Monday, March 31, 2008

"Issues"?...


Bob has posted an update on one of their foster children, affectionately nicknamed Linebacker Dude. One line that he wrote caught my attention, regarding the way their boy has trouble with appropriate emotional responses. He apparently tends to observe what other people are doing and then "copies" them.

That got me thinking about our boys, and wondering to what extent they display that as well. As an example, our youngest (Snookie) thought he was afraid of dogs for a few weeks when they first came home to us. He had never met a dog or had a bad experience with a dog. But the oldest one (Bobcat) was absolutely, irrationally, obsessively terrified. Occasionally, Snookie would be laughing and playing with a dog, and then when Bobcat came around the corner and began to shriek, Snookie would cry too. Weird.

Above is a very early picture of the boys in the back yard. As you can see, Snookie is going under to pet the dog, Bubba is having a look (from a safe distance, but fairly brave), and Bobcat is very unhappy that we let them out at all. We wondered how to deal with that fear, how long to allow it, when to force him to confront it, just trying to find that right balance. One day in week five or six, I simply let the dogs out of their kennels and told the boys, "I promise they will not hurt you. You can stay on the couch as long as you want to." Snookie was the first to come down. They all got over it pretty quickly.

To this day (three years and seven months) we see things now and then, and we just aren't sure what to make of it. Whether it be irrational fears, over-reactions to minor stress (play time is over, breakfast isn't ready yet, time to go to church, other scheduling conflicts), or stubborn refusals to do school work. There are many displays of overly affectionate and precocious behavior around other adults. Baby talk, wanting to be held, to touch other people's faces and hair, to ask too-personal questions, to share personal details of their own. We struggle with boundaries sometimes - kisses are for family, hugs are for friends, handshakes are for strangers. It doesn't help that they are small for their ages. You would not attempt to pick up a normal-sized seven-year-old, but a tiny, cute, well-behaved one is somehow irresistable... Even some of our extended family members find these inappropriate behaviors cute and encourage them.
And we wonder, whatever we're seeing at that time, is it an attachment issue? An "adopted thing"? A "homeschooled thing"? Is it something WE are doing wrong? We try not to over-analyze and over-protect, but we want to make sure we are doing the right things. Then sometimes we talk to friends whose perfectly healthy and normal biological children have some of the same issues, and we wonder if our boys are just normal too? ML and I disagree occasionally about what is normal - shy or precocious child-like behavior - and what ought to be corrected. What is a reasonable expectation? We've learned to discuss these things calmly and patiently (at least we're trying). We wonder, do we just not know what "normal" is because we didn't know them from the beginning? Never had a baby, watched him grow, bonded with him from the womb, learned what makes him tick, what comforts him, how to read his nonverbal cues...
So, how should we, or any parents, deal with these questions and fears?
Number one is to trust our instincts. I believe that if you remain in a state of grace, then your "instincts" and your "conscience" are really the Holy Spirit's and your guardian angels' way of guiding you. So do what feels right, it probably is. The grace received through the sacrament of matrimony is special and powerful and sufficient for the raising of the children that God sends you.
Number two is to anticipate and even embrace "abnormal" behaviors when they show up. We expect them to regress a bit from time to time, and then take that opportunity to nurture and comfort and heal and bond with them. To refill their "love tanks", so to speak. I teased my wife's cousin about that notion a few years ago, but in retrospect, I think there's something to it. There are needs that they had unfulfilled early in life, and we should be happy that they are looking to use for satisfaction. It strengthens our bond. And they do get more confident and happy every day, and in turn so do we.
And finally, number three, we've decided that despite all of the stress and anxiety and wondering, we are going to make the most of the time that we have. They are growing so fast, and life is too short to obsess about whether everything is perfect. Just be together. Steve Wood of http://www.dads.org/ writes that love is a four-letter word spelled T-I-M-E. So whether we are on some weekend adventure, or just puttering around the house, being together is what the boys want the most. You don't even have to engage them all the time, just be in the same room while you read or write or sew. You're a comforting presence. And they'll ask you where you went if you leave, and they will come and find you, so you might as well hang out with them! I think foster/adoptive, even biological parents need to do their due dillegence and read up, study, investigate, even seek professional help when necessary. Try to understand what you are up against. But in the end, don't cling to those theories so tightly that you get yourself sick with worry. Just be together, and they will eventually become more and more secure and mature.

2 comments:

La Familia said...

Wow! I have so much I want to say, and I don't know how to say it. I think I will save the bulk of my thoughts for my next letter, but I do want to say, that the same conclusion you are reaching about just being there for your boys is the same conclusion we've been getting at with our relationship with our daughter. Different family history, same conclusion. Great post!

Bob said...

I completely agree with all three of your points, and other points you made, too. This is a beautiful post. thank you for it.

We actually had some frieds tell us today that LD needs an exorcism. That is not something we would do, but our friends may actually be right. He is getting more and more difficult.