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

Sunday, 30 October 2011


Hmm, I'm trying not to get my hopes up TOO much, but...it seems there has been an up-swing for all of us the past few days.

Both Geoff and I felt encouraged after our social worker's visit last week - not sure if it is her confidence in us, her confidence that some of the rough stuff in recent weeks is a normal (and even necessary) part of the boys' adjustment process, or maybe just the chance to vent/sort through things, but we'll take it! For more than a week now I have been thinking the sneaky stuff has been improving, and the anger stuff is still alive and well, but with some sort of emotional regulation being achieved sooner and with a bit less mayhem. Still room for improvement in a few areas, for sure, but there's been a bit more room to breathe.

In addition, we've heard a few comments over the past few days, like:

"I think tomorrow [Saturday, Geoff's day off] is going to be really fun, because I like Daddy so much!"

"Those books [recorded by the foster family] don't make me sad anymore; when I listen to them, I feel happy that I live here."

The energy levels and physical self-control over the past few days seem to have been a bit more regulated, too, and Geoff and I noticed that a shopping errand and quick lunch out felt more like our vision of "typical" family today - less cueing, less wild/impulsive/restless behaviour, and so on. Kitch has been playing "baby" a lot again, calling me "Mama", wanting some extra snuggles and rides in the Beco carrier, and Luton has been taking pride in positive feedback for making wise choices. Time will tell, but these little glimpses of what *might* be in our future are comforting.

This morning in church, I was touched (hasn't happened often - partly because I'm slow to warm up, and partly because there's been so much not-too-warm-and-fuzzy around here lately) glancing over at the boys during the opening hymn, as they sat with their hymnals open, attempting to sing along.

Anyway, knowing where my last post left off, I wanted to update. Realistically, I am still anticipating some ongoing struggles, but a bit of light now and then really helps re-build motivation, hope, and a sense of being a family.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Cue maniacal laughter. The wild, desperate kind.

This likely isn't the week for me to write this post with appropriate objectivity. But this is the week during which I feel like doing it, so take it for what it is. I will write while I polish off the Halloween chocolate, and balance out the intellectual effort with some "Say Yes to the Dress" and "What Not to Wear" as a backdrop.

Today, unless I hear anything too suspicious, I will not be heading upstairs during rest/nap time to make sure everyone is in his assigned location/conducting themselves in a generally responsible manner, and will hope for the best (despite somewhat shaky confidence).

Let's head back in time a couple of months. August. If my increasingly unreliable memory serves me correctly (read: recently cancelled a day of music class and a school outing due to the "theft" of my engagement ring, which I had apparently misplaced all by myself...although in my defense there was excellent reason to suspect/assume it's theft), during late summer I was starting to feel more comfortable with this whole having kids in my house business. As I have stated previously, we really didn't experience any "significant" issues with the kids over the first few months. Much of what we were facing appeared to be pretty typical 3-4 year-old stuff around attentiveness, emotions management, following rules, etc., and some not-uncommon infant sleep and temper issues (some of which I now see as very possibly being attachment/transition-related, given some recent progress/change). Likely the biggest struggle during that time was my own adjustment, which was in many ways less overtly difficult than I feared, but which involved a definite sense of discomfort in my new role, and with having toddlers around 24 hours a day (particularly toddlers who very much dove in and made themselves more than comfortable in "my" environment). So, likely by sometime in August I was starting to relax into daily life and the permanency of our new little family, and began September with a general sense of optimism.

Cue more maniacal laughter. The foreshadowing.

I must qualify the following discussion by stating clearly that anything we are experiencing at the moment is still very, very mild in the world of adoption and attachment. But, I am definitely framing some of the current issues at our house in the context of attachment and adjustment (for all of us), when previously it was not clear what was due to transition and attachment, and what was just typical kid stuff. And, having at least two children heating up at once likely isn't helping my energy level and frame of mind.

Just to keep us on our toes, one is experimenting with the more deceptive/sneaky end of the spectrum, and the other has ramped up his anger and oppositionality and limit-testing beyond what I would consider "typical" for his age and stage. I *think* the sneaky stuff may be tapering off a bit, but it has involved pilfering (from school, home, and a store), rummaging through drawers and cabinets all over the house, sneaking around upstairs during rest time, and misusing materials/property (tape & glue on hardwood, etc.). For this child, increased supervision has been necessary at times, but (due to a high need for attention of any kind) almost enjoyable for him (even when I try to keep it boring). The defiance in our other little guy (often over very trivial things, or his own intentional actions) typically leads to rages in response to even the kindest re-direction, which now require swaddling and holding, due to the onset of destructiveness and physical lashing out. He is also demonstrating very little inclination and self-control in regard to rule-following when outside of our direct supervision (well, within it, too), and is often out of bed after bedtime, making noise in the morning, etc. He gashed his finger last week on the stroller MINUTES after being re-directed away from playing with its wheel, and this sort of attraction to non-toys is constant (occasionally resulting in personal injury, and often in some sort of property damage). Trying to supervise and engage with all three effectively when managing some of the current issues is quite a creative challenge. Some days I find myself literally fighting sleep by lunch-time (which is thankfully followed by rest time for all of us).

