Love Lessons: the Moving Tale of a Mother Who Tried to Love a RAD Child from Russia – Part III

Excerpt from the Foreward from “Love Lessons,” a Soon-to-be-Published Book

Part III – October 2009

The “wounded healer” is a prevailing archetype of our time. If and when we can honor our path to wholeness with integrity and fierce honesty and love and compassion, faith and humor, we can then help others to do the same on their journey. There is symmetry in balance in coming to the conclusion, that those, who can most help the hurt and the traumatized children among us, are those who have taken on their own journey, healed their own trauma, and left no stone unturned.

As Jody writes about Victoria:

She is fighting a battle, daily, to free her heart. She didn’t even know she had a heart at war. It’s the only heart she has ever known. That sounds eerily familiar to me. This journey is the exact one that I was on. She was trying to free her heart of the very same things I was, so that her capacity to feel love and express empathy would increase. I don’t know who could understand and know the pain I have felt except for Victoria her. And I was raised in a home with loving parents and a family. She was a lone orphan living in an institution. Five thousand miles away in an institution. Our paths cross and we helped each other fix what we could not do for ourselves.

“From his mom.” she replied, like I should have already known. “That’s where everyone learns love lessons.”

What are the conditions that precipitate or necessitate a thorough self examination are not of the greatest importance. Only that we do it, and continue to do it, until we are done, and as it comes up again and again. More encouragement, landmarks and guideposts along this journey, are often necessary and always welcome. Moms and dads often report feeling lost.

I thank Jody and Jason for sharing all of the paths and passageways along their journey with Victoria us all. I hope it is of help to parents and professionals alike.

Daniel Siegel, MD, and his colleagues have made great contributions to our understanding of Developmental Neuropsychology. Through advances in technology, this research area has been able to demonstrate that theories of attachment are hard wired in brain development. His findings support his conclusion that the “coherent narrative” of the mother, (of the primary bonding figure) is the single greatest factor that determines whether the child will be able to successfully bond and attach to the mother, to the bonding figure.

Fonagy from Great Britain have shown that the attachment pattern of an adopted child will mirror that of the adoptive parent after 3 months of placement.

When children from hard places are taken into the home, what appeared even at deep levels as the “coherent narrative” of the mother and father, can be terribly shaken up by these children. The children’s trauma history is so powerful and pervasive; It is routinely filled with rejection, trauma, in utero drug and alcohol exposure; exposure to violence, and/or overcrowded orphanages. Therefore, their core belief system has concluded I will not bond. I will not be loved. It is safer to reject, before I am rejected…. AGAIN!

Helping birth children make a safe passage from childhood to increasing levels of healthy independence, while remaining attached to family, can give a parent an understandable sense of accomplishment, pride and a certain security in one’s ability as a mother and father. Parenting traumatized, and attachment challenged children will provide the opposite experience of oneself as a parent.

Mothers like Miss Bean, who have raised her sons so well, are qualified to bear witness to the fire, that burns when a “good home” takes in a child from a “hard place.”. The courage required of such a journey is unparalleled. She and her husband, Jason, survived, and can now tell the story so that mothers, fathers, and professionals anywhere can learn as witness to this journey. And since mothers, fathers, and even professionals are routinely if not always heard to say that they need information about this challenge, it is my hope that this can be a resource for adoptive mothers, and those, who try to support these families.

Understanding and treating Attachment disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Attachment challenges, or problems resulting from pervasive sanctuary trauma, of the very young, have had a short and controversial history in psychiatry and psychology. Research literature has focused on attachment as a relationship between two people. Some in the treatment field have placed the onus of change on the traumatized child. Thus, treatment and research have often diverged. Universities study the attachment relationship to great gains in understanding. Treatment focuses on attachment disorder as a problem that the “traumatized” child brings to the relationship.

In a way, this different focus for treatment providers is understandable. A loving family, with great morals and values takes a child in. The child rejects the families love. Is that the families’ fault? No it is not. And yet, what experience and perspective are teaching us, is that taking in children from hard places, will often times, test a marriage, a relationship, a parent, to its very core. It is said that adoption of traumatized and attachment challenged children results in an 85% divorce rate. This seems believable. If there is a chink in the armor within a parent or within a family, it will be identified, exploited, amplified and exacerbated by taking these children into one’s home. Families, who take these children in need to be understood, supported and applauded for the challenges they take on for the future of society.

