This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Parenting Biokids and Adopted Kids Together

FYI, this picture is for illustration only. These are the 192nd Fighter Wing kids. Not an adoptive family.
See also this post, Biokids with Adopted Siblings

Adopting Out of Birth Order

My adopted children were older than my biokids, and that caused some extra issues because the biokids were able to handle tons of things the adopted kids couldn't.  Here's a good post I did for a lady adopting a RAD child older than her bios (different age, but kids of trauma are often younger developmentally, emotionally, and/ or socially).

Adopting Children Developmentally, Emotionally, and/ or Socially Younger
This could also apply to parents with kids who are not technically out of birth order, but are close in age or younger (for example giving birth to biokids or adopting a child(ren) younger than the older adopted child(ren) but with fewer issues). The problems come when this younger child(ren) pass up the adopted child(ren) developmentally, emotionally, and/ or socially. Parenting often appears to not be fair, like you're choosing favorites, and/ or that you're criticizing or punishing the delayed child.

{My adopted children were both delayed and older than my oldest biochild (Bob, biodaughter). Bear (adopted, 3 1/2 years older than Bob) was very aggressive and intimidating to everyone and Kitty (adopted, 1 year older than Bob) was aggressive toward Bob (jealousy, pushing to get kicked out like everyone else has done to her in the past, delayed emotionally and socially - so tended to be more like a toddler who uses her hands not her words...).}  

All Children are Not Created Equally - Nor Should They Be Treated That Way
For a long time, we tried to treat the children equally, especially the girls who were close in age and in the same grade at school, but we finally figured out that was not going to work. Life got smoother when we started using age-appropriate, therapeutic parenting.
Post:  Chap. 1 Parenting based on Developmental/Emotional Age

Here are some of the things we did (or I wish we had done sooner!):

1. SELF-CARE!! Self-care!! Self-Care!!! 
This is a tough life and if you're "bucket" is empty, then you're no good to anyone.

2. Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order
Not only do we tend to put ourselves last, but we also tend to listen to the "experts" and focus on the needs of one child (or two). First priority needs to be yourself, then your significant other (after all, hopefully, he/she will be around long after the children are out of the nest) {How We Keep Our Marriage Strong}, and then the family as a whole. The needs of the "squeakiest wheel" need to be last

Believe me, I regret how little priority my other kids got and we're seeing some of the negative effects now that they are grown. Especially when I realized that my son, Bear, (the squeakiest wheel) was not able to heal {You Have Not Failedbut even with my daughter, Kitty, who was able to heal and might not have if I hadn't poured so much energy and time into her. Sacrificing the family as a whole for one child was a mistake that I deeply regret. 

3. Finding the Joy 

Once I finally had enough emotional reserves to be able to function, then I had to figure out boundaries, priorities, support... the things I needed to be able to keep going and keep my "tank" full enough to be there for my family.

4. Explain Why They're Treated Differently
We sat the adopted children down and tell them that they were being treated differently because of their trauma, not because we loved them less or loved biokids more. They absolutely did not understand this or believe it, but it needed to be said if only so we could refer back to the conversations.
Posts: Trust Jars/ Love Jars post;
Choosing Joy - Explaining Age Appropriate Therapeutic Parenting to Child(ren)

          The younger biochildren did not have the same childhood and there were going to be areas where they got to do things the adopted kids didn't, even though they were older.   None of this solved anything by the way, but it gave us a reference point that we could keep pointing back to,

"I know it doesn't feel fair that your sister gets to spend the night at your friend's house and you don't, but you're not at a place to do that right now, because it's hard for you.  Your sister didn't have the trauma that you did so she can handle it.  
You'll get there!  Just not today."

5. Stop treating them equally.  
They are not equal! They have different life experiences, different interests, different abilities, different needs...  My mom always emphasized that with my sister and I.  We both got a Christmas present, but it wasn't matching dresses (which is one thing my dad liked to do)!  Neither of us would want what the other wanted! Our gifts were chosen with our unique likes and dislikes in mind.

^^This is actually how the FAIR Club got started.^^ 
My kids were constantly whining, "That's not FAAAIIIRRR!!!" I needed a way to discipline and structure each child's life that was appropriate for them.  Structure for the adopted kids, but not really punishing them for things that were out of their control (fight/ flight/ freeze reactions for example) - while avoiding letting the biokids feel that the adopted kids were "getting away with" behaviors that we didn't want the biokids to start thinking was OK for them to do!

6. Emotional Age

Remember that developmentally (emotionally and socially) most kids of trauma are a LOT younger.   If we expect them to "act their age," we're all going to be disappointed.
Therapeutic Parenting Based on Emotional/ Developmental Age
Developmental Stages

7. ABSOLUTELY no touching of other kids!  
None.  Ever. My violent child especially, literally had to be out of arms reach of the other kids at all times.  If I had to be in another room then that child came with me or was in his/her room alone. They weren't allowed to sit next to each other on the couch or in the car.  They were NEVER allowed to be alone in the same room.

