We have been so blessed with a latent case of “the terrible twos”. We have survived post adoption adjustments, attachment business, health-related-drama, and we have settled uncomfortably into some terrible-two kind of living. Lord have mercy. And when I say terrible – I mean terrible, horrible, nogood, very bad. I’m talking screaming, throw down tantrums, and the beloved: “but-I-was-an-orphan-once” cry that produces such a volume of tears, that it’s hard to believe she isn’t dehydrated after a meltdown.
Am I speaking to anyone?
I posted on facebook one day in an attempt to toe the very fine line between being real about my child and public venting about my child and said: “I am at my actual wit’s end with my tantrum throwing, alligator tear producing, albeit adorable, tiny, Chinese, miracle, superstar. #keepingitreal”
The comments and private messages I received following that post has birthed this post. Apparently I have found camaraderie among other parents who have walked a mile in my flip-flops. Thank you commenters.
Can we all just be real for a moment? The toddler years are not for the weak of spirit, and yet it has been a season when I am weak of spirit. Health challenges with Grace and my mom, funerals, two teenagers with stuff and plans and mission trips and drivers ed – and all the things of normal every day life… add in a few well placed tantrums and I just.cant.even. I had 21 comments from that post, and just under 40 “likes” because I’m not the only one who gets it, and maybe I’m not the first mom who was at her “actual wits end” with her miraculous bundle of joy.
Our first two children were born when I was 23 and 24. They are 18 months and 28 days apart and while my first born is type A, driven, organized, and independent – my second born is ever-so-relaxed about life and is as easy going as they come. However, in those early infant and toddler years they always had each other to play with and be with. My second-born was almost the size of a small toddler at birth, for crying out loud, and since they always got along as toddlers I actually don’t remember any tantrums. I don’t remember feeling the urge to leave the house when my husband came home after work. I remember giggles and toys and veggie tales and fruit snacks. Perhaps there were tantrums and hard days/weeks/months but at 24 years old I had enough youth left in me to tune it out or count my blessings or exercise away the stress.
I am no longer 24. Not by a long shot.
It’s tricky when you choose to adopt a child because you simply decide to, because it’s your only choice to parent, or because you feel like God is actually asking you to grow your family in this amazing way. It feels sometimes as if I have therefore surrendered my right to even appear to be complaining about my adorable little blessing. I’ve spoken with other adoptive moms who have shared through tears that people actually dare to say to them “Well you asked for this…” when sharing trials they are enduring such as, extended hospital stays or sleepless nights or way out of the box parenting.
So I’m just going to say it, because somebody has to. Somebody has to tell the truth and admit it’s hard. Somebody has to be a voice who speaks the truth in love but also in honesty because another mom or dad might really need to hear that they aren’t the only one who is holding on to their very last shred of sanity on some days because truly another tantrum might just very well be the thing that causes them to see Jesus face to face.
I madly, truly, deeply, fiercely, and honestly love each of our children. Call me crazy, but sometimes I look at Grace and forget we don’t share DNA. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I missed out on 19 months of holding her and comforting her and snuggling her because she is so very much a part of our family, it is as if she has been with us since birth. She is as mine as she can be. She has almond shaped eyes, but she makes faces that I make. She has olive skin but she says things back to me the way I say them to her. We are a match made in heaven, of that I am sure. 100%.
When our fantastic caseworker was counseling us prior to our trip to China she recommended that we make sure and schedule “respite care”. What a ridiculous concept. Respite care. Are you kidding me? For months I stalked my daughter on her foster home facebook page, I prayed and wept over her very life while it hung in the balance. I counted the days, I read the books, I did all the things to be as ready for her as I could possibly be. It was ludicrous to think I would ever need a break once I was finally with her and she was legally mine forever.
Parents, soon to be parents of adopted or biological children, hear me when I say this: Do the respite care. Do it often. Recharge. It’s not only good for you it’s good for your children because they need your patience when they are in the most terrible of twos or threes of fours or fourteens. There should be no guilt in needing a break and honestly if you don’t let someone who loves you know you need it and admit that you’re treading water in the sea of life – they might never offer and you may break before you get a break. Pride is a terrible thing to get in the way of your sanity. Truly.
We who have adopted have been educated – possibly more so than those who are parents only through birth – about how to best parent these little ones. Our children were possibly under great stress while in their first-mother’s body. Study after study shows that stress in pregnancy adversely affects the developing brain of a baby in utero. Then we move on to the stress of birth and subsequent abandonment – even when the abandonment is for all the loving reasons as I believe it was for Grace. Being separated from the only home and only familiar sounds and smells you know is trauma. It affects the developing baby’s brain in those first days and weeks and months to not have a consistent caregiver, a mother, a father. It shapes how they respond emotionally – sometimes forever. It triggers exaggerated fight or flight responses. How could it not? Finally if they are one of the fortunate, they are adopted. From their perspective, they are taken against their will from the only home they know and the environment that is their comfort zone, even if it’s the farthest thing from comfortable. Then within days, they are placed with strangers who take them to a country where few look like them, few sound or speak the way they’re used to, and nothing tastes or smells like “home”. This too, even though it is the goal for every orphan and adoption agency – is traumatic. It shapes how they respond and it drives their behaviors.
