We went camping! Ten days touring Vancouver Island, and it was AWESOME. We SO needed a vacation, all six of us. Wow.
I will post photos soon, I promise!
While we were gone, our nest of birdies learned to fly, and their home is now empty. Also, our lawn grew really long. And spawned some clouds of mosquitoes. Yech.
The last week in June Matthew went to see a pediatrician for a learning disability diagnosis. She was GREAT! She was very thorough, took an hour and a half to get to know us, ask tons of questions, start to build a rapport with Matthew, and do a quick physical exam. She said she wanted to read the file we brought her in detail before diagnosing him, but handed us a stack of resources on ADHD. We go back in August.
I'm learning a lot about ADHD. It falls under the mental health umbrella, as opposed to the learning disability umbrella. More boys have it than girls. It is often associated with other disorders such as anxiety disorders, oppositional defiance disorder, and other behavioral and mood disorders. Matthew decidedly does not have problems with anxiety. He has some mild features of ODD but in general is cooperative and cheerful (you know, when he's not stealing his friend's lunch). Kids with ADHD often have difficulty sleeping, and move lots in their sleep. This does not describe Matthew. They often have difficulty with food and eating, and nibble and pick their food and are extremely picky and slow eaters. CHECK. In general, Matthew needs to be moving all the time. I would never have described him as 'hyper' but I can see now after what I have learned that he doesn't have to be bouncing off the walls 100% of the time to have the 'H' in ADHD; it can manifest more as wiggly, fidgety, picking at oneself, etc. But by far the strongest features for my Matthew are low impulse control/high impulsivity, and high distractibility. These two features make it impossible for us to trust Matthew in traffic, for example. Parking lots are nightmares. Another mom I know whose kid has ADHD jokes that if she only had a buggy or a stroller that would fit her eleven year old she could rest assured of his safety. =) I can totally relate. It is also difficult to trust Matthew in social situations. He's charismatic and outgoing and knows how to charm people. He can also sometimes be defiant, ornery, or passively aggressively rude. Not to us, but to other people. He has never fit the category of listens-better-to-adults-other-than-parents, which is fairly common. Au contraire. He will often simply ignore other adults when they correct his behaviour or redirect him, or ask him to do something.
Anyways, last time I was at book club, which was in early June, we discussed the book "Hold Onto Your Kids." It is about attachment parenting and how the basis for many social problems in children and teens have some roots in insecure parent-child attachment. There is a section in there on ADD kids and although the author acknowledges ADD/ADHD as an existing condition, he says that part of the underlying solution needs to involve paying some attention to strengthening the parent-child bond.
This book is hard for me, and the discussion at book club was even harder. I'm not sure I ever feel fully understood as an adoptive parent to a child who has a condition like ADHD. [except by rare people like my BF, or my sister or my mom]. The reason why it is difficult for me to read this book and discuss it at book club is that people make a great deal of assumptions and these assumptions consider my family's reality to be pretty askew in areas that are core values for me. I've always vehemently believed in attachment based parenting even before I knew it had a name. I just thought of it as intuitive. Kids need love. Affirmation. To feel known and valued. Lots of positive touch. Cuddles. Play. Eye contact. Opportunities to learn. Etc. Then as potential adoptive parents you have to take courses and read books on adoption, and lots of the focus is on building attachment because it is so fundamental to emotional health to forge strong, reciprocal attachments in the early years of life. Particularly when you adopt toddlers, which is what we did with Matthew. We worked so hard on transferring his attachment to us, and on building a reciprocal one (which took years to consolidate), and I still spend a ton of my emotional energy on enforcing that attachment and my value of him as a human being who happens to be a most treasured child (to me, and to many others who love him).
Sure, we get frustrated with him. Daily. He is not easy to live with, nor easy to raise. He is impulsive, compulsive, sneaky, self absorbed, finicky, LOUD, messy, rude, and relentlessly persistent. And annoying. But he is remarkable, and sparkly, and fun. And the things you fight the hardest for, you treasure the most in life. My relationship with him is one of my life's best accomplishments, and something I feel fiercely proud of and very protective of. So to have someone write a book that says anything along the lines of your kid has an insecure attachment to you if he exhibits signs of ADHD? Well, it's just plain old vicious how I feel inside. PLUS, it just feels SO INACCURATE! If I live inside my family and my head and my relationship with my son, and I KNOW HIM like only a parent can know him and I have read tons of theory and practice on attachment forging with adopted children, I think I'm a pretty reliable source when I say he does not have attachment problems. Any of his current difficulties in school and socially stem from a learning disability, not problems with attachment.
It is hard too because this book describes many behaviours my child HAS and says if children have them, it is a sign of insecure attachment or misplaced attachment horizontally with peers rather than vertically with adults in his or her life. Well, I'm sorry, but my child has difficulty because his brain is wired differently. This in turn sometimes affects his relationships, but it is not caused by difficulties in his relationships. I KNOW HIM. He is wired differently. Beautifully. And differently. Isn't variety the spice of life? Can we not simply celebrate my son in all his differentness and find ways to support him as he grows and protect his small heart from feeling outcast, stupid, small, or unvalued? Because that's my focus. Alongside nurturing the already strong attachment we have with him.
