I have read countless articles and books on parenting adopted children, but this might be my favorite book so far…
If I only could reference two books–it would be this one and Dr.Purvis’s The Connected Child. This one, however, has a bit more detail and I’m a highlighting maniac as I read it. Good stuff.
I just finished reading Part 1: Understanding Your Child’s Behavior. It is so beneficial to better understand how stress actually changes the brain–but there is such hope in learning how the brain can be re-shaped and even healed. It will be so important for not only Isaac to know his story–but for Isaac to be able to tell his story…without too many gaps, without fear, without hesitation, without embarrassment. Many internationally adopted children struggle with identity problems, but identity repair occurs as together the story is told…with gaps filled by how Isaac felt and how things were from his perspective. When we go to bring Isaac home, it will be my job as his mommy to question everyone I can to fill as many gaps to the first 10 months without him so we can later help him tell his story. He should be able to tell this freely to whoever he pleases, and it is our job to help him do so with joy and pride. It is HIS story–and it was written by the Creator…and it will be beautiful.
In this book Cogen explains how “talking opening and regularly about a child’s past, present, and future recruits the brain supervisor to build an integrated sense of identity and maintain connection between parent and child.” One of my bestfriends growing up was adopted–and her story was not shared openly by her parents. But what her parents never knew was that EVERY time I spent the night we whispered for HOURS about what we thought her birth parents were like…
We would dream.
We would cry.
We would pray.
And…they were not a part of this…because we all knew…it was uncomfortable.
She also followed in her birth mother’s footsteps and got pregnant as a teen-ager…searching for her identity and also gave her baby up for adoption. Later she got married and became a mom again—but years later left them one day unannounced and moved North to “start over again”…to get away and again find her identity…again.
If we want our children to be secure in their identity, it is so important that we do everything we can to help them make discoveries and not keep their pasts secret. It’s hard for many adoptive parents to “go there” because for us, it is uncomfortable and some times painful, but these children just as my biologicial children–they are HIS…not all mine. When we, as parents, sign up for adoption—we sign up for a lifetime of healing and supporting our adopted children. “Telling your child’s story, relating your child’s behavior to real past events, and offering support and soothing are all part of reducing posttraumatic stress behaviors and helping your child remove his trauma-vision glasses.”
I really like some of the recommendations made in this first part of the book. One is to make a list of EVERY thing you can think of that your child has experienced from conception forward. This will be hard as you have to really walk through things…like hearing his birth mom talk for 9 months…hearing laughter…a heartbeat…breastfeeding for ____ weeks or months…the soothing sway in which his birth mom walked…the laughter of siblings…hearing a tribal language…being left with strangers who speak an entirely different dialect/language…wanting a mommmy to return…different tastes of formula instead of breastmilk…unfamiliar faces…lots of children…the list goes on and ON AND ON. If you find this becomes overwhelming and is hard for you to do—congratulations. You will have just joined your child in understanding just a BIT what it feels like to be internationally adopted. And you will need to know this and have others who will be a part of your child’s life WALK WITH YOU through this so they understand why your child is 3 years old but some times regresses to 6 month behavior…the age he was when his trauma occurred.
Another activity is to make a list of “REALITY STATEMENTS” about your child’s identity and background and post in your home for loved ones to see. She encourages readers to do this because “it is not only what we know, or what our child knows about himself, but how others see him”. We will do this for Isaac, and it will be a good reminder for both us and for others as they babble English to him and he looks afraid. This will also help other relationships in his life as grandma understands and remembers, “It’s not that he doesn’t like me. He is confused, and he doesn’t understand me. I want to be patient and make a continued effort to let him go at his pace as he has been through so much.” If parents are too protective over stories, then a child will sense from the beginning that something is wrong, and “the parents’ fears and suspicions contaminate the child’s earliest sense of identity.” The more we can understand…the more we can communicate to our child…and the more their story is second nature to them and they have a healthy sense of identity.
Part 1 also touches on resiliency and reactive coping behaviors and what to do when your child gets revved up OR goes to sleep because of what he/she perceives as stressful situations. These two survival behaviors are what a child does to cope. For example, if you take your internationally adopted child to a church service full of loud music and lots of people–and immediately he conks out, without knowing you might think he just likes to sleep in church. What you might not realize though is what really is happening is that he is overwhelmed and his way of coping with stress is to shut completely down. There are also several other things occuring as the child shuts down as he is able to disquise his true feelings and feelings of isolation are increased. I want to better understand these behaviors so I am sensitive to them, and even at Isaac’s young age to walk him through his feelings and reduce stressful situations.
All this being said…this is a great read. Now…off to gobble up Part 2…200 pages on “Key Parenting Strategies”. Just glancing through I see lots of games and activities that will be helpful to even begin this summer! And I’m sure Frank will benefit from these connecting exercises too;)