help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

Letting Go of the Parent You Thought You Would Be

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Funny Family Ecard: You're making it difficult for me to be the parent I always imagined I would be.

It seems to me that many parents I come across in my practice are in a grieving process without being fully aware of it. I would venture a guess that there are many parents outside of my practice who are grieving as well. Grieving, while often associated with death, is really just a word that describes a transition from one reality to another. Transitions have stages that go along with grief like, sadness, denial, blaming, anger, bargaining, and relief. We can grieve relationships with or without death. We can grieve changes, like moving from a home we have loved to a new home- even if we are excited about the move. What I think most parents grieve is the fantasy they had about the parent they thought they would be. We all have those thoughts before we become parents, then, after becoming parents, we have days where we question what the heck we were thinking in the first place.

I remember having my first daughter. I was so excited and felt so much joy that she was coming. I was allowed that pure joy because I did not fully understand at that time, nor could I really without experiencing it, the enormous undertaking I was embarking upon. I remember that almost confused feeling, where my husband and I wondered aloud how it was that we came to the hospital, two of us, and left with a whole extra person. All the nurse needed to check was that we had a car seat properly installed. I’m sure the same is true for adoption and fostering as well. One day there are two of you, or one person on your own and the next day there is a whole extra person who does not know a thing about your expectations (even if you told them) and they are just there…all the time.

I think of those emotions, in contrast to having my second daughter, where I cried in the delivery room before I had her. When my husband asked me why I was crying, I told him I was happy, but I was also scared. I knew then the awesome responsibility we were taking on. We were responsible for a human life…two of them! Even with the knowledge that we had a supportive family and community around us I still felt that feeling, you know, that knowing that “the buck stops here.” I wanted to be a good parent and, even with all my training as a social worker, I knew it was going to be tough to feel successful as a parent.

I know too, that for parents adopting children at an older age, there is an added complexity. When you adopt an older child, you don’t have the advantage that parent of infants have in that, when you figure out you do not know what the heck you are doing, your child does not understand that you are just figuring this stuff out too. Instead, you have a child who is probably a bit hypervigilant, who is looking to see if you do know what you are doing, and who is actively testing you every step of the way (usually without naps). Even if you have already raised biological children, you have now taken on a child with a history you did not control and that was not ideal. They are going to be vigilant in their seeking to see if you know what you are doing, as you realize that really, lots of times you don’t, even if you went to all the trainings about therapeutic parenting.

A few weeks ago, I was laughing with a mom in my office when she told me she thought adopting internationally would be great, her son would be used to other children, having spent the first year of his life in an orphanage with other children.  She would put him into daycare right away, where he would be familiar with other children, then she could keep working, and sometimes she and her husband could sneak away for dates periodically. She told me this after we had just spent the session with me reinforcing the importance of this mom spending time alone with her husband, since she had been a stay at home mom and they had not had a date in the three years since they brought their child home.

We parents all know that the actual day to day realities of raising children are different, perhaps vastly different, than what we expected. Some of it is more amazing than we could have ever imagined. Parenting can be funny, serious, exciting, and tiring! No matter what, it is always different than we thought it would be.

The children I see most often come with an unique set of challenges. They have been traumatized. Their brains work differently than other children’s brains due to neglect or drug use while they were in utero. They have experienced loss. Their hearts have been broken. In a harsher, less gradual way, the parents I see recognize that the children that live with them, sometimes children they have not had an opportunity to fall in love with yet, if they were adopted at an older age, need more than our traditional notions of  parenting have afforded us. Biological parents can find this out as well. We live in a new age of parenting where there really is no dominant model for parents to follow. The media loves to tell you how to raise your child the “best” way until, if you were to try to simultaneously follow all the advice, you would feel schizophrenic trying to figure out whether you are supposed to tell them what to do, let them figure it out themselves, hover, or hang back, stay home or work… the list is endless.

I think a big part of the grieving I see in parents is grieving the loss of knowing what you are supposed to do! As a single, or even in a couple, before those little ones came along, we knew which days were sleeping in days. We ran our own schedules. We thought when the kids came we still would know what to expect in a given day, remember? Remember transitioning from most of the time being your time, to your time feeling like stolen time where you had to weigh whether it was “worth it” to take time for yourself away from your children? I remember before children, going to the movies with my husband and turning around to go home without seeing a movie because we had already seen all the movies that were worth seeing. One day we will get there again…maybe.

