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!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Parenting Biokids and Adopted Kids Together

Bringing adopted children into a family with biokids is hard. I know I often fail at trying to balance the needs of everyone in the family, trying to take care of myself and my marriage, protecting younger children from the older kids, making sure the "squeaky wheel" doesn't get all my time and attention, standing up to the pressure of others to prioritized the adopted child's needs over everyone else's {Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order!}... 

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 also applies 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) passes up the adopted child(ren) developmentally, emotionally, and/ or socially.

{My adopted children were both delayed (emotionally, socially, academically...) and both were 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 especially aggressive toward Bob, due to jealousy and her black and white beliefs that if Bob had friends then in order for Kitty to get friends, she needed to make those friends stop liking Bob. If Bob was pretty, then Kitty was ugly. If Bob was smart, then Kitty was stupid, If Bob was loved...  Kitty is 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

Parenting often appears to not be fair, like you're choosing favorites, and/ or that you're criticizing or punishing the delayed child. I get a lot of pressure to try to make things "fair." It took me a long time to realize that treating my children equally (for example, giving Kitty a cell phone because Bob was ready for one) was basically punishing them both. Many times my biokids didn't get to do something because their adopted siblings couldn't handle it). 

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 for the adopted children. {Chap. 1 Parenting based on Developmental/Emotional Age}

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

* Explain Why They're Treated Differently - 

Explaining Differences to Adopted Children
We repeatedly told the adopted children that they were being treated differently because of their trauma and "issues," 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.
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.
You do get to go to the party and stay for the cake and everything. I'll be there too if you need me, but I'll be in the kitchen with the adults. After the party, we'll go home and do _________ (something fun)."
Although she protested the "unfair" treatment, Kitty went to the party and had a good time. Both girls wandered into the kitchen several times. When it was time for Kitty and me to leave, she gave only token protests and I found out on the way home that the girls at the party had started talking about ghosts in the house and had really freaked Kitty out. 

Explaining Differences to Bio Children

Both my bio children had difficulty understanding why their new siblings were allowed to do things (or not do things) that were expected of the biokids. I tried to explain in an age-appropriate, positive way. I used several different methods. 
  • Trust Jars/ Love Jars post
  • Ponito (age 7 when our 11yo and 13yo adopted children moved in), was already used to being treated differently from all of his siblings just because he was so much younger. For him, I mostly explained (multiple times) that his siblings were never allowed to be mean to him, hurt him, or touch him inappropriately (we talked about private parts - areas covered by underwear), and that if they ever did then he was to come tell me or Hubby immediately.

    We did have a couple of episodes where my normally sweet, compliant son tried out some of the behaviors he'd seen his older siblings "get away with" (ex. throwing a huge fit in a store, shoplifting, and cussing). I immediately put him in the FAIR Club and let him know that he would not be "getting away with" this kind of stuff. Unlike his siblings, he learned quickly from his mistakes.
  • My biodaughter, Bob, was older and better able to understand the concepts of treating the kids differently from each other based on their skills and abilities. For her, I explained that because the adopted children's had a lot of trauma in their lives (hopefully triggering her empathy), there were things that they weren't able to experience and learn from and therefore, there were areas of their life where they were less mature and capable.

    I asked her to compare her sister to an older cousin who is developmentally delayed. This teenage cousin acts more like Bob's younger, neurotypical 5-year-old cousin. This seemed to help Bob understand why Kitty didn't always act her age.

    I also had Bob read the Forever Child Series to help her understand more about the trauma her adopted siblings had experienced. {Therapeutic Parenting - Additional Reading}
Forever Child Series(

The Forever Child: A Tale of Lies and LoveThe Forever Child: A Tale of Anger and FearThe Forever Child: A Tale of Loss and Impossible DreamsFamily Secrets:  A Tale of Silence and Shame
The Forever Child is a series of fairy tales that are designed for use by parents and therapists as a tool to assist children in dealing with early abuse and neglect. Unlike other fairy tales, this series of books illustrates a number of the behaviors that are often seen in children with a history of early trauma, the parent guides provide an analysis of the root causes of these behaviors as well as step-by-step assistance for the parent.

