Category Archives: adoption category

Transitions and mother guilt

I have a close friend of twenty plus years, and we have traveled through many parenting stages, challenges and joys together. Whenever we begin to criticize or beat ourselves up in front of the other, we have a code phrase – “mother guilt”. The listener speaks those two words, we smile and laugh together and then move on realizing that we are never going to be perfect, we are doing the best that we can and there is grace in the journey. We have been saying this to each other for over twenty years.

In light of our recent move, I have experienced more than a few moments of mother guilt. Phrases such as, “it would have been easier on our children (those currently living with us as well as those who spent most of their childhood in one home) if we had just stayed where we were”, “what were we thinking when we decided to do this?” have at times rolled through my heart and mind. To be completely honest, I have also had my fair share of “I am so glad we are doing this in our 50’s and not our 70’s” moments as well – especially as we have dealt with choosing what is stuff to share and what is treasure to keep for a bit longer.

No one in our family now enjoys going into our staged and sterile house that was once so full of real life and mess and joy. As we travel back and forth between the old and new home, I have realized that we need to do something tangible to mark this transition. It would help each of us to acknowledge and deal with the various emotions coursing through us during this time. Together our girls and I decided we would take a brick from our old house, paint it and place it in a special place in our new home. I have also chosen a special gift for each family member to commemorate our 23 years together in that place. Physical markers of such a transition can be helpful as we move through it and make peace with our new place. 

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On a recent walk with a thirty year plus dear friend and in the midst of one of my “I’m not so sure this was a good idea” moments, she spoke life and grace to me. I wasn’t mindfully expressing mother guilt, but somehow she accurately picked up the vibe. She said something like, “I was thinking the other day that this time of moving and transition will be truly good and healthy for your girls. It will be like a mini, practice college type transition”. My therapist confirmed the truth and wisdom of these words.

In adoptive parenting literature, it is often communicated that leaving home for college or elsewhere can be a particularly stressful, triggering and difficult time for many adoptees. I know that this launching out into the world passage can be challenging for all parents and children. Transitions are a time to stretch and grow and learn and prepare for what might be down the road. We all need to practice. I am most grateful for people in my life who speak truth, love and grace into my heart and mind. Back off mother guilt!

 

The power of play

Somewhere along the way, I lost it – the desire to play. Something that I spent hours and hours pursuing and enjoying as a child had practically vanished. Sitting in a conference directed at adoptive parents, the speaker confessed that when he heard that one of the greatest ways to connect with children from hard places [actually any child] was through playful engagement, his heart sunk. He simply wasn’t good at playing with kids. His words resonated with me – play sometimes feels like work. How did that happen? There is an embarrassing part of myself that when in the midst of playing with one of my children is running through the “to do” list of grown up tasks that I’d rather be doing. I don’t like that about me. I’d like to be different.

The speaker then went on to offer light and hope to the audience. He referenced a book entitled “play – How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Stuart Brown, MD and talked about Brown’s work on 8 different play personalities. He shared that it was a relief when he realized that being silly and funny may not be his style, but he indeed did have a play personality that he could access with his children. That was good news to me as well.

For kids who are fairly compliant and “neuro-typical”– ie have not experienced brain chemistry altering trauma – using play to gain cooperation is connecting, fun and pleasant. For children who are more temperamentally defiant or who have experienced trauma and display a great deal of opposition, this approach can be incredibly effective. A few stories from our home:

Sunday mornings are often a drag and a drain around our house. The reasons are fairly complex, but getting our family out the door to church is almost always a big challenge. My husband is working hard to be a “connection/therapeutic parent” and has inspired me in recent days. He has always had more bent and energy toward play with our children. Part of that is because he has fewer hours interacting with them and part of that is that he seems to genuinely more fully enjoy playful interactions with his kids. He has modeled to me on the toughest morning of the week how to inspire cooperation. Through a creative and fun role playing with our daughters, playful inspectors show up to check on their readiness as we prepare to head out the door. Everyone leaves with a smile.