Until then, we will go through a series of transitions. We will transition from knowing where our child learned everything, to hearing them have a thought or bring home an understanding from someplace else. We will watch our children prove to us over and over that while we can attempt to control their outside world, we do not have total control over their inside world as they will have their own unique interpretations of the world as they see it. We will realize we can not shield them from pain, nor can we make them forget the pain they have already experienced in the way we fantasized we could. We will see our own understanding of parenting shift as well. The parent we thought we would be makes way for the parent that we are becoming. Often, we find that rather than being the parent we imagined we would be, we must adapt to becoming the parent our unique children need us to be.

What have been some of the transitions you have made as a parent that surprised you?

Related Posts:

Messing Up Children in Just the Right Ways (help4yourfamily.com)

A Quick Primer on Early Primary Relationships (help4yourfamily.com)

To Parents Who Worry Their Children Will Harm Others (help4yourfamily.com)

Quick Self-Care for Parents (help4yourfamily.com)

February 28, 2013 Posted by | child development, help for parents, mental health, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caught in the Loop: Why People Repeat the Same Bad Choices Over and Over

train circle

train circle (Photo credit: bitmapr)

written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

When I met Aaron, he was 10 years old and living with his parents who had adopted him after three failed placements.  Aaron’s parents were at a loss about what to do with him.  They were committed, loving parents who wanted to help him make better decisions; however, after living with them for over a year, Aaron continued to have bizarre behaviors that they did not understand.  In addition to continuing to steal from his parents any time he had the opportunity, his parents had just figured out that he had also been urinating into the vents in his room.  Aaron’s parents were at a loss as to how to help him change this behavior and they were terrified that it would continue to get worse.

Children who have experienced trauma can seem to continually engage in activities that can be baffling to parents.  I have had many a parent come in to my practice and describe a foster or adopted child who seems to seek attention in negative ways and to actually work to recreate the circumstances that were traumatizing to them in the first place.  From rooms that seem to get instantly messy immediately after cleaning them, to repetitive behaviors that pluck even the calmest parent’s nerves, these children can seem intent on turning their parents into a recreation of the child’s biological parent or earliest caregiver.  There is a name for this phenomenon.  It is called “traumatic reenactment.”  The best way to explain traumatic reenactment is to first understand how trauma works, and the ways we store it in the brain.

Think of your brain as a computer.  The files in your computer are stored in different areas.  There is a short term memory file that stores what you had for breakfast today and yesterday.  There is a long term memory file that stores the stories from your childhood.  There is the work file, the running “to do” list file, and many, many more.  Days that go as planned are pretty easy to file away.

But what happens on a day when something traumatic happens?  An easy definition of trauma is anything that impacts you in such a way that it causes you to feel as though your life is in serious danger, with the possibility of death, or that changes who you perceive yourself to be in a negative way.  To show how people typically store traumatic memories, let’s take the example of a car accident.  You do not wake up in the morning thinking this is probably going to be the day you are in a car accident.  If you really believed that, you would probably never get into the car.  But, there you are, driving down the road and someone sideswipes the car you are in.  No one is hurt, but there are a few moments of panic and your car is seriously damaged.  What do you do?  Well, of course, as an adult you make sure everyone in both cars is okay, call 911 to make sure no one is hurt, and then the insurance.  But what is happening with your memory filing system?  How are you filing this memory?  It sure does not go in the breakfast file!

What happens with trauma is that, until we file it, it acts like a virus on our computers.  If you have ever had a virus on your computer, you know what happens.  You go to get on the internet and think you are checking your email, only to find all kinds of unwanted images popping up on your computer.  Then, if and when you are able to get to your email, you may find out you sent a bunch of messages to people that were not even from you!  You never sent that!  This is how trauma works.  Until you file that traumatic memory you just got from the car accident, your brain is going to be working overtime to file it.  You will go to get in the car and up will pop the memory of the accident and maybe another accident you had a while back.  You will start to remember those terrifying moments when you were out of control and you did not know if you were going to live or die.