*Stop Treating Them Equally -  

They are not equal! They have different life experiences, different interests, different abilities, different needs...  My mom always emphasized those differences 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!). We were reminded that 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.^  

* FAIR Club - 
We used the FAIR Club as a means of discipline for all of our children because it was more adaptable to use with kids of such differing ages and abilities. Consequences were based on logical consequences.

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 him or her.  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!
{Using the FAIR Club with Kids of Trauma}

* Emotional Age - 
Remember that developmentally (emotionally and socially) most kids of trauma are a LOT younger and even younger than that when dysregulated, in a meltdown, and/or in fight/ flight/ freeze. {Therapeutic Parenting Based on Emotional/ Developmental Age} If we expect them to "act their age," we're all going to be disappointed.

*ABSOLUTELY no Touching of the Other Kids! 
 None. Ever. My violent child 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.

*ABSOLUTELY No "Parenting" -  
The adopted kids felt they had a right to boss the other kids around, especially the biokids who were younger than they were. The biokids were able to handle it emotionally but didn't deserve to be treated that way.  Kitty expected it from Bear who'd done this for her whole life. She was so terrified of Bear that she usually tried to anticipate his wishes.

EVERY time we heard "parenting," we reminded all of the children involved that WE are the parents and that was "not their job." It took a long time to extinguish this behavior, but it helped that the worst offender, Bear, was never left alone with the other children.

We made a point to 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 at bedtime and chatting, telling a story, or singing... 

I tried to make it fun, even when they were being obnoxious, awful, or were in trouble.  It was an attachment activity and necessary. I did this with all the kids- adopted and bio. 

I usually tried to squeeze in a combo of activities -  If at the school for an IEP meeting, have lunch with a biokid. Stopping for ice cream on the way back from therapy. Divide and conquer at school parent nights (since the girls were in the same grade, Hubby would meet one set of teachers and I would meet the other).

* 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!). {This doesn't mean overbooking! You, your husband, and the family as a whole need to be a priority too}

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...).

* Separate Rooms - 

Originally the girls shared a room.  BIG mistake! We converted the playroom to a bedroom to separate them. I know how hard it is to find this extra space - when I was a kid, my dad "solved" this by turning the breakfast nook into my bedroom with some slatted closet doors bolted across the opening to make a wall.

The kids needed to have a safe place to go to be alone and get away from the other kids for a while (and also not have to worry about their stuff being broken or stolen).

* Individual Time - 
Give biokids a break from their siblings and family life sometimes. There were summers where Bob went to stay with her grandparents. She remembers those 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 as simple as possible. That meant stripping their rooms of all but a bed and one toy.  It meant their chores (which the biokids could have handled with ease), had to be simplified and fewer.  Multi-step directions were overwhelming and impossible.  Overwhelm usually triggered Dysregulation and Meltdowns.

* Make it OK for Biokids to Complain and Vent - 

Living with mentally ill siblings is HARD. It is hard for parents too, of course, but while they can be hard to find, there are support groups out there for parents. There are rarely support groups and people teaching Self-Care for the siblings. 

As long as it wasn't in front of their siblings, and they didn't vent to friends who knew their siblings, then I made sure that my kids knew it was even OK to resent/hate their sibling. 

Later, I realized I probably let this 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 about handling her siblings. She knew the people involved and the situations, much better than any of my other friends and the family members outside of our immediate family. She often had great insights, and I knew she wouldn't judge me for being upset/ angry with the adopted child or the situation. 

I know that I laid too much on her shoulders because she seemed like she could handle it. I often 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.

* Important Things To Remember!Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order**
SELF-CARE!! Self-Care!! Self-Care!!! This is a tough life and if your "bucket" is empty, then you're no good to anyone.

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