Friday, July 10, 2015

Single and a Social Life

It's true that for a single mom, especially and older single mom, a social life among other adults is hard to achieve. By now, other adults are well into married life with their children older and busy with school activities, sports and other things that are very highly developed by now, such as music, art, acting and other talents. If my children had these skills, we'd automatically be in this group, single mom or not, and we'd fit right in. But...

Enter my girls. New to English, to America, to family life, even to themselves as they are finally free to discover that they aren't part of a heard of kids any more, but valuable individuals who now have the right to build themselves up and choose their own path, develop their own talents, etc...

Then, there are the special needs. They are significant and life-long in Jie Jie, less restricting in Apple, though she's endured 4 surgeries since being home. Blossom's special need is cognitive and I'll be honest right now because she's recently been evaluated and we are going to soon have more information and be making some changes, her cognitive issues are turning out to be significant. Sissy's issues are harder to identify. Sometimes it appears she's got a cognitive deficit, but at other times it just seems like "orphanage delay."

While other girls at church and school (when they attended) are friendly and polite to my girls, they are light years ahead of my girls in every aspect of life. Sure, we can go to their homes and bake cookies with them and even watch a movie, but when it comes to personal interactions that lead to deeper friendships, it's just out of my girls' ability range right now and they are fighting me when I try to encourage them to step outside their comfort zone and actually talk to someone.

Blossom just can't comprehend normally, so when I talk about finding out a persons' interests, and give her examples, it doesn't sink in. Once, she walked up to a girl outside a restaurant and boldly asked, "Did you do anything interesting today?" Another time she asked an adult we didn't know, "Do you go to church? Which church do you go to?" Different time, different adult, "Did you eat breakfast today? What did you have?" These were her opening words to these people. All an adult has to do is catch my girls' eye, say hi, and my girls are entranced and start what I call the fawning thing. The doe eyes, the too close physical proximity, things that an unaware adult takes for interest rather than a deep need for constant attention. Enter me, the mom who says no to letting my girls have a bag of fireworks and learn to set them off. Sure, they may appear curious, and on some level they definitely are, but it's about the attention the adult is showing them more than the fireworks. But I sure look like a mean mommy, over-protective mommy and I'm tired of it. I finally got too tired (after all, it was 10pm and my 3 yr. old was asleep in my arms and heavy) to explain to this poor fellow, took the bag, said thank you, got the girls home, set off three for them, hid the bag and the next morning gave it to My Firefighter to keep (he suggested he help us use them at New Year) so I don't have to worry that they'll find it and burn our house down and kill us all.

Essentially, by this age and stage, kids are able to go out by themselves, drive or at least be dropped off somewhere. While Sissy could definitely manage in a group, by herself she's still pretty helpless and doesn't have the drive to develop herself further. Enter me, the mom constantly pushing and pulling her to the next level. Feel the resentment from her from where you are? That's the normal teen thing, with a bit of nasty RAD topping it off. Blossom needs almost constant supervision. Lately, Jie Jie has made some pretty bad choices which means she also in under near constant supervision. To those outside (namely those at church) I look very over-protective. But the day I followed my girls into their Young Women's activity (making chicken soup for a sick member) and saw Blossom about to bring a chef knife down on her fingers as she was assigned to chop carrots, I was certainly glad I walked in. Fortunately, at the same moment, a leader who was close by saw the same thing and stopped Blossom in the nick of time. They then proceeded to try and teach Blossom how to use the knife safely. I've already given Blossom similar lessons at home, but with her cognitive issues, they don't sink in, so giving her a knife without CONSTANT supervision is downright dangerous. Some might argue that at least the leader noticed in time. Yes, that's true - this time. But what about the next time when it's something with more potential danger? Blossom is highly functioning. She's aware of her inabilities so she tries to hide them. This makes it dangerous for her to be with those who don't know to supervise her carefully. This puts a crimp in social activities. Who wants to babysit a 14.5 yr. old at an activity or event when the other kids can run off safely on their own?

Yes, most kids with steal. Yes, they will lie. Yes, they will do all kinds of naughty things. But most kids stop after getting caught a couple times and most kids feel bad about it - not about getting caught - but about breaking trust. Not kids like mine. My kids just feel resentful toward me and keep up the behavior, escalate it, and do it ALL THE TIME.

