Monday, November 22, 2010

Sibling Adjustment (so far...)

I'm gonna be honest.  Before we brought Avé home one (of the MANY) things that I was terrified of nervous about was how my boys were going to adjust to this new sibling.  I wasn't all that worried about specifically how she would adjust to them... I was more just generally worried about how she would adjust to, oh, you know... everything.  But for my boys I was really concerned about how this was going to shake their world.  They are very tight, my two boys, and I wasn't worried that that would change.  But I was worried about pretty much everything else.

(Are you sensing that I can be a worrier?  Before I had children I was NEVER like this!  But this is what tends to happen when you discover that you never really knew what love was before...)

Some specifics that I worried about:
1.  Ben's adjustment; losing his place as the baby of the family, etc...
2.  How the boys would feel (or how others would make them feel) about being a transracial family
3.   What if she was extremely needy and took up all my time and energy and I had none left for my boys?
4.  What if adding her to our family really screwed up this great thing we had going?

I won't say that I wasn't concerned about her feelings and her adjustment, but the truth is that I was much more worried about the kids I already knew and loved rather than the girl who I wanted to love but had really only seen in pictures.  

One thing I think I may have done right before we ever adopted was to sit my boys down and tell them the following: "Guys, you know that bringing home your sister is going to be a big change- a big change for ALL of us.  And I'm sure you know that Mommy is probably going to have to spend a lot of time with her- helping her adjust to our home and our family, as well as to our food and our language and everything else.  And I'm going to tell you something that is very, very likely to happen.  It is VERY likely that you are going to think some thoughts like, "Mommy likes our sister more than us."  or, "Mommy only has time to spend with our sister."  or something along those lines.  And so right now I am going to tell you: THAT IS NOT TRUE.  In fact, if you do think thoughts like that you need to come and tell Daddy and I right away so that we can know how you are feeling and so that we can pray with you.  Because you know who likes to spread lies?  The devil.  And he would LOVE to mess up our hearts and our family in any way he can.  So if he can lie to you and tell you that I love your sister more than I love you and get you to believe it- well, he will count that as a very great victory.  So you need to know that in advance so that you'll know what to do if it happens."  It did happen once, and the boys came to me and I was able to remind them of that conversation and we prayed about it and it was all good.  

#2: I blogged about the transracial thing yesterday- but didn't really bring up anything about my boys.  The fact is- they think it's totally normal to have a sister who is from Africa.  And so do all their friends.  That adjustment has been a non-issue so far.  Which I think says a lot about the positive direction this country has changed in the past few decades.  Not that it won't ever be an issue- I'm sure it will at some point.  But for now it's been all good.

#'s 3 and 4 did not materialize (yet) and so I wasted my time worrying about that.  (actually worry is ALWAYS a waste of time.  you think i would learn that lesson... i've had so many opportunities to see that truth made obvious...) 

But #1.... hmmmm...

One of the biggest surprises for me was how quickly my boys attached to her. They just adored and doted on her right from the start.  It was sweet to the point of nauseating.  ;-)  Seriously- sometimes I would have to tell them to get out of her face and stop kissing her!  Especially when we were in the car and she was trapped in her car seat in between them.  I mean, let the girl breathe!!!  

THAT was a good surprise.  The next was not.

The next surprise was: she liked Jack more than she liked Ben.  

And she made it obvious.

As often as she could.

From as early as our first week together in Ethiopia. 

She was never outright mean, just rude and snarky.  Around 5 weeks home she would say , "Love Mommy.  Love Daddy.  Love Jack."  ...and then leave a very obvious silence while she looked Ben right in the eyes as if to say, "You ARE picking up what I'm throwing down, aren't you?"  

And it hurt his heart.

And that hurt mine.  

When his Kindergarten teacher said to him, "I bet your new sister is having so much fun with you!" he replied, "No.  She only likes Jack."


One day as we were dropping the boys off at school they both kissed her and told her that they loved her as they were getting out of the car.  She told Jack she loved him, but refused to say it to Ben.  And I saw the look in his eye.  The look of a 6 year old heart being crushed.  And just remembering that look has brought tears to my eyes once again.  

When we got home that morning I put her on my lap in the rocking chair and bawled as I told her, "You CANNOT treat Ben like that.  You just really CANNOT.  He's my baby too!  It hurts Ben's heart... it hurts Mommy's heart.  He loves you and you are GOING to be nice to him!  You just can't keep hurting his heart this way."  I have no idea how much of that she understood, but I do think she got the message.  When we went to pick up the boys that afternoon I very seriously told her that when she saw Ben she had to look him in the eye and say, "Hi Ben!  I love you!"  I didn't even care if she didn't mean it at all- she was going to say it.  We even practiced in the car.  And she did!  And because he didn't know I had FORCED her to say it, his eyes lit up!  Seriously... he fell for it.  Which made my heart hurt in a completely different sort of way.  He wanted her to love him so badly... he was willing to take whatever she would give him.  

