, the answer to the question for me is, yes, love is enough but it just looks different, its demands are different and sometimes how it even makes me feel is very different.

And that’s ok.


We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

~~~Paul Laurence Dunbar

I used to have this poem hanging in my office as a reminder to visitors that sometimes we hide our feelings to just get through. As a diversity professional, I am constantly, intentionally exposing myself to emotional ish in order to help people move to the next level of inclusion. Consequently, I wear a mask.

A lot.

This poem kept me up really late one night this week. I couldn’t get it off my mind because of something Hope said to me. Essentially, my daughter wears a mask.

She wears a mask to get through every day, and it exhausts her.

Hope is an amazing young woman, and there are days when I simply marvel at her. There are other days when I see the turmoil on her face, but the reality is that on most days, she’s really, really good at hiding it.

Having been a long-time depression sufferer, my own mask is worn as much as to protect me as it is to motivate me. My own intrinsic motivation wills me to get through things and wills me to just fake it and it will get better.

I recognize that most people wear their masks for everyone else’s benefit. Who wants to be around a person who is wearing their suffering? The self-protection mechanism is such that if you desperately want to be around people, you just try to keep it together and conform so that they won’t be put off by you. You drag out your mask and hide all the ish behind it.

I feel like Hope and I are in a battle for her life right now. I see her; I see her working so hard to keep it together. I see her fighting so hard to get to a place that doesn’t hurt so much. She does take her mask off with me; sometimes not all the way, but enough for me to know what’s lurking underneath.

On the one hand, I’m so relieved that Hope trusts me enough to lower her defenses, her shields, but on the real…I feel helpless. I feel like I’m doing everything I can, everything I can think of to help shepherd her to a healthier place, but it isn’t helping the way we need it to.

That helplessness has got me feeling like I must wear a mask too. I mean, who goes around sharing that their kid is just struggling to keep it together, which means that you’re struggling to keep it together too. Who wants to see your eyes after you’ve sat in the bathroom sobbing and urgently praying for 10 minutes because you know the path this could all go down? Who do you trust, besides other parents walking in these shoes, with this kinda thing because most folks Just. Don’t. Get. It.

So, you both put on your oxygen masks in the morning and try to make it through another day.

I try to model authenticity for Hope. I try to use ‘good’ communication skills; I try to ask for what I need. I coach her to take care of herself. I encourage her to emote, to build solid friendships so that she has some peer support. I email the health professionals and the guidance counselors, even after Hope and I have decided on a course of action. I need allies to step into the gap to help her help herself.

This week has been a huge turning point for me. I have fought the good fight on trying to make sure that the homework has been done and that school stuff was a priority. School is such a core value for me; it’s social currency, especially for black folks. But, I’m done. It’s just not worth it. Hope doesn’t need the extra pressure, and neither do I. I’m fighting for my kid’s survival. School, while still important, can’t be central to that paradigm. Healing must be the sole focus. It has to be; our future depends on it.

And so, we’ll start this week differently. We’ll go back to basics. I’ll prioritize quality time. I’ll focus on more family care, not just self-care. I’ll ask about school, but not about the work. I’ll find another doctor who can help me chase down the right pharma-combo for her. I’ll lower my mask so I can always have a clear view of Hope and her mask.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end for Hope’s mask.


The Thing about Grief

It lingers. Grief it doesn’t ever really go away. It just lingers.

I’ve lost all of my grandparents, a few close friends and some colleagues in this life. They are all missed; I think of them often. I remember defining moments big and small in our relationships. I talk to my grandmothers all the time; I often feel their presence too. I’m even fortunate enough to hear them in my head sometimes.

During those moments when I feel them, I smile, and as soon as they pass, I am reminded that they aren’t on this plane and I can’t see them, hug them, smell them, nothing. They aren’t here physically with me. I still grieve that. But I cope; I have learned to cope.

