Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bonding and attachment

Our new kids have been with us a month now and today is one of the more difficult blogs to write.  I'm not sure if I'm writing as a psychologist or father.  I suspect some of both.  But in the spirit of transparency we will try to convey to our blog readers what its like to receive a sibling group into your home with a background of moving from placement to placement throughout their lives.  We will now try to describe what we have observed as one of the most devastating impacts of neglect on a child.

One of the biggest surprises to us is the degree of "disconnect" our children have from others.  Otherwise put, the degree to which our children are deficient in their ability to attach, bond and empathize with others has caught us a bit by surprise.  When a child is neglected, a very deep, entrenched feeling of "my caretakers are not there for me" develops and behavior emanates from this core conviction that "I must take care of myself because nobody else is trustworthy enough and can be counted on to meet my needs".   The behavioral result is surprisingly devoid of empathy and awareness of others.  It is our constant chore to maintain order when toys are ripped out of each other's hands or when unkind words are spoken that seem to be designed to generate space and distance in relationships, i.e., make sure nobody gets too close, because after all, when it comes down to it, nobody is trustworthy and we're just one more behavior away from another placement.  When one child is praised for something, often another jumps in to try to "steal the spotlight", leaving the other child screaming in order to regain the attention.   We expected the bonding to be slow with us but we thought they were bonded to each other as siblings and that is not the case at all. They are not bonded to any one. I can only imagine what life must have been like for a baby that had no one to count on. What goes through a little childs mind when they are not nurtured and they have no one to connect to? What leads them to disconnect from everyone when by nature we are designed to connect?
Its easy to see these behaviors as defiance and/or rebellion.  We have come to a different conclusion.  The bruised heart of a child isn't that much unlike the new child of God.  God constantly pleads in scripture for our trust and confidence in Him.  He reminds us in Hebrews 13:5 that "He will never leave us or forsake us".  It is one of the most primative, basic needs of a human being to be connected and cared for.  When that need is frustrated and injured, the impact is profound.  Relationships are suspect, connections are only for the purpose of obtaining something, and a self-absorbed, egocentric way of life rules the day.
Now here's the good news.  The heart of a child is vulnerable.  It remains vulnerable to the warm embrace that assures that everything is all right and that mommy and daddy aren't going anywhere.  It takes some time to cut through the insulation that defiant, self centered behavior provides, but beyond that behavior is a heart that screams for the assurance that care and nurturing are in place and predictibly consistent.  We are just beginning to scratch the surface of this protective layer of disconnect.  We have found the general rule of thumb seems to be the older the child, the more entrenched they are in their "disconnect".  The task isn't that much different than sharing Jesus with adult.  For some reason, we all seem to have these protective disconnects that hamper our intimacy with God.  Like Adam and Eve, when they perceived that their Heavenly Father was not providing fully for them and decided to take matters in their own hands, so is the nature of a child.  Whether parents or preachers, our task is to love with a love that is so predictible, so compelling, so consistent, that disconnect melts and meaningful, stabilizing relationship rules the day.  It is in this context that people grow and thrive beyond all they ever thought what possible for their lives.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Congrats! to Chris and Jana!

