Tuesday, April 23, 2013

One Day at a time

Do you ever just feel completely and utterly helpless as a parent? Today was one of those days. Joy was scheduled to be tested today by a  psychologist who specializes in dealing with children with epilepsy and learning delays.  I was really looking forward to this testing because I desperately want to help Joy learn and grow academically.  I felt like this was the next step and we would gain some ground on figuring out the puzzle and helping her learn to read, do math, and socialize better.  BUT....after about an hour of questions with very few answers from Joy that made any sense, the psychologist decided that it would be better to wait at least another 4-6 months before doing the actual testing because Joy's English is so delayed. He wasn't sure the testing would be very accurate since she has difficulty expressing herself and we don't know exactly how much she understands of what we are telling her. So, we are back to square one. And I feel completely and utterly helpless. Where do we go from here? I feel like we have come so far in 6 1/2 months, and yet we have so far to go. I feel helpless on how to assist Joy in getting where she needs to be academically. The psychologist recommended speech therapy, which she is already in at school. He recommended occupational therapy, which she also already does weekly. Are we already doing what we need to do? It seems like we should be doing more. Sometimes it feels like we are just going 'round and 'round in circles and getting nowhere in helping her!

I struggle often with sorting out the pieces to the puzzle of adoption and learning delays. What part of Joy's delays are due to the physical malformation in her brain? What part of her delays are due to being in an orphanage with much younger children? How has the life-changing event of adoption affected her? How in the WORLD do we sort this out? And so, we just take it one day at a time. On days like today, when I feel helpless, I pray and I think about how far we have come.  I pray for guidance to find the right therapists and the right child care for summertime. I pray for her teachers and for the transition next year at school. I pray that I will have the knowledge and wisdom on how to help her as her mom.  And I pray for Joy, that God will give her peace and strength and she will learn and grow to become the person God created her to be. I am so glad that although I may not have any of the answers, I serve a God who has ALL the answers. So for now, I am doing all I can do-just taking it one day at a time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sibling Love...or not!

Sibling bonding isn't a topic written about very frequently on adoption blogs or in books, but for me, it has been one of the biggest difficulties with our adoption.  When we first started talking about adoption, Natalie, who is now 11 years old, immediately wanted a sister and Micah, who is 8 years old,  wanted a brother. When we found out we were going to adopt Joy, Natalie was ecstatic! Micah, on the other hand, continued to pray we would adopt a BOY AND A GIRL! (Not sure that is going to happen...but we will see!) Natalie was so excited to have a little sister; however, when we met Joy and brought her home, Natalie was NOT expecting her to act the way she did. It didn't even take a few days and she was frustrated and annoyed with her new little sister. Joy was not the kind of sister she anticipated or imagined!  We tried to prepare Natalie in advance, reminding her that Joy was in an orphanage where she was the oldest child and all the others were babies.  We reminded her that Joy had learning delays and would probably act younger than her age, but I don't think Natalie was REALLY prepared.  She wasn't prepared for a sister who clung to her one minute, and would try to hit her or pinch her the next. She wasn't prepared for a sister who, although is 7 years old, sometimes acts like she is 3 or 4. Micah, who is super sensitive, was deeply hurt by the way Joy treated me. At first he tried to reassure me with wise-beyond- his -years words, "Mom, her mom abandoned her and she is scared you will leave her too."   But as time went on he would sometimes get tears in his eyes, as he gave me a hug. "Mom, I am sorry she treats you that way."  I will never forget the morning, several weeks after we came home from the Philippines, Micah went to our children's pastor at church and asked for prayer. "My new sister is stressing me out" he said, almost in tears.  And so....it has been a learning journey as far as sibling bonding goes.

We discovered a few things rather quickly that have helped us grow together as a family and nurture sibling bonding. I would suggest any family adopting an older child or a child with special needs, if you have other children in the household, to consider and adapt these principles for your own family.

1) Set aside some time to spend with your biological children alone- without making the newly adopted child feel left out-especially during the cocooning stage.  This sounds counter-productive, but it is very helpful because a newly adopted child, especially in those first few months, requires a LOT of Mommy and Daddy attention. It is important to have time for your biological children alone if possible because it is easy for them to start feeling bitter or sad or angry at the newly adopted child for taking up all your time and attention.  It is also a good time to talk about how they can help their new sibling adjust and adapt and for them to share their feelings with you. It is important your kids know they can talk to you about how they are feeling. They share the stress and feel the stress involved in adoption. It impacts the ENTIRE family. If you have a chance to talk about it and pray together, the feelings will not fester and grow and become something ugly!

