Little Bear is evidently feeling a little conflicted at the moment. He keeps saying “oh what? I stay. Ever”, which, translated, means “you know what? I’m going to stay. Forever.” Which is lovely and we tell him how happy we are. Then, five minutes later, we’ll have a minor disagreement – let’s say about whether he will wear his hat, and Little Bear will say “I change my mind. I not stay now”. At the moment this is happening maybe ten times every day. It consistently happens if we tell him off or something doesn’t go his way and now and again just because the wind has changed direction. It’s kind of tricky to know how to manage it.
If we ask where he is planning to make off to, he always says “I go Karen’s” (foster carer, not her real name). In the true spirit of adoptive parenting I have of course analysed this to death. My thoughts are:
- He probably misses his foster carers. He lived with them a long time and you would expect him to miss them.
However, when they dropped him off to live here, he didn’t give them a backward glance. He didn’t ask for them and there weren’t any occasions when he cried for them – not at bedtime, not when he hurt himself. We found this odd and a little disconcerting. We started to think he had more difficulties with building attachments than we had been told.
About 6 months in, he did begin to mention them a little. He has their photo in his bedroom so the opportunity was always there, even if his language was letting him down.
At this stage, he would ask to see them. I would show him a photo or say “you’ll see them again one day” and this seemed to satisfy him. He would then shift his attention to a more interesting activity and say nothing more.
- Grizzly has always felt that Little Bear wasn’t really missing the foster carers, that his comments were more about checking the permanency of the placement.
I’ve talked in other blog posts about his progress and how happy and settled he seems. Could it be that he wants to make sure he is staying here? That he isn’t going to be moved again because that is what has happened to him before? Is he looking for reassurance that we won’t let him go back?
- Or, is it another in a long line of behaviours designed to attract our attention? Little Bear certainly likes to test boundaries and reactions. There have been several behaviours that he has explored more fully because he has noticed an interesting adult reaction.
Not knowing which of these theories is correct (it could be a bit of all of them) I’m a little at sea as to how best to respond. If it’s 1 then I’m inclined to acknowledge his loss with him. To empathise and help him to see that it is okay to miss them and feel sad about that, whilst also being happy here. However, that is quite a complicated concept and I’m not sure he would fully understand it.
I’m pretty sure he knows that Karen and Bob are ok and it is not something about wanting to check they still exist.
Another option would be to let him speak to them or see them. As a rule, it is not something I am opposed to and I have read the article circulating about the importance of allowing children to maintain contact with foster families. And yet…
My gut is screaming “no”. It feels too soon and like it would upset what can already be a finely balanced relationship.
If it is more about option 2 and a query over permanency, I am given towards explaining that Karen and Bob couldn’t keep him because they were just looking after him while the social workers were looking for his forever family. That we are his forever family and he isn’t ever moving again. That Karen and Bob are happy that he is living here.
If he says “I not stay. I go Karen’s house now” and I flippantly reply “oh are you?” or “how are you getting there?” (which for some reason is the first thing that wants to come out of my mouth), am I inadvertently suggesting that there IS an option to go somewhere else? Should I say “you aren’t going anywhere”? Or “you’re staying here forever”? In my less than perfect moments (only human), when I have done this, he has responded with a trademark “no, I not”.
Or, if it is option 3 (see, this over analysis thing is tiring) should I just not react at all? Should I just hope that this behaviour will disappear too, as throwing his dummy at me at night completely stopped when I stopped showing I was bothered by it?
If it is this plan, we could still tackle the underlying issues of loss and grief and permanency at other times, separate from his comments about his imminent absconding.
Hmm. Answers on a postcard please.
I don’t think Little Bear is even really aware at this point that he also has a birth family…Now, therein are some conversations to look forward to. It’s a shame I don’t drink. Perhaps I should start?!
5 thoughts on “I’ll stay. No, I’ve changed my mind.”
Oh the poor little guy. My heart breaks for the worries, concerns, and complications our children have. To be so conflicted so young. I remember a therapist telling us once that our son feels as if he’s constantly surrounded by a pack of angry wolves. I think he was totally right. His behavior was ever changing- for survival. I couldn’t really read more into it (at the time). Now that he’s older, I know him better and can give him words for his fears (and usually I’m on the right track. He tells me when I’m wrong). I’m sure with a great dose of empathy from you, whatever his current emotions (or words), he continue to feel safer, daily. This is so hard. [Oh, and I have NO advice for you on the foster parent thing. Sorry to have no wisdom on that. Hope your gut tells you.]
Thank you for your comment Nicole. I know, bless him, I can’t imagine what it must be like for him. I think as he’s getting more language he is more able to verbalise these things.. Which feels like a good and bad thing at times!!
Aww bless. I get a similar thing, and tend to say “Oh dear, I will miss you if you go!” or sometimes just reflecting back to him so he knows I’ve heard – e.g. “It sounds like you’re feeling cross with me, so you want to go and live back at…” and then say I’m sorry that he’s cross. (Being careful not to comment on whether or not he is allowed to go back..!)
Thanks Katie, all suggestions much appreciated. I think he has been saying it less over the last few days so fingers crossed.
[…] In the early days together Little Bear did not have enough language to ask any questions or to understand any explanations we might have tried to give about many things, least of all his complex start in life. We kept a photo of him with his foster carers, Karen and Bob (not their real names) in his bedroom as a starting point and as a way of showing him there was something else before us. He looked at it sometimes and we talked about Karen and Bob openly: about things Little Bear had done at their house; about things we had done when we first met him there; about whether he might be missing them. After a few months he would sometimes say that he was going to go back to them. I wrote about that phase in I’ll stay. No, I’ve changed my mind.. […]