Slam Dancing in Adoption: co-dependency.

Welcome, please join me in the mosh pit…that lovely loud place we call home and family life.

What, you ask? Have I moved the family into a strange new world, am I trying to reclaim a not only lost but never went there youth (yes, once again, dating my old self)? Slam Dancing? I mean, really, what?

Well, ok, what I’m really gonna talk about here is the idea that if you look closely, sometimes, you can find a not so great Co-dependency in adoption. You know: that term where you kind of lose yourself and you stop having your own feelings about things, instead all your feelings are what the other person is feeling. They’re having a bad day? Bummer, you too! They’re ticked? Oh no, I thought my day had started well! Dang! They are sad? Oh, now I have to be sad for them, and with them and…instead of them? Ah, I know what you’re thinking: Again, really, why have I started in on this? Isn’t Co-dependent stuff all about middle aged women who have dysfunctional relationships and/or low self esteem? Or, isn’t it about living with an alcoholic or workaholic and enabling them at the expense of yourself? Isn’t that the baggage for women who just get a little lost along the way? Isn’t it all just that big mess O’ psychobabble???

Well, yeah, it can be those things. Not sure about the psychobabble. But, sure, it’s a much more common issue than we like to realize, unless you overstate it by seeing way too much daytime tv talk shows…you know, the ones where ALL you see are the dysfunctional families and the morose middle aged gals.

But, at the risk of being flamed, here is what I’d like to just mention: This thing, we’ll whisper it: “co-dependency“, can happen, before you know it, when you adopt a kid from hard places, a kid who has more needs for whatever reason (organic or imposed), an older kid from hard places, especially.

Now, hang on. Think about it.

The bare breakdown of that term is not the problem. And I can and have written MUCH about how MUCH we are all dependent upon each other and made for each other and to help each other. I’ve gone on (and on) about the sheer awesome beauty found in that. And I will.

But. Here. In this post. What I’m saying is that the tendency towards this modern, less beautiful, sense of co-dependent feelings and behaviors is almost a set-up with the nature of older child adoption. The adoption process itself nurtures this tendency….it’s all about making things ok. What things? Well, EVERYthing(s)! We have to make sure every paper is signed on the proper lines, certified, sealed and delivered. We wait after getting our referral for the courts to do the same and worry sick over the child stuck waiting too: will they be ok, are the eating well, do they know about us, are they ok or scared, are they safe, will they love us? We become massive caretakers, not only that, but we become the majordomo of ….everything we possible can, when we are in the process of adopting. It’s what we are pushed to do and what we kind of self select to do and be and really, it’s encouraged. Heck, it’s lauded.

..and if I

And it can be a great thing to be a gal who can do much and arrange much and make stuff happen. It feels great! It looks great! It makes things work great! Right?

Well, the bear trap snaps shut and moves from great to not so much when that tendency, that behavior, that need, that desire….starts closing it’s center down on a person….or in this case, the child. And on you. Let me be clear, I am not saying don’t care for or about any child. But, if the urge to care for a child slips beyond the boundaries of what can actually be accomplished by any one human person…then that one human person has just slipped onto the slippery slide toward co-dependency.

Ok, instead of blathering and talking around it, let me give you a for instance from my turf. It’s taken me a long time, heck darn near two years, to realize that what my husband has been telling me all along is true. He didn’t use these words but he pegged it just the same: “You’re too connected to HER feelings, they are not yours and don’t have to be. That doesn’t actually help.” By which he does NOT mean for me to be an insensitive ogre; but rather, to be able to step OUT of the vortex of her feelings that whip up in an instant…the ones that aren’t rational, the ones that are simply trigger response. Seems simple, no? But, oh, so very not. Because when you have a kid from hard places, and or an older child who is new to your big old family, and or has special needs…you want, with every fiber of your being “TO MAKE IT ALL OK.” For them. For you. For the other kids. For the family. Just, because. You have a huge need to pull everything into alignement. To control and direct how it all connects and how it all is gonna play out and how everyone is gonna feel. That’s the majordomo part. Admit it ladies, it happens. If not, then it’s just my own freak, I’ll claim it. But there it is.

