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Guilty Musings

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
I am writing this here, because I really can't talk about this to anyone IRL. Thank y'all for being there...

Preface: I love my foster kids fiercely, totally look forward to adopting, and have (nearly) no regrets about the decisions I have made. But... (I bet you knew there was a but coming!)

They don't get as nice or as fun a mama as the bios did/do. On one level, I can see that it is their behavior that pushes my patience (remember these are therapeutic level kids, with 24/7 line of sight supervision). Of course it isn't so fun for me to be a crabby cop all the time. But really, I question it from their viewpoint as well. It seems I am constantly correcting someone for something. LittleGirl the other day asked, "Do you still like me?" And I can see why. I love her and LittleGuy to pieces, but they are often pretty hard to be around. I find myself wanting to escape, even when everyone is behaving pretty well. Please don't tell me I need to be more positive; to "catch them" doing good. This is not a situation when I should be over complimenting them, for several reasons. For one, ideologically, I am opposed to the "good job!" mentality (For 1,000 reasons, see Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting). Also, the reasons I intervene or criticize are generally pretty serious safety and other issues - it's not like I am on everyone's case for the little stuff.

With the Bios, basic How-to-Act seemed to just be understood. I am sure I never told them, "Don't run crashing into your fellow shoppers at the supermarket", or "No, you may not carve your name in my plaster walls with a screwdriver". Let alone "don't urinate on the couch or heating vents, and please don't steal your brother's sandwich". Whining is one of my pet peeves, and I warned the bios of that in utero. These guys just don't get it - that is not the way to get what you want around here (LittleGirl has been here over 2 years - no progress).

I don't like the person I am becoming. I never thought of myself as highly critical or judgmental. But is seems 80% of the words out of my mouth, at least to the Littles, are negative. A major issue going on here is fairness: She got more, he always gets to go first, etc. I think I am being as fair as possible, but they both perceive they are being slighted. I know where in their background this comes from, and I hope it can be addressed therapeutically. In the meantime, competitive sibling rivalry, like anything you have seen before, times 10, and on steroids, is making me nuts. And, yes, the bios do get more. As teens, they earn their own $, and spend it however they choose. I don't stop them from eating snacks and junk, because I know they can and will self-regulate. And still eat dinner. They have the freedom to take the city bus downtown with friends - the Littles can't even go to a neighbor's house alone. Or play together unsupervised.The bios are extremely trustworthy - I wonder if the Littles will ever get to this stage.

I don't know if I am explaining this well. I am not griping about my kids' behavior. Save that for another day! I don't like who I am becoming, and I am living at a higher level of stress than I prefer. I question how good a job I am doing parenting these guys with such different needs than the bios.

I do get respite pretty often, although I have had the worst luck with my holidays" Last time the Littles were away for the weekend, my mom went into the hospital, I got rear-ended and my car was totaled, and the cat has a urinary tract infection. Got it rescheduled, but this time, I have to take Mom for surgery 200 miles away - if I get the insurance payment in time to buy a new car, and if it is in good enough shape to get us 400 miles round trip.

Oh, I gotta go - it is past my bedtime. And I am crabby.
post #2 of 12
Edited out a lot of blathering.

What you're doing is hard. Having just spent a rough year with my typical child, I can't even imagine what you're going through.

It's late at night and I'm trying to figure out something supportive to say, but it's just not coming out.

I am an Alfie Kohn fan. The only thing I'm leaving from my original, long post is:

I'm not sure why you're 'opposed to the "good job!" mentality.' I don't remember what Alfie Kohn said, but I see nothing wrong with telling someone, "Good job," when they've done something good. I know I feel good when someone notices something I did. I'm not talking about stars and charts and such, I'm talking about just being nice and/or showing you noticed. "Thanks for putting your shirts in the drawer." "You did such a good job of using your regular voice this morning. My day is so much easier when you do that." It just feels good to have someone say something positive.

I don't know if I've said anything of value or if I've just blathered on. Your therapeutic kids do have needs different than my stepkids had. However, they are kids and do need some kind words and fun. How can you introduce that into your world?
post #3 of 12
I'm sorry, Mamarhu. I've only had to deal with kids that were dealing with that level of issues in group care, not in my home and not 24/7. I'm not sure, frankly, that folks who haven't worked with children with that level of therapeutic care can even begin to understand it.

It is really hard to have to follow a structure for everyone's safety, especially if that's not your natural inclination. It is draining, weary-ing, and can be demoralizing--even if it's just a day job.