I am raising a child who has experienced grief on levels I didn’t know existed. Saying her grief lingers is an understatement. It’s woven into her like fabric, and now it’s also a part of my own daily life. But Hope’s coping muscle is still under construction. She was so very young when she experienced such profound loss. She barely understood what was happening to her, much less how to deal with it. Now, years later, she’s still figuring it out, and I do my best to help her. It’s hard on both of us.

It’s hard to watch your child hurt at all, and she hurts so deeply. Witnessing this kind of grief is hard; it takes its toll. I feel helpless, and sometimes hopeless. It’s like there is nothing I can do or say to make Hope feel better. I encourage Hope to emote, to cry, hoping that a good cry will be cleansing. She hates that suggestion because she loathes tears. And so…we sit, often quietly, together.

Sometimes I force a hug on her, and she buries her head in the crook of my neck, squeezes me and sighs. We both exhale and close our eyes. The grief just swirls around us. It’s just always there.

I email AburdlyHotTherapist about my observations, and encourage her to talk to him. I try to get her to practice talking to her therapist about her feelings.

I love on her. I love on her as hard as I can, hoping that I can will her strength enough to be able to wrestle with her grief and win.

Grief can take you to such dark, dark places. The desire to give up…the desire to be with folks you’ve lost…it can make you so very vulnerable to the unimaginable pain. I knew that before Hope, but I know it now on a deeper level. It’s one thing to read about it, to hear about it. It’s another thing entirely to live up close and personal with it.

I worry for my daughter. I fret for her. I wonder when her coping skills develop such that the pain that often feels unbearable becomes manageable and compartmentalized. I just want her to be ok.

I’m often afraid for my daughter. Fighting grief is one of the great fights of Hope’s life.

I just wish I knew how to help her; how to lead her to some kind of solace.

The thing about grief is…grief sucks.


Emotional Confessions

Author’s Note:

I wrote this post at the start of the week after an emotionally taxing weekend. I wasn’t showing myself much grace; I wasn’t giving myself space to just breathe.

I’m on the upswing now with a lot of support and love from my village.

I sat on this post, changing the post schedule repeatedly. It was too raw; it was just too much.  I felt ashamed about my meltdown. I felt embarrassed about whining about how hard this journey is…a journey I chose. As I begin to feel better, I realized that I needed to just go ahead and put it out there, hoping that giving it air and light would validate the raw feelings of other folks who are struggling.

So…here it is. I hope my transparency makes someone who also feels these feelings know they aren’t alone.


As a parent, I would like to think that my good characteristics outweigh the bad. I hope so. I hope that one day, when I’m really and truly called to account for my many, many flaws, that the good stuff will get me through the pearly gates.

I have a terrible temper, seriously it’s awful. It makes me shake it’s so awful. I sometimes have a hard time controlling it. My preferred weapon is words. I will grind you right down; my anger makes me want to make you small with words.

I have the capacity to be really, really mean. I know this; I’m not proud of it, but I know this.

I’m passive aggressive, though through the years I’m managed to abandon a lot of those behaviors, but please know that they are still there.

I’m selfish, incredibly selfish. I like what I like and I don’t want to compromise or give it up or whatever. I often think about what I had to give up to be a parent, and I feel some kind of way about all of it.

My natural state is to be super blunt without care for feelings. I am a good Southern woman, though, appropriately brought up to mind my tongue most of the time. I try to mind my manners and demonstrate tactfulness, so the bluntness often appears dulled.

I am very comfortable with conflict. I don’t necessarily like it, but I am very comfortable with it and sometimes will trigger it just so I can use my word weapons and “win.” Why? Because winning makes me feel better about myself and sometimes I really just want to feel better about myself and sadly, winning a conflict, no matter how ridiculous, is the quickest way to achieve that.

