Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Different Kind of Discipline

We have arrived in Vegas after a boring and thankfully uneventful drive. Of course, it is breathtakingly hot here but we were greeted by our friends upon arrival and treated to a traditional Central Asian meal. The kids were totally wound up and bouncing off the walls, so we had pillow fights, wrestling matches and charades before our friends left and we settled down quickly for a good night's sleep.

Today was spent on the Strip in the company of our friends, exploring a couple of hotels/casinos and explaining what the games were, checking out the M&M store and marveling at the ridiculousness of American marketing genius, and seeing the man made display of electric excess as we cruised the strip this evening and the kids madly snapped pictures out the windows. 112 degrees, whew! We have all really experienced the gamut of Mother Nature's temperatures this year!!! From -70 to +112 in 6 month's time...that is quite a swing!

I am realizing on this trip that we are entering a new stage of parenthood, and as much as I will miss the stage we are gradually exiting, this new one is very special too. I am no longer the sole caregiver, there are no longer very young children to wipe up who blindly walk around oblivious to much of anything other than their own needs. There is a gentle and tender shift, and a growing sense of outward awareness. I also feel myself stepping back and seeing the strengths and capabilities as "tweens" who are strong and sometimes quite wise are rising to the surface. Walking behind Matthew as he made his way down the street today I saw the broad shoulders and the huge feet that are now the same size as my own, and I realized this young man is one who can be counted on. Angela and Olesya grabbed all the bags (7 duffels and 6 backpacks) while I was checking in, loaded them all on the luggage cart, and pushed them all the room while I stood back and let them have the fun of feeling that much more adult. There is an increasing desire in all 3 to share the load, and to help take care of the business at hand.

I also find myself being cared for in new ways. A silent taking of a heavy load, the "Don't worry Mom, I'll go ask the front desk for more towels.", the arranging and cleaning up of things around our room. Is it perfect? No...but it doesn't need to be. I am more interested in the fact that anyone even sees what needs to be done and does it without prompting than I am that anything look perfect. There is a touching concern for me and my welfare...Angela telling me to leave my purse behind and only carry money in my pocket so I don't get my purse snatched, Matthew saying to me tonight "Mom, you must be so tired after that long drive and being up late tonight. Go ahead and get in bed, I'll take care of everything else.", and Olesya gently removing Joshie's shoes after he feel asleep with them on, then moving on to me to take mine off as well as we both giggled.

Then there is Kenny, my sweet little guy who thinks ever-so-mistakenly that his mother is perfect. He is not at the maturity level or awareness yet that the other older kids are, but he is our little worker bee, jumping in enthusiastically to get the job done no matter how bad it is, and always quick with a complement for me regardless of how rough a day we might have had together.

And we have had some rough ones recently...

Kenny has reverted in his typically cyclical nature to being Man In Charge. Yes, we are back to Mr. Kenny thinking he is in control of everyone and everything around him, so reminiscent of his first year home. We haven't had this kind of backsliding in a very long time, and it is proving more frustrating this time around for me to deal with it, probably because I was beginning to think we had licked it once and for all. He also is paying far less attention than he normally does. With his very real auditory processing issues, we struggle with this daily even when he is trying his hardest, but when he blows it off he just tends to do what he thinks he may have heard and ignores the fact that he really has no idea what was said. This can make for some very long and repetitious days for me as I find myself repeating the same things 5 and 6 times. Some of it is control oriented, some of it is carelessness and inattention. But I realized I was not the only one this weekend being pretty deeply affected by it when he very uncharacteristically said something a little unkind to Olesya (and she overreacted a bit as it touched a raw nerve in her about her own insecurities), and in exploration I realized the root cause was once again Kenny being upset over not being in charge.

So I decided to take a different direction with discipline. Tiring of the same result, and frustrated with feeling "stuck" the past few weeks with him, I realized we needed to upset the apple cart a bit and get creative. If I am being honest, I also recognized that I had left out a key component to any good disciplinary program...God. Duh...