So as an educated adoptive mother, and a veteran parent of almost sixteen years I have to look at the masterpiece as a whole and not just a small part. As a veteran parent I know that what I have shared with younger moms in the throws of difficult seasons of life is true: “It’s only a season, this too shall pass.” Just as winter seems to last forever, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow – spring follows winter. It seems like just yesterday my oldest was determined to learn to write her name at only two years old. Now she’s driving me places while I clinch my fists and pray quietly in the passenger seat. This too shall pass with Grace as well. I’m older but I am wiser. I parent her differently because I have to and because I believe that there is a re-shaping of how she responds to certain situations that is necessary, whereas with our two older children I could just shape them from scratch. Some days the shaping is more like chiseling, painstakingly hard chiseling.
The children who survive those early seasons of trauma, children who “come from hard places” posses a fighting spirit unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and Grace is no different. She is a warrior, and an overcomer. She adapted well to her heart defect for as long as she could and against all odds is on par intellectually with other children her age. When she laughs she lights up a room, when she cries she cries bucket loads of tears, when she grieves she grieves deeply and when she loves she loves fiercely, and if I am to bask in the fierceness of her love I better ought to be able to weather the wailing of a tantrum and have enough tissue to soak up the tears.
You who are in the thick of the battle with me, I pray this brings relief to your day or at the very least a chuckle. There is safety and sanity in numbers. I have to remind myself often that someday (hopefully in the not too distant future) I will say: “Aww I just would love to go back to when she was two” because I will have only remembered the harmony and the giggles and the tea parties. However the tantrums from this tiny, miraculous, super star survivor are epic and legendary. It is unlikely they will be forgotten, but they will be survived.
Battle on friends – children are so worth it.
Yes! Yes! Yes! I think you must have been a fly on the wall of my last three or four convos with fellow adoptive mommas. YES! Sigh. Thank you.
Yes! We have a very spirited child who holds the world record for screaming. (13 hours- how?!??!) she was 2 at adoption and though the tantrums were fierce, people seemed to relate to the “terrible twos”. She had three major surgeries in three different hospitals and dilations for six months that were so traumatic for us both. I still break out in a sweat thinking about it. The only thing that gt me through was Dr. Levitt saying ” if you stop the dilations she will need to undergo this surgery again when she’s older” and I could NOT bear that. Hard times. She is six now and while we have tried various therapies and made huge strides in our bonding since age 2, she still tantrums and screams and shoots rocket tears across the room with power. And people now? Raise eyebrows and whisper or give less than helpful advice such as ” Give her a good spanking and show her who’s in charge” or “Put her in daycare/school. They’ll straighten her out.” She can scream and howl and rage for hours. Literally. What I have learned over the years is how to identify triggers and to attempt to prevent the snowball from rolling down the giant hill. Sometimes I am successful. Sometimes I am too late. Personally, I have felt like as the years have gone on, support and understanding and compassion have waned. Shouldn’t she just “get over it already?” Maybe someday she will. But today her emotional age is a mere half of her chronological age. I have to keep that in mind. It helps. Knowing that I am not alone helps tremendously. I truly hope that Grace outgrows her tantruming quickly. It is her communication for now. Her little body cannot regulate all of her powerful feelings. But until the time comes that she (and my daughter) are able to regulate themselves, we consume vast amounts of coffee, pray tons of flare prayers and demonstrate love and safety again and again and again. Thankful for others to run this marathon with:) -Holly
I wish I could hug you for all you shared! I get it. I hear the same things and if we don’t help people to understand – how can we expect them to? I love your honesty and your empathetic heart. <3
OH HOLLY! YES! We are on the other side of that same journey but far more freshly than you. Thank you for sharing your story and the things you didn’t share are SO evident to me as I read. Like, the between the lines stuff of the dilations and such. This is the BEST thing about my adoptive momma peeps – I know you get me and I get you! This particular part of the journey feels like we are INFLICTING trauma, twice daily then every other day then every couple days then once a week then….. when we should be REMEDIATING trauma. It’s such a tenterhooks kind of balance. YES! More YES’s than I can type 🙂
Amy – our Grace’s could be friends. Battling through with you.
Thank u so much for writing this. We have been home a year with our Alicyn Shea, also from China. She is 2 and I’m a first time mom and have struggling with the “terrible 2’s”. I’m so glad a FB friend posted a link to ur blog. I just want to say THANK U! Hugs
Thank you so much! Our soon-to-be 4 yr old daughter has been home almost two years now and she is doing great, is very attached, but man-on-man can she pitch a fit to end all fits. She has the biggest flare for drama that I have ever seen. This was such a great post to read as we have even wondered if she might even be bi-polar. But in my heart, I just haven’t thought that is the case. Your post helps me recognize that these tantrums and hard cries are just her way of dealing, which will in turn help me deal with them better. Her nickname in her group foster home was Joyful. And she really is! But as much as she laughs hard and shows such joy, she also cries hard and shows much anger and frustration. Some days I am at a complete loss for how to help her calm down. Thankfully, more days are happy and calm than not.
Thanks you again for writing this! ~Shawn
Thanks for this post. Though our son (adopted at 2 1/2 yrs.) was an absolute JOY in the 2’s & 3’s, things started to unravel in the 4’s, 5’s, 6’s, 7’s. (He’s 7 1/2 now, and we’re getting to a better place.) The respite care is a great idea! I wish we had family closer so we could take advantage more often! Your post was very encouraging!