At 44 as much as I try to continue to evolve, especially as I parent, I know that my personality is locked in. I am who I am. My dissertation was all about resistance to change; yeah, I am. I’m totally resistant to change. I hate change. I hate thinking about it. I hate the need to be flexible even though I promote it and have to practice it for everyone’s well-being. I don’t want to.

I liked the old me and I’m not so sure that I like the parenting me. Actually, I’m sure I don’t, which just makes me feel awful. I love my daughter, but I’m not a huge fan of this parenting thing.

As I think about these flaws, I wonder what the hell made me want to be a parent. Seriously, talk about the most-long term triggering activity one could sign up for. I mean…seriously, parenting…while it brings out the best in me; it also brings out the absolute worst in me. I spend countless hours biting my cheeks trying to hold my own dragons in check.

Hope knows that biting my cheek is my anger/anxiety tell. She learned that early on. She also knows I have a wicked temper. She’s been subjected to the brunt of it a couple of times. She knows that I have the capacity to destroy her. It’s the truth, and it’s a truth that shames me. emotionally.

Our mutual knowledge of this fact terrifies me. I try so hard to build her up knowing that a horrible bout of anger and frustration could bring it all crumbling down. Knowing that kills me; the guilt…is…crushing.

Daily, especially bad days like one I had recently, I wonder if I was the best home for Hope. I think she could have done better. I wonder was this route right for me? Could I have led a child-free, but happy and fulfilled life? There are days when I wonder if I’m just making things worse for her, in spite of the permanence she desperately needed—is this really what was best for her?. I wonder a lot of things.

It’s taken me years and a lot of therapy to face my own deep seated flaws and I had a “conventional, normal” upbringing. Will the glare of adoption ever dull and allow me to just be a regular old parent? My flaws, while still bad, don’t seem so drastically horrid, under the softer lighting of parenting with no adjectives.

I’m struggling with my own identity as me and not ABM or Hope’s mom. I’ve been so consumed with trying desperately for Hope to be successful that my own personal goals and successes have fallen by the wayside. I’ve had two major work publications come out in the last two months. I barely acknowledged them even though they are the culmination of years of work. I have withdrawn from friends because I’m “busy” making sure geometry homework is done, chemistry quizzes are taken and A Brave New World gets read. I spend an absurd amount of time monitoring the general comings and goings of online behavior because…distractions are bad and ADHD teen life is stupid.

I’m going through the motions just trying to keep my own dragons at bay while I tend to Hope’s dragons.

I’m tired, so very tired, and I suspect falling back into my old chilly friend, depression. I’m sure that my self-care game is weak right now, which allows the time and space for my flaws to step to the forefront.

Hope and I remain hopeful, but right now it doesn’t feel like hope bears out. She insists that the world is against her and finds the tiniest evidence that fits her world view and magnifies it into a universal conspiracy against her. I keep hoping that overnight her limitations will disappear leaving me with expectations that are routinely unmet making me frustrated, angry and disappointed in me, her and the world in general.

We are doing everything we are supposed to be doing. I am marshaling every external resource I can. On the outside, we are doing it, but behind these doors, we struggle. We struggle day in and day out. We struggle with our individual flaws, our individual limitations, our shared problems, and ranges of emotions that are just…overwhelming and exhausting. Some days, we struggle just to stay alive. And it’s rarely seen under the carefully worded and curated social media posts. It’s rarely shared because the glare of judgment is likely to just sear a hole through me.

And I’m afraid. As much as my own self-criticism and loathing bring me down and the fear of external judgment paralyzes me; I’m most afraid of Hope’s view of me. I am terrified of what she must think of me. I know she loves me, and I’m sure there’s a healthy amount of “I hate you!” because she’s a teen girl, but critically, I fear her perception of me as her adoptive mother.

I’m afraid as I listen to adoptees talk about what works and what doesn’t that Hope will one day tell the world about all of my shortcomings as her mother. Will Hope be hypercritical of me? Will she spend these latter years of adolescence thinking that I was a failure as her mother? Will she be on social media talking about me badly? Will she write lists enumerating all the things I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve done despite what feels like the sacrifice of the very core of my being and the need and desire to suppress everything I ever thought or thought I knew about parenting to parent her the best I could?