We have been busily blogging about our journey of adopting, but there is more to our life than just our 4 new children.  A wonderful story has been unfolding in the life of our daughter, Jana.  To her we give a big shoutout this morning.  Why?  Because it finally happened for her.  She is officially engaged to be married!  Chris made it official last night with his own customized serenade just for Jana, followed by a proposal and ring.  While we knew in our hearts this was coming, the official announcement was sweet and special.  Chris is a wonderful young man who we welcome with open arms into the family.  But beyond the festive moment, their story is one that bares telling.  It is a testimony of God's sovereignty and kindness guiding 2 people through life until those lives managed to cross paths at the appointed time...the kind of stuff that make for wonderful "chick-flick" kinda movies!
Here's their story in a nutshell.  When just a young teen, Jana embraced the idea that she need not entangle herself with the standard routines of dating.  The idea of dating because everyone else is doing it or for whatever reason seemed credible on any particular day didn't appeal to her.  The idea of putting her heart out there to some pimple-faced kid (ok, ok, that's a father talking!) who would only squash it and then practice breaking up for some reason just didn't strike a cord.  Instead, Jana made a quality decision to guard her heart by placing it squarely in her Heavenly Father's hands.  There and only there, would her heart be safe as she waited for Him to bring her the man who would cherish it the same way that He has done for her all through her life.  Jana has waited patiently and God has finally brought that man into her life.
On the other hand, Chris also made the same quality decision to not date until he was ready to find his wife.  Unlike many teens, Chris made a decision to respect his parents, listen to their wisdom, and protect his heart as well.  Life ran its course, Chris waited patiently, involved himself in ministry, work and building strong, supportive relationships that would encourage him in his spiritual, emotional, vocational and mental growth.  In the process, Chris was able to focus on learning the lessons that would prepare him for this next season of life, mature as a young man, and serve others without the entanglement of "dead-end" relationships.  God has rewarded his decision with a beautiful young woman who loves him, God and will make him a wonderful help mate in life.
Some may look at Jana and Chris' path and question it, maybe even consider it "Old Fashion" or antiquated ideology.  To that I would say "poppycock!"  The truth is, there is not a one of us that doesn't wish that we had entered the wonderful bonds of matrimony minus the scars and bruises of prior relationships.  Again, the truth is, these 2 will enter their marriage without much of the baggage that most will carry entering the bonds of matrimony. 
In addition, the entire process of waiting has built character in Chris and Jana that will serve them well to make a successful marriage.  Think about it, what does waiting do for one's character?  Ok, first there's the ability to deny self and yield to another, in this case, yield to God's will and timing.  Second, relationship boundaries are developed.  I know that Jana had opportunity to date and see what guys were like had she chosen to do so.  But in not doing so, she established boundaries with men that will serve to protect her marriage in the future.  Same with Chris.  Third, Jana and Chris know what it is like to maintain joy while waiting for something you want.  Whether its a spouse, or a car or a house or a child, waiting can wear on your joy and peace.  The ability to maintain your joy in the midst of such wait is an incredible attribute to bring into a marriage.  Do you see how, in Chris and Jana's decision not to date until God sent their mate along, they have already built valuable skills into their relationship?  Anyone who's been married and is not psychotic would agree that some of the most important virtues that make marriage successful is the ability to defer to someone else, maintain boundaries in relationships outside the marriage, and release your joy and contentment while waiting for a desire to be fulfilled.  There are many more virtues developed but we'll stop here.
In closing, this part is for Jana and Chris.  I know Chris' parents would join Karen & I in saying that we are incredibly proud of you guys.  You did it right!  We know that God has a wonderful plan for your lives together and we look forward to watching it unfold...as well as grandbabies (in a couple of years)!  The two of you are wonderful example of trusting God and reaping the beautiful harvest of a "desire fulfilled is a tree of life".  We love you and pray God's continual blessing on your lives.

