Tuesday, June 03, 2008

All's Well in "Kennyville"

Previously I wrote about our minor behavioral struggles with Kenny while on our trip to California. Wouldn't you know that now that we are settled back home, all is moving along smoothly? I had a comment from someone that made a light bulb go on, that we were at the year anniversary of Kenny's adoption and often adopted children will backslide a bit when these time markers occur. I am not sure if that was the case, or if it was just part of his regular "test and grow" cycle as he continues on the path to maturity. However, it is a distinct possibility that the anniversary had something to do with it, as every year thus far with Joshie we have an obvious downturn in emotions as he struggles with his feelings during a time of year that brings back unpleasant memories.

We had to be quite stern with Kenny while we were gone, as he was really pushing it, testing us in many ways with control. For us, it really wasn't all that bad as we are used to it by now, know it is short term...as long as we stick to our guns...and our more relaxed and trusting Kenny will return soon. For others though, who don't always understand the bigger picture, it can seem as if we are too firm, too unbending, too strict. Some do not see discipline as love, which for us is what it is. They see it somehow as a sign of mistreatment, of a lack of kindness, of not caring. Nothing could be further from the truth.

You see, what most people who have not adopted an older institutionalized child do not understand, is that we are really dealing with a 5 or 6 year old in many regards. Kenny does not have the life experience nor has he had the one on one attention to help him mature to his true age. I can say without reservation that, at least in our case, the standard international adoption adage of "one month delayed for every 3 months institutionalized" is right on the money.

Because this has proven correct in Kenny's case, and I am sure in many others' as well, we are having to go back and relive and retrain as if he were a 4 year old at first, then a 5 year old...and now sometimes a 6 year old, even though he is 9 1/2. We get tantrums once in awhile when we see we are not the center of attention or when things aren't going our way...he plays for sympathy. This occurs rarely anymore, but it still happens once in awhile. He tests us often periodically to see if "no" really does mean "no", just as any toddler or preschooler does. And just like any parent of a toddler, consistency is the key...and not letting him play one parent against another is of utmost importance. He reverts to baby talk often to garner attention, which sometimes is ok but in some circumstances is inappropriate. He plays 100% at the developmental level of a five year old, which is why he and Joshua can play out super hero scenarios by the hours and never get bored...but the average 9 1/2 year old is well beyond that stage of play acting.

Kenny's need to control things stems in part from his inability to trust that the caring adults in his life (i.e. his parents) can take care of him, are indeed capable of handing things for him. Why should he trust adults when for most of his life it was up to him to make sure he was ok? Sure, there were caretakers around but that is NOT the same as the one on one undivided attention a parent can provide...and it is not at all the same thing as having an infant who cries and mom shows up at the crib to take care of your needs immediately. With Josh we saw what the end result of that can be on the far end of the scale, with Kenny we are seeing the more subtle signs of it.

It is easy for others to misunderstand without the benefit of hours and hours of adoption training, or the thousands of hours of reading the stories of other families and learning what works and what doesn't, what might speed up the process of assimilation into a family and what might hinder it. Just as some of you have shared with me that you have gained some sense of understanding from reading our blog, so too have I gained much from the internet list postings of the hundreds of parents who have willingly shared their experiences over the past 8+ years. I literally could not count the number of hours I have spent in adoption research, nor the number of emails I have answered...or more importantly the number of emailed questions others have answered for me.

One thing that is often overlooked, that is swept under the carpet because it marks us as "different" than "real" parents is that the fact is, we have to parent differently, we have to think outside the box at times, we have to be diligent and aware of issues that a biological parent would never even think of...things like seasons triggering bereft feelings which can't be named, food issues which are caused by a lack of a full tummy early on, behaviors that are caused by years of institutionalization and neglect...and those behaviors themselves are seen as "weird" to outsiders, then throw in race issues, special need issues, abandonment issues...and you begin to see that parenting an adopted child is different, no matter how much we want to see it as the same. We simply can not parent Kenny the same as we would a biological 9 year old...and not even the same as Matthew at almost 9 years old who has been with us since infancy. As do so many adoptive parents, we have to create an "IPP" rather than the usual school "IEP"...we need to create an "Individualized Parenting Plan" for each child dependent upon their background and their reaction to it. And those who don't understand will see you parenting each child differently and think that you love one child more than another, because there are necessary differences in the way you handle each child.

Often, it is not this more aware style of parenting that is the problem, it is the judgment of others who don't understand that undermines our confidence. How easy it is to say "You are doing this all wrong" when you have never faced the parenting challenges that so many of us face on a daily basis.

The fact remains, love really isn't enough. It's really, really not. For those of you who are in the process right now and think you can "love" your child out of whatever issues they may have, please replace that thought process with "commitment" is enough, because it is that commitment that will keep you standing back up in the ring to face another round when the love has taken a back seat to momentary frustration and aggravation.

This is not to say that the love still doesn't exist despite the daily struggles. It does, and it runs strong and deep...it is that love that drives us to be the best parents we can be to our "outside the box" kids...it is the desire to see them become all that they can be against all odds and all predictions of dire futures. We see in them all they can become, while others have only pity for the "poor orphaned child". Pity is a pretty useless emotion, it gets nothing accomplished, it makes those who are being pitied see themselves as victims rather than victors. It provides a ready-made excuse for settling for less than the best.

