Thursday, March 31, 2016

3 Reasons I Avoid the Pediatrician's Office

Disclaimer:  As I began writing this, I realized I didn’t even know how to SPELL “Pediatrician.” With that understanding, please don’t mistake anything I write for actual medical advice.


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Generally, I take my children to the doctor for the following reasons:


To Get School and Camp Forms:  If I need to explain to you why these are important, you’re a much more qualified parent than I am. Better parents would have written:  “Well-check”, rather than “Get School and Camp Forms,” but the real reason I remember well-checks is because if my children didn’t have forms, they wouldn’t be allowed at camp or school. As a result, I’d be a REALLY bad mom. That wouldn’t be healthy for any of us.


Strep Throat Symptoms:  Strep is a bacterial infection and needs to be treated with an antibiotic to prevent Scarlet Fever. When my kids seem to be in agony and they mention their throat at all, they get to go to the doctor. We’re not trying to mess with Scarlet Fever. [Incidentally, every time I’ve suspected Strep, they’ve had it.]


If they have a Fungus:  Don’t make me tell you what Ringworm has done to this family. You WOULD have nightmares.


If they need/have Stitches:  After about the 47th stitches incident, my less-medical-than-anyone-else-I’ve-met-on-the-planet husband stated, “I’m pretty confident I could have easily removed the stitches myself.” Don’t worry. I assured him that while he’s excellent at many things, it wouldn’t be wise to attempt such a thing. Then I reminded him of the time he gave one of our sons Tylenol as preventive medicine.


Asthma Attacks:  Thankfully, this hasn’t been our reality recently.


3 Reasons I Avoid taking My Specific Children to their Pediatrician:


1) Medical Appointments and Adoption


Each time I take two of my children to see a doctor, I’m reminded that while children are in foster care, they often see a medical professional before each new placement or after each removal. No wonder medical appointments can provoke anxiety! These two are supposed to see their doctor more than is typical for a healthy child coming from an average living situation, but usually the appointments feel like a burden our whole family is better off avoiding. When triggers are experienced, there is no telling how long anxiety will rule. My children’s health is valuable to me. I just wish taking them to see their pediatrician always seemed consistent with keeping them healthy. [TWEET THIS]


Lucky for us, a friend (and fellow adoptive parent) recommended her child’s comedian, I mean pediatrician, when our sons came home. The exhausting work this doctor does is hilarious and somewhat distracts our children from the fact that they are, in fact, in a doctor’s office. Still, I don’t know whether it’s the stethoscope, the papered table, or the odor, but they HAVE caught on to the fact that these entertaining adventures are medical appointments. While that’s good, because I wouldn’t want them to believe we were just letting any person invade their privacy, it’s a bummer the stress and its effects can’t be avoided.  


I’m very clear with their pediatrician (who IS very good) that appointments are stressful for our entire family and he now expects to see our children less often. Honestly, until the pediatrician's office is also a trampoline park, twice a year is the best we can do for checkups.


2) Germs


Honestly, I’m not a germ freak. I’m not even that big on hand washing. I realize that for my kids who are in school all day, the damage is already done by the time they come home. For my kids who are home all day, they aren’t spending their time licking public urinals. They do gross things. They’re kids. But I’ve learned the gross things they do rarely result in illness. In fact, the grossness is probably helping them build stronger immune systems. At least that’s what I tell myself. Then myself calms down and becomes a better parent. This is a major part of the battle.


When I’m not certain if I should take one of my children to the doctor, I call the nurse. When the nurse thinks I should bring my child in, s/he says so. Directly. But most of the time, if I listen carefully to the nurse’s tone, this is what I hear, “You can come in if you want to, but your child has a virus. There’s nothing we can do for him. In fact, if you come, your family is likely going to pick up three more viruses, because this is the place sick people hang out and get sicker.”


I’m not discouraging myself (or anyone else) from following the parental gut though. That’s another thing I love about nurses. So often they remind me to follow my gut because I’m the parent. The nurses I know are competent, practical, and intuitive.


