Being Sheep

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep."John 10:14-15

Saturday, June 18, 2011


In one week, it will have been one year since we came home from ET with N. It has been quite the adventure so far!

N started out with absolutely horrible sleep habits, he refused to put anything at all in his mouth—ever, he repeatedly hit his head to comfort himself, he screamed a lot, and very quickly came to the point of not wanting either his mommy or daddy to be anywhere but right next to him! I'm not going to lie; it was pretty difficult at first. Any difficult circumstance is made 10 times harder when you're sleep-deprived, and boy were we short on sleep! There were many, many nights when one of us (often it was N's daddy—he is awesome!) rocked him for hours and hours while he screamed, cried, fussed, and refused to sleep. It was hard.

We knew that giving him bottles, rocking him, singing to him, playing with him during the day, and just loving him would help—that eventually it would indeed get easier. We knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and we kept going because we knew we were doing the right thing for N. It was what he needed.

Now almost a year later, a lot has changed. N is sleeping better (though we still have some difficult nights and nap times), he feeds himself, he doesn't hit his head to soothe himself, etc. His progress is actually pretty amazing! But we are still struggling. A lot. We have some days that are great; N will cuddle, play, sing, smile, and be generally happy through the day. It's a joy to be around him, and I think that perhaps the problems we have on other days are really just in my head.

However, it became increasingly obvious to us that his problems are real. He is still struggling, and we were becoming increasingly unsure of how to continue parenting him. He will throw a temper tantrum over anything and nothing.

Give him the snack he asked for? Temper tantrum because he changed his mind and now wants something different. Put him in the high chair? Screaming as soon as he thinks he is done, because he wants to get down. Give him water instead of juice in his sippy cup? Screaming, kicking, hitting, fall-on-the-floor tantrum. Give him juice but he thinks you gave him water? Same thing, before he'll even take a sip.

He wants a toy that his brother has? Scream. He doesn't want his diaper changed? Scream. You put salt on your food and not on his? Scream.

You get the picture?

Now you may be saying, “J, come on. All toddlers throw fits. His behavior can't be that bad. What are you doing wrong?” I get it. When a kid has behavior issues, most of the time we assume it's because the parent isn't doing his or her job. And I also get that toddlers scream and throw tantrums. Tantrums aren't a new thing to me—I have gone through toddler-hood with two other sons.

Would you then also wonder why he throws these tantrums for me way more than his daddy? When he is with Daddy, he is relatively happy with a few times of screaming here and there. When he is with me, he screams non-stop. When he is with me, he is mad.

When he is with me and other grown-ups, he turns on the charm. He is cute, he might shake your hand or give you a high-five. The other person leaves and he starts with the tantrums again.

So once again you might ask, “J—what are you doing wrong?!”

And that's what I started to wonder, too. “Am I really such a bad mom? What am I doing wrong?!”

My son has attachment problems. If you've adopted or have read up at all on adoption, you probably have some idea of what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you probably have no idea what an attachment disorder is or what would cause it. You may wonder how a child who was adopted as young as N was could have emotional problems from it? How can he even remember what happened to him? Kids are flexible and heal quickly. Right?

I am saying today, I am not a bad mom. I am not doing something wrong. The damage done to my son was done before I met him. Though he was loved by many before being adopted, those who loved him were unable to fully care for all of his needs. He moved from a home to an orphanage, then to another orphanage, then to a new family in a new country. He experienced more loss in his first year of life than most of us will experience in our lifetimes. And no, he was not too young for it to effect him.

I am not an expert in adoption or attachment. I'm just a mom who is trying to do the right thing for her child. I'm a mom who sometimes wonders if she's going crazy, and sometimes wishes she could hide in her room away from the screaming. I'm a mom who desperately wants her son to be healed, and will go to the ends of the earth to get him the help he needs.

Though I have not been blogging much lately, I have decided to blog about our journey in attachment therapy and helping our son who is dealing with many problems related to his adoption and the traumas he has experienced in his life so far. This is a public blog, so I intend to keep some things private; I won't be posting every little thing that happens, or everything about our son's history, etc. I do hope though that my posting our experience may help encourage other parents dealing with similar issues, and may help educate others who don't yet know much about how adoption affects children.

We met with our therapist for the first time this past week, and I am already so encouraged. Our son will get the help he needs, and this therapist seems to be the perfect person for the job!

