But I may have accidentally misled you. Because in reality, Nugget and I have a good relationship and a great rhythm. He almost never tantrums anymore, he does less categorizing of peers into a social pecking order, and accepts correction willingly. He is even navigating family dynamics with his siblings at about a six year old level, though his belief that the two year old should be giving the same as him is still a daily struggle.
But this growth only defines one half of the parent/child relationship we have with Nugget. Reading that post with Andy last night, he said he doesn't feel he is safely on shore yet. He is stuck out on the reef. The water is intense, and land is in sight, but there is still so much work to be done for this to be a natural give and take for him and Nugget. It's something we have talked about therapeutically maybe once a month. It always comes to the same conclusion: Nugget does not trust a male caregiver, he just thinks it's kind of a joke. Like how the resident comes in to get your history when you know the real doctor will be in asking the same questions and drawing the right conclusions ten minutes later.
Nugget views Andy as an older brother at best, whose authority can and should be tested time and again, looking for weaknesses and how well he knows mom's rules and authority. It did not start out this way. In China, Andy's were the safe, strong arms that carried Nugget everywhere. But somehow, Nugget lost that instant connection on his arrival home.
|Less than an hour after meeting Nugget. Andy never wears this shirt now. |
Such a reminder of the easy love we expected from ourselves.
When this series is done, expect to see Nugget's nickname change on the blog.
Even when I am home, Nugget will only ever try to play Andy off of me, and not vice versa because only Dad's "no" can be overridden by Mom's "yes." If dad asks him to clean up, he looks at me and says "Mom, is that ok, I just listening to Dad?" What that translates to is not "do I have permission to listen to Dad?" but "Look at how I am obeying you by listening to Dad." And some of you are closing your eyes, and rocking with the rapture of Halleluias as you raise your hand in the air at the computer screen and shout "mmm, preach!" Because getting someone to understand this from scratch is difficult, and useless. You just look like a nitpicky jerk, or they sympathize, but have no idea how this could happen.
I am writing this for you, the preferred parent, because the burden of helping fix this is on you. You are the one who is not at your wits' end. You get some kind of positive feedback from your relationship with your kiddo. I am not talking about manipulative triangulation (Dad makes child favorite food for lunch, kiddo thanks mom knowing full well that dad did it), but a sense that the kid just doesn't click with your spouse. This is not the be-all, end-all discussion of this topic. This is my letter to me. That's why the kid is male and the non-preferred parent is a husband. I know that isn't the case for some or even most folks. Change pronouns as you need to. If it's useful to you, great, and if not, just drink your coffee and pray for something that makes sense to you, knowing that other people are here, and there must be some hope for all this.
Dear favored parent,
Here are a few things you need to know to preserve your married relationship and support your spouse as he takes the hard road to a healthy parent/child relationship. Your road may have sucked, but it was the easier way if only because it was shorter.
1) Believe your spouse. You may be tempted to try to find the source of the disconnect in some aspect of your husband's understanding of parenting. This is only useful to the point that it helps him feel it isn't some immaturity or a fundamental flaw in his personality that is creating this problem. You are parenting a traumatized kid. Even if you have experience with that, you haven't parented this traumatized kid before. Be gentle, encouraging, and kind.
2) Do an objective evaluation of your child's developmental age. Assess their functional academic intelligence (not eventual capacity, but right now). Assess their working memory. I swear, the one thing we say time and again in our adoption support groups is how smart our kids are. Even when they are academically lost, there is a survival intelligence that post-institutionalized kids just have, and use to keep their circumstances predictable. Some kids puke on demand while looking you dead in the eye to make sure an adult doesn't ask them to eat anything undesirable or so you can't leave to go grocery shopping. Sometimes they watch for stress in your life and give you a hug to make sure you notice their importance to you. Some of our kids are incredible memorizers and some are masters of lying.
At the heart of it, though, you have a kid who (if internationally adopted) is no longer speaking their native language. They are Limited English Proficient (LEP), and need to be treated as such in our expectations of them. When they are trying to remember "go to your room, pick up the toys first, and then make your bed," they are oozing stress hormones. Most of us think with words, and our LEP kids don't have a fluent internal dialogue. What this means for relationships for us is that the kid may only have the capacity to follow one parent's directions. To entertain the possibility of always being "on" for two adults is something the kid isn't capable of right now. The non-preferred parent may have to make requests visual (picture list of steps requested) to get the compliance that the other parent gets with words.
3) All your kid's relationships have to first be addressed through a lens of pathology. Every relationship has to be assumed to be unhealthy and proved well through gentle releases of restrictions and rules. You navigated the sick version of "be pleasing to stay safe" or "be so needy that you stay safe" or "break every rule to find out how much trouble you can possibly get in to find out if this caregiver is really safe." And you overcame it with the consistency of your response, the hawk-like focus on rooting out inconsistency, the prevention of of new pathological tests before they cropped up. You are probably the parent who does this best on instinct alone, so you have been allowed into your kiddo's world.
Unfortunately, there is a one-parent limit into safety world for your kid. Or maybe you are the one who is focused on always saying yes and your kid started with another pathological relationship that led to true connection with time because of your safety. I don't know how it works, but for some of our kids, it seems like there is only room for one. Acknowledge that your kid's receptivity to you is different than to your spouse because of the nature of trauma--NOT because you have some magic key they need to mimic. Get it into your mind and truly believe that if you cloned yourself, your kid would only be able to click and grow with one of your two copies of you right now.
