Tag Archives: parenting adopted teens

Parenting Anxiety

When I started my doctoral work years ago, I freaked out. I had trouble sleeping. My stomach was in knots all the time. I was a bit of a mess. I had struggled with depression for years, but anxiety wasn’t something that I had directly dealt with even if it probably lurked in my background. The lifestyle change of working and going to school full time was hard; I was terrified of failing. I really had a hard time, but my doctor helped me get on top of it.

I thought once I ended my program, that the anxiety would subside, but of course, Hope came along and the roller coaster called parenting made sure that anxiety became a long-term companion in my life. Still I have managed.

Everyone’s issue with anxiety is different, so when Hope was formally diagnosed with anxiety a year ago, I realized just how different our experiences with this challenge were. Her diagnosis wasn’t really a shock, but it did give me some context to try to understand what she was experiencing.

My symptoms, which really had a major impact on my life initially, were not what I would call debilitating. Comparatively speaking, I can give myself a pep talk, hit up Pinterest and read some power memes, do some meditation and breathing exercises and a few other things and function.

Hope cannot. Those coping strategies do not work for her. She has more somatic symptoms, meaning she genuinely doesn’t feel physically well. There’s the extraordinary negative, depressive talk that the anxiety triggers that just drags her down. There’s the desire to practice an escapist form of self-care by diving into the K-dramas for hours or days. There’s the unwillingness and/or inability to get out of bed.

It’s just so heavy that it crushes her. It’s sad.

And it’s sometimes hard to parent, super hard.

You want to acknowledge your kid’s limitations. You want to be sensitive and meet them where they are. But you also want to push them to develop some resilience. You want them to “get over it.” You want them to put things behind them and get on with their day.

I find myself sometimes just closing my eyes and taking a big breath to calm my frustration, sadness, anger, anxiety and other emotions so that I can focus. It’s tough because at Hope’s age, her run of the mill teen problems are legit and really issues for her—even if I think many of them are absurd at best. For a teen, these are real problems and real problems for Hope tax her capacity in ways that I have never experienced before. A lot of the times, I just don’t understand. Most of the time I just don’t understand.

I often approach Hope’s mental health challenges as I do like religious faith—either you believe they are real or you don’t. But as a natural contrarian, I have pushed back on my own religious beliefs and understanding of faith, so you can just imagine how I struggle to process things that stop Hope in her tracks. Even though I intellectually understand all of the trauma and drama; I understand the diagnoses, and I get the symptoms, I admit I find myself more often than not thinking, “Oh good grief, here we go again. Can’t you just get over it already?????”

She can’t, and she can’t help that.

I am good about not saying this out loud, but I have no poker face and I’m pretty transparent—Hope already knows I’m thinking it. Sometimes she’ll even say, “I know you don’t believe me.”

I say, “No, I believe you.” I know she isn’t lying; I just can’t wrap my head around why she can’t function anyway.

Yeah, I know, I know, but I’m keeping it real here. It’s tough. I’m tough. I know that my inability to just accept my daughter’s mental health issues is harmful to our relationship. But I also know that sometimes, Hope is shadier than an oak tree. I’m always suspicious. I’m quick to pounce, “Aha!!!!” It doesn’t help, but the reality is that over 3+ years, we’ve typically got a 50/50 ratio of truly affected behavior, and sometimes Hope really is just trying to get over on me, so I feel my suspicions are justified.

I’m on the road again this week. I left before dawn today. Hope was to see herself off to school this morning, but she didn’t. I know this because her school stalked me to tell me that she wasn’t in school. She texted that she didn’t feel good.

And then she ghosted me.

In the 7 hours of silence, while I was touring a facility and taking meetings, I have stewed over this development. I have called; I have texted. I have pondered various scenarios—none of which include Hope having a fever, vomiting, PMS, cramps, or the plague.

By early evening, I started replaying the weekend, searching for Hope’s triggers. I remembered some things that transpired. Would they trigger somatic symptoms such that she would beg off school for the second time in 3 weeks? Yep. Did my absence make it easier to blow it off? Absolutely. Is this an offense that requires a consequence? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

How do I feel about this?

I feel a lot of things…annoyed, frustrated, curious (since she wouldn’t call/text me back). I hate admitting that empathy, compassion, sadness are not at the top of the list of things that I initially feel in these moments. I hate that it takes me a while to get there.

