Monday, June 25, 2012

Exhaustion - Guest Post by Karen

One of the things I missed by not having biological children was being awakened every two hours by a hungry newborn.

The closest I ever came to that schedule was the 8 days I spent on a long distance sailboat racing team.  A schedule of 4 hours on, followed by 4 hours off, translated into 3 hours of sleep every 5 hours -- except it was too light to actually sleep during the day. 

In the same way, the newborn life must be a grueling existence. Exhaustion. Utter and complete exhaustion.

Although she wasn't a newborn, Becky, adopted at 14 months, had a really tough time sleeping as an infant. 

Then came Katie, adopted at age 4  -- up every single morning by 5:15 am (maybe, if we are very, very lucky, it's 5:30).

I am almost 50,  and if I don't get my 8 hours of sleep every night, I look like I didn't get my 8 hours of sleep. Being perfectly honest here -- the thought of a child who would sleep through the night and maybe even sleep in greatly appealed to this sleep deprived mom. With an older child, at least I wouldn't be making negative progress, decreasing what little sleep I was already experiencing.

Which brings me to Cami.

Cami, adopted last year at age 9, sleeps well. She goes to bed when Katie and Becky do at 7:00 every night. She sleeps till 6:30 or 7 every day -- when the other girls are already awake. Yeah!  Maybe there is more sleep in my future?

But I am more tired than ever.

Here's what I did not count on -- the emotional energy expended on parenting my older adopted child far exceeds anything I have ever experienced. From the moment I hear her footsteps coming down the hall in the morning till she is tucked in bed and soundly asleep, I am on alert. High Alert. Code Red Alert.

Is she regulated?

Does she feel connected?

What will derail her before breakfast?

It's hard enough to parent any child struggling with the drama and hormones of the preteen years. When you navigate those same waters with a child whose fear trigger is super sensitive and whose window of stress tolerance is very small, it's a veritable mine field that requires full and complete concentration.

A lapse in attention to this landscape for even a moment can result in a monumental meltdown over the lack of a certain breakfast cereal. You must be aware of every single word out of your mouth -- watching sibling conversations as well -- and you have to think about every single thing. You can NEVER let your guard down. It saps every ounce of energy out of you every single day.

Recently, about a week before the end of school, Cami began getting very irritable with everyone. She was short tempered and at times downright nasty to us and her siblings. It came to a full boil the morning of Katie's graduation -- which was also Cami's last day of school. She fussed and carried on throughout the graduation -- rolling on the floor during the presentation, whining and fussing.

As I walked her into her school later that morning, I asked her, "Do you know what summer vacation is? Do you know what the last day of school means?"

Her answer: "No."

For the past week, we had been talking about these things in the general conversation -- and they are good and happy things. Things to be celebrated. A time to have fun. Only she didn't know that. Consequently, her fear radar was triggered, and those fears manifested themselves in less than pleasant behaviors.

Every.  Single.  Thing.  Every. Single. Day.

It is utterly and thoroughly exhausting.

Recently, a fellow mom of older adoptees shared an interesting perspective. She had been up late several nights in a row dealing with some fallout like ours.

"I guess this is making up for all those newborn nights I didn't get with her," she said.  

Then, the same week in church, these verses:

Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

Here is what I realized -- my exhaustion is not really from the journey I am on. I am tired because I am trying to walk this path in and of my own self.  I think that because I reach out to friends for support, read a few books on the subject, and confess my weakness in parenting, that I am not suffering from the sin of independence.  But I am. 

These good and necessary activities will not relieve the exhaustion. Neither will two or three nights of straight through 10 hour sleeps (although I would be willing to give that a try)!
I need to trust Him that this is where He wants us. He gave us clear confirmation through this journey that all these children were to become part of our family. The evidence is there.

I need to trust Him that He is in this with us. He has provided what we needed -- when we needed it -- through the adoption process, the medical journey and our educational trials.  Evidence again that He provides.

I need to trust Him that we will make progress. We have come so far with Katie, so there is hope for Cami. More evidence.

Sounds like this might be a "me" problem.

