Confidence as a Parent and Expectations of Traumatized Children

As I inch my way closer to becoming a parent, I find myself struggling with feelings of inadequacy and a lack of self confidence. For years, I’ve been listening to my friends talk about raising their children. They’re so far ahead in the game that I’m not sure how I’ll ever stack up as a new parent. I know it’s not about comparing my successes (or my children’s) to theirs, but I feel as though I’ll struggle with the unsolicited advice and explaining to those around me how raising a child who has been neglected or abused is so much different than raising a child born to you.

I will likely have lower expectations of my children then I would a biological child. For a traumatized child, even the basic acts in life can be a challenge. My expectations need to be reasonable and achievable. There simply isn’t any comparison between a child who has been adopted and one who has not. For an adopted and/or traumatized child, feeling secure in a family, managing emotions and trying to understand why “this” happened to them take up the majority of their plates. At the end of the day, there isn’t much time left over to be the star basketball player or humanitarian of the year. Making it through each day without a meltdown is a success.

I will need to learn to trust my gut. To keep my confidence as a parent high, expectations of my children reasonable, and to shut out the voices of the people around me who think they know how it should be.

Lack of Advocating, Oversights or Outright Lies?

There’s this diagnosis a child can have called “Reactive Attachment Disorder” and it has the potential to be pretty terrifying. RAD is typically found in traumatized children and may result in a defiant or dangerous child (as with anything, there is a spectrum of seriousness); but this post isn’t really about RAD – directly.

I’ve heard a few stories now, one in person and several I’ve read online & in blogs, about social workers (government representatives) not being entirely open or honest about a child’s potential diagnosis’s or history. In pretty much all of these stories, adoptive parents were told that their child did not have RAD or FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) when they very much DID. In another instance, adoptive parents were told that one child did and one child did not have FASD. As it turned out, it was the complete opposite. This misdiagnosis or lack of information has provided in some really difficult situations for parents who may have chosen not to parent a specific child had they been given full disclosure.

I want to believe that this misinformation isn’t on purpose. I want to believe that perhaps the diagnosis had not been formally given yet, or the tests were inconclusive or perhaps the social workers weren’t well informed enough about that particular child. But, shouldn’t they be? If a test hasn’t been done yet, or information was unknown, would that not be disclosed as a possible risk or something that needed evaluation? Wouldn’t the child’s behavior in foster care be noted regardless of any diagnosis and especially if it was not in line with a given diagnosis?

I mean, if a child has been tested and determined not to have a particular diagnosis but still shows signs of that diagnosis, wouldn’t there be further testing or some form of second opinion? To the opposite end, if a child does receive a diagnosis but does not show signs leading to it, wouldn’t that be mentioned to the prospective adoptive parents?

Shouldn’t information be shared openly, regardless of its potential to “scare off” or change the mind of a prospective adoptive parent? Wouldn’t it be better to allow a parent to make the judgment call on what they’re getting into, instead of “tricking” them into it, only to find out later that their child is really nothing like what was described to them, for better or worse?

I’m concerned about this. Being new to the game, I don’t know the right questions to ask or the right people to talk to. The social workers are supposed to be the people who I can trust to guide me through the process and provide me with the tool’s I’ll need to make the best decisions and be the best parent I can be to the right child. If I can’t count on them, then that leaves me in a pretty vulnerable place.

Already, I’m seeing some breaks in an evolving system. I’m hearing rumours of efforts to improve the process but thus far what I’ve witnessed is poorly executed aboriginal training, months on end of waiting just for a phone call, discrepancies in information provided by social workers, and a lot of excuses for disorganization. It’s pretty clear already that I’ll have to stay on top of things to ensure my file doesn’t fall through the cracks. Now I’m concerned over what I’ll need to bring to the table when a match is finally made.

Reactive attachment disorder is a rare but serious condition in which infants and young children don’t establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers.

A child with reactive attachment disorder is typically neglected, abused or orphaned. Reactive attachment disorder develops because the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met and loving, caring attachments with others are never established. This may permanently change the child’s growing brain, hurting the ability to establish future relationships.

Reactive attachment disorder is a lifelong condition, but with treatment children can develop more stable and healthy relationships with caregivers and others. Safe and proven treatments for reactive attachment disorder include psychological counseling and parent or caregiver education. – “Reactive Attachment Disorder” as defined by the Mayo Clinic.

New Year Efficiencies, Because I’m Fine the Way I Am

When I started brainstorming for this post, I was certain it was going to be about the aspect of myself I wanted to improve throughout the course of next year. I was circling around the word “discipline”, something I greatly lack in my life, but creating discipline where there simply is none seemed like a mountain in front of me. I’m not really much into climbing mountains these days (if only I was more disciplined). Instead, I landed on the word “efficient”. Efficient as in, finding ways to work with my own personality traits – the ones I already have – to make my life as efficient as possible.

Heading into adoption this year, I know there will be plenty of opportunity to be self criticizing as I become overwhelmed with the new responsibilities in my life. There’s no need to start that now. I know that I am a good person with plenty of positive personality traits. I’m strong, I’m capable, I’m loving and compassionate. So what if I lack discipline or have a tendency to be a little irritable or lazy sometimes? I can work with those. I can set strategies in place that will help me to not become irritable, or to create an “out” when I need a lazy escape from the new day-to-day responsibilities. I can create efficiencies for a productive and happy life while still embracing all of my traits – the good, and the bad.