The Forgotten Garden

I read a lot of adoptee blogs, and one message I often encounter is that adoptees don’t always see adoption as entirely (or at all) positive. I recently read “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton, which did an excellent job of expressing this idea. Spoiler alert: if you plan to read this book, or haven’t finished it, you may want to stop reading this post now!

In the book, Nell discovers – at 21-years-old – that she was adopted. This news alters the path that her life takes and even changes her attitude toward herself and others. Although she loves her adoptive family, she spends the rest of her life looking for her first family and never again feels that she belongs anywhere.

In one of the early chapters, the narrator describes Nell’s reaction to the news:

“But Pa’s secret had changed everything. His words had tossed the book that was her life into the air and the pages had been blown into disarray , could never be put back together to tell the same story. She found she couldn’t look at her sisters with seeing her own foreignness …. Things had changed and she could no longer meet her father’s eye. It wasn’t that she loved him any less, only that the easiness had disappeared. The affection she had for him, invisible, unquestioned in the past, had gained a weight, a voice. It whispered when she looked at him, ‘you’re not really his.’ She couldn’t believe, no matter how vehemently he insisted, that he loved her as much as he loved her sisters …. She was a lie, had been living a lie, and she refused to do so any longer. ”

Nell’s granddaughter, Cassandra, finds out about Nell’s adoption after her death. Cassandra has her own reaction to the news:

“It had come to her in a wave. The certainty of her grandmother’s loneliness …. She suddenly understood an aspect of Nell she’d known very well. Her isolation, her independence, her prickliness. ‘She must have felt so alone when she realized she wasn’t who she’d thought she was.'”

I’m not an adoptee, so I certainly can’t attest to the truth of these feelings. But, I do appreciate that this book presented a different side of adoption, that it explored the negative affects that adoption can have on both children and adults.

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Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control volume 2

Ever since reading the first Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control (BCLC), book more than a year ago, I’ve become a big fan. I’ve finally finished Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control volume 2, and at first I was tempted to say that I preferred the second installment. But, the ideas behind volume 2 would actually be difficult to understand without the foundation of volume 1. So, although volume 2 provides a lot of practical advice, it’s still worthwhile to start with volume 1.

Both volumes explain that traditional consequences, logic, and control, do not work with children with attachment difficulties. This has proven to be so true with my children. As I mentioned, volume 2 provides tons of examples, and demonstrates how to apply the BCLC method. This is incredible helpful, because although I love the BCLC theory, I am sometimes unsure of how to use it in my own home.

So, volume 2 begins with the BCLC principles, but then devotes a number of chapters to specific behaviors such as poor social skills, demanding behaviors, defensive attitudes, and homework. In each chapter, the author, Heather Forbes, explains how to use BCLC for each situation and even includes real life examples of how BCLC changed the dynamic in a home.

Whenever I read any of Heather’s works, I’m always challenged to be a better parent, to be more loving and understanding. In fact, in the book, Heather refers often to “love-based parenting” as opposed to “fear-based.” In the first chapter, Heather writes, “Love really is enough. It simply takes putting unconditional love into action to help any child find his way back to this place of peace, joy, confidence, and safety.”

I’m planning to read Heather’s other book, “Dare to Love,” next, but it may be a while before I get there. I’ll be sure to post a review when I’m done.

One kid (or two) at a time

Jake Dekker wants to improve the child welfare system in the United States “one kid at a time.” In his book, “One Kid at a Time,” Jake says that “we must … use our power to create loving permanent relationships for children.” He’s able to give this advice thanks to his own experience as an adoptive father of a then 10-year-old boy. Jake uses “One Kid at a Time” to share his story of adopting his son, and dedicates one of the final chapters to reforming child welfare.

As I was reading “One Kid at a Time,” I began to feel that Jake stole my story. I don’t really mean that he took it, but simply that his story could have been my story. All of the feelings, joys, fears, anger, and sadness that he experienced during the process were nearly the same as mine. I felt that he put words to the experience of many who have adopted older children.

In several chapters, Jake admitted to feelings that I’m sure all of us have experienced, but few (including me) want to admit. He describes the anger and fear that his son created for him and even shares several reactions that he regretted. I deeply respect Jake for being willing to share this in such a public way. His example could provide great relief to parents of former foster children and show others that adoptive parents need not be perfect.