It has been a relief to see the covert issues of our one little guy dissipating a bit the past week or so. I am trying to give him lots of positive attention, some special 1:1 time in bits and pieces, and need to keep working on being a bit more patient with some of the personality quirks and behaviours that really get to me. Overall, he's actually the "easiest" to parent on a day-to-day basis - very quick and responsible in following through with chores, loves to help out, gets excited about any and every activity. However, I have the most trouble just enjoying him - he's so bold (which can look bossy and demanding) and impulsive (which makes me self-conscious in public in particular) - qualities that don't appeal to me. Our other little man has the same enthusiasm for life, and still LOVES to be babied - he likely would be very happy if I could realistically wear him and cradle him all day. He is cute as a button, and can comply with beautiful cheerfulness when so inclined. His distractibility and slowness to complete tasks is astounding and frustrating, and I think is sometimes a bit of a game for him (but it's hard to tell). The oppositionality just comes out of the blue most of the time (although is often predictably associated with any expectation for follow-through with basic responsibilities - this week, he finally started verbalizing that he doesn't "want" to make his bed, and was trying to get his brother to do it for him yesterday - this issue is currently escalating - hopefully peaking???). I recently drove him home from a family gathering while leaving Geoff with the other two, after he continued to become more and more aggressive and dysregulated, after a minor incident.

Needless to say, while I spent the summer reading standard parenting books, I am back to the attachment literature to come up with strategies and responses which might be helpful (and if anything, which will give me a consistently calm and measured way of interacting). I have particularly appreciated revisiting Deborah Gray's "Attaching in Adoption" and Karen Purvis' "The Connected Child" (I have also ordered her "Trust-Based Parenting" DVDs). I hope to dive into more Daniel Hughes, and just finished "Love and Logic for Early Childhood", which I found very practical (although the concept that I will "keep" any toys left for me to pick up doesn't really work well when the kids start handing me things and telling me to take them so that they don't have to tidy up completely, or happily letting me take some of their money as "payment" for clearing their breakfast dishes. I'm sure someday I might find these memories amusing, but right now this stuff leaves me perplexed and uncertain what to do next). Another blog highly recommended Denise Best's "Therapeutic Parenting Manual", and I am curious to have a look at that. I also continue to be thankful for our very supportive, experienced, and helpful adoption worker, with whom we continue to meet about every three weeks (and can contact anytime in between).

Overall I keep thinking, intellectually, that we can do this. And that things are really not that bad. But when I am standing in the middle of three children, completely tongue-tied (seriously, I sometimes stand there frozen, frantically trying to come up with SOMETHING to say or do so we can move on. Today I had them all take a long "break" sitting and doing nothing, while I reviewed some tips and pointers in the Love & Logic book), I feel like some kind of pathetic joke. And when I've been all therapeutic and unfazed for incident after incident, and then lose it over a child asking an annoying question, I feel like the kids would be better fending for themselves while I spend the rest of the day in self-imposed time out (don't worry, I have always opted to keep supervising and meeting basic needs - if boxed mac & cheese can be considered a way of meeting basic needs - even when in a zombie-like state). Or, when one child has not fulfilled the basics of bed-making and PJ put-away (required before coming down for breakfast), and could possibly benefit from some moral support/connecting time, but two other hungry little ones are waiting to be fed (which in fairness, in my opinion, becomes the priority)...what is one to do? All of this has also challenged the progress Geoff and I have made toward our attachments to the boys in particular. I am hoping we will come up with some clear strategies, learn more about neutralizing our responses (and thereby neutralizing our internal emotional reactions), and benefit from this more challenging time by becoming more skilled and confident.

Next week marks five months with everyone home, which will be seven months since first meeting each other. I often remind myself how thankful I am that we studied and learned so much in the years leading up to this point - I can't say we have been surprised by anything we have experienced yet, so I think it's primarily a matter of coming up with a plan and giving it a fair chance, while also staying connected with each other and the non-kid parts of our lives. Some of the blog-reading and church sermons and discussions lately have focused on thankfulness in all circumstances (what with Thanksgiving having been this month) and peace in the knowledge that we are asked only to do our best without worry for the future.

With that, I must go - I may soon hear little Caye calling for me from her crib, which will signal the end of rest time for everyone. It's Friday, and there is always some relief in knowing the morning and days will be a team effort with Geoff home for a couple of days.

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.