Showing posts with label Orphanage behavior. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Orphanage behavior. Show all posts

Friday, November 22, 2013

I am Devastated and Heartbroken

Hana Williams (Photo via Patheos)
Earlier this week, I read the feature story in Salon. Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee, died after being systematically abused by her adoptive parents.

Researching Hana's story led me to the story of Lydia Schatz, a Liberian adoptee who was spanked to death by her parents.

In both cases, the parents, conservative Christians, seemed to believe they were disciplining their children as instructed in Scripture.

I'm devastated and heartbroken.

There really are no words.

Today, however, I feel compelled to speak up for these two girls who died at the hands of their adoptive parents.

What can I say that hasn't already been said? What can I add to the hundreds of news reports and magazine articles and blogs that are already posted online?

Maybe nothing. But I know that many families considering older child adoption end up here at my blog. Taking time to consider what went so terribly wrong in these adoptive families is an important step toward making sure it doesn't happen again. . . that it never happens in your family.

So if you are an adoptive parent, or if you know adoptive parents in your church, or if you are considering adoption yourself, please take some time to read the links below. Honor these girls by listening to their stories. Be informed.

Hana Williams, adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 at age 10; died May 11, 2011 at age 13. (Her age is disputed by her adoptive parents who claim she was actually older.)

Hana Williams: The tragic death of an Ethiopian adoptee, and how it could happen again - the story.

Corpses Don't Rebel: A former follower of Michael Pearl's "To Train Up a Child" reacts to the death of Hana Williams - a parent who at one time followed the same discipline system as Hana's parents speaks up.

The Legacy of Ethiopian Adoptee Hannah Williams - written by a mom with adopted Ethiopian kids.

Lydia Schatz, adopted from Liberia in 2007 at age 4; died February 5, 2010 at age 7.

Godly Discipline Turned Deadly - the story.

In which I discuss the unthinkable - written by a family friend in the days following Lydia's death. Honest and emotionally raw.

Couple sentenced for religious beating death and torture of children - the sentencing.

Tragedy in a homeschooling family - powerful words from a Christian dad.

There are some common threads in both girls' stories. Adoption. . . conservative Christianity. . . large families. . . homeschooling. . . and most specifically, following the teachings of Michael Pearl as outlined in the book, To Train Up a Child.

One thing I've noticed when things like this happen, is that if we fall into one of the groups listed above, we tend to quickly circle the wagons. We dismiss the offending families as fringe people who were not really part of our movement. Giving brief lip service to the dead child, we quickly move on to defending our rights to adopt. . . or practice our faith. . . or have a large family. . . or homeschool. . . or discipline our kids as we see fit. We worry about the fallout from the unfortunate incident.

That attitude compounds the tragedy.

Because this is not about defending our rights as adults. It's about speaking up for and standing up for defenseless children. They have to be the focus of the story.

There are so many thoughts swirling in my head, but underlying it all is a deep, deep sadness, that instead of finding love and safety in their new families, these girls were abused and tortured and killed.

And the part that makes my head hurt most of all is that I don't believe any of these parents thought they were child abusers.

They adopted older, traumatized children, and then viewed their every negative behavior as evil and rebellion.

Convinced that God had commanded them to use physical discipline, they punished every act of disobedience.

They fought to win every battle.

They killed their kids.

Heaven help us.

I've said it before. Dear Christian Parent Adopting an Older Child: Please Don't Spank.

And finally, To Train Up a Child Parenting Book Leads to Multiple Child Deaths. Some are asking if the author of this parenting book bears any moral responsibility in these children's deaths.

Sharing today at Imperfect Prose.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 24: Bullying

"I love Mama."

"I love Baba."

"I love Nathan."

"I love Julia."

Wenxin pauses and then glares at Katherine. "But I DON"T LOVE YOU!"

Home only a few months, 7 1/2-year-old Wenxin is still adjusting, still grieving. He has sized up things in our family and decided to vent all his frustrations on the one person he perceives to be beneath him in the pecking order, his younger sister, Katherine. 

"I know you don't love me," Katherine says softly but firmly. "But I still love you anyway."

He has absolutely no idea what to do with that one.

Wenxin's initial mistreatment and rejection of Katherine was one of the hardest parts of our older child adoption. We noticed it almost from Day 1. Here's an incident I recorded on this blog.

