Sunday, June 10, 2012

Older Child Adoption: What Mommy Says, Goes!

With Big Sister's homecoming just around the corner (no, we do have an official date just yet), I have been brushing up on some 'transition skills', if skill is even the right word to describe how one handles adding a new and unique child, a tween at that (yay?!), and having our home turned upside down by everything that comes along with newness and transitions.  While I hope some aspects of the upcoming months will be smoother due to having gone through this already, I know that each family is different and each child is unique and enters an established family unit bringing her or his distinct story, history, and set of experiences.  Regardless of how ready one may feel, there is really no way to predict or fully prepare for everything that may surface.  

One area of Sporty's transition that I remember quite vividly was how he responded differently to mom than he did to dad.  First, let me say that I think most kids do respond differently to their mother and father.  Moms and dads are first and foremost unique persons with individual personalities and gifts, and second have unique roles in the family.  I am not talking about traditional or gender roles, but rather the roles that are determined by your individual family composition and how you live day in and day out.  I think all of these things come into play and determine how all members interact with one another and therefore should be considered when trying to figure out what may be going on in any home.  

With that being said, I observed very early on in our time together as a new family unit that Sporty regarded what I (mom) said as a mere suggestion and took what his father said as a directive.  He would try to manipulate and play games with me, sweet talk me into giving him what he wanted.  (Sound like every other kid on this planet?)  However, his strategy seemed to suggest that he was skilled at getting the rules changed in his favor or getting his own way by trying to create some sort of quid pro quo environment.  He was relentless and would not accept no for an answer in the beginning.  In fact, at eleven years old, he seemed to have the coping skills of a preschooler when told no or when he was made to do something that he had made up his mind not to, like work on his social studies project or clean his room.  

There was definitely a cultural component to this interaction, but I believe a large part of his behavior was due to the fact that he was raised by his grandmother as an only child for the first nine years of his life.  As an only child, even in a third world country, he was probably spoiled as much as possible.  He was obviously not used to being told no.  In addition, he had never had a father or father figure in his life.  He was always cared for by women.  Then, as one of the oldest kids at the orphanage, he was more or less used to doing his own thing and I believe that the nannies may have demonstrated their love through tangible gifts or privileges.  All of this, in my opinion and through my observation, had made Sporty come to believe that love was somehow conditional.  If I loved him, I would give him what he wants.  Because he wasn't getting what he wanted, that must mean that I did not love him and therefore he was going to respond accordingly, acting on his perception that I did not love him.

Because I am the primary caregiver in our home, it was my job to somehow demonstrate that love is unconditional and that my love for him was in no way reflected through tangible gifts, bending the rules for him, or allowing him to get his way.  With three preschoolers watching, eyes glued on every spoken word and interaction, it was imperative that we created an open environment where both words, gestures, and consistent action attempted to demonstrate the belief that love is unconditional and that we love all of our children unconditionally.  I also had explain the role of parents in regard to their children.  Mommy and daddy make the rules in our house.  You are not in charge.  While I am so thankful  for your help and assistance in our home and with the little children, you are the big brother (and an awesome one at that), but not their parent.  The role of parent is different from the role of child.  I also had to constantly remind him that what mommy says, goes.  This may seem like a given, but for those of you who have been there, you know it can be tough.  My husband needed to back me up every. single. time. (even if he didn't agree...we could sort that our later) in order for Sporty to begin to understand that mommy and daddy are Team Parent and although we sometimes look more like the Bad New Bears than the World Series champs, we are getting there.  It is tough and with so many unique personalities, ages, and histories, there are a lot of balls in the air at any given time.  

Very early this year, after I thought we had moved beyond this gender-parent-role thing, we were having a very difficult month.  He was constantly back talking.  Like I mentioned above, we have three preschoolers in the home and they observe and repeat everything.  For about one month's time I tried to point out disrespectful words or behavior when they were happening.  I tried removing privileges.  I tried to remain calm.  However, he was not getting it and the situation was escalating.  Let me just say Sporty and I had one blowout come to Jesus moment in our home.  He learned that I meant business and while I absolutely love him unconditionally, I will not allow him to talk or act disrespectfully.  End of story.  It has been over six months since that incident and I am happy to report nothing even close has happened since.  No backtalk, no disrespect.  If he is feeling like he wants to say something rude, we have come up with ways for him to handle the situation.  In addition, to address my responsibility as the parent, I promised not to belabor a point in the heat of the moment.  He promised to remove himself from the room or situation.  So far, so good.  

Just yesterday, Sporty was about to walk into our home with his dirty feet, after having been playing in our yard barefoot for hours.  I told him to wipe his feet on the mat before coming in and then go get a baby wipe and clean them off.  Without a word, he looked at me and saluted with a smile...acknowledging both that he will comply and making light of my obsession with clean feet in the house.  

One final note.  I have founded it absolutely imperative in all situations to parent with compassion.  Before jumping to any conclusion about why a particular child is behaving a certain way, I first ask myself if I, their mother, am meeting their particular and unique needs.  How could I love them better?  What am I failing to do?  What areas can I improve on?  What am I missing?  My prayers always include asking God for patience, wisdom, discernment, and peace.  Parenting is hard...all day, everyday.  It is not possible for me to remain calm and level-headed always, but I know that we serve a loving, perfect, and compassionate God who can and will provide all that we need to parent in the trenches.  After all, God is always in the trenches...always asking us to join him there.

Have you had gender-based parent issues with your adopted children?  If so, how did you handle them?  

Proverbs 22:6 
Start children off on the way they should go, 
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

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