Healthy adults file traumatic memories as they verbally process the trauma.  Remember how you called the police?  You had to tell them what happened so they knew who to send.  You were processing the memory.  Remember when you had to call the insurance?  Same thing.  Did you sit in your car for a moment and do some sort of self-soothing like deep breathing to calm yourself down?  Maybe you got a hug or reassurance from someone.  Perhaps you reminded yourself that you have been in cars thousands of times and the vast majority of those times nothing bad happened.

If you did any of those things, you were processing and filing your memory.  Another part of filing trauma is finding a way to understand the event.  This includes thinking about whether you could have done something differently, how you got through it, and how you can avoid the same thing happening again.  Therapists call that mastering the situation.

Now, think about the child you have or have had in your home who has experienced trauma but did not have anyone to process it with and did not have anyone to soothe them, nor did they know how to self soothe, after all, who would they have learned soothing from?  The clinical term for the way this “virus” manifests is “traumatic reenactment.”  It goes like this.  A trauma occurs.  It is not filed appropriately because there is either no, or not enough, processing or soothing for the child.  The child tries to gain mastery (understanding) of the trauma by subconsciously putting themselves back into the same situation over and over again in an attempt to understand or “master” it.

Remember Aaron?  When Aaron lived with his birth parents he was repeatedly locked in his room for days at a time when his parents went on drug binges.  When his adoptive parents brought him in to see me he was lying and stealing constantly, then, they had recently discovered that when they sent him to his room for punishment, he had been urinating into the vents of their home.  What became clear was that this child had found a way to experience a traumatic reenactment with his adoptive parents.  He lied and stole, then got sent to his room for punishment.  While in his room, he had the emotional experience of feeling trapped again, just as he was trapped when he was very young.  In his mind, being sent to his room meant he was not allowed to come out even to go to the bathroom.  When he had to go, he did what he had before, went in the vents, so he did not have to be around a wet spot in his room.  His loving parents had responded in every way they could think of to change these behaviors, but it was not until they understood where the behaviors were coming from that they were able to adapt their responses to more accurately fix the underlying problems.

In therapy, Aaron processed the trauma, learned how to soothe himself and to be soothed by his parents.  It really did not take long for the vents to become dry again so his parents could focus on new ways to address other issues related to his early abuse and neglect.  For traumatized children, I strongly recommend counseling, with a therapist that specializes in trauma, as a resource to help them process traumatic memories to improve behaviors and help parents find a way to adapt parenting styles in ways that are most beneficial to the child.

January 15, 2013 Posted by | attachment disorder, child development, discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tips for Gift Giving and the Child With a History of Abuse

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift.

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

It is the time of year when many adults are on a mission to find just the right gifts for the special children in their lives. One issue that comes up in my practice around this time of year is that of giving gifts to children who have a history of abuse or neglect. While many adults would love to believe that this is the time of year when we can try to make things right, be it a child who may have missed out on many of the memories that make us misty eyed, or laugh out loud when we think about them. I have spoken with many a parent who wishes to restore the magical elements of the Christmas or Hannukah holiday season by showering children with gifts and creating special memories for children in hopes of replacing older more difficult memories.

To ease the way for adoptive and foster parents of children who have a history of abuse or neglect, I would like to give some food for thought as you decide what will work for your child this holiday.

1. Please be aware that for children who have been abused, gifts may carry a different meaning than they do for other children. Many times the cycle of physical abuse including domestic violence may include gifts from the perpetrator following the abuse as the abusers way of trying to apologize or bribe a child into staying silent. Additionally, a child who has been a victim of sexual abuse may have been offered gifts as part of the process of grooming the child for abuse, or again as a means to apologize or buy silence from the child. If you have a child in your home who has experienced this, or you are uncertain if a child has experienced the giving of gifts as part of a cycle of abuse, please be sure to check in with your child’s therapist to see what you might need to do to help re-write the script for you child when it comes to the giving and receiving of gifts. This process cannot be described in a post because it will need to be individualized for each child. If you are uncertain whether your child has this issue and they do not have a therapist, it is time to start looking for one.

