Disrupting Birth Order.

Maybe it was logistics due to Jax’s age when we were ready to add to our family, or maybe it was because something down in us knew how to find our kids, but we always knew we would be adopting older than Jax.  In the adoption world, people call this “disrupting birth order.”  It never really made a lot of sense to me, to be honest, but I couldn’t put words to that.  I have some conscious thoughts about this now, and I would like to try to put words to them.

Any time a family adds children to the family, birth order is disrupted to some extent.  An only child suddenly becomes the oldest child.  When you have two kids and decide to have another baby, your youngest becomes a middle child.  When we talk about not wanting to disrupt birth order, we need to be honest that we are only looking out for our birth children’s birth order.  If we had a 12 year old, and adopted 10 and 8 year olds to “maintain birth order,” we just made that 10 year old oldest child a middle child.  Their birth order is disrupted, and the priority for birth order is given to the biological child.  The concept of “you have never parented a child that age” doesn’t make sense to me.  I have never parented a child Jax’s age, either.  You learn to parent only by parenting.  I think the reason the disrupted birth order concept never made since to us, is that we don’t differentiate between our kids based on the way they arrived in our family.  Their roles are all important, and we value them as human beings.  We aren’t trying to save anybody, because it turns out they never asked to be saved.

I don’t see broken or damaged children when I look at my kids.  I see amazing, beautiful, resilient kids.  Part of their resiliency meant developing survival skills that they don’t need anymore with us.  Some day, they will believe us.  When that happens, we won’t have to supervise 24/7, pat J down when we leave a store, or lock up lighters.  Until then, I respect the fact that the behaviors that can drive us crazy are the root of the very things that make them so amazing and resilient.  They are survivors.

I am reminded daily that we didn’t “mess up” anybody by doing things non-traditionally.  I was reminded of this when Jax told A she is beautiful upon waking.  I was reminded of this when I overheard J pointing out his “brother and Dad” to his friend.  I am reminded of this when Jax and J excitedly tell us they are best friends.  I am reminded of this when A tell us she loves her “crazy little brothers.”  I am reminded by this by the laughter in our home.

When Jax asked me last week if I was A and J’s Mom, too, I had a brief moment of panic.  I confidently replied “yes, sweetheart,” with a pit in my stomach that this might be traumatic or upsetting for him.  Did he really not understand that?  “Cool,” he replied with a smile.  Cool.

The System, Uncensored

Ok, I lied…this is going to be sort of censored.  Charlie tells me I need to take deep breaths before responding to emails.  I think this probably applies to social media, too?  You’re in luck, I took a few deep breaths before writing this.  And had a glass of wine. 

We naively thought that parenting traumatized children would be the hardest part of this process.  That part, my friends, is cake.  The hard part is navigating the very broken system!  I wish that our situation was very unique, and well the specifics are, the frustrations we feel are not. 

The “custody battle” for T has turned very ugly, and it’s delaying the finalization of J and A.  They have been permanently placed for 6.5 months, and we don’t even have the APA signed (adoptive placement agreement, that is usually signed at placement).  This can’t be signed until a) T is with us or b) the judge signs a sibling separation, declaring the kids no longer siblings from a legal perspective. Sparing most of the details, this will likely go to trial.  If we let that happen, our kiddos won’t have official permanency for easily another year.  By “letting that happen” I mean staying the course.  If we say we are no longer a placement option for T, we put ourselves at risk for losing J and A.  It is slight, for sure, but it’s not something we are willing to risk at any cost.  And more, I need to be able to look J and A in the eyes when they are adults and tell them we did everything we could to try and get T.  I need this to be someone else’s decision. 

We have court again on February 5th.  We need something to happen – we can’t go on like this.  The challenges that go along with parenting these kiddos is enough – we don’t have any room for all of the drama and hoops and lies.  We can’t even sign our daughter’s IEP, because we have no legal rights.  I am not legally her Mom, yet I hold her while she rages and sobs, tuck her in every night, cry with her when kids are mean at school, wash her hair, etc. etc. (ETC).  This system is broken. 

IEP meetings

I am going to preface this by saying we had an amazing first IEP meeting.  Since this is typically not the case, and they often feel like entering a battle zone for parents, I am going to share some tips/thoughts/ideas on how to make them go smoother for parents.  This is based on my experience as a professional attending client IEP meetings, as an anxious researcher, and as a parent.  Parenting kids with special needs is tricky enough, it’s important to find allies vs. enemies within your school.  This starts with being prepared, in my humble opinion!