I would say to try to be gentle with yourself, and allow yourself to grieve. Yeah, you are a different parent with the Littles, but you know you *have* to be in some ways. I'm sure that it's a huge loss. And probably constantly having the "comparison" in front of your face must feel like salt in the wound sometimes.

I don't know if or when things will get better either. You can remind yourself that a lot of these things have to take place because they're what your kids need right now, and it's going to take some time for you to adjust, and be able to grieve the different experience and all the mixed feelings that go with it. Is there any minor, relatively quick thing you could work on now that would make you feel better? "Be more patient" is a really tall order and too diffuse. Maybe if you picked one aspect, like tone of voice, and concentrated on that--not for THEM at first, but for YOU (but of course, they would benefit as well).

I am very often far from the parent that I always wanted to be. (what can I say, having to fight my instincts for abuse that I learned as a child takes so much of my mental and spiritual energy that often I am just left empty and exhausted at the end of the day) I find that I feel more hopeful if I concentrate on one facet of something that I feel guilty about, and find at least some way for me to feel successful.

I'm sorry that you did not even get to really relax and destress during your respite time. Is there any chance you could get more in a little while, and guard at least a portion of that down time? Will the littles go into a school program eventually? If so, I hope that you will reserve at least a couple of hours during the week to recharge.
post #4 of 12
big hugs, I'm sorry you're feeling crappy right now. your job really is 10 times harder than my own parenting path so far (which has had it's fair share of doozie days ) and I feel for you. It's no fun when we don't like ourselves. I really hope you can get another respite soon...

I'm a big believer in Alfie Kohn too, and I avoided praise at all costs for a few years. ya know what? my son really, really needs to hear when I am proud of him, when I am happy with his behavior, when I just really love him a lot, because we have had so many rough days and continue to have to have so many "reminders" (which he calls "insulting" him ) -- the glowing joy in his beautiful side (or moments) is very much needed, for both of us, honestly. *I* need to feel able to just love on him in whatever way comes out of my face, and if that's praise for praise's sake, then so be it. It feels good to sometimes parent like a grandma (you should know what that feels like ) and just delight in your kids accomplishments, even if the words "good job!" are what come naturally. I don't look at it as praise so much as just enjoying them with them, if that makes sense. enthusiasm would be a good description I guess. I try to muster up more enthusiasm.

I do think Kohn was warning more against the "good running!" "good swinging" "good existing!" type of over-praising that so many well-intentioned parents fall into. I think that kids who are extra-sensitive, or who have trauma-induced low self-esteem need to hear the "praise" to counteract all the negative messages we send them, even when we don't mean to. I wanted to avoid any kind of conditional-love parenting, and we do, but he feels that it's conditional anyway, just by virtue of his over analytical self. He *knows* that we love him always, no matter what his behavior is like, but he *feels* that we don't when we are literally pulling our hair out over his crazy behavior. It takes a lot of love and reassurance to counteract the negative times (which are unavoidable with many kids) which we handle as calmly and lovingly as we can, be we're no saints, and he *feels* that we are frustrated and angered with him sometimes. so we have to really work to fill up that love cup, and the way his face lights up when we are enthusiastic about his victories tells me that it's a good thing. We don't overdo it, he's not dependent on it, but it makes him feel good, and makes us all feel good to just rejoice together. the better he feels, the better his behavior is, etc, etc. what's the opposite of a vicious cycle? it's a delightful cycle.

I don't know if that's helpful at all, but these kids sound like they need to hear your delight in them as much as they need your correction of them. I may be way off, and ignore me if I am, but I really have enjoyed parenting a lot more since I allowed myself to just get excited over their lives again, if that makes sense. I know you have a lot more going on than just this, and I don't pretend to know the half of it, but I wouldn't worry too much about creating praise-junkies, they're sort of in a different league altogether, no?

post #5 of 12
I don't have too long to type, but I did want to send a

Part of me understands, but part of me can't imagine. I know how hard raising one traumatized child is. I know how much it hurts to see my bio children get everything they want or need, because they can handle it, but my adopted daughter contantly being told no because I know she can't handle what she wants. For example, my two year old is allowed to play with play dough with mild supervision, but my five year old adopted daughter has to have me sit right next to her so she doesn't smash it into the carpet. So my adopted daughter never gets to do anything.

