Friday, April 16, 2010

Further thoughts on Reactive Attachment Disorder, and the loss of family

I've had some interesting email exchanges today, with two followers of the blog, about the case of Artyom, Reactive Attachment Disorder and various reasons why children who have been orphaned or placed in foster care act the way they do sometimes when offered stability and long term care or even family. I gave one younger reader an exercise that really drove home the point to my own daughter, age sixteen at the time we adopted our youngest, of what has happened to those children removed from parents and family they actually knew. 

So here's the exercise, which is among one of the only things I truly remember from a totally deficient 30 hour fostering/adopting course, called MAPP (Model Approach to Partnership and Parenting) that my husband and I took with the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Pick the FIVE things that are the most important things to you in your life. People choose all kinds of stuff. Their cars, their Xboxes, their house, their job, their family, wife, friends, girlfriend, dog, cat, books, TVs. Whatever. Pick the five things you'd never, ever willingly give up or lose.

Now you're going to take away one of them. But you can be clever about it. Let's say that you have your job, your car, your house, your dog and your husband. You can regroup. Hey, most people think pets are part of the family, so just regroup and call it family and you're down to four. Presto! Magico!

But, just because I'm so very mean, I want you to give up another one. Let's say you had family, friends, house and job. What do you want to let go of? Well, it's hard to have a house and no job (as all too many people know, sadly) so I'm betting if you're like me, you'd give up that house, keep the job and keep your family and friends. You can sack out on somebody's couch until you save up for the rental apartment.

So now I'm being really horrid and I say give up another one. You're having a bad decade. I'm betting you give up your job over your friends, but whatever, you're down to two things you can't live without.

I want you to give one more up. What are you left with now?

And you know what's next. The last thing? The one that even if you can't much stand them, you're probably going to have trouble letting go of...

Well then that means that these children, every single one of them old enough to have recognized a caring face, an even occasionally warm voice, a tender touch, the scent and sound and heartbeat they know... they lost that one thing. The thing you'd likely have kept at all costs. Especially if you were thinking about wanting a child in the first place.

You're emblematic of what got taken away. Why should they trust they won't lose you, too? And you can bet, everything in that bruised mind and heart is telling them that they shouldn't

What's the job of the adoptive parent? Prove them wrong.

And just for shakes, when you think about taking a child old enough to be interacting with an adult in expressive ways into your home, think about what all too often you're asking them to give up. 

In foster care and orphanages there is often not enough food, not enough clothing, not enough to play with, not enough attention and not any love. So what do you do? You fight. For every crumb. Every bit of attention, no matter how you get it. You keep clothes that you cannot possibly ever fit into again. Every thing that anyone ever gave you, whether it works or not, or whether you use it or not. Because it was yours. Because just about everything that was yours that you really, really wanted, you lost. And you've had enough of losing things that were yours to last an entire lifetime. So you fight and fight and fight. And sometimes you fight just so you don't have to feel anything else that you can lose. Like the promise of something better or lasting. Because you've probably seen way too many such promises. And even if you're only five or eight or ten, you've heard and seen enough to know that to believe such things is a total set up for feeling like you never want to feel, ever again.

photo: San Diego State University, 
Dept. of Psychology 

So now what are you asking that child to give up? 

Nothing less than the very skills that he or she has honed to perfection to survive.

And people wonder why adoption is hard? Think like the child people, think like the child. 

If you can manage it, you will surely forgive much.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

1 comment:

  1. I would say they should put you in charge of your state's foster and adoption services, but I know that you would be driven completely insane.

    But they should anyway.