Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stage 3 - Anger

For any of you who are new readers, I am finally writing our adoption story from beginning to, well, whenever I feel like it I guess. If you'd like to catch up from the beginning, go to the archives and click on the post called "Let's start at the very beginning". Thanks.

While I'm calling our experience stages, I am not a psychologist or an expert by any means so take this all with a grain of salt. I'm just writing about our experience. And also, we had about a week of a honeymoon period, but from what I've heard others say, this stage can range in time from a few days until a year or more. I believe every experience in adoption is different and unique per child and family, including the length of the stages (which I made up, so, again, there is no credibility here).

So the next "stage" we experienced was anger. This was mostly directed at us but also at the dog, furniture, and most of the toys. I'm guessing, correct me if I'm wrong any of you psychology people out there, that this anger is because of the injustice done to him and he needed to express his disapproval of it. That may be, but it was sure hard to live with! Anytime, and I mean any time, Mateo didn't get his way, he would tantrum and rage on and on and on. And he was a persistent little bugger. But his tantrums were not typical toddler tantrums, instead of kicking and screaming on the floor, he would run at me full speed and attack. Hitting, scratching, punching, kicking, thank God he never figured out about biting. If he couldn't get at me he would hit the dog, if he couldn't get the dog, he would bite and throw his toys. And I don't mean a little toss of a block or lego, I mean picking up the largest toy he could find and chucking it across the room or sometimes at my head. He meant business!

So we did what every parent does and tried the time-out method. For those of you out there that are spanking advocates, sorry, but that just wasn't gonna work in our family. Not only do I not believe it is the most effective approach for typical kids, but it certainly would have done more harm than good in our circumstance. But, I don't judge others for using it as long as it doesn't cross the line into abuse. So, per Super Nanny, we started the time-outs. This seemed to backfire. We would sit him down, he would get up, we would sit him down, he would get up, lather, rinse, repeat, until he realized that if he got up we would come to him and he could get a good swing at us. Do you see how this was counter-productive? We were putting him in time-out for hitting only to give him more opportunites to hit us. We also noticed our bond was suffering during this process. The more we got angry at him and tried to "punish" the behavior, the more his bond drifted away from us.

Then I read on an adoption forum that time-in's were an effective way of disciplining unwanted behavior without breaking the process of attachment. This was our new strategy. We focused on the aggressive behavior because we felt that was the most important, and every time he hit or threw something at us, we sat him on our lap for a one minute time-out. The whole time we would say to him something like, "we love you very much but we can't let you hit us, we will keep you safe." As we used this more and more, we noticed the aggressive behavior began to decrease and our bond began to strengthen again. This was really the first time we saw a lot of progress!

I wish I could say that everything was better after that and he didn't have the hitting problem anymore. But one thing we are learning about Mateo, he works in cycles, and behavior tends to come back around eventually. After seeing improvement with the time-in's, we thought we were over the hump. He was still very persistent and would cry and cry and cry for something for hours if he couldn't get his way.

However, just a short while later, the anger was back. And again, mostly directed at Dave and I, and especially me since I was home with him more. This time the time-in's were not working. He would escalate until he was so worked up that it took me having to restrain him in order to keep him from hurting me. We were both getting frustrated and nothing was getting better. It just seemed as if Mateo could not calm himself down when he was near me. He would just keep attacking me over and over no matter what I did. But once I gave him space away from me, he would calm down very quickly. So we put a baby gate in the doorway to his room and that was the new area for him to calm down or have a time-out. For a while this worked. He just stood at the gate until the one minute was over. But after some time he started to protest being put in his room. So he would do anything he could to make us mad while being in his room. He would throw things over the gate at us, like shoes and clothing and books. He would pull all the covers off his bed and open his bookcase drawer to slam it closed over and over. He would bang on the walls and kick the door. Anything he could do to draw attention to himself. This aggravated me to no end! I needed help but didn't know where to go.

Sadly it got to the point where I couldn't remember any of the good things that I liked about my son. When people would say, "don't you just love being a mom?" It was all I could do to force a smile and nod when in my heart, I felt like a big fake. I didn't love being a mom. Being a mom was ruining my life! I was so jealous watching other families interact. The children behaved well and seemed to love their parents. Why wouldn't my son do that? What was I doing wrong? Every day I woke up and told myself that today would be a better day. I would be more patient and loving, I would handle everything perfectly and in doing so, Mateo would be better too. But I didn't know that this was not something I could control. And that's the hardest thing to have to learn. You can not control your child's emotions. I could not make Mateo love me, not even with all the hugs and kisses and patience and understanding in the world! I couldn't fix his hurts either.

What finally happened was that I went to a support group at my local DCF office, where the therapists from The Attachment Institute of New England were speaking. There was a question and answer period where I got the chance to explain the problems with Mateo and get some advice. Well, while they were very smart, the advice they had for me was irrelevant and because of his developmental delays, their solutions wouldn't have worked. But the most powerful thing they did say was, "it's pretty clear by looking at you that YOU NEED HELP!" Wow. That really hit me. Have things gotten that bad that you can tell I'm stressed, frustrated, and angry just by looking at me? I didn't think it was that obvious. It was actually kind of embarrassing cause everyone was looking at me and nodding their heads, while the therapists told me that by not taking care of myself I was actually making things worse for Mateo. I think they could hear the bitterness, resentment, and exhaustion in my voice.

So, help is what I got. And continuing tomorrow (hopefully) I will tell you exactly what that help was and how it worked. And now...I must leave you with three words...

to be continued
(please come back)

1 comment:

Adopting1Soon said...

Wow, this sounds SO HARD to deal with. I don't kow that I could have. You must have felt very alone, being the main adult at home with him, going through this day in and day out. I'm glad you found some supportive folks who had been through it and could help.