In just a few days (I know “weeks” would probably be the more appropriate term here, but I’m going to say “days”) we will be adopting a fourth child – this one from an orphanage in Ethiopia. Knowledge is power (says School House Rock) and as much as I’d like to read theology and history all day, at my wife’s suggestion I read through a parenting book that specifically deals with adopting children with rough backgrounds (which is pretty much all of them to some degree).
The book was Parenting the Hurt Child by psychologists Gregory Peck and Regina Kupecky. Each chapter dealt with a different aspect of establishing trust with the “unattached” child. It offered a lot of practical suggestions and frequently included longs lists of things to try. That was all good. I appreciated that the authors didn’t seem to have too many pet doctrines to ride into the ground.
The book as a whole though made me think that nearly everything they were advocating could just be summed up by saying “long-suffering is a gift of the Spirit”. In this sense, adopted children are, once again, no different from the other kind.
As usual, I made some notes – some positive and some critical – as I went along.
In the past twenty years, the idea that therapy can solve all problems seems to have seeped into our collective way of thinking. Even on a professional level, may mental health practitioners claim that they can treat anything. That is probably true – if “treat” means “to attempt to make better.” However, if the definition is “to MAKE the condition better,” it is an untrue and irresponsible claim. Professionals and parents alike need to remember that individual differences in the population of hurt children guarantee nothing but individual results.
I think this is an extension of our insatiable demand for better medical technology. At the end of the day though, there is only so much you can do with a busted knee, less with a bad heart, and very little indeed with a disturbed mind. What that needs is love and no drug or Jedi mind trick is going to substitute for that. Admitting this will ALWAYS be a conflict of financial interests for professional healers.
What troubles are the most difficult to deal with? The ones that are most like our own. Gosh, I’ve seen this again and again while raising my kids. The things that drive me nuts about my son are the things that drive me nuts about myself. I often have a warmer relationship with my daughter because her weaknesses are different than mine. She naturally doesn’t push my buttons as much. The opposite is true for my wife. The third child was a whole different set of things. The fourth will be again. Disconnecting my own failings from the situation will remain a critical step. (This goes for relating to everyone else on earth too.)
Using a hypothetical conversation between a young boy (who stole all the cookies from the jar) and his mother, the author introduces the idea that using unpredictability in conversations as a way to break them of the bad habits of not listening and responding quickly with canned answers. For example, if every time the child hears their name, they immediately begin defending themselves against accusations (true or otherwise), what the parent can do is the opposite of what they were expecting. Stability is good, but when they get locked into a bad way of relating to you, then keep them on their toes.
When dealing with difficult situations and children, we need to be dug out of the pit. We desire things to change, but change can be slow or seemingly at a standstill. This is the same whether you are dealing with a kid with Down’s syndrome or trying to get your daughter to pick up her bedroom. Over and over again, what we need is fruit of the spirit (the Holy Spirit), and a MODEL. To expand our imagination. To reach in to despair and navigate a way out.
For kids who have trouble keeping food on their plate and spilling their drinks: use a divided plate and a sippy cup. (Gasp! Uh, we do this for all three (four?) of our “normal” kids already.) 🙂
Taking care of your marriage is ALWAYS more important than taking care of the kids. So easy to forget. The author gave the example of how the some parents he knew were given subsidized babysitting to go to a support group meeting for a few hours. They ended up just going to McDonalds and falling asleep in the car in the parking lot for a couple hours. Exactly what they needed! (Not the support group.)
If parents stay angry, the child will not get well. They can redirect their anger from the child to the adoption agency, to the government, or to the birth parents. This may help somewhat, but the best solution is to stop being angry.
What is “redirecting anger” anyway? Blaming someone else. I’ll bring Girard in for a second and say that this sort of blame-shifting is the root of scapegoating. When there is a problem, how does Satan deal with it? He does the same age-old trick where he gets you to case the problem off on someone else – giving you a temporary reprieve, but destroying the other person in the process. The only way to really deal with our anger, failings and sin is a change of heart. This can not be worked up with mental gymnastics. This is a GIFT. This is the “stop being angry” prescribed by the author here. It’s the only thing that will really work. But money can’t buy this stuff. It’s free though.
The very best therapists are the ones who know that they have attachment issues themselves, like every other human being, and are willing to do their own emotional and psychological work themselves.
Absolutely. We are all screwed up. Even our own perfect little biological kids are screwed up. It is a difference of degrees and qualities, not a “yes” or “no”. We all have “special needs” or “disabilities”. What this also means is that “disabled” people are not special. They are just like the rest of us.
