Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

(I wrote this post a little over a week ago, but I've been afraid to post it.  Today I read the post of another adoptive mom who told it the way it really is.  I was so encouraged to be reminded that difficult days are just part of this journey. It is "normal" to have problems with attachment and bonding and behavior and feelings.  Her post also reminded me that there is always some cost to adoption.  Think about what it cost for God to adopt us.  While we have lots of sweet moments, we also have many that are just plain tough.   Some come really close to feeling like "suffering."  I'm going to risk sharing some of these hard bits because they are a true part of our story.  I pray that God's glory will shine through even on my dark and cloudy emotional days. ~Rebecca)


Anyone who has flown a time or two knows the drill:  put your oxygen mask on first and then help the child sitting next to you. Most of us don't even listen to the routine instructions at the beginning of a flight. We know them by heart.

I also know that parents need to take care of themselves in order to care for their children.  In fact, as an older mom, I've advised new mothers not to catch up on chores when there baby is asleep, but to rest.  They must not run themselves ragged the first weeks, but pace themselves for the marathon of meeting needs that lies ahead. 

Somehow I forgot. 

Having parented kids with serious attachment disorder in the past, I was so determined not to make any of the mistakes I made with my other kiddos.  I was going to get this bonding thing right this time. Somehow, in my quest to be the perfect adoptive mom, I forgot that bonding takes two people doing the attachment dance…and a very long time.

So, I was sleeping (well, not much sleeping, really) on an air mattress next to Claire so she wouldn't feel afraid.  Every minute of every day she was touching me, leaning on me, pulling me, patting me, sitting on me, tripping me, blocking my movements.  Every minute she was talking, expecting a response.  Every minute she was taking, and taking, and taking.

I started to notice some changes in how I felt about her.  I started noticing some tension.  I'd fill up with dread when I heard her stirring to wake in the morning.  Teaching correct behaviors was becoming harder and harder when she just kept on doing the old behaviors in ways that made me feel like she was enjoying how miserable she could make me. 

I was so tired of getting her all washed in the bathtub and having her "poo-poo" in the water so we had to start over.  I was tired of her drying her bottom with toilet paper before she stopped peeing and then waving the drippy toilet paper to spatter urine all over herself and the room.  I was getting so tired of her refusing to go to the bathroom when I could clearly tell by her wriggling that she needed to go, and then calling out "potty" a few moments later when I had started some other activity. 

I was tired of being pushed, pulled, and poked.  I really hated having my wrists grabbed if I tried to pick up a cup of tea or move the mouse on my computer.  I was just sick of her pushing in front of me every time I tried to walk somewhere and then slowing up to block my path so I could not get where I needed to go. 

I was exhausted with the endless babble.  She would repeat words over and over, a little louder each time, until I responded.  If I did respond the first time, she just picked something else to go on about.  None of it was about communicating thoughts, needs, or ideas.  It was  just a way to keep me fully occupied with her.  Once the rest of the family came home, it got even more annoying as she just made loud noises if we tried to talk to each other and not to her. 

I was worn out with offering two choices and having her demand a third option, every single time. I have apple juice and orange juice, but she wants cranberry.  Sigh. I was tired of having her look at half a dozen outfits and cry because there wasn't one in a particular color.  She only wanted colors we didn't have. I was sick of her putting her underclothes on backwards whenever I was there, but having no problem dressing when Daddy was present.

We have been diligently trying to teach her appropriate behaviors. But she is very strong willed.  The teaching has been happening, but the learning isn't sticking. And I was so weary.

Then, one morning last week, after  a couple of mornings with worsening  potty and dressing issues, including sitting  on my pillow to pee, I had enough.  I took her hand and led her into the bedroom where my husband was about ready to leave for work.  I let him know in no uncertain terms that I could not do this anymore.  No more.  Finished.  Here she is.  I'm done.

He must have received my message loud and clear, because he called in sick, changed his clothes and took Claire out to breakfast and for a hike in the cypress swamps.  

I crawled into my real bed and fell asleep.  Soundly.  I heard no one coming and going in my house for 4 ½ hours.  Sleep is a wonderful thing.

So is forgiveness.  That afternoon, I took Claire in my lap and apologized for loosing my cool.  Language wasn't there to convey much, but she could tell by my tone and my cuddles that love hadn't vanished.  If she still had doubts about my sanity, she was smart enough to keep them to herself.

We made a few changes in the following days.  They have evolved into Claire going to bed in her own bed, and me sleeping in mine.  I check on her and take her potty before I turn in.  (When she is so sleepy, she isn't even resistant.)  We purchased a couple of flashlights she keeps handy so she can come find me if she needs help.  In the early morning (after the sun is up) she is welcome to come snuggle in my big bed for a while.  (If she is dry. If she is wet, we do some clean up and changing of clothes first.) Most mornings, we both fall asleep again for a little while.  Waking up this way after a reasonable amount of sleep has made our day times go so much better. 

I have found my smiles again.  And my heart swells with love when she has any small accomplishment.  Her defiance and strong will are still alive and well.  But my efforts to teach are more effective when I've had some rest. 

For me, sleeping in my own bed is one part of putting that oxygen mask on my own face so I can keep functioning in a helpful way during the daytime.  I wanted to be the perfect mommy, but I cannot because I am not perfect. I need to remember that.  I need to pay attention to some of my own needs or I will have nothing left to give to this very needy child. I am so weak.  I'll just have to trust that God will fill in the gaps and be the strength wherever it is lacking.

Ephesians 3

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened  with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.  Amen.


  1. Very well said. Adoption has many challenges and as parents we must take care of ourselves.

  2. I saw Claire almost a year ago on the New Day Blog. I could not get her face out of my mind because she looks so much like my eldest daughter. I am glad to see that Claire's story has a happy ending, she has found a family. We are now three months home from China with our youngest. We just missed you in China I guess. I can relate to many of the emotions, thoughts, and experiences that you relate in this post. It is so hard to find time to nurture yourself, there just does not seem to be a spare moment in the chaos. But truly you can't be there for the kids if you are drowning yourself. Claire is lucky to have found such an experienced and wise mom. Good luck and many blessings

  3. So glad you are getting some good sleep in your own bed. The beginning time of being in her room was needed and then God made clear to you when to make this step. He is so faithful and you and Kelly are faithfully following Him.