3) Unnecessary Doctor’s Visits Distract me from what my Sick Child Needs Most


When my children  ARE sick, they need nurturing. From me. It’s incredible. Most anytime, my children would choose their Dad over me. He is the WAY cooler parent. But when they’re sick, the kids can’t live without me. I need to capitalize on that. If it’s at all prudent, I’m going to spend their sick time making them toast, reading to them, snuggling with them, making their bath the perfect temperature, and (less picturesque, but necessary) cleaning up their puke without the added stressful adventure of getting in and out of a germy medical clinic.

And, that way, we avoid the whole puke in the van thing too.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Our Not-So-Average School Day

Years ago, when I dreamed of raising children, I pictured living near the sea and homeschooling everyone. In those dreams, we ate breakfasts of homemade pancakes, scrambled eggs, and fresh fruit. I slowly sipped my coffee as I admired each of my children around our dining table. There was never any cleaning in my dreams (since they weren’t nightmares), but the assumption was that everyone cheerfully pitched in and the kitchen was clean in a snap. After hitting the books each day, we spent our time exploring the out-of-doors and playing at the beach. Each night, the children would bathe, we’d eat as a family, I’d throw a wild family-pajama-dance party, and we would read together. After tucking each child in, Matt and I would sink into our prudently chosen Coffee Colored Sofa and relish in what a blessing our family was.


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Cut to real-time.


Each morning, Matt wakes up early and shuffles the children through their imperative, structured morning routine. During the intensity, I lie in bed pretending to sleep until I hear the front door close. Then I hightail it into our kitchen to ready the french press. After perfectly brewing and pouring my coffee into my favorite mug (because that DOES have an affect on the taste and the pleasure of consumption), I go into my room, close the door and read for every quiet moment I get.


Which is about 13 minutes each morning.


For the rest of the school day, we attempt to learn, casually, as we go through life which is so much more fun, messier, and more exhausting than it ever was in my dreams.  


When I put our youngest down for a nap, I often have to take a break from the fun to advocate for my two children who are in school. Their complex needs due to early childhood trauma impact their educational, medical, extracurricular, and therapeutic needs. I have to ensure they get the structure and nurture they need across settings so they can succeed without being singled out or shamed.


Case management Mommy-style is exhausting so I attempt to be efficient to reserve as much energy as possible for interacting with my treasured family members. I go downstairs and brew a cup of black tea. Then, I  snuggle up with my homeschooler and I read to him for as long as he’ll let me. Sometimes we play a game. Sometimes we just act plain goofy. After we’ve had fun and he feels emotionally connected, he reminds me how secure, healthy, and happy he is by doing an independent project, playing, or reading until his brother wakes up. As he does, I try to remind myself to inhale every minute of this and appreciate that he currently doesn’t have toxic stress weighing him down. He’s free to be a child. It’s a beautiful gift and one I now know not to take for granted.


When our little man wakes, he’s the most relaxed he ever is and I try to capitalize on that by reading to him. While I’ve attempted to interest him in more sophisticated children’s literature, he typically convinces me to read same “Thomas the Tank Engine Story Time” book. I’m learning to appreciate how interested he is in the actual mechanics of trains. His second go-to book is “The First Human Body Encyclopedia,” because learning how the digestive system works is even more interesting than how trains work. Because. Poop. If there were more than two pages devoted to excretion, I’m certain the encyclopedia would replace his current number one.


When we do school pick-up, we stay to do homework so one child can attend his school-provided tutoring and so both my children who need it can keep schoolwork at school.


On our way out of school, we race and the kids hide from me and “scare” me. I scream, to their delight. Then we shuffle into our ultra-cool minivan and I pass out dinner to my two children who feel immediate relief once they get their physical needs met. When we get home, we begin the calming predictable routine that results in at least two of the children being tucked into their beds consistently at the exact same time each evening. They wind down in their beds as I play cherished audio books outside their bedroom door.


By the time Matt arrives home, I’m done. I’ve sunk into the sofa before he’s changed his clothes. Sometimes I scan the mess around me and choose to close my eyes and try to remind myself all the reasons my reality is better than my previous dreams.


For me, enjoying the simple things is more possible in my reality than it ever was in my dreams because I’m acquainted with the complex.

