An Adoptive Father’s Epiphany

Editor’s note: Today’s post is by John Brooks of Marin County, California, USA, author of The Girl Behind the Door, a memoir of his parenting journey with an adopted daughter whose attachment wounds went unnoticed by the professional community until it was too late. Prior to his daughter’s death, John was a senior financial executive in the broadcast and media industry. Now he devotes his time to advocating for adoptive families, mental health activism and working with teenagers. Learn more at his blog, Parenting and Attachment.

john brooksI’m an adoptive father. I knew my life experience was different from my daughter, Casey’s, adopted from Poland more than 20 years ago, but I had no idea how profoundly different we were until I was compelled by tragedy to take a brutally hard look at the world of the adopted child.

My journey began more than six years ago. Casey was preparing for college. We’d had a big fight one weekend. Parents argue with their teenagers. But the next morning I woke to a note: “The car is parked at the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m sorry.” Casey jumped and disappeared into San Francisco Bay along with my life and dreams.

Drowning in grief, I wrote, searching for answers. Why did she do it? What did everyone miss? What could we have done differently? It became a published book. I learned about the traumatic, lifelong effects of the separation of mother and child, a primal wound that we stepped into like all adoptive parents.

Some say that a birth mother giving up a child is like an amputation. As much love and attention as we showered on Casey, could it ever make up for that loss? It’s a void that for so many adopted children is ignored and misunderstood; some may not see it themselves. Oftentimes loving them enough isn’t enough. Babies are not blank slates who simply adapt as many believe.

Birth trauma can be deeply damaging. How could it not be? It takes parenting that acknowledges the child’s loss and the effect on her behavior. Reacting to rages with punitive discipline can backfire. Adoptive families need qualified specialists who know what questions to ask and how to ask them. And adoptive parents need to know that some day their child may need to search and reunite with her birth parents, even if it’s painful.

The bargain we make as adoptive parents – one we learned too late – is that once we go down this road, we take on a job that is harder than we’d ever imagined. It requires us to parent in a way that we may not be comfortable with, to give without receiving much in return. It can leave us exhausted and isolated from other parents. But make no mistake, I remember the great times – they were many – and despite Casey’s loss, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been her dad.

Attachment, a Surprising Love Story

I called my friend, Javaughn in a panic on my way home from work (I started a part-time job as a teacher recently).  “I have a post due for APtly Said tomorrow and I have not written anything. What should I write about?”

Then she began talking about her own experience with co-sleeping and how it has made a positive impact on her family’s nighttime parenting routine. Javaughn Renee’s beautiful essay (she is such a gifted writer and artist) illustrates that Attachment Parenting can be adapted to meet individual families’ needs. Take what you like and leave the rest. There is not a checklist, only a core belief that connection and love works to build stronger relationships with children and their parents.

Without further ado — here is Javaughn Renee. She has three beautiful adopted daughters and a multi-racial family.

***

I let off a ‘holier than thou,’ sigh when I got off the phone with a tired friend  practicing Attachment Parenting principles.

“That’s crazy, “ I judged, and promptly placed my three year old in her crib and shut the door.  Two years and two more adopted children later, I hear myself saying, “…hold on Meg, I have to put the girls to bed, I’ll call you back.”

This time, “put to bed,” means co-sleep.  Co-sleeping became a solution to predictable, yet unpreventable, nighttime screaming matches. I got the idea not from a parent but from the last of a stream of behavior and adoption experts and my own desire to be a peaceful parent.

I never wanted screaming matches, sarcasm, or baths of tears to be part of my parental script. I wanted organic babies, who ate organic food and breastmilk, while I decorated their rooms with leaves, pinecones and non-violent paraphernalia. What I was blessed with, was three super strong-willed, attention-seeking, trauma survivors. These include a five-year-old who will eat a shoe if she believes it is made of sugar, a three-year-old who will sacrifice her body to concrete before she uses her words and a 15-year-old who will silently suffer an ingrown toenail for two weeks but cry buckets if she does not receive an Easter egg with the same amount of candy as her younger siblings.