2. When children have a history of abuse or neglect, they tend to miss the lessons we all learn (or don’t learn) as babies about emotional regulation. In other words, whereas the rest of us tend to learn over time that we all have highs and lows, sometimes even in the same day, and we learn to manage those highs and lows, children with an abuse or neglect history have not been taught this same emotional management systems so the highs can seem higher or more agitated and the lows can seem lower. Many parents describe to me that their adopted or foster child just can’t seem to stop when things are going well and find a way to get into trouble every time they have a good day. If you have a child like this, I would suggest that for the child’s benefit, you pare down your festivities to something that is more meaningful to them and which does not get them more over-excited than they already are. A few thoughtful gifts will be more meaningful and easier to manage than a tree that has many, many gifts underneath it.

3. Remember your child may not have learned about the same traditions you have around holidays and birthdays. I have had children tremble and shake in my office over the idea of “birthday spankings,” because they actually got painful birthday spankings in their birth family, or because a foster or adoptive parent mentioned them as a joke, but the child in question did not hear it as a joke but as a threat. Similarly, I have had children in my office who have had Christmas taken away as punishment for being bad, or had gifts given only to be repossessed by parents the next day. Some children have had traumas specific to a given day, for example, witnessing domestic violence at Thanksgiving or seeing a parent get hurt by another parent who did not agree with how much money was spent on a child’s gift. Children may have been given an internal message that all gifts bring pain of some sort with them, whether it is the pain of disappointment, physical or emotional pain, or the feeling of being unworthy of a gift. Again, if you are concerned that this is an issue for your child, the time is now to begin discussing it with your child’s therapist to see about recognizing and rewriting old belief patterns.

4. Consider whether your child may need you to walk them through the gift giving process in your family. Most of us do not think about it, but each family really does do things in a unique way. Letting your child know how this family does it, will be helpful to them so they know what is going to happen next.

5. Avoid labeling gifts as secrets, as in, “Don’t tell Mom we got this for her. It’s a secret.” Instead try something like, “We are going to surprise mom with this gift. It’s okay to keep this surprise until she gets it.” It may seem like a small distinction but for kids with the kind of history we are talking about I always try to teach the difference between surprises and secrets. Surprises= safe and good, secrets= unsafe and bad. As children grow and begin to feel safer in their day to day life, we can get less concrete about this issue.

6. Remember to receive any gift your child gives you with love and acceptance being extra sure that they do not hear critique of their gift as you receive it. Remember to that your child, for all of the above reasons and more, may have difficulty giving a gift to you as it may symbolize for them any number of difficult memories, or remind them of a relationship they have a major internal conflict about.

While I know this post may remind you of some issues you would rather forget during the season, one wonderful things I have seen over the years is how parents of adoptive and foster children work so hard to come up with the combination of experiences that best meet their child’s needs. If you are a foster or adoptive parent of a child adopted at an older age with a history of abuse or neglect, please feel free to chime in with any other tips you have. I would love to hear about things that went right and things you would have changed if you could go back in time.

November 21, 2012 Posted by | attachment disorder, keeping children safe, mental health | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

PLACE Parenting for Children with Attachment Disturbance

A mother holds up her child.

A mother holds up her child. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

When you have a child with any sort of attachment disturbance, you also have a child that is very good at making you feel like you don’t know what you are doing.  In one training I went to on attachment disturbance, the presenter, Art Becker-Weidman said one of the parents he worked with described it something like this:  ‘It’s like you as the parent are the control station for a radio station, then the kids come up and play with all the buttons until they find one that gets the response they are looking for.  When they find that button that gets them what they want, they just keep flipping the switch over and over again.’  I have used this description with the parents that come through my own practice and find it resonates deeply with them as well.  What to do when you have a child that is constantly pushing your buttons and finding creative ways to make you feel like you don’t have a clue what you are doing?

Daniel Hughes and Art Becker-Weidman are working to popularize a parenting attitude that really can work wonders if parents are able to maintain it when they have an attachment disordered child (or any child for that matter).  It is called the PLACE mentality, it stands for: Playful, Loving, Accepting, Curious, Empathic.  I find that while the words are familiar it can be easy to misinterpret the meanings of those words in this particular context so let’s look at each word to see what we are talking about when it comes to parenting children using the PLACE mentality.

