Dilyana grew up in a family and works as a teacher. So why does she need Sunflower’s help to raise her 3-year-old son, Timur?
Families can take part in the Sunflower programme whether one or both parents grew up in an orphanage. In this case, it is Timur’s father, Sasha, who had the orphanage childhood. Indeed, he is the pride of his children’s home and still works there to this day. Although on the surface, this family look as if they are coping well, Sunflower’s experience teaches them to pay particular attention to the way children are treated in families such as this. As they put it, in families where a woman marries a man who grew up in an orphanage, it is “as if her social skills and understanding of safety are somehow blocked. The woman from the stable background often submits to her husband’s initiative, and observes his rules, which were laid down in his children’s home past.” For example, when they are raising their children, the idea that “you don’t need to go to him when he cries” or, “let him calm himself down and then I’ll talk to him” dominates. The children very quickly learn not to make eye contact with their parents, not to cry when they hurt themselves and not to ask for help. When it is obvious that something isn’t right with their children, they don’t understand why. Their own parents might call the child strange and suggest that they take them to see a psychologist. This was the case with Dilyana.
At our first meeting, we observed that Dilyana was delighted if Timur turned to her and asked for something, usually food, and rewarded him with lots of sweets. He found it difficult to get on with other children, would knock down their towers, and wouldn’t react to what they said, and wouldn’t initiate play. His mother would try to gloss over his behaviour with a joke, or would shout at him. She was clearly embarrassed by his behaviour.
Sunflower invited them to take part in their parenting programme and mother and son are making progress.
“At the first sessions, Timur would throw himself on the floor and cry when his mother left the room to attend the parents’ group. Dilyana began to warn him that she would leave and to reassure him that she would come back. It was a great achievement when she was able to attend the parents’ group from start to finish. Timur has also started to greet the other children when he arrives.
Timur still finds it difficult to play with others. And it is difficult for him to cope with structured sessions. He starts to run around the room, lies under the furniture or climbs on it. Previously, his mama would have got upset and taken the toys away. Now she tries to stay calm, gives him back the toys and gently attracts his attention. Now Timur has some favourite games.”
Life outside the Sunflower sessions has changed too. Dilyana said, “Before we used to often take a taxi so that I didn’t have to take my child on the bus because people used to look at him in a funny way. The last time we went on the bus, Timur suddenly started to lick the handrail. I thought that I would die from shame, but I took myself in hand and started talking to him. “Look, can you see anyone else doing that on the bus? It’s the handrail, for people to hold onto so they don’t fall.” To my surprise, he listened to me and stopped doing it. I have started to talk to my son all the time now. At the moment I am the only one who does that in our family. It’s very difficult to discuss it with my husband. But I am learning very fast and the Sunflower group gives me strength.”
Sunflower are hopeful that they will be able to engage Dilyana’s husband Sasha at some point. For now Dilyana is working wonders with their support.