8. Separate rooms. 
Originally the girls shared a room.  BIG mistake! They giggled all night keeping each other up. Our adopted daughter stole things from her sister. One child was a "neat freak" the other was not. The smells and dysregulation of our adopted daughter, plus disagreements between the two girls created a resentful/ hostile environment that often made things worse.

We converted the playroom to a bedroom to separate them.  For example, when I was a kid, my bedroom was the breakfast nook with some slatted closet doors bolted in to make a wall (this was because I moved in with my dad unexpectedly, not for any trauma/ safety issues).
8a. Children were not allowed in other family members' bedrooms. Ever (although exceptions were made if a parent was present). This was to prevent thefts and potential abuse.
8b. Cameras, alarms, and locks. We never installed cameras but I often wonder if we should have. There were alarms on the exterior doors and windows that helped let us know if a child was going outside without permission but I sometimes wish we had put one on the interior door of our son's bedroom so we would know when he was wandering at night. We did end up locking the pantry to prevent issues with stealing food but I realize we were very lucky that our son was not interested in physically or sexually abusing his siblings (just stealing from them).  

9. ABSOLUTELY no parenting.  
The adopted kids felt they had a right to boss the other kids around. The biokids just handled it.  Kitty expected it and was terrified of Bear so she often tried to anticipate his wishes.

EVERY time we heard it, we reminded everyone that WE are the parents and that was not their job.  We NEVER put the kids in a position where they got to tell the other kids what to do.  Not even relaying a message, like, "Mom said to come downstairs and do the dishes." At most, they were allowed to say, "Mom is calling you."

10. Individual parent time.  
Just me (or Hubby)  and the child doing something together.  Could be making a meal, going shopping, a "date," sitting next to their bed and chatting, telling a story or singing... I tried to make it fun, even when they were being obnoxious, awful, or in trouble.  It was an attachment activity and necessary. I did this with all the kids- adopted and bio. Try to squeeze in a combo of activities -  If you're at the school for an IEP meeting, have lunch with a biokid. 

Figuring out your child's Love Language can really pinpoint what will make your child feel the most special and loved. 

11. Family and individual activities. 
Don't skip that family vacation because one child can't handle it. Find an alternative for the child having issues (preferably something fun for them), and GO! Make time for each child's school events and activities. Go to your biokids' art show, soccer game, whatever. Sign them up for dance classes that their adopted sibling isn't a part of (this is when it really comes in handy to have a spouse so you can divide and conquer!).

Try to find ways that all the kids can participate without overshadowing the other's fun. While watching your son play T-ball, let the other kids play on a nearby playscape or spread a blanket behind the bleachers and play with toys they don't always get to play with. Have a Letter Party and each child gets to do something different to help (pick the letter, shopping, helping cook, pick the movie, set up the picnic area...).

12. Individual time - 
Give the kids a break from their siblings and family life sometimes. There were summers where Bob went to live with her grandparents. She remembers them as some of the best summers ever. 

13. Squeaky wheels - 
Be very aware that our natural inclination is to take care of the squeaky wheel first. The problem is that biokids tend to be less squeaky (well, except during puberty when all of my kids went insane). I still feel guilty that my adopted kids were so squeaky that my biokids were often ignored. Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order**

14. Provide structure and reduce overwhelm.  
Our adopted kids needed LOTS of Structure and Caring Support.  Their insides are so chaotic that we had to make the rest of life as calm and as simple as possible. That means stripping their rooms of all but a bed and one toy.  It means for them, chores that biokids could handle with ease, have to be simplified and fewer.  Multi-step directions were overwhelming and impossible.  They usually triggered Dysregulation and Meltdowns.

15. Make it OK for biokids to complain and vent. 
Living with mentally ill siblings is HARD. It is for parents too of course, but there are rarely support groups and people teaching Self-Care for kids. As long as it wasn't in front of their siblings, and they didn't share it with friends who knew their siblings, then I made sure that they knew it was even OK to resent/hate their sibling.
{I probably let the venting/ complaining go too far and let the biokids feel that it was OK to be totally negative about their siblings all the time without encouraging them as much as I should have to look for the good stuff too. Please be aware of that yourself and don't do what I did!}
15a. Preventing abuse. We also had frequent conversations with all our kids individually about personal safety and who was allowed to touch their "private parts" (parents and doctors and only if necessary). We made it very clear that they needed to come to us if they felt threatened or hurt in any way. We also watched carefully for "grooming" behaviors (abusers will often "woo" potential victims to build trust before actually abusing them).

16. Avoid over-sharing
I'll admit that as Bob got older, it was easy to confide in her and sometimes vent or bounce off ideas. She knew the people involved and the situations, much better than any other friends and family members outside of our immediate family. She often had great insight, and I knew she wouldn't judge me for being upset/ angry with the adopted child or the situation. I often worry that I laid too much on her shoulders because she seemed like she could handle it. I forgot that she's still a kid and going to have to have and/ or establish some kind of relationship with this sibling for the rest of their lives.

