Monday, March 2, 2015

And Yet: Parenting Potential

I wrote a bit the other day about parenting challenges.  I personally think most parents find it very hard to be vulnerable and authentic about their parenting struggles.  It is hard to say "my kid is struggling right now and so am I."  As some Facebook friends added to my bloggy conversation, it reminded me of so many things I have often thought about regarding parenting challenges.

Let me share one of the things I think my husband and I both struggle with in terms of parenting.

It is so hard to walk the line between holding your kids to high expectations and letting them be individuals who fail, who make mistakes, who ultimately learn from those mistakes.  We both are teachers by trade.  We see a wide variety of kids who are being parented with a wide variety of parenting styles, and it is really hard to watch kids struggle daily because there is no structure and consistency at home.  We don't want that for our kids.  We also have a Biblical background that says learning to live within boundaries and learning to live under authority (ultimately God's authority) matters.  We don't want our kids to become adults who struggle with rebellion and make bad choices, who assume the rules don't apply to them.  We also view life through the lens of loving others, that loving others is the second greatest commandment and that how we treat others matters a lot.  We don't want our children to treat others poorly be it a friend, a family member, or a stranger.

Yet, we know that discipline has to take into account individuality.  We believe that each of our kids was created in a unique, purposeful way, where certain traits are innate within them.  So often those personality traits are also their Achilles' heels, an easily manipulated weakness.   For me, I also maintain a strong belief that discipline is not about punishment, that it is instead about learning, that discipline is always about a child's heart.

So how do you let your kids spread their wings and make their own choices, albeit poor ones, while guiding and training them to be a loving, responsible adult?  It is so hard to correct without crushing, to limit without boxing in, to offer consistency and yet grace.

Throw in a child who is struggling, who repeats and repeats and repeats a behavior and it is easy to doubt yourself as a parent.  We want our kids to "get it" right now.  We see a child's struggle with repeated sin as indicative of our ineffectiveness as a parent.  In a sense, our parenting becomes a source of pride, where we puff out our chest and attribute our child's great behavior to our own genius and our child's failures to our ineptitude.

We forget that our kids are spiritual creatures who struggle with sin just like we do.  I am quick to anger and yet I want my children to always respond with gentleness.  I am careless with my words, quick to blurt out something that has not been thought through and yet I want my children to tame their own tongues and stifle their initial responses.  I am apt to criticize rather than encourage and yet I fault my children for finding fault with others.  I grumble under my breath and complain about small inconveniences and yet I hate it when my children whine or get huffy over things that frustrate them.

This Sunday, we did a bit of family time where we talked about sin and guilt.  Part of my motivation in choosing that was because I have a couple kids who can easily take sin and internalize it as shame and guilt.  We did a quick race around the house with a backpack.  The first time each child raced with an empty backpack.  The second time, I dropped in two five pound weights to symbolize guilt and talked about how guilt changes the way we operate.  We shared the story of Peter and his denial of Jesus and then read the story of Jesus confirming Peter's love for His savior and friend as well as confirming Peter's new purpose to feed His sheep.  I had never really thought about Peter as someone who should have been a prime candidate for guilt and shame.  How easy it would have been for him to have looked at his denials with intense guilt, to assume that his failures marked him forever?  And yet, Jesus saw it differently.  Jesus didn't look at Peter's behavior and abandon him.  Jesus didn't lecture, ask questions, or assume that Peter was destined for a life of apostasy.  Instead, Jesus loved him.  Jesus knew his failures, which were pretty big, and looked not at that, but instead at Peter's potential.

"Feed my sheep."

Do what I have created you to do.

And so for my kids, may my heart be more like Jesus.  More of seeing the potential of who they were created to be.  More of recognizing that failures, even big ones, even failures in a series of failures, are not fatal.  More of knowing that they are fighting some of the same battles that I am with my attitude, my tongue, my heart.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sometimes It's Not Just Normal Kid Stuff

Sometimes I think we've jinxed ourselves with a double whammy in the world of parenting.  We are parenting adopted kids, and we are parenting those adopted kids without the the benefit of having parented biological kids of the same age.   The question of what is normal, developmentally appropriate behavior seems to loom awfully large around here.  I realize that really every parent struggles with that to some degree, that there are moments where every parent is concerned that their child is struggling with some behavior that is not "normal."  But when you are parenting a child who has had some large losses, huge transitions, and unique challenges, that question is magnified.

