Showing posts with label Siblings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Siblings. Show all posts

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

I guess you could call it water tether ball. . . or something like that.

It was wet. It was rowdy. It was the perfect Labor Day fun for my four not-so-little kids.

Better still. . .I taught them all how to play Spades. It was a rite of passage for them and for me. Now they can play cards with the adults. And I've arrived at the stage of parenthood where I no longer have to play Candyland. . .or Monopoly. . .or Uno.

Looks like my partner is working up a pretty good poker face.

We won.

At this point, whoever is my partner is assured of winning.

Enjoy the last little bit of your Labor Day.

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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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Day 9: Things People Say to Adoptive Families

"When I grow up and have kids, if they REALLY misbehave, you know what I'm going to tell them? . . . I'm going to tell them they're adopted."

Shoot me now.  Did someone just say that with Wenxin sitting here?

Making my way over to stand near Wenxin, I jump into the conversation. "Well that shouldn't bother them. Adoption is a good thing. One of the best days of my life was the day we adopted Wenxin."

"Was it the VERY best day of your life?" Wenxin asks, looking up at me for a response.

"One of the VERY, VERY best, Baby. "

I give him a little squeeze, and he goes back to munching his snack.

So who was it that told the insensitive adoption joke right there in my kitchen? Well, it was none other than Wenxin's 12 year old brother, Nathan.

Now before you get mad at Nathan, let me say that Nathan adores his little brother. This joke wasn't motivated by jealousy or anger or a desire to put Wenxin in his place. It really wasn't. It was just a joke he heard at Boy Scout camp. A joke that he found funny and repeated without thinking very deeply about how it might make his brother feel.

It got me thinking about the clueless things that get said to adoptive families. I just googled What Not to Say to Adoptive Families.  You know, stuff like, "What happened to his REAL parents?" and "What do your REAL kids think about him?" and "How much did he cost?"  It came back with over two million results. 

I had to ask myself, "Why doesn't this bother me more?" Because honestly, I don't lose a lot of sleep over it.

A few random thoughts:

1.  We chose to become an inter-racial family and just seeing us out together raises questions. My most asked question in the grocery store is, "Are they all yours?"  Until I sat down to write this post, I always assumed the question was being asked because there are four of them.  But now that I think about it, maybe sometimes they are asking because one of the four is Asian.  How dare they? 

2.  It's not everyone else's job to learn all the politically correct adoption lingo before they can talk with me. My own sweet mom once asked me about a friend who had recently adopted: "Does she have any children of her own?" 

I simply replied, "Yes, she has three biological kids and one newly adopted child." 

I didn't get bent out of shape about the fact that the adopted child was her own as well. My mom wasn't trying to offend me. She was actually showing an interest in my friend and her family, a point I would have totally missed had I decided to go to war over her choice of words. Hopefully after hearing my response, she has a better idea of how to ask next time. And even if she doesn't, is it really that big of a deal?

3.  Short and sweet answers are usually best. Just like I did with my mom, most days, it's easy enough to smile and respond briefly with grace.  And especially when the conversation is with a stranger, it's not necessary to explain all the details of how we became a family. In fact, I actually have a responsibility to protect Wenxin's privacy. He needs to own his own story and choose what he'd like to share with whom -- and when he'd like to share it. 

4.  Finally, just because I'm OK fielding questions that aren't always worded in the best way, doesn't mean that Wenxin is OK. Home for almost three years now, Wenxin's made it through the initial adjustment period.  He's fluent in spoken English.  He's secure in our family.  But he has a lifetime ahead of him navigating what it means to be a Chinese-American international adoptee. He and I view his adoption through different lenses and clueless comments may well affect us differently. Something to keep in mind.

Click here to read the whole series.

Shared at WFMW.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Day 3: Tantrums

Wenxin, Julia, Katherine, and I stepped off the wooden walkway onto the white sands of Cocoa Beach's Jetty Park. The August sky was clear, and the blue-green flag flying at the lifeguard station signaled almost perfect swimming conditions. Dragging a cooler, boogie boards, pails, shovels, chairs,  bags, and towels, we made our way across the sand.

