I feel like a hawk sitting on a tall power line. I watched all of the activity around me when it comes to my kids. I watch who is doing what. I watch who is looking at what and for how long and in what way. I watch hands with fingers in relaxed positions or balled up in fists. I watch for who is talking, or more telling would be who is not talking. Body tension. Rigid responses. Tone. Any exchange of touch. Anything. Everything.
I thought that my kids were sensitive to where they stood in the extended family pecking order. Did they see themselves as true family members? Did they really believe that they were loved equally? Did they believe that they were valued equally? Did they feel like full fledged members of the family. I had started to think that I was paranoid, overboard, overly protective, and extreme. Was it just a case of being a new mom? Did I really know what I was talking about?
A couple of weeks ago we were all piled onto the couches watching a movie as a family along with a couple of guests. Josh had the bright idea to show the kids African Cats. Their homeland. Africa. Yah... our kids were raised in the suburbs. They hate wilderness. They hate "the bush." It scares them. So there we were, snuggled under blankets, people piled all around, watching the movie while being subjected to a thousand questions!
Where are they going? Why are they fighting? Is she going to die? Is that one bad? Do they eat people? What are they doing? Why are they digging? Why are they chasing that animal? Why are they running?
The mommy cheetah had several cubs that had been the center of the movie for a while. She was trying to distract a lion away from her cubs to protect them. She was risking her life. And then it came. Sarah was nestled near me. She turned to me and asked, "if you had kids, would you die to protect them?" I thought I knew what she meant but hoped that I had misunderstood. "What do you mean Sarah? I have kids." Her sweet little voice carefully clarified "No, I mean if you have kids like B, E, and C." (Their cousins who are biological products of both parents.) Kids... bio kids.... if you had kids of your own. "Sarah, I have kids, I would die for you."
I was sort of stunned while at the same time not surprised. My head spun for a while. For a day or two actually. I had hoped I was wrong. I had hoped that they didn't perceive any difference. I had hoped that I was paranoid. It was a dull aching pain.
I had initially not wanted to share this story with anyone at all. It is certainly painful. But we have received so much support from so many people. People with genuine questions, genuine interest to understand our lives in order to better support us.
So what can you do? Trust that while an adoptive parent's demands and actions might seem excessive, they are likely considering more factors than you are aware of or even can imagine. Know that older adopted kids pick up on EVERY thing, even if it doesn't seem like it.
I have heard SO many stories of well intentioned friends and family causing significant harm without meaning to do so. So many stories of parents packing up their kids half way through an event because others have ignored their requests to not feed their child and these well meaning people overfed the child to the point of being truly painful and accompanied by tears. Or in many cases food speaks love and provision to a child with a traumatic past and now that child is reaching to someone else for love instead of his/her parent. So many stories of sweet little faces being scooped up and carried around only to wrench away from their parent when returned to their rightful place. Have you ever heard of parent shopping? It's when a child is so much in survival mode that they will literally smile and coo at strangers, looking for the next provider. Their past has taught them that these actions are necessary, required, imperative. It's NOT cute. It's NOT sweet. It's NOT entertainment. It might look like all of these things but if you could read that child's desperate thoughts, it would break your heart too. What might look like normal childhood behavior on the outside isn't always "normal," or more importantly healthy, on the inside.
PLEASE know that adoptive parents are often dealing with SO much more than you see on the surface. I share these over generalized stories because so often these things are not known because it simply isn't respectful to lay out a child's... a person's... deepest struggles to the world. So some of these struggles are our own. And some of them are stories I have heard from others. But ALL of them are things I hear over and over and over and over again from other moms of kids who were adopted at older ages.
Does any of this make you feel paranoid like you are afraid to make a mistake? Let me tell you, if you say to your friend "please tell me if you would like me to do anything differently around your kid as I want to support you in your attachment process" and then follow that with your actions, you will probably have a friend for life. I recently asked a friend "when your son does x, how should I respond?" NOW, the one caution is that you can NOT ask this in FRONT OF or within earshot of any kids. That would negate your good intentions.
So let me tell you a story of someone who did an AWESOME job in supporting us in this way. I'm not going to go into the details of the story because this post is open to the world. Josh's parent were in town. There was some behavior that needed immediate attention. I pulled that child aside, discussed why the behavior was a problem, and examples of what is appropriate. Then I needed Josh's parent's buy-in. I gave his Dad the run down on what was going on and the specific behavior that was and wasn't okay. His reply was "okay, if he/she does that around me I will just say 'would your mommy consider that to be appropriate?' and if he/she continues I will ask her to go see you." He mirrored the vocabulary that I was using which would show this child that we were all on the same page. He immediately accepted our request, trusting that we had good reason. His support meant the world to me.
I don't share any of this to criticize you. I don't share this to hurt you or point fingers. I share this because the consistent theme we have seen is people wanting to support us and they want to know how we need that support.