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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Finding a new balance

Teresa VanWetten commented about "family balance" on her blog recently (click here), and she is far more experienced at adoption transitions than I am. So if she professes to be no expert, I certainly am no expert either.

When you first embark upon an adoption journey, your social worker will spend many a meeting discussing worst case scenarios and the trauma an adoption can visit upon a family. We listened attentively and made mental notes along the way - but deep down, both Jay and I had just a little bit of "that won't happen to us" syndrome.

I read all of the prescribed books (and then some) - and when we got home and the true adjustment began, I started to recognize a few of the "transition traumas" we had discussed and read about. With Wesley, we noticed his "indiscriminate affection with strangers". I commented on this behavior in a previous blog and as quickly as we noticed the behavior, we pulled together as a family and "quarantined" ourselves. No more large family gatherings and social events for awhile - the boys really needed to get firmly grounded within OUR family and figure out that we belong exclusively to each other.

Because we arrived home over the holidays, we flowed from one gathering to another, and from one home to another, staying over night at each of the grandparents' homes. Everyone was so anxious and excited to meet the boys - and we were just as excited to have everyone meet our sons. But in hindsight, I can see that this was probably not the best for the boys.

With our daughters, Emme (age 11) had about 2 weeks of feeling "off balance" and then seemed to quickly adapt to the new birth order. I explained to her in a later conversation that "she was the oldest before we adopted, and she is still the oldest". But with Maea (age 10) the adjustment has taken considerably longer.

Going into the adoption, Maea was the biggest fan about having little brothers. Even now, she is quick to point out that this is exactly what she wanted. But the reality is much harder to deal with than the idea. Our sweet Maea, our family firecracker, the spunky one, quick to laugh and quick to hug - suddenly transformed before our eyes into a solemn, angry and very sad little girl. When specifically asked what was wrong - she really couldn't pinpoint it. Friends and neighbors commented that the "sparkle had gone out of her eyes". How heartbreaking.

As Teresa VanWetten sagely commented on her blog, the best medicine is to talk about your children's feelings and validate them. Even if Maea couldn't quite put her feelings into words, we drew them out and discussed them openly - oftentimes laying side by side in her bed. After about 6 weeks, the laughter and the smiles are bubbling to the surface again and that sparkle is gleaming in her eyes again. We still have a long road ahead of us but for all of us adoptive parents - be aware that the family balance will most definitely be off kilter for awhile. Finding that new balance takes time and love and patience and some hard work.

Anyone that has more than one child has had to deal with this in one form or another. When an infant comes along, oftentimes the older child acts out angrily and with jealousy. Why did I not expect this even more so with older kids??? An adoption is an abrupt change of family order and balance - and it should be expected that each child is going to have a more or less difficult period of adjustment.

And even knowing what I know now - I would repeat this journey in a heartbeat and make the same choices. Despite the challenges, the experience has already been full of rich rewards ... and this is just the beginning!

A quick story ... we have been reviewing animal pictures with the boys and teaching them the names ... i.e. monkey, horse, chicken, turtle, zebra, etc. Wesley (age 2) memorizes the words quickly and can match up about 20 different animal pairs (what a smarty!).

Jayden too learns the English words quickly and tries to tell us stories if he has any personal experience with that particular animal. For "snake" he demonstrates a large snake and then mimics men crushing the snake with large rocks or cement blocks. When we got to the picture of the "goat" - he pulled his finger in a big slicing motion across his neck. When he saw our questioning looks, he again made a slicing gesture across his neck - this time with added sound effects. Oh - of course ... we saw goats all over the city being sold for food and many butcher shops had goat carcass enticingly displayed in the front window. Evidently Jayden had watched a goat being slaughtered. Nice memory!

When I pull out the camera to take a picture, Wesley is quick to respond with a big smile and crazy antics.

But after several attempts to capture his charming smile, and me repeatedly saying "smile", this is what I get from him.


alisa said...

What an amazing family...God's grace is covering you beautifully...He is so good to us all!
Alisa Martin

Apryl said...

I'm so behind on reading blogs, I have to catch up with yours! I wanted to tell you, that Sally also does the slitting the throat thing. Long time ago, oh, about 6 months, we were talking about eating and she said at Kids Care they ate a sheep. Then she slit it's throat. I think it was the Easter celebration they had at Fortuna's before we picked her up, she said a few more things that indicated that to me. Funny that they both did the same thing though!

I CANNOT believe this is the same little boy I met in ET!