Me? My social life? Church activities. A few things with My Firefighter, who is struggling right now to decide how involved he wants to be with us, the girls' issues being the main obstacle, though not the only one. I can go to a book club, and it's an evening out, but not fulfilling like a social evening with a circle of friends with a little more mobility is. By mobility, I mean that the activities vary such as movies, dinners out, day activities like hikes, yard parties, games, bowling, etc... things where each person's interest is met through varied activities, not just one all the time. I think that a social life as a single parent is a common challenge particularly for single moms.

Our life isn't all bad. We had a good day yesterday. Our days are getting better, in fact, because I'm learning to recover faster from what my girls deal me. It's not rocking me like a giant earth quake any more. I'm like the air-filled punching bag clown - knock me down and I pop back up. I'm not getting as angry as often any more. Anger isn't something I'm used to feeling all the time and for awhile I was feeling it ALL the time.

I'm worrying less now, too. Blossom's need is such that I'm sure the recent evaluation will show that she will be eligible for help as an adult. This is a huge relief. I've got plans for the other girls, too. Hopefully, each of these changes will benefit each girl and our entire family.


Catherine said...

Are there any groups in your area for teens/adults where the staff would be more prepared/trained to work with kids similar to yours? Our church has a Wednesday evening group for young adults and adults with physical and learning challenges. It's great as they're on similar learning planes so they get along well and enjoy similar activities.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry that your church doesn't understand. I pray for you and your daughters often. I hope that you will find some Christians who can encourage you when you are weary.

Anonymous said...

(This comment is broken into 2 comments because it is so long.)
Dear K, I've left comments a few times in the past, and I read your blog regularly. Although you have no way of knowing it, we are kindred spirits. And I think you are a wonderful, involved, caring mom. I am also a single mom who has adopted internationally 4 times. One daughter (adopted her as a toddler, and she is now 18) has high functioning autism. She is nearly brilliant, but over the past many years has been able to develop very few appropriate social skills for her age. From your descriptions I wonder if Blossom might eventually be diagnosed somewhere on the spectrum too. I also have a daughter with Down Syndrome, adopted at 10 years old who is now 15. Her cognitive skills for academic learning are almost non-existent, but in the institution she learned some social street smarts that make her appear as much higher functioning than she is. However, like your daughters, she always interacts with others from the angle of an insatiable attention seeking need. A third daughter also has significant cognitive issues, and is severely deficient in age appropriate social skills.

Over the years, in spite of tremendous therapies, wonderfully skilled teachers, and many opportunities for good social interaction, the emotional growth of these daughters has been very minimal. I have learned to accept this and to realize that they will never function socially at anywhere near a "normal" level. They will always need close supervision because they lack good judgment. They will never have any real friends (as we might define "real"), but most likely they will never fully realize that. In their minds they do have friends.

I don't tell you these things to discourage you. To the contrary, I want to offer you relief. All of this is okay. All of our girls are rowing as fast as they can. Their deficits do not bother them because they are unaware of how inappropriate they are. This is a blessing. They do not have to feel the sting of negative self-consciousness unless we teach it to them. They are content with who they are - a condition that many typically developing people will never experience. Does it really matter if they don't grow to be near typical emotionally if they are not even aware of it? I have come to know in my heart that it does not matter. They are content as long as they are in an environment of safety, and as long as people are nice to them. It is my job to make sure they are in those kinds of environments. If people do not treat them kindly, I make sure they simply will not have the pleasure of knowing these wonderful, vulnerable souls.

As far as my personal social life, it is almost non-existent - for all the same reasons you have mentioned. I was pretty frustrated by this for a few years. But then I let it go. I accepted that the price of adopting these children, in very minuscule similarity to the cost of my Father's adoption of me, was my life. I pour it out for them day after day, rarely feeling any reciprocal human benefit from it. But the spiritual benefit is immeasurable. And the Kingdom benefit is beyond compare. I don't say this in any grandiose martyrdom way. It is just a fact. I stepped out in faith to do something without being able to comprehend the total cost in advance. But I'm so glad I did it. My life here is short, and I'm content to spend it this way because it pleases the Lover of my soul.

Anonymous said...

(This is the second half of my comment above. Sorry to be so wordy!)
And I know the day is coming in the not too distant future when my girls will move into another necessary phase of their lives when they move out of my home. I know marriage is not an appropriate plan for them. With good planning they will eventually move into supervised settings where they will live with others with needs similar to their own. I will continue to be involved in their lives and the plans for them, but our settings will change. I will keep them with me into adulthood, but I do not want to keep them with me so long that making the transition to some form of supervised living will be too hard on them. That would be selfish and unkind to them. And my role will need to necessarily change. I cannot outlive them. I must be realistic. And when all of this takes place I will have less responsibility and more time to pursue some of my own interests while still enjoying my girls. It will all work out fine. I'm just living each day now as a good, loving mom who has many more long term responsibilities than most of my peers. As a family our social opportunities are more limited than most, but that's okay because we are all content. Finding my own contentment was key to all of our healthy (although far from "typical") interactions as a family. We each love each other in our own unique ways, and to the best of our capabilities. I'll take that scenario any day over the way so many families relate to each other.

