Thursday, December 23, 2010

What I think

I am not an expert on attachment issues. In fact, I don't think there are really any true experts out there. Instead, i think there are people who are experts in certain fields, like psychology or neurophysiology, and then there are parents who are experts in their own kids. My own experience is 16 years of parenting one and now three kids with attachment challenges, plus 25 years of scientific research in the medical field, including neurology and pharmacology. That makes me fully qualified to give absolutely NO advice to ANYONE. Hah!

Instead today I am going to talk about what I think, my opinions and my take on things from my perspective. Take it for what it is, just my thoughts. I spend a lot of time thinking about attachment, reading about attachment and trying to really understand attachment. I end up with more questions than answers. I have the feeling a lot of people end up in the same place.

First, I truly do believe that attachment issues fall into a broad spectrum. The inherant personality of the child, the collective experiences of the child, the family(s) the child has lived with, and the level of trauma a child has experienced all affect the attachment outcome. Now, for today's post, I am going to define 'trauma' as more than just leaving one loving family for another. All children in adoption have loss, but not all have experienced neglect, abuse, starvation, abandonment, etc. So I am categorizing loss separately from trauma. Why? because in Ahren's case, and in the case of my friend Deb's little guy Bug, they had wonderful loving foster families that did everything they could to help our kids have a healthy transition to their forever families. Our boys were the lucky ones, and yet they have trouble trusting and being securely attached. That is because of their loss. Very understandable.

Children who experience traumatic experiences on top of loss have much deeper issues, issues that include how they process things at a much deeper neurological level. Abuse and neglect permanently change who a person is, how they deal with the world around them, and how they relate to others. I truly believe that the more trauma a child experiences, and the longer they experience it makes their issues much greater and harder to repair.

I also believe that other issues complicate our children. Genetic predispositions and other organic diseases like ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, sensory disorders, and many others add a layer of complexity to these kids. I like to relate it to Shrek and his 'onions have layers' analogy. These kids have layers, many many layers that we have to peel away slowly to find the truth in order to help them. Plus, the layers often co-mingle in the way they present to us, so figuring out what behavior comes from an organic cause (ADHD), a trauma cause (PTSD) or is simply the rather normal behavior of a 4-year old boy (ayy yie yie!) is almost impossible!

Now add in the fact that we cannot just love them back to health, that they work incredibly hard to push us away, annoy us, disgust us and push our buttons. They do this because they want to hurt us and push us away before they become attached to us, care too much and risk being hurt again. In my mind I know this, but 'feeling' it and acting on it while a child is screaming that he wants to kill you is something else. Also consider that this goes on 24/7/365 and no human being has the stamina to be at their best all the time. Parents of 'challenging' kids make mistakes, we slip up, we feel guilty, we beat ourselves up all the time. This is no sprint, this is an all-out Iron Man Triathalon of healing where our opponents continually beat us up (physically and emotionally). I guess I shouldn't liken our kids to opponents, what I mean is that their issues are our opponents. Our kids are the true winners and if they win, we all win.

Attachment problems are not adoption specific. Did you know that? A child who is very ill during the first two years of life can also develop attachment issues. That's what happened with my biological daughter Ashley. From her first days of life she struggled with food allergies, intestinal bleeding, life-threatening infections, surgeries, high fevers, etc. I could not comfort her adequately during that time. In her heart I failed her as a parent and she did not trust me. In fact, she spent a lot of energy punishing me in every way imagineable. Unfortunately I had never heard of attachment issues. I parented her from my gut and made many, many mistakes. It's a miracle she is such a great kid now. There have been so many nights I cried myself to sleep knowing in my heart I was failing her and not able to change that.

I have more to share, but need to go parent the kids bouncing off my walls this very moment. LOL!


Reba said...

This post made me cry because this has been such a big topic at our house lately. I do cry often, feeling like I am failing. I know I am making mistakes. And I know that the hurts to heal in her heart are much bigger than I can fill. :( I wish there were a quick easy solution.

Diana said...

Well said! Very well said. Trauma soup is almost impossible to untangle and figure out at time.