17. Down the Road? 
As our biokids get older, they might have to take over the care of their sister, Kitty (and possibly even their brother, Bear), when Hubby and I can no longer do it. I'm not sure how I feel about asking that of them, but I don't foresee any alternatives.

Reluctant Keepers of a Brother With Autism:We have always believed that Nick and Grace should take responsibility for their brother when we no longer can. We have worked to engrave that duty on their hearts, but they accept it grudgingly. I wonder if we failed as parents to instill compassion in the twins, if we somehow hardened their hearts instead of softening them. [My husband] reminds me that few people accept familial duty with joy.  
Nick and Grace, meanwhile, at 23 are now busy young adults with romantic relationships and promising careers. They rarely ask after their brother, but when we all get together for holidays, they treat Jeffrey with detached kindness rather than the resentment of the past.  We sometimes remind the twins of their duty to care for Jeffrey, and with the optimism and confidence of youth, they say they will handle it, and anyway, it is far in the future. But I know that the future has a tendency to arrive sooner than expected, and that it will not be easy.
Are we asking too much of the twins? What is the responsibility of a sibling for a sibling?  When we are both gone, the burden will be passed down, along with the silverware and the photo albums, and Nick and Grace will be forced to take up where we left off. And we can only hope that we have done right by all of our children.


Kate said...

The FAIR Club? That you don't actually your:
(1) biokids to because they mostly don't need it and
(2) adopted kids to, because Kitty's too "fragile" to be told she's in FAIR Club.

You wrote so many lovely, detailed posts and... let Kitty do whatever the heck she wanted & discouraged her school (a special needs school!) from letting Kitty work towards her (unrealistic) goals. Which if Kitty failed to reach? Well, that's how kids learn.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. It helps to hear that others have done the same things that we have done in our home. Very reassuring. God bless you!

marythemom said...

Not totally sure I understand your comment Suzanne, but I'll try to respond anyway.

Yes, we used the FAIR Club for quite awhile although it stopped being needed for the biokids pretty quickly. We would have used it longer if we'd started it earlier. I struggled for a long time trying to find something that worked for Bob and this did. Like any discipline method, the idea of it worked longer than it was actually needed. How many moms still say 1 (from 1-2-3 Magic) to remind their kids to straighten up?!

The FAIR Club was designed to work with BOTH our adopted kids and our biokids. Partly as a way of providing visible discipline of the adopted kids for the biokids to see, and therefore not feel like they could get away with stuff the adopted kids "got away with," and partly so the adopted kids could see that the bio kids got in trouble too. All the other kids knew was that you were in the FAIR Club. They usually had no idea if the "punishment" was really just a simple reminder that that was a bad idea (the equivalent of a "slap on the wrist") or a complex writing assignment that required thought and growth to complete.

It was also a way to provide the therapeutic parenting that the adopted kids needed in a way that they could handle (versus grounding, spanking, or letting them run wild with no disciple at all). Plus it gave ME a chance to calm down before deciding what to do that would best help the child learn.

It was unfortunate that Kitty couldn't handle being told she was in trouble (implied criticism), but Bear was able to handle it and ended up in the FAIR Club a few times. It also helped us figure out how to structure their lives in a way that worked better for them.

I'm not sure why you think Kitty got to do "whatever the heck she wanted." Not true at all. Just because I didn't officially put her in the FAIR Club doesn't mean she did whatever she wanted.

Gotta run. More later.

marythemom said...

"discouraged her school (a special needs school!) from letting Kitty work towards her (unrealistic) goals. Which if Kitty failed to reach? Well, that's how kids learn."

I'm really not sure if you're saying I should have encouraged Kitty's school to have her work towards unrealistic goals or not.

We tried allowing the school to work toward unrealistic goals with Bear and he graduated with no vocational skills and unrealistic expectations. Probably because of his brain injury (which they both have), he can't "learn" from this.

We tried to help Kitty find attainable goals to work toward while she was in school. Without the cooperation of the school we were unsuccessful. Now we struggle to find something she the skills and abilities to do and would enjoy. She thinks she might like cosmetology school, but we have to find one that works with her sleep issues (we're trying to get her in a part-time evening program).

Thanks for the positives, Grieving Widow!

Autistic Against Antivaxxers said...

I'm a year late or so...but what about some kind of blended learning program?

Like a correspondence course where she just goes in for tests/practicals?

marythemom said...

Anon England - Kitty's severe learning disabilities and lack of executive functioning (which among other things makes her disorganized, unable to work independently, and forgetful), plus her attachment issues (making it hard for her to accept help or critiques from me and family members)... all add up to most independent, correspondence or homeschool type programs being next to impossible for her.