Tuesday, January 27, 2009

building attachment

This is the account (from the book "Becoming a Family" by Lark Eshleman) of an adoptive mom and her 2 year old daughter who she adopted at age 11 months. It is an excellent description about the kinds of thoughts and emotions that plague children who have been abandoned or experienced abuse, even after they are in stable, loving environments. I really appreciated this mom's perspective and her honesty in this account.

"The pressure has been building and, in a moment, the rupture happens. My daughter breaks a rule, makes a mistake, and thinks both her mother and the world are unfair. She feels the shame, she fears the reaction, and to cover the pain she screams at me in rage. And I am angry. I feel the sting.
What do I do now? Should I send her to her room, shun her briefly, make her feel the pain of isolation so she will know that this behavior is unacceptable? Will this motivate her to obedience? If I am an audience for this attack of rage, will I reinforce the behavior? I have been taught this parenting tool, this so-called "time out". Indeed, I am supposed to be an expert.
I need only look into my daughter's eyes to know that the pain she is experiencing right now is already excruciating. I can feel no desire to rub salt into her wounds with additional punishment. This seemingly small event has sent her into a downward spiral of shame. She is afraid she is unacceptable to me. She slides back to the infantile core memory of the loss of her birth mother and of her foster mother. She thought she would die then; it was a realistic fear. She carries that fear forward to this moment. She feels herself start to disintegrate, like she will cease to exist. The panic, the grieving, the rage so powerful to her that she fears the feelings will sweep her away and tear her apart, never to return to this world.
What do I want my child to learn in this moment? If I send her to her room, she will not die. She will get over it. But at what expense? She will believe that I have sent her away because she is unacceptable to me. Or because her feelings are to big for me and I, too, am afraid of them. She will stuff all those feelings into some dark crevice of her soul. She will try to convince herself that she doesn't really need me. She will add one more concrete barrier around her heart, another lace of barbed wire. This is not what I want for my child.
I tell her that she has made a mistake, and to try to not make this mistake again. Then I sweep her up in my arms and hold her tight and close. I tell her that I love her and need to hold her until we both feel better. She rages against my embrace. I am restraining her, holding her against her will. It takes all my strength to contain her. We are both drenched with sweat. But I am calm and my determination is unwavering. The rage is eventually followed by grieving, and then finally by calm. We snuggle and whisper and giggle, and all is well in the world again. We are connected, our souls touching. And this is what my daughter learns: "I will hold you for as long as it takes. Though you would cut me with the razor shards of your shattered soul, I will sweep up the pieces and be the glue that holds you together. I will be your lifeboat and we will ride the waves of your rage and panic and pain together. Your feelings do not scare me. I will help you with them. I will not abandon you. I am your mother. I am powerful, unwavering, permanent and safe. My love is unconditional."
Afterwards, my daughter is calm, centered and obedient. She follows the rules because she wants to. She knows she is safe and loved. We Quakers have an expression about holding. When someone is hurting or in need, we "hold them in the Light." This is how I hold my daughter in the Light. This is my direct experience with God."

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