Since bringing Matthew home, we have had to do a lot of wondering, especially about his behavior. How much of what we were seeing was because of the trauma he endured from being snatched away from his foster family? How much was just because he was 2? How much was because he was frustrated due to the language barriers? How much was just his personality?
I think the behavior he did and does display stems from each of these things. But do you punish behavior that results from trauma? Do you wait for him to have a better grasp of the English language? Do you pray things will improve once he exits the terrible twos? I know one thing–I prayed that the personality we were seeing wasn’t just his personality. Because to be honest, there were things he was doing that made my heart feel cold.
Nearly 8 months in, we have done a lot of sorting. We have taken into account the trauma. And honestly, his attitude in general has improved a lot. Even just after taking Yeonju to the airport, we have seen such a happy change in him. As I have said before, I really think her visit helped heal his spirit in a lot of ways. I have been rejoicing as I see him laugh and smile more. As I mentally and even sometimes physically prepare myself for a battle with him, and instead he is surprisingly compliant.
I think for the most part we can say we are past the terrible 2s, and his language is coming along. He absolutely understands everything that is going on. He can tell us a lot, but we still have some days where he chooses tantruming or whining instead.
Which brings us to his personality, and also to his attachment process with us. Matthew is stubborn. SERIOUSLY. Obstinate. Bossy. Headstrong. Got a thesaurus? Cause I could keep going. And I know that some of this is just how he is. I remember meeting him in Korea, watching him argue with his foster family, I even remember seeing him hit Yeonju when we were leaving somewhere that he didn’t want to leave yet. I remember being concerned, but telling myself, he is just being 2. After all, Isaac used to bite me until I had red half moon teethmarks all over my neck and arms….and I still loved him.
So while I know that Matthew is a stubborn child (and yes, we know that is okay and that this kind of personality, if harnessed correctly, can absolutely serve him well in life, but it doesn’t make life right now very fun), I also know that he rails against me harder than he does anyone else. And that isn’t necessarily a stubbornness issue, it is probably an attachment issue….an attachment issue made even more difficult because it is magnified by stubbornness.
He really, really does not want to relinquish control to me. He goes to church, he went to Busy Bees, he is now in preschool and he does GREAT! They all love him, and then he comes home and I say in a calm and even tone Matthew be careful as he nearly trips over something. He whips around suddenly with a hateful look on his face and raises his hand to hit me. (To be completely fair to Matthew, this used to be an almost daily occurrence, but it hasn’t happened in a while. He IS getting better every day. This is just an example of the way that he LOATHES to hear me correct him. It is also one of the things he does that makes my heart feel cold and makes me lay awake at night wondering if will have to attend court-ordered anger management one day.)
But back to control. I am not allowed to sing along with certain songs. I am not notified in advance as to which songs are sing-along-able. He decides on a whim and SCREAMS at me if I attempt to sing along with a song he has determined that we all must listen to with quiet reverence. Sometimes he thinks he can dictate who sits on the living room couch, or even who sits where. We have had 15 minute screaming jags about me pushing in a chair for him.
On Friday, I read this post from Kristen, which really says it best about dealing with attachment and control with an adopted toddler. It reiterated the things that I am trying to do with Matthew. Granted, sometimes I do still offer him a few choices to give him some sense of slight control. Peanut butter and jelly or chicken for lunch? But I don’t walk him into the pantry and let him decide. Because, duh, I have learned that that move can only lead to a 20 minute tantrum because he wants oregano for lunch.
So anyway, I am working very hard to let him know that I am in control. I am the parent, you are the child. I am the adult. You are 3, and should only be worried about playing with trains and riding your bike. I’ve got everything else. Seriously. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you realize that my control is actually a safe place, a comforting place. This should be a relief.
All of these power struggles were fresh on my mind (along with all of the other worries that go along with moving and trying to get the boys set up in new preschools) this morning in church. My mind was racing along like always trying to stay one step ahead of everything when I felt God saying to ME:
I am the parent. You are the child. I am GOD. You are human and you should only be worried about serving me and loving your family. I’ve got everything else. SERIOUSLY. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you realize that my control is actually a safe place, a comforting place.
And, yes, it was a relief.