I knew it was difficult to understand from the outside looking in but the suspicion was hurtful. Other people thought they could provide what I am not giving. So did I, once upon a time. Just more love. I have loved this girl more than anyone despite what I could not do for her. This love brought her to our home. This love allowed her to stay. This love will mend her. This love will allow her to love others. And despite what they thought, they had not seen her love. – p.150

Should these families be vilified, ridiculed and unappreciated? Or should these families be seen as the last man on the dike, trying to hold the water back, before it blows for good! Should we be GRATEFUL? Why are these ladies judged so harshly..

James Heckman, Nobel Prize winner for Economics, 2000, demonstrated that in North America at the year 2000 about 10% of our families are high risk families and use up the vast majority of community mental health resources in this country. If current trends in birth rates continue, then by the turn of the century, we may have 25% of the population at high risk. We can not support a democracy if ¼ of the population is at risk. As Dr. Bruce Perry demonstrates, most of our monies spent on “changing” people are spent when children are adolescents and young adults, i.e. once they enter the criminal justice system, and to a lesser extent psychiatric hospitals. If we want to make a difference, then we need to put our resources to work at the beginning of life. Ninety percent of brain development occurs in first 3 to 4 years of life. Personality and core beliefs are formed by that age. The attachment patterns observed at 12 to 18 months of age, will prevail across the lifespan, barring the untimely death of a parent, or major change in life circumstances, illness, poverty, violence, addictions while the child is still very young.

Families, who take on damaged, neglected and rejected children, are working for all of us, and for our children’s future. As an industry, we simply have to do a better job of preparing families for the challenges routinely inherent in adoption and foster care. As a people and a society, we need to encourage and accommodate any and all willing families, who are able to do this work or act of love.

In “Love Lessons,” we do take the intimate journey with Jody Bean, her husband Jason, her daughter, Victoria, her family and her therapist, through the challenges and traps inherent in bringing a traumatized child “home,” and keeping her home. It is challenging, but both mother and child can be transformed in the process of going through the fire. Miss Bean shows us the way in, and the way through. I thank her and
everyone around her for making this journey successfully, and furthermore for making it available to the rest of us.

Love Lessons: the Moving Tale of a Mother Who Tried to Love a RAD Child from Russia – Part II

Excerpt from the Foreward from “Love Lessons,” a Soon-to-be-Published Book

Part II – September 2009

What Miss Bean and the best research universities are telling us now, is that there is a path to redemption, even at these lowest moments. What Dr. Foster Cline discovered and taught after decades of working with these families, is that there are two things that make a difference for families that survive and succeed with the attachment challenged / traumatized child: A sense of faith, and a sense of humor. Miss Bean is shaken to the very foundations of her faith as she takes the necessary, fiercely and brutally honest look at her own history. Thank God that her faith was rooted in a secure foundation for she was shaken to her core. Because of this she was able to heal, and to accept herself as people with a strong faith in a loving Creator and Savior are able to do. As Dr. Purvis has taught, each of us can earn a “healthy, secure attachment pattern.” Sometimes a healthy marriage or attachment in adolescence and adulthood can help to achieve that. Even with that, many of us need to go back and resolve and grieve the unresolved hurt and trauma from our past. As experience has proven, it takes about 6 months to 2 years of a fiercely honest review of our childhood and past. The goal is not to stop at anger, projection and blame. The goal of this review and self examination is to keep our eye on developing a sense of forgiveness, and even blessedly a sense of humor about our own history, our family, our first teachers and theirs. It can be done. It has to be done.

Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. Steven Cross of TCU’s center for Child Development have developed TBRI, or the Trust Based Relational Intervention. Their research has shown us that most families, who typically bring children from hard places home, have wounds of their own. Many of these parents are children of alcoholics. Their early programming entailed taking care of those, who could not take care of themselves. Not by conscious choice, but by unconscious core beliefs, perceptions and programming, they are drawn to take care of those, who need help and protection, who are so challenged to take care of themselves; and who also find it so challenging to accept those, who can take care of them.

