Angel is back at school after a three week break. Last term was hard and along with contact, it took it out of me. Five days into the school holiday something shifted and we got back our easy, breezy Angel. The one that can play by herself while I clean up the kitchen, who isn't demanding three different things all at the same time. It’s ironic that when our kids are in a good place, it’s lovely to spend time with them but it’s when they are in a bad place that they need us most.
I feel Angel’s stress return as school approaches. We talk about it….. lots. I give her the homeopathic remedy that helped before.
Night before return and she is up in the night with an upset tummy. Uh oh, I think. This is anxiety. I say she can stay home but explain that lots of kids may be anxious on the first day and it might be better to go in when others are feeling the same (although truth be told, I don’t know any other kids in her school who worry in the way she does). Then the miraculous happens, she says she will go in, as long as we pick her up if she doesn’t feel well.
I’ve noticed this pattern emerging of her saying she doesn't want to go to school and if I say OK, she says she will go. It’s risky as you always think that maybe she won’t. It's like she just needs to feel she has some control of the situation. I’ve heard this is common with adopted kids, so much was out of their control when they were little.
So her tummy did hurt and we did pick her up at lunchtime but I think it was good that she tried and good that we did as promised. She went in the next day and managed the first week with exceptional aplomb. “Yeah, yeah, yeah Mum. If Tara doesn’t want to play with me, I’ll just play with someone else.’ What a difference a few weeks can make!
I have my session with the therapist provided by the adoption support fund (find details for the one in your area via your local council). It is a wonder to speak to someone who has so much therapeutic experience and emotional intelligence. He thinks Angel would benefit from life story work. Whilst I do life story work with Angel in both big and small ways all the time, I’m also aware that there are things I haven’t said, things that feel too painful for me, let alone a ten year old. I’ve also worried about how much and when to impart information. He said this is the age when they need to know everything and that having someone to do the therapeutic part, frees up the parent to just do the parenting. Yes, yes, yes, I think. He said it’s important for the child to begin to understand that the way they feel and react is often connected with their early experiences.
So for instance, Angel is tricky when I pick her up from Pony Day in the school holidays, which is the only period of time she spent away from me and hubby. I say, ‘Did you have a tricky day?’ She answers, ‘Yeah, I just find it really hard being away from you.’ I know most ten year olds doing a thing they love wouldn't find it tricky being away from their parents from 9.30-3pm and in fact when Angel is in her best place, she doesn't either.
What the therapist is saying is that it's about connecting the need to be constantly close with the early trauma of being moved multiple times. She is already halfway there, as knows she isn't feeling good because she found it hard being away from me. Lots of kids (and adults!) have no idea they are even being difficult, let alone why, and she can connect all this really quickly. The next stage is to allow her to link the anxiety she sometimes feels with the insecurities of her early life and then reiterate that she is safe, and with us for life.
I know for myself, being able to connect my anxiety with my own childhood trauma is the best way to relieve it and the more conscious I am of that, the less the anxiety has a hold over me, so this all makes sense. However, as a parent of an adopted child it's hard to know what and when it’s appropriate, so to have someone with years of experience take the lead is a huge comfort.
I get an opportunity to try it as, a few days later, Angel is procrastinating with tidying her room. I offered to do it with her but it seems I am the only one actually doing any tidying. ‘If you don’t start helping, I’m going to leave,’ I say. She does help but is clearly very angry. Later, when we are close and connected again she apologises, ‘I’m sorry I was being difficult earlier, I just found it really hard when you said you would leave if I didn't help’. ‘Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry, that was the wrong language wasn’t it because you were left when you were little. You know I only meant leave the room right? I would never ever leave you.’ We both well up and have a cuddle. The way she can now pinpoint and articulate exactly what has upset her is magic to witness but it hasn’t come by magic. It’s come through continually accepting and helping her work though her feelings.
You can’t always catch it and maybe you don’t need to anyway. Some of these things can dissolve in the ebb and flow of everyday life. Like last week when she wanted to carry on playing Uno after I said it was time for bed and she threw the cards down, I said, ‘Come on, negotiate don’t sulk, you’re not two anymore,’ and I felt her collapse in on herself. I instantly knew it was the wrong language because, of course, she doesn't want to be ten, she wants to be two!
There is ongoing pain about growing up because she wants to stay ‘my little baby’. I didn't say anything, we recovered and played another round. I like to think that sometimes just noticing her feelings can be enough.
The therapist also talked about the use of ‘parts’ language, in which we name the different parts of Angel; the part that is lovely, the part that wobbles in friendships, the anxious part etc. Apparently this helps with the child's shame-based responses and deflects experience of the ‘whole self’ as feeling (for example) anxious. It is a part of her and there is also a part that isn’t anxious and can manage. I love this idea and tried it out the other day when she said she was worried about something
Me - Maybe only a part of you is worried and a part of you can manage it?
Angel - No Mum. All of me is worried!’
Obviously needs a little more work lol but the good place, overall, has prevailed (-: