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.
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."
         Then I tried to find ways for the adopted child to get to do something fun too. 

*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.^  
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. {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 bio kids who were younger than they were. The biokids were able to handle it, but didn't deserve to be treated that way.  Kitty expected from Bear who'd done it to her her whole life. She was so terrified of Bear that she usually tried to anticipate his wishes.

EVERY time we heard it, we reminded 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 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. 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 awhile (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 theose 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 meant for them, chores (that biokids could handle with ease), had 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 hard for parents too of course, but while they can be hard to find, there are support groups out there. 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 share it with friends who knew their siblings, then I made sure that my kids 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 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.

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

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