Sunday, May 29, 2016

Secrets and lies...

Many years ago I was at the forefront of advocating for open adoption and even access. I believed then, and still do, that we can't simply erase the first years of our children's lives and pretend that the relationships (good or bad) with the genetic parents and extended family won't continue to pull at our child. 

Of course, that was back in the age of dinosaurs when the openness and access was done by letter or phone call, or maybe the occasional scheduled visit. It was also done with the adoptive parents' knowledge.

Well, among the New Realities of Adoption is that the communication that now occurs between the genetic family and Junior is likely to take place through social media, without our knowledge, without our permission, and without our monitoring. Junior may well be having daily chats with birth sibs, with birth parents, with aunts, uncles, friends of birth parents etc. and the adoptive parents know nothing at all about it. The only sign may be the increased acting out that results. 

If you think that this isn't happening with your child----- think again. All of our kids learn quickly how to set up hidden accounts that we can't find. And don't think that because your child came from a foreign country that the parents don't have access to computers. They do. It may not be the parents who communicate with Junior - often its a sibling who wasn't adopted or its the grandparents or birth mom's current boyfriend.

The problem, of course, is that if these people were emotionally healthy they would be initiating the contact via the adoptive parents - but they aren't. They may not be out to harm the family, but they sure don't help it as they fail to understand the emotional impact on Junior of their communications and how this can pull apart a fragile attachment and create confused loyalties. Very often the genetic parents lie about how Junior came to be adopted - they minimize their drug abuse or violence and blame the mean old social workers who never gave them a chance to clean up and keep Junior. I understand the guilt and remorse that underlies this, but I also understand the way this makes Junior feel kidnapped and emotionally disoriented. And, for children or youth who also have FASD, adhd, ODD, long term impact of neglect and abuse and all the rest - this added emotional complexity invariably fuels the chronic conflict that the family is already experiencing. 

Even when the genetic family means well, there is still going to be upheaval - any normal 15 year old has complaints about their parents - when you have a pre-teen or youth who also has the above mentioned behavioral issues and then they have free rein to complain to the genetic parents ("My parents don't understand me" "My parents are too strict" "My parents yell at me all the time" "My parents ground me for no reason" "My parents don't trust me") you can be sure the genetic parents are giving lots of sympathy and assuring Junior that they would be soooo much nicer. 

This is a very difficult reality because for the most part, the genetic parents have "issues" just like the children. They may have severe lifestyle challenges, addictions, fasd, and other concerns; or, they may have stabilized their lives.  However, you can bet they don't have boundaries nor do they have respect for the integrity of the adoptive family and most importantly, the capacity to prioritize the best interests of the child. 

Friends, this isn't going to end. This is a reality we have to live with. What I am advocating for here is that the adoption professionals start overtly addressing this and developing strategies to help adoptive parents manage this dynamic. I looked up a bunch of adoption conferences that are happening this year and the only ones I could find that even acknowledged genetic parents were the old fashioned things about how to have openness with a young birth mom who made an adoption plan at baby's birth. Well, that's not good enough.

We need to know how to recognize the signs that Junior may be in contact, and even seeing, genetic parents. We need to learn how to help Junior work through the conflicting messages from both sets of parents, we need to learn how to avoid a power struggle with the genetic family, we need to learn how to deal with our own feelings about this. Oh, so much to do on this topic. 

So, like everything else I write about, this is one more thing we need to be discussing openly and putting on our self-advocacy list. 

In the meantime - do some healthy breathing, hug someone who cares about you, and know that you are doing better than most with the challenges you face. 

You are entitled to a better day. Animated Blooming

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"Don't give advice to a drowning person..".

I joined the The Caregivers Network when my mom was slowly dying from Alzheimer's. I still subscribe to their newsletter and I received this valuable and relatable piece the other day. "Don't give advice to a drowning person" was the title of a blog by Susan Macauley and said, in part, "It’s clear to me that a lot of the advice offered to dementia care partners is given by people who have never cared with/for someone who lives with dementia and/or who don’t appreciate the challenges care partners face. If they did, they wouldn’t make some of the suggestions they do."

