Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hard work

One of my husband's hobbies is shooting. He enjoys target shooting at the range, though he never got into hunting. He is a strong believer in the importance of 2nd Amendment rights and individual responsibility for self defense. Philosophically I agree with him, though the hobby itself doesn't appeal to me much. He took me to the range a few times, and my reaction was basically "This is fun about like Angry Birds is fun. Line up the shot, let'er rip, and see how many pigs you knocked down...."  I don't play Angry Birds much, either.

He also reads many "gun blogs".  I figured I would understand my hubby better if I followed some of them.  Some of them don't do anything for me, being overly technical.  Others I relate to better, when they deal with  the philosophical/political/social issues at hand.  One of these is The Cornered Cat, written by a mom from a distinctly feminine - and maternal - perspective.  A recent post, titled Hard Work, however, went further.  It seemed to connect in a strange way to some of the themes of my blog here.  Go ahead and read her post.  Then come back here.


OK?  Now I will take some poetic license and re-write Kathy's post with a few, um, substitutions (in italics)....


Learning to effectively parent an adopted child with special needs is hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Although anyone can learn to do the paperwork and basic care, there’s a lot more to this discipline than simply being able to keep the child alive.

First, there’s the process of getting the knowledge you need about the legal aspects of special education, therapies, and attachment. None of this stuff is intuitive. The rules for adoption and schooling are different in different jurisdictions, and those rules change all too often. The rules for caring for the child at home tend to be more stable, but that does not make them either simple or intuitive. Getting a good, basic handle on those legal questions takes some effort and some skull sweat.

Then there’s the emotional hard work of sorting out your own beliefs about adoption and disabilities. When do you think it is right to bring another living, breathing, feeling, thinking human being into your home? When is it absolutely wrong? Those are the easy questions. Here’s the hard one: Am I myself able to take the child in if that is what it takes for him/her to thrive? Under what circumstances am I willing to do that? Am I willing to do it if it is a child of a drug-addicted teenager who likely has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and other congenital defects due to prenatal drug use? Am I willing to do it if it is someone with physical or developmental disabilities? Am I absolutely sure I want to go down that road? Am I able to face those choices without flinching or freezing?

After dealing with the legal and emotional/ethical questions, we come to the social issues. What will my mother say about my decision to adopt a special needs child, when she finds out? How will my friends react, when they find out? Am I willing to deal with the social fallout if my children’s friends’ parents learn that we have a child with disabilities? Thinking through those questions may seem trivial to some people, but many of us have a very difficult time coming to grips with those social concerns.

Then there’s the question of child behavior and psychology. Adopted children struggle with attachment in some predictable ways, but it’s emotionally draining to learn about how RAD happens so we’re better able to avoid it. We do it anyway, because that knowledge helps us and our children stay safe.  We must study how violent meltdowns happen and learn how survivors have defended themselves. Along with that, we must begin training ourselves to notice the things going on around us so we can learn how to avoid dangerous situations before they develop. That’s hard work, too.

All of that pales when we think about the sheer physical effort it takes to master the day-to-day needs of a child with disabilities. Again, anyone can handle feeding and changing a young child. But acquiring the skill to handle the child with confidence, understand how he/she works, understand how to keep him/her on-track even if something goes wrong – that’s hard. Getting to the point where we can handle the child with the same casual confidence we feel in parenting our typical, biological children – that’s hard. Learning to be patient and loving every time, regardless of time or stress constraints – that’s hard. Learning to teach the child with smooth efficiency, building the good safe habits that will see you through a tough time – that’s hard. Learning how to use cover or concealment while disciplining a child in public, learning how to move while maintaining routines, learning how to reliably do what needs to be done even if you don’t have much time, even if your vision is compromised because your glasses got knocked off – that’s hard.

After we’ve learned those physical skills, we need to maintain them. That’s also hard. Finding the time to sleep isn’t easy, and finding a competent babysitter can be very challenging indeed. Sitting on the floor at PT/OT/ST for hours while we develop the skills under the tutoring of a qualified instructor is hard enough, but having the personal discipline to force ourselves to practice the un-fun stuff as much as we practice the fun stuff when there’s no one standing there encouraging us to try it anyway – that’s hard.

Sometimes I talk to people who feel stupid because they don’t understand all of this intuitively, or because they can’t just pick up a child and care for him/her as effectively as the magical people do on TV, or because they have to struggle to master fundamental child handling skills. If you’re in that boat, please let me give you a ray of hope here: you’re normal. It’s actually normal to find this stuff hard work. It does not mean there’s something wrong with you. It simply means you are doing the work it takes to learn something challenging.

We do that work because it’s worth it. Being prepared to rescue children is worth it. Being able to protect and love children? Worth it! Having the confidence and love that makes a child's life of abandonment and neglect head the other direction – totally worth it.  Life is precious, and a child's life is worth defending.

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