December 02, 2010

Feeling Sorry Gets You Nowhere

I'm almost embarrassed to put this down on the page, but so many times I still feel sorry for our adopted son.  I look at my biological children who never once had to deal with abandonment, loss, malnutrition, war, poverty.  Then I look at Miles and sometime I still feel so much pity.

Last week while I was talking to our psychologist, she made me realize that sometimes I am making critical parenting decisions based on pity.  Whoa.  That was a lot to take in.  Learning how to be a therapeutic parent does not happen overnight and there are lots of mistakes to be made along the way.  But no one likes to have their parenting critiqued. I realized that in so many ways, the things that I let my son get away with because I still feel sorry for him, were helping him perpetuate the roll of the victim that he plays so well.

Children in orphanages and those living on the street, learn quickly to get attention by any means possible.  When we go out in public, Miles is a master at working a room.  I know that he does this because he feels insecure.  But when we are in our home, where all his needs are met, there is no need for him to use any means necessary to get our attention.  We will give it freely.  Many times Miles will go hours and hours where he says, "Watch mommy!"  while he does ridiculous things to monopolize my time and attention.  I didn't realize that me praising and saying "Great!" every single time was feeding into the manipulation.  I could hear the dialogue in my head saying, "Poor little guy.  He went so long with no one paying attention to him!  I'll do whatever it takes to make sure that he knows he has my attention."  In doing this, I have been reiterating the fact to him that he has to perform to have my attention.  I have been telling him "great job" for continually playing the role of the victim.  I have succeeded in teaching him that love, praise and attention are based on this performance that he does rather than just being. 

I am so thankful that I had someone point that out to me.  So many times when we find ourselves in uncharted waters, we just do the best we can and hope that it helps our children.  This week, I did my best to ignore the performances, and praise like crazy when I saw Miles playing nicely with his siblings, or when he was doing a good job entertaining himself.  I am trying my best to teach him that we will meet his needs without the shenanigans.  We want him to learn that he can just be himself, let down his guard and stop orchestrating a production to have his needs met.  So far this has royally ticked him off.  He's upped the performances to a new level and a new volume, but I am trying like crazy to hold my ground.    I know that in the long run, this is for his benefit, but holy smokes!  It is hard to ignore a cute little munchkin who is trying so hard to put on the performance of a lifetime.  The kid definitely has a future on Broadway.

What has ticked him off more than anything, is the way that we are now trying to deal with food.  I know that the psychological effects of suffering from starvation will stick with him for years to come.  But what I didn't realize is that by allowing him to dictate everything surrounding meals, allowing him to hoard food, and allowing him to spit food when he is full but can't stop eating, was not helping him!  Again, I felt sorry for him and the years of starvation that he endured.  In a weird way, I felt like I needed to let him get away with things to "make up" for the years where he had no control over when he got to eat.  SO wrong.  We'd sit at the table and I'd fume while watching Miles stuff himself, then subsequently start spitting out his food because there was no where for it to go, but he still wanted to eat.  I'd get furious, but tell myself that what Miles was doing was probably a natural reaction to years of hunger.  Duh- he needed to be taught and feeling sorry for him was not teaching him the proper ways to deal with food.  The psychologist asked what I would do if our other children started spitting out their food at the table.  I said without hesitation that I would take their plates away so that they would know they were finished eating and that spitting was unacceptable.  Bingo!  Miles needs to know that, too.  He doesn't get a pass for bad behavior at the dinner table all because 10 months ago he was hungry.  Is he hungry now?  NO!  Does he need to learn the proper way to eat and learn what boundaries there are surrounding food?  YES!  So the next day, when the crazy food behaviors and the spitting started, I took Miles' plate away.  If he knew the "f" word, he probably would have dropped that bomb.  He was that mad.  We did that for the next 4 days.  He got mad each time, but for the last couple of days- lo and behold- there has been no spitting!

I am learning that when parenting a child who suffers from the issues that Miles suffers from, I can't look at him as that tiny orphan, full of fear and bone thin, that was placed in my arms that day.  He is no longer an orphan.  He has a family and love.  He has enough food.  He has more attention that he can deal with.  He has more people who love him that he can handle.  There is no reason for me to feel sorry for him.  I was carrying so much guilt that I didn't get to him sooner, that I couldn't have protected him from those first years when he didn't have a family.  I was letting that guilt dictate how I looked at my son.  My job is to help him thrive, not continue to act like the victim.  Don't get me wrong.  All that he's been through is completely taken into account in the way that we understand Miles.  But I am beginning to look at the way that I need to help him through a better lens.  It is a learning process.  None of us is born knowing how to parent a child with issues.  It is trial and error, mistakes and triumphs, prayer and understanding, tequila and antidepressants. And we do it all, because these little ones are oh so worth it.  They deserve every ounce of research and sacrifice that we put into learning how to parent their unique needs.   

Yep- this little cutie is worth every bit. 



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