And me? My locks evolved into a very chicken like hair-do, my natural deodorant left me smelling like an ape and instead of counting my (three) blessings, I fell asleep nightly wondering what did I do wrong.  Then I heard about oxytocin, the miracle hormone for my badass kids. A hormone their pre-adoption circumstances deprived them of and a substance I was not nurturing.  Though, I discovered, I could.

“When they [children with difficult behaviors] receive attuned and attentive care, children can begin to have a healthy oxytocin response and engage in healthy social and emotional relationships,” says author B. Byron Post.

The book applies what I recognized as (some) Attachment Parenting principles to adoptive parents who’ve turned into screaming zealots. Although, the book does not spell out API principles, Post’s (and others’) parental paradigm suggests that love, not fear will reduce stress and help children and parents regulate their emotions and behaviors.

So, “to hell with it,” I thought. “I’ll try  this love, thing. ” Every other expert trick or response was out and sleeping with my kids was in.

It was weird. Then it worked. So far, we’ve generally had months of nighttime peace. Even nights of, even-though-we’re-mad-we’re-still-sleeping-here kind of peace. Soon after, I was homeschooling the Sugarmonster and we became oddly calmer and happily closer. We snuggle for stories and even for discipline. Our three-year-old is trying to talk up a storm and we read devotionals and give kisses to our teen rugby player.

I can’t lie to the readers of this site and have you all believe I never resort to consequences or power struggles– because it happens. Yet, API and other new parenting paradigms will remain a part of my skill set as a parent.    All three of my children have to play catch up when it comes to love, nurture, and bonding, and Attachment Parenting will now play a part.

Javaughn Renee is a 43 year old writer and artist currently living in South Bend, Indiana but missing sunny California.  She is a nature loving, yoga teaching, parent, striving to live simply and with love.
In 2010, she completed a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts. Her research focuses on images of African Americans and nature and their effects on stereotypes. She has written for regional and national publications and blogs for other unique families at Mezclados.wordpress.com.   Javaughn continues to write, practice yoga and parent while watching her daughters grow to be sensitive and strong.

Enough with the ‘mom enough’ stuff…Can we just talk?

There’s little more demoralizing than being told what we’re doing is wrong, or that there’s a better way, or worse – that we’re in some way harming or damaging our children. We take it very personally, especially when the criticism centers around our parenting.

That’s why the TIME cover and tagline, “Are You Mom Enough” exploded over the media as it did. Their job was to get attention and ultimately sell copies. Unfortunately, to do so, they resorted to playing on mothers’ emotions and spotlighting the negative, competitive vibe around a conversation that should be supportive, encouraging and helpful.

pathways magazine fall 2012The Fall 2012 issue of Pathways magazine features the cover mom herself, Jamie Lynne Grumet, sharing her thoughts and clearing the air about the TIME cover photo and the media storm surrounding it all. Grumet tells Pathways, “I think the hate that comes from some mothers is from defensiveness and that they believe what we are saying is that what they do is less or they are hurting their child, which is totally untrue. There are so many ways to parent.”

It’s not just TIME. It happens all too often. Some parenting practice is framed as an us vs. them, a red team against the blue team, a this-way-wins-over-that-way or this-group-is-better-than-that-group issue. Then we, as parents, end up divided.

Sadly, when this is the arena we’re given, we’re left with little choice. We either risk getting into a debate, or we stay hush-hush about how we parent. Parenting becomes one of those off-limits topics, like religion and politics. We don’t want to offend anyone, fuel the mommy wars, or create guilt. As a result, we miss out on conversations that inform us, ease our fears and give us new ideas or perspectives.

It’s a shame, because we want to reach out, to get support. To give support. Instead, we miss out on the kinds of discussions that benefit our children.

We can’t control what the big media outlets will do. All we can do is try to create an environment for healthy conversation within our own circles. When you find yourself discussing parenting, here are some things to keep in mind to keep it friendly and supportive:

Remember, the AP principles are adaptable. For example, “feed with love and respect” applies to parents who breastfeed as well as parents who bottle-nurse. “Respond with sensitivity” is about as non-specific as it gets and applies to all kinds of interactions. Each of the principles is written very broadly and can be adapted to every family situation.

We never know the whole story. So we can’t possibly judge without all of the details.