Playful–  The most common misinterpretation of this quality is that parents believe I want them to throw a parade in their child’s honor every time they do something desirable to the parent.  What I mean by playful is just finding an approach that has a less authoritarian tone.  Instead of telling kids where to go to find their glasses, encourage them to play a little game with you where they have to look at your face for them to give you a hint where the glasses are.  When they look into your face and lie, come up with a playful response “That’s a good one.  I’ve always known you were creative.  Tell me another!”  Often being playful can help everyone tone it down a notch.  If you have a child with a history of abuse or neglect, it can also keep them from getting triggered into believing that they are in huge trouble and helps prevent them from going into fight or flight mode so that you have some chance of them hearing some of the words you are saying.  A way to really get playful is to learn from a parent that really gets this stuff.  Christine Moers is a mom raising adopted children with attachment issues.  She posts vlogs on youtube to help other parents (and to keep herself sane).  Her video blog:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDAALaVG27k&feature=fvwrel is a wonderful example of how to discipline in a playful way.   I would recommend you look at her videos when you need help staying sane.

Loving– When I think of saying things in a loving way to children, what really helps me to stay in that place is remembering my purpose for saying the words in the first place. Yes, ultimately I may be asking my child to do a task because I want it done. But the bigger picture reason for asking children to do a task is to teach them so that they know how to do it, to give them a system for tackling problems, to get them into the routine of caring for themselves and planning how to fit everything into a schedule, or something else like that. In the end, our job as parents is to make it so that our children no longer need us in order to make it through the day. When we remember that we are asking our children to do something because we love them and want them to be happy, healthy adults, we can state requests in a more loving way. By remembering this, I believe the primary change is our tone of voice, which makes a world of difference to children with attachment disturbance.

Accepting– One trap I see so many parents walk into is the argument with their child(ren) about whether their child is having a reasonable feeling or not.  Both the child and parent find this is a way to feel crazy pretty quickly and I would like to present an alternative…acceptance.  Here is how it goes, maybe it sounds familiar:

Child comes down to breakfast dressed in a completely inappropriate outfit for school

Parent (being curious):  Wow, is there something going on at school today?  That’s an interesting outfit.

Child: I knew you wouldn’t let me wear it!  You never let me wear anything I want!  You’re such a witch!  You want me to be the ugliest girl in school!

Parent (accepting):  That made you mad.  I can see how you would be mad if you thought I wanted you to be the ugliest girl in school.

It’s that simple- do not engage in an argument about whether you want her to be the ugliest girl in school!  If that is her belief in that moment, accept that her feeling is appropriate for the interpretation.

Curious– In my office, I often frame this curiosity as being a “feelings detective.”  I tell kids I ask lots of questions because I am a very curious person and sometimes it takes me a while to understand things.  Get curious about your children.  In the above example, rather than arguing about who wants whom to look ugly, you might get curious about it.  “I wonder what made you think I wanted you to look ugly when I asked about your outfit.”  Another way to help with getting kids to understand you are curious (not judgmental) is to say something along the lines of, “I’m curious what got you so mad because I don’t want you to feel that way again. ”  When they tell you what got them mad, again make sure you avoid arguing about whether that is really what happened (accepting) and then …empathize.

Empathy– Empathy looks like this,” If I thought someone felt that way about me/ said that to me/said that about me I can see how you would feel mad/sad/ scared too.”  That’s all empathy is being able to see something from the viewpoint of another person.  Empathy does not involve any discussion about whether someone is right or wrong for feeling the way they are feeling.

So, why does this work?  It works because our children with attachment disturbance find the things we need to do most often, educate, speak with authority, and parenting, to name a few, to be triggers to them of things that remind them of times they were hurt or  neglected.  When kids do not learn the typical role of parents early on, they easily misinterpret the actions of parents.  Using the PLACE mentality is one way of reducing the number of triggers for your child, not to mention that it just makes parenting more fun.  I use it with my own securely attached children as well.  Of course, this is a very quick overview of the PLACE mentality.  It is important that if you feel you are in a position with your child(ren) where you need to utilize the PLACE attitude more and could use support in doing so, that you see a therapist that has an attachment informed practice.

October 18, 2012 Posted by | attachment, attachment disorder, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

A Craft For Your Family

While I like looking at other peoples crafts, I really do not like doing crafts.  Whenever people ask me about crafts, I have been known to tell them that glue and I do not get along.  Sometimes, however, my job or my own children call on me to be “crafty” and I need to set aside my glue issues and get down to crafting.  Since this week is about being unique, I wanted to share a craft with you that my daughter actually made up herself and shared with me when she was five and that I now do with my clients.