Jake often writes about his frustration with the bureaucracy of the foster care system in Washington where he lives. I also identified with his complaints and irritation. I had my own issues with the system in Michigan and I enjoyed reading about how Jake fought with the bureaucracy to ensure that his son got fair treatment.

I did feel a little uneasy with the amount of information Jake shared about his son’s past and the challenging behaviors he presented. It’s true that I write about my kids on this blog, but I’ve never shared personal, exact details about their past, and I try to stay away from information that may prove embarrassing to them later in life. I aim to keep this blog more about my experience as it relates to my kids; I want to let them tell their own story when they’re ready. I don’t know the situation behind “One Kid at a Time,” so  maybe Jake’s son approved of the book. This would naturally help my unease with the book’s explicitness.

As I mentioned, Jake dedicates a chapter to reforming the child welfare system. I appreciate that he wants reform, and he clearly identifies the problems. However, I wish that he had a more structured, specific approach for fixing the issues he describes. Jake’s solution is to create opportunities for “authentic attachment to a permanent family.” I think many adoptive parents would agree with Jake on this point – that stable, loving homes can make a big difference in a child’s life. Unfortunately, Jake doesn’t describe how to accomplish this. It would probably be safe to assume that Jake and I both would love to see more families adopt through foster care, but the reality is that this is not a choice that many people can or will make. Since finding an adoptive home for every child in foster care is really not possible, how can those who are not adopted form these important attachments?

At one point, Jake explains the title of his book by saying that we can make a difference “one kid at a time.” In my case, it’s two kids at a time, and I clearly agree with Jake. There are many older children in the United States that need families, and we can’t adopt them all, but we can grow our families by just one kid (or two). If you doubt that foster care adoption can make a difference, both in the lives of the child and the parent, “One Kid at a Time” will surely change your mind.

Update: Jake e-mailed me to address some of my concerns. Here’s what he had to say:

“One thing: ‘Jake Dekker’ and ‘Danny’ are fictitious names. I wrote an author’s note (I copied it below) about that at the very beginning of the book. Even if my son had agreed to let his real name be used, at 14 I wouldn’t want that burden on him.” 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Although this story is based on true facts, I have recreated events, places and conversations from emails, public court records, interviews and my memory of events. Any errors made are my own. In order to maintain the anonymity of actual persons, I have changed most names. To protect my son’s privacy, I have written this book under a pseudonym. I have also changed some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations and locations. In a few cases, I have changed the gender of an individual. All the details about my son’s background were taken from open court records, interviews, emails, letters and other direct sources. All of them, to the best of my knowledge and research, are true. No confidential files given to me by the State of Washington as part of the adoption disclosure were the sole source for any part of this story. My sources for statistics and facts in the narrative about foster care and outcomes for foster children are attributed by endnotes with a complete listing in the Notes section at the end of this book.

Inside I’m Hurting: a wider vision

As the last entry in my series of book reviews on Louise Michelle Bomber’s book, Inside I’m Hurting, I’d like to include a quote from her final chapter. I really respect Bomber’s vision for working with attachment-challenged children in schools. Unfortunately, I think it’s very unlikely that her suggestions could be adopted in the U.S. (Bomber is from the UK). But it’s nice to dream.

Bomber writes, “My vision for the future would be that one day, every school would have teaching assistants or learning mentors who are trained and specialized in being additional attachment figures for children who have experienced trauma or loss.”

Inside I’m Hurting: splitting

I’d like to continue my series of book reviews on Inside I’m Hurting by Louise Michelle Bomber with another excerpt from Chapter 8: “Permanency and Constancy.”

In this chapter, Bomber explains the concept of splitting – “the process of viewing or judging something or someone as either all bad or all good, rather than having a more integrated perspective of most things and people being a mixture.”

I see the concept of splitting very strongly in BE. She definitely has a hard time distinguishing between her behavior being bad and being a bad person. I try to explain to her that although I might not always like her behavior, I still love her. It’s hard for her to understand.

Bomber explains this further – “An example of splitting is as follows, when a child makes a mistake: ‘I’m a bad person.’ This type of comment implies that the child has a sense of ‘all or nothing’ about himself … rather than appreciating all the different aspects of himself.”

According to Bomber, it’s a lack of a sensitive and secure environment that causes splitting. To help children get over splitting, Bomber recommends the following steps.