I eventually talked to my daughter today. I could tell she was nervous; she knew I was going to ask some tough questions about skipping school. I did, and she stalled in answering. I shifted gears and asked her about how she was feeling emotionally. Tell me about your stomach ache. Tell me about what’s on your mind. And we got to the place we needed to get to. I got it. I just reminded her about some of our house rules (tell me before the school tells me!); reminded her that I love her.

Will tomorrow be better? I don’t know. Will it be just as hard? Very likely, yes.

Does that make me anxious?

Yeah.

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Family Unions

This weekend Hope and I will travel to my mother’s hometown to join up with other descendants of my great-great grandparents. I haven’t attended a family reunion since I was a girl in grade school, so I’m excited to go see cousins from all over at a huge gathering of my people.

As I registered me and my daughter for this event, I really wondered about how Hope felt about attending this event.

Hope often remarks how large my side of our family is compared to her side. She comments on how her paternal side seems large but she just doesn’t really know many of the people even though they seem to remember her from when she was a small child.

Behaviorally, it’s clear that my daughter has found her place on my side of the family. She adores her aunts and cousins. She has relationships with her grands. We’re still working past the big emotions related to reclaiming her place on her side of her family. The visits are less frequent because of distance and emotional stability. The conversation is stilted and awkward. The perceived demands that she remember, forgive and embrace them all are hard to overcome. It’s definitely a work in progress.

But family gatherings during the holidays and summer break with my family seems substantially different than going to a family reunion. Did other descendants choose to build their families through adoption? I know of some kinship adoptions in our extended family, but there are still some relations there that just are.

Will Hope feel overwhelmed by the event—beyond her “I don’t like crowds” complaints? Will her new roots in this family be enough to make her feel safe at this event? Will she choose to blend in not mentioning our type of family or will she feel like she needs to separate herself by disclosing our adoption? How best do I make her feel safe with any choice she chooses to make?

My parents and a sister did our Ancestry DNA tests several months ago and have been intrigued and amused at the results. It’s interesting to see how DNA trickles through the bloodlines. I bought a test for Hope who at one point was very, very interested in doing her test, and then she just dropped it and resisted talking about it anymore. I wondered if all that was revealed in watching my immediate family go through the process, uncovering family secrets and connecting with far flung relatives, was just too much to consider for my daughter.

And so, here we are again, at the precipice of another major family event. Will my daughter embrace it? Will she be a distant observer and not feel connected to any of it? Will she reconcile that paper and blood can coexist in families? Will she feel something for these people…these strangers?

I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a lot of emotions about this family reunion. I’m excited to see kinfolk, but I don’t know how my daughter will fit this into her lived experience. I’m not sure what being sensitive looks like here. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, and hopefully maybe it won’t matter at all. Maybe, she will just slide in, grab a hotdog, sit down next to a distant cousin who is cute and figure it out. Sometimes she can be a total boss like that.

Taking my daughter to my/our family reunion is expanding her union and that feels really, really significant. I try to think of our biological families as tied together by us—similar to how families are joined in marriage—ours is joined in adoption. I think a lot about how unbalanced it already feels sometimes, and I wonder if and how this will add to that?

I wouldn’t want to not take Hope as that sends a dangerous signal. Hope is my daughter. Hope is my sole beneficiary to everything that’s mine. She is my lovely, beautiful girl. She is my daughter. Of course, she goes to the family reunion.  Duh! That’s a non-starter.

But there’s always another side to things and that’s Hope’s feelings about it.

I’ve asked her about it. She hasn’t said much. So, I guess I’ll press forward, put on my family reunion t-shirt on Saturday morning, see if Hope puts on her family ‘union’ t-shirt and see what happens. Whatever happens I’ll be there for her as usual.


Fear and Thirst

Last week I suffered a serious car accident. My car will be fine, but I sustained a concussion and the standard body blows that come with being rear ended. A trip to the ER suggested really nothing too serious since I wasn’t knocked out, but as the days waned on and I left for a business, my concussion symptoms began to emerge.

I’ve been dizzy, fatigued, headachey, having language and memory problems. For example, I hid my Tito’s vodka before leaving on my work trip (#becauseteenagers) and for the life of me I cannot remember where I put the damn bottle. It’s seriously like a black hole. I work with a lot of data, and so part of my job is crunching numbers. Normally my brain is like a mini computer; I can see data patterns sometimes just looking at a spreadsheet and can predict what SPSS is going to spit out. Presently, I’m not certain I could count to 50 without stopping. This is frustrating and humbling.

This may last a week. It could also last much longer. After ruling out anything more serious, my doc has said it’s just a game of wait and see.

