Advantages at the Starting Line

March 23, 2016

race sprintSubscribers to this blog know that I recently became a grandmother.  My husband and I are fortunate to spend time with PJ while his parents work. This has provided many opportunities to connect with him, to be intentional about how we spend time together, and to make memories and create relationship.  This has been especially poignant for my husband who is terminally ill and currently under Hospice care. This sad reality has enhanced our appreciation for the fragility of life and has spotlighted  the difference between what is and is not important.

An idea struck me the other day as I watched one of my hubby's nurse's aides cheerfully play with the baby. I thought about the disparity between PJ's start in life and that of adopted children whose lives began in chaos, trauma, neglect, fragmented families and orphanages.  

Our grandson has accumulated evidence that adults consistently care, represent safety, security and encouragement. By contrast "tough start" children amass evidence that is the polar opposite; they've learned adults are frightening, dangerous, unreliable, and inconsistent. (Of course some orphanages do have caregivers who strive to deliver  good, loving care but due to the numbers of children for whom they are responsible, their efforts fall short. Under these circumstances, kids learn to expect little, trust only themselves, and freeze out any budding attachments because caregivers "leave.")

Is it any wonder that these kids struggle to fit into families, have difficulty trusting adults, and struggle in school because they're enmeshed in hyper-vigilant monitoring and are convinced that the only person on whom they can rely is themselves?

By contrast, from the day PJ arrived on this earth, his life has overflowed with people who are thrilled he's here. In addition to his mom and dad, he's been blessed with a steady flow of people who convey affection, respond promptly to his needs, engage in attuned interplay, encourage his learning and celebrate each milestone he masters. This has provided PJ with a consistent experience of being seen and heard. Not only have his basic needs been met, but they've also been fulfilled with affection and joy. He's been encouraged, soothed and cuddled. He's been fed, clothed and cleaned, etc., and these interactions have been performed with kindness not resentment, anger or detached disinterest. His world is safe, secure and stable. He has learned that his "voice" counts and that it is worth making the effort to involve himself with people. He wants to connect because it brings him pleasure, satisfaction and security.

The reality of life is that some children do not get this kind of warm, fuzzy start. They must play catch up on their ability and desire to connect and attach with family, peers and the world at large. They must rewire their neurological architecture. As adoptive parents, many of us have committed to parenting these children with tough starts. This road can prove arduous and very, very long. How can we best sustain ourselves and our children as we journey together for a lifetime?

Effective communication is one critical element. Our kids need lots of empathy and understanding; they also need a lot of "do overs." Skill sets and social patterns that have been easily acquired in infancy or early childhood by most kids (those whose lives have been free of trauma,) may take years for our kids to master. First they must "unlearn" their old patterns and templates and then write over these failed strategies with new ones. Before they can risk changing--and more importantly, trusting us to keep them safe--they must feel confident enough that the benefit will outweigh the risk. Talk about a monumental task!

This process can feel as slow as the power of water to erode mountains. But it is well worth the effort, the agony and the hope.

Please take the time to watch these two startling videos which demonstrate both the importance and  positive effect of  attuned communication and the negative effect of mis-attuned  interactions. Two minutes that will break your heart and galvanize your commitment to being intentional about your communication with your children.

Heather Forbes books offer strategies, insights and hope for families. Read my review  Beyond Consequencesof her book, Help for Billy for BillyHeather Forbes.books
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