1. Introduce the idea of all of us having parts that make us whole people. “We have so many parts that make us who we are. I have kind and considerate parts. I have selfish and mean parts.”

2. Talk about parts of the self regularly. “I can see that you are using your patient and kind part.”

3. Talk about parts of the self in your feedback. “Your angry part is very cross at the moment.”

Inside I’m Hurting: permanency

Permanency is the topic of this post on the book “Inside I’m Hurting” by Louise Michelle Bomber. The book is written for educators and is a manual on working with attached challenged children in schools.

In chapter 8, “Permanency and Constancy,” Bomber explains why many attachment challenged children struggle with the concept of permanency. Bomber describes permanency in this way, “A child who has negotiated the psychological developmental stage of permanency will be aware that objects and the parent exist and will continue to exist, and that he or she (the child), exists as an individual and will continue to exist despite not being seen or directly connected to the parent.”

However, as Bomber explains, attachment challenged children may not have mastered this stage. “A child that has experienced neglect, chaotic and inconsistent parenting or traumatic experiences, however, may become very stuck, not understanding this important developmental concept,” she writes.

Bomber writes that kids in this situation may often do everything they can to stay connected to the significant adults in their lives.

After reading this, I understood somewhat why my kids can be so needy. But, I’m not the most patient person in the world, and the constant demands for attention can get on my nerves fast. So what do I do?

Bomber suggests that it’s important to help these children experience being connected to others. She recommends the following tactics to do this:

1. Sensory reminders: for example, using a visual image that will help children remember that they have not been forgotten when away from the parent.
2. Personal touch: using cautious touch to make a connection.
3. Reassurance: verbally reassuring children of your connection to them.
4. Eye contact: giving children sustained eye contact.
5. Physical presence: connecting through physical presence.
6. Hide and seek: not necessarily the traditional game, but a variation, involving hiding objects and finding them.

Bomber offers encouragement to parents and educators about this issue: “… the time will indeed come when the child will be able to internalize the concept of permanency to such an extent that they can throw away the ‘props’ – the symbolic representations of the fact that you actually do keep them alive in your mind.”

Inside I’m Hurting: explicit communication

I guess this should technically be part two, because I wrote a sort of “preview” to the book before I finished it. That was way back in March and I didn’t expect it would take me so long to get through it.

The book, by Louise Michelle Bomber, was written as an aid for educators who are working with attachment challenged children. Even though I’m not an educator, I was still able to benefit from the book, and I’ve been using many of its tips at home. It also gives some strategies for creating a home/school partnership. However, the book is written like a manual and is quite long. It obviously took me many months to finish it (although I read only a few pages at a time, and not every day).

Since the book is long, and there are so many valuable ideas, I decided to do my review in several parts. In my preview, I wrote about “good enough” parenting. For this part, I’d like to focus on “differentiating our communication.”

In chapter 3, “The Role of Education and the Core Concept of Differentiation,” Bomber explains the importance of communicating explicitly. While many children may understand requests such as “be nice” or “calm down,” attachment challenged children may not. Bomber writes, “(These phrases) presume a child has had previous healthy experiences and so will know how to behave to follow your instruction. We cannot make these assumptions.”

Bomber’s solution is to use very specific instructions. Instead of the examples above, she recommends something like the following, “Touch others gently. They feel uncomfortable when you push them.” Another example is, “Talk quietly to the others. It gives children a shock when you shout in their ears.”

My kids have a very hard time controlling themselves, especially when it comes to appropriate indoor behavior. In these situations I’ve adapted Bomber’s examples to sound something like, “Please be calm. That means using a quiet voice and walking feet.”

This has also come in handy with BE in particular who has the bad habit of literally getting right in people’s faces. In response, I’ve been saying, “Please do not get in my face. People do not like others in their face. It makes them very uncomfortable.”

Bomber concludes this section by explaining, “Differentiating the language that we use will enable children who have experienced trauma and loss to make sense of what is going on around them, thus giving them the opportunity to respond appropriately in different contexts. This clarification will help build up their resilience.”