I’m mindful of the pain I caused my own mother as I often wrote about her in the beginning of this journey and my disappointment and anger towards her for how she “treated me” in the early months of my journey with Hope. It wasn’t pretty, and it should’ve been private, but it wasn’t.  Will Hope look back on these years with righteous anger about all I did wrong when I was trying desperately to hold on and do right by her? How will she see me? How will she see us? I already know that I live in the shadows and shoes of those who came before me and that there are romantic notions that I will never be who they were or could have been. I acknowledge that but I do wonder, five, ten years from now, will Hope know how hard I tried to give her the love and life that she deserved?

Parenting is so very hard and it magnifies all of your flaws. Parenting a kid from a hard place with a ton of her own baggage…it’s another level of crazy.

Ultimately, my confession is that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and I’m desperate not to screw up. I feel like every personal flaw is on front street and out of control right now. I feel like I can’t get anything right and that I can’t motivate, coax, drag, pull, prod, cheer, nudge or pray Hope into the success she deserves. I’m back to wanting more for her than she wants for herself, and worse, I love her so much that I now own that failure, and I know somewhere, somehow that she and others probably think I own that self-hate too.

It’s just too much.


On the Humble

Sometimes, it hurts to think about how my learning curve impacted Hope.  I mean, I think we’re doing great now that I finally got a clue and because I’m constantly working to learn how to parent her and meet her needs. I’m proud of my growth, but yeah, I get sad and a wee bit embarrassed to admit what a bit of a parenting shrew I was in the early days.

I also recognize that I may be hard on myself, and I have had folks tell me to go easy on myself. I guess because I know that a lot of people were hard on Hope and didn’t go easy on her that I won’t allow myself that grace in her name.

In either case, that learning curve remains steep.

We are sliding into our match anniversary soon; three years ago, some crazy professional people thought I would be a good match for Hope. Their decision changed our lives.  I remember so many people asking me if I was ready to parent a tween who had been in foster care for years.

Um, nope, but hey, I’m going to do it. We’ll get through it.

And we have, but not without so many struggles.

The transition was a dramatic struggle. At one point I thought that this would never work; she was having such a hard time.

Convincing her to buy into my idea of family life after having been in foster care was a struggle.

Food choices were a struggle.

School is a struggle.

Social interactions, yep, you guessed it, a struggle.

Therapies, medical care, medication compliance, all a struggle.

Understanding the full grasp of diagnoses and whether the labels help or hurt have been a struggle.

It hard. It’s all hard. And me and Hope, despite our narrative and this blog, we aren’t special. We’re just everyday folks trying to live from one moment to the next. I reject all the halos and angel wings folks try to foist on me; we’re just a family trying to make it.

One late night recently, I was catching up on reading some posts in an adoption support group. I was reading about a struggle a new parent was experiencing that Hope had endured and that, frankly we still kick around a bit: chores.

I reflected a lot as I was trying to type out my answer on my phone.

My biggest struggle in being Hope’s adoptive mom is checking my entire ego at the door. Admittedly I have a huge personality, I give off big energy, I like having a big voice and probably at some point in my life even demonstrated a few bully tendencies. Setting down my ego and keeping it in check is one of my life struggles as a mom.

Chores are a big flash point in my need to ego check.  Like many foster kids, Hope moved from place to place in trash bags. Valuing and caring for material things was a rare practice because things routinely disappear, are lost, stolen or otherwise just or go missing . The chaos in her room tends to reflect her emotional state. She loathes doing chores (who am I kidding, so do I). She wants to earn money, but she is so used to not having things over her short lifetime that she isn’t strongly motivated to do chores for money. Her ADHD typically means that unless the task is directly related to something she wants to do, is time bound, and personally beneficial, it really doesn’t ring her motivation bell.

