Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Unvarnished's been a strange week so far.  I'm intending here to be a little more vulnerable and unedited...bear with me.

You already know about how crappy I've been feeling of late about the state of my home and the lack of balance I'm feeling about our lives.  But there's more to be said.  And I need to tell you about my week, this week that is only four days old but feels like a year long, to provide some context.

The week actually started off incredibly well.  You see, for the past year, Matthew has been asking if he and I could please go somewhere together for a day or two (by ourselves), so that we could experience things the way they used to be (read: pre-adoption).  Though Geoff and I try very regularly to have one-on-one time with each of the kids, Matthew has been longing for an extended time alone with me.

Geoff and I finally made that happen this past weekend.  On Saturday morning, I surprised and delighted Matthew with the announcement that he and I were spending a weekend at a hotel.  And that's exactly what we did:  We swam lots; ordered room service for dinner and for breakfast (what kid doesn't love room service??!); ate chocolate and hamburgers and pancakes; watched movies; played Uno and SkipBo; read books out loud; cuddled and talked in a king size bed; just had a great time.  Matthew glowed the entire weekend and kept hugging me and saying things like "thank you, Mom, thank you!!" and "you're the best Mom in the entire world, Mom, and if I could choose any Mom in the world, I'd choose you!! Really - I'm serious!!" It clearly met some inner need, and I was glad.

While we were away, Matthew and I talked about how hard it was going to be for him to go back home on Sunday. At some level, I believe he thought that if he could just 'get away' from it all for a day or two, things would somehow magically be different/better for him when he got back home.  Geoff and I obviously knew that this would not be the case and so I was very careful to ensure that Matthew knew that the transition back to being home with his siblings might be pretty tough.

Of course, being prepared mentally and experiencing it are two completely different things.  And unfortunately, tough doesn't do justice to what happened on Sunday night.  Just after Seth and Lizzie fell asleep, and while he was getting ready for bed, Matthew came into Geoff's and my bedroom, where we both happened to be at the moment, and he burst into tears.  He was frankly inconsolable and we all crawled into Geoff's and my bed together and I cuddled and stroked Matthew while he cried and cried.  He was so terribly sad that we had to be back home and said that he didn't think he could ever go to a hotel with me again because coming home was just too painful.

For the next 90+ minutes, Matthew lay with us on our bed and wept.  It was massive, relentless grief pouring out of his soul.  He kept crying out loud things like "please, can we just go back to the way it used to be?" and "please, can we just sent them back to Ethiopia and give them some money so that they can live with Gashi (their birth father) again?" and over and over and over "I just want it back, I just want it back, I just want it back."

It was, frankly, a horrible evening, and an outpouring of grief that just about broke my heart.  What have we done to this child?

On the one hand, Geoff and I have noticed that Matthew has been coping better of late.  The younger kids have been home for nineteen months now, and it's taken most of that time for Matthew to feel somewhat settled again.  But we've noticed changes that have encouraged us greatly.  On the other hand, though, we've also noticed recent signs that there was some tension building again.  Although his anger has been less frequent than it has been in the past, when it has come out it's been sharper and much harder to manage.  I sensed a crisis coming.

Matthew has desperately needed to formally, consciously, deliberately grieve the loss of his old life.  For those who are Gordon Neufeld followers, as I am, you'll know that Matthew's tears were tears of futility.  Tears of futility is a stage where a child (or any of us, for that matter) have to feel the sadness/grief of something that we cannot change, in order to bring us to a place of acceptance and adaptation.  In other words, in order for Matthew to finally accept that he cannot change his family circumstances, and in order for him to adapt to this 'new' life, he first needs to be allowed to fully grieve what he has lost.  After he has fully grieved it, he can adapt to the new circumstance and know that he has survived that which has been so hard.  Experiencing the sadness/grief of futility is a building block towards genuine resilience.

And on Sunday night, he grieved hard.

It was very painful to watch.