Courage, K. You are on a journey fashioned for you and the girls. You were chosen because yours is the heart strong enough to lead the way with love.

I would like to offer one area of personal experience that helped. My girls are in school outside my home. And they are happy. You might need to trust other professionals with them. Given their deficits, you may be striving to push growth where it is just not going to take place. My girls like to be with other kids. They don't know how far behind they are because they are so unaware in so many ways. They are happy. They think they are appropriate, and they think they have friends. Who am I to tell them otherwise? They will always need to be supervised. Their "style" of relationships always eventually develop. They are content. I really like that. I learned to relax with it, and as a result our home is so much more peaceful and encouraging.

I am happy for you. You have already learned so much. And you love those girls fiercely. You deserve every happiness. You are frequently in my prayers.

K said...

Thank you all for your encouraging comments. I am looking into programs outside our home. I always have. They are hard to find for older kids and I need to make sure that the exposures my girls get won't make things worse. So far, the professionals who really understand adoption/orphanage issues have supported all the decisions I've made. The professionals who have no experience with adoption/orphanage issues want me to "throw them to the sharks". Their very words are "they will sink or swim". We all know that our girls who spent over a decade in an orphanage sink like stones without enough support and help. I'm not a mom who sets my kids up for deliberate failure. Hopefully, we'll be hooked up with our Regional Center soon. 4 more weeks and we should get the results of Blossom's evaluation. Everything is so hard for her. She's not aware of how inappropriate she is socially, but she sure knows she can't do what other girls can do and she doesn't understand why and pouts and cries and blames me. I've been encouraged to have Sissy and Jie Jie tested, too.

Sandra Brown said...

I've been following your blog for at least three years now. I once considered international adoption but it was not something that my situation would allow (along with a partner that wasn't on board). I however still have a great interest and tugging thus I follow several blogs. I can't begin to tell you how much I admire your selflessness, your attitude, your energy and passion for your children. I will pray every day that your needs are met, that you continue to find new resources for you and your family and that your desire for adult interaction can be met. You are doing a beautiful thing.

Anonymous said...

Hope "your Firefighter" don't leave! Seems like an awesome man. Surely some lucky lady will be happy w him.Wish you all the very best.

Nanami Genkaku said...

Hello, Ive been reading your blog for a while but I never commnted. Im not a mum, but I want to be by adoption if I ever reach the minimum income. Its sad to know that a full-time work isnt enough to raise an adopted child but enough to raise a couple of bio ones : / But the thing is, I admire you. I may not be a mum but I worked for a while in a special needs school and even if I was just the practices teacher some of the kids needed a different approach and way to teach and there isnt a single rule that apply to every kid ever( but to love them deeply, something you obviously do) specially when trauma is present.
So if you need to vent, you can vent, if you feel sad you can say so and if you need to raise your kids in a different way its in their best interest because you know them better than anyone.
I dont know why some people feel the need to judge you, to make you feel bad for venting, to not being supportive or doubt you, etc. I believe most of them are even trying to help, but they need to have more faith in you. You are doing great.
A boat in troubled waters would move more than one in calm waters and we dont blame the boat, so why should we blame the mum fighting to keep their kids safe and dont let them sink? I wont say I understand you because Im not in your toes, but I feel empathetic towards you and I admire your strenght and determination and the love you have for your daughters. Dont let anyone make you doubt yourself.
Hope things keep improving and lots of love from Spain : )

Anonymous said...

Sorry to learn about, not only your challenges with your daughters, but your lack of support from your church. Your confidence tells me that you know your children, and know what is best for them, even if it isn't apparent to others (and might look like crazy mothering to outsiders). I have three kids, some biological and some adopted, and the one thing of which I am ABSOLUTELY certain is that my husband and I know what's best for them better than ANYONE else. Period. I am thankful that your daughters have a mother like you, who is willing to fight for them and push them to be their best. I'm sorry that you don't feel encouragement from those who are around you, but I hope that you can feel encouragement and care from me and others like me, parents who might not understand your exact circumstances, but do understand that you are the mother and know what is best. Blessings to you and your girls. - Noelle