We all make mistakes and are doing our best. We all want what is best for our kids and we’re working with what we’ve got. Nobody can be faulted for that.

Change the subject if you must. Some people just want to be right. And that’s okay. When the conversation takes a turn toward competitiveness and winning or losing, and that uncomfortable feeling sets in, it may be time to move to another topic.

Respond with sensitivity (sound familiar?). Always assume the other person’s feelings are easily hurt. This is advice my husband and I were given right before we got married, and it applies well here. If you assume the other person is sensitive, you won’t say anything wrong.

Want to open up a discussion with other parents who share your goals? API Support Groups provide a nice, level playing field that encourages helpful discussion and avoids judgment and competition. Find a support group in your area.

Also, coming soon: Jamie Lynne Grumet and her family will be featured in the next issue of The Attached Family!

Spring Mini Series Kick Off

Spring is finally coming! And with Spring, fresh ideas are flowing again, somewhat slowly like the sap in the trees but flowing none the less. So to kick off this spring I am going to embark on a mini series of the dangers of so called “baby training” and its effect on the parent/child attachment. This has been something that I have pondered for a while now as I consider parenting styles and how they affect the parent/child relationship. So this is my mini series introduction. Attachment is very important to me and I have seen and felt the effects of the lack of attachment in my life. The damage that it caused has been long lasting but the undoubted benefit of the experience has also reverberated through my life. I have also seen how the effects of well meaning but misguided parents who have either over-indulged and caused attachment problems or have read a book and followed some sort of baby training to the letter. I have seen first hand the difference between babies who are have been parented with attachment in mind and those who have been parented with schedule in mind.

It is not my goal to sound like I am anti-discipline. Actually it is far from it. I am all for polite, disciplined children. No one wants to live with a terror and nobody else wants to spend time with children who are undisciplined. I believe it is a disservice to a child to let them run the entire house because that is not how the world functions. But you can not schedule a child’s temperament and forced discipline is not self-discipline.

So here is the toast to a mini-series. Let’s make it a conversations.

Jasmine is a co-housing community living mama with a passion for fierce writing she blogs.

Photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robthurman/4446152353/

Why AP?

This post addresses a sensitive topic, and therefore might generate some strong emotions.

I am a very vocal advocate of attachment parenting and the consequences that impact our lives if we choose not to fully attach to, and be attached to by, our children.

As I sit holding my 14 1/2 month old son, he turns and gives me his slobbery kisses. As I read about ways to guide him, to use discipline gently as he is learning to throw fits, and how he has somehow figured out how to hit (how do they learn that?) I am in continual awe of the attachment between us. It is something tangible. It was forged as we walked through pregnancy together and “talked” to each other. Forged as we birthed together and were carried through the ring of fire, as we slept together, ate together, and continue on this lifelong learning adventure together. We are like stem and leaf, firmly attached and yet at the same time not restricted or restrained by it, but it has made us free to grow. Continue reading “Why AP?”

The Journey To Attachment Parenting

Since this is my first post, I thought I would use a piece I wrote when my son, Matteo was just a couple of months old. It was written late one night, when I realized just how I had gotten to believe and feel as strongly as I did about my parenting ideals. My journey towards the attachment parenting spectrum started long before I started I had my son, Matteo.

So here is my story:

I was 17, I didn’t know better. I didn’t know the joy of motherhood, I didn’t know the blessing that having a child was. I did know that my little *Simon needed a better Mom, a better home, a better life. I knew I couldn’t give this to him at the ripe age of 17. I knew that he was bigger than me in so many ways, so I had to let him go. I’ve never regretted that choice. I know to this day that I did the best thing for my little boy. I gave him physical life, and I gave him his life; a life that he deserved, and one that I knew I couldn’t give to him. For him, I became a birthmother.

Now, I’m a mother again. This time, a different kind. The real kind. The kind that wakes up in the middle of the night. The kind that worries non-stop, the kind that claps in joy at the silliest things that her son does. I am a mother. Matteo is my pride and joy, I love him fiercely, with a love I never thought could possibly exist. His existence has opened new horizons, new feelings, new thoughts, and a new life for me. While he is learning so much from this big world, in the short time he has been here, he has taught me more about myself then I have been able to learn in my entire life thus far.