Our morning routine involves a few distasteful tasks, one of which is taking a sometimes overwhelming number of supplements and vitamins. Getting to school on time often hinges on whether this happens peacefully or with a great deal of drama. Inspired by Sunday mornings, I considered “what playful thing can I do to make this distasteful task more fun?” A cheerleader idea came to mind. I made up silly cheers and danced around a bit all the while encouraging those pills to go down. It was a hit. A bonus conversation ensued as questions about whether I was ever a cheerleader were asked. As a multi-time cheerleading try out participant, never an actual cheerleader, we got to talk about disappointments in not being chosen – something I am sure will come up again.

It was one of those mornings when I could tell from word one that emotions were strong, hurtful words were going to come at me and cooperation was going to be quite a challenge. My mom used to call it “getting up on the wrong side of the bed”. After a great deal of dysregulated behavior, there was one last thing to accomplish. Accepting that children from hard places often regress to much younger emotional ages when they are stressed is a big part of parenting them. Thankfully, “be playful and she is currently in the emotional space of a 1-2 year old” flitted through my mind. Truth be told, I was in the emotional space of about a 13 year old by that time. I pulled up the old tried and true choo choo train coming up to the tunnel to get something in the mouth, and it worked like a charm. I was literally astounded at the power of play in the midst of such a stressful time.

Honestly, when we need to get somewhere – church, school, an appointment, etc. – I prefer to bark out orders and have children jump in line. A few of the Wilson kids have temperaments that respond to this, but not all of them. So rather than ratchet up my own anxiety and frustration level, I am intentionally seeking out more playful ways to inspire and engage our daughters to move in desired directions. This approach will shift and change as they continue to age and mature. Play doesn’t happen with every interaction, but it does seem to be a handy tool that when accessed creates more enjoyment in our interactions I look forward to reading Dr. Brown’s book on play and developing my skills and love of play. I imagine that the benefits will be many.

In Pursuit of tools for the new toolbox

For over 25 years – a quarter of a century, half of my life – I’ve been actively parenting children.  Our first three children, all amazing boys, came to us through birth.  Our next two, beautiful girls, came by adoption.  Though there are definitely things I would have done differently and mistakes were made (!), for the most part, our parenting journey with the boys rolled along with the mostly typical bumps in the road.  I somewhat brazenly and naively felt fairly prepared, adequate and up to the task.

I was comfortable with and familiar with a “traditional parenting” model that I heard much about in Christian circles.  This paradigm mostly demanded respect and obedience with an emphasis on control and left little room for emotional expression – this was my comfort zone.  I had confidence in the parenting toolbox in my possession – it seemed adequate to the task.  Those who taught and espoused this method made sense to me, for the most part.  I spent some years reading such authors until one day I read a book called “Grace Based Parenting” and there was something deep in my soul that resonated with that text.  On completion of that particular book, I resolved to take a hiatus from reading about parenting.  I needed to experience and impart more grace to myself and others.

This was the beginning of a crack in my parenting paradigm.  But things were rolling along in reasonable fashion, so there was no impetus for real change.  Enter our daughters.  They came to us, via living in an orphanage, at the ages of 18 and 22 months.  Though our adoption agency had responsibly educated us and challenged us to see that parenting children who have experienced early relational trauma requires different skills, we still weren’t so sure about that.  Love is enough is a very common misconception for adoptive parents – well, that and the parenting skills I already possess.

Critical crossroads – I very clearly remember the moment.  There had been a big rage and tantrum that had gone on for hours.  I had pulled out all of the tools in my parenting toolbox, and things were escalating.  It was as if God Himself whispered, or probably screamed, into my ear, “you can change yourself and your parenting or you can dig in, cling to your old ways and in the process destroy two children – this is your choice”.  That was holy ground.

This blog will be an attempt to share the now 7 year, and still ongoing, journey of the pursuit of new, different and more life giving tools to fill up the toolbox.  It is quite a ride.