Truth be told, we have one who is struggling a lot right now.  We have an 8 year old who is going on 16, who currently is the source of most of the drama at our house.  It is one child who creates a considerable amount of chaos be it through refusing to following directions, complaining about just about everything, arguing with most requests, picking fights with siblings,  or being reckless with items (as in "let me try to lift up the mini trampoline while my brother is jumping" or "let me jump up and down on the couch to show how angry I am.")  None of it is stuff that other 8 year olds do not do.  But it is intense, often filling the day instead of being spaced out over time like the behavior of other 8 year olds.  It's like when a regular kid has a really, really bad day, where nothing goes right and they are an emotionally wreck, quick to overreact, quick to get angry, quick to grumble and grouse.  But it is that for weeks on end.  Even when you as a parent have done a great job of keeping your cool, diffusing situations, and being consistent, it is exhausting.  For us, there isn't always a lot of predicting what will cause an issue.  Today, the child grumbled at graham crackers because they didn't break cleanly.  Yet, the same child was asked to clean the bathroom as part of pitching in to clean the house and there were zero complaints.  Some of it is just completely irrational. 

 It is not an issue of not knowing.  This kiddo can goes from calm to mad to calm in about 2 minutes.  This child can easily and willingly complete a redo of the interaction, correctly.  This child feels guilt and shame about not doing better.

It's a fine line between the reality of parenting an adopted child who does have a unique history and some unique challenges and the reality of seeing that some of it is just normal kid stuff.  Sometimes I need to hear that it's just normal kid stuff, that what is going on isn't that far outside the realm of normal.  And sometimes I need someone to offer a sympathetic smile, a nod of understanding, and not tell me that it's normal kid stuff.  Because I don't want to have to offer up every misdeed of my child in order to prove that it's really not normal kid stuff.    Because sometimes that simple act of hearing my mom struggles is enough.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Low Cost Nursery Redo

We're now onto plan b regarding Kai's room.  With his arrival, it became apparently that our new house was feeling a bit on the small side.  We had two bedrooms for children but they are pretty small (like 10 x 11) and 1, 500 square feet on our upstairs but that also felt pretty crowded at times.   Once Kai moved out of his bassinet, it became clear that he was not going to be able to share a room with Conleigh since he wasn't (and still isn't) sleeping through the night consistently.  He usually wakes up 2-3 nights a week and since Conleigh is a kiddo who easily wakens and struggles with getting enough sleep, sharing a room with her was not really going to happen.  We tried moving her in with the boys but three kids in a small room, with her on a trundle was not working.  It was a bit like stacking cordwood.  So we decided to finish a portion of our unfinished basement and now have a large bedroom for Kenson and Zeke, a bathroom, and a family room that are completely finished.  So the big boys moved downstairs, Conleigh went back to sleeping in her old room, and Kai got the remaining upstairs bedroom.  I used what we already had on hand rather than redoing a bunch of stuff for him.  I bought 3 new prints for his room that cost $30 total and aside from the new room darkening curtains, those were the only items I purchased.  I stole a few items out of my fall decorating stash (the orange willow tree and the acorn garland), grabbed a cute toy fox beanie out of the kids' toys, and found the other items in other places around the house.

Friday, February 13, 2015

5 Years Home

In January 2010, a 5 o'clock newscast broke the news that Haiti had suffered a massive earthquake.  

D and I just watched in shock.

We knew Conleigh was safe but we had no idea what this would mean for our adoption.

A few weeks later, we determined that the best course of action was to head to Florida on one way plane tickets and hope to meet Conleigh as she was evacuated out.

We flew into Ft. Lauderdale, thinking that's where she would be arriving.

We drove a few hours north to stay at a missionary compound only to get a call saying the kids would be arriving in Miami perhaps as soon as that night.

We drove a few hours back to the south and received another phone call saying the kids were for sure flying into Miami but it would not be until the next day.

We stayed the night in Kissimmee and waited for another phone call.

The kids arrived around 6 but didn't leave customs until 2 a.m..

We spent another night in a hotel with no Conleigh

We arrived at the group home the next day and were one of the first families to be joined with their child.

A story that is so hard to sum up into just a few sentences...because we rarely do things in the normal way.

First night with us, in the hotel in Miami.  That pink bracelet gets me every time.  They tagged all of the kids to keep track of them since so many of them were unaccompanied minors.  It reminds me of how traumatic my daughter's first hours in the US were, of an Air Force cargo plane, of a large group of 30 other kids most of whom she did not know.  It reminds me so much of her sad, I've cried all my tears out cry which she had for most of that day.  