In one part of the book, the author gets on a soapbox about using the acronym “R.A.D.” to refer to children with Reactive Attachment Disorder. He talks about how the abstraction is degrading and demeaning to them. By calling the child a “RAD kid”, you are dehumanizing him and saying that the child IS the disorder, etc.
Though I agree, I found it all highly ironic. The author, being a professional psychologist with a string of degrees after is his name, regularly insists on using the phrase “Reactive Attachment Disorder” (with the capital letters) and other modern terminology. Does he see that he’s doing the exact same thing? By abstracting the kid’s personal situation out to a medical category like that, he is doing the same thing the “RAD” folks are. They just took the abstraction of language one more step and reduced the number of syllables. Now, I don’t actually have a problem with him doing this. We humans HAVE to categorize things. It’s the only way we can have a reasonable conversation about most things. The author is just very comfortable with a certain level of abstraction in this case and critical of people who want to abstract it a bit more. That’s fine, but the sword cuts both ways. Perhaps the words we are using already could be improved, eh? Language that dehumanizes will always catch up with us in some way.
Several times, the author used the phrase “underprivilaged”. I also hear this word tossed around a lot in political debates. Seriously, what the hell is that supposed to mean? What is the “proper” level of privilege you are supposed to have? Who determines the median (Darwin? The Bill of Rights? The New York Times? Wine Aficionado magazine?, your neighbor?, all the people in your country?, all the people in the world?, all the people in the world in all of human history?) Who draws the line? Sounds like a bunch of nonsense. How can this word do ANYTHING except stir up guilt or envy amongst its hearers? Drop it.
I was disappointed to find that for the author, homeschooling was completely and utterly off the radar. The chapter on dealing with problems at school was by far the longest in the book. Ugg. Yet it never crosses his mind that maybe, just maybe, there might be reasons to sidestep ALL of that. It’s especially telling when he tacks one passing paragraph at the very end:
If a family chooses to home school, and they are doing it within the confines of their respective state’s education laws and guidelines, why should professionals who are supposed to help and support families get so upset about where children learn to read and do math?
Oh, as a quick side note, I guess homeschooling could be OK, as long as you are doing it in a way that keeps the government happy. What?! If this isn’t an example of the idolatry of the State, I don’t know what is. Fortunately, in my opinion, he redeems himself a tad at the end:
There are children who do not learn well anywhere, and there are children who would learn quite well sitting in the middle of a field.
More good times with your children should reduce their bad times. Dr. Martha Welch, a psychiatrist and author, makes an excellent point and so-called quality time. She suggests that quality time will never replace quantity, because children need both to flourish and develop. Giving your child only quality time would be like giving him five hundred calories of nutritious food each day – ultimately, he would die from malnutrition due to an insufficient amount of food. Even though the child was getting quality, he lacked the necessary quantity. The idea of quality time seems to have developed as the result of people feeling too busy to spend the kind of time they need to spend with their children.
I have a post on the myth of “quality time” coming soon. I draw mostly on some recent writing from Alistair Roberts. I’ll leave it at that for now.
Don’t ask them [kids] what they want to do; they don’t know. They’re unaware of life’s many options, so it becomes the parent’s job to show them – to force them, if you will – to have a good time. We often find that parents who are the most spontaneous, the most creative, the most unusual, the most unpredictable – and therefore, the most fun – are the ones whose children finally “get it”. The adult must take the lead and demonstrate life.
I like this passage a lot. Note that homeschoolers have greatly increased opportunity for this.
The author, on several occasions, shows that he has only ever lived in a large city. For example, one of the light activity suggestions was a game where you drive around town counting fast food restaurants and then stop and eat at the 15th one you see. Fifteenth? That rules out a lot of towns. My city as 25,000 people, but not even close to 15 fast food joints.
“The moments when we ignore or underestimate our child’s “survival intelligence quotient” are our greatest mistakes. Honoring our daughter’s survival skills – instead of seeing them as pathological – helps us to shift our responses to her.”
Passages like this are an example of when things get too abstract to be helpful. Examples and stories are much more useful.
Like other parenting books I’ve seen, the author advocates establishing traditions. Why I wonder? I’ve never actually heard it explained well. I think the answer is that establishing family traditions creates a connection that is outside the whims of the individual. Christmas comes the same time every year whether you fell like it or not. This is stability. We need more “holy days” than we have. (Church calendar for the win!)