We did not try to reassure him.  It would have been very easy for us to say "...but Matthew, we know that you love them, too..." or "but Matthew, it's going to be better..." etc etc.  But what he really needed was to feel the pain of it all and for us to acknowledge it and to let him know that it was ok to grieve and let his pain out.  So instead of reassuring him, we tried to hold him in his grief by offering statements such as "Matthew, we know this has been sooo hard for you," and "I know you'd like to have them go away, and it's so hard knowing that they'll always be a part of our family" and "I remember, too, what it was like when it was just the three of us and I miss those times, too" etc etc etc.  Each time we offered such a statement, a fresh and painful onslaught of tears came bursting forth.

Until finally there were no more.  He cried himself out, and let out a huge sigh.  I could almost feel the sense of relief that came with it, and perhaps the greater level of acceptance about his new life.

Geoff and I knew that, despite how hard it was to watch Matthew go through this, it was a great progress step and hoped that this might mark the end of the grieving/futility stage.  But, we also knew that it was likely that there was more to come.  Experiencing the sadness that accompanies futility is usually a process and, although this was an obvious step along that journey, it sadly isn't over yet.

Monday morning rolled around and the first little while was awesome.  I hoped deep in my heart that his adjustment was finally done.  That hope rose up high when, even before rolling out of bed, Matthew told Seth "I love you so much, Sethie" and he hauled Lizzie into his bed for a cuddle.  It was a promising start and my hopes went up that he'd finally made the adjustment.

But within the hour, it became clear that not only had Matthew not completed his process, but it was actually worse.  The past few days have been rather hellish with him.  His temper has been turning on a hairpin, so quickly does he move from happy to foul-tempered...and it's mostly been foul-tempered.  For the first time since the younger kids have come home, his anger has taken a very harsh verbal direction and he has been yelling things that I hoped never to hear from him:  "I hate you, Seth/Lizzie" and "I wish you would just go back to Ethiopia" etc etc.

It's been terribly difficult to deal with.  I understand his anger and he really has been through soo much; yet on the other hand, I have to protect Seth and Lizzie from these types of experiences because they, too, have gone through so much trauma.  I've had to separate the kids for huge chunks of time, and when the horrid stuff comes out of Matthew's mouth, I have immediately had to separate him from the other kids and have waited out the rage with him.  It doesn't usually last long, frankly.  Within minutes, he is contrite and expressing remorse for his words, and he understands fully that these are words that he doesn't mean and shouldn't say.  But in the moment, his rage simply gets the better of him and it's clear that his brain just cannot manage what his hands are doing or what his tongue is spewing.  I just try to hang on to our relationship and tell him that I love him and that it's going to be ok.  And when he's calmer, I hear him out and let him talk.  Then I pull Seth and Lizzie aside and deal with their hurt and explain to them that Matthew doesn't really believe/feel these things but that when people are angry they sometimes do/say things that they later regret.  I've also let them cry out their hurt and the mixed up feelings that they have as a result of a brother who sometimes adores them and sometimes says he hates them.  I have spent hours upon hours this week engaged in many such conversations every day.  It's painful all 'round and I'm truly exhausted emotionally.

Adoption is one of the most wonderful things I've ever done...and it is one of the hardest things I've ever done.  It is beautiful and brutal.  It is a commitment of the ultimate sort, and it is utterly exhausting. All of the time spent on these issues are just added on to the usual sorts of hard conversations we engage in every single day:  About race and skin colour; about birth family and poverty and country issues; about God and justice; about why kids with curly hair aren't ever going to have hair like their Mom's; about why other kids don't always play with them and choose to play with peach-skinned kids; about why they were relinquished to an orphanage; about whether or not their birth father loved them; about whether their first mother is in heaven because she believed the same things we do about God; about whether they came from their first mother's uterus or mine; etc etc.  The list is just endless - and each of those topics have been covered this week alone, in addition to having to deal with all of the brutal stuff surrounding Matthew throughout every day.  I'm so tired.

