Wednesday, November 7, 2012
They Only Do It to Annoy: Adoption and High-Control Parenting
"Speak roughly to your little boy
And beat him when he sneezes.
He only does it to annoy
Because he knows it teases.
Wow! Wow! Wow!"
--- Lewis Carroll
Well over a hundred years ago, Lewis Carroll wrote this parody that inadvertently predicted the views of some of today’s adoptive parents and their coaches or therapists. In the belief system espoused by these present-day thinkers, whatever children do, they do intentionally, and if what they do is unwelcome to their caregivers, they do it to “get back” at the adults. Yes, they only do it to annoy, even if it’s as involuntary as sneezing.
A rather appalling 1996 paper by Keith Reber, still very much in circulation among “attachment therapists”, states that vomiting and defecation are under voluntary control and will be deployed by children in order to avoid yielding to adult control. When the adopted 10-year-old Candace Newmaker died at the hands of her therapists in 2000, at least one Internet comment declared that she had died “on purpose” in order to create trouble for her mother and the therapists. She apparently “only did it to annoy”, too. The therapists did get into trouble, spending some years in prison, so presumably Candace is thought to have died happy in the view that she was thoroughly annoying someone by seizing control where the adults should have had it.
In comments at http://childmyths.blogspot/2012/11/canned-punishments-apps-advice-and.html, Marianne Milton contributed material from an Internet group of adoptive mothers. A number of them were concerned about children whose behavior was interpreted as controlling, manipulative, and exploitative, although it was just as easily interpreted as motivated by hunger or by anxiety. The discussion seemed to center around techniques that would prevent the children from controlling aspects of their lives-- for example, an alarm that would sound if the child’s bedroom door was opened. Some materials for adoptive and foster parents, like those written by Nancy Thomas, advocate limiting the amounts and variety of foods children receive, and stress the idea that the child must give up all control and become dependent on the adult if he or she is to be “healed” of the emotional disturbance the adult posits.
In one of an apparently endless stream of adoption starvation stories (http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/Minnesota-couple-accused-starving-adopted-son-17648677#.UJ13v4U0yGo), a Minnesota couple, Mona and Russell Hauer, are accused of limiting their adopted 8-year-old to a liquid diet and using a door alarm to make sure he did not “steal” food. They attributed the liquid diet to the advice of a chiropractor about the child’s vomiting; that practitioner apparently felt that liquid was less likely to be vomited. The Hauers acknowledged that they had at least once withheld food as a punishment (they also beat him with a broom and made him sleep on a sled as punishment for bed-wetting). The child was about half the weight to be expected at his age, was short in stature, and had other physical problems associated with malnutrition.
Disturbing as this story is so far, I consider two comments attributed to the parents to be even more concerning. Apparently, the Hauers were convinced that he “only did it to annoy”. Mrs Hauer said that the child’s eating habits were attempts to control the home, that he had controlled the home, and that in her opinion the 35-pound 8-year-old was not too thin. Mr. Hauer added to this that when the emaciated child was taken to the hospital, that meant that he “had won or gotten his way”. Presumably Mr. Hauer would think that if the boy had died, like Candace Newmaker, he, the child, would have scored an enormous triumph in the control contest.
Far be it from me to deny that school-age children, like teenagers and adults, can get a kick out of “getting over”. Literal interpretations of instructions-- like not wiping their faces at all when told “Don’t wipe your dirty face on the clean towels”—are a source of glee and evidence of good understanding of language and the nature of social rules. But people who are starving or frightened do not have the sense of proportion that allows them to do a tiny, acceptable spot of defiance without causing too much trouble. Nor do they have the resources to think how they will “control” a household. Just as the expectation of being hanged in the morning is said to concentrate a man’s mind wonderfully, a serious need for food or safety interferes with any possible concerns about who is in charge.
There are some things that people don’t do just to annoy others. Vomiting and bedwetting are among them. As long as we allow adoption by people who don’t know this, but who believe all unwanted child behaviors are intended to gain control, we will have more cases like the Hauers. And as long as we allow caseworkers to be “trained” by control-obsessed thinkers, we will have those adoptions and those outcomes.