Isn't this totally true of those of us who live with children and youth who engage in chronic conflict? If we even dare to risk telling the truth about the struggles we face we are so often told to take another course in early neglect & abuse because somehow the reason we can't manage our child is because we don't know enough neuroscience; or, to get counselling (whatever that means); or, to be more patient; or, ...or....or....yup, I still hear about other therapists giving suggestions about sticker charts and contracts. 

We often feel like we're drowning  while we try to keep ourselves and our family afloat despite the crashing waves of our youth's rage that drag us back under time and again. If we say we that nothing is working then either the service providers give up on us because they know that if had only followed their brilliant instructions then everything would be peachy; or, in some locations, the child protection services charge on in. Rarely, so very rarely, do they ask us what we need. And even less often, is what we need provided. 

Many of you have mentioned that we need organized and appropriately trained respite and we need effective strategies for managing (not changing or resolving) rages. However, it isn't enough that we talk to each other about that - we need to saying this to the adoption industry as well. The people who have influence over the training of social workers and counsellors need to hear us. 

To that end, I invite you to start speaking up. Church? Adoption support group? Social workers meeting? Agency meetings? Parent panel at major conferences?  If you're attending a conference then don't be afraid to button down some of the speakers and tell them you need more help than another workshop on how to talk to teens, or another attachment workshop. You probably know more about this than most presenters because most of them aren't parents of children like ours so don't feel shy - speak up. Give witness to your reality! 

We don't need advice, we don't need support, we need action.

And, in the meantime - have your best day possible. Animated Blooming

Thursday, May 12, 2016

"No" isn't the answer....

The other day I was having a discussion with another therapist regarding the wonderful training she had recently completed. It was delivered online, over several months, by a  well known expert in early neglect and trauma. My colleague was thrilled with all she had learned and so was I because I am always happy when more professionals learn about the long term impact of early trauma. However, I can never leave anything alone, so I asked her how she intended to use that to help struggling adoptive parents manage the rages, stealing, lying, verbal abuse, chronic conflict, sexual acting out, drug abuse, etc that most live with. 

She blithely explained to me that she would teach the parents about the neural issues underlying their child's behaviours and......and.....I waited.....and waited some more.....and nope.....she didn't get it. So, I explained to her that by the time their children reach middle childhood or adolescence,most adoptive parents have already likely taken the same course, or several just like it and will have a solid understanding of the way in which their child's brain has been harmed. 

What they won't have learned, and what she doesn't seem to understand she should be helping them with - is a) learning what the years of raising a child with chronic conflict has done to the parent's brain and health and b) what the parents can do to manage the conflict and care for themselves so that no one's brain continues to be harmed. Oh, and c)  understanding that the goal for the family is to be still living or at least relating together in a loving and supportive way rather than in a "I've crawled to the finish line so get me out of here now" kind of way. 

Well, that ended that collegial relationship. 

It just seems so hard to get professionals to realize that understanding the child's dynamics is hugely important, but for those children who aren't responsive to therapy during the growing up years, it's vital to provide support to the parents. The parents needs conflict management skills that are appropriate and effective for chronic conflict kids who can't change (yet), and respite so that the parents can sleep a few days without fear, and teachers who understand that kids who negotiate with knives aren't likely to do homework. I know, I don't need to go on, you already know this. So why do I keep writing about it? Because it needs to be public and it needs to be shared over and over again until something in the system changes. Hazardous Parents need specific services that are rare to be found and rarer still to be funded. Silence won't get us those things. Speak up - tell anyone who will listen that you, and your family, are entitled to more. When you ask for respite and you are told there is no funding - write a letter to the relevant politician and to the head of the agency that doesn't have the money, and to your local paper. Write your own blog about this. Give a talk at your church or book club or professional association. Do something, stop accepting "NO" for an answer - you hear it enough from your child or youth - you don't need to hear it from the services that should be helping you. 

Hey, you are entitled to a better day. Animated Blooming