A good friend told me just today that she has observed that I worry a lot about the kids, and that I have very high expectations.  She also told me that she thought I am a good mother.  That's all it took - I started to cry...not much, because the kids were near by and I had to hold it in...but enough that Seth noticed and was concerned.  Just hearing that someone still thought I was a decent mother was like a balm.  I needed the hug she gave me.

I also needed to hear from her the comments about my expectations and worries.  She's the second person to tell me recently that my expectations are too high.  To be honest, I don't know what to make of that and need to think a bit about it; but I'm taking notice.  I don't know how to change that.  How does one lower/alter expectations?  How much about expectations is innate and how much a result of circumstance?  Which are the expectations that need to be adjusted, and by how much?  How does one deal with one's nature in the course of managing expectations - for example, if it stresses me out that my house is a tornado how do I change this?  And, to be clear, I'm faaar from a neat freak and not a particularly well organized person; my house if often a little messy and disorganized...but when life is kinda hard, a disastrous house makes me feel just that much more out of control.


I'm so not wanting to sound whiny or ungrateful.  I am grateful.  And I know I've got it so good in so many respects.  I feel guilty about feeling so hard done by of late.  These kids are, all three, an answer to a zillion prayers and a symbol that dreams do come true.  They are testament in my life of the reality of miracles.  In my heart, what I hope is that what comes out here is not so much complaint, but an expression of exhaustion and, sometimes, of helplessness and my own growing sense of futility.  Then, add to this my feelings of being overwhelmed by everything that's not getting done, and the state of my house, and my observation is that I'm just not in great shape.

Thank goodness I'm not depressed like I was last year at this time.  At a big picture level, I'm coping.  I also know (at least in my head) that there's a light at the end of this tunnel.  But there's no doubt that I'm struggling with how to get through this and trying to remember that this is a season of life; part of a journey, and not the end point.  Thank God.


  1. Just hugs because there are not sufficient words.

    P.S. I know that you are a great mother and you absolutely did the right thing in allowing Matthew to express his emotions and grieve.

  2. Hug accepted. I miss you. And you're a primary person I think of when I think about how good I've got it in so many respects; 'cause I know you've had a hellish past year.

    Hugs headed back to you.


  3. dear dear DEAR RUth...
    I do read, I do, I read and pray and think of you often, but time as you know is scarce and so I don't usually comment. (sorry). But of course I had to here. First of all, I second those hugs. You have offered your shoulder to cry on and a bolstering hug many times in the last year and I give that back to you. Thank you for sharing your heart and your truth...adoption is without a doubt the hardest thing we have ever experienced (and all that happened in the last four years goes lumped in of course). Yes, the ISSUES..everything to worry about and make sure we are doing right, and they these sweet bio kids God gave us to protect and then these sweet adopted kids He gave us to protect and how to make it all work?? Oh friend. I have no words of wisdom or help at all...just know that I am here any time and praying often and I think you are an absolutely amazing have common sense, you have wisdom, you have the Lord, and you have a burning passion to read and research and put into practice that which you feel will help your children. You are a mama bear. You love with no reservation. Your children, each of them, no that. A verse I have clung to ;) (you'll see why I smile...) has been "love covers a multitude of sins" often Mark and I have prayed, "oh Lord, cover our sins/mistakes/screw ups"...He is MORE THAN ABLE!!
    I have also held to this quote from Elizabeth Elliot "just do the next thing"...
    So what is the next thing today? Just do that. Don't think ahead to how on earth everything is going to be ok and beautiful and whole again. That is HIS concern, and He is working. He has promised us that ALL things will be worked for good according to His purposes...that even things intended for evil can be worked for His good (as in the story of Joseph). Obviously your adoption was NOT intended for evil but for good so even more so will He work it out in His time. Step by step. You are doing an amazing job. I know you are I can imagine tonight is your night out. Make sure you GO..stay out as long as you can. Read or write or sit and stare. Each of your beautiful precious little ones are held in way bigger and stronger Hands than we can ever be.
    I am so proud of you--you have such wisdom and strength to just let Matthew cry those tears of futility. He will heal.
    Love and hugs and prayers. Darci

  4. Hugs. Parenthood is tough. No matter thenissues. And healing will come sometime. But grief is a cycle, Ruth, and what will help is you working with all 3 to find their tools to help them cope next time round. Which is ehat you are doing.

