Start as you mean to go on

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."  James 1:5 (ESV)

It hasn't been an easy several months here with TM as we switch our parenting practices, work with a therapist, and help him heal. As we walk down this road, I am more and more filled with regret over the first years with TM. And though I had the best of intentions, and felt I was educated and knew what I was doing, I was actually clueless. God continues to use this child to reform and make me into the person He wants me to be. It can be a painful process.

The title of this post and the Bible verse I quoted at the top very much sum up the most recent part of this journey. If you read adoptive parenting literature, you will run across this truism, 'Start as you mean to go on', in many different places. Basically, it is saying that this is your child, and you shouldn't treat him or her differently because of the adoption and that you have the right, and need, to parent this child. And I can't think of a single phrase or idea that has done more damage to my child, via me, than this phrase. I lacked wisdom, and because I thought I knew it all, I was wrong.

My pride in my parenting ability got in my way of God's wisdom and leading. If I have learned one thing from leading a girls' Bible study through the book of Isaiah, it's that God hates pride and He will use all means possible to strip pride from His people. And I had pride in spades. When we brought TM home, I already had five children.They were well behaved, intelligent, secure, happy, and well-liked children. Surely I had this parenting-thing all figured out. And because I had it all figured out, I embraced the idea of start as you mean to go on.

I missed a key idea, though. I had not fully understood how the first three years of my children's life impacted their ability to function and accept correction and instruction. They all spent the first few years of their lives being totally and completely adored, no matter what they did. They were secure in how much they were loved by their mother and father and had complete trust in us.

Instead of going back to the beginning with my new son and building a strong foundation of trust and love, I jumped right into how I parented my other nearly four-year-olds. I was asking a child to obey me when he had no reason to want to. And the more I insisted, the more he learned that I could not be trusted to truly understand and love him. Instead of starting out adored by his new parent, we began our relationship as one of confrontation. We were not on the same team.

What we are doing now is going back to the beginning and working on building a real relationship. And I'm happy to report that it is working. One of the reasons the past few months have been so difficult is that our therapist believes that TM is finally allowing himself to emotional regress to a three-year-old age. He is allowing me to do things for him that a three-year-old would naturally allow a parent to do. He has been asking me to help care for him. But it also means that he is doing other three-year-old work... that of discovering where boundaries are and discovering that a parent loves the child even when those boundaries are pushed. I see this in the little girls all the time, and it even crossed my mind that TM was acting just like them at times, but it took the therapist pointing it out to really make the whole thing click. We are essentially raising a three-year-old in a nearly 10-year-old's body. We are working on building trust and security. It is hard work... for all of us.

And from walking through this experience, I have learned a lot about myself as well. I don't have it all figured out. Not even close. Instead of plowing ahead and doing what I think is right nearly all the time, I am stopping more and more to ask for God's wisdom. And you know what? If I am quiet for a moment and wait instead of barging ahead, I will hear that still, small voice and find direction. It is often not what I would have done intuitively, but in the end it turns out to have been just the right thing. God is faithful and follows through on His promises.

My advice for people at the beginning of their adoptive parenting journey?  Do not make my mistake and skip the oh-so-important building trust phase. This doesn't mean you don't address misbehavior, but focus on the why of the behavior instead. And, especially as I've done this another couple of times, I find it helpful to picture what I would do with a one-year-old... which is nearly always redirect, give a snack, give a nap, and give a hug depending on what is needed. A newly adopted child is much closer to an emotional one year old than their chronological age.

Also, do not make my mistake of turning your relationship with your child into a confrontational one. There are no winners or losers. You either both win or you both lose... you need to be on the same side. The child isn't behaving in a certain way to annoy you, or make you angry, or to manipulate you on purpose. He or she is behaving that way because they don't know what else to do to deal with all of the emotions they have going on inside of them. The child is looking for a person to make them feel safe and loved and the new parent has to earn that trust. Trust me, I know.

I have asked my son for forgiveness for my early mistakes and I have asked God's as well. Hallelujah that we have a God who keeps no record of mistakes. His blessings are new every morning.

[This is an old post, but for the purposes of the prompt this week, I can't think of anything better to write. Linked to Love Your Failures at Hearts at Home.]


The Hamstras said…
Thank you so much!
Beth Templeton said…
Elizabeth, I don't know you and I saw your post in the trust based parenting facebook group and was curious. SO glad I stopped by to read what you had to say! Excellent. I really agree with your insights and hope that many adoptive parents will read this. I too had a big learning curve with parenting, when I thought I had it down pretty well! Great advice and helpful understandings in your post-- thank you. I will share it on our HOpe at Home facebook page so that more folks will benefit. Bless you and your wonderful family.
Reba said…
Oh wow. I have thought and felt ALL of these things. All of them. You articulated all of it so well. This has been a long and difficult journey but it is the journey God called us to go on. For better and for worse. :)
Ann said…
I'm betting that TM's memory of your apology will far outweigh any memories of your early struggles. Apologies and therapy go a long way toward "retrofitting" the past. Way to go, Mom!
Shonya said…
What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing what you've learned along the way. I think we can all relate to those moments when we start thinking we have this parenting gig figured out, and then something happens that knocks us back to our knees and teaches us to rely on and trust God rather than our feeble human wisdom. I appreciate your honesty!
Jill Savage said…
As an adoptive mom, I totally relate to your post. Thank you for your honesty!
Leah Courtney said…
I love this! Relationship before rules. It's so important, but sometimes we forget it- even with our biological children.

I'm visiting from Hearts at Home, and I'm glad you chose to bring this post out for the topic. :-)

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