Not in the brochure: missing experiences

After our foster son’s birthday party guests left the other day, we invited our 12 year old to sit down in a chair in the middle of the kitchen. “Close your eyes,” mama said. “I’ve got something for you that you’ve always wanted.” Then, smash! The remnants of baby’s smash cake went right into his face.

It didn’t matter we were three months late for the celebration or 12 years in our big guy’s case. The mess was 100 percent worth it, even if we didn’t figure he’d start a food fight with the layers of vanilla and buttercream on his face.

Laughter ensued. Baby screamed at seeing mom pelted with vanilla cake. Food went everywhere. It was a perfect moment of pure abandon. Something we all needed.

The family that was here to witness it helped me crawl across the floor to sponge frosting out of the cracks and scratches in the hardwood floor in between fits of laughter.

Missing experiences. If you’ve ever fostered or adopted an older child, you’re likely to encounter this phenomena. It’s why an 11 year old wants to be rocked in mother’s arms. It’s why a teen wants to be tucked in and read a bedtime story. Or, in our case, a pre-teen wants to experience the fun of a smash cake.

I count this among the saddest realities of an abused, neglected or abandoned child. It’s the awakening of their brain to the reality their early years weren’t right. For our children, it was the beginning stage of understanding that they didn’t grow up like everyone else.

More directly, the desires for these experiences show that there are attachment issues that haven’t been resolved. I wouldn’t count it as an emergency, but this is a sign that you need to have your child evaluated by a trauma therapist. Trust us, the parents who didn’t get that advice early enough, you want to have someone versed in trauma walking beside your family as your children grow older.

As for the need to be rocked, to be tucked in, to drink from baby cups or even have a cake smashed in their face, let them do it. I’m not trained in anything related to therapy or psychology. I’m just a dad that has walked this for a long time and I’ve picked up some things here or there.

It will be awkward when your older child asks for a baby-esque behavior or treatment. The fact that they’re asking means they trust you. They have achieved psychological safety from you. They’re feeling that missing part of the natural nurturing process. Allowing that experience will help them heal and move forward developmentally.

Every now and then, my 11-year old will want to climb into my recliner and press in and just be held or rubbed or rocked. I won’t lie, my ribs and my legs hurt when he scoots off, but I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.

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