    These 'I want my foreskin back!!' moments are hard on all. One thing I've done is set my angry one up in the Wii with Wii boxing, and let that person punch it out to their heart's content. With the vulnerable ones tucked away busy in another area.

    It's important to have a good understanding of what's happening in your kids' hearts & heads, and to parent intentionally. It's tou to know when to let go...listen to the promptings of God in Your heart, and you'll be able to hang in there. He'll never dail you. Phil 4:13. Hugs

  5. Darci, I feel the hugs and prayers and love coming my way. I'll send you an email soon with a better response, but I know you know what it's like and your words are very helpful. ANd thanks for the verse and the Elliot saying.

    More shortly friend,


  6. I know you didn't ask for advice, and I'm a stranger as well, but a few things really jumped out at me from your post.
    First, I assume you are also intending to have the same kind of weekend of one on one, mom & me time with your other two children. Not doing so would send the wrong message to all three of them about their status in the family.
    Second, Matthew could use some professional help from a therapist. You would get it for yourself if you were having those kinds of feelings, and you would get it for your adopted children if they were struggling. Right now it sounds like it's your oldest who could use it.
    And I won't be hurt at all if you don't post this comment. :)

  7. You know, Mrs. Changstein, I don't think I've prayed enough this week about all of this stuff. I have been rather stuck in trying to wade through this on my own. It's a good it is that grief is a cycle.

    Thanks for the reminders...I needed to hear them.

    Hugs back


  8. Hi Anonymous. I don't mind publishing your post, though I wish you'd also published your first name.

    We are getting help for our oldest. In addition, I am getting counseling specifically to help me parent him. Thanks!

    Regarding the importance of my taking the younger kids to a hotel for one-on-one time to reinforce their place in the family...

    ...I suspect this might be a little controversial...

    There is currently no plan on the horizon to go to a hotel with each of the younger kids, though this might happen some day...I don’t know...depends on the child, I suppose.

    Geoff and I have actually been very careful, from the moment we became parents to three children, to treat our kids individually. We do not give to all what one receives, unless we’re talking about a candy or something little like that. We try extremely deliberately to give them what they need, and to look for ways to do things with each of them that THAT CHILD would find meaningful/special at that particular time.

    Before our kids came home, another adoptive parent gave me advice that, to me sounded rather harsh, but which has proven huge in our lives. She said that for the first little while after the kids were home, NOT to give them anything that they asked for - example, in the grocery store. You see, when you come from worse-then-abject poverty and have had NOTHING, and then you move into a middle-class family situation, it appears as if the child can suddenly have whatever she/he wants. It's like mana from heaven and they feel free to ask for whatever they want with the expectation that they should simply be allowed to have it! It very rapidly develops into a sense of entitlement that is annoying, and difficult to manage, and which leads to great emotion when the item is not delivered.

    So for months when we went to a grocery store, and if the kids would ask me for something, I always said no (even if that item had been on my list). I know how it sounds, but hear me out. Then, after several months, I began occasionally letting one child or another pick out the fruit for the week, etc. They went rapidly from a sense of entitlement to a sense of gratitude and joy about who got to pick the fruit. We still revert to that method if I see attitudes changing.

    (to be continued - comment getting too long for blogger!)

