Dear Diary....You've Got This
I am a firm believer in letting people parent how they see fit. I may have opinions, but I keep them to myself. Ultimately, I know nothing about a family's dynamic so it's not my place to offer any opinions, offers to "help", or anything of the like. This was a concept I never really thought about until O came home. Don't worry, prior to his homecoming it wasn't like I was running around telling parents how to deal with their children or anything. But I never really thought about the real reason a child might be screaming in Target. Or why a tired looking mom snapped at her seemingly behaved child. But now I do.
When O came home, there were definite transitions that had to occur. His language was one. Appa and I transitioning from a married couple with no children to married couple with one child. O transitioning his entire life. A friend of ours, who also brought their son home from Korea at the same time we did, said something that rang so true. Our kids transition (and grief) is not linear. Meaning, you don't just check things off the list and know they won't come up again. Outbursts of anger. Check. Fear of new places. Check. Sleep issues. Check. Whew, glad those are behind us!
Totally not how that works.
The transition process is tricky. Some days things are totally fine. Your kiddo eats like normal, plays, give you hugs. Easy. Some days things are totally not fine. Biting. Pushing you away. Hoarding food. Sleeping as few hours as possible. Total distrust. Each day you never really know what you're going to get. But here's the deal - you've got this. I would chant this in my head every day (still do most of the time). Even if it were through my own tears of struggle. You've got this.
Pretty early on, we implemented some rules that I'm sure were head-scratchers to our friends and family. Thankfully, we didn't really have to "explain" ourselves to anyone. O was two and a half when he came home and this brought with it some unique challenges. We had to come up with some ground rules when it came to visits and just general life. Some of our rules were the following:
1. No holding, picking up, feeding, bathing or comforting O.
Seems mean, right? Who on earth doesn't let their child's grandparents pick up and love on their grandchild, for heavens sake?! Us. We didn't for a while. We had to ensure that O saw Appa and I as his caregivers. He needed to see repetition of us comforting him when he was sad or bumped his knee, feeding him when he was hungry, bathing him at night as part of his night time ritual. Just us.
2. Schedule. Schedule. Schedule.
After everyone in our house got past jet lag, we pretty quickly developed a daily schedule. And we didn't veer from it. Want to get together for lunch at noon? Sorry, no can do. That is when O goes down for his nap. Dinner at 7? Nope, that's the start of bath time. We were THOSE parents. Rigid as a board. But we had to be. Any large variations from the schedule would result in days of regression for O. In a world where so much was out of his control, a predictable schedule was critical to keeping him calm.
3. Saying "yes" to O as often as possible.
Chocolate cake for breakfast? Sure! 378 episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in a row? Absolutely. Another toy for your play room? You bet. I think this is definitely one that would throw people off. Heck, it was hard for us as well. But we were given advice from our case worker to say yes to our son as often as possible in the beginning. If he wasn't asking for something that would interfere with his general well-being, then say yes. Looking back, we probably did this for too long, but that's ok. I'd rather have that than for not long enough. Again, this is a way to build trust. If all O ever heard from us was "no" he would have been in a constant state of frustration on top of a baseline of grief.
Those are just a few known and implemented rules we had. Of course, there were others. And as he transitions to this day (because transitions are not linear) we adjust these as needed.
I say all of this to repeat my thought earlier. You never know what a family is smack in the middle of. That tired-looking mom who snapped at her child? She was up all night with that same child screaming for his foster mother. They've both had very little rest. The snippet you saw of him "acting just fine" is a moment in time. Not the whole picture. That child throwing a grade A fit in Target? He isn't "spoiled", he just moved to America with people he doesn't know and who don't speak the same language he's used to hearing. He's frustrated. His fit isn't really about the $80 toy his parents won't buy for him. It's about his lack of ability to communicate with these new, weird people.
If you know parents who have recently brought their child home, know that you won't always understand why they do what they do with regard to rules for their children. And that's ok. You don't even have to agree with it. But you should allow them to parent how they need to. Sometimes it's out of sheer survival and other times it for a very pointed reason. Whatever the case, support them. Follow the rules. And for goodness sake, bring them a cup of coffee when you see them. ;)