I went to a workshop on parenting adopted kids on Friday. It was very good. Of course I think that largely because the psychologist was teaching what I had already come to believe. You know: behavior mod sucks; kids learn and grow through attachment; any parenting that attempts to coerce attachment will, at best, produce a submissive child; genuine attachment depends upon empathy.
It made me think about how much I have changed as a parent, and it made me think a lot about David. Have you read his Story? It starts here. Those of you who have read it knows that his time living with us ends with us moving him out. It was after his 18th birthday and we finally packed up his belongings and took them to the social worker's office so he could take them to wherever he was living. It seemed to us at the time, and still does, that David was planning on pushing us until we kicked him out. My own reflections on how his placement ended are here.
Of all my kids (excepting Ann who was never a permanent placement), David had the most attachment issues. He wasn't RAD, but he also didn't attach. He was forever the four-year-old boy who divided the world into "good people who give me what I need want" and "bad people who don't" and finally, "people who might give me what I need/want when the people I'm with throw me away." His attention was forever on the third category. Even while he lived with us I knew he needed a light hand. He had been in a pre-adoption placement and it had failed. He didn't want to be adopted. He didn't want to trust.
Though I think, or like to think, that I would have handled things differently if I were parenting him now, I don't think the end would have been significantly different. He had expected to leave us at 18. He wanted to leave. He wanted to be "independent" even though that meant, for a couple of years, that he was just finding new people take care of him.
The best thing we did was not to give up on having a relationship with him. We did very little in the way of commenting on how he was living his life. We certainly had no expectations that we would influence any of his choices. I just didn't want to lose him completely. He had a piece of my heart and I knew that I would miss him forever if I didn't stay in touch. So we reached out every now and then. We dropped by once we knew where he lived. We invited him home for the holidays. We hugged him and let him see how happy we were to see him when we did run into him. I don't want to make us sound heroic here. We went months without contacting him. I licked my wounds and cried and wondered why he rejected me. Every now and then though, I would force myself to reach out again. The first two years were the hardest.
Well, now he has been in the same loving relationship for almost two years. Now he wants to be adopted and he wants our last name. Now he doesn't just accept what he needs/wants from people. Now he enters into relationships. He lets himself be cared about and he cares for others.
I suspect he will always be a person who protects his heart. He may still sabotage relationships. But also know he is getting stronger and we are part of that journey.
And it isn't over. Parenting never stops.