I love both my boys, but my love is so different for each of them. Simon shaped me for the mother I would one day be, and because of the selfless love I had for him, he’s made me a better mother for Matteo. Simon taught me how precious a child is and how beautiful it is to be a mother and watch your child grow. Without him, I would have never learned how much you can miss when you aren’t there.

I’ve contemplated my parenting choices. Everywhere I look people are trying to train their children into their schedule, mould them into the beings they want them to be. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; it’s what feels natural for some parents. However, what’s natural for me is so different. I’m learning every day the things I missed with Simon, and because I know I missed them with him, I’m soaking every small, extraordinary moment up with Matteo. If he wants to stay up all night, I’ll let him. If he wants me to stick out my tongue over and over again, just so he can smile at me, I’ll do it. If he wants to nurse for hours on end, I’ll let him. All of this, because I didn’t get to do it with Simon. I want Matteo to be what he wants, because I want to watch him, I want to see what sort of amazing being I created without trying to make him into the baby he isn’t. I want to soak up every single moment, because I know I’ll never get it back.

At night, when Matteo is wide awake, when my eyes are heavy with sleep, I turn on some country music, and we two-step around the apartment. I sing to him, I snuggle him closer. His eyes flit about excitedly, taking in every color, every picture, every shadow, like he’s never seen it before. Every so often, he’ll put his soft little head on my shoulder, and snuggle into my neck. Within seconds, his head is bobbing up again, trying to remember where he last looked, before he took the time to show me that he felt safe. He’ll be crying, and the moment we start dancing, he stops. Matteo usually looks at me with wonder for a second, and then turns his attention to the objects in the room. We dance for hours at a time, until my arms get tired, until he needs fed, until he’s sleeping, whatever. We just dance, and it’s my favourite time of the day. He’s the best dance partner I’ve ever had, and I sure wouldn’t trade those late night dances for even a bit of sleep.

People talk about all the things that are awful about parenthood- no sleep, lack of a social life, not showering, having no time. The list goes on. What they don’t realize is that when you didn’t get to have that, when you didn’t get to experience those things, they are things you want to have. I didn’t get to see Simon’s first bath, or first smile. I didn’t get to see him cry real tears, or say his first word. I didn’t get stay up all night and rock him to sleep. The thought of all the things I missed with Simon haunted me for years, and even to this day, I sometimes wish I got to sample a bit of his life in real-time. Yet, because of this, I’m embracing all of the imperfections of parenthood. I want the late nights, I want the lack of a social life, I want all of the things that come with parenthood. I want to experience the terrible, the good, the amazing, the awful, all of it. I’m amazed by the simple beauty of all of these experiences, even the tiresome ones.

There are no words, no amount of ‘thank-you’s that will be enough for Simon. I always thought if I ever saw him again, he would thank me for giving him his beautiful family. I never imagined that I would want to hug him tight, and thank him for teaching me how to be a better mom, a more attentive mother, a mother who appreciates the beauty in things that others might miss. A mother who will be happy to learn from her child, who will want to soak up every moment with her child, and will go to all lengths to make sure that her little one is happy, comfortable, loved, and protected.

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons

Expanding our attachment

By Melissa of Colorado, USA, who blogs at Nature Deva

Last night, we embarked on the first step of our journey of becoming foster-care parents in hopes to eventually adopt a child. After sitting in a meeting with other parents like us, I learned that we all had the same idea: It is wonderful that so many want to open their homes and their lives to help foster kids.

The social worker running the meeting gave us a three-hour overview of what the process entails and it seems not very likely that you would necessarily get to adopt the first child that comes to your home. They try to place the children with extended family first.

The social worker explained the steps to getting the foster child’s parent(s) back on track and what they have to do to become and maintain a level she referred to as “minimally adequate.” That term just blows my mind, but for people who are either addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, have low to no job skills, no real parenting skills or even basic life skills, there is much training and support provided to them to get them to that level of “minimally adequate” so that they can take care of their own children. The extended family members that may step up to take in these kids would have to meet the “minimally adequate” level as well and may also have to go through the foster-care training and get a physical, too, to be sure they are up for the job. Then, of course, there are the background checks out of the hiring process. This step is followed to the letter.

