Featuring Joy & Geoff, Big Brother , Little Brother , Sis , and various household (and outdoor) critters...

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Dance

"Ways have to be found to let the child know that certain behaviors are unacceptable, without making the child herself feel not accepted. She has to be able to bring her unrest, her least likable side, to the parent without fear that it would threaten the relationship. When that is made possible, absolute security is established. We can reliably expect emotional growth ...to follow.

Parents need to keep asking themselves which goal they think is more important: a desired short-term outcome, or long-term development. It's nice when that question does not have to be faced, but often the two are incompatible and even antagonistic. Choosing one means, for that moment at least, giving up on the other. If the child is to be freed to go through the necessary developmental stages, the attachment relationship with the parent has to be made paramount. Our immediate objective of getting the child to obey or to perform this or that task may need to be sacrificed. On the other hand, tactics needed to achieve short-term behavior goals may have to involve the weakening of the attachment. Especially in the beginning, the parent will be confronting those options regularly."

From "Scattered Minds" by Gabor Mate
While reading this, I forgot this is a book on ADHD (not something our kids have been identified with, but I think there might be some helpful strategies to draw on, so I picked it up for a browse), and felt like I was reading an adoption and attachment book.

So much of parenting discussion, dilemmas, and experiments at our place these days hinge on these issues. We see behaviour that needs to change (we think it needs to happen now, but reading excerpts like the one above cause me to consider that maybe we need to think in terms of 'eventually'), and often want to try certain contingencies which are sometimes in competition with what is recommended during the process of building attachment in adoption.

All this raises questions around where we are at as a family in terms of attachment, and how this impacts which approaches would be most effective in addressing other issues (most of them typical pre-schooler stuff, but perhaps with somewhat greater intensity and frequency than might generally be expected). Even without the adoption factor in our situation, there is much in the attachment parenting literature that resonates with me. However, I'm not sure I would naturally gravitate toward being attachment parenting purist (in fact, I really have not been since the beginning, somewhat to my surprise).

Without wanting to minimize the trauma and loss involved with moving to a new family, and being raised outside of the biological family unit (and the resulting attachment risks), our kids came to us having had an as-close-to-typical parenting and family experience as one would ever find in adoption, and as such, we are not faced with most of the trauma and attachment issues present in many adoption situations. However...we realize that while our kids' attachment needs may be more subtle than some, our family is still new, and even some (or many?) of the behaviours we see could very well be attachment-related.

I surely don't have answers at this point. My desire to extinguish problematic behaviours does compete with things I should likely be doing to promote further attachment. As well, some attachment strategies are difficult to implement when there are other little ones around. For instance, having kids tantrum and rage in my presence, with siblings around (to keep them close, while also supervising siblings) - particularly when the tantrum involves name-calling, hitting, or other inappropriate behaviour being modeled for siblings - or giving extra nurturing to a little person having a rough spot, while the others clambor for attention (or occupy themselves, then later, possibly demonstrate the effects of too little direct time with me) don't seem feasible or desirable. Hence, we have been using time-out-style removal for such behaviour, and yet I realize it doesn't seem to reduce the behaviours - either the initial acts leading to the time-outs, or the resulting dysregulation (screaming, name-calling, thrashing, etc.).

I have recently started considering contingencies like suggesting that in order to participate in certain desirable activities (e.g., holiday crafts, certain outings/community activities), one must conduct oneself in a respectful manner (e.g., not screaming at me, calling me names, or hitting me when upset) - and this has so far shown the most promise to stop the melt-down in its tracks (I have had to follow through with the contingency a few times, too). I think one reason I hesitated to go this route was in wanting to give us as many opportunities as possible to connect and build attachment through family time, special and memorable activities, etc., without those activities necessarily being contingent on behaviour, so that the kids feel accepted and see that they belong no matter what. I suppose we could consider a "baseline" of opportunities for participation which are not contingent on behaviour (generally speaking), with some "extra-special" opportunities that can become contingencies. I don't know. I have also been reluctant to head into structured behavioural approaches using charts, rewards, etc., but wonder if there might be a time and place for some of that as well.

Really, I feel wishy-washy. I can always see good points in multiple perspectives, which prevents me from buying whole-heartedly into one particular philosophy and approach (and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing). I suspect a thoughtful, individualized, and consistent "eclectic" approach could be wonderful, but how to sort out the preferred elements based on our kids' needs and what seems right to us as parents, and weave it all together?

With that, I really must pack a few things for our last camping weekend at the trailer, and start reminding myself to greet the kiddos with hugs and kisses when they get up from their naps. And the journey will continue from there, in all its messy glory.

1 comment:

The Warren Family said...

Great post Joy! I could really relate to the way you feel.
I shared these very same type of feelings and questions a while back with my own mother (someone who rasied 2 children by birth) and she said "welcome to parenting" and that she felt it reminded her of her own experience. I guess parenting is just not easy. I used to feel stress about this... stress that I needed to find the answers and be less "wishy-washy" and then everything would fall into place the way I thought it should. But a year after having Ephrem home despite all of my reading, researching,trying different things, and speaking with other parents... I still don't feel like I have the answers, and everything hasn't maybe fallen into place like I would have hoped. But maybe that is ok too. Life is complex, parents and kids both come into this with their own weaknesses and imperfections. In the end all we can do is give it our best effort, love each other and enjoy this wild and wonderful "dance" we are sharing.
Again great post Joy! Hope to meet your kids sometime soon (-: