Learning about learning

The boys came to us at age 5&6 with ‘instruction manuals’ and lots of (sometimes contradicting) info on them about their abilities, life skills and personalities. As we became parents overnight we had to learn that there is a natural time to learn certain skills ( and I am glad I didn’t have to do potty training, skipped teething, learning to walk or speak…etc).

We were constantly finding gaps in their ‘natural development’ and we found ourselves filling these gaps as and when we discovered them, not when they are expected to be learnt! We taught them how to shower themselves, how to change your bedding if you wet the bed at night and they learnt it’s no big deal if you wet, we are not going to get upset with you or hit you!

Learning about learning by Feelingmumyet is about separating the developmental delays, attachment disorder and life lessons we all need to learn.

One knew how to ride a bike and has good balancing skills, the other had a bike but had no balancing skills so once he fell off and now he hated bikes. Same with climbing up to trees or to a monkey bar; since with us he conquered his fear of hight – how glad I was I could witness his face beaming with joy when he climbed up the climbing wall the first time! How proud he was! 🙂

Due to their massive neglect and trauma and attachment disorder it was hard to know what life skills they have mastered already and what not. Lately 7 had all these meltdowns related to separation anxiety and his misplaced shame (thinking he is soo bad his mother didn’t want him). Lately we have a new issue, which is related to learning to listen to somebody who tells you something different than what you feel like doing. It took us a couple of weeks to figure it out that it is not the ‘same old same old defiance or lack of trust due to his attachment disorder’ we have seen before. It IS a new gap we have discovered in his socialisation skills!

I would imagine it is connected to learning to trust your parents or perhaps I should say for a child with healthy, safe and time appropriate development it is a given?  I don’t know, this is my first time being a mother to any child, biological or not. But looking at our friends with smaller children I noticed that some of them already mastered this skill, some were still learning it, but most of them had some understanding of the reasons behind mummy’s ‘don’t do it because it will hurt you’ warnings. They more or less got the idea that there is a GOOD reason why the warning has been given to them. Did they still continue? Sure, but that was due to their personalities, may it be adventurous, experimental or just willingly testing boundaries.

My 7 year old somehow navigated his short life without this particular life lesson until now. It is very possible due to his many other ‘issues’ this one got overlooked. Or maybe the professionals knew about this gap, but felt there were more pressing problems to tackle first. It’s also a possibility that until now he didn’t feel safe to ‘let it all out’. Either way, we finally recognised what it is so now we can teach him.

How do you learn to accept suggestions?

For me and my intellectual brain I need to know first who is the person giving me the advice. What are their ‘credentials’. Have they experienced it personally? Do they have a masters degree on the subject? Are they older and therefore wiser than me? (this is a cultural thing, if you don’t share it, never mind). Secondly I want to know why are they giving me this information. What do they know that I don’t? What would happen if I don’t follow it? Yes, I know my rebellious side coming up… 🙂

It so happened that we went out for a family breakfast. Daddy told them not to eat too many ‘freebies’ as the main food is about to come. Did they listen? 8 did, 7 was convinced he can eat a whole lot more so he disregarded daddy. Full English breakfast arrives, 7 ate a couple of bites and declared himself full. Daddy didn’t even have to say a word, 7 knew! He should have listened! He should have done the clever thing and follow the advice. He chose not to and now he finds himself in this odd predicament. We weren’t angry with him at all, but we knew he was very cross with himself. Of course he said nothing, but his faulty internal processes went into overdrive and he started throwing food, jumping up and down on his chair and doing all the ‘naughty’ things. Hubby grabbed him in a super tight bear hug and held him for quite a while.

An hour later we went to get him new shoes (his last pair of new trainers lasted a month and it wasn’t for the poor, cheap quality, but that’s a different story). He was bored so he started throwing shoes off the racks. I told him why it was a bad idea (‘you might hit somebody accidentally’) and what will happen if he continues. Naturally he didn’t listen and didn’t stop until he was told some of the consequences that might follow. He was about to stop, but before he did he accidentally bumped into another shopper and knocked down a display unit. Again, his faulty internal processes kicked in and he was extremely ashamed of his actions. Until recently we would just tell him off, grab him and keep him close until we leave the shop. His mind is already in overdrive he didn’t know how to break the cycle and how to get out of those big feelings so his behaviour got worse by the second.

We just about paid and got back to the car. 2 minutes into the car ride out of nowhere he said: ‘Mummy, daddy, I am sorry for my poor behaviour in the shop. I should have listened to you.’ And Bad Mother reacted without missing a beat: ‘Yes, you should have!’. Good Daddy jumped in with ‘Thank you for saying that. You are forgiven!’ And then the most amazing thing happened. 7 informed us with a wonderful and happy smile that ‘it wasn’t that hard at all!’

Suddenly we realised that he has learnt another lesson(s)!

