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

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 bio kids 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's some of the things we did (or I wish we had done sooner!):

* 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."

*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.^  http://marythemom-mayhem.blogspot.com/2009/03/how-to-discipline-your-difficult-child.html My kids were constantly whining, "That's not FAAAIIIRRR!!!" I needed a way to discipline and structure their lives that was appropriate for each of 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!

* Emotional Age - Remember that develomentally (emotionally and socially) most kids of trauma are a LOT younger. http://marythemom-mayhem.blogspot.com/2011/04/developmental-stages.html  If we expect them to "act their age," we're all going to be disappointed.

*ABSOLUTELY no touching of other kids!  None.  Ever. The violent one especially, literally had to be out of arm 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.

* Separate rooms. Originally the girls shared a room.  BIG mistake! We converted the playroom to a bedroom to separate them.  When I was a kid, my bedroom was the breakfast nook with some slatted closet doors bolted in to make a wall.

*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."

* 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.

* 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...).

* Individual Time - Give biokids 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.

* 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 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.

* 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 it go too far and let the biokids feel that it was OK to be totally negative about their siblings without encouraging them to look for the good stuff too.

* 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.

* 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.
Advocating for Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order**

6 comments:

Suzanne 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.

Grieving Widow 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!

Anon England 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.