Thursday, November 10, 2022

baggage

You may not know it, but back in the midst of the craziness of 2020 our family grew from 4 to 7. It's not really something I talk about a lot, despite how it changed our lives. It may be a surprise if you only know me from my writing here, but I'm a very private person. I'm not good at small talk, but I'm not one for dumping out my entire life story, either (On that note, I once took a train from Toledo to Kansas City and sat next to a girl who had told me most of her life story before we even pulled out of the station...). Part of my silence about our adoption is simply due to the fact that I tend to keep to myself.

Part of being quiet is because I'm still not sure how much of our kids' stories are mine to tell. It's a delicate balance, a tightrope walk of sorts, trying to figure out who in our lives needs to know how much. Some of it is mine to relate simply because I'm a mom who needs to make sure my kids are taken care of. Other parts, though, aren't mine to tell.

One of the biggest reasons I keep quiet, though, is quite simply because I don't like the awkward praise that usually follows after somebody finds out that some of our kids are adopted. I'm sure it's genuine and not meant to make me uncomfortable, but I'm not good at dealing with praise in any situation... let alone in one that's so hard just by its very nature. But any time somebody finds out, they almost immediately say something along the lines of, "Oh wow--that's so amazing! I really admire you for adopting. I could never do something like that." I'm sure there's a good way to handle that and a graceful way to continue the conversation, but I haven't found it yet. Instead I tend to stammer something and change the subject really quickly.

Because honestly? This adoption thing is hard. For that matter, this whole parenting thing is hard. I can't count the number of times I've questioned just what God was thinking when He put these kids in my care. I wonder on an almost daily basis if we're messing them up. 

Are we too strict? After all, our kids have daily chores, limited screen time, no social media accounts, no cell phones, high academic standards to meet, are ready for bed and in their bedrooms by 9...

Or too lenient? They watch things I'm not a fan of, don't have to keep their rooms clean, don't have a bedtime on the weekends, listen to music I don't screen, have friends I'm not a big fan of, have (almost) total control over how they dress...

I'm sure I'm not the only one out there trying to navigate the parenting world and sometimes feeling like I'm just wandering aimlessly. And while parenting is, by its very nature, excruciatingly hard at times, mixing that with adoption brings on an entirely new set of challenges.

Because the truth is, not every adoption story is the result of a young mom who lovingly makes the choice to give up her baby because she knew someone else could provide a better life. I'm sure those stories are filled with challenges of their own, hard things that those kids deal with and that their adoptive parents have to walk through with them. But many, many kids come out of hard places and have huge amounts of ugly baggage they carry with them. Then they get put with other people who have baggage of their own, and together a whole bunch of broken people have to figure out how to navigate life together.


 Kids who have been in foster care have hard histories many of us can never imagine. Older kids, like mine, have been forced to navigate hard roads where they've developed unhealthy coping and survival mechanisms that will take years (maybe even a lifetime) to unlearn. Their cognitive and emotional ages very rarely match their biological age, and the difference is more pronounced the longer they had to be in the system. They've had adults who were supposed to protect them let them down instead, often more times than they can count. They've had to figure out ways to try to protect themselves, which usually means they've built walls around their hearts that could rival those of any fortress ever erected. They've learned to manipulate adults to get what they need. They've focused on survival for so long that the idea of just living life as a kid is a foreign concept--trusting your life to someone else seems like a dangerous idea.

And those of us who come alongside them in the mess? We aren't saints. We aren't heroes. We're broken, imperfect people trying to learn to dance to music we can't hear, following the lead of kids who have never been taught the steps. We are struggling through tough choices on a daily basis, trying to figure out how to be parents to kids who, in a perfect world, never should have faced life in a different family, never should have been ours. At the same time, we're asking ourselves whether we made life better or worse for our biological kids--in protecting one set of kids, are we opening the other set up to pain they never should have experienced?

 We deal with pain, anger, fear, frustration, and disbelief on a daily basis, both from ourselves and our kids. We struggle with exhaustion, confusion, and feelings of incompetence and ineptitude. We question if we're doing the right thing, if we're helping, and if we're anything more than just a landing place. We spend sleepless nights questioning everything, trying to figure out the right way to move forward after what feels like a thousand steps back.

