Monday, June 13, 2011

Raising a Healthy Adopted Child: Relationships with Parents and Siblings

On Thursday, we delved into the complexities of Attachment and Bonding in adoption. Today we are going to move on to the daily interactions our children have: their relationships with us, their parents, and with their siblings.

All children, whether adopted or not, have intense relationships with their parents and their siblings. We are safe and children know they can relax at home, usually resulting in more drama in the home than out in the world. This is so important, and so necessary, but it can also be intense and exhausting to deal with angry or frustrated children from the second school lets out to the moment they collapse, exhausted, into bed at night.

With my biological children, I find their transition to home easier and less stressful, for all of us. Once home, they relax, eat, argue, play and otherwise enjoy their down time. With my daughter, things are trickier.

  • Arguing (or as my mother would say, sassing) is a constant theme in our time together. While my son will probably become a successful lawyer due to his advanced arguing skills, my daughter may well become the court judge; her opinion is the only one she will consider. This arguing, while frustrating, is her way of coming down from the stress she has experienced outside of the home. It's an interesting way to decompress (why not jump on the trampoline, honey?) but it's her way.
She will argue with her brothers just as vehemently, often about issues so trivial I can't believe they even engage with her. This can be construed as a desire for attention from them as much as from me. We deal with this by (sometime gently, other times not as gently) asking her to please stop arguing, and would she like to do some coloring? This will either end with a huff and a stamp (this one is OK) or a tantrum that only resolves with the aforementioned time-out.

Either way, we are working on it and we are acknowledging that this seemingly annoying behavior has a place in her psyche. It is then our job to let her express herself, within the limits of proper respect for those around here. It's a big job!
  • Next to arguing, she also has a stronger need for physical touch than her siblings. While they will allow themselves a brief hug from Mom, Mae needs my lap, my hugs, my kisses, all of the above and more. She is often quite desperate for physical interaction that will clash rather loudly with our after-school activity schedule. But I try.
I am sometimes able to make up for a busy afternoon with an extra snuggle at bedtime. Other times nothing will do but a stop in the routine for a chat and some lap time. When I find myself getting frustrated with her neediness, I can often be calmed by acting in a loving way: when I do what she needs, I will eventually begin to feel it as less of a burden and more of a pleasure. Not always, mind you, but sometimes.
  • I find that her need for physical affection can also be compared to her need for equality in all areas of our lives as a family. If I am comforting Sam because he has had his feelings hurt, for example, she will construe a story of her own woe. (Perhaps true, perhaps not - does it matter? Not really.)
Equal time, equal treats, equal stories at bedtime, these all address her sense of unfairness in her world. The world has been unfair to her, to be sure. And here I come to the rescue, establishing that at least at home, while things might not be equal, they will be fair.

Isn't that what home is? Isn't home a place to regroup and relax? I do hope someday she will stop queuing in line for a hug and start relaxing. Until then, my lap is open!
  • Often while in my lap, other stories of her helpfulness will come out. Did I know that she had folded the towels for me? In my thanks, I find my sadness growing that her desire to please (both her parents and her brothers) is still as strong as ever.
She will cheerfully serve her brothers, fetching them water or an apple. She will set the table for me and take on chores too heavy for her, in an attempt to gain my praise. (Let me just mention than if I suggest a chore for her, we instantly leap to the aforementioned arguing; it must all be her idea!)

I worry about this one, though I am also grateful for it. She is a terrific helper and I let her know it. But I worry that this area could become a downfall in her future.

I don't want her to serve her friends, bowing to their every whim. I don't want her dating (or marrying!) a man who thinks he should be served. So, while I enjoy her helpfulness, I recognize what is behind it, and try to communicate to her than she doesn't need to please me all the time, just in the normal "do as you're told" child-parent moments.

This is not easy for her, but we have many opportunities to practice it, so I trust I will get through to her eventually. In the meantime, we talk often about what makes a good friend, and so far her choice in little friends is impeccable!

Relationships with our closest family members can be difficult. Why do we continue to treat the ones we love the most poorly? It all comes down to our level of trust that in spite of our moments of anger/frustration/your-emotion-here, our family will always love us.

In many ways, Mae has shown that she feels this level of trust. While she is perhaps not sure that we will always love her, she is comfortable enough to test us. That in and of itself is a huge step.

So, what of the arguing? The need for constant physical contact? The demand for equality and attention? The worrisome desire to please? These we use as daily teachable moments to show our daughter that she is loved, that she is valued, that she is one of us. This constant, on-going work is another area in which we must help our children learn their place in this world. And this lesson is easiest taught while snuggling.

How does your adopted child interact with you and her siblings? Do you notice a difference between children? 


Teresa said...

Hi Ellen,
If I recall right, your daughter and mine are from the same SWI (Huaihua). I spoke with a counselor about our daughter. She asked about her personality and some of our concerns. I mentioned that she was stubborn (among other things, one of which was always needing to argue). The counselor said that stubborness often stems from a need to control. This need to control happens because their needs were not met the first months or years of their life. In other words, they had to self comfort because their cries for comfort, hunger, etc were not answered. There is more to it, of course, but I know that Huaihua SWI, like many other SWI's, did not have an adequate nanny-to-baby ratio to take care of the needs of the many infants under their care. We are considering having family therapy as well, mostly for my husband and me so that we can help her release that need to control so that it doesn't show up later in other areas. If you want to email me about anything, my email is

Ellen said...

Yes Theresa! Mae is from HuaiHua too. I'd be curious to know how your therapist works with your daughter to help her release the need for control. Both my biological son and Mae are incredibly controlling, so I'd love any tips you're willing to share!
I'm so glad you found me here! :-)