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Monday, April 27, 2009
How to Help our Hurting Children
Today, I found a theme as I read some of my regular daily blogs. And, those blogs had links to other blogs with the same theme. The theme: R.A.D. - Reactive Attachment Disorder.
I am not one that likes to label children, especially since those labels often lead to, what I believe to be, unneccesary medical interventions (ie: drug the kids so that they'll behave better). I also get frustrated when labels are used to excuse negative behavior, without any attempt at behavior modification. Yes, labels may be able to help identify and explain a child's behavior; but I do not believe they should be used to excuse and allow the negative behavior patterns to continue. Now, don't think I just happen to be a mom that has children without any issues ... I have one child that was labeled ADHD, and others (along with my dear husband) that would be given that label if we asked for a label.
I was pleased to see that today's blog posts tended to agree with the opinion of not labeling ... but, rather, explaining behavior patterns. I especially liked what Laura Mouro's blog had to say about this particular label:
"In my opinion, RAD is not a "disorder" that an adopted child either gets or does not get diagnosed with. I think that the symptoms descriptive of RAD are a reaction that every adopted child has to some degree. Now, some obviously have RAD to a greater degree than others. But, honestly, can an (older) child (non-infant) go through what an adoptive child goes through and not have signs and symptoms of RAD?"
Here are a few links to some of Laura's posts:
I also found Christine's blog, and this post ...
I am always learning from my sweet bloggy friend Donna, as she researches educational delays and brain development. Today she wrote about ...
And then there is my email and bloggy friend, Kristin. She, too, touched on this topic today (and had links which led me to Christine and Laura). Today's post was about ...
Jim and I were harshly criticized before we brought our children home, because we had not read every possible book nor taken every possible class to learn about attachment disorders. We had read some, and we had spoken with several adoptive parents about their transitions (including having CLOSE friends who have dealt with severe attachment issues, and have adopted 3 older children over the past 8 years). Our perspective was NOT that we didn't expect to encounter any attachment issues with our children; our perspective was that we didn't want to dwell on every "what if?" situation. As we have parented for the past 25 years, we have encountered MANY very difficult parenting situations (especially in the teen years). While we did read a lot of parenting books, we did not focus on all of the books that told us how horrible the teen years could be. Our focus has always been to parent from a positive perspective, and then to seek the Lord (and, professionals if need be) when the negative situations occur (which they most certainly will). The week that we left for Africa, to bring our children home, our little local weekly newspaper printed an article about several families in our community who were adopting from Ghana. The paper quoted this parenting perspective ... and we were lambasted. Months later, this one sentence quote was still being repeated as an example of our family "not being prepared for our adoption". In truth, we were prepared ... just not in the same way that other families might prepare.
While in Africa, we were observed telling our children, "In America ... this is how we do things and this is why we do things." Those observing us felt, again, that this was NOT how to parent adopted children. So, once again ... we were criticized harshly ... and those accusations followed us home.
Why am I bringing up those situations today?
We did not change the way we set out to parent.
We did not go out and seek more "professional training" ...
but, rather, we sought the Lord for His wisdom.
We did not stop giving direction ... and teaching the
children what life was going to be like at the Big D
house in America.
We did not completely change the lifestyle of the Big D
family in order to accommodate the new children.
(Yes, accommodations were made; but life did not
suddenly need to change drastically.)
We did not stop setting boundaries for our new children;
as we felt that boundaries were critically important.
And ... today ... after reading all of the above blog posts ... I finally felt like these women would approve if they saw how we are parenting. We, obviously, haven't chosen our method of parenting in order to please others (since we are so often criticized), but it was nice to know that we are parenting like a lot of other newly adoptive parents of children from Africa; and that our parenting style has been effective/successful.
We haven't encountered anywhere near the trauma that many families encounter. Some of that is definitely because different children have different levels of attachment issues. However, I believe that a lot of it is also because we had a plan ... we were prepared ... we did set guidelines ... and we didn't allow the new children to take control of our household when they arrived. We set boundaries right from day 1, and we had consequences when those boundaries were ignored.
Three months before we went to Africa, we were at a business conference in another part of the state, and we went to visit a family that we had met through their blog. They had adopted multiple children from multiple countries over the course of several years. What we found was a living situation that I KNEW would send me over the edge ... a completely out of control household, with a completely distraught/worn-out/frustrated mom. We spent 2 hours with this family and left saying, "What are we getting ourselves into?" Their perspective was that, any and every adopted child would be out of control and there was nothing you could do about it (as the parent). They literally told us that we needed to expect our house to be destroyed ... furniture, carpets, appliances, etc... And, they gave us example after example of the things their children had done. The mom even told me of a book that I needed to read. (She buys them by the case, to hand out to newly adopting parents.) To be honest, I wasn't about to buy the book, if this was going to be the outcome of the parenting advice. We didn't need to "get training" to find out about R.A.D. ... we had seen it up close.
At the same time, we had very dear friends walking through a nightmare foster/adopt situation that had to be terminated after multiple police encounters. Again, we saw R.A.D. up close and personal, and we did not agree at all with the "parenting advice" that our friends were receiving from the "professionals".
So ... had we gone through a lot of "training" before we brought our children home? Not in the professional sense of the word ... but we had been trained. We had looked closely at both of these situations. We had discussed them thoroughly and talked through how we would approach each one. Then, we proceeded to seek the Lord as we faced each new situation with our children.
Our children have been home for 13 months. They haven't destroyed our house. We haven't had to call the police. They are polite, generally obedient, loving and kind. This past year hasn't been easy ... but we know it could have been much worse.
Do our children have R.A.D.? Like Laura, I don't see it as a disorder. Yes, it has taken my children time to attach. Are they fully attached? No. Can you imagine trying to figure out how to "attach" to a new mom and dad and 10 new siblings, while at the same time trying to figure out how to just "live life" in America??? Do our children KNOW that we love them, and that we will NEVER leave them? Absolutely. Do we know that our children love us? You bet ... even when those pesky symptoms of R.A.D. are showing their ugly head.
I learned a few things from today's blog posts ... but most of all they just confirmed what we are already doing. However, the best thing I discovered about the posts I read today, was that I finally had something to show our older children ... a way to explain to them that the issues we deal with with Jacob, Sarah, and Rachel are typical ... and that the way mom and dad have responded to the frustrating situations really is the best way (even when it doesn't make logical sense ... because R.A.D. is not logical). I actually copied all of the above blog posts onto a Word document, and printed them ... so that each of the older 5 children living at home can read them this week. I look forward to the discussions that will take place after they all have a better understanding of R.A.D., and how/why it affects their young siblings.
Now ... you 3 big kids that live out of state and oversees ... I hope you'll pop onto the above links and read them, too. It will help you to understand what exactly mama has been trying to explain to you in our regular skype or phone conversations. And, you'll see that it is not only your little siblings that create these most frustrating daily situations for their parents.