The not-so secret thoughts of an adoptive mother

Book Review: Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother by Jana Wolff

Jana Wolff adopted her son as an infant and writes about her experience in “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother.” Jana attempts to be provocative, but in my opinion, many of her thoughts are actually widely accepted. Because much of the book focuses on Jana and her husband’s wait for a baby and their early years with a newborn/infant, this book may be a better resource for those who have experienced an infant adoption. However, I have a feeling that Jana’s revelations won’t be surprising, even for those parents. The last few chapters were the most useful to me, because they deal with her son’s preschool years.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of biology, and Jana expresses this same sentiment very well. She writes, “Like it or not, I know where I came from. I never thought of that knowledge as a privilege until I realized that my son doesn’t have it … My son has the right to know that he matches someone too … Every child, every person, has the right to know where she came from and how she came to be.”

I really related to the section where she described her son’s behavior and her struggle with how to handle it. She explains, “Our two-year-old is acting like a monster. He can’t get two Legos to fit together, so he spills the whole bucket and kicks all of the pieces in every direction.  ‘You must feel frustrated.’ I say, trying to do the damn ‘right’ thing by identifying his emotion. I bring him the juice he has asked for, but it’s in a cup instead of one of those juice boxes; he screams in anger and swipes the table violently … There comes a time when a mother doesn’t give a shit about the development rationale for such behavior and just feels what it’s like to be impotent, guilty, and confused. I can hear it now: ‘You’re  his closest love object … He feels safe in letting go with you.’ Oh, great … If our son is acting out now, what are we in for when he realizes what’s really happened to him.”

Overall, “Secret Thoughts” has a few relatable moments, but readers who are looking for new insight, should try a different book.

Many colored days

A while back, we were visiting my aunt and uncle – BE and BC’s great aunt SK and great uncle CK. During the visit, great aunt SK wisely gave us a book from her kids’ collection: “My Many Colored Days” by Dr. Seuss. Although this really isn’t a book about adoption, it’s likely a book that many adopted children will enjoy. It’s definitely a departure from his other books. It describes how people can experience many different feelings and compares this feelings to colors. BE especially, seems to fluctuate widely in her emotions and has a hard time controlling herself. Both the kids go through phases with books. They’ll want to read the same one for weeks at time. Lately, BE has really favored “My Many Colored Days.” After we read the book, we talk about what color her day was and why. If your child (adopted or biological) struggles with emotions, I highly recommend this book.

An adoption book for everyone

Book review: Raising Adopted Children by Lois Ruskai Melina

Raising Adopted Children aims to be everything to all adoptive parents. It covers every imaginable adoption scenario. I appreciated that as a book about adoption in general, it gave equal treatment to older child adoption. I’ve read several books that focus mainly, or solely, on infant adoption.

There were a few chapters in this book that were particularly helpful to me. Here are the chapter titles, subheads, and quotes.

Chapter 3: Bonding and Attachment

Attachment to an Older Child

“We need to remember that a school-age adoptee can regress physically, emotionally, and morally. We don’t expect a toddler to keep her pants dry, to go to bed without a fuss, or to know that it is wrong to take objects from her mother’s dresser drawer. We expect a seven-year-old to know these things. But the recently placed seven-year-old may behave like the toddle because that’s where she is in relation to the family – she’s not an infant in age, but she’s an infant in the family.”

Chapter 11: Behavior Problems

Dealing with Serious Problems

“Much of the behavior that parents find most difficult to deal with can be categorized as:
– Lack of conscience: an inability to tell right from wrong, or to feel remorse or regret when he does something wrong. Often a lack of conscience is the result of the child’s failure to make attachments. The child who doesn’t care about her parents is not motivated to behave in a way that will please them. Some children fail to develop a sense of conscience because values have never been clearly spelled out, or because they have lived in many places with conflicting values.
– Inability to differentiate and express feelings: the child who has experienced early trauma may not know any other feelings besides pain and lack of pain. He may not be motivated to improve his behavior because as long as he isn’t in pain, he is experiencing the most ‘happiness’ he has come to expect in life. Or a child may have been discouraged from expressing his emotions and so does not know how to express his feelings of anger, fear, grief, or love.
– Failure to attach: failure to develop reciprocal feelings of love and caring with parents and siblings. Lack of caring for other family members is related to a lack of conscience and inability to express feelings.”

Effect on the Family

“Parents frequently feel isolated, like they are the only parents having such serious problems … Parents need to separate their child’s behavior from themselves, not allowing themselves to feel judged for the child’s actions.”