Loving the Hurt Child... Part Four
Moments like this have been few. Moments like this are precious. Moments like this are very much needed.
Moments like this have been rejected all too often. Moments like this are returning.
The understanding of a two year old is very limited to say the least. Abby had very "difficult" veins. They disappeared, rolled, and simply would not take an iv. On several occasions, Abby was poked numerous times... starting in her arm, then her other arm, then her foot, then her other foot, and then her legs. There was one episode where there were probably six to seven people standing over her as she lied on a table. They were trying to find a vein with lights and poked her for over 30 minutes. She was horrified. It was one of the most tragic and helpless moments for all of us. Her seizures were increasing like crazy. Tests were all coming back normal. Nothing could be found yet something was so wrong.
Having an iv for an emergency was necessary. It was not an option at this point. But all Abby knew was this: Her parents stood there and were letting it happen. She was reaching for me with panic in her eyes, screaming and crying and I could not stop it. I tried to soothe her which was probably all the more confusing for her. It makes me physically sick to remember it. I could not take anymore, and I did the worse thing for her... I left her. I was about to explode into a million pieces and I knew my lack of calm was good for no one. So I left the room and lost it in the hall... beating and kicking the wall, screaming into my hands and letting it out. But all she knew was... I left.
I believe this... her abandonment by her birth mother... and her time in the hospital and orphanage in Kazakhstan has everything to do with her push/pull relationship with me. Abby wants to connect with me... she wants to cuddle with me... wants to need me... yet when she gets close... she stiffens and pulls away. Her hugs are normally cautious. There is most always space left between us. And a stiff arm is always ready to push me away at the needed moment. She often rejects affection. If I accept her rejection with ease, then she asks for the affection again. If I engage her in conversation about why she is rejecting the affection, she seems more pleased. Conflict is peeking around the corner. She thrives on it. Oddly, it satisfies one of her deepest needs... the need to be in control.
I think it is very normal for every person to like control. It is one of the hardest things to give up. It requires trust and the ability to be vulnerable. But for a wounded child, control is something they grasp for with all ten fingers.
Control is one of the biggest issues with my daughter. Her contrary attitude has taken a toll on us for years. We say "juice", she says "milk". We say "apple" and she says "orange". We say "bed" and she says "bathroom". We say "no" and she says "yes". We give a choice, she won't make it. We make it for her, she then demands for the opposite. We offer a hug, she says "no." We say "O.K." and she then asks for the hug.
It has caused great damage in our relationship as it has gone on for years... years. I have tried so many different parenting techniques and none of them have worked. I knew it was a control "game" but I did not understand the deep need behind it and I didn't have the "tools" to help her. I was at the end of my rope. Really.
"Parenting the Hurt Child," by Gregory C. Keck & Regina M. Kupecky, describes this battle to the tiniest detail. I was again floored when I read it. And then it gave me two gifts... perspective and tools. TOOLS are the most important thing needed when you are loving a hurt child. Love has got to be there... but TOOLS ARE CRUCIAL!
Perspective: "There are some simple rules to remember with children who are overly controlling. First, they learned to control adults early on-- when abuse, neglect, or the limitations of the orphanage taught them adults could not be trusted. To quote Kay Donley Ziegler, an early pioneer in the world of older adopted children, "We live in a world where big people take care of little people. They live in a world where big people hurt little people." Asking these kids to give up control and hand it over is very difficult, because to them, it is a matter of life and death. ... Because control is directly linked to the child's concept of survival, he will often initiate control battles unnecessarily. Don't worry about the battles you can't win or the ones you don't know about. After all, if you try to control everything, you'll end up the loser. The child needs some control, and you can decide how much and how it is to be experienced. The more control battles you give up, the more likely is is that you'll win the ones you take on." (63)
This page alone has been so helpful. I had come to just see my daughter's need to control as a bad behavior grounded in manipulation and conflict. Every time she invited a battle I was livid she could not be content without disruption and conflict. The more she invited conflict into our life, the more I pushed her out. I started wanting to simply avoid her or at least interaction with her. And the more I avoided her and pushed her away... the more she dug up ways to have conflict... wanting that interaction. It had become this horrible cycle that was simply destroying us. Being offered the idea of it being "life and death" to Abby changed my entire perspective. My heart... that was growing so hard... softened and my eyes saw her in a new way. Instead of this disruptive little girl causing so much turmoil in our family... in our life... I saw her as a choking little girl gasping for air... grasping for survival in her world that was very much different from my world. It was a huge turning point for me as an exhausted and almost hopeless mother. I am forever thankful.
Tools: One of the most powerful statements in this book, for me, is found in an example on page 64. "Whenever seven-year-old Alex was asked by her mom to tie her shoes, comb her hair, and put on her jacket, she would alter the order-- first combing her hair, putting on a jacket, and then tying her shoes. Although her mom didn't care, Alex thought she was scoring an enormous control coup. However, when mom started restating her directions-- "Honey, get ready by tying your shoes, combing your hair, and putting on your jacket... in any order you want."-- she took the child completely by surprise. While Alex had been convinced that she was powerful by doing it "her way," she was knocked down a peg or two when she realized her mom had taken control by not caring. In this case, the parent completely avoided the battle by eliminating the choice of doing things "mom's way."