After the incident with Olesya Saturday, Dominick and I gathered everyone around the dining room table where the lights had been extinguished and a couple of candles had been lit. Dominick had no idea what I had in mind, but he is always one to be willing to try a different approach so he quietly followed my lead. I said we needed a family conference, and we needed to invite God to be part of it. We all held hands and were quiet for a moment, then we offered up a prayer asking God to be with us in a recognizable way, as our family needed the Spirit's presence to help us sort out our current struggle.

I then proceeded to tell everyone that we were obviously having some challenges, and I felt it was important for us all to share what our feelings were. I then encouraged each of the kids to kindly explain to Kenny how his behavior the past few weeks had been effecting them, saying that he had heard mainly from Mom on this matter but he was not seeing how what he said or did touched everyone. It took a couple of minutes and a nudge or two for everyone to feel safe enough to open up, but one by one each of the kids looked Kenny in the eye and told him how they felt. I was so pleased that this was not an attack session, as I had hoped it wouldn't turn into, but an honest expression of frustration over being ordered around all the time, and having time continually taken away from their school work or family fun time to discipline him.

He had been pretty immune to Mom and Dad, but it proved to be much harder to be immune to the tears of Olesya as she couldn't look at him as she told him how much he had hurt her feelings with his comments. He also couldn't ignore it when they told him they wanted their family "back the way it used to be" a few weeks ago and that they missed the Kenny who was sweet. His sisters and brothers were far more effective than we ever could have been, and it was an incredibly powerful experience to see Kenny literally connect it all right before our eyes. The tears flowed as he apologized for his behavior, and he was deeply moved by seeing every one of his siblings cry over his own distress. However, they held firm and when I guided them to tell Kenny of the one thing they would like to see him change they said through their own tears things like "Please listen to Mom and Dad", "Don't tell us what to do anymore" and "Pay more attention.".

Then, there by candlelight, each person shared what they loved most about Kenny, and things like "You are so funny and happy all the time!" and "You help everyone more than anyone in our family" came out. He heard so many things that make him special! He couldn't stop the tears as he said "I don't know why you guys still love me!" and then, without any prompting Angela said "We always love you, you are our family." and then Josh, then Matthew, then Olesya all said the same thing...We love you forever, you are our family.

With the help of everyone at the table, including Kenny, we came up with possible future disciplinary actions, and I'll be darned if the kids didn't have some good suggestions including removing Kenny from family situations when he escalates his behavior occasionally. We talked about what we would do if he made our trip to California difficult, and I explained that being the only adult with 5 kids I needed him to be at his best or it would be too hard. We all agreed to come home and cut our trip short, but Kenny said "That's not fair to you guys" and before I could say a word Angela threw out "Yes it is, we love you and will not leave you alone".

We ended in prayer again, thanking God for being with us as we dealt with the hard stuff. We sat there for a moment, candles burning slowly down, staring at one another...this precious family of ours. It was a holy moment, one that was prompted initially by frustration and anger, yet ended in a united family dealing with the every day simple problems we all face. It was obvious that Kenny had "heard" the message in a way he had never yet heard it, and that all the other kids felt they too had been heard. It was a new level of communication for us all, and a moving experience for each of us as we worked with the Spirit to bring honesty, understanding and love to the forefront.

I am also quite pleased to see the results. Kenny took it to heart, his behavior has drastically improved, and I noticed him catching himself twice over the past couple of days as he started to tell one of the other kids what to do, then verbally backed up. I know we are not done with some of these issues, and are likely to revisit them a few more times, but we have broken through and created a new awareness for him which might help significantly in the future when it rears its ugly head and needs to be once again tamed.

