Push and pull

I’m writing this post now because I’m still feeling so raw and despite feeling so raw. Last night I asked my husband, “should I write a blog post about what happened today?” His response was that it’s part of older child adoption and may help another family someday. Even if it’s raw, write about it. So here goes…

DoubleShot, like many girls who have lost their birth mother and then been adopted, struggles with having a new mother. I can only guess at the massive emotions going on inside of her, but I am sure that she is scared to death of being abandoned again. She is probably angry at her parents for everything that happened in her earlier years, though she may not yet be able to identify her own emotions. Now that I have stepped into the “mother” position in her life, I am dealing with all of her feelings toward her birth mother.

Yesterday, DoubleShot was not displaying any unusual or challenging behaviors beyond the ones we deal with on a daily basis. However, I was having a really rough day. My window of stress tolerance was very small and I was having a really hard time not letting her behavior affect me. Normally I can laugh or at least dismiss her behavior as an outward sign of what’s going on inside her heart. But yesterday it felt personal. This was my fault, not hers.

In the afternoon, the three of us went downstairs to brush our teeth. DoubleShot was hanging out on our bed and Jeff and I were standing in front of the bathroom sink. I was telling him how badly I was struggling and how hard it is for DoubleShot to want me and then not want me. She wants physical contact and then she doesn’t want to be touched. She wants to spend time with me and then doesn’t want anything to do with me. She’s confused and afraid and I sometimes feel like I have whiplash from her ever changing emotions.

I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve and my emotions splayed across my face. I know that my daughter could not hear me because I was talking very quietly and the dryer was running out in the hallway. However, I know she saw my face and my arms moving and I know she picked up on my emotional aura. She completely shut down. She laid on the bed with her arms over her head and would not respond. We reassured her that she was safe and that she is loved but she had completely shut us out.

I felt horrible!! My frustration overwhelmed my child and made her hide from us. I don’t know if she was afraid we were going to punish her or beat her or if my frustration and anxiety just completely scared her. I laid on the bed with her for quite some time. I was praying, telling God that I was so sorry that I had done this to my daughter and asking for guidance on what to do to help her. He told me just to stay with her and be quiet. So I did. I tried reaching out a couple of times to rub her back, as she’ll let me rub her back in the mornings when I’m waking her up. Nope, she pulled away. Any time she shifted and accidentally touched me, she pulled away.

Eventually I had to use the bathroom and got up. When I came back, she had moved to her own bed. At that point, I wasn’t sure what to do so I went upstairs to talk with my husband. He suggested that he go sit with her for awhile so he took a book downstairs and sat on the floor next to her bed, just offering a regulating, calm presence. After awhile, I could hear them interacting and a bit of laughter from DoubleShot. When I heard that, I sat on the couch and bawled.

I want so badly to be a good mother, someone who can roll with the punches and still be loving. Some of DoubleShot’s push and pull triggers me because I still have rejection and abandonment issues from my childhood. I know that it’s not her fault. I know it’s not personal. I cognitively understand her fear of becoming emotionally close to a new mother. But yesterday, it was too much. I couldn’t handle it, she sensed it, and then she closed herself off. I cried because my husband could reach her and I couldn’t. I want to be able to comfort her but she and I are just not there yet. I am not yet a comforting presence in her life. She wants to spend time with me, she wants physical contact with me, but when she starts feeling vulnerable, she lashes out.

I am amazed at DoubleShot’s resilience, her ability to again reach out for connection even after we’ve had challenges. When my husband and DoubleShot came back upstairs, they played Mario for a bit. She was laughing at how both of them died on the levels and was sitting close beside Jeff. After awhile, when I felt calm enough to finally join them, I walked over and sat down on the other side of the couch. DoubleShot immediately shifted from Jeff’s end of the couch to mine. She laid down on the couch and put her head on my lap, the very first time she’s done that. I melted, though part of me was still raw from earlier. The rest of the time we were playing, she alternated between laying her head on my lap and laying her head on my shoulder. Even though I caused her earlier shutdown, she was still willing to reach out for connection.

Last night, my husband invited her to come in to our room and read with us. We do this every night, part of our wind down routine before bed. She very reluctantly joined us, though she sat on the end of the bed reading. Normally she lays beside me with her legs draped over me. After she finished reading her first book, she shifted and laid beside me and sighed. Jeff handed me a Curious George book and I read aloud. This was the third book I’ve read to her. The first two times, she giggled throughout the reading and kept telling me to whisper. This time, she actually listened for the first half of the story and pointed to something in the drawings. After the book was done, I let her play Angry Birds on my phone until we were ready for bed. She giggled when we tucked her in.

This morning I am still feeling raw. I started crying again as I wrote this blog post. Adoption is beautiful but it’s painful for everyone involved. As parents, we deal with the grief of missing so much of DoubleShot’s earlier life. We deal with the emotional repercussions of DoubleShot’s past and how that manifests in her behavior. DoubleShot, while she now has a family, has to learn to accept us. She has to learn that we love her and that we want her to be happy and emotionally safe in our family. All three of us have to learn our new roles, how to interact with each other, and how to deal with our own issues without hurting the other members of the family. We have beautiful moments and we have incredibly painful ones. Yesterday contained a lot of both.

One Thought on “Push and pull

  1. I am overwhelmed.

    I know that I am preaching to the choir, but chin up: you’ve got a strong, gutsy daughter who seems clearly to want to give love and to be loved. You and Jeff are strong, gutsy people who clearly want to give love and to be loved. The three of you decided to take a chance on building a family with people born a half a world apart because you want to be and have a family. This is a remarkable thing. Remarkable things aren’t easy.

    Your daughter is a teenager. She has all the normal craziness that goes with that plus the added stress and uncertainty of gaining a family plus (as I understand it) the normal competition between women for the affections and attention of the man. That’s a lot for a kid to process! She can’t even talk to you about it for want of language skills.

    You will make mistakes. You are human. This is the lot of every parent (or spouse, for that matter): through misunderstandings or accidents or simply having a bad day, we hurt the very people whom we love the most. Your daughter will make the same sorts of mistakes. She will hate your guts sometimes. You will want to wring her neck sometimes. But then she will drape her legs over you and you will read a book to her and remember that you chose each other and that you love each other as mother and daughter ought to do.

    St. Paul had it right: the greatest of these is love. You have it for her, and she is learning it for you. Give her AND YOURSELF the time to let her.

    Rooting and praying for you all!

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