Now I must clarify that if I asked Abby to do three things and she did it in any order... I would be thrilled! The example seemed a bit much at first but I can clearly see that for a child grasping for control in all situations, it makes total sense. In my case, if I asked Abby to comb her hair, put on a jacket, and tie her shoes... it would have looked more like this: Abby moaning about having to comb her hair... stating she hates combing her hair... asking not to comb her hair... asking why she has to comb her hair... followed by asking me to comb her hair. I would be in there telling her that personal hygiene is important, yes she has to comb her hair, because it looks wild and because I said to comb it. I would answer her last question with a "no"... she would have to do it herself (or give in and do it for her...depending on the amount of "battles" that morning). Notice this is still the first request!
Then when it would come to the jacket... Abby would state she doesn't want to wear a jacket and ask why she had to wear one. I would tell her it is cold and I don't want her to be cold and she needs to obey and get her jacket. Now on to tying her shoes... Abby would huff in annoyance that she has to tie her shoes... state that it is hard to tie her shoes... state that she hates her shoes... and ask me to tie her shoes. I would tell her she is blessed to have shoes... blessed that she has learned how to tie them... and insist she tie them. In one morning, this sort of interaction could also take place over brushing teeth, clothing, breakfast food, breakfast beverage, taking vitamins, and getting to the car for school.
There would be days where I would think I was going to slam my head in the floor 20 times before I got her to school. I would be completely drained and frazzled from trying to remain patient, consistent, and firm... yet loving! LOL
So where was my "aha" moment on the above quoted page? "...her mom had taken control by not caring." Abby's behavior is all an effort to engage me and wrestle for control. What would it look like if I started "acting" like I didn't care? From other examples in this same chapter, I saw a "game" that I could play that might help diffuse the wrestling matches. I just recently tried this out. And I am amazed, filled with hope, and highly encouraged by what happened. It is the very reason I felt so prompted to write this series.
It was a very difficult morning... pretty typical. I started to enter the wrestling ring and then it hit me... play the game. So I went for it. Abby was being controlling and ugly to her brother and so I asked her for a hug. She turned her back to me, frowned and said, "No." I started laughing and replied, "High five Abs (with my hand raised for a high five slap), I knew you were going to say "no." You rock! You did exactly what I had hoped you'd do!"
I wish I had her facial response on camera. It was a blank look of disbelief sprinkled with hints of massive confusion. I turned and went about my business making her brother's breakfast. In her panic and realization that she had lost that match, she started round two. She announced, "I don't want breakfast. I am not hungry." "O.K. You don't have to eat," I replied. Stunned. She was stunned. I had not insisted she needed breakfast. We did not argue about her health and her need for food and what that food would be. I had not entered the ring! She actually started darting her eyes around the room... looking for a way to enter the ring for round three. And she found it... pretty quickly.
"I'll eat this for breakfast," she exclaimed... in a high octave shrill as she picked up three peppermints off the counter. "Go for it Abby... that is a great idea... and I won't have to make it or clean it up... awesome," was my quick response. She suddenly just stopped in her tracks. She just stood there in silence... the wheels turning in her little head... with nothing for round four. I had to find a way to leave the room as I was about to start laughing. I told her I was going upstairs to get dressed and went upstairs.
As I walked upstairs, I was smacked with how easy it was and how it had worked. It had totally worked. There had not been one fight. There was no conflict. She had lost all three attempts at wrestling. I was almost laughing with delight. I had no idea what was coming next but I had just witnessed something amazing. I had won all the control battles of the morning by not caring. It was SO contrary to anything I had thought, believed, or tried before. I was amazed. Would she eat the peppermints? I didn't know. But I didn't care. I had "seen" her thrown off kilter by the "tool" I had used and I was FILLED WITH HOPE. And I felt great! Very odd for me to feel GREAT on a school morning!
Then something incredible happened. Just minutes later, she entered my room and said, "Hug?" And she embraced me. It was a real hug... no tense arms... no safe space between us... just a real hug. She had gone back to the very thing that started the whole "game" and was giving it to me. I had to hold back tears. Then she actually high-fived me. Again, I wasn't sure what was happening in that moment, but she was pleasant. Her entire attitude had changed from combative to loving. She was amazing the rest of the day!
We went downstairs to leave for school. There sat the three peppermints on the counter. She had in fact not eaten them. She had not eaten anything. And we have not had a battle about breakfast since. She simply eats.
This was a huge breakthrough for me... for her... for us. I asked my husband to read the book and he did. We are amazed at how much it mirrors our struggle. I am so thankful for the tools it offers. I am about to read it again. And I do recommend it HIGHLY to any parent who is loving a wounded child.
Everything is not perfect now. But we are making steps in the right direction. And we have TOOLS!
Now that some of the conflict is missing, there is more room for positive interaction and nurturing. It is sometimes hard to remember to "play the game" but I am trying more and more and I see results every time. She is letting go of some battles and she is letting me nurture her more. The bonus is that my attitude doesn't get so "up there" when I play the game and I am able to stay more calm. That is a bonus for everyone!
But the prize is Abby is healing. The prize is something is working. She is trusting me/us more. And my heart soars with hope. My strength has been renewed to keep walking forward in hope.
And I can't wait to see what the next year holds. And of course... I will share it with you!
If you have not read the first three parts of this series, you can read them at the links below! And please feel free to share them! That is the very reason I write them...