The craft is a container in which you can put reminders of happy times together, good memories, or reminders of things that make you smile.  My daughter made one for her teacher that had slips of paper in it that said things like “You are beautiful” and “You are a great teacher.”  I call it the rainy day jar, my daughter calls it the good feelings jar, but it can be easily adapted for many purposes.  The idea is to decorate a container then put slips of paper in it with things that make you smile or personal affirmations that you have made for you.  I tend to make one with my clients who are about to be adopted from foster care that they then present to their adoptive parents that contain positive thoughts about their parents or shared memories from before the adoption day.

Before you start, I want to say this can be as fancy or as plain as you wish.  I personally believe that each and every one of you is likely to have all the materials you need to make a nice jar in your home right now.  There is no need to spend any money on this craft.  Also, at some point during this activity, your child, like my child, or you, may think of some fabulous something that will make this project wonderful and unique!  They may pull out something that is very special but makes the project much more difficult.  Please do yourself a favor and keep it simple.  Unless you are crafty, redirect yourself or your child to get it done rather than making it a half-finished project that is going to sit on the table with all the materials out for the next week.  I always would encourage you to emphasize fun and sweet over perfect.

Items needed:

A container (any shoebox or jar you have is fine)

any crafty items you have around your house, ribbons, tissue paper, buttons (please use only items that you will not have to clean up later so you get irritated you did the project)

Paper

Scissors

1.  Decide who your container is for.  Is it for you?  Is it for someone else in your family or is it a family jar?  Make a vision for your container.

2.Decorate your container using your crafty stuff.  I used tissue paper.  My daughter used stickers and markers.  Remember, perfect is the enemy of good.

3.  Write little things that make you smile on pieces of paper.

They can be memories, thoughts, affirmations or anything that makes you smile.  My daughter wrote the word “Megatron.”  She wrote it to remind us of the time my nephew very seriously suggested to his mother that she name the baby she was going to have Megatron.  No one in my family can think of that with a straight face- except my nephew who still has no idea why that is not the best name ever.  Notice the misspelling of “Megatron” in the picture.  Put it in the jar just like that and smile when you see the unique way your child has spelled their words.  You do not have to fill the jar today.  You can fill it over time whenever you think of something to put in there.  I wrote myself a little note as a reminder of something that helps me feel better.

4.  When you are having a parental moment in which you feel like a failure or want to calm yourself down, take a piece of paper out of the jar and look at it.*  If that does not work, take another piece of paper out.  Make sure to replace them when you are done.

5.  Share with the rest of us.  What is going in your jar?

*A side note to parents with children who have a mean streak: put the jar where you have control over it so they can not use it as another thing to hurt you with by slipping a mean note in there.

July 11, 2012 Posted by | resources/ book reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Is Chimpanzee good for your child to see if they are adopted or have lost a parent?

See description on File:Chimpanzee mom and bab...

See description on File:Chimpanzee mom and baby.jpg. I cropped it slightly to remove the original black frame. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

Just from watching the commercials, we can easily see that  the new Disney movie, Chimpanzee, is going to be all about adoption.  While it is predictable that the movie will have warm fuzzy messages about adoption overall, if you have an adopted child, or any child who has lost a parent through divorce, abandonment, death, etc. it is a good idea to take a moment to consider whether this is a good movie for your child.  Of course we know all children are different and only you can decide what is right for your child so please do not use my post as a replacement for your own judgment since obviously you know your child way better than I do.  Also, spoiler alert, you will know all about the movie by the time I’m done with the post.  My hope is to attempt to address the adoption related issues in the movie so you can make the best decision for you and your family and to be ready for any conversations or feelings it might bring up for your child (and you).

First, let me say, the movie was pretty entertaining for the children seven and up in our group, the youngest (5) got bored half way through and I saw several younger children leave during the movie.  The parents were thoroughly entertained and there were quite a few “aww’s” and chuckles throughout.