  9. When the kids need new clothing, the kids all go with me and we shop for ONE child. The others watch and give opinions and participate. At first it was hard. I do not go into the shopping trip for child #1 (whoever that is) telling the other kids that next week we'll go shopping for child #2, etc. I have let them experience that sometimes one of them will experience something that the others will not.

    But the difference now is incredible. By doing this, all three have come to know about me/us that we WILL provide for their needs but that it is not going to be the same (or at the same time) as for the other children. They now give opinions on the other kids’ clothes when we’re shopping for the one, and it helps the one to feel special in that moment. There’s truly no more begrudging.

    For better and sometimes for harder, all three kids of my kids are extremely different from each other in personality and in needs. They come from different places (as well as from two wombs) and they also have extremely different issues to grapple with. As a result, I see a need to parent them each quite differently - this can be frankly exhausting at times, but I see one of my primary roles as being to raise them as they need to be raised, rather than as raising them all the same as each other.

    We discipline the kids quite differently, I h/school them almost completely differently from each other in order to capitalize on their learning styles/needs, and we provide regular one-on-one time with a parent differently. For example, Seth recently enjoyed something special with one of his parents that neither of the other children will receive - because that meant something to him and he was elated. Going to a hotel with me would not be something that would mean a lot to Seth right now and I really don’t think that he felt bereft as a result of Matthew going; in fact, it was a bit of a relief for both Seth and Lizzie to have time without Matthew, and they got to to some things with their Dad that they otherwise wouldn't do. These are not children who suffered while Matthew and I were away! They were excited to learn about what Matthew had done, and they were equally excited to share what THEY had done.

    I ask the kids on occasion what kinds of things they would like to do with one of their parents and I actually keep a list of their answers; in addition, I add my own ideas to this list. I think they know, and I think/hope they trust, that we will take care of them, that we will continue to try to do special (as defined by what we see in each child) things with each of them, and that has allowed them to be ok with, and even excited by, the different ways in which we treat them. We probably won’t know until they are adults how this strategy works.

    (to be continued - comment getting too long for blogger!)

  10. I think it's good for the kids to learn to grapple with the fact that life isn't always going to be the same for them as it is for other people and that they need to learn to find joy and peace in their OWN circumstances. It’s also likely true that sometimes Geoff and I will hurt them because of our views on parenting them uniquely - I don’t know. But frankly, there are going to be lots of times where the kids will have to grapple with perceived or actual inequities in their life. In their young lives, each of them is ALREADY well acquainted with injustice and lack of equality and I consider it my job as their parent to NOT treat them all equally; rather, it’s my job to help them learn to cope with perceived or actual inequities and it’s also my job to meet the needs that THEY have as individuals. I truly believe that to be my job rather than to ensure equality for them by treating them the same.

    For many years, while I still had a sister-in-law, my sister and I always knew that we were getting for our birthdays. You see my mom always bought my sister-in-law a birthday present in the month of May; then she gave the exact same thing to me in August; and she gave the exact same thing to my sister in November. We were different in our ages; we were different in our stage of life; we were different in what we needed; we even lived in three different provinces. But we received those same gifts whether we needed them or not...based on the perception that my mom had that she needed to treat us EQUALLY. While I love my mom dearly, that gift-giving practice meant very little to me. How much more would I have loved to receive a thoughtfully-chosen book that I loved (valued at $15) rather than the lovely cookies sheets (valued at $40?) that my sister-in-law needed and which I didn't need. Today, my parents tend more to meet a NEED or WANT that my sister and I have; they help one with large medical bills; and they buy a piece of clothing for another - the money spent on each is different, but it’s awesome and means so much more.

    Treating my children exactly the same way, for example when it comes to special one-on-one times with their parents, does not guarantee that they will feel their place in the family. I hope that by knowing each of them, and by growing in my knowledge of each of them, and by doing things one-on-one with each of them in a way that will matter to them, they will learn that they have a unique and oh-so-special place in our family and in their parents’ hearts.

    Thanks for raising an important issue. Feel free to disagree.