This morning I tried to have story time for Katherine and Wenxin. I picked fun, simple English books. I read Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop in my silliest dramatic voice.
It was going really well. Wenxin was engaged. He was laughing.
And then he began to grab for the book. I said, "No," and continued to read and hold the book up for both kids to see.
More grabbing. . . He wanted to hold the book.
When I insisted on holding the book myself, Wenxin turned his back to me in anger and sat facing the opposite direction. Then he got up and walked away.
Poor Katherine was left having to listen to Hop on Pop. Returning, Wenxin walked past us a time or two and made vomiting noises in our direction. Then, he ran by and slapped Katherine on top of her head.
Mike and I intervened and gave Katherine lots of loving and had Wenxin apologize to her.

It never got more physical than that. But the emotional bullying was unrelenting. Driving down the road, I'd often catch him sticking out his tongue and making mean faces at her when he thought I wasn't looking. And he made it a point to constantly remind her that she was the only one he didn't love.

Let me make a few observations before I share how we handled the bullying that was happening in our own family.

First of all, this was not normal sibling bickering. It was our newly adopted son actively bullying our youngest daughter. Think about that for a moment. It's a hard thing to see happening in your own family.

Next, this is one of the reasons prospective adoptive parents are often warned about adopting out of birth order. Traumatized children may be abusive to younger children in the family. I'm not saying it always happens, but prospective adoptive parents should be aware that it's a possibility.

Finally, in Wenxin's defense, the skill set needed to survive in an orphanage housing 1000 children is not the same skill set needed to live in a loving family. Once we adopted him, he was safe and loved and didn't need to use the old orphanage behaviors anymore. But what other option did he have? Wenxin needed us as his parents to teach him how to live in our family.

Looking back, we focused on two things as we tried to eliminate the bullying in our house.

1. Anytime we noticed Wenxin mistreating Katherine, our first move was to comfort her. We'd give her a hug and some encouraging words -- even before we addressed the behavior with Wenxin. It was important for her to know that we had her back -- that we were committed to protecting her. And it was important for Wenxin to see that we took our jobs as parents seriously -- that he could trust us to keep everyone in the family physically and emotionally safe.

2. We got creative about how to teach Wenxin our expectations for family behavior, even before he had the language to really have a discussion.

I made this chart on my computer. I printed and laminated two copies, putting one on the fridge and carrying one in the car. Even with the language barrier, Wenxin could grasp these three simple rules. 

When he disobeyed one of these rules, we'd refer to this chart, and then, I'd give him a do-over, helping him try again. This gave him success at doing it right. 

Most of the time, that was enough, but if he dug in his heels and refused to correct his own behavior, I'd set a timer for 5 minutes and have him sit in a chair close to me. When the timer sounded, I just dropped the whole matter and let him return to play. 

It took a lot of practice, but it worked. 

Let me say it again. Living in an orphanage is totally different from living in a family. It's wrong for us to expect our new kids to do something they've never been taught how to do. We have to patiently teach them a new way.

So for that whole first year, there was a lot of learning going on at our house. Mike and I were learning new parenting skills. And Wenxin was learning how to live in a family. When he'd been home almost a year, I recorded this little success on this blog.

Every now and then I see a little glimpse of the boy I hope Wenxin is becoming.
Wenxin hated what I prepared for dinner tonight and continued to whine and cry that he was hungry long after we'd finished.
Food is a big deal for kids who've suffered significant trauma, so even though I want him to learn to eat what I prepare, I decided I needed to feed him something before bed.  I remembered that I'd bought some frozen chicken strips when they were B1G1 last week and thought that would be an easy solution.
When Wenxin saw what I was preparing he asked, "Can you fix some for everyone, Mama?  I know Katherine really likes those."
Thoughtfulness, empathy, sharing, kindness.  I like that.

To read the whole series, start here.
Shared over at Emily's place and WFMW.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Orphan Fever: Are Christians Naive?

Have you read the Mother Jones article? Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement's Adoption Obsession by Kathryn Joyce paints a pretty unflattering picture of both evangelical Christians and the international adoption business.

Since I'm an evangelical Christian and an adoptive parent, I decided to read it, and I encourage you to take a deep breath, and read it too. Resist the urge to be defensive. Listen and learn and ask yourself, "How can we, as Christians, work to better serve orphans and widows and needy families worldwide?"

I read articles like this with the idea in mind that in most criticism, there is a kernel of truth. So I set out in search of it, knowing that when we rush to defend ourselves too quickly, we may miss the very thing that God is trying to teach us. Instead, why not give our critics a respectful hearing? Why not see if there's anything to be learned?