But, the trick is…it doesn’t work that way. So, you intellectualize it and realize you can’t actually make it work that way. You can’t majordomo emotions. But then you are staring into the maw of that need. Those emotions. Hers. You can’t actually effect or control or help them, not really, they are HERS. But, if she does A then you all are gonna feel B, and if she feels or does B then you all are gonna feel and or have to do C. The math gets all mucked up and it triggers it’s own little alarm bell in your gut, in direct reaction to your frustrated control instinct. A clanging, even.

Right at this point, is when the band starts playing. The punk new rave music tunes up. Here is the center of the mosh pit; here the co-dependent dance begins. And it’s not a lovely elegant waltz or a breezy two-step. It’s a jangling punk slam dance that bangs up every piece and part of each of you.

Really, once you allow her feelings to dictate yours, then not only are you not helping or being able to rationally address said feelings, you have just been pulled into the chest slam head bang twist of it all. You cannot empathize with her underlying fear or grief or insecurity if you are trying to stem your panic and fear at the recognized loss of control over how things are gonna move. The beat was changed and you didn’t orchestrate it, again. And again. But since her fears and insecurities that launched this dance are simply trigger responses and or reflect her inability to dance any other way, to this music…she’s not gonna be able to regulate that beat either. It’s all you.

What do you do? What now? You’re pulse is racing and your head is banging and you don’t wanna dance this dance. Look away from the fray. Co-dependent feelings suck. Especially for a high ranking majordomo brigadier, the top ranking one: the mom.

Well, the only way out is to let go. Not of them, not the kid. Of you. Of your misperceived ownership and responsibility for every nuance of their feelings. Let go of the grasping tension and flailing pulse. Let go of the control you thought you had because you didn’t have it in the first place. The only way to pick up a dancer/your kid, winded and bruised from the mosh pit is to stand on the sidelines, and be ready to catch them. Call to them to see if they can see their way out through to you. And then wait for them to get there. And then soothe them with a hug and hold them til their breathing steadies. Because let’s face it, if you’re in their getting banged up too, being co-dependent and letting their disregulated moods dicate YOURS, then you are actually no help at all. You actually become part of the problem. I’m not saying to dismiss or move away from that child. Sometimes you have to meet up with them and weather through that clanging hellish beat. But I’m saying you can move out of the emotional slam dance. You must, in order to actually help her. Or him.

So step out.

This isn’t the dance for you. It isn’t for her either, or your child. But it takes time to learn a new one. For both of you. Lessons can help. And they’re a lot of work too. But as with anything, practice makes better. Not perfect. But, better. And lately, working on this…I’ve been able to put my “steel toed doc martins” in the back of the closet sometimes…and I have, a little more often, pulled back out some of my softer dancing shoes.

6 thoughts on “Slam Dancing in Adoption: co-dependency.

  1. Great post!! One way I have learned to deal with it is blaming the behaviors on RAD and not the child. It sounds simple but was suggested by another mother and it works. When I feel I am getting pulled in I tell myself I will not allow RAD to have it’s way with me that day and move on from there. So many times the behaviors are very intentional but are soooo related to attachment issues that the child even gets caught up in them. They too are sucked into the vortex of RAD unable to free themselves. It’s so hard when we want to help are child but know getting involved complicates things more. My mommy heart functions just like yours, I wish we could fix things and make them better but RAD doesn’t work that way. Praying for strength for you!!!

    • Anne, thx for the comment! Your point is also great! The different things all our kids struggle with can easily be forgotten or masked; especially in the midst of the vortex. They frequently don’t have a physical tag or marker (eg, I’m limping bc I sprained my ankle…slow down please!). But their inability to cope goes deeper some times…thus the need is just as great. Tricky stuff. Reminders help me too!

  2. I always wanted to be a ballet dancer. But my body is too stiff. But I feel like going out and finding my own pair of pointe shoes and carrying them around with me as a reminder to glide gracefully. Purple ones.

    This is a fantastic post. Amazing. I have always thought these things, but never been really able to verbalize it the way I want to, and certainly not quite like this. Thank you.

  3. This is such an interesting post! I am just embarking on the adoption journey (just got a referral) so cannot comment on it from the motherhood perspective yet, but your post makes so much sense and really speaks to me regarding my experiences as an art-therapist working with kids with behavious problems. Wish you to go from punk dance, to ballet, to finally excelling in figure skating …. So glad I found your blog !

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