Of course, Hope knows about the accident and was relieved that I was ok. So was I. But as more serious symptoms have emerged and I’ve needed to stop, rest, and take naps, I can see my daughter’s anxiety levels rising. I’ve tried to be low key about the whole thing.

“I’m fine really. I just need to take a little time out.”

I had to have an MRI, which made being low key kind of impossible. We were due to head out to the beach for our summer vacation (um, trip because a kid is involved), but we had to delay departure because of the MRI scheduling.

Soooo, the night before I figured we’d pack the car, assume that all will be fine and just depart directly from the testing center. Hey, I’m thinking positive here! Fortunately, everything turned out as planned but ugh, poor Hope.

Hope asked, “So, what happens if your brain is bleeding?”

Me: “Um, well…I’ll have to go to the hospital and stay for a day or two.”

“What about our trip?”

“Well, we wouldn’t be able to go, but I’m ok if you want to go be with your cousins that we’ll make sure you get there. Either way, I’m going to be ok.”

My daughter put on a brave face, told me she utterly refused to talk about it anymore and proceeded to spiral into thirsting for attention behavior.

“My leg hurts.”

“Do your stretches, and take some ibuprofen,” I reply.

“I think I need to go to that doctor for my leg…” Sure you do, the specialist that was $250 a visit because he didn’t take our insurance. He managed to get her together in two visits (he better had at that price) and he looked great in his khaki pants, so there’s that.

“No, you just need to get a little exercise, stretch and take some Motrin.”

I had a few girlfriends over for a girls’ night to catch up and have a little fun. #grownwomen Hope crashes the gathering and it becomes a replay of Look at Me! I finally send her off to watch TV and to get out of grown folks’ business. As she leaves I take note of the exaggerated limp and audible groans, which of course prompts inquiries and the requisite levels of sympathy from my friends.

Vent alert!

This parenting a kid of trauma is so…ugh! I seriously can’t even have a damn possible brain bleed by my damn self. I can’t just have a moment of respite in a sickbed without Hope practically laying on top of me so that the doctor can see her first.

I mean, I get that this health scare is scary; especially for a kid who isn’t living with her biological family. The feelings of fear of going through that kind of loss must be consuming. I know she is scared. But she is also jealous of any attention I may get as a result of being injured. That is really effed up, even with an explanation, it’s understandable, but effed up. The need to compete for attention and her lack of empathy just drives me up the wall. It’s all complicated, and even worse, I know that she’s not even really conscious of why her behavior is the way it is. And that lack of consciousness just makes my righteous indignation worthless because there is a huge awareness gap between us.

So I’m just left to either stew in my own juices or just find a way to let it go like I always do.

I want to call my own mama to take care of me, but I know that Hope will shoehorn in and make it about her. Sigh. Can I live?

No, really, can I live?

It’s in moments like these that I am forced to remember that my daughter still has so much emotional catching up to do. It’s also moments like these when my patience is a little thinner than normal.

I’ve tried to be upbeat and encouraging of my worried family and friends. The truth is…I’m increasingly hyper aware of my physical limitations. I’m still recovering from the blows my body sustained in the accident. I hurt and I effing can’t count to 50 without stopping. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. There are moments from the last two weeks that are just gone; it’s like a black hole. I’m scared, and I need some time to sit with that, just to figure out my way through it and ponder what I need to do and wrestle with if this takes a long time to resolve or if some parts of me just don’t come all the way back. I’ve got my own bucket of sadness and gief I’m picking through right now.

To balance that and soothe Hope’s fears…ironically, it’s almost more than my brain can handle right now.

So…I’ll just do what I can and figure out how to draw some boundaries with Hope as I recover. I love this kid, I do, but I just wish our collective emotional capacity was a bit bigger so getting through this was a wee bit easier.

 

 

 


I Need Some Self-Care

I have really been struggling lately. My anxiety is at an all-time high. I’m overwhelmed and often feel like I’m on the verge of tears even though I don’t think I am.

These feelings are all familiar. They represent my unfortunate friends, depression and anxiety. Sigh.

This is the fourth end of school year season I’ve gone through with Hope, and despite my best efforts it’s always miserable. I feel like I’m pulling a broken train down the tracks. I’m realizing that this spring/summer period of the year is when I am most vulnerable to depression and anxiety. It’s hard. I’m nagging, reminding, coaching, cheering, trying not to yell, blowing steam from my ears and baking a stress cake with absurd regularity, right through the last bit of school.