The movie starts in an idealic world where little monkeys are taken care of by mommies (no mention of daddies).  Little Oscar and his mom, Esha, are the focus.  Children who were not taken care of by their first mommies or whose first mommies have left them in some way may have some feelings about the portrayal of moms in this part as the idea of mommies taking care of babies is presented as the only way things can go.  I can see how a child who feels bad about having a mommy who did not take care of them might be triggered if they carry residual feelings of guilt or believe it was their fault their birth mother did not take care of them.  Additionally, the mention of dads is not just downplayed, it is completely non-existant in this part of the movie.

Soon, the idealic world of the chimps is threatened by another group of chimpanzees who want to take over their territory.  Esha keeps Oscar safe during a particularly scary time when this group attacks and the movie continues to highlight Oscar’s reliance on his mother and her role in keeping him safe, fed and protected.  Sadly, the other group of monkeys attacks a second time and it is during this attack that Esha and Oscar are separated and Esha disappears forever with the assumption being that only death could keep her away.  It continues to be quite heartbreaking as we see Oscar get harshly rejected by several other female chimpanzees who already have children (triggering for children who have been in multiple foster care placements).  During this time, Oscar tries, and fails, to find his mother.  Obviously, no one is able to explain to him where she is and he is left to fend for himself.  Oscar is sad and lonely and experiences difficulty finding food and caretaking.  Do I need to point out the many opportunities for adopted children and/or children who have a parent that is not in their lives will have to identify strongly with this section of the movie?

After suffering for an intense ten minutes or more during the movie, Oscar begins to follow the alpha male, Freddy.  He begins gently befriending Freddy (there is a good conversation to be had about shadowing adults and learning from thier modeling behaviors here).  Freddy, who it was earlier emphasized in the movie, had no interest in the younger chimps, slowly also begins turning toward Oscar and teaching him to get food.  Over time, their friendship grows and, in a particularly heartwarming scene, Freddy grooms Oscar and lets him ride on his back.

During this portion of the movie, there is no mention of moms and, knowing that I see children with attachment disorder in my practice who work pretty hard to come between their parents and who often punish the mom and complian to the dad (because moms are scary for them since they represent the original abandoning mom), I can see this particular part of the movie reinforcing that behavior a bit.  Additonally, I can see how children who have struggled to bond with an adoptive parent would be triggered to wonder what it is about them that caused them to be first rejected or abandoned by other parents if that is their emotional experience.  Those children who struggled to bond with an adoptive parent may also wonder why it is so easy for Oscar (no internal loyalty struggle here, also no negative behaviors from Oscar) to bond with Freddy and just what must be wrong with them that they have difficulty bonding.

While Freddy and Oscar are bonding, however, trouble lurks nearby, the narrator, Tim Allen, says that while Freddy and Oscar have been building their relationship, Freddy has neglected to protect his area and the other chimpazee group is closing in for another attack.  Freddy senses this and begins to do some team building again.  Oscar feels ignored by his new dad and we see him again feeling lonely because he does not understand why Freddy is turning away from him to take care of other chimps.  This made me think about moms or dads taking care of new babies or other siblings and the triggers that has for many of my adopted children, not to mention kids in step-parent families.

I can see this movie being especially nice for single and/or adoptive dads as it reinforces that dads always protect their children even if they didn’t always know how to parent at first.  I can also see it being an issue for moms and other primary, nurturing caregivers (including dads) who, like I said before, have a child that uses them as a representation of all abandoning people in their lives, and for children who did not have a mother that took good enough care of them before entering an adoptive family.  I would also recommend it for children who are able to articulate their feelings about adoption, parental loss, etc. over children who are still unable, or unwilling to discuss those issues.  Ultimately, it is up to parents to decide what is right for their children.  Either way, in the end, the movie has a happy ending where Freddy and Oscar get to be together and Freddy focuses on Oscar again.

I see multiple opportunities for parents to bring up good conversations for kids about: whether Esha’s disapperance was Oscar’s fault; how Oscar must have felt when the other mom’s rejected him; how Oscar befriended Freddy and whether they loved each other right away; how dads and other parents protect children even though sometimes it is hard to see how (like when they go to work or pay attention to other kids); and why Oscar had an easier time of bonding with Freddy (because his first mom was good at teaching him how to love other chimps).

Have you taken your child to see this movie?  What did you think?  Did I miss anything?  I would love to hear how the experience was for your child.

April 23, 2012 Posted by | attachment, resources/ book reviews | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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