Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Art and Science of Transplanting Children

I've taken a fair number of Gordon Neufeld courses over the past several years.  I also listened to the early version of a course he created several years ago called "The Art and Science of Transplanting Children," but have never taken this course with other people.  Until now.  Today I'm starting this 7-week course with seven or eight other parents, and I'm quite excited to take it.

"The Art and Science of Transplanting Children" is designed for adoptive, foster, step, and other parents who are caring for and parenting children not born to them.  One doesn't need to have taken other Neufeld courses to take this one, as it provides some of his introductory work as part of this course.  There are three basic aspects of the course:  Online material to watch each week, which consists of a session of Neufeld teaching the material, as well as supplementary materials that are provided; a 1.5 - 2 hour meeting each week with the other folks in the course to discuss the material and pose issues for discussion; and participation in an online forum designed specifically for our group, where our facilitator poses questions for us and where we participants engage in written discussion between meetings.

I've just watched the first online hour of Neufeld teaching the course in preparation for today's group session.  The first dvd session was largely intro work:  Attachment-related material which would be quite familiar to those who have taken Neufeld courses before.  In this hour, Neufeld distills the six levels of attachment (as it looks when conditions are when a child is born to you), which I'm fairly familiar with already; but then he also began already to talk about the disruption of attachment as it concerns children not born to us.  It was great.

One of the questions our group facilitator asked us online this week was about how we as parents invite our children into our presence.  Simple question, but so important in the context of attachment, particularly as it relates to transplanted children.  One of the things I've worked actively at over the past several years is inviting my kids to be in my presence...not just with my words (though they, too, are important) but through my body language.  When one of my kids walks into the room, it's important to me that I put down whatever I happen to be doing, and that the look in my eyes and the warmth of my voice let my child know that I want them to be with me...that they are free and welcome to exist in my presence.  This is (much) harder to do when behaviours have been challenging, but it could hardly be more important when those behaviours have been challenging; we all want to find a place where we have freedom to be who we are, even or especially when our behaviour sucks.

This invitation to our children can be particularly challenging when those children aren't born to us, and our facilitator asked another question about why inviting a child into our presence can be particularly challenging for our transplanted children.  This resonated with me because of the efforts I've been so deliberate about making to invite my kids.  Here's how I answered that question on the online forum:

Deliberately inviting a child into my presence is something I actively work at...and occasionally utterly fail at!  I think it's huge because our kids need to know that their presence in our lives is a blessing...that they are worthy of being welcomed into our hearts regardless of their behaviour and regardless of whether or not they feel the same way towards us as parents.   
I've had to grow in this area...there have been times (particularly in the first two years that my Ethiopian-born kids were with us) when it was faaaar easier to invite my bio child into my existence than it was my two who joined us through adoption.  Our kids #2 & #3 came to us at almost ages 6 & 4...their personalities, inclinations, preferences, opinions, values, beliefs, biases, etc etc, were all fully formed.  It's a shocking thing when one has no relationship with these two children, and then suddenly, on a particular day, you are their parent and they are your children and from henceforth they are yours to love and raise forever more amen.  Suddenly those little faces are looking to you to be their everything and our preparation to be adoptive parents, our experience of being a parent to our bio child...nothing really prepared us for the day of custody of two older children.  The shock was huge.  I didn't always like them, and my heart wasn't always warmly inclined to them.  It was very hard in that first while to manufacture a smile and inject a smile into my eyes when they entered the room when instead I sometimes felt instead like...well, let's just say that I didn't always FEEL welcoming of them.  But it's amazing how adding a note of (even manufactured) warmth to one's voice and forcing a smile into one's eyes ('cause just the mouth doesn't cut it) lands on a child who so desperately needs to find his/her place in your life and heart.   
Over time, thankfully, that invitation from me became more and more real and today we have utterly changed relationships.  And I think it all starts with the invitation.

As I write this, I'm sitting in my little library and it's around 6:30am on Saturday morning.  Moments ago, while I was writing here, Seth wandered sleepily downstairs to use the bathroom, and when he passed by me on the way back up to bed, I gestured through the french doors of the library that he should come in for a moment.  As he pushed open the glass doors into the room, I held out my arms and put a big smile in my easy to do today with this boy I love so.

I whispered something like, "Before you head back up, my arms have a big hug in them for my boy."  He came to my chair and melted onto my lap, and put his head on my shoulder.  Warm.  Sleepy.  Soft and melty.  Morning breath on my neck.  Love.

We stayed like that in silence for about a minute and then, before sending him back up to bed, I whispered into his ear how much I loved him and how glad I was that he was mine.  He grunted, then staggered back up the stairs with a sleepy smile on his face.  I am pretty sure that when he comes downstairs again in a little while to start the day, it's going to be a good start for him...after all, we already started it with a point of warmth and connection...he's been invited to exist in my presence.

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