Friday, February 27, 2015

Grief from the Parent's Perspective

So yesterday I wrote a very honest post about grief and Hannah's grief in particular.  She isn't a mold, so no adoptive child will ever quite match her expressions of grief.  We have been fortunate enough, though, to connect with other adoptive families who have adopted children who fit the "angry grief" category more than others.  They are all in various ages and stages of the process of adoption and connecting with them has been such encouragement to us!  There is hope, y'all.  She will (and we will) come through the angry part.  And let me tell you, from what I see from these other families, it is good.  Like, good-good, go adopt again, good.  That speaks volumes to us.  Pouring in and building trust is going to get us to the really good stuff.  So we pour in.  And build trust.

I mentioned yesterday that it is hard to experience the grief alongside your child.  I wanted to write a little more about our experience, from the parent perspective, about what makes it hard.  You know, I am going to be totally honest about my naive thinking.  When we sought to adopt a child and we learned about the grief the child would experience, I never once thought that I, personally, would be riding the grief train right alongside that child.  Nope.  Never once did that cross my mind.  Yes, sure, I saw myself there, with the child, helping them get through it.  I just never thought I'd be in it too, experiencing it too.  Not just a witness or an assistance tagging along, but a fully involved participant.  I wasn't really ready for that.  I have to tell you, there are days that I wake up and I think, I am here, in my home, in my safe place with my safe people, I am not in the mood to grieve today.  Currently, that is not a choice I get to make.  If Hannah grieves, I grieve (honestly, we all grieve).  Sometimes I can get whiplash from the rapidly changing moods and moments of grief and like most things with kids, grief almost always comes at the most challenging of times (sitting on the toilet, for example, or elbow deep in raw chicken meat, or burning food in the oven).  The only way to experience it is to fully experience with her and move with her through it--right then--at that moment when she needs it.  It is exhausting, but so rewarding when she looks deep into your eyes (she can seriously look way deep inside you) after the moment has passed and sees that you are still there, still loving, still present and willing to remain there--in the muddy icky messiness that is grief.  It is almost this look of "Oh!  Wow.  You're still there?  Huh.  Perhaps there is something to you....." 

We have seen a big change in her grief since China, she wanted to thrash on the floor alone.  Kick, scream, hit the floor--all that.  We would try to pick her up or comfort her and that wasn't acceptable.  We would just speak love over her and try to pat her back, eventually picking her up once she was calm enough.  Even when we first got home she was this way.  As a parent, this is incredibly hard.  You feel very powerless and helpless.  Now, three weeks at home?  I will move her to her "safe" place to get all of that out when I see it coming and she will immediately jump up and come right back to me.  She wants to be held now...close...and patted.  She wants me to comfort her.  She wants to scream and cry and let the tears flow, but she doesn't want to do it alone anymore.  The thrashing on the floor days are drawing to a close and now she is letting me in.  Because I sat through all those thrashing on the floor days and stayed present, even when she acted like she didn't want me to.  Now, she wants to open up and let me in to see how hard and ugly it is.  Sometimes I don't want to see how hard and ugly it is, but I am so thrilled she seeks me out, wants those arms around my neck and her head on my shoulder.  I am safe.  I am earning her trust.  She is giving me tiny specks of her heart.  And that is what I tell her as she sobs and screams against me.  "You are safe.  You are loved.  We love you.  You are home and it is going to be okay."

I will also be honest and say I do not always get it right.  I am not superhuman.  I rely heavily on the Holy Spirit to guide me and cry out to my prayer warriors often to intercede in tough stuff.  I fail.  I get it wrong.  I react harshly or perhaps in a way I might react to my biological children.  I lecture (ha, ha, I am sure I sound like the Peanuts teacher when I do this to her....).  I sometimes raise my voice (big post adoption no-no).  My parenting style has had to change and that makes my brain really, really, really think.  A lot.  I am constantly looking to see what needs to be improved, what I can do better.  We want to allow her to express how angry she is (I mean, let's be this point in time the girl is totally allowed to be pretty upset about the current situation), yet we want her to do it in more productive ways (like, not hitting people, but hitting an object instead).  Anger is not the enemy right now.  Anger is acceptable.  It is how we express anger that needs to be adjusted and that can be challenging with a little one, limited language, and limited understanding of the emotions she is feeling.

As a parent, this is all very hard.  I have moments of full clarity.  I see it from her perspective.  My heart breaks and is fully present with her through it.  I get it.  I don't take it personally.  We get through the moment and move on.  This happens many times throughout the day.  When I am fresh (first thing in the day or first thing after a good, long nap), I have my better moments in responding.  I am better able to see it, put myself in her shoes, and move through it the best way we know how.  As the day wears on and I am dealing with various other things (needy "middle" kids who just need more of me now, or fighting siblings, or homeschool, or dishes, or know the list), I get to the point where I am not so fully able to have that clarity.  I get frustrated.  It feels like a personal attack.  I get offended or take things personally.  Often her grief feels like disrespect toward Chris and I and well, that is just something we have never tolerated.  We won't tolerate it now, either, but our response needs to look a little different. 

Adoptive parent in the trenches with an angry griever, know you are not alone.  You do not fight this battle everyday alone.  That is what this is.  It is a battle for her heart.  I am pretty stubborn and I fully intend to win that little heart over.  It will never be the same little heart she was born with because it has been broken so many times, but what remains, I want it.  And I'm willing to fight for it.  I want it so I can shape and mold it.  Teach it about love, family, safety, security--and the assurance that while we provide those things for her, there is an even greater Father who can provide them even more and He will never fail, not like I do.  I pray that I continue to earn little bits of her heart so that I can turn those little bits over to Him.  I cannot wait to see how He continues to work and unfold all of this.

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