It’s hard work, parenting.
The struggle between parents and teenagers is as old as humanity. Adam and Eve had their hands full with Cain and Abel, that’s for sure. And most of us will end up with a happier ending than theirs.
What adoptive parents often learn the hard way, though, is that parenting kids who have experienced loss or had painful histories can increase the challenge. A lot.
To put it bluntly, our girls arrived in our family with a lot of heartache. A lot of baggage. A lot of expectations, some not entirely realistic.
It’s still hard for them to talk about what they thought life would be like, and how different it really was, and how those unmet expectations colored their reactions.
Many times, I have no clue what is going on inside those pretty heads.
We can’t imagine.
We might try. But really, deep down, we don’t really want to acknowledge how hard it might get.
It’s easy to attend the training sessions and listen to the stories of other parents, and think “Oh, I won’t have to worry about that. My kids will be so thankful to have a home and they will be amazing and grateful and they will love Jesus and learn English and be honors students within the year.”
It’s really easy to think “these kids have had nothing, I just want to give them what they never had, I want to shower them with love and stuff.”
Step away from the cash register.
It’s even more common to hear a little voice in your head say, “If I say no to them, they will hate me and they will regret joining our family.”
But you are not the only parent to think that. DON’T give in to that fear.
At some point, your kid might say to you “I wish I was never adopted.”
Be ready for that.
And don’t believe it.
Kids born the old-fashioned way say stuff like that too. The difference is that with them, you both have the roots of a lifetime of trust, you somehow feel like shared DNA will get you through it.
I’m here to tell you that in this, there is no difference with an adopted kid. If anything, as parents, your commitment to an adopted child is greater. You have *chosen* this child. You have made a commitment to be the parent that their natural parents, for whatever reason couldn’t be.
That’s huge, people.
You’re signing up for a big responsibility. Perhaps you already did, and now it’s not going quite as smoothly as you imagined? Perhaps your family encounters struggles that are different. Perhaps your adopted kid(s) aren’t quite as shiny and happy and grateful for the opportunity as maybe you expected.
Perhaps they push the limits. Really hard.
Perhaps they say really hurtful things. Disrespectful things.
Things that you would not tolerate or accept from kids born into your family the old-fashioned way.
Perhaps you’ve tried some traditional parenting models, like we did. And perhaps some of those techniques backfired, like they did on us.
Y’all, these kids have different needs.
They need love, but not the rainbow and unicorn kind of love. They need unconditional love. You can provide it, but they will not just inherently know they can count on you. The will not inherently understand that a parent is reliable, will always be there, will always love them no matter what.
In some cases, they have never seen what true love looks like.
They might expect it to take the form of total freedom and an open checkbook. They might expect that love means you let them do whatever they want.
That’s not love, guys. That’s not love at all.
I’ve heard adoption professionals say “they just need love.”
Well….if you have a very broad definition of love, which encompasses counseling, and education, and clear, consistent limits and boundaries, and an environment where trust can be learned….then yes. Absolutely. They need that kind of love.
They need love in the form of “We love you so much that we can’t let you do that. Sure it would be easier for us to give that to you and not have this conversation. I understand how hard it must be for you to believe that we don’t love you. I know how embarrassing it must feel to tell your friends you can’t have your own laptop. But we made a commitment to you to keep you safe and help you learn to keep yourself safe and healthy. To keep you safe, sometimes it means we have to make some decisions and have some conversations with you that might not be the most fun for either of us, but we do it because we love you that much. It’s hard for you. It’s hard for us. But it’s important.”
This reminder is as much for me as it is for other adoptive parents and the people who know and support them.
We’ve been at this for a while, but we still have good days and bad ones. We still make a lot of mistakes. And we still do things that might feel horrible at the time, but that we know are right in the end.
What does love look like to you? Leave a comment…
Photo credit: Glenn Briggs (a long-time friend, and all-around talented dude. Check him out.)