My adoption journey has had a common theme from the beginning to now… from the time I decided to become a mom, to the four years of paperwork and international bureaucracy that kept me from bringing my child home, to the now six years of patiently working through many emotional and behavioral issues that resulted from his early childhood trauma.
The theme? Have faith… and WAIT.
Have faith… and WAIT…. for the powers that be to figure out that the adoption is legitimate and there is no need to delay the process yet again.
Have faith… and WAIT… for the immigration officers in the Houston airport to call our names after a 5 hour layover when they finally decided that my just-adopted 10-year-old was not an international terrorist and could have his passport stamped for entry to the U.S.A. as a new citizen.
Have faith… and WAIT… for the violent, aggressive meltdowns to end so that I could either help him solve the problem that caused the dysregulation or take him to the emergency room if he was a danger to me or to himself.
Have faith… and WAIT… for the qualified sign language interpreter to show up in the E.R. after we have told the 5th or 6th person that “No, we will not go ahead and do the psychiatric evaluation without an interpreter because her mom happens to know sign language.”
Have faith… and WAIT… for him to make good decisions about his body, his life, his choices now that he is a teenager and I have a good relationship with him and can INFLUENCE his decisions, but the choices are ultimately his own.
As the mom of a 16 and 1/2 year old teenager, this last one is probably the most difficult one of all because I feel so POWERLESS to make things better for him when I can see that he is struggling. But if I have learned anything at all in this journey of compassionate, relationship-based parenting, I have learned that in order for him to move forward, he must do it of her own will and in her own time.
And his timing is definitely not mine!
I just made it through another “teen trauma parenting” adventure this week, and I thought I’d share it with others to encourage you on your journey of having faith and waiting.
My son has terrible, debilitating school anxiety.
He has been afraid of school his whole life – starting with the horrendous and traumatic experiences that he had to go through as the only deaf child at an orphanage where no one learned sign language to communicate with her and then a special oral school for deaf children where sign language was forbidden.
Coming to the US at age 10 with basically no fully developed language at all, he has always had major gaps in his learning that have made school not just hard but also very frightening with all the social skills most typical hearing kids have picked up by that age through incidental learning.
He is now fluent in American Sign Language, but these learning and social gaps along with extreme anxiety and complex developmental trauma make every day at school an ordeal to endure.
We have tried so many IEP modifications and accommodations and have changed placements a few times to find a good match for his needs… so far nothing has been a true “fit” for him. But we recently found a placement that we thought would be a good one, so we made the switch last week.
He went for one day.
The second day, he declared this to me, “I am never going back. I hate that school. I hate all schools! School is not for me. I’m not going to school. I’m not ever graduating or getting a job or doing anything. I’m just going to stay home forever.”
My inner monologue: Three deep breaths. Say nothing, mama…. listen, LISTEN and have empathy….
So… I tried asking him to share more about why he doesn’t like the new school. He shut down and would say nothing.
I called the school attendance line, called to cancel his special services, called to cancel transportation.
I gently asked him again the next day. “What is it about your new school that you don’t like? Is there a problem we can solve together?”
He shut down and said nothing. Later, “I’m not going. Never. I’m not going back.”
Have faith… and WAIT….
I got on the phone with the special education teacher, then with the school counselor, then with another teacher who knows him from before, then arranged for him to meet with the former teacher to talk about it…. they talked, but he shut down every time the subject of going to school, graduation, and his future came up.
Today it’s now been SIX days of patiently having faith and waiting for him to open up and talk about this. Everyone said and did everything they could to make this placement as easy and low-pressure as possible for her. It’s just a half day for now. No grades for now. Yet he still was unwilling to try.
Several people asked me how he is doing, and I told them the truth. “I can’t force this kid. I have to be patient with him.” Looks of judgment and disbelief… yeah… I know this kind of parenting isn’t what they are used to. Their kids would be on that bus and in that school no matter what, and you better believe there would be CONSEQUENCES if their kids decided to defy the rules!
I’m committed to a different kind of parenting, though. And their judgmental comments and smirks have zero influence on this commitment. If they were parenting this kid, they would have given up YEARS ago, and I know it.
I am a Warrior Mama, transformed by trauma. I will have faith, and I will wait.
This afternoon I had a talk with the school guidance counselor and relayed a story to my son that he told me. He said that he understands why my kiddo is anxious and that all teens feel awkward like everyone is looking at them. He told a story about his daughter who was afraid to go into Walmart with him once because she had just come from volleyball practice and was sweaty and her hair was messy. He also suggested that I bring my kiddo to the school in the afternoon when everyone was gone so he could just walk around the building and get a feel for it… make it HIS school, in his own way… get comfortable in the space.
And guess what? He agreed to do this!
We just got home about an hour ago from a self-guided tour of his classrooms. He showed me a few things in the building that I didn’t know about. He walked out of the building with more confidence.
“Do you want to start back tomorrow, or on Thursday?” I asked her.
“Ok… I’ll call the bus driver and let her know.”
Parents who are travelling this hard, hard journey of trauma with me:
Have faith… and wait.
When you have a strong relationship build on trust and truly BELIEVE in the power of transformation, your kids WILL (eventually, on their own time, in surprising ways) rise to the challenge.