1) Make relationships with people at the school ASAP, preferably long before the IEP meeting. Stay connected!  Let someone (social worker, school counselor, principal, teachers, ANYONE) get to know you as a person AND as a parent. 

2) Understand that you do NOT have to sign anything the day of the IEP meeting.  Politely ask if you can take it home to look it over, process it, and talk it through with others.

3) Bring in a list of questions and concerns.  It can be intimidating, and easy to forget what you wanted to discuss.

4) The school is the expert on the strategies, but/and you are the expert on your kid.  Don’t be afraid to express your concerns or offer your own ideas!

5) You can ask any staff member that interacts with your child to have specific training on your child’s special needs, and this can even be written into the IEP.  Do the research on training options ahead of time, so you aren’t sending them on a wild goose chase.  For example -in Minnesota, MOFAS (MN Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) will come into your school to train staff for FREE!   Win/win!

6) Bring an advocate with you.  It can be an outside therapist, an educational advocate through the state, a MOFAS rep, a social worker, or anyone else that is knowledgeable about the process and/or your child.  Make sure to let the school know ahead of time who you are bringing and why.

7) Take notes during the meeting and compare to the IEP draft.  If it’s not in there, it doesn’t exist. 

8) Keep an open mind!  Most schools really are trying to do what they believe is best.  Sometimes what they have to say is hard to hear, but that doesn’t mean it’s not reality. 

9) Ask questions!  Some of it seems like a foreign language.  It’s OK to say “I don’t understand what that means.”  Ask specific questions about how behaviors will be handled.  Ask if they are seeing any sensory concerns, as that’s something that can be built in as well.  Ask how your child is going to learn of the changes coming up.  Ask, ask, ask.

10) After it’s up and running, stay connected with the case manager to assess how it’s working!  Keep a journal of questions and concerns, so you will be well prepared for the next meeting.

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healthy grown ups create healthy grown ups

All of us seemed to wake up this morning back on track.  I’m not sure what was up last week, but I am thankful it’s over!  Getting back into the routine of everything is key, I think.  Charlie took J to hockey this morning, so A and I had some quiet time to chat while Jax did his thing.  She has a way of putting the whole world into perspective for me:

A: I can’t wait til I’m 18 so I can have a credit card. Then I’ll be a grown up.
Me: What else do you think you will be doing when you are a grown up?
A: Have kids. First you need to teach me how to be a healthy grown up like you so I can keep my kids and they can stay with me.

I think that pretty much sums up exactly what all of us are trying to do.  Teach our kids how to be healthy grown ups!  I am pretty blown away that she can name that, when it’s hard for me (as a “healthy grown up”) to remember and be intentional about.  It reminded me of the below “pin” I saw on Pinterest, and I’m going to hang this up somewhere in my house!  I want our future grandchildren to be safe, healthy, and happy…and preferably not raised by us!!

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finding the “cee”

It’s been sort of a “rock bottom” week at the Kent household.  I find it funny that those that interact with any of us outside of our home probably find that very strange/surprising.  We are all pretty good at putting our game faces on.  For the kids, it’s a survival skill, and for us – apparently it’s called being an adult?!  Lame.

I got the door slammed in my face for the 800th time this week recently, but this time I saw a really cute picture.  Upon closer look, it’s actually pretty powerful and symbolic.  I don’t what know the true intent behind it was, but I do know that we are the “Mom and Dad” the picture refers to.  And I know that it was drawn after a really intense conflict to which none of us really knew what was about.  And I know there is a picture of a heart key.  And I know that we are pretty desperately searching for a particular key…to something… and I know that this reminds me to keep on keepin’ on.

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a run for our money

The kidlets have given us a run for our money these last few days!  Which brings me to my next point…one major bonus to this ridiculous arctic blast is that warm wine +  5 minutes on the deck = chilled and ready!  In 2015 I think I will resolve to develop healthier coping skills.  Or maybe 2016.  For now, cheers to 3/3 kids in bed and a fresh start tomorrow!

I wish that “a run for our money” meant “normal” problems that occur when families are trapped inside their icy houses for days at a time. (Sweet Jesus, Mother Nature, take some medication!)  I wish that I could vent about the specific behaviors on here, but I can’t.  I am thankful to have a Mom and sisters I can text crazy things to along with a group of strangers that have become family online that I can reach out to 24/7…other foster/adoptive families whose lives are as insane as ours!

