There have been a few things that have happened recently that have gotten me thinking about Matthew’s emotional age. One is this amazing blog post–she says it better than I’m about to, so go read it and bookmark it!! (but come back and read my sub-par version!) Any adoptive parent or potential adoptive parent should read those words and remember them.
Matthew is 3.5–he will be 4 in May. But he doesn’t act like a 3 year old. He doesn’t talk like a 3 year old. He doesn’t even look like a 3 year old, really–he is so small! But he IS 3. And even though, intellectually I know, and logically I understand the fact that he regressed a lot after his adoption, that he was supposed to regress, that this was how it was supposed to go…..I want him to be 3. Because he is. And the worst part is, I don’t even look at him and think “three” anymore, I think “almost 4”. And he definitely doesn’t act “almost 4”.
I had a phone conversation with his preschool teacher a few days ago. I had some concerns and I had even (for the first time) used words like “autism” and “sensory processing disorder” with her. I really needed to know if she suspected anything like that with Matthew. She first asked me what I see that causes me concern. I explained his volatile reactions to everyday things. How one day he can wake up and scream at the dog, try to hit him, sob loudly…..because the dog is sleeping peacefully in the floor. Another day, he loves the dog or ignores the dog. How he might literally slap at a houseguest and cry and demand that they not sit on our couch….or sometimes he is thrilled to have company and interacts and has a great time. His teacher first told me that Matthew’s behavior is different at school and she has never even considered that Matthew shows any qualities of autism or sensory processing disorders (HUGE relief!). What she did say (about the things I shared and other things I have shared with her in the past) is that he seems to be acting out like a 2-year old…..which suddenly made a lot of sense. Not just that he was acting a lot younger than he really is, but that he mostly does it at home with us.
Because you see, adopted children sometimes need to go back and experience all of their life stages with their new family. They need you to hold them and love on them like an infant….because you never have. They need to go through all of this WITH YOU.
When we started our adoption, I absolutely made my peace with not having another baby. Really, this is something I did not mourn. And I LOVED all of the baby stages we went through with Isaac–loved them!!! But I am a realist, and once we found Matthew, I just wanted Matthew. And he was 2.5. I never even considered a crib or a nursery for him–we jumped right into big boy everything.
I was perfectly ready to start at 2.5 and move forward.
But he needed to go back….way back.
These emotional ages are tricky things. Imagine trying to cradle and give a bottle to a rough and tumble BOY who can pin your older son to the wall and hit him in anger.
It was weird, to be completely honest. And it was HARD. After the first few months, I was just frustrated. We had a 3 year old who for all intents and purposes acted like an 18-month old. And I wanted to scream–ACT YOUR AGE!
I will never forget checking out at a grocery store one day, and Matthew was whining and crying and arching his back and I picked him up and the clerk said, “oh, is he just learning to walk?”. Even if he was a pretty late walker, that comment meant that the clerk took him to be 14-16 months old. He was 3. And yes, it bothered me a lot…..because I wanted a 3-year old.
It is like a tightrope walk, because yes, there are times when Matthew needs me to let him regress, and I do. Thank God, there are some times when I do the right thing.
But there are also times he needs it and I refuse. I tell him to calm down, I remind him that he isn’t a baby. I just can’t bring myself to do it–my head is screaming “almost 4!!!!! He is almost 4!!!!!”.
Then there are even times when I want to baby him, I try to initiate some cuddling, some regression, and he pushes away to play like a big boy.
And then the even more confusing times of late when he is regressing with 2-year old behavior, but it is behavior I would not accept from any 2-year old. So how do I respond? Do I baby him, do I correct the behavior, do I walk away? Am I going to let him grow up to be a punk? Am I harming his psyche by encouraging him to use big boy words? Is there even a right answer????
Something else that makes this exponentially harder is the fact that we “twinned” the boys, meaning we adopted a child the same age as our biological child. So there is a living, breathing comparison there at all times. A child who DOES act his age, with all the confidence and swagger of someone who was cuddled and coddled and loved by the same parents for all 4 of his years. And Matthew is still testing that love. He is only 14 months old if you count how long we have parented him, so he still has doubts and insecurities………yet I look at them and think: they’re the same age.
But they’re not.
And it is just so hard.