To illustrate what she perceives as the failings of the evangelical orphan care movement, Joyce tells the story of Sam and Serena Allison, biological parents of four, and their adoption of six orphans from Liberia. She describes their adoption as just one of many troubled Liberian adoptions that occurred as evangelicals rushed to adopt children following Liberia's 14-year civil war.

Sam and Serena adopt four kids on one trip, and it seems they are quickly overwhelmed. Unprepared to parent kids with backgrounds of trauma, they use an authoritarian, first-time obedience, corporal punishment parenting style. Perhaps their understanding of Biblical parenting led them to believe it was the only godly way.

As homeschoolers, they continue to homeschool even when it doesn't work for their adoptive kids. I couldn't help wondering if homeschooling was essential to the parents' cultural worldview. It seems that sending the adopted kids to school might have provided a much-needed respite for everyone involved.

As for the children, they come carrying baggage from the trauma of war. Hoping for a fairy-tale existence in America -- where they'd heard that money grows on trees -- they end up in rural Tennessee. Attachment doesn't go so well. There are cultural misunderstandings. Finally, one of the older adopted boys is even accused of inappropriate sexual behavior within the family.

As things continue to spiral downward, it's difficult to read. Joyce outlines serious allegations of child abuse against the Allisons and other adoptive parents. Eventually, the Allisons even send one son back to Africa where he finds his former orphanage has been closed.

I'd love for you to head on over to Mother Jones and read the whole article. 

What do you think? Were the Allisons and the other families in the article bad people, or were they just naive people? Did they seriously underestimate, or perhaps even ignore, the challenges of adopting multiple older kids from a war-torn African nation?

And what about the evangelical orphan care movement? What are we doing right? Is there anything that concerns you? How can we be better?

This is really important, and I look forward to hearing your voice in the conversation. Leave a comment below.

*If the Mother Jones article left you a little deflated, read this rebuttal by a Christian adoptive dad:  Is the Left Launching an Attack on Evangelical Adoption?

Ni Hao Yall

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mothering a Traumatized Child

Three links for you today. All written by moms.

She Ponders: Mean Words - Realizing that third grade boys are bad mirrors for the self-esteem of a young girl, this wise mom called in some better mirrors to help weed out mean words. 

My Learning Curve: Stuck Like Glue - Yes, there are consequences to behavior. But when you are parenting a child from a hard place, the consequence might be different from what you'd expect. Because family life is really nothing like orphanage life.

Through the Eyes of a Traumatized Child - What's wrong with that kid? Why are you going so easy on him? This mom explains trauma behavior and therapeutic parenting in a way we can all understand.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

So You're Adopting from China . . .

If I could sit down and have coffee with you today, the first thing I'd tell you is, "Congratulations!"

Then, I'd give you a big hug,and we'd ooh and aah over the photo of your new child.  I'd listen to your story and eventually, I'd share lots of stories of my own.

I'd become your biggest cheerleader.

So if you're adopting from China, I'm glad you're here. Grab a cup of coffee, and spend some time reading these posts that I wrote especially for people just like you. Leave a comment somewhere, and tell me about your own journey. I'd love to meet you in person, but really, this is the next best thing.

Ten Things to Do While You Wait - using the wait to get ahead of the game.

Nine Things I'm Glad We Took to China - packing with attachment in mind

How Did You Get a Boy From China? - the updated truth about China adoption and boys

Keeping His Chinese Name - our unconventional choice; well, really it was his choice

He DID NOT Just Say That! - handling the inappropriate things people say to adopted kids

When Fear Looks Like Disobedience - a new paradigm for viewing your child's behavior

Are you part of a message board or online adoption forum? Would you be willing to post this link so more families can join in the discussion? Thanks! You're the greatest!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

When You Fall in Love with a Photo

Back in 2009, I fell in love with a photo . . . and that photo changed my life.

Today I'm honored to be a guest blogger at Love Without Boundaries. I'm talking about older child adoption and things to keep in mind when you fall in love with the photo of a waiting child. Come on over for the rest of the story.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Older Child Adoption: Orphanage Behaviors

"Who wants to hold a real Civil War musket?"

Saturday night, I took the kids to a one man play by a Civil War reenactor. After the performance, he invited all the children up front to take turns holding a real Confederate musket.

