Sunday, November 11, 2012
It's So Worth It!
I knew before adopting a teenager that I'd grow and stretch in ways I could not imagine. I loved how I changed for the better when I adopted Jie Jie and looked forward to the changes that would happen with my next adoption. Having a third child so soon wasn't planned, but still feels like the most right thing to have done. Amidst the hardship of last week, much has grown out of it. Mostly realizations about myself and my parenting methods and the joy of seeing my daughters respond positively to these things.
Before I go further, I need to make sure to emphasize that everything happening with my girls is very normal for children who have been adopted at an older age after being raise in an institution. All the behaviors are right there in all the adoption books to read. However, while the books describe the behavior as normal, they don't offer many solutions for dealing with it.
I have made some mistakes lately. I didn't know it, but when I pulled out my favorite book on older child adoption, Parenting Your Adopted Older Child by Brenda McCreight, in just the first three pages alone, I was relieved to see that there were immediate things I could do to help me help my girls.
Blossom and Sissy are the two who are the focus of this post. Jie Jie is doing very, very well right now.
Part of why this last week has been our worst was because of my own expectations. According to the book mentioned above, I did not realize the following:
Do not trust your child. ...Consider this word to represent a totally alien concept and then give him a few years in the home before allowing situations where trust may be an issue.
Emphasize commitment to your child, not just love.
Facing the facts, and accepting the child for who he is now. This means accepting the child as he is in the moment, not for who we hope he will become.
Successful attachment allows the child to learn how to give and accept love in relationships and to develop a healthy sense of loyalty to loved ones.
Inability to link cause with effect.
So, my first mistake was to trust my children to obey the rules I gave them, especially after a lot of help to learn those rules. I did stress my commitment to my children, but I'm finding ways to emphasize it further. While I have been dealing with my children's behavorior in the hear-and-now, I was thinking of the future when we'd be past this phase and even into adulthood when I had an expectation of wonderful conversations and experiences with my girls. However, as one mother recently told me, her 25 year-old daughter is still struggling with some issues. This knowledge has made me let go of looking so far into the future, not building any more dreams around my girls and using that energy to focus on the present. Another mistake was that I didn't link love and loyalty. I thought loyalty would come first, automatically, because I was the adult, the mother, the provider of all things good. Ha ha, right.
My biggest mistake was using discipline techniques that tried to link cause and effect. For example, "If you choose to do that, this will be the resulting consquence." Along with this mistake was another: that rewards and motivation could last overnight. For example, behave today and you can have three pieces of Halloween candy tomorrow. My girls are trying so hard to get through one day, worrying about tomorrow just isn't realistic.
What am I doing now that is working?
First, I stripped both girls of pretty much everything. They had several days of plain, simple clothes and food, no freedom to move about the home, no privacy and essentially had to accept the fact that I am the provider of all and sole caretaker and that my obligations to them are limited to essentials and that it's my love for them that makes me give them anything beyond that. Simple food meant, rice, lentils and broccoli without anything else - no salt or butter. Once they learned was basic was, then they were ready to learn what extras were. Blossom now appreciates butter like crazy. Sissy is a little clueless still as to details like that; she only knows the food tasted better when she behaved better.
Second, at the advice of an experienced adoptive mom at Just a MINute Mom, I started a star chart. Three stars and you get something. All three girls participate, to make it fair. They can earn a star for something as simple as saying thank you to me, helping each other, even helping me remember a Chinese word when I ask for help, especially is the child is in time-out (which is really time-in), staying in time-in properly, even if it's only for a very short time, getting ready in a timely fashion in the morning, etc... Rewards for three stars are various: organic lollipops, stickers, dip for carrot sticks at lunch, animal crackers (even just one), slippers, getting to play with a certain toy, game or puzzle.
Discipline is very hard when our children come from nothing to everything. They cannot appreciate everything because it's too much to process and understand. They cannot understand monetary value because they've never worked for money. They might even break a lot of toys out of frustration because they can't work them properly. Blossom ripped all her doll's clothes because she couldn't manage the little arms into the armholes and pulled and tugged too hard trying. She wasn't being naughty or careless, she was just trying to dress the doll.