In book club there is another adoptive mom, and she partly blames adoption for the types of behaviour that Matthew exibits, and features like not naturally desiring to be 'good' or driven towards positive behaviours by an internal force. I profoundly disagree. She said that having their trust broken in early relationships marks kids forever, and they lose their inner drive to be 'good' or to strive towards deep attachment with their parents if they are adopted as toddlers or older children. This essentially places all of Matthew's symptoms, which fit the ADHD category quite well, firmly under the category of attachment based emotional issues. I disagree so much that hearing it over again in my head feels like fingernails on a chalkboard. My child is affected by his early experience of having to transfer his attachment to us, YES. But adoption does not cause ADHD. And adoption is more positive and more healing and more restorative than that paradigm acknowledges. Adoption brings to a child one of its fundamental human rights~in fact one of the most important of those rights~the right to a FAMILY. A child living in an institution feels something lacking which s/he recognizes as a need fulfilled when adoptive parents show up to take them home. Do they resist? Often. Is it easy? No. But adoption fills a void in the child's life that cannot be filled by anyone other than a momma, a daddy, and sometimes some siblings which tumble into an adopted child's life and fill it up with love. There is healing power in that love, and the grafting in of adopted children into the family's heart is so full and complete that you would hardly know it is there.
Adopted children have feelings surrounding their identity, their early lives, and their biological parents which are a lifelong journey for them, emotionally. I'm not trying to discredit that journey or make light of it, or make myself out to be a deluded adoptive parent whose paradigm exists ONLY if the bubble of my family remains unquestioned and unchallenged by my adopted child. To the contrary, we are firm believers that open adoption widens families and broadens the definition of family to include biological relatives of our adopted child, to his benefit. And ours, immensely. We hope to support Matthew as he grows up and processes the fact that he was adopted, and if he wrestles with any aspect of identity we hope to support him in that as much as we possibly can.
But I'm talking about the healing power of love. I watched Matthew fall in love with his daddy three days after we arrived in Thailand, and I knew it was because Matthew felt a void, saw Brent, and it was filled. (As for me, he was already solidly attached to his foster mama, so I'm pretty sure he felt me fairly redundant, at first). Kids in foster care here in Canada who are adopted often see a reduction or disappearing of many of their behavioural issues because they need stability, love, and family, and these needs are met when they are adopted.
We also believe in the healing power of God, and that the gaps we cannot fill for Matthew can be filled by Jesus. We believe that when we are weakest as parents, God is strongest. He works miracles, and one of the most beautiful miracles He ever created was the gift of adoption. What better reflection of how God works than to build a family with grafted branches in it, the same way we are grafted into God's kingdom? My heart and arms and family is full, and much of its fullness is the gift of Matthew. He is happy. He is authentic. He is joyful. He plays with a sparkle in his eye and a determination of spirit. He loves me deeply. He loves Brent deeply. He feels secure. He IS secure. It drives me crazy that people around me consider Matthew and wonder about his attachment to us. Partly because it is so close to a core value for me, and partly because it is so wildly untrue.
Can adopted kids carry wounds that don't fully heal? Yes. Does Matthew? Yes, we believe so. We believe that part of why he is driven to care for #1 so strongly at all times is because of a fear that if he doesn't, nobody will. There IS a fundamental something that is marred by losing your primary attachments early in life. But is it broad enough to undermine all future attachment? Not for my child. I say that observationally, not protectively. But are his behavioural and learning problems rooted in adoption? No. No, no, no, no, and no.
I just had to say that. And also to say that I'm very sensitive to peoples' thoughts surrounding children, adoption, attachment, and health or other problems my child may have, so I pick up on subtle clues as to what those might be. Frequently I intuit a curiosity or wondering about love and adoption. People wonder how can you love a child that is not your biological offspring? They wonder if children are more damaged or harmed by adoption than we realize? They wonder if my kid is wild 'for attention' or because he is adopted and thus somehow damaged. They wonder how a child can feel secure in a family with skin a different colour than his? They wonder if I'm strict enough? Or too strict? Or if we don't enforce boundaries consistently enough? Or if my child's learning disability stems from insecure attachment?
It's not that I disagree with "Hold Onto Your Kids." It's just that reading it makes me feel like shit. It calls into question all of the work I've done and the focus of the last six years in building a strong reciprocal attachment with Matthew and blames forces beyond my control and offers solutions inappropriate to deal with my particular problem. Is it good to question? Absolutely. But it is not good to rip apart someone's confidence (hard won) and then hand them the tools to glue it back together. At least not when we are talking about parenting. I need MORE tools, not fewer. I need MORE support and education and grace and affirmation, not less. I need to feel like I'm on the right track, and that a few new ideas might sweeten the pot, so to speak. My parenting has always been based on intuition and love. I don't need to knock that down and rebuild it.
Mostly, I need to meet some other ADHD parents, I think. Teaching myself about ADHD and simultaneously teaching people around me and defending my parenting to myself (and others) is exhausting and takes away some of my most important energy reserves which are more appropriately directed towards helping my kid cope with his beautiful, spirally wired brain. In a beautiful, linearly wired world. I'm the translator here. Hear me say: My child is loved.
My child is loved,
he is loved,
he is loved.
He is steeped in it. Every day. Every hour. Every dropped sock and lost lego piece and soapless shower. Every bit.