Wednesday, 30 May 2012

open minds

Let's talk about "openness". When we talk to people about our plans to adopt they often seemed a little shocked and concerned when we say that we want an open adoption.
What does openness mean? It means that our child/children will have some contact with people from their past. This contact may just be a letter passed through a social worker once a year or it could mean bi-weekly visits. It depends on the situation.
Who are the people we would be "open" with? They could include our children's birth-mom, birth-dad, birth-grandparents, birth-siblings (if we are not able to adopt them), step siblings, foster moms, foster dads, foster siblings, birth or foster aunts, uncles cousins, family friends... the list goes on!
Why is openness important? Here is one reason. There are certain things that we can pass on to our children; our love for organic produce, the fact that turning on "the radio" means turning on CBC radio 1, laughing for hours at re-runs of old, BBC comedies. All the those boring things that make AH and I our own family. There are many other things that we will not be passing on to our children; our height, our eye colour, our hair colour, our genetic abnormalities, our genetic "abilities". These things will come from the birth parents, the people who share DNA with our children. It is important that we give our children the opportunity (if we can) to see where they come from so they can form a healthy identity.
Won't our kids get confused about who their parents are? The simple answer is "no". They know that they were not born to us. Even if we adopt a baby, we will make no secret of that. They will also know that families are formed in different ways. Just because I did not give birth to them, does not mean that I am not their mommy. If birth-parent information is withheld from children they will often fantasise about the "perfect parents" they never got to know. Or they might feel like they were not lovable enough for their birth parent to parent them. If kids are able to see that their birth parents are loving but troubled people, it can help them understand the situation a lot better.
Why openness with foster family or other important people? That one is pretty simple. Imagine you have lived on earth for 4 years. There are people who have tucked you in every night, kissed your boo-boos and fed you your favourite meals. They weren't able to be your "forever family" but they showed you love and you loved them very much. One day, you meet some strangers who call themselves Mommy and Daddy. Eventually these strangers take you home and you never see those other loving people again. Wouldn't it be nicer if your new Mommy and Daddy invited those people to visit, to show that your feelings are important and the people you love are important too? You'd probably trust your new Mommy and Daddy a lot more and bond with them a lot faster.
I've also heard it's nice to have the support of people who have "parented" your children before you. They can help you figure out what makes your child "tick".
So as if we didn't already have large extended families here we are adding potentially hundreds of people (once we factor in cousins and the like). Oh well, the more the merrier!

Here are some "pros and cons" of open adoptions:

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

attachment (pt 2)

So how can we combat a disrupted attachment? First, it's important to remember that the emotional age of our children could be much younger than their chronological age. If we adopt a two year old it would not be in his best interest to parent him the way one would parent an attached two year old.
If a newborn baby screams and cries, you don't put him in a time out. You give him loving touch, respond to his needs and he learns how to regulate his own emotions over time.
Unattached children need to be "re-parented" by their new parents to form a healthy attachment. In order for the child to later become attached to extended family members, they need to form a real, healthy attachment to their parents first. For many children this means that only their parents should hold them for the first couple of months. If a child tries to go to another friend or family member, they should re-direct that child to their mummy or daddy.

These are just a few strategies that have worked very well in helping children form secure attachments:

-Holding Time/Close Time - This is therapeutic touch and cuddle time. Children as old as 18 years (and possibly even adults) have found that being rocked like a baby after a difficult situation (such as a temper tantrum) and/or intermittently throughout the day will help them learn how to regulate their emotions.

-Bottles - It may seem strange to bottle feed a toddler or older child but if this child has never experienced having been cared for by just one mummy, taking them back to an infantile stage and teaching them that mummy will take care of them and nurture them might be just the ticket.

-Eye contact - An unattached child will avoid eye contact with their new mummy and daddy. Playing games like peek-a-boo (even with older children) will help them learn to trust eye contact in a non-threatening way.

-Carrying - Yes, that child is old enough to walk but she might need to be carried in a carrier while she learns to attach to her parents.

-Time-in - Children who are already feeling separated from the world should not be given a time-out. Being sent away from the family (even if it's just the next room for just a few minutes) could be very traumatizing. Instead the child can sit with a parent for the duration of the punishment. They can then discuss the behaviour and end with a hug and a kiss. This helps teach a child that even though they have misbehaved, they are still loved.