In my opinion, and as I have often said my opinion is worth exactly what you pay for it...nothing...holding tightly onto our children's "orphan" status in our own minds limits them, it narrows their world, it places them in a role that is so hard to break out of. They begin to see it as "the" defining experience in their life rather than "a" defining experience just like other non-adopted people have in their lives...experiences that do shape and form them but don't singly define who they are forever. Our children were orphaned, perhaps for some not so pleasant reasons. That is fact. Some will have a need to explore that in a deeper way than others. But they are not orphans for their entire life unless we allow them to define themselves that way. I am not saying we don't acknowledge it and help them explore it, I am saying we help them move forward through it, to use it as a building block in their life and not as the brick that is missing in the foundation. Does any of this rambling make sense at all? Maybe not, and I am sorry if that is so.

To me, Kenny is a perfect example of this explanation. Kenny is an incredible little boy in so many ways, but the way in which he has most impressed me from day one is his acceptance of all that has been, and his embracing of all that can be. We spoke this evening about the tough week we had together last week, why he was acting up, what he thought about it all, if he understood our need to be strict with him. He told me "You have to learn me lot of things Momma, I not with you since I a baby like Matthew and Joshie...I not know things. That's your job. I know you love me, I know God loves me and he give me you to learn me so I grow up good.". He then said "I sorry I not act right sometimes, but I try and sometime I not do wrong things anymore.". He sees his own progress, he is smart enough (believe me he is smart enough!!!) to know when he is not doing what he needs to do, he may not always be able to correct it due to his immaturity, but that will come in time. The fact is, just as with any other child...adopted or not...kids want limits, they need them. And not placing those limits reasonably on our kids does them a disservice, it feeds the "pity party" born of their background. I know how easy it is to look at our kids and say "I want them to have everything they ever wanted and couldn't have...I want them to love me...I want them to feel loved..." and to mistake discipline as a lack of love. It is not, it is the surest sign of love.

And if privately you weep over all that life has unfairly thrown at them, at all they have to overcome, that too is fine...and it is love as well.

I remember Kenny's first days at school this year when things were so rough, when he was acting oddly due to his overstimulation and he was being teased...and how I wanted to do nothing more than yank him out of there and take him home to cradle him. It was hard on my heart to send him back to the lion's den day after day, knowing what he was enduring. But pity wouldn't have helped him, our continued confidence in his abilities to overcome was far more helpful to his psyche. Just as treating him with kid gloves now would do no good in the area of his behavior...it only would serve to delay the inevitable discipline that will have to come into play eventually.

And Kenny knows how dearly he is loved, he understands more than most adults all that we have to make up for. We are blessed with three very astute kids, and Kenny has a depth and level of understanding that surpasses anything I ever would have expected. He also has a quiet strength about him that, if harnessed and taken out of the "control" box and placed in the "leadership" box, will take him very far in this world. Walking that tightrope of wrestling with his need to control every single thing around him and not squelching the confidence within is a tough place to be...nurturing the good and ridding him of the unnecessary. I would love nothing more than for him to wake up one morning and know within his heart that Mommy and Daddy can be trusted to make all the right decisions, and he can relax and enjoy his childhood. Maybe we'll get there one day, and maybe we will struggle with this issue his entire life. Regardless, it is our job to do our best daily to parent he and his brothers the best way we know how, with love and kindness and discipline...even if to others that discipline at times appears unkind.

But regardless of what others might think, regardless of how wrong they think we are...the only Judge that matters is up above. He knows our hearts, we don't need to justify anything with Him.

And Kenny laughing tonight and saying "Of COURSE I know you love me!!" says it all. Yes, all is well in "Kennyville", and the growth we are seeing is beyond comprehension. We have a long way to go together, and though the road may truly be less traveled, it is a reasonably well marked road for those who have studied enough to read the signs. For those who don't read the language well enough, just trust those of us who do...we are doing our best...really. That is not to say we are always right, for we are not...that is a given. But we have the road map written by those who have gone before us, and they made mistakes we are learning from...they made some wrong turns too. But they eventually made it, and so will we.


Dee said...

What a wonderful post. I wish I could print this out and give it to every friend of mine who tells me to parent my kids the same as any other kids, and forget they are adopted. I can't do that, for just the reasons you mentioned.

Also, anyone who crticizes you for disciplining your child is out of line. Kids NEED structure and rules - they don't feel safe otherwise. My kids want routine and rules. Coddling them would accomplish nothing. Discipline with love and patience is the best way.


Julie & John Wright said...

Hi, this is Julie here, John's wife.
Thank you so much for all your encouragement and support and kind words. You are a real blessing to me. I appreciate your comments about thinking of perhaps wanting to support us financially or with more than just prayer, but I want you to know that I would for sure choose the prayer support and encouragement. The covering of prayer vital and coveted. Thank you,......And I love reading your blog.
Love Julie

Kelly said...

Thank you for such a thought provoking post! Two thoughts come to mind that I would like to share. First - I have always been pro-choice (not hard core out protesting, etc, but still believe a woman has a right to choose). I've never had to personally face such a choice. Many of my close friends that know I am pro-choice thought that my believe about pro-choice was at odds with wanting to adopt a child. On the one hand how could I believe a woman had a right to choose to end a pregnancy, and on the other hand desire to adopt a child? I never thought there was a connection between the two, but for many there was.
Second - I wanted to comment on a Man's rights and how it seemed that they were overlooked or not even considered. I think many times when a birth Mother finds herself in a situation where she needs to put a child up for adoption there probably is not a strong Man standing next to her. The Man may have already walked out on her or show no interest in the child. Under these circumstances it would be easy to not even consider him when making decisions.
I'm looking forward to reading the collection of essay's.