Cami, with her dad, after a recent surgery 

So this morning, as I hear the footsteps come down the hall, I will commit this child's healing to Him, and ask for His strength to sustain me. I will whisper His name when the meltdown appears on the distant horizon. I will mutter the scriptures that promise hope and healing and strength. I will play my praise music loudly and sing joyfully when I feel like hiding in the closet crying.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains.
Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm
he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Karen's three beautiful girls!

Thank you, Karen, for such a raw and honest, yet hope-filled post!  One of my biggest joys in our adoption journey has been getting to know women like Karen.  Although we've never met in person, she's encouraged me over and over again to look at Wenxin's behavior with eyes of informed compassion.  You can read more of Karen's adoption journey at her blog, Casa de Alegria.

What are your thoughts?  Feel free to post comments for Karen on the form below.  

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy this one on building trust in older child adoption.


  1. I recently came to the same conclusion as Karen regarding my sin of independence. It is my besetting sin and I have had to be in a hard place to realize that God wants that to stop. I am trying really hard to lean on Him and not myself because I want out of this hard place.

  2. Wonderful reminder of parents & people living everyday! Thank you for sharing & your girls are just beautiful!

  3. My favorite part of this post is the story of Cami whining and rolling in the floor at Katie's graduation. Been there. It would be so easy for people to make a judgement of a 10 year old acting that way. But most people don't understand what it's like to parent a child with a background of trauma. When you look at it through Cami's eyes; when you understand what all she didn't understand; when you see the "bad behavior" as a "fear response" -- everything changes. We're all so quick to judge when what our kids need is for us to grow in our understanding.

  4. oh yeah, Red Alert! Then a Red Alert child that needs medical attention!
    This summer is very long, but we are doing an experiment. We are babysitting another child (8) for 3 hrs on Thurs afternoons...he has some 'issues' too...what was almost funny is when the visitor put on a whining show...Joe became very..."why you doing that" "what you think you're doing?"
    I kept my back turned because I had to laugh.

    Thanks Dana and Karen

  5. It is sooo awesome that Karen feels the need to NOT impose any kind of discipline on Cami -- resulting in a "monumental" breakdown over the lack of a "certain kind of breakfast cereal"... and a completely spoiled brat of a kid with an adoptive mama who made her that way.

    Expect a kid to sit still for he sister's graduation? Indulge the rolling inthe hallway of a 10 yr old who should know BECAUSE SHE HAS BEEN/IS BEING TAUGHT BETTER?? No! NEver!

  6. Stan - I am so sorry that my post gave you the impression that we don't discipline. We do - but perhaps not like you are used to. My kids are not spoiled - they are hurt. Badly. From the inside out. By adults. Who should not have done that. Here is what she has been taught - that every adult will let her down. That she is worthless. That she is unlovable. I don't owe you (or anyone) an explanation, but my child was burned over 60% of her body when she was 2 1/2, left at an orphanage weeks later close to death and almost died. She then lived for 7 years with severe and debilitating scars - in an orphanage.

    She begins every single thing in her life from there. So - when she rolls around the floor during graduation - I see a child who is filled with pain & fear and mistrust. I know my children feel enough to know that a child acting badly is feeling badly. I will parent her out of that fear and into love.

    I could yell at her. I could "discipline" her (punishment, spanking or what ever fear based method you would recommend). That would only solve the problem for the moment - maybe - and would not do anything to address the underlying behavior. And I want to help her heal - not control her into submission through more fear. She has had enough of that in her life.

    Stan - I think I have met you. You are the guy in line behind me at the supermarket when my autistic & ADHD child was at the end of her rope, and was screaming and you commented "can't you control your child".

  7. Stan, I was reading this post and I don't personally l know this family or you...your response seems to assume that you know the instruction and discipline in this home. I ask you to read with an open mind.

    I have two children that are biological and one adopted. Our youngest son (bio) was premature and has sensory processing disorder...his mind and body do not process change, loud noises, motion, touch like the other members of our family.

    With this if a balloon pops he may melt down in tears and panic and we have to leave the building...his adreniline is totally in fight/flight mode. To a stranger they could see this scenario and judge that I am a bad parent and my child is a spoiled child.