For more information on attachment in adopted children, check out the website
The AEP touches briefly on these things but does not have time to give a lot of information. This website has a lot of stories from real parents and advice from professionals who specialize in post-adoption attachment.

Just reading about all this is exhausting. Sometimes, everything that we need to learn and be aware of seems unimaginable. But the more prepared we are now, the less likely we are to be surprised in the future. I'm sure that we will still make plenty of mistakes but hopefully we'll make a few less because we've done our homework.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

attachment... not just putting files on emails (pt. 1)

This week is attachment week at the AEP. I have been researching attachment for the past few months and I'm glad because the AEP didn't have time to get into everything that might have been covered.
What is attachment you ask? Well according to Psychology Today attachment is this important:
"The emotional bond that typically forms between infant and caregiver, usually a parent, not only stimulates brain growth but affects personality development and lifelong ability to form stable relationships"
Usually when a baby cries, a caregiver meets the baby's need and the baby attaches to the caregiver. This is the natural attachment cycle. The problem is that many children in the foster care system have either never been able to attach to a trusting caregiver or have attached to many different caregivers who have come in and out of the child's life. No attachment or disrupted attachments can have huge negative effects on a developing brain. When a child does not have any secure attachments and has trouble making them it is often diagnosed as Attachment Disorder or Reactive Attachment Disorder.

What are the potential causes of Attachment disorder?

Separation from the primary caregiver
Changes in the primary caregiver
Frequent moves and/or placements
Traumatic experiences
Maternal depression 
Maternal addiction - drugs or alcohol
Undiagnosed, painful illness such as colic, ear infections, etc.
Lack of attunement between mother and child

What does Attachment Disorder look like? 

•Intense control battles, very bossy and argumentative; defiance and anger
•Resists affection on parental terms
•Lack of eye contact, especially with parents or will look into your eyes when lying
•Manipulative - superficially charming and engaging
•Indiscriminately affectionate with strangers
•Lack of conscience - shows no remorse
•Destructive to property, self and/or others
•Lack of impulse control
•Learning lags/delays
•Speech and language problems
•Incessant chatter and/or questions
•Inappropriately demanding and/or clingy
•Food issues - hordes, gorges, refuses to eat, eats strange things,  hides food
•Very concerned about tiny hurts but brushes off big hurts

Some of these might sound like normal child behaviours but a child who is unattached doesn't know to go to their parents for help. They don't know how to feel safe and might always be waiting for something bad to happen. They don't understand that you are their "forever family" and might try "mommy shopping" (hugging and cuddling strangers, knowing they have to be charming in order to be protected).  In public, an unattached child might seem cute and affectionate but inside (and at home) they are fighting against attaching to anyone in order to avoid future hurt.

So there you have it. Some tough stuff to mull over. It's not all bad news though. With a lot of patience and very purposeful parenting, many children are able to form very secure attachments to their adoptive parents. More on that next time.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

going back to school... adoption style

We have started our AEP (Adoption Education Programme (Program?)).
Why do we need to go to school in order to have kids? People don't need to go to school to have kids biologically (although on 16 and Pregnant they are often in school when they're having kids).
One of the awesome things about adding to our family through adoption is that it is completely different experience than adding to our family through biological methods. We're swapping morning sickness and labor for attachment disorder and a host of unknown issues. Why is this awesome? Well because not only do we get to go through some real personal growth, we also get to help a little person (or people) with some real growth as well.
With all this awesomeness comes a lot of responsibility and a need for preparation in all areas of our lives. At home this means talking about our emotions constructively and taking time for "self-care" (easier said than done with our schedule some weeks!), among other things.
The AEP is just one step in learning about adoption through the Ministry of Children and Families. We need to learn what we can expect, what we can't expect and prepare for the unknown. We need to learn about a different kind of parenting. We need to learn about the perspectives of our future children, their biological parents and their foster parents. We need to hear worst case scenarios and decide what we can handle. We need to be scared. We need to feel lost. We need to wonder if this is really right for us. We need all this to build up our strength and knowledge. We need to prepare in order to provide stability and advocacy for our children. 

So, sorry if we're unavailable for the next 9 weeks, we're busy being terrified about the implications of public adoption. But don't worry, it'll be worth it.