Last night all our girls went over to Bridgito’s house, as they like to call her. It was a slumber party, with the agenda including sewing, hot tubbing, movies, and of course, food!
So, Travis and I had the house to ourselves…and we went to bed the earliest we have all week! PAR…TY…ANIMALS! I told Travis that there is little else as exciting these days as getting to wake up when I feel ready to get out of bed! Bridget is a Godsend…she is a good friend and she loves our kids…quite the blessing!
One thing that Travis and I did last night was begin a parenting series called The Total Transformation. http://www.thetotaltransformation.com/ This program was created by a man named James Lehman, who was abandoned at age 2, adopted, had severe behavioral problems throughout childhood, ended up quitting school, living on the streets and getting addicted to heroine. He served 6-7 years in various jails and prisons, and then was ordered to participate in an accountability focussed program, which he attributes his turnaround to. He went on to get a master’s degree and now counsels families and kids who struggle with different behavioral problems, and helps the parents institute new techniques in dealing with these struggles. We watched the jump start DVD last night and did the pre-evaluation, and this program looks perfectly tailored to deal with the struggles our girls face. So, Travis and I are excited about learning and getting “our” total transformation.
When Travis and I think about our journey into parenthood, its amazing that with my counseling background, and his experience working with youth, how totally unprepared we were to helpfully respond to our children. Our girls had very honed systems in tact designed to protect themselves and achieve the outcomes they wanted. They entered our home ready to “survive” another life change and new environment, and survive meant doing whatever was necessary to keep them from hurt, danger…or vulnerability. And we were just learning how to set boundries for a child for the first time. They had much more experience being a kid in survival mode than we had being parents of hurt kids, so we were at an immediate disadvantage. Now that’s not to say we haven’t done a lot of things right along the way, because we have, and all of our previous experiences haven’t been for nothing (they’ve helped a great deal), but it continues to take a lot of time to get to know each of our children, learn what it looks like to parent them well, different from any other child, and then implement it all in good ways. Every child is so different whether adopted or bio, diagnosis or no diagnosis…its always a learning experience. But one thing he emphasizes is the importance of parenting the child you “have” instead of the child you “want them to be.”
Emma told us the other day that she was in different homes all the time, adjusting to new surroundings constantly, and in each home that she moved to she was unsafe and abused, which is the norm in Liberia. And, she was raised primarily by females, so there was little to no positive experiences with men, whatsoever. But, she knew how to function in that type of environment. She didn’t know how to function in a supportive and loving environment. Emma deeply desires to connect with and attach to us (and trust us), as do all the girls, but they are conflicted inside (and fearful) and so they sabotage or try to control things to keep themselves from getting hurt again. And as siblings who are constantly watching out for one another, they are consistently communicating to one another and reinforcing the sabotaging/controlling behaviors. None of them truly want to stay self-protected, but it makes sense to them given their past experience with trauma and abandonment…it seems foolish to them to take the risk. So, it is our goal to adopt a more helpful style of parenting, tailored to our children, that will enable them to learn better behaviors, relate more effectively, and ultimately feel more safe.
One of the things that he says about kids with behavioral difficulties is that they lack problem solving abilities to deal with the situations they are presented with. So, a child who experiences a lot of anxiety in a certain situation and doesn’t know how to problem solve their way out of/through the anxiety, they will rely on the maladaptive behaviors to get through it. So, they might start jumping all over the furniture to get their anxiety out, they might cause a disruption in order to change the focus from what is anxiety producing to something they feel more competent to deal with, or they might turn that anxiety into agression so they can feel a sense of control or power in a situation they feel powerless in. Doesn’t that make sense? A parent’s role is to help the child problem solve the initial anxiety producing situation (and draw boundaries for the inappropriate behaviors) so that they can choose more appropriate behaviors in the future when faced with similar circumstances, and grow in self-esteem and confidence about themselves and their abilities…as well as experience more fulfilling relationships. And he said with abused children or children who have cognitive or emotional disabilities (ADHD, Bipolar, PTSD, etc.), they are at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to problem solving skills and are in greater need of problem solving abilities because they are going to face more challenges. And abused kids are going to struggle with more faulty thinking, which will generate more unhealthy actions to compensate. And although their struggles are unique depending on the disability or background, the same rules of engagement and behavior (in society) apply to them! So, this is for everyone. But we are just at the beginning and have a great deal to learn!
It feels good to hear someone talk about specific struggles your child is having and we are looking forward to learning more and becoming the kind of parents our children need us to be! I think they will be grateful as well!