---This post continues with my series, The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Ugly: Realities of Older Child Adoption. Click on the link above, titled "Older Child Adoption" to read the first several posts in this series.---
Imagine with me for a moment, that you're an orphan. Abandoned as a newborn, you've spent years in an institution, deprived of the loving nurture that you so desperately need. You are ignored and ostracized at school, so you sleep through most of your classes. You are undisciplined and unloved, so you lie, cheat, steal, hoard, manipulate, scream, hide, and bully in order to survive. You are unattached and ignored, and you scratch and rock at night in order to simply feel something.
Now imagine with me that tomorrow morning you wake up in a new place. In a different bed, in a strange home, with disgusting food, surrounded by unfamiliar people speaking a language you don't understand. They tell you this is a family, and you've always wanted a family, but you haven't the slightest clue how to survive in this environment.
They take you out and you are constantly overwhelmed. Your first time in a store, you play under the racks of clothing like a toddler. You make noise in church, unbuckle in the car, and run out in front of cars in parking lots.
You lie about absolutely everything because it feels safer that way.
You are slowly stripped of your lifelong survival skills, as your new family teaches you a better way. Truth replaces lies. Work replaces cheating. Kindness replaces bullying. Sharing replaces hoarding. Snuggles on Mommy's lap replace the rocking. And eye contact replaces the hiding.
In many ways, you begin to love your new life, the shock of the change starts to wear off, and a bit of sparkle returns to your eyes. The food starts to taste better, the people aren't quite so weird, and the new language slowly gets easier.
Its not that you really want to return to the old life--you don't--but you still long for the familiar, the comfortable, the only way you've ever known.
And so you grieve. Not every day, just sometimes. Like when you get a letter from a friend from your orphanage. Or when your mother expects you to do something you never had to do before. Or when you watch your siblings, with their seemingly carefree life and you start to wonder, "WHY ME? Why wasn't I born into this family? Why wasn't I adopted as a baby? Why does everything have to be so hard for me?"
You act out, because it's your only survival skill, because you miss your old home, and because you're furious that life is NOT fair.
Everything I wrote above is true for our Johanna. Things are going pretty well most days now :), but we've been through some dark, long, heavy grieving and raging times as well. The worst of it shook our family to the very core, and sent us sobbing to our knees.
Please understand that we empathize completely with our sweet Johanna. She did not choose to have to face these struggles. We know God has an amazing plan for her life and we are just one of the parts of the process. :)
That being said, I would be lying if I said this has been easy. It's been the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It's been exhausting, confusing, and downright painful.
BUT! The lessons the Lord has been teaching me, the fruit in Johanna's life, the strength of our family in the midst of everything makes it so so worth it.
There are reasons families aren't coming forward in massive droves to adopt older children. There are reasons older children are disrupted in much larger numbers than younger children. I personally think part of the reason for this is lack of education, preparation, and support. Very few people talk about the really hard things, in part because they don't want to hinder others from adopting and in part because they are afraid they will be judged if they admit that things are not always perfect.
Adopting a child from a hard place is just that: HARD. It is also quite possibly one of the sweetest life experiences you could ever have.
Families need to be prepared, equipped, and supported, long after the adoption has been finalized. In an effort to offer support, understanding, and education for other families, I'm going to elaborate on some of the behavior challenges and coping techniques regarding rage, grief, and defiance in the older adopted child.
RAGE, GRIEF and DEFIANCE
I'm sure there are fancy definitions for the kind of rage I'm talking about here, but this is the word that comes to mind for this behavior, so I'm using it. :) It's not always an "angry" rage, as many times it can be a mourning, sad kind of rage.
Raging (in Johanna's case) involves any (or all) of the following: screaming, scratching, self-harm, hateful words, inability to calm down, tantruming, kicking, throwing things, and running away.
Picture the worst toddler tantrum, on steroids, for hours, and you have a tiny glimpse into the world of a raging adopted teen. :)
The combination of an inability to control her emotions and not being taught much of anything--coupled with the frustrations of life--combine to create the perfect storm.
If you're familiar at all with the teachings of Dr. Karyn Purvis (if you've adopted, you should be!), you'll remember the "flight, fright, freeze" brain mechanism that happens during stress for our kiddos. Unattached, unnurtured brains react unusually to duress.
Anyway, Johanna goes to all three. :) Sometimes she runs (very far!), sometimes she cowers in fear, and sometimes her eyes go blank and she freezes up.
Most of Johanna's raging seemed to coinside with a period of grief and defiance. I think the "honeymoon" had worn off and she began to mourn the loss of her old life in China. She struggled defiantly with learning to obey and learning important life skills (like brushing her teeth or learning to read English). No one in her life had ever made her do much of anything, and she fought this transition HARD.
It was several months of daily raging. Various things would trigger it, anything from being asked to do a "difficult" math problem, to being told to wash her hair correctly, to being disciplined in any way for anything. Even a simple "Johanna, you did wrong." could trigger a raging tantrum. Getting injured, losing a game, being teased, getting sad, being nervous, being forced to make eye contact, being overstimulated or overtired, etc, etc, etc.....
Basically, any time her emotions were affected, she would start to shake her head, kick, and scream. Loud, open-mouthed, horrible-sounding screams. If I didn't give in and cater to her every whim (I didn't), they were even more unbearable. The longest tantrum lasted six hours. Yes, six long hours of uncontrollable screaming, kicking, and throwing things.
The rages were daily at their worst, sometimes multiple times a day, often late into the night. We were exhausted and our other children were beginning to be very angry at this child who was literally controlling our entire family with her screaming.
I knew much of this was normal, but I truly wasn't sure how many more months I could take of the screaming. I tried all of the traditional parenting tips I had accumulated over the years, most of which didn't work. I scoured the internet and my adoption books, called social workers and researced everywhere for what to do when your child quits anything "hard", lies about absolutely everything, and screams for hours and hours on end.....
Our attachment was already new and in-process and the screaming did nothing to encourage my attachment to her. The natural boundary between mother and child that prevents abuse, even when you're angry was not always there, and I felt overwhelmed and guilty with my own feelings of anger and frustration. I loved her, yes, but there's only so many loving feelings that flow when you're holding a kicking and screaming child in her room for three hours while your other children call for Mommy outside the door.
Even in the midst of the darkest, loneliest days, God was molding, teaching, and equipping me to parent our sweet girl. He was teaching me some life lessons that I needed to learn, and He had not forgotten about us. Over the months, as I learned and utilized some techniques and methods that helped Johanna, God filled my empty heart over and over again with love for her.
Johanna is not perfect. Her upbringing and past abuses have left their mark on her life, but God is in the miracle business---HE IS THE REDEEMER---and He is redeeming her beautiful life for His glorious purpose. She has come SO far over the past year and a half and is such a gorgeous redeemed treasure!
We have no regrets for following God's call, even when the "going gets tough".
Next time, I'll share some of the wonderful techniques that have helped Johanna learn to control her emotions, obey, and succeed in so many other ways. (I was hoping to put it into one post, buuuuut, you all know how "wordy" I can be, lol.)