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Surviving Mother’s Day

by Kim from Michigan

The month of May brings warm sunny days, flowers, and Mother’s Day. Under normal circumstances these would all be wonderful things. Normal, as you know, is not in the vocabulary of many adoptive families. This is especially true for a family who has a Reactive Attachment Disordered (RAD) child who is in the process of healing. Even with the extreme efforts and sacrifices of super Moms who love these kids and are trying to help them trust, RAD kids struggle to see that things can be different from what they once knew. I have yet to have a RAD mom tell me she had a terrific Mother’s Day, one she will always remember. One where the child was thankful for the opportunity to get such an awesome mom and was able to properly show Mom how much she is appreciated. This is something I am sure we all dream about and deserve at least a hundred fold.

Well I have a few thoughts on this subject that I would like to share, born out of several miserable Mother’s Days myself. I have great hope that they can work for you also. Although I cannot say I had an awesome Mother’s Day, I can say it was not ruined. I can also say I have great hope for the future. I began thinking in earnest about why these children feel the need to ruin the day for their adoptive Mothers. I concluded the following three reasons, although I am sure there are others. Many of these children feel they are betraying their Birth Mom. Many do not understand yet what a Mom is supposed to mean to a child. Others view their Adoptive Mom as the reason why they can’t be with their Birth Mom. Any of these reasons would logically crush any hope for a fulfilling Mother’s Day for an Adoptive Mom. There is also no doubt a tremendous sense of loss for adopted children about this holiday.

My idea was created in an effort to ease the loss and to give our child back something she felt cheated out of. I created a Mother’s Day Eve. This is a day set aside to REMEMBER her Birth Mother. I use the word remember because it may not be a celebration for the children, after all they are not with their Birth Moms for a reason.

You’ll have to fine tune the concept to fit your own family environment and issues, but this is how my family remembers Mother’s Day Eve. The remembrance basically centers around a dinner together. It is the attention to the details that set it aside from any other ordinary day though. To start, it is important to treat this as a very special day. Give it the same care and attention you would as if it was for your own family. Several days before the event, our child picks out the entire dinner menu, including a cake mix and frosting. If time allows, we take her grocery shopping for the items. We bake the cake portion together during the afternoon of the Eve. Our daughter is then allowed to decorate the cake anyway she sees fit. The menu portion and cake are excellent mediums for her to express how she is feeling on the inside. Go with the flow and consult your therapist if any requests are unsettling.

Be careful not to make children feel their ideas are bad. Our first experience turned into an art therapy session for drugs and alcohol. Our child let color direct the palette–the color of drugs and alcohol in her Birth Mom’s body. Let me tell you it was very gross AND very healing. While preparing the food, we put out the fine linens and good dishes. We then place a picture of our daughter’s Birth Mom (ask the children to draw a picture of what they think she looks like if photo is unavailable) on the table as the centerpiece with maybe a decoration she makes during the day.

At dinner, we toast the Birth Mom and thank her for bringing (child’s name) into this world. At the completion of the meal, we clear the table together and then sit down to make Mother’s Day cards for her Birth Mom. We all make them individually. Again I think it is a great way for our child to express her feelings artistically. Don’t be upset or surprised if anger or sadness comes out. It is all part of the healing process. The way I figure it is, if she is getting feelings out, it is called progress. It’s all that stuffing her feelings and being stuck that causes all the problems anyway.

Our family shares what we each write on the cards afterwards. This sharing helps validate our daughter’s feelings and helps us as parents understand what her thought processes and fantasies are. We then gather up all the cards and place them in a special keepsake box that she keeps in her possession. Sometimes we let the cards sit out over night on the table. This is our daughter’s preference. Sometimes she is not ready to bring the day to closure. The acknowledgement of our daughter’s Birth Mom seemed to free up our daughter emotionally to not ruin the actual holiday. Remembering on Mother’s Day Eve gave her an opportunity to do something she felt she had lost the right to do. It also seems to have aided in the healing and acceptance for her, her Birth Mom, and our current family.

We currently practice this concept with all the holidays. We have had great success with preserving the actual holiday. Now that’s not to say we have not had awful moments due to our daughter feeling like she does not deserve goodness and presents. However, this seems to have taken the steam out of it being against us as the adoptive parents. After our first experience I thought to myself, how wonderfully accepting for our child to feel like she can have parts of both families with her. After all, we cannot erase her past and her connections to another family. Accepting that part of her life and helping her stay connected in a healthy way is a great gift unto her and our selves. I wish you all the best in trying this idea out.

Help Mom Feel Special on Mother’s Day
Those of us who have given our whole heart and soul to heal adoptive and Reactive Attachment Disordered (RAD) children know that many of these kids are unable to give their Mom’s the kind of Mother’s Day she deserves. Mother’s Day Eve (a previous idea) may assist in keeping them from ruining the day, but the Mom is still not going to get the kind of day she deserves. Until you have actually lived with one of these children, you cannot possibly imagine how radically a Mom’s life changes. The sole focus of a Mom’s life becomes the goal of healing the child. Here in lies the danger because the child’s objective is to push the Mom away and make her feel everything the child does.

These Moms need a lot of help. They need support and reminders of how awesome they really are in order to carry out their new role in life. The RAD Mom especially is not celebrated by the child on Mother’s Day, as is the custom in a healthy relationship between mother and child. Instead these moms have to take their gifts of joy from moments when progress is made in the form of a particularly horrible behavior that stops (and we all pray is not replaced with another). Progress can be made when, on rare occasions, genuine emotions are expressed. Perhaps when love and logic parenting works, and children begin to learn from their mistakes and don’t repeatedly commit the same offense over and over again. Maybe it is when the children finally begin to care about something that gives parents some leverage (this is a two fold reward). Progress could be when parents can pay a compliment to their children without getting a pay back for it. How about when they begin to accept responsibility for their own happiness because they realize they are not bad and that they do deserve a great life. These are joys a RAD mom waits along time to get however. She does not get the daily, weekly and even monthly rewards of hugs and kisses and meaningful thank you’s and I love you’s.

There is no such thing as a great Mother’s Day for a Mom who lives with a RAD child in the process of healing. These children are simply not capable of reciprocal behavior. They do not know how to show love and appreciation. They after all are still just trying to survive. They only know how to drain a Mom beyond belief. They are strictly takers. They do not give back. There in lies the toughest part of the job for a Mom because she does not get back on a regular basis for all her hard work and commitment. The rewards come very slowly over months and years.

As a parent of RAD children, I know I need a lot of encouragement, shared perspective, and support to keep a healthy parenting attitude towards my children. I urge all of you who are around one of these Mom’s to take extra care in letting her know what a great Mom she is and that the commitment that she is making to heal the damaged soul of a child is a great gift unto all of us. Show her she is appreciated by sending flowers or a card, make dinner, do her laundry, give massage gift certificates or up lifting books. Do things that help her keep something she is interested in, something she no longer has time for, such as tending her garden, buying scrap book supplies and offering to help or cooking magazines for the gourmet. This can help minimize the losses she feels.

Other ideas can be, surprising her with a morning break of coffee and bagels, going grocery shopping for her, or buying soft relaxing music, scented body soaps and lotions. And don’t under estimate the power of a hug. Consider anything that eases her burdens and provides momentary joy. These Mom’s sacrifices are tremendous and in order for them to continue in this often thankless and isolating job they NEED to feel lots and lots of loving support around them on Mother’s Day and through out the year.

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