I am still stymied by another very heartfelt issue. Tonight as we were on the Strip, it was Angela's turn to sit in the front seat and Mommy stuff came up again. She told me she can't stop feeling badly about how she knows she hurt us at first in Kazakhstan, and it is really bothering her. She tried hard not to cry, and managed to keep the tears in but her chin was sure quivering and the lump in her voice was obvious. As her love for us continues to grow, as we talk more about the years we loved them and waited for them, the more the guilt seems to build no matter how I have tried to reassure her about it all. Even over there it was plain to see she had a loyal streak a mile long, and that loyalty is now eating her up inside as she realizes how hurt we must have been. I have tried every direction I can think of to help her create space for forgiving herself, but nothing is working. She seems to understand we were not ever nor are we now angry over it, and that we knew there were all kinds of complications going on inside her head and heart. It is not about us, it is about her viewing her own actions and being ashamed and embarrassed by it. Somehow I need to come up with a strategy that will help her release that, for I sure don't want her carrying it around inside.

So, as seems to be par for the course for Team LaJoy, in the midst of the laughter and outwardly carefree times, there is always an inner layer of meaning and moments requiring intense attention to the soul stuff. Just as it is a different kind if discipline we tried with Kenny, it is a different kind of life we lead, I guess. And that is just fine with me.

Off to California and first visits with Grandma's!


. said...

Fantastic! Can I call you when I need creative discipline? Praise God, He is the best parent of us all and sure knows how to help us parent, huh?
Shan in CO

Anonymous said...

Great family time and creative, helpful way to reach Kenny's heart. In the midst of it all, affirmation and love.

I'm sure you'll find a way to communicate with Angela, too. Again, bring God into it, as I know you will. There's no reason any of us should be forgiven, but in Christ by way of His death for us, we are. Relating to her in that way, as sinners ourselves who know all too well our own hearts, we've experienced those same feelings in repentence. The definition of grace. I know you'll come up with another LaJoy word picture, family conference, activity, or something to help Angela begin to absorb this.

That's one thing I love about parenting...the challenge to keep on coming up with ideas! God is so good to help us be creative.

Have a wonderful trip.

Nancy in the Midwest

Kim said...

I have a thought on Angela's feelings of guilt over hurting you. I think, perhaps, it relates to the hurt she suffered through the actions of her bio parents. She was so wounded emotionally and probably feels as though she has wounded you in much the same way. If she is struggling to get past what was done to her, and likely feels she never will stop feeling that pain, she could think that you have those same feelings about the pain caused to you. It is a powerful form of empathy. "i know how they feel because i've felt it too" If she felt that she had caused you that much pain and grief, she would likely not be able to forgive herself, or understand how you could forgive her, because she can't imagine herself ever forgiving what her bio parents did to her.

Now I can't claim I have any solutions for that, but I wonder if explaining to her that there are different levels of hurt and that yours was not nearly so severe might help. Also that you have a strong faith in God and that he wants us to forgive, and you live by His word. Or maybe it will be something tougher that needs more long term work, like learning to forgive her bios and let go the pain. Once she can forgive them, she can understand how you could forgive her.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Angela feels somewhat responsible for how she and O were treated by their parents. That she is somehow not "good" in a fundamental sense. By continuing to feel guilty about how she treated you, she can rest in that familiar and safe (albeit destructive) place of not being "good." Maybe she needs to hear that it is you, not her, who is responsible for how you feel, and that you have moved on, just as she needs to accept her mistake (an understandable one) and move on. I don't pretend to know if any of this is correct. Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

This might be the same as other posters, but just thinking as I type.

Angela might be worried about if you will "stick by her". Kids somehow blame themselves when parents divorce or abandon or abuse them. She might still have some deep feelings that somehow it was her fault that she and Oleysia were abandoned by their birth parents. And without even understanding those feelings or knowing how to even begin to voice such huge thoughts and feelings, she might feer she did something so big as to cause you not to continue to be committed to her and Oleysia. She might easily not be making this connection, if it's even the case. In many cases, older adopted kids "push buttons" to try to test the new relationship with adoptive parents...to be sure the committement is there. Or they continue to hold guilt deep down and have a hard time believing that we can love them. They act out in ways that do make it difficult to love them, trying to prove to others that they are unloveable.

