There’s a phrase we learned in our adoption education: “children from the hard places.” (That phrase comes with a southern twang to match the person speaking in the videos we had to watch.) “Hard places” are not geographical; rather, children who were exposed to trauma, abuse, neglect, malnutrition, separation from their parents. Adoption.
We got our cat around the time we had to watch those videos. Our cat had been found in a vacant house in Chicago and was taken to a pet shelter where we met her. In our house, she spent the first two days hiding in the bathtub and the first month constantly in the closet. She never wanted us to pet her – still doesn’t. We wondered if the adjustment to our household was so hard for a cat, what would it be like for a child? (I don’t want to compare Miss E to a cat – that was just a rhetorical device to talk about trauma. Edited to add: And we never, ever talk about “adopting” animals. NOPE.)
Cat in bathtub
I don’t want to violate Miss E’s privacy. She is entitled to it. But, I keep returning to this particular blog – even though it’s not been updated in a year – where the blogger has written eloquently and honestly about behavioral difficulties faced by some families who adopted internationally. It speaks to me because parenting Miss E is hard. Harder than parenting might have been under other circumstances. She is amazing; we are so lucky. Parenting her is fun and rewarding. And still, it is hard.
There are studies about how traumas effect children neurologically. But even knowing the studies, the statistics, the anecdotes – parenting a child from the hard places is not always intuitive. Looking at a certain out-of-control behavior, you wonder whether your child’s response is due to being tired or hungry or needing more sensory input or having too much sensory input or ADHD or having a fight-or-flight response to some past not-even-remembered trauma or mercury is in retrograde or there is a combination of several of these things. You don’t want to pathologize adoption. But you want to recognize that it plays a role, too.
And sometimes, you think you might need help. Sometimes your child can’t eat or struggles more than other kids with transitions or can’t quite master certain skills or has control issues or tantrums – tantrums that make you say to yourself, “I know she is only a preschooler and preschoolers have tantrums, but this is not normal.” You tell yourself that your child deserves a never-ending fountain of patience, but you can’t always deliver. You know you’re only human and, yet, you beat yourself up for not being superhuman.
And then things get better for a few days and you convince yourself that you just weren’t up to the task that day. She was just sick; you were just tired. So you don’t call. Maybe you eventually mention the behaviors to a doctor and she convinces you it’s nothing to worry about. And your subconscious whispers “it’s not just you” but you ignore it. For a while.
And then maybe you do finally get help. But you might spin your wheels. Because one professional knows about feeding but not developmental delays. Another knows about sensory issues but not trauma. A third knows about trauma but not feeding. And with each professional you call, you believe that this is going to be the key that unlocks it all. Or you believe that nothing will ever unlock it, but being up to the task of parenting a child from the hard places requires that you dutifully call anyway. (Because you love your child more than anything and know that she deserves all the advocacy you can muster.)
And when you mention to one professional that you’ll be seeing another professional, or that you have a theory that differs from theirs, they might roll their eyes or tell you that they alone can help. And you want to cry out in frustration, I know my child better than anyone else! But also, I have no fucking clue!
You can’t be the only one feeling this way, but no one really talks about it.
So today I am.