8 1/2-year-old Wenxin had been home from China almost a year at that point, but for some reason, this was our first beach day that summer. Out of state trips and lots of rainy days had kept us away from the coast. So when Mike and Nathan left for a weekend camp-out, I decided to brave the beach with the younger three kids. This would only be the second time Wenxin had seen the ocean.

Anyone feeling nervous at this point? 

We parked our cooler at the perfect spot -- far enough from the water that we wouldn't get washed away when the tide began to come in. We unfolded my chair and spread out a straw mat for the kids. Julia and Wenxin grabbed the pails and shovels and ran closer to the water and began to build.

Katherine wanted to try her hand at boogie boarding, so she and I ran into the surf.

After watching Katherine ride a few waves, Wenxin came out and wanted to try. That's when everything began to go downhill. You see, he really, really wanted to try boogie boarding. It really, really looked fun. But he was really, really scared.

He had learned to swim earlier that summer, but this was his first time to try to swim at the beach. He didn't want the salt water in his eyes and mouth and nose. He was afraid of being swept away by the waves. He wanted to . . . and he didn't want to.

He refused to lie down on the board. I strapped the cord to his wrist, and it was all wrong. . . too tight. . . too loose. . . not comfortable. . . wrong hand. No matter what I did, it wasn't right. He was not going to be able to boogie board like Katherine, and somehow it was quickly becoming all my fault.

He cried and screamed and thrashed around in the water. 

I tried to help him name his emotions. "I know you really want to boogie board, but you feel scared," and "I know you aren't used to how the salty water tastes and feels." I don't remember exactly the words I used, but I tried to help him process his feelings.

He stood in the surf and stomped his feet.

I tried to stay calm. "Why don't we try again later?" I suggested.

Screaming louder,  he demanded to try now.

"We can't try again right now, because you've lost your self-control. You are frustrated, but you can have self-control. You can stop throwing a fit. Tell me when you have your self-control back."

"OK," in a loud voice that was just a little more controlled, "I have my self-control.  May we try again?"

So we tried again, and within minutes, he just lost it.

Finally, I walked out of the water with Wenxin running and screaming behind me. He even slapped and kicked at me. I tried to stay calm. "You may not hit and kick me. We are taking a break. We will try another time."

Across the beach we went, heading toward our stuff. If I'd known this was going to happen, I would've set up closer to the water. 

Instead, off we went - slapping, kicking, falling down, crying, whining, stopping for little talks, walking again, holding hands, jerking away. We were putting on a show for everyone. I kept wondering when some beach-goer from the audience was going to yell, "If I'd acted like that when I was little, my mom would've worn me out."

Back at our stuff, I offered Wenxin a chocolate chip cookie from the cooler, but he took one look at his sandy hands and began to cry that he didn't want sand in his food.  . . he was sick. . . we needed to go home. . . now!

When I didn't start packing up right away, he wailed loudly, "You must hate me!" 

A bunch of seagulls were watching the drama from across the sand, and on a whim, I threw a piece of cookie their way. About 12 of them descended on the cookie at once, the lucky winner grabbing it in his beak and flying away. Wenxin laughed.

I stuck a cookie in Wenxin's mouth, and he just sucked on it, leaving half of it dangling from his lips. The hungry gulls were all watching us now. 

"If I were you, I'd get the rest of that cookie in my mouth -- fast!" I warned. "I'm afraid one of those gulls is going to fly over and take it from you."

As Wenxin laughed and gobbled up the cookie, the evil spell was broken.  We watched the birds and ate snacks, dropping a few pieces on purpose from time to time, until Julia and Katherine came in for a break. Afterwards, all three built sand castles for the rest of the afternoon.

Late in the day, I looked up from my book, just in time to see Katherine pulling Wenxin across the waves on the boogie board. A few moments later, Julia ran up the beach and yelled, "Mom! Wenxin wants you to come and watch him do it." He was riding the waves like a pro.

As much as I like an entertaining story, it was hard for me to write about days like this. Because we had them a lot.  I feared coming across like a whiner or that people would think I created the problems myself by not being strict enough.  More than once someone told me, "He's just manipulating you."

I don't doubt he was trying to manipulate me.  In a lot of ways I was his lifeline, and maybe he felt safer thinking he could control me.

