Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What does it take?

Recently, I was reading Faith A's blog at Adoption Under One Roof about what it takes to parent a traumatized older child. The comments got me thinking about my own answer to that question.

My list goes something like this (and I certainly don't possess all of these qualities, though I strive for them):

- Honest acceptance of your own personal history and mistakes.

- Gallows humor.

- A strong belief that no life is ever "ruined".

- Street smarts.

- Endurance.

- The ability to parent today for the sake of today - an acceptance that it might not "work out" in the long term and the child may end up in residential treatment, embroiled in legal problems, or otherwise struggling and that your decision to do this work now doesn't depend on any "result".

- A healthy skepticism of the system.

- Scientific curiosity. Why is my kid doing this? What happened right before he did this? What environmental factors can I change and how does he respond when I do?

- Empathy for the depth and range and duration of grief.

- Being cool with being different so you can weather the occasional social isolation of adopting an older child with "issues".

- Chemistry: one person's problem child is another person's "special someone". I can confidently say that, had I known the full facts of his case before I met him on his own terms, I would not have offered to parent T. And yet the three of us "clicked" and that natural chemistry ignited a deep mutual affection that gets us through things none of us would have signed up for on the face of it. We fit like puzzle pieces.

- Understanding that how far someone has come depends on where he started.

What did I miss?


Liz said...

It occurs to me that most of these would be good qualities to have when you are parenting ANY child!

I adopted my daughter as a toddler and she has not endured the trauma that T. has, but she did lose her mother to malaria and then lost the rest of her family, her country, her language, her culture and everything else to international adoption...the one thing I might add to your list is that I often have to remind myself that it's not my job to protect or shield my daughter from pain and grief (both past and future), but to give her the tools to process them and make it through. Mostly I do that by listening to whatever she has to say and letting her know that whatever she is feeling is okay to express.

Claudia said...

Every single one of these things is just so thought provoking. Thank you (from a grateful mostly-lurker).

Anonymous said...

Commitment. Commitment is what is needed the most.

I know you are totally committed, but I think that is a word that should be on the list.

I like what you have on the list.

Julia said...

I just happened upon your blog and saw that atlasien's blog Upside Down Adoption: http://atlasien.blogspot.com/ is not on your blog roll. You two are definitely kindred spirits.

Thank you for sharing your journey. You sound like a truly amazing parent.

marythemom said...

Faith - a strong belief that things have happened for a reason, that you are where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to be doing.

Counterintuitive - willingness to fight against your own instincts, sometimes even having to stand up to EVERYone believing that you are absolutely wrong, but you keep going - trying to do what you think is best for your child.

Stubborn determination

Acceptance - of your limitations, your child's limitations, the "system's" limitations... except when you need to fight against them and NOT accept them. (The Serenity Prayer comes in handy here)

Willingness to put your self and your marriage first - above the needs of your child(ren). Taking care of yourself, in spite of that feeling totally impossible because you just don't have the time, the energy, or it feels "selfish" to "neglect" your child to pamper yourself and choose your needs over the needs of your child.

Ability to continue on in the face of the absolute hatred of another human being for you, someone who is pushing you away as hard as they possibly can, who trusts no one. Who may even be abusing you or other members of your family.

Ability to deal/cope with the guilt - from your failure to "fix" it; your inability to protect a child (you didn't even know) from the horrible trauma that they suffered in the past and are continuing to suffer because their perception of the world is so skewed; of not being "enough"; for "inflicting" this child on your family, friends and neighbors; for not being able to always protect this child from family, friends, neighbors, the "system"; of not being able to protect your other children from having to deal with the realities of living with a traumatized sibling...

In addition to agreeing with everything you said, these are a few more of the things I think it takes to raise my traumatized older children. Still not a comprehensive list, and I don't pretend I have all these traits, but like you, it's what I strive for!

Mary in TX

Lulu McCabe said...

Thanks guys! Commitment: yes, certainly plenty of that. Julie, thanks so much for introducing me to atlasien - I just finished reading her excellent post on anger. And Mary the Mom: you're always so insightful. I agree with all that you said, but found myself nodding particularly vigorously at a counterintuitive ability to fight your own instincts (yes! SO many times!) and deal with your own guilt at not being able to "fix it."

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