Dave traveling to Congo has understandably been hard on Sylvie.
Several months ago, Dave went to Haiti with Help One Now to learn from and listen to the local leaders there. We struggled through that time apart, yet it was more of the typical managing-four-littles-alone-and-exhausted type of struggle.
This trip, however, has been entirely different. Behaviors have resurfaced that we haven’t seen in nearly a year. She has cried daily, and not the get-attention-semi-fake-cry, but a real, deep weeping cry. She has been having a really hard time sleeping (she is typically an AMAZING sleeper, praise God). She wakes up screaming, “daddy! daddy!” in the night. She is fearful and separation anxiety kicks in when I leave her side.
Kiddos with a history of trauma have a hard time dealing with change, especially changes to routine. The familiarity of routine and constant caregivers are comforting. Trusted caregivers leaving on an airplane? Anxiety inducing. Big time.
Sylvie asks no less than 500 times a day when daddy will be home. She asks if daddy is eating breakfast while she eats breakfast. She asks if daddy is eating lunch while she eats lunch… repeat, repeat, all. day. long. I have been practicing the art of patience with the even more than usual (and the usual is A LOT) onslaught of questions.
Jen Hatmaker’s recent post, Preparing Teachers for our Adopted Kiddos, was spot on:
“She asks so very many questions, mainly relating to time and calendaring and schedules. … Her life has been hard, and one of her issues is needing to constantly know what is going on and when and for how long. It is one area she can control, so her questions are endless.”
Sylvie is very close to her daddy so it is hard to be apart from him. Yet, his going to Congo is a whole thing in itself. It is confusing and scary. I have no idea what’s going on in her little mind. Does she think he is going there to bring home another child? Does she think he is going and not coming back? Is she simply grieving the trauma of leaving her birth country?
Y’all, this adoptive parenting thing is not for the faint of heart.
Conversations with other adoptive mamas have sparked my desire to share what’s working for us while he is away. I most definitely do not have all of the answers here, yet, I thought I would list a few practical tips (oh my word, I need practical approaches that actually work) that have been helpful. Many of these were developed while brainstorming with Sylvie’s (amazing) play therapist. (I’ll share more on our experience with play therapy in another post… I’ve had several questions about this and I could go on and on.)
Here you go, a few practical ideas to soothe fear in your adoptive child during times of change:
1. Lotion, baby powder, shaving cream. Stock up. When she is unable to calm down, I gently apply lotion on her hands and model deep breaths for her as I do. Then, I ask her to apply the lotion to my hands and we take deep breaths together. Baby powder is an instant calming agent for her, as well. She actually lights up when I bring the baby powder out. We sit outside on the steps and just go to town. She rubs it in her hands and then on her legs. Sometimes she applies to my hands and legs and arms and feet.. I let her lead. Same with the shaving cream. She can sit in the bathtub with a pile of shaving cream for a good chunk of time. It is soothing and calming for her and appeals to her sensory seeking needs.
2. Wear daddy’s shirts. When she is sad, I grab one his shirts and allow her to wear it. The fact that she can barely walk in it makes her laugh in and of itself. Because they’re so big on her, she doesn’t wear it to bed (but my boys do and love it), so we cover a pillow with the shirt and she keeps it with her through the night to wrap her arms around.
3. Use the word “safe” a LOT. You are safe. Daddy is safe. It’s mommy’s job to keep you safe. Safe. Safe. Safe.
4. Children’s books with a message. A couple of our absolute favorites are “The Invisible String” (“reminds children that they are never truly alone”) and “It Will Be Okay” (“trusting God through fear and change”).
5. Develop a new bedtime routine. Dave is very involved in Sylvie’s bedtime routine. So we had to create a special one for when daddy is away. Thankfully, my parents have been able to help with the other kiddos while Sylvie and I rock and sing songs and apply her lotion. When she first came home, we used a bottle at bedtime to encourage bonding. She hasn’t used one in many months. I decided to try one the other night and it instantly soothed her. There is something special that comes from allowing her to settle into the role of an infant, for just a little while, in order to release control and simply rest in her mama’s arms.
6. Take a break. I met dear friends for a late dinner the other night after the kiddos were in bed. You guys. It was exactly what I needed. Laughter + good food + good wine = a happy mama. The end.
And, the biggest of all: PRAYER. I often forget to just stop and pray. That first night after Dave left, I texted a few prayer warrior friends after several hours of attempting to soothe my hysterical little girl. The peace that settled into her heart and mine was undeniable. She finally was able to rest. The power of prayer is REAL.
What about you? I’d love to hear what works for your family during times of change or stress.