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Worn Out and Refresh Up

Parenting children who have attachment and trauma histories is just plain exhausting.  Each family admits that there are just days and weeks where keeping up with (much less ahead of) the tantrums, the arguments, the lying, fighting, sneaking, attitude, refusals, the flashbacks, grief, striking out, is just enough to wear anyone out for a short time span.  The often incredible lack of support from spouse, family, friends, schools, and even onlookers at the grocery store, leaves parents feeling less than adequate for a job that is five times as hard as raising a child that is born to the family in the “traditional” manner.

What to do?  What to do?  You, the parent, must take care of yourself to take care of your child or children who have experienced abuse, neglect, abandonment, the foster care system (which is traumatizing enough) loss of birth family through adoption and of course, orphanage life.  If you are depleted, exhausted, depressed, and traumatized by the issues your children bring to the home, there is just NO POSSIBLE WAY you can advocate for your child, care for their special needs, or make good decisions for your family.  So here are some ideas that can be of help to you in shoring up your resources and, in the process, your family.

  1. Get a sitter for an hour a week, grab a good book (not about parenting) and go enjoy a truly luscious treat.
  2. Have your life partner (if you have one) take care of the kids for an hour and take a bath whenever you feel the need for some alone time.
  3. Look up adoption support groups in your area.  Most adoption support groups have child care and are great sources of support and understanding.  It is ok to drive a bit if you live in a small town that does not have such a group.
  4. Create a foster or adoption support group in your town or city.  Check with the agency you used to see if they have a list of parents who could benefit from such a group.
  5. Don’t expect your friends and family to understand what your life is like.  Education is the key here.  Books such as Parenting The Hurt Child (Greg Keck) is a good book to share with friends.  Becoming A Family (Lake Eshleman, PhD) is a fabulous book to share with family.

I want to stress here that the children are not going to tell you what a great mother you are when they are in pain or confused.  They will not fulfill your need for appreciation or say “Thank You for fostering/adopting me and giving me the life I wanted all along”.  They do tend to find your vulnerability and hone in on it like they have sonar and strike hard and often.  Use whatever means you have to normalize your life and get relief when you need it.  If you have respite available, USE IT.  It is there for a reason.   Taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for your family.

Repairing Our Child’s Emotional Age

“How old is your daughter?” I have heard that question asked many times over the last 14 years.  I have to admit that this question has stumped me from time to time.  While I can answer the question as to chronological age, her emotional age is what makes answering the question more complicated.  She is at once 2, 4, 6, 10, 12, 15, and even 20 at times.

What is emotional age?  For children who have lost a primary caretaker, a birth mother, a foster parent, spent time in an orphanage, been cared for in an incubator for any length of time, or have been cared for by inadequate, preoccupied, or overwhelmed parents, emotional age is a stark reality.  Infants are sensory beings, thinking in terms of basic needs.  Food, warmth, being held, being dry, and comfort are the basic building blocks for the newborn.  If those needs are not met right away, they are wired to express their displeasure immediately and loudly.  If those needs continue to be unmet, the infant may continue to cry or they may shut down and stop trying to get someone’s attention.

As the child grows, if stages of emotional growth are missed or needs are being consistently unmet, the opportunities to catch up may be delayed.  Sometimes years may ensue before the opportunities present themselves again.  Therefore, a 10 year old may be seen screaming and crying at the checkout counter at Walmart because they didn’t get a candy bar.  Yelling at the child to grow up and act their age is useless.  At the time this is occurring, the child is truly feeling 2 years old and something has gone awry during the course of that day to create a feeling of unmet need.

As a social worker, I have been asked many times what works best when a child is stuck in a younger stage.  The best advice I can give is to parent the child at the age level they are displaying at the time.  A foster parent once called me frantic, asking me what to do about her foster child who was 13 and was outside on the ground kicking and screaming.  The foster mother stated that the young lady was acting about 3 years old.  I suggested she parent the 3 year old by going out and sitting on the ground and holding the “young child” and giving her a cookie.  She called me back 30 minutes later to report that it had worked wonders and the young lady was again a self-absorbed fashion conscious 13 year old.  Moral of the story; when a child has missed a stage, they will often have a lapse back in time (given their history, this will happen quite a few times) and if you as a parent can back up with them and be the parent they need at that time, they will tend to grow back up faster when the need has been met.  A hug and a cookie may not be the solution for all children or for some children all the time.  Come back next week for other options to the regression issue.