“You always say that!. You always say you love us! But you’re lying! And you’re NOT REAL!” This is from my 9-year-old son Carl. We are adopting his group of siblings but it isn’t finalized yet. He doesn’t believe in it. He doesn’t believe in me. He doesn’t believe in mom. He doesn’t have a concept of it yet.
I stare at him with mouth agape “Wait a minute!”I gasp in astonishment, “you mean I’m a ghost?! Can other people see me? Wow! Being a ghost mommy is cool!” I float around for a few minutes and say “Boo!”
The problem for our kids is nurture. They don’t understand it and they haven’t had it in this way before. When their caretaker takes care of them it’s scary. They feel like they are losing control by letting someone else care for their needs. This is because our kids have learned not to trust adults and to rely on themselves to meet their own needs. In their early childhoods they experienced trauma. When they cried or needed something as babies, their caregiver’s response was unreliable. Sometimes their infant/toddler cries were met with love, affection, and immediate response. Sometimes there was no response at all or an indifferent response. Sometimes their needs were met with anger and resentment. Would you trust adults if they had proven to be this unpredictable? Unlikely. So our children have learned to take care of themselves and exert control over their environments. When they can only trust themselves to meet their own needs this is how they feel safe.
When consistently nurturing caregivers enter the picture it’s confusing and hard. They wonder when and if we will leave them. They wonder when and if we will hit them. By providing for them we are essentially displacing them from their primary role in the family. The love and nurture we provide causes anxiety, confusion, and even pain. Accepting love can be painful because tomorrow it could be all gone, at least in their experience.
Big Sean would rather wear old mismatched socks than allow us to buy him new socks. He would prefer to make his own clothes out of older clothes, bubble wrap ( see picture above) and maybe even newspaper than allow us to buy him new things! Sean hid in his bed crying for hours last week because Luke bought him a pair of shoes. They went on a shopping trip and Luke offered him a lot of things. The problem is that Big Sean is used to taking care of others. He isn’t used to people taking care of him. At 14, he wants to wear his shoes until they have holes in them before getting a new pair. He’s already outgrown his current shoes by 2 sizes. He hobbles around in them as if he is just learning to walk. Sean’s shoe problem is twofold. On one hand, he doesn’t want us to spend money on him. A good pair of Nike sneakers, (even on sale!) is enough to shut him down so that he stops speaking completely. He doesn’t want anyone to “waste” their money on him. The other problem is the amount of attention he gets from a shopping trip. He cannot stand events that are centered around him. He puts his sweatshirt on, puts his head down, and refuses to look at anything in the store. When he gets home he hides whatever was bought for him while he was staring intently at the floor. Then he cries for a long time before ignoring the new things completely and wearing the same old clothes he has had for years.
Sean took the longest to start calling me “mom.” He has never ever stopped. At 14, he was the first to hug and cuddle and say, “I love you.” He has run away from me though. Once in a parking lot at Target.
When they go too far in depending on our affection and care, they pull back. Waaaay back. They react against their feelings as a mechanism to protect themselves. Too many kind words or compliments send them into a tailspin, particularly if they are face to face compliments.
Luke and I took a much needed respite weekend to ourselves in Vermont. The kids stayed with Grandma for the weekend and we got to explore the little town of Brattleboro and be as romantic as we wanted without four smaller people saying “Eeew! Gross!” I was surprised that by the first night, Sean was texting me. A lot. He was actually missing us. He even went so far as to tell us that we could bring him home a souvenir! That day, as we walked the streets looking for little presents that wouldn’t offend our kids with price tags, Luke laughingly told me that I looked just like a tourist. I was taking way too many pictures and delighting in way too many things. I relayed this to Sean who was texting us throughout the day. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see my amazing photos of innocuous street signs and Vermont shop windows?! I think I make an excellent tourist! Sean responded with, “Yeah mom. You are definitely a terrorist. You guys are both terrorists.” It was hilarious at the time, but it made me think.
One definition of the term “terrorist” is “one who terrorizes or frightens others.” Luke and I are certainly frightening them with our love. We are changing their way of life and threatening the only definition of “mom” “dad” and “family” that they have known. As wonderful as our parenting experience is for us. it’s very scary to them. Sean is right in a sense. His mom and dad are terrorists.
When we picked up our little chickens on Sunday they actually ran to us with hugs. This doesn’t always happen because a lot of times the younger two need time and privacy to express their affection. They laughed and squealed with delight and opened their gifts. Even Sean. That’s when I noticed something different about him. His shoes. He was wearing his new shoes!
We have to be patient. We must remain consistent. It will take a long time for our little chickens to trust our love and our nurture. They will learn that we are capable of taking care of them and meeting their needs. They may even learn that mom and dad are not really “nurturing terrorists!”