Ben's teacher mentioned to me that he was crying at school over very random things.  Crying at school at all for Ben was very unusual.  I knew it was a symptom of his adjustment- losing his place in the family and making way for this dynamo of a sister and then having her not like him on top of it all was a lot to take in all at once.   Looking back I wish I would have had him go talk to our awesome school counselor about it, but the school year was coming to an end and I just determined to help them both work on getting along over the Summer.  

AAAAAAAND... I talked about it with a child psychologist.  Because, you know.  Let's just go right to the top.  Actually she is a friend and a fellow mom at my kids' school and I really trust her wisdom and advice.  I described the situation to her- how she just adored Jack and he could do no wrong, but how she and Ben just fought at every turn and she just did whatever she could to tick him off!  (and to be fair... Ben started giving as good as he got.  I don't think he would have done it to the same degree had she been sweet to him, but a boy can only take so much.)  My friend said some magic words to me that I treasured and will never forget.  She said:

"You know that's very normal, right?"

NORMAL!  Oh, how I love that word!  Seriously.  

She said, "She will probably have Jack on a pedestal her whole life.  He's the BIG brother!  And he's a kid who kind of lends himself to being put on a pedestal.  He's sweet, he's loving, he has time for everyone.  Of course she is going to adore him!  But the truth is... she and Ben are going to be a lot closer in the long run.  They will have to work out their issues, and in the long run that will make them really close."

I could have just kissed her right there. 

That really made sense to me and put my mind and heart at ease.  And over the Summer I did make sure that the two of them got along and had plenty of one-on-one play time while I worked with Jack on things like reading Sequoyah books and memorizing all the times tables.  And it really seemed to help.  They started to learn how to enjoy each other's company and to discover that they could actually have fun together.  Now don't get me wrong: it is very, very NORMAL around here.  Meaning that they are just normal siblings who fight and tattle on each other and break each other's things and hide them... But it's better than what it used to be.

Oh- and one time this past Summer she came in the back door crying her eyes out and telling me that Ben had kicked her in the NECK!  I was so mad... I called Ben in- of course he denied it- and started to read him the riot act about how to treat his sister when I noticed Jack looking really strangely in the background.  Then he started shaking his head and running his hand across his throat and mouthing, "That didn't happen."  So I said, "Ooooohhhh...  So that's what's going on..."  and then proceeded to try to explain lying in English to a child who had only been here for about 3 months and let's just say it didn't go very well but she was put into time out for three minutes and I think she's a smart girl and knew exactly what was going on.  ;-)

I snuck into their room just now and
snapped this. Don't you love the flags?  
Over the Summer I also let all my kids sleep in the same room.  Jack and Ben had been sleeping together either on the top or bottom bunk in their room for over a year, and so I just pulled out Avé's trundle and let them sleep on it.  I think sleeping in the same room is very bonding!  I just loved listening to them giggle and tell stories as they were falling asleep.  And they loved it too!  When school started I told them they were going to have to go back to their room and all three of them rejected the idea and promised to fall asleep quickly and not stay up late talking.  And really, I think they are doing a great job!  Recently we took down the bunk beds and set them up as twin beds in the boy's room.  Avé sleeps on one by herself (because she is still wearing a pull-up at night and, well, no one wants to wake up in a puddle as occasionally happens) and the boys share the other twin.  This probably won't be able to happen much longer- Jack is getting so big!  But for now... what a treasure.

So it hasn't all been smooth and we still have bumps or even boulders in the road.  But... it's gonna be okay.  And 'normal' makes me very happy.


Sohailah said...

I love this post. I, of course, cried when I read it. For Ben, sweet boy. And for you, wonderful mom. And so very thankful for the psychologist.

I need one, right now. Concerning Steve's daughter. I don't really know what to say or what to do...

Deena / TEAM MARQUIS said...

I can totally relate! My seven year old sweetie has definitely had the hardest time adjusting to life with a new LITTLE sister. He has been my baby for so long and loved that role. He is quick to point out whenever Grace does something wrong...they are a little tough on each other. I certainly don't blame him for his feelings and I try so hard to have special dates with only him.
Once again, thanks for sharing. Love the flags too! There is one hanging in my son's room too :)

It Feels Like Chaos said...

Oh, thank you so much for sharing this!! I love the conversation you had with your boys before bringing your daughter home. I am totally going to copy it and tell my 3 kids the same thing before we bring home their sister from Ethiopia (hopefully in a few months)! I'm not sure I would have thought to talk about those feelings before-hand, but how smart! Seriously, your wisdom and sharing your experiences is such a blessing to me! I have worried about all the same things you mentioned.

Karenkool said...

I got all teared up on this one too. Couldn't have seen that one coming. You did such a great job handling it, mama.

Oh how are kids can melt are hearts, break them into pieces, toughen them up, and give them such great joy. I like the last one best!

Selam! G'day! Hello!