In Angela's case, her heart is soft, rather than how some kids react. I'm sure you'll be able to talk to her and work more of these things out. It may take many conversations. It might just be the opening for her to take the gospel to heart and make it her own. Forgiveness is hard for all of us to accept, as we know our inner thoughts. What an opportunity to explain God's grace, as her heart is tender and repentent.

Praying for Angela to be able to understand and grasp the depth of your forgiveness and the Lord's. And for you to continue to have wisdom to know how to communicate these things most effectively. You have proven to be a mom who knows how to touch your children's hearts.

Nancy in the Midwest

Lori said...

Bless sweet Angela's heart...it's so tender.

I love the 'intervention' for Kenny!!! Honestly, you are so right on with what will motivate kids!! For years and years and years, parents constantly ask me how to get their child to do this or why their child won't do that and what can they do to make x or y happen and I just gently and politely try to let them know that sadly, moms and dads are sort of tuned out. Sometimes a teacher/Sunday School Teacher/pastor/other type of 'authority figure' may be able to get somewhere but usually not far and very temporarily.

I have found in my classes with my kids that honestly, the main thing that motivates behavioral change from students is the 'peer pressure', if you will, from their classmates. Not in a mean way, but just as you presented it in your family--open and honest conversations with a classmate about how we love them and value them as a classmate and family member, but their behavior is inhibiting their learning or upsetting them or whatever, and how it affects the entire environment. Throwing in the positives of the child, from his or her peers, only reinforces that it's not the child, but the actions that the rest are unhappy with and it makes such a difference in classroom behavior.

Reading this post reminded me so much of that type of discipline that I've found so effective as a classroom teacher!

But you are Cindy LaJoy, and I am not one bit surprised!

Anonymous said...

A beautiful response to Kenny--it left him empowered but not in power, surrounded by love not resentment.

As for Angela--guilt is such a pervasive emotion in those of us who can feel it. Ask any mom and she will always speak of failures even when strong, happy, loving offspring are the results of her love. I don't know if dads feel this way so much. Guilt serves only as long as it is needed to guide our future behavior. After that it is corrosive.

The God we know, love, and worship is a God of love above all, a God of forgiveness and compassion. I wonder if, over the coming months as Angela gets to know more and more about God and your experience with God, she can also integrate this into her feelings. Before you ever forgave, God forgave. Before you could forgive, God had birthed you into love, compassion and forgiveness. And God has done the same for Angela. She lives in grace. What her guilt can do for her, before she lets it go, is help her fashion new ways to deal with fear and hurt and difficult situations in the future. She'll probably spiral back through guilt at other stages just as Kenny will probably deal again with the need to control. We all seem to spiral deeper and deeper into our base issues as we age and circumstances change. Each time we are given new insights and new perceptions.

May the road rise up before you with rainbows of possibility. Stay safe. Have fun.

Love you,

Karon and John said...

You are all truly amazing. What is wonderful is that your teaching your kids how to manuver around difficult situations by trying new approches to the same old problem. Thank you for sharing

Hilary Marquis said...

Now I know who to call when I need a creative way to get through to my kids ;) You have wisdom beyond your years. Your children are beautiful inside and out. A lesson we should all learn about compassion and forgivness, you children have already mastered.

Anonymous said...

The prayer and open conversation may have opened a path for Kenny to try to change his pattern of behavior --

I wonder if something similar for Angela would be helpful --- to open with prayer, and say honestly yes, we were hurt and sad, but we love you for your courage to change and open up to our love, and in the end, what we went through together has made our family stronger. If she heard honestly from everyone one this, maybe it would help "draw" out some of the guilt she is carrying.

Peggy in Virginia

Anonymous said...

Angela's rejection of you in Kaz is such an emotional issue. Maybe bringing it up is a way she can feel really connected/close/intimate with you. Which would be hard to give up.

Kathy W said...

I wonder if Angela's issue with her behavior is a good opportunity for religious education? God has forgiven you, now you must forgive yourself... or something like that.... just wondering.

Kathy W