Friday, November 12, 2010

The Formula for Raising Happy, Healthy, Well-Adjusted Adoptees

When I was pregnant with my oldest son I read everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING!) that I could get my hands on in regards to pregnancy and parenting.  One book in particular was all the rage at the time and so I consumed it- highlighted, flagged, underlined, turned down the page edges!  The people who recommended it to me were either parents already (and ones I highly respected), or had just had their first baby and found it very useful.  I took the book's message to heart and planned to fully apply it's teachings when Jack was born.

The thing is... it didn't work.  None of it.  Not. At. All.  In fact, it made me AND Jack MISERABLE!!! I was so unhappy in my first few weeks of being a mommy, and it was mostly because of trying to follow the formula laid out in this book.  You see, this book told me that if I did A, B and C then my child would sleep like a baby (pun intended).  And this book also basically implied that if I did NOT follow their advice and do A, B and C then, you know- just sign your child up for "juvie" now!!!  This book likes to scream, "YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!!!" and make you terrified that you are going to ruin your child's life before it even gets started!!!

So finally I did what I should have done from the start and I threw that freaking book away and started listening to Jack and trying to meet his needs instead of trying to fit him into a formula.  And he almost instantly started sleeping through the night.

And you know what's funny?  When Ben was born he spent a week in the NICU b/c he was a bit premature.  By the time I got him home I just decided that he could do whatever he wanted b/c I hadn't been able to hold him and take care of him for a whole week- so if he wanted to eat every 15 minutes then I was going to do it and enjoy doing it!  And if I wanted to rock him to sleep and let him take his ENTIRE nap in my arms, then by golly I was gonna do it.  I would listen to my CHILD and let HIM tell me what he needed!  (all of those things were practically forbidden by this un-wise baby book. )   And you know what Ben did?  He fit himself perfectly into the formula that that book was recommending!!!!  With absolutely zero effort from me, he put himself on a regular schedule and started sleeping through the night when he had only been home for a month.

Am I saying that there is no need to read pregnancy and parenting books?  Of course not.  That would be ridiculous.  There is so much wisdom and insight to be gained from reading great information.  Am I even saying that this particular book is crap?  No.  For ME it was crap, but I do know that many people feel it really helped them.

I love knowledge and it's always handy when something comes up in parenting and you can think, "I think I read about something like this somewhere..." It's good to have all that info stored in your back pocket should the need arise.  We just can't make the mistake of thinking that if we apply all the FORMULAS we read it is going to make for children and lives with no (or even fewer) problems.  It may mean that we are better prepared to handle these problems, though.  Or it may not.

While we were in the adoption process I again read everything I could get my hands on.  Some of it scared the $#*@ out of me, but I made myself read (most) of it anyway b/c you just never know what you are going to face.  MUCH of it has turned out to be incredibly helpful and I'm so thankful that I read it all.  Some things have not been applicable to our situation (and I am NOT blowing smoke here or writing a "perfectly false" blog- it is what it is and so don't read all this and think that I'm lying.  Because that's rude.  And I'm not.  That was all to make you laugh, Jamey.  ;-)  but I'm still glad I read it all.  I like information.  I like to know the possibilities.  But I've also learned a few things along my journey.  And the main thing I have learned is that:


It's so tempting to think that there IS.  And maybe that would be nice. We could believe that:
-If I send my kids to private school they will/won't ___________
-If I send my kids to Christian school they will/won't _________
-If I send my kids to public school they will/won't ___________
-If I homeschool my kids they will/won't _____________
-If I talk to my kids about ___________ they will/won't _______
-If I do/don't let my kids watch/listen to/be exposed to _________ they will/won't ________
-If I do everything just right my kids will turn out perfect and won't struggle with their identity and who they are supposed to be in this world.

But it just really doesn't work that way.

There just isn't a formula.  Not for bio kids, not for adopted kids.  If there were a formula and it cost $500,000 I would buy it.  I'm serious.  NOTHING I have ever or WILL ever do is as important to me as raising my kids.  But there just isn't a formula.  There are generalizations that may apply and there is wisdom to be gained from those who have gone before, but there just isn't any formula that is going to guarantee that our kids are going to turn out okay.  There just isn't.

