My toughest job I’ve ever had has been as a parent to two older adopted daughters. Both of these girls came from separate families. They each lived with their birth mothers for their first five years, then went through a series of foster homes before living in group homes. Our oldest daughter has been with us almost 6 years, and our youngest daughter 3 1/2 years. Yet every interaction remains a challenge – for their reference point to any male authority figure has been one of distrust.
I still remember the first week that my oldest daughter came to live with us. She was 9 at the time and when my wife had to run an errand in town she asked me to play with her dolls. She didn’t know that I had little reference as a male to a make believe doll world. I should have done what my father-in-law did a week later when she asked the same question- “my doll went to work so he’s out of the house for now”. We’ve built a decent relationship with her at least trusting me a little bit- but she still fears physical affection and hugs with her father.
My youngest daughter continues to struggle with any sort of trust issues with me. She has major difficulties in following any sort of direction from me- and will spend all day arguing and trying to put me through her previous pain. We are working in therapy weekly to establish any sort of trust- but she truly believes after 3 1/2 years, that I’m going to do more bad things in her life like all the other males who’ve been involved in her birth mother’s life. No matter how much I try to explain to her that we need to work these issues out or she will have serious relationship struggles with any males in the future, she things I’m being unrealistic and negative- blaming her for the previous abuse and neglect that happened.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I just want to be the best role model I can be and show her that not all men are drug users, alcohol abusers, foul mouthed humans who when upset resort to physical altercations with females to get their points across. We’ve been practicing trust exercises in therapy- having her trust me to catch her when she’s falling. Last week she tried to brace herself with her right foot before falling, and as a result instead of landing in the comfort of my arms she ended up hitting my knee. Even though she didn’t hit the ground, she still believed that by hitting my knee I was trying to intentionally hurt her- thus reinforcing her feelings that males are unsafe.
The push and pull of this relationship can be tough. I naturally want to solve their previous safety and security problems- but they can only be solved at a pace they can handle. I have to be Mr. Reliable, showing them how a proper relationship should be between a husband and wife, and helpful to them in teaching the life skills they never had the chance to learn in their previous chaotic lives. I’ve looked for the happiness and fun within the little things that they do or say- expecting major breakthroughs isn’t realistic at this stage of their development.
I can’t take on their problems. I can only hope to be the rock they rely on when facing trouble and needing guidance. I spend a lot of my time learning more about attachment disorders, theraputic techniques, and reading to better myself and the world around my family.
Even when I feel alone in this tug of war, push and pull struggle to have a healthy family, I realize that thousands of others across the world are going through the same emotional rollercoaster- and still live to be there another day.