International adoption, domestic adoption, foster care… how your precious little one came to you is a unique road. We have temporary custody of “Anna” because her parents are not able to care for her at this time. (One of her parents is mentally ill, the other not a suitable parent at this time.)
Anna is hilarious and zany, keeping us busy and laughing at the same time. We are blessed to have these moments of comic relief with her – parts of her little personality untouched from neglect and emotional abandonment. But like most three year olds, her disposition can change at the drop of a hat, because of normal three-year-old frustrations and fears. Add to that Anna’s confusion of living with six different families during her second year of life. And the fear of waking up in yet another new household, where they have new rules, new smells, new ways of doing things, new words, new clothes, new sleeping quarters… I was constantly asking myself what she had been through and how I could make the transition into a new family easier for her. It was becoming obvious to me that I would never know, and Anna would never be able to verbalize her past in words, though.
Her silent cries for stability, for routine, for extra nurturing (and a few meltdowns) led me to inquire of Dana. I seemed to remember something about meltdowns, unspoken needs and the ambiguity of it all in one of her posts. She suggested a book entitled The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family by Karyn Purvis, David Cross and Wendy Sunshine, which I purchased immediately on Amazon.com. I was desperate for answers.
In retrospect, it all makes sense. The indiscriminate talking to strangers; the panic and ensuing tantrums if she was not allowed to drink milk all day, for every meal; the fear of being strapped in a car seat; the waking up all night to see if she was still in the same household. At first it was quite confusing to me, though.
After reading The Connected Child, I now understand that she may wake up in the middle of the night because she may be hyper vigilant, feeling the need to monitor her circumstances more than a normal child. I now understand that she may reach out to strangers more than a normal child because she may have found the adults in her younger years unreliable. She has learned this as a survival technique to get her needs met.
I read the book intermittently, over a period of time, but I felt encouraged every time I set the book down. I have underlined so many things in The Connected Child. I am sure I will read it again. (Explaining to Anna why I am writing on nearly every page of this book and she isn’t allowed to mark on her books has been interesting.)
Although the book goes beyond regular parenting, it is also basic enough for the first time parent, like me. Not everything applied to Anna, because her case is perhaps mild compared to what some children have been through. (The book does mention outside resources that would be helpful to a parent dealing with an older child or one with more pronounced issues.)
The example dialogues were especially appealing and helpful to me, perhaps because I am more of a visual and kinesthetic learner. There is an emphasis on playful dialogue that is non-threatening to an at-risk child, but the book also gives techniques to help correct unhealthy behavior – a hard balance to find. This is very important to a child that may be overly sensitive to corrective words because they are not yet secure in their family relationships.
The scripts for dealing with anticipated challenging social situations were also very helpful. You know, those situations in public where you look absolutely ridiculous because you have absolutely no control over your child or the situation. One of the best things about the book, though, is that it did not promote miracle fixes. I didn’t feel overwhelmed while reading it. I felt the book encouraged me to view our circumstances as a learning process – for me, as well as for Anna.
Although you look back at the road that brought your adopted or foster child to you with satisfaction, knowing they have been rescued from a bad situation, your child may not feel rescued yet. The Connected Child illustrated for me ways to help Anna feel safe. I am thankful I was desperate enough to ask for help and had a friend introduce me to this book.
I love that Anna is outgoing and friendly, but I do hope that one day she is this way simply because she wants to be and not because she fears her needs won’t be met. I see lots of signs that she is learning healthier patterns and is attaching in healthy ways.
Thanks, Laura, for taking the time to review The Connected Child for us. Anna is a beautiful child, and I'm so happy she has a sensitive, resourceful, mom like you!