This year, it seems the odds are even higher. Other than band camp, Hope’s got several weeks where we still don’t know what the plan will be. The decision to go to summer school is coming down to the wire. The idea of Hope sitting around watching K-dramas on the couch—in my spot no less—causes me great anxiety. She needs a break, but she also needs to be busy because I fear that either there will be a butt sag in my couch and/or she will find some trouble to get into.

I am physiologically freaking the hell out, (lethargic, but disrupted sleep, up and down appetite) and I realized today it was time for an intervention, so I made an appointment for just that.

Last week Hope’s doctor and I decided to give her a bit of rope with her meds—let her go off of them for a while and see what happens.  It has barely been a week and I’m a wreck. Her ability to follow directions with more than 2 steps is non-existent.

I. Cannot. Begin.To. Deal With. This!

So I’m going to my own doctor to see if I can get some help getting my physiological responses under control.

I’m exhausted, but just racing at the same time.

I’m looking forward to just taking care of my needs, getting some quality sleep and getting my emotions under control so that I can make sure that I’m trying to meet Hope’s needs.

So, I need some self-care. I do. I also need some meds…yeah, definitely, I need some meds.

And cake, I definitely need some cake


Independence

Hope and I try to ride our bikes together once a week, on the weekends, when I have time to recover. #ImOld. She seems to relish the time together. We’ve ridden along the river and over to a nearby military cemetery on Memorial Day. Even though I desperately need a nap afterwards, I enjoy riding with her and switching up my exercise routine.

When I bought the bikes, I envisioned that Hope would use it to stretch a little. I thought she could use it to go places like to the movies or to the store, the Starbucks, to a friend’s house. I thought at nearly 16, she would use the bike to gain some independence. That seemed, kind of normal right?

I thought so.

Hope did not agree.

Recently, Hope and I were enjoying dinner together. She asked me if we could go to a nearby store to get something she likes. I said, sure, but that she could walk or ride her bike there if she wanted. It is a store in the neighborhood.

She slowly replied, yeah, she could but she’d prefer if I just took her.

I paused and then pressed.

“I know I keep saying this, but you really can use your bike to go to a lot of places. I know you like riding it and you’ve got some freedom and independence with it.”

She replied that she was kind of afraid of all this independence I talked about. She said, first it’ll be the bike and then something else with more independence and then something else with even more independence and then one day, I would just put her out so she could be independent.

I had to sit down; the realization that Hope saw my efforts to give her some freedom and independence was seen as a set up for abandonment! It never occurred to me that she would think that. Never in a million years did I ever make that connection.

I had to reassure her that abandoning her was not the plan at all. I had to explain to her that learning how to do things for herself was just a part of growing up and those things included transporting herself places. My encouraging her to use her bike as a mode of transportation was not my way of pushing her out; I was just trying to help her grow.

I’ve spent the last week kicking this conversation around. I’m still stunned, but I guess it makes sense. I often tell people that Hope is a homebody, that she seems content to be home, watching videos, munching on chips. She rarely asks me if I can take her somewhere—to the movies, to the mall. I always have to drag her places. She’s learned to trust that whatever I have planned will be entertaining, but the onus is always on me to be the social planner.

She really doesn’t have a lot of friends, and the few she has often fail to keep their plans with her. She brushes it off, but I know it hurts…heck, it hurts me. In the end, Hope always seems content to just be home.

And that’s the point, but I didn’t make the connection. Hope needs to be safe. She doesn’t want independence yet. She needs me; she needs our home; she needs to feel safe. For her, the bike is only entertainment, not a way to be independent. She’s not ready for that. Even though I intellectually get it; it still a revelation to me.

A few days after our conversation about the bike, Hope told me that she was ready to retake the test for her learner’s permit. I chuckled that she didn’t want to ride her bike, but she still wanted to learn to drive.

Learning to drive is more time with me, teaching her, spending time with her. I was planning on taking her driving, but largely outsourcing the hardcore driving lessons because the way my nerves are set up…#scared I’m guessing I might have to rethink that plan.

Thinking back to our conversation about her independence, I have come to believe that her desire to get her permit is about fitting in. It’s a way for her to keep up with her peers, but she doesn’t really want to be independent at this point.

My Hope is still very much a little girl in a young woman’s body, and she’s still afraid of being abandoned. I just didn’t know, and it makes me so very sad for her.

For now, I’ll stop recommending that she go forth and be free. Instead, I’ll continue to focus on just making sure she still feels supported, loved and safe.


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