    What that person would not see is the help I have tried to get my child, the tears that I have cried to attempt to help him regulate and exhibit self control...knowing this is not my fault or my is exhausting and hard, but I love my child and bear that misjusgement if needed.

    Now take a situation that I explained and add to that the factors that the child comes to your family at 9...strangers at first and you not only have trauma to process and grief of loss to work through, but your building a relationship and bond in your family.

    This is exhausting even without the age and takes strength and bravery.

    What I see here is not a bad is a parent that is being honest...that is brave enough to admit and share the hard parts. I admire her for that and wish that instead of judgement a bit of understanding could be gained by others thay may not have this same journey in life.

  8. My goodness, Stan, I hardly know where to begin. But I think I'll begin by admitting that I could have been you 6 years ago. The 6 year mark is the year we brought home our first adopted son when he was nearly 4. I thought I had it all together... I had 5 biological children. Well-behaved, polite, disciplined children. I knew if I said, "Stop!" because of an approaching car, I could count on the fact that each and every one of them would stop immediately. My children never pitched fits in the store and could all sit at the table and exhibit good manners. I knew I was a good parent and had the well-behaved children to show for it.

    But you know, God has a funny way of wanting to be sure we know we are not in charge. He wants us to know that He is.

    And so we bring our new son into our family. I had read (a lot... I'm a research junkie) about attachment and adoption and integrating a new child into your life. It was going to be a little rough at the beginning as we all got to know each other and got adjusted, but I had it down. I knew how to parent. This would just be a little different.

    I was wrong. Dead wrong. It was more than a little different. It was a whole other planet different. My son had gone through so much trauma in his short life that his brain (they are very plastic things, those brains) had wired itself completely differently from my biological children who were growing up in a stable loving family. My son's brain was routinely flooded by hormones which caused him both to behave irrationally and to feel things that I can only imagine. I tried all my tricks on him. All of my good parent tricks which had worked so well with the first five children. The only thing that resulted from this type of parenting was that my son learned that a parent's purpose is to punish and give every other person on the planet what they want except him. He didn't trust us and struggled with loving us. And we had done nothing different with him than we had with the previous five. After more than a few years of this, I had to admit that I didn't know what I was doing and had to try a different way.

    I had to pretend that this now 9 year old is a great big infant and treat him accordingly. He needed to be filled with the adoring love of a parent that he missed in the first four years of life when he was without a family and he missed in the next four years of his life because I was too busy being a "good" parent. He needed to understand what unconditional love looks like. We don't discipline babies for acting out what they feel. My son's brain was still very much stuck in that infant mode: I act on whatever I feel mode. We had to start at the beginning and go from there.

    I am very happy to report that he is healing. It is very slow and we still have bad moments, but he is healing. And frankly, you (and the rest of society) can be grateful that we are helping him heal in whatever way works, whether you approve or not, because if my son reached adulthood without healing, it would not be a pretty picture.

    So, you have a choice. You can support those of us who are therapeutic parents because you can see the long view, or you can sit back in your comfortable life and judge us because our children are not behaving up to your standards. But know, if we focus on your goals, my son's ill health could very well impact your life even more than the annoyance does now.

  9. Stan, You just don't get it. Good luck in your world.

    1. For clarification, this Karen is not the author of the post. But she is a good friend of mine : )

  10. Until someone parents a special needs child, they have NO idea how to parent them. A child who has experienced any trauma or neglect is a special needs child. And Stan's idea that a kid who is afraid of being hurt or dying again needs to "buck up camper" and deal with punishment like normal kids might not say the same for a soldier who comes home with PTSD. Guess what Stan? These kids, rolling on the floor screaming, have PTSD. And they are learning very slowly how to cope. Hold them and the parents like us who hold them through it all, to a different standard. Maybe even someday you will get to see that all kids, even if they don't have trauma, deserve therapeutic parenting. But I don't expect you'll ever make the jump.

  11. Stan, it seems that someone failed to "teach" you good manners. Cami has an angel, who as we speak beholds the the face of God. Her parents are accountable to Him for her care and instruction. They are beyond blessed.

  12. Stan, someone failed to "teach" you good manners.


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