Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reunion Thoughts: Supporting the One Who Chooses Not To

EDITED: Eric has asked that I remove "needy" from the list of descriptors. Eric says he is NOT needy, he just likes things a certain way and chooses things to be THAT way.


No one could ever convince me there is one standard response children come up with to a complicated life history including abuse, foster care, adoption, and trans racial parents.

Why you ask? Because I have two children who have faced every experience in their short lives with completely different outlooks.

Two children with the exact same genetics. The exact same life experiences. The exact same pre-natal care. The exact same parents, 3 times over. And exact opposite personalities.

From day one, their view of the world has been very different. Eric lived with his first parents, his biological parents, for a much shorter length of time than Greg (4 months vs. 19 months) yet the effects of abuse on him, his psyche, his personality were far deeper. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis carried over with him through his toddler years and into the early elementary experience.

Eric's goal in life was to protect himself from any further pain by controlling the environment around him. Earning Eric's trust and respect is still a challenge. Those who know Eric in real life could tell you that it can take YEARS before he relaxes enough to show you his real self. He has no problem challenging the authority of those he doesn't respect and never automatically gives control over his behavior to someone just because he "should".

Eric is not an easy child to parent.
I can already hear the comments and laughter from those that know us. This, my dear Internet friends, (those left anyways) is the understatement of the year.

Eric challenges every boundary there is to make sure it's still there. He needs routine, clear expectations and quick consequences for crossing the line just to feel safe. He needs ME to be a strong and effective parent in a way none of my other children do.

His physical behaviors can be challenging, frustrating, ever changing and at times, mind blowingly obnoxious. And that's the easy part.

Eric's emotional needs run deep. There is one person in the world Eric has truly let in. Its me.

It took alot of work. It TAKES alot of work. The weight of this responsibility is enormous. Its rewarding in a way you cannot even fathom unless you have faced these challenges with a child yourself, and its exhausting in a way that only other mothers of similar kids could ever understand.
Eric has made me a better mother and a better person. We are so intricately tied together that my emotional health directly affects his emotional health still today. If I am out of sync, Eric is out of sync. If I have a bad day, Eric has a bad day. We are close. Very, very close because Eric needs us to be in order to grow and heal and become the Man God intended him to be. And I love that little boy so very much. We have both earned, through intense, laborious work, the relationship we have today. And there is much, much work still to come.

But I digress, because the story of how Eric views his adoption and life history started long ago.

When he first transitioned into our home at the age of 3.5 Eric acted as if he was simply enjoying a lovely, lengthy vacation with some really nice people (us). Greg catapulted into deep grief immediately missing his foster parents, coming to terms with the fact he wouldn't be returning to his birthmom and working on attachment with us. Eric, not so much.

For seven or eight months Eric acted completely indifferent to the change in his circumstances. The change in his parents. The change in his family structure. He showed some confusion, but little fear, grief or loss.

Then it hit like a fire storm. All consuming, he gave himself over to the emotions and we held on for dear life hoping we survived intact. We did. We came out stronger. Better for it. But never, ever wanting to go through that process again. None of us.

Eric holds on to dear life now to the ones he trusts to keep him safe, FOREVER. Eric could not, would not survive the loss of stability again. The loss of a family. The loss of a mother. His resiliency has been used up in his survival so far.

And that's how he views reunion. A threat to that which is most important in the world to Eric. Stability. Safety. Family. Routine. Me.

The choice to come on our trip with Greg was left completely in Eric's hands. But I will be honest, I wanted him to come. Practical reasons mostly. Two kids + One Trip = Less Money than Two Kids + Two Trips. His first family wanted him to come for obvious reasons. His foster family would have loved to see him. Eric took the adamant stance of NO.

Thank the Lord for a stubborn child. The trip and the emotional consequences of it that Greg sailed through would have devastated and terrified Eric.

Coming home, as we pulled into the driveway he stood there with a gigantic smile on his face. Both with relief that I was home, but also anticipation that I had a suitcase full of gifts for him.

I hugged him. I placed his face in between my hands and stared deep into his eyes. (Eye contact. Never, ever take it for granted.)

"You made the right decision Eric. Don't you worry for one second that you SHOULD HAVE come. You made the right decision for YOU and I am so proud that you knew that even before the trip "

Tangible relief. "Really??!!??" Half question. Half statement.

For now. For who Eric is today, reunion is not the right decision. One day he may chose to face his fears face to face in the eyes of his other family, but for now, Eric's security is far more important to him than his curiosity.

He likes the pictures. He listens intently to the stories. He enjoys the letters.

But mostly, he loves the distance.

No one, no way, no how will ever threaten Eric's world again if he can at all control it.

We work with Eric on his fears, but for now, I respect my son who made the decision that was best for him. And I respect the son for whom reunion was what he needed.

Two boys. Two different needs. Two different stories. Same mom.


Andy said...

Have I told you lately how much you ROCK!!!

You are one amazing woman, and I am glad that all 4 of your boys found there way to be with you!

Anonymous said...

your ability to parent both the boys is amazing...they are polar opposites but you know that and thrive in that...

Anonymous said...

Jen, as Andy said it best.....You Rock!

I vote that your next trip be to Upstate NY!!!!!

Jenny said...

OK, I don't know how I missed this entry back when you first posted it....I followed your reunion journey like it was a season of Survivor.

Anyway, Eric sounds just so very, very, very much like my Jason. Reading this entry about Eric mirrored my thoughts in so many ways. It is hard and it is a huge responsibility to be that stability. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one out there doing it like this.

You are doing such an awesome job with you kiddos.