First snow, a few days later, in Nebraska

So many layers to this girl.  I'm not sure if we've really peeled them all back yet.  She's eager to please yet not easily convinced.  She loves to laugh and be silly (in fact her grin and giggle is a bit infectious) but sometimes struggles with being loud enough at school.  She is not into details but sometimes is over attentive and gets distracted by little things.  She is a tiny ball of strength; oh how I hope she learns to see that not only is she physically strong but that she has this amazing resilient spirit.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Real Parents Who Love

A few days ago, I saw a quote that went something like this:  students who are loved at home come to school to learn and students are aren't come to school to be loved.  I understand the sentiment behind it, that teachers love a lot of kids and impact their lives in mighty ways.  But I also cringed a bit because this quote perpetuates one of the biggest myths about parents and kids.  It assumes that struggling parents don't love their kids.  The reality is pretty much every parent loves their kids.  Even the ones who we might describe as those doing a really crummy job of parenting.   Most often, it's just that they really don't know how to parent and the things we see as the things a parent does to show love and care are just not things that parent has in their wheelhouse.

But in another way, this type of thinking, that only parents who can check of every item on the "successful parenting" checklist are loving parents, also doesn't sit well with me.  As an adoptive mom, I have heard many comments that insinuate that birth parents don't love their kids.   

"It's great that they are so much better off now."  

Or I've heard comments that places limitations on the love of a birth parent, where the attitude seems to be that the only good thing the birth parent did was to relinquish their child.  

"How fortunate that his mom realized she couldn't care for him."  

Here's the thing:  birth parents are real people, complex people who have flaws and failures just like everyone else.  They are also people who love and hurt and wish their children's stories might have ended up differently.  It is also not always a completely selfless choice so don't think I am wearing rose colored glasses and making birth parents into gods.  But it is also the one spot those on the outside looking in get stuck on, this idea of adoption being the most loving thing that birth parents do for their children.  

Maybe that is true.  And maybe it is not.  Maybe the most loving part of being a birth parent is not connected to just one singular event.  We don't define most parents by a singular event.  We do not attempt to ferret out what the most loving thing is that "regular" parents have done for their children.   The concept of parental love is not tied to a superlative form.  The love between the parent and child exists for the duration, despite the good and the bad.  

I guess I would hope we would see all parents as mere men who do the best they can to love their kids, whose love is not finite, whose love is not boxed into certain moments within their child's life.  

And just in case you need a little reminding, would you read this?  A friend asked me the other day a bit about Zeke's birth family.  Trying to explain Chinese adoptions, finding spots, and birth families is kind of a hard thing because there is a lot of secrecy and lies of omission that often cover up the truth behind a child's story.  It is illegal in China to place your child for adoption and it is also illegal to abandon your child.  Many children are "left" in public places to be found and taken to orphanages.  However, often this is not quite the whole truth.  Often, someone connected to these finding spots knows who the birth parents are.  Some provinces have also created baby drop boxes, where parents can bring their children and anonymously leave them.  It's similar to the set up we have for rescue animals, where there is a door/cubicle type space where the animal is left with no questions asked.  Someone photographed the birth parents at once such place.  I think it certainly humanizes birth families.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Conleigh is 8

Conleigh turned 8 this week.   Her three wishes were a cookie dough ice cream cake, to eat out at Dairy Queen, and to play with a friend at a local indoor play area.   We struck out on finding cookie dough ice cream cake so she settled for a cookie dough Blizzard instead.  Since Grandma was here for the gymnastics meet over the weekend, she opened presents on Sunday.  We went out for supper to Dairy Queen the night of her birthday and ended our bedtime routine with the singing of "Happy Birthday."
Ignore the pained expression.  She really did like her blizzard treat.
Hanging with Zeke and Kenson, waiting for supper.

Super Hero Barbie from Mama, Papa, and the boys
Kenson saw this on tv at the end of January and immediately told me that was what he wanted to get Conleigh for her birthday.  Since he has no money (or at least not enough to spend $15 on a birthday gift), I told him we'd buy it and have it be from all of us.  I love that he was thinking of her, knowing that she likes Barbies and super heroes.

This gift from Grandma fits with the current theme of family member's buying D Christmas tree snacks for Christmas.

$20 from Grandma is a great gift.  $20 is a lot of money!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sibling Complexes

This kid has a long road ahead of him.

The picture accompanying this post was taken minutes after Zeke created a mohawk hair style on him...using spit.  I suppose is appropriate that Kai is playing with a hair brush.  For the record, I did wet down the mohawk so that it would lay flat.  And I did not use spit.

Also for the past two days, several children around here have been convinced that Kai's name ought to be Max.  So far no one has actually called him "Max" to his face.  But at least one has asserted out loud, "Now I will call you Max."