My heart was breaking for these parents and their “broken children,” as the social worker called them. Regardless of whatever external situations occurred, at the core as a parent you love your child.

Something that the social worker pointed out about the “broken children” is that they want to be with their families regardless, just as our children would always want to be with us. It’s just that something happened in their life that made it unsafe for them to stay living with their mom and/or dad and now they have to adjust to living with strangers. They will be scared, sad and confused.

This is where I feel Attachment Parenting can play a part in helping these child. Some things like cosleeping are not allowed by the foster care system, but nighttime parenting is still always important. Good nutrition, lots of attention and hugs, babywearing if a young child, positive encouragement, a good routine to their day and so on — all of it is so nurturing for any child but especially for a “broken child.”

The social worker made it clear that the gift of love a foster parent receives from these “broken children” is so much greater than the love foster parents give them. If and when their parents are successfully rehabilitated and the family is reunited, the gift to that child of being able to live with a nurturing foster family where they were loved on will last with that child forever.

The social worker said, “Yes, your heart will break when they leave you, if they are able to be reunified with their family. If your heart doesn’t break, then you didn’t let yourself love them enough.”

It seems to me as with everything in life, love is always the answer. I expect that my husband, my son and myself will have our hearts grow by leaps and bounds over this upcoming experience of opening our lives to help heal a “broken child.” It may be very challenging at times and every person is different, but we are up for it.

Cobathing

Bath time in our house is a social event. Since becoming the parents of a demanding toddler (armed with a growing vocabulary), my husband and I can hardly remember the days when taking a shower added up to a) showering alone, and b) getting in, washing up, and getting out.

In our childhood, my husband and I both remember bathing and showering with our siblings and mothers, probably out of convenience and because bathing together equaled more playtime (does anyone else remember playing with tub town toys?). However, once we reached a certain age, our parents designated separate bathing times for each person; co-bathing became something special that only small children could do, and bath playtime was all but lost.

Fast forward a few decades to the present. Nowadays, showering is a two-person activity and sometimes a group event. When Annabelle was a newborn and even a baby under age one, we bathed her in our tub or placed her in a toddler tub with natural bath products. This worked swimmingly so far as getting her clean was concerned; however, she howled with disapproval whenever mom or dad tried to sneak off to the tub by their lonesomes. Eventually, being the swift thinkers that her parents are, we realized that our little one might be more content if we simply invited her to bathe with us. And well, she is.

On a typical day, Annabelle likely showers twice in the morning, once with my husband and another time with me; and if it’s been a particularly messy day or we’ve been at the public swimming pool, she showers yet again. Most of the time, she sits down in the tub and plays with her toys while one of us focuses on the business of washing up. My husband tends to shower first, so he takes care of soaping Annabelle and getting her clean. By the time I make my way to the shower, Annabelle is eager to join me for a second round of tub fun (though this time I shower and simply let her play with toys, collect dripping water with a cup, and splish and splash).

Bathing together serves many purposes for our family. As most folks in the western world do, we bathe for cleanliness. But now that our toddler insists (and I’d say rightly so) on bathing with her mom and dad (and sometimes both at the same time), taking a shower or running a bath invites play, allows us to bond, and offers the opportunity to relax and heal after difficult days. Additionally, cobathing allows breastfeeding mothers, like myself, to nurture their babies, soothe engorged breasts, and to enhance milk production. A La Leche League article recommends that parents of adopted babies nurture their breastfeeding relationship by bathing together. Another La Leche League article suggests that breastfeeding mothers of newborns who have had a difficult time establishing nursing try cobathing as a natural way to soothe mom and baby, connect with each other, and relax into the breastfeeding relationship.

For our family, cobathing is more often than not, a positive way to spend time together, to play, and stay clean and healthy. To establish a safe and fun bath in your family, you may want to check out Dr. Sears’ Bathing with Baby tips. What are your thoughts about cobathing? Does your family enjoy showering together or is bath time a sacred ritual for spending some time on your own?

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