Clearly, ours kids have yet to realize how stubborn we are.  They have underestimated our support system, our mule-headedness, and our love for them.  We. Are. Not. Quitting.  I told “A” tonight at bedtime that I was feeling pretty mad today, but that families get mad sometimes.  “Sorry, honey, but you aren’t going anywhere no matter what you do.  We are your parents, and we love you…even when we feel mad or frustrated.”  She stared me down for awhile, then hugged me and whispered, “I think this is our final stop.”   J has been calling me “Mom” for two days now, and it’s amazing…and it gives me enough strength to do this all over again tomorrow.   Grateful, amidst all the chaos, for our three beautiful souls we get to raise.  We get our 4th beautiful soul this weekend – I hope to one day not feel nervous about that!

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$%$#@ not to say to adoptive/foster parents

I want to preface this by saying this has been a process for us, as well, and we are far from perfect about the language we use and even questions we ask other people.  While each experience is unique, this is a list compiled from our own experiences as well as the experiences of other foster/adoptive families we have connected with.  The intent is not to shame or blame, but to increase the support for other adoptive families by sharing our experiences.  Thank you for caring enough to read this! 

1) “That is normal/age-appropriate behavior.”  I assure you, our experience is not normal.  Yes, it often looks normal in public.  Invisible disabilities are just that…invisible.  While there is a constant battle in trying to sort out trauma behavior from age-appropriate behavior, and clearly we do experience lots of age-appropriate behavior, it is incredibly invalidating and hurtful to hear our very less-than-normal experiences normalized.  A simple “I hear you” would speak volumes, regardless of what you think. 

2) “I don’t know how you can foster – I would care too much to be able to give them back.”  That implies that we don’t care enough.  On the contrary, we believe these kids deserve love so much that we are willing to go through that potential heart-break so that they can experience that.  Instead, “that loss must be difficult – I’m here” or something similar would be greatly appreciated. 

3) “I don’t know why you have to label them.”  Those “labels” aren’t for our own entertainment or an effort for us to become martyrs, nor were they given by us.  They are actual diagnoses, often medically based, that allow our kiddos to receive services that will help them be successful. 

4) “They are so lucky!”  They are actually about the poster children for “unlucky.”  We believe it’s a human right to have a family and be loved, not luck.  Instead, “I’m happy you found each other” would be a wonderful way of wording those good intentions. 

5) “How much did they cost?”  or “How much do you get paid for them?”  No.  Just…no.

6) “Do you think you will have more of your own kids?”  All of our children, biological, adoptive, or foster, are “our own,” just as we are theirs.  It’s hurtful for our children who didn’t come to us biologically to hear this terminology.  If you are asking if we want more biological children, you can ask if we want more biological children. 

7) Do you really think this is good for your biological child(ren)?”  I certainly enjoyed growing up with siblings, so I hope they will, too!  While bio kids might get prematurely exposed to some hard things, they also get prematurely exposed to extra empathy, kindness, and compassion.  I, personally, think that’s pretty good for kids. 

8) “What happened to their real parents?”  You’re talking to them!  You might be trying to ask if their biological parents are around.

9)  “You can love them through anything.”  We will love them through anything, but love may not be enough to heal them.  Please don’t make us feel like failure if our love can’t heal.  Love can’t fix fetal alcohol exposure, years and years of trauma, or severe attachment issues.  We sure wish our love could fix everything, but it can’t.  

10) “You are a saint!”  We just wanted to expand our family.  We happened to do that in a less-than-traditional way.  It makes us uncomfortable to hear how “great” we are for expanding our family.

11) “Which ones are adopted and which ones are biological?”  We don’t want them to hear any more separation than they already probably feel.  And honestly, we don’t think about this often…I wish you wouldn’t, either.  They are all our kids.

12) In response to venting about behaviors, “Well, what did you expect?”  Or…”You signed up for this.”  When I complained about our bio child not sleeping through the night for like 8 years (ok, 3)…no one told responded like this.  I wish the right to “vent”  or seek support could be given, regardless of how a person’s children come to them. 

I hope that other foster/adoptive families will comment with additions if I missed anything.  With sincere appreciation for you reading all of this,

Ann

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