A few key points from our first session:

1) You are not bad parents
2) You are not the problem
3) Kids who spent time in orphanages and/or who have dealt with neglect, abuse, or bounced around from place to place have some catching up to do. Their brains did not develop the way they should have, and they will frequently need time to catch up emotionally, and often other ways as well
4) With a child N's age, try to distract him from the tantrum (exciting toys, etc) rather than trying to stop it in any other way
5) Try to give the child control in appropriate ways so he doesn't feel the need to be in control of everything when it's not appropriate (For example, let him turn on and off the lights in a room, let him help with whatever he's able, help him figure out how to make a toy work rather than do it for him, etc.)
6) Don't tell him to “Stop screaming” or “Stop hitting”; this only reinforces the behavior you want to stop. Instead, tell him what to do. “Use your calm voice”, “We use gentle hands”, etc.

One of the key things we will be working on is teaching N to show affection to others in appropriate ways. While we were at the office, he would hug the therapist when asked, and he would hug Daddy when asked, but he would not hug Mommy when asked. (Ouch!) I will be working extra hard to have good experiences with him this week; lots of love, cuddles, fun games, singing, and so on.

In his mind, only women have hurt him. Before we adopted him, he didn't have much experience at all with men, so he seems to associate me with that pain. It's like he is afraid to really show love and affection to me in case he gets hurt again. We will keep working on this with our therapist helping direct us.

It is tough, tough work, but I know we will get there. I'll post more after our session next week (unless the urge to write strikes before then.) ;)



  1. Hang in there. You're a GREAT MOM!!!! I so understand what you are going thru! Prayers are being sent.

  2. Wow, you could have written those words about our foster daughter. She is almost 1, and has been with us for 7 months (her 3rd home since birth). After finally getting her to sleep through the night things were starting to seem better. Then a period of time when she was banging her head when she was upset. Now the screaming tantrums have started. She seems so young for this kind of behavior. Can I ask how you found your therapist? Does your therapist specialize in attachment issues? I am subscribing to your blog with great interest.

  3. Rebecca, I will get back to you this evening; our social worker is coming this afternoon, so I need to put the baby down for a nap and then clean like a mad-woman. ;)


  4. You are doing wonderfully, and I am so proud of you for recognizing that you are a GOOD mom and that it is NOT your fault! Before you said that you were doing attachment therapy, my first thought was "this is an attachment disorder". It is clear as day to those who know the signs, so don't feel like you're having to convince everyone! (Although I'm sure many people you are).

    One thing I would suggest (you might already be doing it) is teaching him some basic signs. If his speech is delayed, sign language is a wonderful tool at this age to help cut down on frustration. Of course since mere frustration is not the root cause of his tantrums, its not a fix-it but just something I thought of that could help.

    Thank you for sharing this journey, I will be following it!

    P.S. The writer of the blog just began a support group for moms of kids with attachment problems. It might help to have others who understand!

  5. Rebecca,

    I tried to respond to you twice last night but Blogger wasn't letting me for some reason. Here's hoping it works today!

    I'm sorry your one year old is having these troubles. It's so hard, isn't it? It does sound as though she's awfully young to be showing this type of behavior, and I would say it certainly wouldn't hurt to get a therapist's opinion.

    When we finally realized our son's problems seemed to be mostly attachment related, we talked with our adoption social worker to get some names from her. We called the names on the list she gave us, asked a few questions, and ended up making an appointment.

    I'm not sure how it would work for you as a foster parent, but I'm guessing a call to your social worker could get you the starting info.

    If you would like to know who we are using or have any other questions you'd rather ask privately, feel free to email me at:

    BeingSheep at Gmail. com

  6. Shannon--

    Thanks so much for your response! I always appreciate hearing from other moms, and someone validating my concerns always helps. :)

    We have taught N a few signs, but he now knows how to say all the words for the signs we taught him. ;) He's doing really well at picking up words, repeating them and then later using them, etc, but learning a few more signs would still probably be a good idea. Thanks!

    I will look into the group you mentioned.

  7. I went ahead and called our nurse liaison (our social worker is useless- I don't think she really even *likes* kids). Anyway the nurse agreed that her behaviors were worrisome and is going to try to get our foster daughter evaluated next week. Thanks for the encouragement :)