Saturday, April 18, 2015

Behind the Smiling Photographs

My kids were relating to me the adoption story of one of their friends.  Well, adoption always starts with something sad, I reminded them.

Sometimes I have to remind myself too, because I tend to forget.  We are a happy family.  Josiah loves hiding behind doors and scaring people.  Grace is enthusiastic about everything.  Lily loves to be chased and has an infectious giggle.  We eat dinner together every night.  We love playing games.  We dance a lot.  There's a lot of tickling.

Of course, we have grumpiness and meanness and sometimes they drive me batty.  He's not helping!  She hit me!  I'm telling!  But it's all normal.  I forget, often, that my kids are adopted.  I forget that they have pasts that didn't involve me.

This school year, one of our children has been having some "incidents" of bad behavior in class.  It started out somewhat mild, but continued to escalate until January, when we knew we needed to really take action.  This child would be set off by certain triggers, which would turn into loud, long, and uncontrollable outbursts.

I was a teacher for 7 years before I became a mom.  All I could think was, Oh no, my kid is that kid.

So Gil and I did what we had always done with our children's sinful behavior, and what has always worked.  We set out very clear and significant rewards and consequences, and we followed through on them.  We made a behavior chart.  We had long, solemn talks with this child.  As a family, we role played school-day scenarios, which always ended with everyone laughing in heaps on the floor.

Unfortunately, at school there was no laughing.  Our plan did not work.  In fact, it got worse.  A lot worse.  During one terrible week, I broke down and cried.  I wasn't just concerned for my child.  I was scared.  We had been trying everything we could think of.  What else could we do?

In desperation, I wrote to Elaine, a friend of mine who is an adoption specialist.  I described my child's behavior.  Could this be an adoption issue?  I asked.

She wrote back almost immediately.  Absolutely, she said.  No doubt.  She answered my questions and sent me all sorts of articles and links to read.

Suddenly it all became very clear.  Of course!  I thought about my child's past.  I thought about how the school environment could trigger things from the past.  It made sense!  My child wasn't acting out of defiance; my child was acting out of fear.

My friend reminded me that all adopted children have experienced trauma.  Even if they were adopted as infants, there is still trauma.  A baby bonds with his or her mother while in the womb.  God's original plan is for children to stay with their birth mothers.  When that doesn't happen, there's trauma.  All of my children came from incredibly competent and loving orphanages, but they were still orphanages.  Children are not meant to be in orphanages.  Period.

Gil and I, along with our child's wonderful teacher, started looking at our child's behavior from an entirely different angle.  We made a different plan.  We are doing less fighting against the behavior and more addressing the underlying issue.  For parents like us, who tend to be no-nonsense and generally expect obedience from our children, this feels permissive.  It goes against some of our instincts.  But it's working!

It's been almost a month now, and we've had a lot less incidents.  I've noticed a confidence in my child that wasn't there before.  My child is happier and friendlier.  Most importantly, I feel so much closer to my child's heart.  I feel like I understand some of the behavior of the last few years...and I have a lot more compassion.

I realize that so far, our kids' struggles have been pretty mild compared to what some adoptive families go through.  But I'm sharing this story because I want to give other adoptive families hope, and because I want to encourage school teachers, Sunday School teachers, and coaches of adopted kids to also be willing to consider other angles as well.  Elaine told me to start at this website, and now I'm passing it onto you.

Adoption always starts with something sad.  But by the grace of God, that never has to be the end of the story.

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