Because every single situation is unique.  Every. Single. One.  Because every single human being is unique and no two people are going to handle even similar situations in the same way.  For example: a child who had lived Avé's life in Ethiopia SHOULD have food issues.  Most kids from the same situation do.  But she does not.  Why?  No idea.  But she doesn't.  I'm glad I educated myself on what to do if she had, but she doesn't.

My friend and fellow blogger asked me a good question yesterday: "How do you think Avé will  feel as she ages being the only child of color in your family if you don't adopt again?"  And the answer is:

I really don't know.

From what I've read on many adult adoptee blogs and in adult adoptee interviews, it's a fact that MANY adult adoptees said it meant a lot to them to have a sibling that looked like them, or conversely that it bothered them that they didn't.  How will Avé feel if she ends up being the only person of color in our family?  Chances are she will feel the same as others in her same situation have felt.  And that does worry me.  I truly want to do all I can to give her everything she needs to be successful in life.  And it's very easy for me to become fearful of screwing up or just blowing it.

But does that mean that I should adopt again out of FEAR for what will happen if I don't?  Anything that is motivated by fear is not ever going to be the right choice.  Please hear me- I am NOT saying that anyone who adopts a second (or third, or 10th) child is doing it out of fear for what the first one will feel like if they don't.  I'm just saying that for ME and for OUR family I'm going to do my best to NOT do ANYTHING motivated by fear.  Because that is something that is very easy for me to fall into and it always gets me into trouble.

And that is why I stopped reading a lot of adult adoptee blogs.  Because they created fear in me- fear that "YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG" just like the bad baby book used to- or even worse: "YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE DONE THIS TO BEGIN WITH AND SHE'S GOING TO HATE YOU FOR IT!" It's not that what they have to say is invalid.  It's just that I don't have to listen to people who are in the process of working out their issues.  YES- I want to do a good job.  But I would rather get my information in a way that doesn't make me feel fearful in the process.

Not every adoptee feels the same.  Some adult adoptees REALLY DO feel special and chosen.  Really.  All their lives.  Others live lives that are crippled by their sense of loss.  Some kids should have food issues and don't.  Some do even thought their situations may not have been as extreme as others who ended up not having issues at all.  And so what we can glean from all this is simply that there is no formula.  We can read, we can educate ourselves, we can get all that good information and let it be there for us when we need it.

But most of all we can just listen to our kids and be and do what they need us to be and do.


Kimberlie said...

Tremendous insight! Here is what I have learned in my almost 5 years as a mom:

You have to treat each child as a separate individual. No two of my children are alike. They all have their "stuff" and will likely always have it. It just is, and we are learning to go with it. I have one who still suffers tremendous loss, one that has all kinds of sensory issues that can, quite frankly, make me want to say "really, you just have to know them. They aren't like this at home. Seriously.", and I have one who is still so insecure that they are always on the lookout for another mommy and baba just in case we change our minds. They don't want to be left unprepared to be sent away.

Here's how I initially reacted to the question of whether a person would feel bad about being the only person in the family that was different: I thought about how we share with our children that God chose them specifically for our family. That He knew we needed them in order to become who we are meant to be. That our family is exactly how God designed our family to look. I am sure you share those same thoughts with Ave. Ultimately this is the message that our kids need to hear, that they aren't our children by accident but for a purpose.

You are such an amazing woman and mother Gayla!

Deena / TEAM MARQUIS said...

Amen! I'm guessing that Grace will be our only Ethiopian beauty, but she will be loved and adored. Hopefully she will meet many great friends (like Ave) along the way and they will be able to support each other :)

Mom~Mommy~Mama said...

I think you're absolutely right. I hope you realize I was just asking a question, not trying to judge, because as you've pointed out perfectly, there is no one-size-fits-all on anything important in life.

Gayla said...

Mom~Mommy~Mama- (typed your "real' name and then deleted it b/c that kind of ruins the anonymity thing, doesn't it? :-)

I totally knew that you were not judging- that's why I felt free to link you. You are an extremely open minded individual and a great mom and I value your input on everything- especially adoption related everythings!

A Real Good Friend said...

GAYLA! I love this post! Really, really love it! With you 100%!

Selam! G'day! Hello!