It took me a year to realize that me telling Hope to clean her room actually jived with her desire to have a clean room but operationally she would try to clean every drawer, refold all the clothes and dig under the bed and the cleaning exercise would turn into a 10 hour, yell, cry-laden experience that made us both miserable. When my light bulb went on, I realized that I would have to be responsible for deep cleans and that Hope needed a short list that represented a tidy room daily.

My point really is that everything I thought I would do parenting Hope was, frankly, off course. My therapist sat me down one day and said:

“Do you want to be right? Do you want to give an ish about what other people thought about me and my parenting? Or do I want Hope to thrive? If it’s the last option, you’re going to have to put that ego of yours and those preconceived notions of yours in a box and put them on an emotional shelf in the back of the closet because they have no place here.”

Well, damn.

Part of checking my ego is about redefining success. I’m forced to constantly adjust myself and family assessment. I was away for nearly a week for work recently. What did success look like when I arrived home:

  • Hope took her meds every day.
  • Yappy didn’t poop in the house due to anxiety.
  • Some of the healthy food I left behind was consumed.
  • Chores while I’m gone? What are those?
  • Yappy got a bath while I was gone, not because I told Hope to bathe him but because she said he needed one (10 extra points for Hope).
  • I know that she bought school clothes that met my criteria for just one step outside of her jeans and tee comfort zone (30 extra points for Hope).
  • Her room was nearly spotless when I got home from my trip.

I treated her like she won the super bowl for Casa d’ABM because she showed initiative AND followed directions remotely.

The rest of the house was a mess. There were dishes in the sink that might have been there long enough to wave at me.

I made a short list of things for her to do the following day that began to get us re-regulated.

I used to be furious to have to do that. I used to get mad at the nanny for not taking care of more stuff around here. But then I realized that my absence was stressful; that the nanny’s job was to keep Hope and Yappy alive and entertained and that my job was to play my position—to love the kiddos, not judge them as they survived the stress of my absence and to get us back on our regulated journey.

The irony is that in fact, it was all about me. They missed me, and I missed them (note Yappy gets all zonky too, so yeah, it’s them). But my job is to help alleviate the stress and fear that I’m not coming back; in those moments, it’s not about me at all. It’s all about them.

Parenting is humbling, it really is. The decisions are tough, the expenses are crazy, the scheduling is consuming. It really is like just thinking of yourself as a cup and pouring it all out for the benefit of your kid. It is pretty selfless and pretty exhausting.

But ahhh, those moments when Hope tells me some parent-approved version of her secrets, smiles when we are in the kitchen together or just texts me that she loves me, those moments are everything. They are the greatest reward for learning to practice humility.

 


Help is a Dirty Word

Hope has been my daughter for going on 3 years. It’s amazing how time flies.

This summer, we have spent quite a bit of time working on attachment and academic help. I’ve realized that Hope really has blossomed in some ways this summer.

We have some pretty amazing talks these days. She is really opening up. She has been pretty compliant when it comes to going to tutoring. Her compliance in doing chores has improved a lot as well.

Recently, she dropped something on me that really stunned me into silence though.

We were sitting in the car talking. It was kind of heated. I was trying to understand why asking for help was so difficult for her. Why did she also always refuse help? Didn’t she realize I was killing myself trying to help her be successful, to be her personal best, not for me, but for her. Why on earth was it difficult to just say yes sometimes. Why was it hard to just say, “Hey mom, can you help me?”

We’ve had this conversation before.

We’ve had this conversation several times. Her response is always the same: nothing, silence.

The affect was flat; the emotional walls went up and I would eventually just drop it.

Until one day recently, she responded to my inquiry and I was silenced by the disclosure.

In a nutshell, Hope had been in the foster care system so long and been through so many families that even after two years in a forever home, she loathed even having conversations about needing to be helped and being helped. In Hope’s experience so many people in her life have wanted to help her and their “help” resulted in:

  • Experiencing emergency removals and placements.
