About a year ago I read a blog article written by an adoptive mom where she told about the challenges of knowing how much explanation to give to teachers, coaches, and other authority figures about her adoptive son's behavior and how she wanted them to interact with him. If she spoke up she might allow others to define her son according to the information she shared with them, and treat him differently because of it. If she said nothing she would have no understanding or support for how she wished to mitigate his manipulative behaviors. I wish I could find that particular post again, but so far I have not been able to. I could link it here and be done blogging!
Adoption is a wonderful, beautiful thing. It also represents a life-altering loss, comes after some length of time living in trauma, and is itself a traumatic process. The level of emotional manipulation adoptive children are capable of would hardly be believed by the rational, well-adjusted adult. Nearly two years after our not-adoption of daughter H, it is still something we deal with regularly. This fall it has centered around soccer.
We needed one season of soccer to fulfill her high school physical education requirement. Just one season. Daughter H is prone to anxiety and is easily overwhelmed if the schedule is full or if there is a lot of emotional stuff to process. The anxiety she felt over all the unknowns related to soccer season ~ will I get a good coach? Will the other girls like me? Will I be any good? What if I let my family down? What if I'm not as good as my brothers? What if, what if, what if??? ~ threatened to overwhelm her. We made it as smooth as possible: let her pick out her own cleats, arranged for a good friend to be on the same team so she would already know one other person, showed excitement and eagerness at getting to watch her games, prayed with her over the unknowns, talked at length about what to expect, etc. The one thing we did not do was prepare the coach.
Shortly into the first practice she had to sit down because her ankles hurt. I have no doubt her ankles really did hurt. She was not in the best of shape prior to starting practice, and soccer practice is hard physical work! But she was sure she had plantar fasciitis. She probably needed orthotics. Maybe she even needed a cortisone shot. I was 100% sure she did not have plantar fasciitis, nor did she need any special medical attention paid to her feet. The sore ankles, while truly sore, gave her a reason to not play and have to deal with the possibility of not being "good enough" or "letting us down." The anxiety was so high she had to find an out. And in finding an out, she was manipulating the sympathies of others.
What to do? If I showed too much sympathy I would be enabling her manipulation. If I didn't, I would appear callous and un-caring.
I aimed for the middle - validated the pain she was feeling, while down playing the seriousness of it.
During the second practice she very dramatically collapsed after a warm-up run and said she couldn't breath. She stayed down for several minutes to catch her breath and eventually rejoined her team. Later that evening I got an email from her coach asking if she'd had a physical recently and did I know of any physical conditions that would limit her ability to play? I pondered how to respond, and ultimately decided that since our relationship with this coach was going to be so short-lived I would simply answer that yes, she has seen a Dr recently, and no, she did not have any physical conditions. She was just new to soccer and not in the best of shape.
Since then she has not been able to make it through a single game this season without leaving the field for a while due to some physical symptom. Invariably a teammate or another parent has rushed to her side to make sure she was okay. I so appreciate their sincerity and desire to help. I do not appreciate their unwitting participation in the emotional manipulation. When she is stressed or anxious, there will *always* be a symptom of some kind. A reason not to continue. She needs so much reassurance, so much validation, and so much "push back" from the manipulation. She needs us to see the manipulation for what it is, and speak to her underlying anxiety. She needs us to love her unconditionally and give her umpteen million messages that she doesn't need to "be great" in soccer in order to please us. She just needs to try! Honestly and genuinely. She needs to know that it's okay to ask for what she really needs, and that if she doesn't know how to NOT manipulate, we will love her anyway.
I am not sure I made the right call in not talking to her coach. But I think I did. And after this weekend, her one soccer season will be over.
And you know what? She did GREAT. :)