Sunday, December 22, 2013

What I Want You to Know About Celebrating the Holidays with a Previously Institutionalized Child

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, right?  Sure....unless you are trying to navigate through this trying time with a child who has spent her entire life in an institution and knows nothing of life apart from following rules, sterile walls, routine and structure, and showing no emotion or feelings. She never felt love before. She never experienced felt safety.  She never learned to trust.  She never learned how to form her own opinions or how to think for herself.  All she knew was how to do what she was told, when she was told.  She knew that every 8 hours she would get a new caregiver, who was responsible for feeding her, dressing her and making sure she was refocused if she became bored with what she was doing or getting into trouble with other children. 

We started having nightly Advent readings with the girls on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  At that time we started with asking the question, "Why do we celebrate Christmas?"  To which, the youngest twin would promptly answer, "Halloween!"  Wow....we realized then and there that we had our work cut out for us.  

Every single night we would sit around the table, light the candles, share a reading and an activity which all focused on taking care of each other, taking care of others, sharing our love of others with our girls.  We would continue to ask the girls, "Why do we celebrate Christmas?"  We graduated from "Halloween" to "Santa" within the first week.  The second week the answer became, "Presents!"  We decided to change our question to "Whose birthday do we celebrate on Christmas?"  She would answer, "Hannah!" (whose birthday was the 21st....ok I can see why she'd be confused).  

Frustration has grown for all of us, especially for said child.  She has been a complete mess all week long.  All of the progress that she had made in the past 4  months since starting school has been completely erased and we have regressed to the point where she forgets all basic daily functions, even getting dressed, brushing hair and teeth in the morning.  She has lost the ability to make any decisions for herself and follows her twin around like a lost puppy dog looking for clues as to what she's supposed to be doing at any given time.  

It is almost more frustrating for us because she had been doing so well and had made such progress. Now, we feel like we are back to square one and right back to where we were when we brought her home 17 months ago.  She has lost the ability to trust that we will take care of her and will love her.  She relies on herself and engages in self care by rocking in her bed (a behavior which we have not seen in MONTHS but was a nightly occurrence when first coming home).  

This is a vicious cycle that we are in.  She doesn't trust us to love her so she behaves in ways that are unloveable, thus taking us down a path of a self-fulfilling prophecy for her.  

So, while we are trying to maintain some of our family holiday traditions and trying to keep the magic of the season alive for our other young girls, we are stuck.  Every new activity that we introduce (and by "new" I mean "not part of our daily routine") seems to strike a chord of fear and anxiety in one of our girls.  So, what do we do?  Do we sacrifice tradition and the spirit of the holidays to alleviate the fear of one child?  Or do we labor in love through this difficult time in hopes that she will learn that we are her family and we will love her no matter what? And, hope in the meantime, that she will learn that she can trust us to take care of her?  

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