  • Portraying her parents as horrible people.
  • Long term foster care.
  • Moving her stuff in trash bags to a new foster home that would be in a better position to “help her.”
  • Being made to take Tae Kwan Do because it would “help” her manage her anger even though she hated it.
  • Being medicated.
  • Being told her math skills were bad enough to qualify for a special math program that made her feel dumb.
  • Having to go to daily private tutoring all this summer.

And the list goes on.

Asking for, receiving or being forced to accept help has never made her feel good about herself, never. Why would she ask for help when her self-esteem was already so low? Why would she trust anyone, even me, to help her and that it actually would result in a better quality of life?

In her mind, help was and is associated with the breakup of her family, being shuttled around and not wanted, having no voice in her life and having her low self-esteem validated.

Help is a dirty trigger word for her.

That was a serious lesson for me to learn. It never, ever occurred to me that she would have such negative association with the concept of help. It silenced me. It broke my heart and just underscored how deeply hurt my daughter has been over her life. Efforts to keep her safe and to rebuild her life remain threatening to her.

We didn’t talk about it for a few days. I mean, what could I say to her at first?

We eventually sat in the car one evening and had a good talk about what help is supposed to be; what the potential for “help” could be in her life and how “help” is designed to make Hope the best Hope she can be—not for me, but for her.

I think this is turning point for us.

I am hopeful that her disclosure means she is feeling safer and willing to work with me to take advantage of all the opportunities in her life [note the word I DIDN’T use!].

So, for now, help is a dirty word in our house. It will come back into our vocabulary at some point, but using different language with Hope is an easy fix if it means increasing the likelihood that she will accept the things she needs to improve her life.

 


Clouds of Sadness

The range of emotions felt at Casa d’ABM is pretty wide. I’ve always been pretty high strung, and I’ve written about my own struggle with depression in this space before. Living with a teenager is pretty tumultuous. The hormones…O.M.G. It’s amazing, really. I am convinced that I didn’t display the full range of crazy that I was feeling during my adolescence—not that I didn’t have the emotional swings, but that I didn’t act out.

Lots of people think my parents were strict; to some degree they were, but really they set high expectations and I had absurdly high expectations for myself. With the bar so high I was mindfully cautious about acting out.

I was a bit jealous of kids who didn’t seem to approach adolescence the same way. I wished I’d sneaked out more; went to more movies I wasn’t supposed to see. I did a fair amount of boozing my senior year, but still there was a hard limit on what I would do. Not a bad thing, but a self-control thing that gave me hang ups later in life.

So, now, years later, having a teenaged daughter who is a trauma survivor, is impulsive, at times angry, and seeming always sad…well it makes for an emotional roller coaster for all of us.

Except for Yappy—world’s happiest dog.

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So I guess that should say both of us.

This is an especially hard time of the year for Hope. Lots were crammed into the summer months of her young life. This year the memories seem to be crushing. We get treatment, therapy, but sometimes the sadness moves in faster than a weather cold front.

And if you know anything about weather, cold fronts, hitting warm air means storms. Sometimes really, really, crazy storms.

That happens here. The storms are a bit quieter now than when we first became a family, but they are no less disruptive or worrisome.

I try to remind myself that the frequent presence of emotional storm, complete with downpours, represent that this is a safe place. Hope is able to express her full range of emotions in our home. This is a safe place to work through it all; she can emote here.

But here’s the thing, secondary trauma and compassion fatigue are real. It’s not just about loving Hope; it’s about demonstrating empathy (constantly); managing our life as a therapeutic case; navigating big and little decisions that may have triggering effects; always being anxious waiting for the other shoe to drop after stumbling over a trigger.

