Extreme parenting: Be a safe and predictable harbour


Claire Iver
Focus on Adoption magazine

Claire's 10-year-old son was adopted from a Russian orphanage when he was 19 months old. Her other son, Ethan, joined their family just over a year ago, when he was seven. Ethan was born in Canada and entered government care at age two. In this 12-part series, Claire shares the "fast and furious learning" that she and her family experienced when they adopted an older child.

The ugly truth is that I thought I was going to lose my mind in the first six months after Ethan joined our family.

He had extreme tantrums every day. Every night my husband and I would put our heads down on our pillows and whisper to each other, "Oh no, he's going to wake up again tomorrow."

There were times I barely recognized myself.

We'd done enough reading and had enough education to know that the tantrums were Ethan's fear talking. The possibility of pain and emotional damage was so high that the relationship must be tested, re-tested, and stretched to what he  thought would be the breaking point. But we'd made the decision, the promise, to not have a breaking point.

I remember someone telling me once that there is never a need to be angry with a child. They just need more coaching,  more explaining, more guidance, more restrictions, more understanding of the natural consequences of their actions. I  envisioned giving children space to experience and learn amidst respect and unconditional love. I didn't envision being the mom who goes hoarse screaming, "What did you just call me?"

I wanted to be more like the vision. I changed my tack because, quite frankly, the previous one wasn't working at all. My lack of empathy in the moment was not contributing to, and was possibly detracting from, our goal of healthy attachment.

I have learned not to "hear" what people are saying if they're enraged. The emotion distorts messages and magnifies irritations. What's more, people who are enraged can't hear you anyway. Even if they can, what you're saying, no matter  how reasonable or placating, seems to just fuel their irritation and irrational responses. Ethan will follow me around continuing to yell, loving the excitement of a good row. I provide nothing for him. No grist for the mill.

Now, when he doesn't seem to care what we think, I know we just have futher to go and more attachment to build,  particularly before he becomes a teenager! We show him with our actions, with our affections, and with our words how  important his loving little self was and still is. The more we do that, the more it seems to matter to him how we feel - not always, but more often than before.

This wasn't easy, and it still isn't. We don't take on anything in the heat of the moment anymore. I move myself away  because it's not good for me to be in that swirl of negativity. Instead, I fall silent. I do listen to what he's saying, but only as a way of gathering intelligence for our conversation scheduled for a saner, calmer moment. I let Ethan know he's welcome to join me again when he's calm. I wait till we're colouring, or taking a drive in the car, or when he's in a warm bath, and then we talk about how things are, and how they could be. You know, those conversations that start with "Hey bud..."

I strive to be a safe and predictable harbor, a place to retreat to in order to uncover and explore what's really happening during a storm.

Read more in the Extreme Parenting series.

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