My co-blogger, Kathy recently wrote about some of the differences and same characteristics her baby son has in common with his adopted mom and dad as well as the growing realization that her son would have brown eyes and not blue and the feeling of acceptance of diversity within our families. Her entry reminded me of some of the special things adoptive parents need to remember as was raise our children. And especially how important it is to embrace these genetic differences with a child who is adopted at an older age.
Kathy will likely discuss the issue of Connor’s eye color and a variety of other adoption related facts, with him when he is older and starts to understand the full meaning of his adoption story. Just as these differences and issues will come up later for my son Jeremiah. But, adopting a child who is nearly five-years-old when she meets you means the conversations with my daughter Makala have arrived sooner.
Our daughter has special needs which I will write more about over time. One of the major issues she suffers however, is Reactive Attachment Disorder, RAD, a serious attachment disorder that can be very hard for an adoptive parent to understand and help a child heal from. RAD is typically seen in a small number of children who failed to properly attach with their birth mother due to neglect and abuse and then suffered broken bonds by the experience of moving and having several caregivers along the way in foster care. Therapy can be difficult to find but the right type of treatment can help a child overcome and form a healthy bond with his/her forever family.
We had a difficult time finding the right kind of therapy for our daughter and after a year and a half of not knowing what was wrong with the situation finally found a trained and certified adoption attachment therapist.
“Reactive” is a loaded word and means the child is reactive to the primary caregiver typically, the adoptive mother. It can be a helpless place for a mommy to be and the nature of the reactive part is hard for outsiders to understand. Basically a reactive child is delightful in the eyes of others while the mother suffers a painful heartbreak. A RAD child often creates situations which create the appearance that they are living with a hateful woman who could not possibly be a good mother. I will be writing about Attachment often in this Blog.
For this post I thought I might dovetail on the feelings Kathy has about the fact she and her husband have blue eyes and Connor has brown. One of the big things my little RAD daughter held against me for a long time was the fact that my eyes are green and her eyes are brown. During our worst time of dealing with attachment my daughter took joy in pointing this difference out to me and everyone else. And because she is so beautiful and has huge brown eyes when she and I are out in public a common question from strangers is often, “Where did you get those beautiful brown eyes?”
This question was difficult during those months before therapy as I knew I didn’t want to answer such a question from a stranger by always saying, “My children are adopted.” Someone suggested once that we simply answer, “God.” My parents were not very understanding pointing out they had green and blue eyes but one of my brothers had been blessed with the brown eyes two of our grandparents had. So what was the big deal? Besides my husband has brown eyes!
Logic did not matter to a five year old who was having a hard time with not seeing her birth mother again and understanding her adoptive mother had one more thing that was not perfect in her mind. We learned a lot during attachment therapy but Kathy’s article reminded me of one of the first things the attachment therapists suggested I needed to do in order to help Makala attach with me.
I was to look for those things my daughter received from her birth mother and casually point them out in a positive way. It can be very hard to think positively of a parent who exposed her children to drugs and neglected, abused and allowed abuse to happen to her own baby. So I did my best and looked for what little I could thank birth mom for giving my children and remembered the eye color issue.
One day driving in the car, Makala and I made eye contact in the rear view mirror and I said, “You have such beautiful eyes. They are so big and brown and pretty. What a nice thing your birth mother gave you!”
Since that day when the strangers ask, “Where did you get those big brown eyes?” I don’t need to worry about the answer I give. Makala is secure and feels so much pride she is willing to answer herself. “I got my eyes from my birth mother and I am lucky because my adopted dad has brown eyes too.”
My simple comment to Makala that day during a car ride has given her the power to answer the questions we get from strangers and the pride to be happy about some one who gave her life.