My partner and I are both educators. I’d like to think we’re pretty darned good ones. So, when we went to the CAS intake session and they told us that adopting a child meant we would have to face a lot of difficulties in order to give that child everything that he or she needed, we didn’t really blink. After all, I can manage 35 teenagers at a time, what’s one child?
During the PRIDE training, we learned about the various issues children who have been in care are likely to have, from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, to autism, to attachment disorders. Again, we took all this in stride. We knew that we wanted to adopt and give a child a better life, to be their forever family. For that matter, we agreed to adopting an older child because we knew how many there were in the system and we knew that we could manage it. We felt we were up for the challenge.
When we first met our son, he was a charming, polite ten year-old boy. The honeymoon stage of the adoption went exceedingly well. He started staying for long visits over the summer, and since both my partner and I are educators, we had the summer off and could spend a lot of time with him. There were difficulties, of course. He had problems with anger and would destroy his belongings and throw things when he was upset. Again, nothing we couldn’t manage.
Then school started. And the “snits” as we called them to him got worse and more frequent. I was taking the parental leave and would find myself constantly drained by his anger. He would orbit me in the mornings; picking at me in “jest,” but in reality passive aggressively trying to prompt an angry response from me, and often got it. He began stealing. The smallest disappointment would send him into a rage.
One day, we caught him shoplifting and we put him on house arrest. No more friends for the month. He would be walked to and from school, even though he was comfortable doing so alone. My partner, or myself, would always accompany him until we felt we could trust him again.
All through this, I was finding it incredibly difficult to manage. I was one big ball of rage. I was angry all the time. I knew that he’s a child, who has been through a lot, and PRIDE training should have prepared me for this, but even still, I was angry and frustrated and I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what to do. I felt completely incompetent. I felt like an utter failure. His behaviour and the attitude he gave me frustrated me to no end.
I was in regular contact with my caseworker. She was incredibly helpful. She told me I was doing well, but she also told me that I needed help and support. She got me in touch with an attachment therapist and told me to go. It took me a few weeks, and my partner’s prodding to finally agree to see her. And I’m so glad I did.
The thing about being an adoptive parent is that you cannot parent the way that you were parented. Furthermore, your child may as well be from another planet. I could not for the life of me understand why he was behaving the way he was (even though intellectually I could connect what he was doing with what I had learned in PRIDE training).
He is a child who has faced so much disappointment and rejection from the adults in his life that it affected him in ways I couldn’t understand. His rages were symptomatic of his inability to regulate the numerous fears and triggers that boiled inside of him, and I didn’t have a Rosetta Stone to translate what he was communicating. To me, he was just stubborn and angry, and all I could see was his behaviour.
The therapist helped talk me through it all. It was with her help that I stopped thinking like a teacher trying to control an unruly student and allowed me to think more therapeutically. I came to realize that parenting an adoptive child is not about managing his behaviour; parenting an adoptive child is about getting to the root of their issues, and providing for his needs. And sure enough, once I started focusing on what he needed, the behaviour improved. And once I started seeing past the behaviour to what he needed, my anger subsided. How can you be angry when you can finally look past the behaviour and see that he is not lashing out at you, but is in fact grieving, afraid, and anxious?
The therapist also helped me with me. She helped me to see why I was reacting so angrily to everything. Quite often, I would go into a dissociative state, where I felt like I was watching his tantrums from far away. She helped me realize how I had developed coping mechanisms like these ones in order to help deal with anger I had dealt with as a child in my own household. We strategized ways for me to be engaged rather than dissociate or respond with anger. I hadn’t realized how much of good parenting would require me to work on myself.
Most of the language around funding to support children through the adoptive process is phrased around supporting the children. However, the language needs to include the support of parents. While therapy for a child may be useful, that is perhaps one day every week. It is, in the end, the parents who are the child’s greatest form of support. In a given day, there are dozens of minutes - long therapeutic moments - provided to children, not scheduled, but provided in the moments a child is ready or needing it.
Parents need to be trained and supported during the transition. A course is not how that training should be provided. Therapy for parents is essential. How else can we deal with our own personal barriers to good parenting? Even as a teacher, I do not have the training to provide proper therapeutic response to my child. It is only by learning to step back and truly listen that I have been able to help my son.
Support for adoptive parents is support for their children. It is only by teaching parents how to be therapeutic parents, that these kids get the type of parenting that they need.In providing #Support4EveryFamily there needs to mandated trauma and attachment therapy beginning shortly after placement.