 In our house, Joy goes to bed promptly at 8:00. I sit with her until she falls asleep each night, which she usually does fairly quickly. We allow Natalie and Micah to stay up until 9:00 or even sometimes until 9:30. This is time for them with Mom and Dad, without making Joy feel left out. We sometimes play games or watch a movie or even just read books together. This has worked out very well for us!  

2) Rely upon friends and family to take your biological children out in order to give them some special attention and a break from all the "trauma". We have a friend at church, who has a daughter Natalie's age.  This friend, starting from just a week or so after we got home from the Philippines has invited Natalie over often to spend the night or out for the day, without ever expecting us to return the favor.  (We didn't allow Natalie to spend the night right away, because we didn't want Joy to be traumatized thinking Natalie was not going to come back, but we did let her go out for a few hours. Eventually, we let her start spending the night.) This is great because it gives Natalie a much needed break from her new sister, who is sharing her room.  Sometimes, space is the key! Giving each child one on one attention is important and making sure each child knows they are loved and appreciated.  Sometimes, the "new" kid demands all the attention and it is necessary to make sure you do not "neglect" your other children in the process!

3) Schedule "Dates". This one is similar to the previous one, but instead of relying on others, take turns having Mommy or Daddy dates with each child individually. This doesn't have to be expensive or extensive. It can mean just going out for ice cream, going to a store, or going to a park to play. One on one time is good for each child and it can also be a refreshing time for the parents! If you have multiple children, you can also do "dates" with the adopted child and one of the biological children to foster bonding of the siblings.  I took the "girls" shopping one day and we had a blast! Since Micah does NOT like to shop (unless it includes Legos), it was fun to go shopping with the girls and it helped to nurture their relationship.

4) Work together!  Ok...maybe this one is a little obvious, but for us this is how it looks. Joy struggled in her attachement to me, so my husband and I had to tag-team it a lot, starting from day one! At first it was because I couldn't even be in a room alone with Joy, but now Joy demands MUCH of my attention from the time I get home from work until she goes to bed. My husband will usually focus on spending time helping the older two with homework, housework, and playtime while I focus mostly on Joy. Not to say that I ignore the other children, it's just that she requires more attention than the typical child her age.  We have found if we tag-team it and work together in this way, all of our children are happy.

5) Be consistent in correction and in affection.  Be consistent in how you correct each child. Be consistent in how you show affection to each child. This can be difficult. It can be exhausting. I am not saying you correct or discipline them each the same way or even show affection to each of them the same way, but you MUST be consistent! Each child must know the boundries and be corrected if those boundries are crossed. Your biological children must not feel like you show "favoritism" to the newly adopted one and VICE VERSA! Remember your adopted one is new and can often feel left out and not part of the family.  Jealousy can flow both ways, and it will DESTROY sibling bonding. This can also flow over to outside the family relationships. Make sure family members do not show undue attention to the "new" one, while ignoring the other children. If this happens, gently find a way to include ALL the children.

6) Remember, in the same way bonding takes time for a parent/child relationship, bonding takes time in a sibling relationship. There were many moments at the beginning when I wondered if the three of our children would ever get along or even LIKE each other; however, as time goes on, I see some beautiful glimpses of bonding and it makes this momma's heart happy! Their relationship is not perfect and there is still a very long way to go, but I feel like they are starting to develop a growing sibling bond of love!

Here are just a few glimpses:

There are times when Joy is crying, Natalie will hold her and ask if she misses "Momma Tine" and comfort her as only a sister can. 

There are times when Micah tries to teach her new words The other day, Micah said, "I am going to teach Joy a new word. Her word of the day is 'delish'." Micah to Joy, "Joy-Joy, say 'Delish'. These green beans are delish."  She laughed and replied in her cute little accent, "Delish!"

Oh...and let's not forget "the annoying song" Micah had to teach Joy! It's literally called "The song that gets on everybody's nerves." Try listening to that in the car on a road trip!

"Na-ta-lie!" Na-ta-lie!" Joy calls. "What Joy?" Natalie answers. "I love you!" says Joy.

And that, my friends, is what I have to remember when the arguing and the fighting starts. It's not always easy, but it is a growing and developing relationship which we have to work hard to nurture! God will continue to knit our family together and give us love for each other as we acknowledge Him in all we do!

Do you have ways you have nurtured sibling bonding and helped nurture a true family relationship? If so, comment below.  I would love to hear your ideas!