I thought I would share a heart-breaking and eye-opening conversation with you all. It went like this:
Last night, at the very end of story time with Dad, I said to Luke, as he was staring blankly and unwaveringly at me, "Even though you love me, it's still not nice to stare." Tim wrapped up his reading to Luke, and Luke climbed up into his bed, his eyes getting redder and wetter as he climbed. I asked him what was wrong, thinking he was sad that story time was so short. He blurted out, his tears erupting, "I feel like I don't love you!" I was confused. I asked, "Are you saying you are so mad at me that you feel like you don't love me, or are you saying you think I don't love you?" He answered that he thought I said that he didn't love me, and burst into fresh tears. I explained more clearly what I had said. Then, I asked, "Why are you so afraid that I might not know you love me?" He answered, crying as he did, "Because if you think I don't love you, then you might not keep me and give me up for adoption!" I hugged him as he cried and assured him that when we said he was our "forever son", that meant forever. I was explaining what forever means when he said, "For some reason, I just have trouble believing you," and burst into fresh tears. I hugged him. Tim hugged him. We both let him know that we understand why he is afraid and has trouble believing that we mean forever.
It has not entered my mind since the beginning weeks that Luke is not used to being permanent. His life has been in upheaval since he was born. We all know that he is our son forever, but over time, we have forgotten that that fact is not a reality yet for him. I suddenly have clarity on so many things. No wonder he still robotically obeys every command without reason or emotion. He is trying so hard to order his world in such a way that it does not cause him upheaval again. When we give him an order, he obeys mechanically. We appreciate the obedience, but always feel like something is just not quite right about it. Now, I've had a paradigm shift. Sunday, I was wondering in frustration if things will ever feel 'normal'. Now, I see more clearly, that 'normal' will come as he feels more secure and one year is not enough to feel secure after 6 years of not having security. He is so smart that he picks up the rules of proper attachment pretty fast, but the heart (habit) of attachment will take more time.
One of the most helpful things we have been taught in our Circle of Security attachment therapy has been learning that young children that are neglected in the early years haven't had parents who pick them up and tell them how they feel: "Oh, you're hungry, that's what's wrong." "Oh, you're sick, no wonder you are unhappy." "Oh, Did you miss Mommy? That's why your crying." We verbally tell our babies what they feel, with more detail as they grow older. When a baby is neglected, he doesn't learn to put names to his emotions (sad, jealous, angry, scared) and feelings (cold, hot, hungry, full), nor how to deal with them. He was left to answer his own needs from early on. In a loving, caring home, he would have learned that his parents will take care of his needs. In a neglectful home, he learns to deal with unanswered needs in ways that alleviate the pain of that unanswered need. He learns how to control things in whatever way he can. It is one of our tasks to help Luke learn that his parents are responsible for answering his comfort needs and he has to allow us to do our job and not move into his habitual behaviors that he learned as an infant.
Adopting an older child is a real adventure. We are learning so much.