Friday, January 7, 2011


I sit down to write this blog today having attempted to do so many times this weekend.  To say that our 4 new children have created a new environment around our house is like saying Bill Gates has alot of money...it just doesn't capture the enormity of the situation!  Its been a stretch and at my age even stretching can be dangerous!  But in the midst of our chaos has been strength, new wisdom, an increase in our communication, and even revelatory moments.    I'd like to take a moment and share one of those moments.
Our new children are energetic, cute, lovable and exploratory.  Unfortunately, their energy often couples with their lack of understanding of boundaries, limits and respect for each others, creating unique and frequent meltdowns and mini crisis.  Their history of neglect and multiple placements lends itself to a plethora of issues including a very limited understanding of limits and boundaries, not to mention, basic issues of trust and safety.  I will be writing more as a psychologist on my website in the coming weeks (www.simplesolutions4.com) about some of these issues, but for now, I write as a parent along with Karen in order to describe what its been like to parent these 4 children over the past few weeks.
One of things that I noticed earlier this week was the response or lack thereof our children have to us.  We noted a major difference in the response of our 11 year old to us, who we have had since day one, compared to the four children we now have.  Our 11 year old responds to us because he understands our love and commitment to him.  In other words, we have relationship with him.  The other 4 have no experience base with such a relationship.  They do not respond to our voice because they do not yet have a safe, secure, trusting relationship with us.  God had the same problem with His children when they broke relationship with Him and the result was the Torah, or law.  In essence, God was saying "Let me set the standard for behavior; however, it won't be enough.  It won't heal your heart and it won't restore you to me." We have expereienced a similar "laying down of the law".  It is behavioral management by law, i.e., parenting Old Testament kids...and we know that while it may give some semblence of order in our home, it won't be enough to heal their bruised hearts and calm their deepest anxieties.  Old Testament kids understand the law while somebody is looking, but what happens when no one is looking?  Is there a heart connected to the father (and mother) that beats with their standards?  Do they consider consequences if the law enforcement is not observing them?  Of course not!  Behavior regresses to a different standard dictated by an inner fear and self-centered desire.
Do understand that these Old Testament kids are not there by their own choosing.  Shelters, foster cares, temporary placements, even school, all have their rules.  If you're a child going from place to place, you're not learning to love a person, you're simply learning to play by the "house rules".  There is no attachment, no loving oversite, no comfort when hurting...just rules to follow.  And following rules is everything.  It gets you TV time, trips to McDonald's, and maybe an occasional kudo from the case worker...but the deepest need for love, care, attachment and belonging go untouched.  The expectation is not for the feeling of inner comfort and security, but simply to stay out of trouble.  Anxiety stays at a heightened level, always wondering if you're in good standing or even good enough for the caretakers.  Such environments are in crisis management and behavioral containment mode as a way to manage dysfunctional and ineffective behavior.  The product is an Old Testament kid.
Let me explain the Old Testament kid further.  God has made it abundantly clear to us as humans that His desire for us is relationship, intimacy and fellowship.  It was the heart of a father trying to connect with His creation.  But then man had this little thing called "free will" and consistently chose to disobey and break that fellowship.  The result was the passing down of the law that included animal sacrifices and all kinds of mandates.  Man uses these things in an attempt to manage behavior and the result is religion characterized by laws, inability to measure up, and a notable lack of heart connection.
But God's heart didn't give up.  He had a plan to bridge this gap.  Its a sacrifice that doesn't just attempt to manage behavior so that we are good people, but a plan to pierce the heart and restore the wounded heart to Him.  A plan to institute relationship that scratches the deepest itch of need...the need to connect, feel safe, secure and belong.   A need for a selfless love that empties out safety into the emotional tanks of its recepient.  Needs that somebody is fully invested in your best interest and welfare.  What greater demonstration of that investment than to die for another?  It was that kind of act that restored it all.  Now behavior is motivated by love and respect, not mandated by law.  It is the creation of New Testament sons and daughters.  Anybody can be a kid.  You only need be born and exist with breath in your body.  But a son or a daughter, now that's a different story.  A son or a daughter is identified by the parents that love them and the family in which they grow.  A son or daughter carries the brand of the family, otherwise known as the family name, which tells them that they are loved and belong.  A son or a daughter is known by the mother and/or father that tuck them in at night and provide a loving environment in which for them to reach their full potential.
The cry of the orphan, the cry of every child who has gone without parents or been neglected, is not for law, but for love.  It is not just a mandate or restriction on behavior, but a healing of the bruised and insulated heart that once healed, generates a different kind of behavior.  That only comes through New Testament son and daughership made possible through relationship.  Our task is to transition Old Testament kids into New Testament sons and daughters.