While true, it’s still best appreciated with my eyes closed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Empathy and Adoption: What We CAN Do

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Before our sons came home through adoption, I didn’t spend one moment worrying about whether or not our biological son would learn to empathize. At two-and-a-half years old, through tears, he interrupted me reading him the first pages of “The Giving Tree” to ask if I would please stop because he foresaw the ending. A few months later, he saw our neighbor from a hundred yards away and asked us why this neighbor was crying. [He had been.]

I tend to think that his emotional intelligence is natural, given his first few years of life. He spent all of his time around adults who cherished him and felt with him. When his face communicated sadness, an adult immediately mirrored his expression and comforted him.

His ability to empathize developed naturally as others empathized with him.

Sadly, my husband and I often overlooked opportunities to feel with two of our children when they came home through foster adoption, because we felt so overwhelmed and isolated ourselves. 

About a week into adoption, I needed a safe space to be understood. I met with a trusted friend (who had been extremely supportive before our children came home) and cried as I explained the truly disturbing behaviors in our home. Her response was utterly dismissive.  To be honest, I don’t think that she listened to a word I said.

Over the next few months, my husband and I began to realize we no longer fit into our former social circles. Some friends separated from us because they didn’t want their kids influenced by ours. Other friends, who previously thought we were great parents, changed their minds and judged us as horrible parents post adoption (due to our obvious struggles). We had friends dismiss our hardship because it made them uncomfortable, and friends who couldn’t understand when we didn’t disclose gory details from our children’s stories. We had friends judge us because they truly believed that if we were doing the right thing, we wouldn’t be experiencing discomfort. To them, we were clearly getting what we deserved for our wrongdoings. We had friends who took personally that our children’s unique needs often kept us from meeting in person. It didn't take long for loneliness to set in.

Yet, I'm coming to realize, it is a sublime gift to feel isolated, afraid, and increasingly sad. If I accept this gift and use it correctly, it has the potential to help me empathize with my children- which is no small thing. My pain is minuscule compared to their pain. And, as I mentioned in the case of our biological children, empathy begets empathy.

Maybe, the sole reason many children from hard places struggle with empathy is because no adult has done the hard work of empathizing with them. [tweet this]

This has been our experience. The better I empathize with my children, the more I see empathy blossom in them. Empathy is natural for them to develop. Learning to empathize with them has been less than natural for me. That’s why I’m sharing a few things I’m learning. Below are six measures that are in my power and are helping me empathize with my children from hard places. 

1) We CAN Learn About Adopted Experiences

I’ve been given valuable insight into my children’s world through discussions with adult people who are adopted and as I read blogs by adults who are adopted. Let me be clear:  Not one other person in the world has the exact same experience or response to their circumstances as one of my unique children. However, the more I know about how various individuals respond to their adoption, the more context I have to understand my children’s complex emotions regarding their adoptions. Some parents avoid listening to adult adoptees because, “They always seem so angry.” First of all, all adult adopted people are not angry and I can learn from every adopted voice I listen to. In my opinion though, anger is a signal that I MUST listen. When I listen to the reasons adult adoptees are angry, I'm being given another gift:   A gift to avoid the mistakes of others. A gift to open a dialogue that needs to be opened. A gift that gives me a greater ability to identify with my children.

2)  We CAN Read Our Children’s Signs and Learn How to Respond and Meet their Needs

I’ve heard that “repeated behaviors” are serving a purpose. Watching for these behaviors and noting patterns has helped me understand when my children are emotionally regulated. When my children are regulated, I know they’re feeling safe. When they have unusual behaviors, those behaviors are often repeated. Sometimes the behaviors are even rhythmic, which proves to me my child is trying to regulate and even self-soothe. At the same time, he may be unintentionally driving me out of my mind. But that’s not his problem. It’s mine. When his behaviors are proving his dysregulation, my job as his parent is to give him to skills and tools he needs to regulate.

I need to ask questions. When do these behaviors happen? What is the feeling the behavior is communicating? The answers give me insight into how my child is feeling and about what causes him anxiety. As a result, I am able to begin to problem solve to help reduce his anxiety. Eventually, as his needs are met, he doesn't have to repeat (annoying to me) behaviors to attempt to soothe and create safety for himself.