  1. Saying sorry is an excellent way to kill those big feelings!
  2. Listening to your parents is (sometimes) a good idea!
  3. You don’t need to feel ashamed for not listening.
  4. You CAN break the cycle!

A successful day in Parentville.

Learning about learning by Feelingmumyet is about separating the developmental delays, attachment disorder and life lessons we all need to learn.

Therapeutic friendships…?

Let me start by saying that a few months ago I knew only very little about therapeutic work myself, may it be with children or adults. We attended a 10 weeks long training course that focused on Attachment, Child Development, Trauma, Loss, Behaviour and similar heavy, but much needed topics. We learnt about the PACE model (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy. click on word for more info), which we are now implementing with various results.

The most important aspect of this new way of parenting for us as a family of four is around empathy. A concept that everybody believes to have in abundance and practice it well when a disaster happens like a loved one dying or an unexpected natural disaster. What I am quickly learning is that it is a different kind of empathy that we need to practice when it comes to our very damaged children.

The 24/7 ability to let myself be attuned to their feelings and emotions in order to understand the deeper and underlying issues that manifest in them stealing food, lying, ‘being naughty’, aggression, lack of attention or willingness to learn in school and many more. Most of the time when I am able to reach this stage of attunement with either of my boys (regardless of the length of time) I can see the REAL problem and often times my immediate anger is replaced by compassion and yes, empathy. The kind of empathy that does NOT try to fix the problem for them, does NOT try to be patronising, does NOT try to tell them ‘It’s gonna be OK’, does NOT make predictions about the future, does NOT judge or threaten, does NOT offer solutions of any kind and does NOT start any sentence with ‘why don’t you just…’.

Instead, I sit down with my son on the floor, holding his hand, looking into his beautiful and incredibly sad eyes and let him know that I am just as gutted for him that he feels that way. I try to offer him comfort when he is the most vulnerable, utterly confused and very very scared. I try to show him without words that I am committed to this relationship, that I love and care about him a great deal and no matter how much he acts out or hurt us, he will never receive what he expects (fears) to receive from us!

And guess what! It’s the same for adults, too!

Yes, I am aware our adoption is still in very early stages; yes, I know (or hope) with time it will get better; yes, I am sure you could recommend a book I have not heard of; yes, I know you have the best intentions in mind; yes, I am sure your friend’s friend’s friend had similar problem (though I doubt very much it would work for us simply because different people are involved); yes, I appreciate you are just unsure of what to say or how to help and no, you don’t need to say ANY of these to us.

I try to be as polite as possible when I say: These DO NOT HELP!

Just like in the video what we, exhausted, discouraged, bruised and concerned parents need is you to climb down into the pit with us and empathise with our situation silently. With distance it can be tricky I know, but then perhaps letting us know you love us, pray for us/send positive thoughts is really the only thing you can do if you want to help. It may look insignificant to you, but more is not always better. Just like we can’t fix ‘IT’ for our children (whatever ‘it’ refers to) you can’t fix it for us either!

Connection – on the other hand… Now THAT could be a solution! Imagine the possibilities…

Schrödinger’s cat in my tummy

This blog post was sitting in my drafts folder since January and now it seems like a good time to post it so chronological order is more or less accurate:

As approved adopters we joined the waiting game as soon as the ink dried on the Panel papers last May. We signed up to Children Who Wait, Be My Parent, National Adoption Register and Adoptionlink to maximise our chances. Now, several months and ‘almost matches’ later it seems we finally are not only the front runners, but (it seems) the only runners for 2 particular children. We were told the good news in January. In February we met the current Foster Carer; we could have had a lovely chat, but how do you relax when all your words are watched by several Social Workers? The SWs in the know informed us that the children would be moving in about 5 months.

So we wait.

When I share this news the natural response I get is ‘oh, it must be so hard to wait that long!‘ and I am thinking ‘boy, you couldn’t be further away from the truth’! You see, we didn’t choose adoption as the third option. We could have children born to us, but we decided to adopt instead as the FIRST OPTION!

Not for us, for the children. Not to meet our need, but to meet their need.

And we want to do a good job with that! Therefore, five months almost feels too short for us to be prepared and get ready. Our house needs to be finished and remodelled to accommodate them. As for our non existent parenting skills, we need to attend some specialised training to better understand and deal with their behaviour. I am a perfectionist who wants to get it right the first time… with everything! Hubby knows it’s impossible; I am determined to prove him wrong. That means reading one more book, joining one more online support group, signing up for one more training session…

Perhaps I wouldn’t be this patient if things were different. To explain the title: Schrödinger’s cat is locked in a box and until you open the box you don’t know if the cat is alive or not.

That is the same with us now; we see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we quite enjoy the darkness around us at the moment and not too keen to dash towards the light just yet. Is it because we could have children if we wanted to? Perhaps. Could we have children at all? Well, we will never know.

So we wait. And Schrödinger’s cat lives happily ever after in my tummy…