On some level I know that I have to parent each kid in the way that they need, but it is still hard to accpet. It is funny to me the way others are talking about praise, because I am not a fan of Alfie Kohn. BUT my adopted daughter does not do well with praise. It makes her immediately stop doing whatever she is doing that is good and seek out some negative behavior.

I am sure I never told them, "Don't run crashing into your fellow shoppers at the supermarket"
This made me laugh, because we said this to dd just yesterday

I hope you find some people IRL you can talk to. You are doing amazing work. Please be kind to yourself
post #6 of 12
I don't mean to hijack this thread, but for clarification, does Kohn distinguish between praise and encouragement? Would encouragement be an option in the OP's case? Or does Kohn make a case against that, as well?
post #7 of 12
I don't know if Dan Hughes work would be of any help to you. He is a psychologist specializing in traumatized children and has worked with foster and adoptive parents for years and years. He has a lot of suggestions for parents. Here is just one short article.
post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 
Good morning. Thanks for the encouragement . I was truly wallowing!

In the light of day (actually rainy, overcast), I am less gloomy.

The praise and playful thing should have been described better. I used to be the goofy Mama - I would ride the shopping cart like a scooter, screaming and laughing through the parking lot, giving the kids a wild ride. Or we would sing goofy songs as we drove with the windows down through town. Or play rowdy balloon volleyball in the living room on a rainy day. But with these kids, well they don't know when (or how) to stop. Any laughter can be expected to morph into maniacal screams, then tears. Part of it is I feel old and tired and stressed these days. But also, too many times, what started out in fun, leads to crying and violence. I know this is a product of their earlier, near-feral, chaotic and sexually active life. I can avoid the silliness (or very carefully ration it), but I miss it. BigGirl, 14, is at a heavy, philosophical stage: more interested in serious discussions of women's rights in the Middle East than my antics. YoungSon, 13, will still play with me when we are alone, but I really miss sharing that part of my with the Littles.

I brought up the praise issue because well-meaning social workers always suggest showering them with praise - the good running, good swinging type mentioned above. Of course I praise them when they do something praiseworthy, I share my pride in them, I hug them whenever the mood strikes me, I make sure they overhear compliments when I am on the phone, etc. But they are smart enough to see through the empty compliments, and I think it also cheapens the real, heartfelt ones. And like pumpkingirl said, my kids don't really do well with praise, unless they come to me asking for it. For example, if I wander by and comment of LittleGuy's coloring, he will probably tear it up, or color the page all black. But is I wait for him to come to show me the picture he did, he needs to hear how beautiful it is, I put it on the fridge, the whole 9 yards. But it is sometimes a delicate dance.

In a less cranky mood, I admit I have found other ways to play with these guys, that don't initiate the spiral into chaos. We can play word games, board games sometimes and like that. But I miss being able to let loose and laugh till we cry.

Although I respect him, I am not an Alfie Kohn groupie. I think over-using praise teaches kids to look for outside opinions and rewards, rather than intrinsically. I think the peer pressure mentality comes from having others decide for you what is a "good job" and what is not. With my 3 bios, I think some of their strong confidence and independence comes from making their own calls about the outcome - decisions, art, other skills.

The Littles make some remarkably bad choices, many, many times a day. I am only mildly sympathetic when LittleGirl crashes into the wall for the 4th time today (it's only 11AM) - running in the hall with socks on the hardwood floor is likely to produce that result. My repeating "don't run in the house" doesn't seem to have much impact, eh? So I shrug, give her a little hug, and say "sorry you got hurt" but I don't make a huge fuss over it. So she stomps off in heart-wrenching tears, "Nobody cares about me. When (brother) gets hurt, you pay more attention to him!" These are the interactions that get to me - how any moment can dissolve into hysterical drama.

I am just venting now, so I will quit (for a while). One of those days, I guess...
post #9 of 12
Our therapist uses Daniel Hughes' theories as well.
post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 
Lauren - thanks for the link. I read everything I could find about attachment stuff before I met these kids. In the midst of day-to-day life, it is easy to forget that all this is typical. On days like this, I need to re-read a bunch of books. Thanks for the reminder!
post #11 of 12
I totally agree with you mamarhu, there is a balance to all things in parenting, and when dealing with sensitive, traumatized, or otherwise fragile children, you're bound to get it wrong a lot of the time, and that's really hard.
post #12 of 12
No suggestions. Lately I have been feeling the same way.
But I wanted to just send you
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