Or, as Jodi Bean points out the “tear” in the fabric of an otherwise healthy secure attachment can be caused by death or divorce. Research on attachment patterns, since the end of WW II, has consistently and repeatedly demonstrated that the infants’ attachment patterns at 12 to 18 months of age, will naturally endure, persist and prevail over the life span. Miss Bean’s personal experience bears out the research data. Death or divorce of a parent, while the child is still young can compromise a healthy secure attachment pattern. Such an experience will be experienced, interpreted and internalized as a threat to the developing psyche and developing child.

Miss Bean repeats often, what we nearly universally hear from mother’s, who take in these children: If only I could have known. If only I would have had the information earlier, a year, five years, a generation earlier… Please just prepare me. Another email from a mom today…

Two of our Ethiopian children are not living at home now, one of them wants to come back and hang out all the time, the other hates us. The others are all doing quite well. My only regret with adoption is that no one explained RAD (Reactive Attachment Dirsorder) to me until I was several years into it, I was totally clueless. I think I could have been much more successful if I had been prepared and understood what was happening.

Of course to sit in judgment of these mothers and fathers, who have taken in children from very hard places, is smug, irresponsible, damaging and dim witted, even if it is natural, almost unavoidable. We all believe we could do better. I think it must be biologically wired into our perception and response systems as people, as adults. We believe that our love, our firmness, our strength, our discipline, our playfulness could create a different outcome. Mothers like Jody, constantly hear advice from everyone, including their own mothers; e.g. love her more; be more strict; get him into athletics, activities, etc… We see mother’s trying to take the children out in public, in stores, parks, churches and airports. The children tantrum, and give doe eyes to the unsuspecting. Well intentioned adults fawn and feel sorry for the children. The damage this does at seemingly innocuous or safe settings, such as school and church and family gatherings is often irreparable.

I was getting suspecting looks from the teacher’s aide that felt like she needed to provide Victoria with everything it appeared she wasn’t getting at home. This was a familiar response to me, even from my own family members. I knew it was difficult to understand from the outside looking in but the suspicion was hurtful.

“So as hard as it was, for me, it was the right thing to pull her out of the last few months of school. What it simply came down to was this: I couldn’t compete with anyone else. I would always lose to the shallowness of attention. Victoria always chose the schoolteacher, the Sunday School teacher, the smiling stranger primarily because they were unsuspecting. She could draw attention out of them and not have to give anything in return. My love was scary to her. My love wanted to give and take”. Reciprocity was required.

As Dr. Purvis and Dr Bruce Perry, and the entire literature on Bonding and Attachment, since John Bowlby established the field, have demonstrated, the spectrum of parenting that can be successful with bonded and attached birth children can be very broad. Whereas the successful strategies demanded to re-parent traumatized, damaged and rejected children, is incredibly narrow. As one parent, who is himself a doctor, continued to experience in his struggles with his adopted children often stated, “this is “Professional Parenting” that is required.” And it is. Some would say pragmatic or practical, rather than professional. What these parents seem to mean is that, like a well trained mental health professional, parents can not take what these children do personally. If a parent gets their feelings hurt by the child, they will likely not be able to survive, much less succeed as a family with these children. If a parent wants or needs to feel loved by their child, they are in a very dangerous place.

Love Lessons: the Moving Tale of a Mother Who Tried to Love a RAD Child from Russia – Part I

Excerpt from the Foreward from “Love Lessons,” a Soon-to-be-Published Book

Part I – August 2009

  • A mother’s journey.
  • A child’s pain.
  • A mother’s heart being shredded.
  • A child who thinks she is protecting herself.

Great family, great parents, great loving marriage… The family believes it can help others less fortunate. Then… the traumatized child is brought home, and mother’s love is tested, challenged, doubted and put through the fire, like non-traumatized birth children can never do.

I explained to Victoria that I thought I was prepared to bring her into our family. I wanted her here but when she came, she was mean and angry. “ I tried so hard to love you until I became mean and angry. I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t know what to do for you and I am sorry.”