Thinking back over our day at the beach, one thing is clear.  For a long time, the main way Wenxin dealt with overwhelming emotions was by melting down and throwing a fit.  He needed to learn appropriate ways to handle fear and anger and frustration. 

One of the principles I try to practice in parenting all my kids is to never punish them for doing something wrong if I haven't first taught them to do it right.  That's kind of a no-brainer to me.

So that first year we practiced. We practiced using words. A lot. Of course, when he first came home he didn't have any words because he couldn't speak English.  No wonder he had meltdowns. Realizing the enormous obstacles facing our kids should give us a profound respect for them.

Another thing we learned was that playful interaction worked  better than punishment. This was true for a couple of reasons. First of all, his tantrums were a result of fear and frustration, not disobedience. That's key. Punishment did nothing to ease his fears. On the other hand, playful interaction -- like what happened on the beach with the birds and the cookies -- helped him relax and regain self control.

Also, playful interaction helped us end things more connected to each other, enjoying one another's company.  In those early days, connection is one of your biggest goals. 

I'd love to hear your reaction to this story. What else do you notice? What questions does it raise? Leave a comment and join the discussion.
And come back tomorrow to hear more about parenting with connection from my favorite expert.

P.S. - The above story isn't intended to be a perfect illustration of how to parent in an older child adoption. That part in the waves about,"Get your self control," was basically useless. There were also many days when things weren't resolved so quickly. But this story does paint a fairly realistic picture of what that first year was like and some of the things we learned along the way.

This post is part of the series: 31 Days of Preparing to Parent. . . when you're adopting an older child. Are you part of an online adoption group or forum? Would you share this post and invite other adoptive parents to join us this month? Thanks!

Shared at Imperfect Prose and Ni Hao Y'all.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Gotcha Day - Yea or Nay?

Our First Family Portrait on Wenxin's Original Gotcha Day Back in 2010

"Hey Mom, do you know about Gotcha Day?" 

Thank you very much, Netflix. Somewhere, in Wenxin's daily consumption of Disney sitcoms, he happened on an adoption-themed show. And one of the characters let the cat out of the bag about Gotcha Day.

"It's for adopted kids. It's a day to celebrate the day you adopted me -- kind of like a birthday."

Gotcha Day. Sounds good to Wenxin, but you might want to know that not everyone's a fan.

At first glance, Gotcha Day seems like a great idea. A day to celebrate becoming a family. What could be wrong with that? 

Well, for one, some people seem to object to the cutesy name.  The word, gotcha, conjures up images of childless parents snatching or acquiring children. You know, "Gotcha!" For folks who cringe at the term, Gotcha Day, many simply change the name to Family Day or Adoption Day. Problem solved.

But for others the issue is deeper. Here are some comments from adult adoptees I found by doing a quick search of adoption message boards.

I was adopted as an infant but back in my day (lol) the term "Gotcha Day" hadn't yet evolved (thank God). I do think that "Adoption Day" would be a more respectful term. 

I personally felt an added pressure to "perform" because I was a "chosen child". It felt a little bit like I was acquired to fill the space in my family that needed to be filled. I was loved and cherished, but it did not erase that fact. Celebrating "Gotcha Day" would have probably made that feeling even worse. Adoptive parents (even on this forum) seem so eager and desperate to find a child (being honest here) to love. And yes, I can understand that. But coming from the other end of that love, I'd just say be extra careful. Celebrate that child's full heritage, and let him/her acknowledge the truths and reality that they are separated from their biological identity, family, and heritage. Adoption involves loss, and when we enforce a "celebration" around it, I personally believe it tells that child it's not safe or right to feel any feelings other than positive. Then when the child grows up they have to revisit their entire reality. Just my opinion.

From another adult adoptee:

I'm going to be a bit more blunt. I think the idea of celebrating a "Gotcha" day or "Adoption day" is one of the more ridiculous ideas I've yet heard. I don't intend to offend anyone, but as an adoptee, I would have dreaded such a day every year. My thoughts would have been along the lines of -
"You want me to celebrate the fact that someone gave me away?"