But at the same time, we deal with hope. We see glimpses of who our kids are becoming. We see 5 kids treat each other as if they've been siblings for their whole lives, picking on each other one minute and standing up for each other the next. We see unguarded smiles that were incredibly rare just a year ago. We see growth that may not be obvious to the rest of the world but means the world to us, even when it's just a single step forward.

Honestly? We're dealing with the same questions and concerns and issues that parents have faced forever. Some of those are magnified, but that's what we signed up for and what we knew (though couldn't have fully understood) we were getting into. I know it's well-meaning, but please don't tell me how amazing we are for adopting. Instead, do what you do with any other parent--ask about our kids and give us the opportunity to do a little bit of bragging--or venting, depending on the moment.


 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

"protecting" our kids?

 Last Christmas, my parents gifted all of us season passes to Silver Dollar City. A couple weeks ago, we decided to surprise the kids with a day at the amusement park. It was a beautiful day--we let them sleep in, then took them out for burgers before heading up to Branson. The park was all decked out for fall, full of carved pumpkins, fall colors, and the tastes of the season. The rides were open after dark--and oh my goodness, there's a whole different feeling when you're on a roller coaster and can't see the track ahead of you! We had a wonderful time making family memories (though as is always the case, things weren't quite as perfect as I had hoped: notice that one kid is missing from the pictures because he had no interest in going).










We had arranged for a day off of work in advance, then gave the kids an unexpected day off of school. What we hadn't realized, though, was that one of our kids missed a test that day. When he got back to school the next week and asked his teacher about it, he was told that it was an unexcused absence and he couldn't make it up--he would have to take a zero. He was mad and we were frustrated, but it was our fault. We knew the policy and should have thought about it in advance. We messed up, and his missing grade was the consequence.

We could have gotten mad. We could have gone to the teacher and tried to convince her to let him take the test. We could have done what many parents today do and go over her head to the principal and convinced the office to mark his absence as excused. We could have thrown a fit and gotten worked up and threatened and most likely gotten our way.

The thing is, though, we were the ones that messed it up, not the teacher or the school. Our son shouldn't have had to pay the price for our mistake with his grade, but that was the school policy and we knew it. So instead, he had to learn a costly lesson that wasn't really his to learn at the moment but an important one anyway--you have to stand by your principles even when there's a cost. It wouldn't have been right for us to go in and throw a fit to get his absence excused. Thankfully, that grade was at the very beginning of the 9-weeks. It will take some work on his part, but he'll be able to pull his grade back up to an A by the end of the semester.

As parents, we all want to make life easier for our kids. We want to rush to the rescue--fix the grade, stop a kid from being picked on, always deliver the forgotten homework or forgotten uniform. Sometimes, that's the right choice. Sometimes it is our duty as parents to step in and fix bad situations.

Other times, though, we as parents need to take a step back. While it's normal to always want to come to the rescue, it isn't what's best for our kids. We can't go ahead of them making sure nothing ever goes wrong, and we can't follow along behind them fixing every mistake. Failure is a part of life, and part of our job as parents is to make sure that our kids are prepared to face failure and have the tools they need to get through to the other side.

Failure isn't meant to be final, especially for kids. Sometimes that failure comes in the form of a test they didn't study for, or riding the bench on the ball team, or getting made fun of for something they did in front of their peers. Sometimes it's missing out on something they really wanted to do because they didn't meet the requirements. In the middle of all of those things, our job as parents is to guide our kids to handle them the right way. If they see and hear us blame the teacher or the coach or talk about how we're going to make sure those other kids get in trouble, they will definitely learn something. Our kids learn from everything we say and do.

The problem is, what are they learning? They are learning not to take responsibility. They are learning to blame other people for their problems. They are learning that it doesn't matter if you work hard for something--it's the people who throw the biggest fit who get the results they want.

I'm not sure what the reason is, but our generation is raising the next generation to be entitled and lazy. We are raising kids who think they can do whatever they want without consequence. We are teaching our kids that you throw a fit to get what you want--something that past generations of parents worked hard to get their kids to stop doing as toddlers. We are teaching them that merit and hard work are meaningless, because everybody "deserves" the same thing.

We are supposed to be raising the generation that will take our place as leaders in the world. We should be teaching them to work hard and earn the things they want instead of expecting those things to be handed to them. We should be teaching them about honesty, integrity, and values. We should be teaching them responsibility instead of how to get away with not doing things they are supposed to. We should be teaching them to make the right choice and do the right thing even when the consequences aren't what we want.

Until we start doing that, we will be failing our kids.

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