Adoption 101: Hills to Die On

I think one of the most difficult aspects to being a new adoptive parent is that you have no perspective. I actually think this is what makes raising your first or second toddler difficult as well. When you have limited experience with some aspect of parenting, it's difficult to see beyond the current issue right in front of you, whether it is the toddler wanting to do every single thing themselves... at an excruciatingly slow pace, or a newly home adoptive child whose table manners are non-existent. It is all too easy to begin to believe that this phase is your new reality forever, and that you have some sort of control over it.

If you watch an older parent who has children well past the toddler stage parent a younger child, their ability to tolerate slow or fretful toddlers can be significantly greater. They have learned exactly how fast it all goes by, and even when the toddler is being annoying can step back inside their heads and remember this is not forever. Experienced adoptive parents are often able to do the same things. They have watched a child go from shocked, shut-down, and clueless about their new family and culture, to children who feel comfortable and knowledgeable about their situation. Having watched the transformation once, they know that their child will change and grow and learn. It may have felt like forever in the middle of the process, but looking back, it seems to have not taken any time at all.

But what about those hills to die on? Those would be the occasions when the adoptive parents decide that this behavior cannot be tolerated for any amount of time and must be curbed or changed. I know when I was a brand new adoptive parent, the number of hills I was willing do die on was quite high. And even if I didn't actually die on those hills, a little piece of my relationship with my child did, and left a bloody and wounded battlefield behind. Looking back, I know for a fact that most of those hills were not worth it in the least. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to ease up a bit, that things really be okay if I don't fight that battle right then. I can't go back and tell my younger self those things, but I can certainly tell other new adoptive parents and perhaps save them some of the heartache that I caused with my good intentions.

So what are appropriate hills to die on? Matters pertaining to the immediate health and safety of the child and their family. For a child just home, to my mind, this is it. For a child battling extreme effects of trauma, this is also my list. Nothing else at first is worth it.

What isn't worth it? What a child wears, what a child eats, how a child eats, what a child calls me, what a child calls others, teeth brushing, hair brushing, bathing, schoolwork, what language they use... I could probably go on and on. I can hear some of you starting to hyperventilate just reading that list, and the "But, but, but... " mutterings beginning. I can't do that! How will they learn? But it drives me nuts! Their teeth, they'll rot in their heads. What will people think?!

Take a deep breath.

How about another one?

Now listen, I'm not saying that this is how life will work forever. Not in the least. What I want people to really think about is what is truly needed and necessary at the beginning of a new relationship. It also might be that these things are totally manageable. That's great! But many of these items can quickly become a battle between parents and child when everything is new. What I'm saying is that these things and others like them are not worth it. Winning these battles is not worth the relational cost. Waging and winning these battles may even do irreparable harm. Having a season where things such as this slide may be necessary to put your relationship with your child on more stable and secure footing. I have let go of every single one of these items with one or more children at one time or another. You will not ruin your child.

I know it's hard, but focus on the positives that you do have in the beginning. Is your child in clothes... any clothes? Great. Did your child eat something, even it was noodles for the fifth meal in a row? Great. Is your child initiating communication, even if it is by calling you a name you don't care for? Great. The alternative is that your child is so shut down or delayed or avoidant that they can't. Look for the victories you do have. Look for the places you built even a slim connection together and rejoice over that. This learning to love another is a process. It doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen with fights and battles. It doesn't happen when you accept the mindset of parent vs. child.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, because I learned the hard way. Be the person you would want to fall in love with. Smile. Look for ways to give positive touch. Find ways to celebrate even the smallest victory. Make your home a place your child would want to run to instead of from. When you have that, then the vast majority of hills that seem insurmountable are layed low and cease to exist.

It all takes time.


Comments

Donna said…
And how I wish I had that advice and that perspective 21 years ago. There is so much truth here if only we can hear it when we are in the trenches. Thank you for speaking out for the kids who can't tell us these things and for the parents who need to hear it.

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