4) Relinquish your own authority when kid tries to go over other spouse's head. But don't play their game. This one is hard, because it's really easy for your kid to use it to feed their false narrative that only one parent is good. For instance, when Nugget hears Dad is going to the grain elevator to pick up pig food, he turns and asks me "Mom, can I go with Dad to get pig food?" I used to respond "ask your Dad," which reinforced his belief that mom was the authority. Now I don't look at him, and walk out of the room like I didn't hear him. If he pursues me, I will give him a non-verbal look that is the same as your response to the question "Are you going to give me a car and my own iPhone when I turn sixteen?" and then move again. He pretty much knows at this point that this is not my permission to give or deny. Then he runs and asks "Dad, I can go with you?" and dad is often peeved at the game (because he's a human being) and thinks "no, because you proved again I am nothing to you," but instead says "sure."
5) Praise the heck out of your spouse when he is nice when he doesn't feel like it, when he uses a loving tone, and for any progress kiddo makes towards accepting him. Do NOT praise your kiddo for this improvement. This is a tricky one and assumes your traumatized kid isn't making any effort. Back in the times when we were both lost with how to survive the challenges of Nugget, we figured out that we could be kind even when we didn't feel loving. Remember that time? When you looked on that kid's face and didn't go all "There may be something there that wasn't there before"? Your spouse is still in it. Point out to him when you see a little glance of admiration, or a quickness to comply, or any time he asks your husband something directly. You need to help your husband to look on his kid with love when the opportunity presents itself. This is going to take some time. The sense of failure for not being the preferred parent is strong, unfair, and real. It happens in bio families, too, in kids with processing issues and cognitive differences.
One thing I work hard not to do is comment on Andy's and Nugget's relationship to Nugget himself. If a stranger comments, great. But for me to insinuate myself as an observer with a goal for how their relationship can and should look, I am going to accidentally kill the little plants by over-fertilizing them. The improvements will be about pleasing me in the kid's hyper-focused eyes. But, when I let the relationship itself be the reward for the one who is responding to the efforts of my self-sacrificing husband, I am giving them the air he needs to come into this on his own. My role is to help my husband not become resentful in the apparent futility of his efforts. It might be wise to get in touch with a professional counselor to help shake the truth out of this situation so your spouse can get back in the pursuit again.
6) Pray for your husband, audibly, and with the shameless fervor you would ask God to remove a tumor from his body. Lay your hands on him, and just pray. You can tell this post is getting wordy and too generalized and then uselessly specific, because it's heavy with advice giving. You know what your spouse needs to get through this challenge. Or maybe it's a child who isn't clicking with the adopted kiddo or kiddo from trauma or with a challenging diagnosis. What matters is that you do not assume your connection to the kiddo is because of something you did that your better half can just imitate to get similar results. You are asking your spouse to find a path that has been blown up behind you, so it is going to take a new path to get in to your kid's heart for the other parent. When you are trying to find a way into hearts, it's your best first step to talk to the One who made those hearts. At the worst, it's a reminder that you are both loved and doing Godly work to redeem one heart.
7) Seek out and offer respite to the non-preferred parent, even though you may do most of the childcare. My next post is going to be all about respite, and staying healthy by getting the heck out of this place from time to time. But even giving your husband the space to work on something alone without a kid helper every now and then can be huge. I am notorious for tossing a few kids into the car with my husband, because I know he isn't deliberate about one on one time with the kids and those are some of my best memories of my own dad. But, I am going to try to warn him a bit now, because I know he won't ask for some space until he is at his wits' end. And that will not lead to happy memories for anyone. I am also trying to work out a way to get him to the August meeting of The Atlas Club, an extra-needs dads' retreat in Afton, Virginia that the new respite organization A Mother's Rest is putting together. It is becoming more apparent that our "recklessly abandoned to Christ" lifestyle needs much more deliberate times for rest and family togetherness than our old lives required.
7) Just say how proud you are of your spouse for having the tough job. And admit it's nice to look at your kiddo and feel something positive. Share those positive things you feel once in a while, just to say "this is a normal kid under that thick layer of BS, so keep fighting you incredible dad, you."
As you can tell, I really know nothing, but this is at least what we're trying. For tonight, there's 89 episodes of Frasier recorded on the DVR and an Edwards chocolate creme pie in the freezer. Let's get back in it tomorrow.
There is probably the biggest reason we aren't adopting again in this post. And it breaks our hearts, because Hazel so desperately needs a family now.
|What daddy couldn't see this little girl, just untied from the corner of this crib, and not want to make her his?|
There is real grief that my husband is continuing to confront alone from our son without being active on Facebook, without having any real life friends to talk to regularly (he's a guy). My husband does not rest until every one of his kids is at their best. He set that standard all on his own, creating and defining the role of a father in the family he wanted. A family strong enough to bring hurt children in and help them heal. If I can do these seven things every day, I can at least not stand in the way of the hard work he alone must do to make that dream become reality. One day I know he will win the heart that keeps insisting it does not need him.
|Photographs are so important in this battle for hearts. |
There is truly something growing between this Andy and Nugget, if only for a moment.
My husband's vocation is to be a father to these eight children. To love them where they are at, to raise them in the faith, to form their consciences, and to fight for their restoration when they are hurt. It is a privilege to stand beside this man in the hardest version of that calling he has experienced yet. He is waiting for the tide to rise again, so the waves don't throw him against the rocks. He cannot rest, but I will make sure he does not grow too weary. Some days I think he is just going to give in, but I know he will never be happy until he feels like this little boy is his son. Until he doesn't have to use the word "should" when he describes how he feels about him.
I think there is a big metaphor of God's love for us in here, but I'll leave that for you to ferret out. In the meantime, I will watch and wait for Nugget to know what his siblings and I know. He has the best Dad in the whole world who will watch and wait, for as long as it takes, for the chance to make it to you on the shore.