Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Loving the Heart of a Grieving Child

I have agonized over whether to blog about this because it is so personal. But, in talking with other parents and reading about other peoples’ experiences, I thought it may help someone else who is going through the same things.

One of the most difficult things I have had through this adoption is trying to teach my daughter that she is safe, loved, and how to grieve in a healthy way. Grief comes out in many different ways. There are many terrific books and resources out there, but it is such an individual thing. Grief looks different for everyone. At our house, it comes out through lying and stealing. For a long time, we let things go because we couldn’t really distinguish between a language barrier and knowingly telling a lie. Well, we are past comprehension issues, and it is just a means of manipulation.

I must say, one of my biggest irritants is lying. It bothers me much more than just about anything else. When the kids get in trouble, we can work it out if they tell me the truth. But, there is no reasoning with a lie. It just doesn’t work. What makes it even worse is that it is not lying across the board. It is mostly directed at me. And not about the big stuff, but little stuff too. I can stand there and watch an action, ask why she did it, and her response is that “it wasn’t me” or “I didn’t.” Ooooo. I just saw you with my own eyes little one, I don’t believe it.

This is an ongoing thing, but we are making progress. Not too long ago, I was to the point of absolute desperation. After trying everything that I could think of, from punishments to rewards, to extra attention, to quiet time alone, or going to bed early; that I asked, “What happened when you got in trouble in China?”

Well, that stopped her in her tracks. We were all sitting at dinner, all of us there, and since she is a terrible liar, she was busted again. I was at my wits end, and trying to be calm. She just looked at me. So I asked, “What happened if you told lies to China mama or China daddy (her foster parents)?” Her very quiet response was “my bottom spanked.”

Ok, so we know that it was not allowed in her first 6 years; that is a good start. “So, why do you tell lies to mommy and daddy? Why do you steal from your sisters and brothers?” A very quiet, “I don’t know” was the response. We could both tell from her reaction that we hit something very deep. Scott asked “Do you like living here with us?” And she immediately nodded her head and said yes. Hmm, we were on to something.

I asked her to stand next to me so I could put my arm around her. I asked, “Do you miss living in China?” Nothing. “Do you miss China mama and China daddy?” Nothing. “Do you love China mama?” It was like talking to a statue. “Do you know mommy loves China mama?” Tears flowed silently down her face. “Do you know daddy loves China mama? Do you know mommy loves China daddy and China sister? Do you know daddy loves China daddy and China sister?” By now she was on my lap, face to face, fully crying. “Do you miss living in China with China mama and China daddy?” A very tearful nodded yes.

Once the flood gates were open, we could talk about mommy and daddy missing where we grew up, and missing our families too. She began to talk about when her foster sister took her out to eat, and took her different places. Even with tears on her face, there was finally a smile too.

OK, now it was time to move on to the behavior…

So we asked Jenna what happens when she gets in trouble in school (a regular occurrence since Jenna likes to talk to her friends instead of listen to the teacher ). Jenna explained what she has to do, including that she has to tell mommy about it after school. Then we can talk about it and hug and snuggle and Jenna can try to make better decisions the next day.

When we asked Julia why she doesn’t tell us that she gets in trouble and we have to hear about it after it has gotten bad enough for the teacher to send a note, she said she didn’t know. We pointed out that the day before, both Jenna and Julia got in trouble, but that Jenna told me the truth, and Julia lied and said she didn’t get in trouble. Julia was punished for lying, but Jenna and I sat and talked and then Jenna participated in that nights activities. We explained (again) that the difference was caused by the lie, not getting in trouble for talking at school. Then we went around the table, and all the kids told about when they got in trouble at school at some point, but they told mom and dad the truth, and we talked, but it did not result in punishment in the same way Julia’s did. We asked over and over if she understood that everyone gets in trouble sometimes. But we must always tell the truth. And then I asked another question that stumped her.

“Do you know that I still love you when you are in trouble?” We were back to a blank stare and no response. “Do you know I love you?” Nodded head yes. “Do you know I love you when you are in trouble?” Nothing. “I love you no matter what you do, even when you are in trouble.” Now we were back to tears. “I am your mother, and I love you. I HATE to have to punish, I would rather talk and play and hug and snuggle. But I cannot talk to a liar. But, even when you are in trouble, I love you. OK?” Nodded head yes.

Did we get through? The next day, she came in the door and I asked about her day. She looked in my eyes and told me she sat in the safe seat because she talked. I hugged her. I wanted to throw a party. Not because she got in trouble, but because she told me about it. We talked about it. I kissed her head and told her thank you for telling me the truth. Then she ate her snack and had a good day with the other kids.

I still catch her in lies, and I have to remind her that in this house we tell the truth. We have talked about China more and she has opened up about things that she did and that she misses. Lying and stealing irritate me. But, when I remember that she is still processing grief, I can redirect our conversations to how she is feeling when she does these things. She is still learning to trust us, she is still learning that no matter how hard she pushes me away, I am still her mom, and I will never leave her. If I could pour out enough love into her broken little heart to heal her wounds, I would do so in an instant. But there are some wounds that take a long time to heal. I am still praying for her, and for me. She is grieving a loss bigger than I can imagine, and even on the happy days, she can have moments of sadness that cause her to act out.

Watching her grieve and knowing that I cannot make it better is hard. But, she is still as amazing as she always was. She is learning and growing, and slowly trusting. It is easy to trust with the happy stuff. It takes longer to trust with the sad stuff. She is beautiful and strong and resilient, and growing into all the wonderful potential that she has.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Thanks for posting this! I found it really helpful to read.