I sat in my chair and watched as one by one, Nathan and Julia took their turns, and then came back to join me. Finally, only Katherine and Wenxin were left waiting in the big group of home schooled kids. Then it happened. As I watched, Wenxin went from relaxed, engaged, hands outstretched to take his turn holding the musket -- like any normal boy about to get the chance to hold a real weapon -- to rigid, alone in the crowd, standing at attention with arms pressed firmly at his sides. He averted his eyes to the ground as big, silent tears dripped from his chin.

For a moment he remained frozen, glued to the floor while all the other kids clamored around him, completely unaware of his distress. Then suddenly, Wenxin broke away and marched over to me. Eyes still on the ground, he stood ramrod straight.

"I don't want to hold the musket. I want to go home. I want to go home now."

All my questions. . . and attempts at comforting. . .  and offers to go back and wait for another turn with him, were met with downcast eyes and stony silence.  I was getting nowhere.

Finally, I asked Katherine if she knew what happened.

"Mom, I don't know. . . surely he didn't mean it. . . but it really looked like the man skipped Wenxin on purpose. . . He let everyone else have a turn, and when he got to Wenxin, Wenxin held out his hands, and the man pulled the musket away and gave it to another kid."  

I hope she was wrong. I really do. There was a mob of kids, all wanting a chance to hold the musket. It would be so easy to skip over one in the confusion. And yet, I wondered. Did this man see an Asian kid and not want him to touch his prized antique gun? His piece of American history?

Let me say, that from the bottom of my heart, I do not think that's what happened. But it's the first time in two years it even crossed my mind that someone might discriminate against Wenxin because of his race, and for what it's worth, it was not a good feeling.

The bigger thing I wondered about was this standing at attention, eyes down thing. I've noticed that Wenxin does this from time to time. He does it when he thinks he's in trouble, especially if he knows he's guilty. He snaps to attention, averts his eyes, and tries not to cry. He looks like he's trying to be brave in the face of certain punishment. He also does it when he's embarrassed and feels foolish. And when he does this, he won't let me comfort him. It's like it's just him against the world. He puts on a brave face, stands at attention and just waits for what's coming.

At least that's what it looks like to me. I imagine him in the orphanage, lined up with other little boys after someone has been naughty. He looks down, trying not to call attention to himself, and come what may, he determines to look tough.

Outside Wenxin's Orphanage

Of course, I don't know if that scenario ever really occurred  It's just my imagination trying to explain a strange behavior that I've seen happen again and again over the past two years.

Maybe it's not even orphanage behavior. It could be cultural -- a Chinese thing.  But I do know that our kids who grew up in orphanages did whatever it took to survive. And sometimes the very same behaviors that made them survivors in that situation, make it difficult for them to adjust to life in their adoptive families. Manipulation, grabbing, lying, hoarding -- all may have been tactics that helped our kids survive. Instead of proving they are bad kids, these actions may actually prove they are resourceful and strong. And with patient guidance, they may be able to use their resourcefulness and strength to learn the new skills they need to live in a family. I've seen it happen with Wenxin.

In retrospect, we all made too big of a deal of the musket thing. As I tried to comfort Wenxin, Nathan ran back up front and informed the man that his little brother had been overlooked and was crying. Nathan ran back to tell Wenxin that if he'd just go back up front, he'd get another chance.

"I'm not going up there again."

Then on the way out, I stopped at the book table to buy a book for Nathan, and the man's wife mentioned the musket, and someone shared the situation with her.

"Just a minute," she said, as she ran back into the auditorium.

"Oh Wenxin. You know she's getting the musket. Please hold it for Mama when she comes back."

"I'm not touching it."

So when the lady came back, musket in hand, I was the one who held it. I oohed and aahed and asked a few questions. I'm pretty sure Wenxin never took his eyes off the ground. He didn't give the musket the honor of even one little glance. As soon as possible, I ushered all five of us out the door, feeling a little like I'd just been in a Civil War battle myself.

I wish I could have a do-over of that evening. (Wouldn't it be nice if grown-ups got do-overs?) This is what I'd say:

"Wenxin.  I can see you are disappointed. Would you like for me to go back with you and help you get a chance to hold the musket, or would you like to skip it and go home?"

Short and sweet. Minimal drama. Simple choices.

I'm certain he would have chosen to go home. And that would have been OK. We made this into a much bigger deal than it needed to be. Hopefully, I'll do better next time.

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