It is still a struggle but rather than punching through newspaper, Angel is going to the park every evening, sometimes twice! ‘Mummy, I need to go out,’ she mouths silently to me across the kitchen. The longer evenings help. Just keep moving.
I’m not sure if we are emerging from ‘the cut’ or just learning to live in it, but change is afoot. A wise person once said that you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself. I realise I need to change.
It starts with a podcast. It is an interview with a woman called Mary Joy who is a therapist specialising in helping adopters. She is also an adopter. She says there is very little provision for adopters and all the support is aimed at adoptees; that parenting children with trauma can cause secondary trauma particularly for those adopters who already have childhood trauma of their own. She finds many adopters who have coped for years reach a threshold where suddenly they can’t. She ends by saying you are not going mad, you are not alone and you can get help.
I cry for 30 minutes straight. She is talking about me. I am worn out. I don’t want to have to be parenting a near 11 year old like a 4 year old. I need some space for me, but between work and parenting there isn’t any because I’m always so focused on being there for Angel.
I dig a little deeper and realise that her traumatised child is speaking to my traumatised inner child and that is why I find it so impossible to step away from her. I feel her need for me and I respond because I know how it feels not to be responded to. And yet, she is OK. She has a fantastic life with me and hubby where she is loved and safe and where one of us has always been with her for the last nine years! A life where she is nearly 11 and not 4.
I know this is hard because she doesn't want to grow up, she wants to be four; in fact she would really like to be an embryo in my belly and of course I wish that could have been the case too. But it wasn’t and we can’t go back.
All the therapeutic parenting books say just lean in, baby them for as long as they need, for when they are teenagers they won’t want that anymore. But what if doing this is actually holding her back from making the developmental leap that is needed? And if not for her, what about me?!
I think of all the little pushes we have to give our children along the path to adulthood and how there is always some resistance whether it’s potty training or the first day at nursery. How we navigate the right time and approach is hard for any parent but with an adopted child it feels to me such a weight of responsibility to not fuck up.
So, we are practising making changes. I am practising. Hubby makes a bedtime chart with us doing alternate days. You would think this would be easy to track but in Angel’s world it’s always mummy’s turn again. The chart is actually rather miraculous. No arguments, go check the chart! Easy-peasy.
Angel - Feed me mummy, feed me!
Me - No
Angel - Please mummy, you're just mean
Me - No, I’m not feeding you
Much harrumphing, but a bit of distraction and we move on. It breaks my heart though, ‘Is it OK not to feed her?’ I ask my friend who is with me. ‘Yes, of course it is.’ Sounds so silly now but I remember all the books about adoption, the therapeutic parenting books, the encouragement to keep ‘leaning in’ and I so want to make things right for her, for her to be OK.
But I carry on practising; No I won’t wipe your bottom, No, I won’t put your socks on! I tell her that I need to stop doing things she can do herself to save some energy for me, and to do some nice things with her. She harrumphs again and says I’m boring. Then something strange and wonderful happens. She offers to make breakfast, then wants to help do some other jobs. I can almost see the infinitesimal shift in her gait, as she wears this ever-so-slightly new grown up-ness.
I feel lighter, like I have been swimming with a weight that has been lifted away.
I leave hubby to sort things out when an argument occurs between her and a friend. I let her storm off at the lido when she is upset about something else and tell her I am getting in the water and we can leave afterwards if she wants. I am trying to let her self regulate rather than always rushing in. I think she is ready. I hope she is, as I can’t carry on doing it for her.
As I practise it’s clear to me that I am part of the problem too, in our ‘family drama triangle’. If I am always the rescuer there isn’t any room for hubby to step into a different position. As I step out, not only do I create space for me but also allow him to take on a new role.
I notice other subtle shifts. When she gets into our bed one morning, she gives daddy a cuddle rather than me. At another bedtime she wants daddy to stay, ‘It’s daddy's turn.’ I am surprised, delighted and slightly alarmed in equal measure!
I feel the grip she had on me lessen which is a relief and I hope is good for her too. Maybe needing me as much as she did was scary, maybe it’s good for her to see that she is OK navigating things on her own a bit more or with hubby. But what if she shores herself up again? Like she did when she first came to us. Isn't this the time to keep her even closer as she moves toward her teens? Will her trauma speak to someone else’s if it’s not speaking to mine? I think of those troubled kids she is drawn to in the playground.
These are the waters we are navigating. Support is on its way via therapy for all of us (via the Adoption Support Fund). For now though, we are in a better place. Angel is emerging from ‘the cut’. I wonder if she could cope with this new way of being if she wasn’t? Then I think, how much easier it might be if next time she's in ‘the cut’, I don’t get in it with her?!
Don’t get me wrong, I think it has helped Angel enormously that I have been able to empathise deeply and accept all of her feelings. It is the foundation on which our relationship is built but it feels time to try something different. We are traversing new waters. I hope the waves aren’t too big!
Drama Triangle - https://leadershiptribe.com/blog/the-drama-triangle-explained (not the best example as couldn't find any family versions online. Bryan Post talks about them in his book, The Great Behaviour Breakdown in relation to families)Mary Joy interview - https://fb.watch/c_4YgcMQHX/