It is exhausting for both of us. Hope can sleep for hours and hours sometimes. I know that part of it is that her young body is run down and exhausted from fighting her own fight/flight response to life. I know the other part is just coping with the overwhelming sadness that she lives with.

On the weekends I am eager to resume my old life of running errands, hitting the gym, spending the afternoons and evenings doing something fun. I end up running the errands that I have to in order to keep the house running; taking Yappy to the dog park and waiting to see if I can help Hope get herself together. By evenings, I’m emotionally done and I don’t even feel like I’ve done anything.

We might’ve tried a new restaurant or rented but didn’t watch the Redbox movie I picked up in hopes of having some fun family time.

The reality is that a happy house is a rare scene around these parts. It’s about trying to survive and fighting to push the clouds of sadness away.

I hear that the hormonal part will settle down in another year or two; I hope so. Self-care helps with my ability to cope, but living with this level of stress is tough. It is exhausting. It is depressing.

So we both end up sharing her trauma. It ends up being cloudy and sad for both of us. I look forward to a day when it won’t be so overwhelming for Hope, that the depression she feels won’t consume her life, when so many things won’t be triggering.  When that happens for Hope, it know it will happen for me too.


The Losses are Real

I never understood the gravity of real loss until I became Hope’s mother. I look back and realize that there isn’t much at all that I’ve lost in my 43 years around the sun. Sure, I have grieved for long gone family members; lost some friends. I have grieved deeply about my infertility. I’ve lost some sentimental tangible items along the way.

And certainly each of these losses have touched me and either created or smoothed my edges. But, honestly, beyond the loss of fertility, none of my losses have been earth shattering, grand scale life altering.

I am fortunate.

I am privileged.

I think about that every time I trip or kick over an emotional rock in an otherwise innocuous chat with Hope.

There is so much loss in her life; it permeates her skin, her breath, her beating heart. There are times when the memories of the loss are just overwhelming, all consuming and it’s like she watching things on a loop in her head.

I see this a lot with Hope. And I still struggle to really understand what that means, what that must feel like. I don’t know what it’s like to try to put the shred of memories in my life back together because they are like broken, scattered marbles that were dropped down the side of a hard faced mountain. #trauma

When I think about it, I mean really think about it, I totally understand why it’s so hard to get her up in the mornings. I wouldn’t want to get up and consciously ponder all those things for the next 18 hours or so either.

Hope has some summer reading to do for school; recently she commented that she had no interest in reading the books that were assigned. At my initial inquiry what was it about the books that she didn’t like, she indicated that it wasn’t really about the books.

Hope said she loved to read when she was little, would curl up with books and read for hours, but she stopped reading when she went into the system. Her beloved books were lost to her; she doesn’t know what happened to most of them. She only was able to salvage a few; they are on her book case in our home. Hope briefly talked about how some of the books were so sentimental and they were just…gone, gone like so many other things that were lost during that time.

As it turns out, sitting down to dive into a good book triggers memories of all that’s been loss for Hope.

I thought back to my various efforts to get her to read over the last couple of years. I tried everything I could to get her to read. She read a couple of things; mostly faked it, though. I had no idea I was essentially saying, “Hey spend the next couple of hours thinking about losing everything, especially the stuff and the people who meant everything to you. No, DO IT NOW!!”

I just had no idea, but now I do. I told her I understood.

I’ll still encourage her to read, but certainly with a lot more sensitivity than before.

I hope there will be a time when Hope’s life isn’t consumed about all she’s lost—not for my sake, but for hers. She’s still a little girl though (even at 15), and in reality, all the trauma wasn’t that long ago. The path to healing is a long one, with lots of potholes. I am learning to be patient with her. I’m also learning to empathize more deeply. I realize just how fortunate I’ve been in this life, and I want Hope’s life to flourish. I want her to have faith again.

To get there though, we have to wade through loss like we’re in a mud bog, praying that it doesn’t take us down. It might be all in our heads at this point, but make no mistake—it’s all very, very real.


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