Another individual suggests that the age of the adopted child makes a big difference:

When I was really young, I was "proud" to have been adopted and think I really would have enjoyed the formal celebration. I'm certain, however, that I would have wanted no part of it by the time I reached about 11 or 12. 

Hmmm. . .That's a lot to think about.  Adoption always looks a little different from the eyes of the adopted child.

But while I'd love to say that our lack of celebration surrounding Wenxin's Gotcha Day has been the result of careful thought given to the pros and cons and long-term effects of such celebrations, that would be a tad untrue. While I have definitely been influenced by listening to adult adoptees, the honest truth is that I have four children, and I'm just not sure I can add one more celebration to my already overflowing plate.

I've noticed that, as a mom, there's a rhythm to my year. And every year, from September to the beginning of March, I run a gauntlet. It starts with Julia's birthday and continues on to the Chinese Moon Festival, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Nathan's Birthday, Christmas, Wenxin's Birthday, New Years, Chinese New Year,  Valentines, and finally, Katherine's Birthday. The thought of inserting one more holiday to this list is exhausting. Enough special food. Enough presents. Enough gift bags. Enough!

And then, because I have three biological kids and one adopted child, I definitely don't want to make it kind of like another birthday, as Wenxin inferred from the Disney show. I'm pretty happy with each child, bio or adopted, getting celebrated on their one special day each year.

I promise I'm not a lazy mom. I am, however, a fairly tired one.

Recently, Wenxin and I revisited the topic of Gotcha Day. I explained to him why the term, gotcha, made me a little uncomfortable.

"Oh, I see," he said. And then he thought for a moment. "I know what we can call it."

"What?" I asked.

"We could call it GOT YOU Day."

Yeah. . . I'm pretty sure he's just in it for the presents.

So what do you do in your family? Gotcha Day. Yea or Nay? Shared at We Are That Family.

Coming July 1

Ni Hao Yall

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Favorite Posts Revisited: "They Said"

They said, "What about your other kids?"

They said, "You can't save them all, you know."

They suggested Nathan would have difficulties.

He'd always been the only boy.

He'd never had to share his room.

They said, "You need to think about the kids you already have."

Well. . . we thought about it.

And we took a risk.

Not just for us. . . but for our kids.

Last Saturday, Nathan, who'd never had to share his room, climbed an enormous tree

with his brother.

And Nathan said, "One of the best days of my life was the day we adopted Wenxin."

First posted November 2012

Ni Hao Yall

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When Do You Say, "No," to Adopting One More?

"We already had a large family when we felt God's call to adopt. We adopted one child after another, several children in the space of a few years. Now I could spin this story in a way that makes it look sacrificial and super-spiritual. But in reality, it was just plain reckless." (paraphrase of an adoptive father speaking at Empowered to Connect)

One thing that struck me at Empowered to Connect was the honesty and humility of the speakers. No one tried to whip us into a frenzy to run out and save all the world's orphans. It seemed deliberately low key.

What was emphasized was the cost of adoption. Not the monetary cost. The day I spent at Empowered to Connect, that was hardly mentioned. The cost I'm talking about is the cost of investment parenting. The kind of parenting that takes a lot of time and possibly a lot of re-learning on the part of the adoptive parents.

It was even suggested that, if possible, we bring home one child at a time. I don't think anyone was saying that's a hard and fast rule. Especially when fostering, there are sibling groups that need to stay together. So please don't think I'm criticizing you if you are in the process of adopting two or more kids at once. But prospective adoptive parents need to be aware of how much emotional energy it will take to parent a child from the hard places.

It sounds spiritual to say, "there's always room at my table for one more," especially with the staggering number of children needing homes. But in reality, when we adopt more children than we can actually parent, we run the risk of creating a home that is more like a small orphanage than a family.

I admit I still sit up late at night scrolling through photos of waiting children, both here in U.S. foster care and overseas in orphanages. I find myself wondering if we'll ever adopt one more.

The Empowered to Connect Conference actually encouraged me to take the time to invest deeply in the four children God has given me today. Maybe when these kids are grown we will foster or adopt teenagers. Many of the waiting kids in my state are teens.

But for today, I think our parenting plate is full.

What about you? I know many of you have large families. When do you say, "No," to adopting one more? 

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