To stop the food raids, there are now alarms on the bedroom doors and food cupboards. They have been 100% effective.
To stop certain other destructive behaviors, Blossom stayed in a toddler harness all week. Yes, she could get out of it, and did, hence the alarms, but it bought me a few more seconds to stop her when she was bent on doing something wrong. I have learned a new level of vigilence in keeping my eyes on her. As extreme as this was, she has derived a large measure of security by staying so closely at my side.
I have stopped showing anger to the best of my ability. I will say that I'm angry and explain the consequence, will not raise my voice, will put a loving hand on their shoulder. This was the hardest, but the most important since Blossom's strategy was to make me angry enough to send her back to China, even when she really didn't want to go, but feared she'd be sent away somewhere unexpectedly, which she has experienced and fears will happen again. When I showed anger, Blossom felt successful. When I stopped, she no longer felt successful, but she did feel loved.
I also try hard to start each day fresh and not bring the previous day's mistakes into the new day.
I now say things like, "I know you want to behave so I will help you. These little black things on the doors will make a loud noise if you open the door. Then I will know you are going into the kitchen when you should not be." Or, "I will keep the toothpaste up very high in the cupboard, this way you cannot reach it and put it down the toilet." Now that she knows I'm doing these things to help her, she feels loved and relieved.
Other restrictions include any physical contact with the daycare children. However, she is captivated by the blond bald babies. Now, if she really wants to pat their heads or kiss them, she can ask and I can lead her to the baby and allow it, since it is positive contact for both of them, rather than just saying no, don't touch the babies.
Some might think that Sissy's transition would have been easier without Blossom coming so soon, but that's not so. I think what would have happened is that Sissy would have appeared to have adjusted well, then later would have harder issues as they would have come out later in her adult life instead of now. Blossom is a catalyst sometimes for Sissy, and I appreciate it so that I can begin working with Sissy now on these issues.
Sissy is learning how much I appreciate everything she does that is positive. She reacts well to words. I make sure to notice and thank her or praise her for everything I possibly can. Thank you for helping Jie Jie reach her cup when it was high. Thank you for helping me learn a new word in Mandarin or translate for Blossom. Thank you for saying thank you when I handed you your pencil, etc... I also tell her how nice it is for me as a working mother that she behaves well, like doing something the first time I tell her to, "Thank you for behaving so well today, it makes working so much easier and now I don't feel so tired. Since I'm not tired, I can make a little extra something for dinner."
Today, I made the mistake of asking Sissy to monitor Blossom in a public restoom. I heard some commotion so I went in. The incident was minor, but it shouldn't have happened. Instead of getting angry, I told Blossom that what she did was wrong and that she should not do it again, then said I was also wrong to have asked Sissy to be the monitor and that next time I'll be sure to do it myself so that I can help Blossom behave.
Now that Blossom sees my discipline as helping her, she is trying so much harder. She even tells me what to do to help her. Today she said to continue keeping the toothpaste out of her site because when she sees it she feels angry in here, and pointed to her heart. I hope that she'll tell me some day why that is, but she cannot tell me for now. I have also gotten some ideas from a nutritionist on low-calorie snacks I can give to Blossom in a bag that she can keep with her all day and have whenever she feels like it. She is feeling more and more secure and now allows her real emotions to show. We worked on writing yesterday and I could tell she was having trouble, but had to attend to a daycare matter before I could address it. When I got back to her, there were tears on her paper and down her cheeks. Instead of goofing off and trying to act out, she felt safe enough to show me how she really felt. This was HUGE! Then, I was able to reassure her that I would help her, which brought a smile to her face and relief to her soul.
Sissy acts out in different ways and my new reactions have given her motivation to try to improve herself, choose the right, obey me with trust and grow the first stirrings of loyalty to me. Learning that I cannot trust her hit me hardest, but now I realize it was unrealistic of me and I've been able to let it go completely and understand her better.
We are a family in progress, making progress every single day. As they learn what it is to be my daughter, I'm learning how to be their mother in the way that they need me to be, not the way I think I should be. And, as always, sticking to what I call Bonding 101 things.