It’s been a long time since I wrote for myself. Lately I’ve been writing all of these posts to my daughter, which she will likely never read, because I wanted to get out all of the thoughts in my head. The things I wanted to tell her but couldn’t necessarily do at this time. It’s also a way for me to process this new life – parenting a high needs child.
The past year and a half since I adopted A, has been insanely chaotic. The process of attaching to a child not born to you is not an easy one. We are, for the most part, very attached now. I have all of those feelings that a mother has for her child. I would do anything for my baby girl, born to me or not. But it wasn’t easy and there were times when we took a few steps backwards before moving ahead again. We are in a good place now. She has been behaviourally much better this year than during the end of last year. A bad reaction to medications made things really rough in October; she was psychotic and I was beyond burnt out. I was so happy when I found out it was caused by the medication, because I knew it would get better when she stopped taking it, and it did. She’s on better meds now, and since we finalized her adoption last month, she’s like a new kid. She’s feeling secure, calm, happy… all of the things a traumatized and brain damaged child needs to feel in order to be well attached and able to manage behaviours.
I am finally beginning to feel as if I’m getting a piece of myself back. My own self has been completely overshadowed by her needs. I had become angry and irritable all of the time and I had withdrawn from my family and friends. I think I was beginning to suffer from some secondary PTSD. But this last month or so I’ve started to see a glimmer of the old me coming back. I have been trying to reach out to friends more, to get out of the house on occasion (this is especially hard since I sold my car when I decided to work from home, so I wouldn’t have to manage the obscene payments) and to get back into some creative stuff like scrapbooking and painting.
The biggest new thing is that I finally got a date for gastric bypass surgery. This is a surgery I was supposed to have two years ago before I adopted A, but had to be delayed. My surgery is on March 1st, less than two weeks away, and I’ve been on a strict pre-surgery diet for the past 6 weeks. I’m glad that A is in a good place right now, because I don’t think I could have managed shifting focus to myself, a few months ago. I sort of wonder if I’m a little nuts to be doing this while I’m singlehandedly parenting a very high needs child, but I suppose I always have been one to leap into things head first, and work out the details later.
Your adoption has been (finally) finalized, and I am so relieved. I think that you are too; you haven’t vocalized it, but I can see it. A part of me was skeptical that the day would ever come. I think the adoption process makes a person cynical. But, the day did come and then it went, and now you’re mine forever.
In the days leading up to court, I cried and cried whenever I was alone. I couldn’t believe it was finally going to happen, and I felt all of these walls coming down inside myself. Walls I had up to protect my heart in case it didn’t happen. I didn’t even know I had these walls up. I’m sure you knew. I know you had walls up, too.
Walking out of that court room… I was so overwhelmed with emotion. It was as though I’d been holding my breath for the last year and a half and finally I could breathe again!
It was so special to have our family there with us to share in our day. I’m grateful that your biological aunt and grandparents could come. I know it was important to them for you to see that they support us. It was also really cool that you requested that your cousins be there with you. They are too young to realize just how special it was, but someday they will know how much it meant to you to have them there! I am so grateful for our blended family and all of the love and support that surrounds us.
Our journey doesn’t end here, my dear. Our story is really just beginning. We will have many hills to climb in the future, but we will climb them together.
It’s our second Christmas together and I’m so grateful to be creating these memories with you. Being on this side of Christmas is really new for me… the holidays are stressful as a parent! I hope I managed to get everything right so you have magical memories to look back on. I think in the future we might spend more holidays just you and me, which will be strange for me having always had my extended family around, but I want to truly enjoy and cherish my time with you while I can. You will be grown before I know it, I can already feel the time flying by.
Christmas is a time when I’ve experienced a lot of loss, and so I usually try to compensate by having as many people around as possible. I’ve tried to compensate for the losses you’ve experienced by scheduling phone calls with your biological family on Christmas. I thought it would be important to you, to wish them a merry Christmas. Your grandparents have been great, and your sister is a bit disorganized but she tries… she’s young and she’s pregnant now so she’s got distractions. But you’re biological mom, I don’t have any excuses for her, other than her alcoholism. Honey, as long as your mom is an alcoholic, her priority will always be alcohol. So I hope that you can understand if we don’t make as many phone calls to her and we don’t have visits. I hope that someday the two of you can have a meaningful relationship, but right now I’m worried she’ll spend her life disappointing you. I won’t spend every holiday seeing disappointment on your face or hearing you say “it’s okay” when I know it’s not.
So from now on, we’ll have to get used to it just being us for the holidays. I will cherish each one that I spend with you and I’ll never take them for granted.
They told me that children with trauma and attachment issues would do everything they could to push a parent away and to test boundaries… but this sh!t you put me through; Kid, there ain’t enough vodka in the world. I don’t know why you take it to such extremes. I have always been good at following through on the consequences that I lay out for you, but it’s like you have to keep upping the ante. You keep pushing past my consequences like they don’t mean a thing to you, and I have to make the consequences harsher and harsher to match your escalating behaviour. And when you’ve been warned a thousand times of what will happen if you continue, you do it one more time just to see if I’ll follow through… and so I must, and now you sob uncontrollably because I’m such a mean mom.
The parenting techniques I used to preach to clients, have no effect on you. Natural or logical consequences are out the window. So much for discipline vs. punishment. So much for getting down to your level. That does not work with you. You don’t need a friend, you need a parent. A strong one.
I want you to know that I don’t enjoy this. I do not want you to think that I am mean. I want to be warm and loving and let you bend the rules and have exceptions sometimes, but I can not. When I do, you are out of control. You do not feel safe, though you have begged for the flexibility. I must be firm with you, and when your behaviour is not appropriate then I must be more firm, and when it escalates then so must I.
This does not come naturally for me. I am spontaneous. I am care-free. I don’t enjoy following a routine or having every part of my life mapped out for me. But I do it for you, so that you feel safe within that structure.
So when you are older and you have memories of those times when “mom was mean”, know that I was doing it for you. Know that I didn’t enjoy it but that it was the only way to keep you from spiralling into an anxious mess. Most importantly, know that I was doing it because I love you.
As I inch my way closer to becoming a parent, I find myself struggling with feelings of inadequacy and a lack of self confidence. For years, I’ve been listening to my friends talk about raising their children. They’re so far ahead in the game that I’m not sure how I’ll ever stack up as a new parent. I know it’s not about comparing my successes (or my children’s) to theirs, but I feel as though I’ll struggle with the unsolicited advice and explaining to those around me how raising a child who has been neglected or abused is so much different than raising a child born to you.
I will likely have lower expectations of my children then I would a biological child. For a traumatized child, even the basic acts in life can be a challenge. My expectations need to be reasonable and achievable. There simply isn’t any comparison between a child who has been adopted and one who has not. For an adopted and/or traumatized child, feeling secure in a family, managing emotions and trying to understand why “this” happened to them take up the majority of their plates. At the end of the day, there isn’t much time left over to be the star basketball player or humanitarian of the year. Making it through each day without a meltdown is a success.
I will need to learn to trust my gut. To keep my confidence as a parent high, expectations of my children reasonable, and to shut out the voices of the people around me who think they know how it should be.