Jodi Bean has given a gift to the general public and to the field of psychology and human development. A recent 20/20 gave America a glimpse into the homes of families, who have adopted children, especially from Russia. Many thought it was startling to see the rage and explosiveness of these young children. Most of the families, who have adopted traumatized children made statements about the documentary like, “That was mild. I wish my children were that good…”

From the outside, none of us can appreciate how difficult the families’ journey truly is. Teachers, neighbors, even relatives see how “cute” the child is. We, who work with these children and families, have come to know cute as the “C” word. The families we work with can not stand to hear the “C” word anymore. The “cute” appearance hides the tragedy and trauma within. The “cute” persona conceals the torment and torture this child is putting the family and herself through.

“We were at relative’s home. Victoria came up to me on the couch and was being very affectionate. This was unusual at this point. Later, when we got into the car, I asked what that was all about. She replied, “I wanted them to think I was nice to you.” – p. 71

It is hard for most of us to imagine that children can be so destructive and so tormented. But we need to “GET IT!” as a culture, as a people, and certainly as an industry that endeavors to help families and educate children. Children are innocent until … they are not. Once they have been neglected, hurt and abused, once there have been assaults to developmental progressions, there is really no limit to the amount of damage that can be wrought.

“Love Lessons” takes us inside the home, the hearth and the heart of a family determined to love a child, who has been programmed and conditioned to not accept love and family. The strategies a hurt child can employ for rejecting this love are endless and countless. The pattern is painfully predictable and shared by all. The children create “tests” for the parents to fail. Then the child can remain secure with the belief system, “I knew I would not be loved. I knew it would not work out. I knew I belong alone. I am different. I do not deserve this family, this love, or any family, any love.…”

Conscience development can only happen when a child internalizes their mother, father or primary caregiver. When an infant child suffers “sanctuary trauma” i.e. trauma at the hands of the one, who is supposed to keep the child safe, and in the home, where the child should find protection and sanctuary, then that child can be expected to be programmed not to trust. The values and belief systems thus internalized, even for a pre-verbal child, are that adults and the world can not be trusted.

Many of these “children from hard places” are brought home by families, who believe they can love the unlovable. They firmly believe their love and their faith can heal the most wounded. Mom and Dad seem to believe, “I can love anyone back to faith in love, and trust in people and God.” As the children have the exact opposite programming and core belief, what can follow is sometimes a clash of Olympian proportions. Miss Bean, brings us inside of this struggle. She has the courage and integrity to openly disclose the terror and gut wrenching pain that a mother faces, when she starts to “hate” her child. A mother who never knew she could hate a child, much less her own. The self doubt and self deprecation that follow are ever so poignant, powerful and painful.

There was something else I knew I had to deal with and that was my good friend, guilt. I felt sorrow–– deep sorrow for her beginning in life and her beginning in her second life. I don’t usually live with regrets. I had avoided them for most of my life or let them go, but there was one hanging on for dear life–– my initial responses to Victoria were the opposite of everything I thought I was. That is why for so long I didn’t even really know who I was. I was angry, mean, yelling, vindictive, depressed, anxious, and clinging onto control that was slipping away. I felt weak. I felt like I was everything I had vowed not to be. It was completely breaking my heart and my spirit. These responses to her and my quest for justification brought me to the depths of sorrow.

As soon as I began to learn the motivations behind her behaviors, the first thing I had to do was walk that ever personal road of repentance and forgiveness. I, with miracles working in my heart, was able to completely forgive her for the things she was not even accountable for. I was able to let go of all the animosity and resentment. I did not hang onto any anger or justification. I had no idea how it was going to happen but it did. And that was the easy part. If there really was one.

Even with that knowledge, I could not let guilt go. The guilt that followed me would not let me go. I began to put conditions on when I would release the regret and accept the forgiveness. I would let it go when Victoria was better.

This served no purpose. In fact, she couldn’t get better until my heart was free to help hers. It was personal. It was long in coming. It was sweet in releasing. Do I wish it had been different? Of course. – p. 163