While Marine Major Chris Merrill (35) is stationed overseas for a year in Afghanistan, mom Beckie (33) is fighting another battle on the home front with their four young children: Garrett and Elena (both 4), cousins adopted from Guatemala, and Eddie (6) and Lydia (4) both from Ghana.
Beckie tries to balance her desire for attachment with all the children with the firmness required to discipline them.
Jo arrives at Camp Pendleton located in Oceanside, California. She watched this week's video of the Merrill Family. Marine Chris Merrill was stationed in Afghanistan at the time of taping. Beckie (33) was stuck taking care of four young adopted children: Garrett and Elena (both 4 years old), cousins adopted from Guatemala, and brother & sister Eddie (6 years old) and Lydia (4 years old) both from Ghana. She explained the situations of both Guatemala and Ghana and how the children have been in very tough situations at a young age.
Eddie has only been speaking English for three months and would get very frustrated when it comes to communicating. Lydia also needed support and to have Beckie close by.
Beckie didn't know where the balance was between strict parenting and love. Chris called on the phone and the children talked to him. Afterwards, they cried in Beckie's arms. Beckie wished she had support with her husband, but has reached her limits. She wants to give her husband peace of mind.
Jo arrived for observation and said hello to Beckie. She was soon introduced to Lydia, Elena, Garrett, and Eddie. Jo found a picture of Chris, and Beckie explained how much he was missed. Soon, Beckie got a meal ready and compared herself to an octopus. Shortly after, Lydia fell to the ground while sitting at the dinner table.
Garrett and Elena went outside without permission. Beckie tried to scream at the kids in a military fashion with limited success. The kids went down to the local playground without permission with overly dramatic white trucks driving past them. In an interesting turn of events, Beckie put the cars in toy jail. This was new for Jo who laughed a bit hearing about toys in time out. Lydia threw a toy and became upset.
As observation continued, Lydia was placed in Beckie's definition of time out, but Beckie then sat right next to her. Then, Elena came in and sat down thinking that it was girl time with mommy. Beckie then picked up Lydia in support when she was playing up. Jo tried to point out that love/anger was not making sense for the kids.
Jo analyzed that if Beckie was disciplining the kids, she was afraid that she would have damaged the relationship. Beckie didn't understand the adoptive balance. Jo knew it’s very hard, but Beckie was afraid that she will not be the best mother she can be. She just wanted to be connected with her husband instead of placing her husband in a box in the closet. (her words, not mine).
When setting the children up for bedtime, Beckie became military mom. Soon, the kids were naked and screaming, blurs running around hallways, followed by shots of the children (finally fully clothed) crying in the bathroom. Eventually, at 7:35pm, the kids were in bed. Beckie explained that at night, Ghana was scary with kids afraid of death at night. Jo knows that Beckie wants to comfort the children, but that doesn't mean that she should continuously let the girls sleep in her bed; she had a very interesting plan for the next day.
The following day, Jo had a Parent Meeting with Beckie. Jo didn't see the correct parenting fulfillment. They discussed Chris's deployment, but Jo told her to reinforce to the kids that Chris was still there. For bedtime, Jo pointed out that Eddie and Lydia needed transitions. Beckie gave mixed messages. She needed to tell the kids that they were safe and protected. Beckie also failed with positive praise. Instead, Jo wanted positive reinforcement.
Jo started her teaching phase. Firstly, Beckie and the kids had a Reward Chart and House Rules. Jo needed to make sure that there was outside safety. She needed to make sure that they knew their boundaries. Beckie does a stop/go test where all the kids learn their boundaries and Beckie gained more authority.
Back at home, Lydia started to have a breakdown at the dinner table. Jo told Beckie to be more direct with Lydia at the table. After unsuccessful reprimanding, Lydia was to be put in timeout. Beckie wanted to sit next to Lydia, but Jo explains that it's not neglect. After a few times, Lydia understood the time out concept and told Beckie that she was sorry. She was happy learning that Lydia was responding to a real mother.
After dinner, Jo had a Skype conversation with Chris. Chris was choked up talking about the passion of having the adopted kids. Jo brought Beckie in first to converse with each other, followed by the kids. The kids lit up as did Chris when they saw each other. Afterwards, Jo brought Beckie back to Chris to have a conversation alone while Jo took care of the kids.
Jo wanted to reinforce that praise is a good thing so she set up a lesson for Beckie. She had four hearts for each kid. Jo wanted to have Beckie explain one good thing that the kids did that day, instead of the bad thoughts. She wrote messages and after getting the messages done, she screamed in monotone military voice. Jo scolded Beckie for being military. She gave each kid a positive message, their heart, a hug, and kiss.
It was finally the bedtime challenge. Jo wanted to teach Beckie how to make sure the kids were safe. Jo put a cute string of lights for the room. Beckie sat down and explained that the house was a safe zone. I hope, for their sake, they don't get an earthquake or natural disaster any time soon. The kids felt safe and tucked in.
Jo placed wind chimes by the master bedroom. She created a "Modified Stay In Bed challenge" since the kids went through issues in Ghana where Beckie would actually explain to the kids that they were safe (instead of previous episodes where it was silent returns to bed). Elena screamed, "Mom,I need you," but it was just her ploy for getting attention. Both girls were up making a ruckus but Beckie told the girls calmly to go to bed and they were out quickly. The children slept well. Jo gave Beckie a hug and left for a few days for Beckie to use the lessons she learned.
Three days passed while Jo was gone. Jo came back and called Chris on Skype for the three-day review time.
Beckie did a good job putting Eddie and Lydia in time out. Eddie was playing up and Lydia locked her mom out of the house and refused to open it, so that’s why they were sent to timeout. It was interesting that a 4-year-old would know how to lock someone out of the house. Chris was happy and gave supportive words to Beckie.
As for nighttime, Beckie gave the kids the safety speech (that Jo taught them) and even though the girls tried to go to their mom's bed, she placed them back lightly and calmly. She didn't have many bed issues since.
In the category of listening, none of the kids listened. Jo explained that they had to reinforce their rules or else everything will fall apart. Chris noticed that some of the burdens were lifted even with just a few days of change. Chris thanks Jo as "Supernanny" which must still be weird for Jo to hear.
Jo wanted to make sure that there was reinforcement. She played a game where the kids would step on the correct image when their mother would play a sound. Beckie tried to make sure there was eye contact. She played sounds and the game helped with vocabulary. Beckie says that she wanted to do the game regularly but unless there are new pictures and new sounds, the game will get a bit redundant.
There was one last surprise with Jo. So she got Chris to record a DVD for the kids. The family watched a DVD of Chris singing nursery songs for the kids. They had a video now whenever they were lonely.
Jo finally had to go and the kids smiled and hugged her. They all thank Jo, the kids calling her "Jojo." Beckie feels the positive vibes and Jo knows that she's on the right track.
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Behind the scenes
This episode was filmed in January 11th - 29th, 2010.
- The Merrill Family Blog (last updated April 2012)
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