I am reading ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ to Angel at bedtime. The mole says to the boy, ‘we all feel lost at times.’
Angel - That's how I feel in school and sometimes at home.
Me - What do you do when you feel like that?
Angel – Mummy I breathe in deeply and out and if I have a cuddly toy, I squeeze that tight and I say to myself, ‘I am love, I am loved by everyone who knows me.’
I well up. Angel peers at me
Angel - What Mum, are you actually crying?
Me - They’re happy tears.
I laugh it off. I am happy that she is learning to be a friend to herself although, in reality, I know it's not often she is able to remember that affirmation. I love that she has transmuted it from ‘I am loved’, to ‘I am loved by everyone who knows me’. Brilliant.
But I am also heartbroken and as she’s lying in my arms, twitching her way to deep sleep, the tears come thick and fast. How sad it must be to feel lost in your own home. I realise that I’m crying for me too as I too felt lost a lot in my childhood. I’m 52 and just realising this now? And I’m learning it from a nine year old?!
I think about how much I feel Angel was meant for me, how uniquely placed I am to help her and she to trigger and illuminate stuff that I have hidden away. I wonder if all parents feel this way about their kids or if I’m just very lucky.
Somehow in writing and sharing this blog it reminds me to keep trying to be the best Mum I can be. Parenthood is such a whirlwind of stuff, practical, emotional and physical and parenthood to an adopted kid is the same but more!
I’ve been reading ‘Hold On to Your Kids’, a book about attachment and how kids have become increasingly peer oriented in the last 50 years; that this is undermining family attachments and is the root cause of children's anxiety, depression and almost all behavioural difficulties. Utterly life changing and whilst I have practiced much of what it is preaching, it really helped clarify some things for me.
Such as, I know that when Angel has too many playdates and not enough downtime with us, she doesn't do so well but it's tough when she is pleading for a playdate, to say no. Now I realise the desperate need is her trying to fill an attachment void and that actually only adults she has a secure attachment with will be able to help her fill it.
I saw attachment as a thing you had or didn't have and I now understand it's not like that at all but a continuum that can come and go even throughout the course of a day. Of course there is a baseline that one hopes is always maintained but our kids can get cut adrift from us at any time. They explain it as if we are their compass and our job is to keep them on the right path but they can easily become disorientated and get lost when they are not with us and sometimes even when they are. The attachment connection can get broken by a disagreement or them perceiving that we don't like what they are doing or sometimes just by the wrong look. This will vary depending on the strength of the attachment in the first place and the sensitivity of the kid. Clearly because of Angel's early life she is very sensitive to attachment disruptions and can easily get triggered into pretty big feelings of rejection.
They also talked about something called counterwill which I hadn't come across but have certainly experienced lol.
Definition - Counterwill refers to the instinct to resist, counter, and oppose when feeling controlled or coerced. You can feel it arise inside of you when someone tells you what to think, do, or feel. This isn’t a mistake or a flaw in human nature, and, like all instincts, serves an important function. The challenge for parents is that immaturity makes a child more prone to expressions of resistance. (more here) https://neufeldinstitute.org/the-surprising-secret-behind-kids-resistance-and-opposition/)
It never ceases to amaze me how co-operative Angel can be on some days and how difficult on others. I realise now that it isn't the behaviour we need to work on but the attachment! I ihink it’s also why she is so much more co-operative with me than hubby. I always thought it was a boundary issue but it's an attachment issue and it isn't even something Angel can control, it's a deep instinctual response.
I think about how Angel will experience each of these difficult interactions and her reponses - ‘you’re always grumpy with me, you're always bossing me around’ - as a little chink in our attachment that we then have to have time to repair. I have an idea.
Me - Angel, how about instead of me telling you what you have to do in the morning and before bed, I just say, ‘you know what you need to do, tell me if you need any help’ so that you don't feel I’m always telling you what to do or that you are not doing what you are supposed to?
Angel - (beaming from ear to ear) Sounds great!
We have shifted to a new space. I want to see how much easier all our lives could be if we can maintain the attachment connection for longer periods. I will report back. It's a big task; more lean in time, fewer playdates, less letting her try to fill her own attachment voids and more of us trying to fill them for her. I want me and hubby to be her True North, I want her to always know where she is. I want her to feel found rather than lost.
PS. I urge all parents whether you have adopted kids or not to read this book. It's a game changer in the truest sense of the expression.
Hold On to Your Kids by Gabor Maté and Gordon Neufeld