Whether you carry your child yourself or they join your family after birth, there is one thing that every parent knows: you have expectations. It’s not purposeful, but you can’t help it. You have a dream for your family and for that child. However, when you’re dealing with little humans they can often defy your expectations for their own! It’s so difficult to deal when your dreams and reality don’t match up.
You had it all dreamed up- you’d save this child and they’d save you. Sure, life has been hard for them but they’re safe now. You just knew you’d bond, fall in love with each other, and have as close to happily ever after as parenting could possibly be. You knew it wouldn’t be easy- parenting by its very nature has challenges, but you didn’t expect THIS. The defiance, the tantrums, the testing, the outright rejection. You try not to take it personally but it feels so deeply personal. You may even have heard diagnoses like “Childhood Post Traumatic Stress,” “Reactive Attachment Disorder,” “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” or any other string of words they use to communicate that your child is acting out. Whatever they name it, you know your child is hurting. You may even realize that you don’t completely know what they’ve been through but you still want so desperately to ease that ache. They can’t communicate what’s going on in a way that you can understand. You find yourself trapped in a cycle of acting out and discipline to alter the behaviors. It’s eroding the relationship you have, which is already shaky. You can’t seem to bridge the gap. You’re trying so HARD but nothing seems to be good enough. Why can’t you reach them? You feel like you’re failing them. It’s not what you want for either of you. This wasn’t the dream.
Then the guilt sets in. You have days when you question yourself, when it feels too hard, you may even be resentful. Every parent has these thoughts, but they seem so much more potent when you’ve worked hard to adopt. You’re not supposed to have these thoughts. No matter how hard it is you’re supposed to love them through it. Some days you just want to give up.
You’re Not Alone.
This is actually quite common for families who are merging after birth. When you open your heart and your home to adopt you try to prepare yourself that it won’t go perfectly. You and your child come with your own deeply personal and often traumatic stories. It’s a lifelong process and there’s a lot to work on. The good news is that with a bit of guidance you can find your way through this. Many adoptive families go on to form great bonds and have the families that both parent and child have wanted for so long.
It’s all about Attachment.
In the therapy world a great deal of work has been done on something called “attachment theory.” Basically, we’ve found that we learn how to attach to others very early in our lives. We learn if it is safe to do so and what we can expect from others. Some people attach differently as a response to trauma. This is especially the case for those with difficult childhoods. They learn that the world is not safe, that they need to manipulate in order to get their needs met, or how to force distance through acting out if they feel that they are too close and become fearful. While we learn these messages and behaviors early on they are not fixed. It is possible to adapt and change from one form of attachment to another.
Here’s the Good News: with Some Work Big Changes Can Happen!
Did you know that you can completely change a relationship dynamic by yourself? It’s doable! In changing your own behaviors and responses you can alter how others respond to you- and this includes children. I often work with adoptive families on things like parenting skills, creating safety and learning to attach to one another, and regulating emotions in the family.
More Tools Means Greater Success
I use models that are based in connection such a Trust Based Relational Intervention, Integrative Parenting, Attachment Focused EMDR, and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy. These are well known and researched models of parenting skills and therapy that work to assist your child and the family to learn to trust and bond. The foundation of any parentingis the parent-child relationship. This is where we start. We work on building trust, communication, and safety. From there we can introduce other skills like learning how to set gentle boundaries, how to communicate needs and build a vocabulary for doing so, and how to regulate emotions. I also work with you on understanding the needs beneath the behavior. Children can’t communicate like we do. They don’t say “I’m angry.” Instead, they throw a tantrum, cry, or act out in some other way. I teach you how to “translate” and work to meet the needs underneath so that the unhelpful behavior is no longer necessary. We work to understand one another so that the interactions change.
There is Hope
It’s not all dark. You and your child have great strengths! I find that adoptive families form some of the strongest bonds I’ve seen. It takes work to learn to trust and open up, to learn to forgive when either of you makes a mistake, and to learn to repair when that happens. However, once you master these skills wonderful things start to happen! When you learn how to respond to your child and your child learns that you’re safe- and forever-everything changes. You can get there.
If you feel that your family is ready to start working towards a deeper bond and better understanding, call to set up an appointment today. We can create your personal plan and start working towards the family you envisioned.