This post contains affiliate links.
These are my thoughts on a mother's love.
Princess on the other hand has a completely different take on a mother's love.
Her birth mother hurt her. She definitely invoked all of the senses, but not in positive ways. And then, she "left." Princess' life has forever been altered. Her brain has permanently changed. Princess has vocalized on many occasions that she hates her birth mother, and because I now fill those shoes, the hate is projected on to me. Such is the world of a parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
I've often found myself in the middle of quite the dilemma, knowing that Princess' birth mother did the best she could, a young single mother of 18 with emotional disabilities of her own. There were six months of weekly supervised visits, some of which I attended, all the while Princess was in our home as a foster child. I remember the day when Princess' birth mother called and asked if we would adopt her daughter. The day Princess' birth mother surrendered her rights will forever be etched in my mind. And the final goodbyes... Unless you were there, it's so hard to understand all of the emotions flowing freely as a mother gives her daughter to you.
You see, I know Princess' birth mother loved her. I know she did her best. I know that giving her to us was the hardest decision she's ever had to make, but by doing so, she made the ultimate sacrifice for her daughter. It pains me to see the hurt, anger, and fear that Princess still has for her birth mother. I wish I could take it all away so she could begin to heal and progress. (Mind you she has every right to feel hurt, anger, and fear.)
Watching Princess grow and learn has been fascinating. Understanding interests and objects she gravitates to, compared to those I had as a little girl has taken some effort and examination. One thing has remained consistent since the day she arrived. Princess does not like dolls of any kind, especially those with hair.
One can imagine how surprised Jason and I were when at Christmas time this past year, Princess asked for an American Girl Doll, not the typical dolls, but one of the itty bitty twin dolls. Jason and I discussed the gift choice for a couple of months before we decided to purchase a set of twins to split between two children in the family. We both knew it could go one of two ways. She would either love the doll to pieces or she would destroy it, maltreat it, and/or use it in very inappropriate ways.
When she received the doll at Christmas, we were very detailed with rules and expectations, making it clear to Princess that she was to care for "Anna" appropriately. (Princess named the doll.) Things went well for about a month and then we noticed that Anna wasn't being cared for. She was being used inappropriately during play. Princess was tying knots in her hair. In reality Anna was being abused and neglected in many of the same ways Princess had been. It's often so difficult to watch Princess sabotage a good thing. Jason and I ended up having to remove the doll from her room.
At that point, I was so frustrated with the constant push and pull of giving and taking. The doll was the last straw for me. We'd had so many incidents this year with Princess maltreating and destroying her things. I wanted to change things up. I felt inspired to use this experience as a teaching tool, and possibly help Princess process through a part of her story that she didn't quite understand, the part of her life when she had been taken from her birth mother and was in foster care. The parts of the story where her birth mother tried to get her back, and ultimately surrendered. Perhaps then, Princess would begin to understand the love her birth mother had for her, or at least fill in gaps of her story. It still wouldn't take away all of the horrible things that happened, but at least it would be something. Adoption is so complicated when trauma is involved. I wondered if my idea might help her realize that her birth mother really isn't going to try and take her back. This has always been a fear that Princess just can't move past and causes serious behavioral issues, especially around certain peak times of year that trigger her. After discussing the idea with her therapists, I went to work. I wanted the experience to mimic that of her birth mother's as much as possible.
Princess had already confessed to not caring for Anna appropriately. She admitted that she'd done the opposite. Jason and I created a contract or service plan for Princess, outlining all she needed to do to earn Anna back. We reviewed it with her. Her therapists reviewed it with her. Everyone signed the plan at the end of February. And then, it was up to Princess to decide whether or not she wanted to do what it took to earn Anna back. Click on the link to view the plan.
If she succeeded in earning Anna back, she would learn that she was not like her birth mother, and this would be a fabulous thing, since she often thinks that since her birth mother was "bad," she must be "bad" too. If she failed to earn Anna back, she'd go through the same experience her birth mother did, and through the process, learn more about her birth mother and how she felt, and about herself.
Sadly, but completely expected, Princess did not make it through phase two of the plan. On June 15th, we came to a point that no matter how hard she worked, she could not complete the plan by July 31st and so she went through the process of selecting a new home for Anna, and said her goodbyes.
But here's the thing, Princess learned A TON about herself, and about her birth mother. When all was said and done, Princess was extremely upset that she hadn't worked through her plan, and would need to give Anna away. Yet at the same time she felt such relief because the ordeal was over. She was very vocal, explaining that the process of earning Anna back was too hard, and that she wasn't ready for that responsibility. Caring for a doll was too much work. When I asked her to pick someone she'd like to give Anna to, she didn't hesitate at all. She chose the most kind and loving little girl she knows. And when I asked her if she still loved Anna, she was quick to reply yes. Lastly, I asked Princess if she would try to get Anna back from her friend. Princess literally gasped and exclaimed that she would never dream of doing something like that.
Then I started asking her about her birther mother.
1. How did your birth mother feel as she was trying to follow her service plan?
2. How did she feel when she knew she couldn't complete it?
3. Who did your birth mother want to take care of you?
4. Did she love you?
5. Is she going to try to take you back?
It was as if a light bulb went on in Princess' head. She answered every question correctly and accurately, with sincerety. Her understanding of a part of her life that had made absolutely no sense before, was so much more complete. We were able to talk about her birth mother's circumstances which included homelessness, lack of support, substance abuse, mental health issues, etc. Princess' feelings about her birth mother have started to change, which means feelings about herself will start to change. To understand and acknowledge that her birth mother did love her is a HUGE step. And to finally grasp that her birth mother isn't coming back to take her... So much healing has taken place.
Though Anna didn't stay long, she was definitely worth the adventure. The therapy that she provided was like none other. Anna taught Princess about her birth mother's love. And though it's complicated and messy in every sense of the word, Princess loved Anna, just like her birth mother loved her, though neither were ready for the responsibility of caring for another. They loved to the ability they were capable, just like every other birth mother I have ever met.
If you're interested in reading more about our journey parenting children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, be sure to check out the following posts.