3)  We CAN Believe the Best

My attitude has dramatically changed (for the better) since I've begun to believe my children are doing the best they can with the skills they currently have. When I believe my children lack skill and not will, I can begin to grasp how difficult it must be- being their ages and missing certain basic skills. I'm also empowered to help them build the skills they need to succeed. Also, I realize, again, the problem is not theirs. They are using the tools they currently have in their toolbox. As their parent, it’s my responsibility to teach my children the skills they need to do well.

While believing my children are doing their best, I also have to remember scared people cannot do well. It’s also my responsibility to create felt safety for my children so they don't have to live in fear.



4)  We CAN Mirror Real Emotions

When I remember to see anger as “the bodyguard for sadness”,  I am empowered to mirror the real emotion behind the mask and behind the behavior. Mirroring anger creates more grief and anxiety. Mirroring the real emotion (typically sadness, in our experience) has the potential to set the stage for real connection. Remembering this, it’s also easier for me to calmly say things like:

“I’m so sorry you’re feeling sad. Please let me know if you can think of something I can do to help.”

“I know you’re having a really hard time and that is completely understandable. If I were you, I would be struggling too.”

“I really don’t know why you’re having a hard time, but I’m here and I want to help. Please let me know if you can tell me why things are difficult right now.”

Often, I say one of the above after mirroring my child’s real emotion, and then I’m quiet. Minutes later, I’ll notice my child has gone from angry to being silent with a tear-streaked face. That’s when I can ask if he wants a hug. That’s usually when he says, “Yes.” Often, it’s when he is calm enough to tell me the reason behind his sadness. Even when he can’t, he knows I’m ready to listen when he can. He trusts me as I’m already listening to his behavior and body language and responding empathetically.

5)  We CAN Give Space

Sometimes my physical closeness and my words further trigger my kids. Learning when to speak, when to draw them into a hug, and when to silently remain at a close distance has been monumental in my learning how to care for our children from hard places- in a way they can accept. This is something that has been truly different from raising my biological children. When my biological children were infants and I accidentally clipped a bit of skin while trimming a nail, they would cry and reach for me to comfort them. It was natural- even though I was the one who had hurt them in the first place.

With my children from hard places, rather than representing security, I sometimes represent a person who caused them intense grief and pain. It’s not my fault, but it IS my responsibility to give them what they need (rather than what is natural for me to give) when they’re feeling threatened by me.

I am NOT advocating for isolation. I'm saying I need to respect my child’s need for space. There is a major difference. While I need to listen and respond appropriately when my child is telling me with his behavior and/or words that he needs space, I also know that space needs to be as close to me as his comfort allows. Giving space often means we’re in the same room, and I make myself busy (or make myself look busy) with something else while he's seven feet away deciding if he feels safe enough to let me into his world.

When I try to barge into his space uninvited, that’s generally when rages result. Most rages, in our house, are provoked by parents who mean well, but need to do a better job listening and responding appropriately. [tweet this]

6)  We CAN Remember this is Not a Formula

Everything I’ve mentioned I CAN do requires I do the intense work of attuning to my children and responding to them as individuals. In my experience, there is no formula that results in connecting with my hurting children and teaching them empathy. As I come to know my children, I better know how to empathize with them. As I empathize with them, they begin to empathize with others.

When I solely parent by following lists of specific strategies developed by experts who do not know my children, while refraining from the arduous labor of attuning to my individual children and meeting their specific needs, I am not building a foundation for trust. When I trust in a calculated blueprint, I may be inclined to pat myself on the back for doing the right thing while beginning to resent my children (if they're not responding by-the-book). If I'm trusting in my use of the right techniques and my children aren’t showing signs of empathy, I can easily believe the lie that they are incapable of developing empathy.

My children deserve better.

Before I end this post, I want to be transparent:  Our family has failed many, many times at all-of-the-above. Still, the opportunities to empathize and meet felt needs are endless. When we’re able to meet those needs, create felt safety, empathize, and even apologize for our failures, we are setting a foundation on which trust can be built. We’re taking what is unnatural for us and giving our children opportunities to naturally develop into individuals who are able to cry tears with others.

It begins with us believing our children have the ability to develop empathy. It begins with us accepting it’s our responsibility to respond to them in a way allows empathy to develop naturally in them.

It begins as we cry tears with them.






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