Last week, one of the organizations that helped us adopt the Cherubs asked if I’d write a blog post about our experience. I’ll confess that we were having a rather TEXTURED week here at home (my word for when it feels like things are coming off the rails) and so at first I couldn’t even respond. (You know how there are days where you just have nothing encouraging to say, so the best option is to keep your mouth shut and your fingers away from the keyboard? Yeah. It was like that.)
(I tried to find a picture to illustrate this point, but if you search “mixed race family” ALL the pictures are 100% posed perfect joyousness, because apparently that’s the experience for EVERYONE. Then I searched “mixed race family arguing” and found more happy pictures…and a random shot of Elizabeth Warren. So in lieu of a picture, please enjoy this ocean of words while imagining me, Steve & the Cherubs standing at opposite ends of the kitchen, rolling our eyes at each other.)
So…eventually things smoothed out, and I hit reply and said, “Sure I’ll write a post!” Then I sat down and realized that I could not find the place inside me that remembered what my questions were back when we were new to this world. That place is buried, along with so much of my former life, in the day-to-day of this life now. It’s still in there, but taking the hours to dig it out is not always the wisest use of time.
So instead, I crowd sourced. I went on FaceBook and asked what questions YOU had. And wow, the responses were amazing. They all pointed toward a theme: What are the differences between our expectations and how things played out in real life? I’ll answer that on the M.A.R.E. site once it’s live (link to come). But I decided to answer the more specific questions here. They’re such good questions – both for people who are new to the world of adopting from foster care, and for me. It’s good for me to give some actual thought to my answers.
So without further ado, here is the first, picked randomly from the list:
From Emily: “How did you win your kids over, so to speak?”
The short answer is, we haven’t. Not yet, not entirely. One textured aspect adoption is that you live under the question of what might have been. We are not our kids’ first choice. Our kids also adored their foster mom, so we’re not even our kids’ second choice. We’re simply what they’ve got.
Now, before you walk away muttering, Why would anyone ever sign up for that? Take a moment to dig through your own childhood memories: Were YOUR parents always your first choice? Did you ever look at other households – ones where the parents were more easygoing, or around more/less, or always had soda and Hostess cupcakes in the kitchen – and wish you lived in that family? Did you ever tell your parents, in a moment of frustrated fury, that you hated them/wished you lived somewhere else/were going to run away? Pretty normal, right? And survivable.
One of the most important aspects of adoption (but also parenting in general, I suspect) is that your kids don’t exist to affirm you, or to give your life purpose, or even to want to be part of your life. You have to be okay with you, even when they’re not.
Which brings me to the bigger part of my answer.
To the extent that we’ve won over the Cherubs, it’s been by being really good at adult-ing. At the risk of overgeneralizing, most kids who land in foster care have not experienced much stability from the adults raising them. Basic routines we take for granted (things like bills get paid, teeth get brushed, meals happen 3x/day and include nourishment, beds have sheets, socks & underwear get washed from time to time) aren’t lived out, and so are not learned. Each situation is different, of course. But there is always some shock involved when a kid sees a new way of being an adult, and as an adoptive parent it’s our job to ride out these bumpy times and show the value of structure & stability. I believe we’re the best parents they’ve had, even though we’re not their favorite. And if you asked them (on a good day, at least) they’d probably agree.
We have to be consistent and stable for a long, long (long) time before they’ll trust us. Then maybe they can love us. That’s just how it works.
Steve & I have learned to be incredibly straightforward with the kids. And to connect our choices to tangible desired outcomes. Because they’ve seen other ways to live and we aren’t their first family, the Cherubs know that not everyone does life this way, and (especially with things they don’t like) they are very vocal about their displeasure. I learned early on that I could either be angry all the time about the push back, or I could get really honest about why we do things the way we do.
For example, the Cherubs think we are RIDICULOUS about the types of music we don’t listen to. Of course they think these rules are only for them, created specifically to ruin their lives. “They lyrics aren’t THAT bad,” they argue. “You’re just being a prude, why do you make such a big deal out of everything?” Cue rolled eyes.
But when I asked them, “Do you really want me singing along with lyrics about coming on to some random man?” they were horrified. “NO! OF COURSE NOT! THAT WOULD BE SO RUDE TO DAD!” So then we had the rather tedious conversation (and these life structure conversations are always so tedious) about how I respect Steve by not singing about outside romantic scenarios. And how it’s not helpful to be imagining things that would wreck our relationship. We talked about how being faithful has a lot of different components. Since then, they’ve each asked endless follow up questions about the steps we take in this regard. And both will call me on the carpet if they think I’m doing something that could put the enterprise at risk. It’s not fun, but it keeps me super-clear about my choices, because I’m defending them on a regular basis. (Honestly, NOTHING has improved my leadership skills like parenting the Cherubs.) The hope is that they will see the HOW part of making life work, and that while we don’t control how our lives go, there are choices we can make that might improve our odds of happiness.
And here is where adopting older kids is a HUGE advantage: while it’s true that they’ve seen other lives and miss those people desperately sometimes (and romanticize the past as better than it probably was), at some level they realize that things were NOT better before. They’re looking for new life skills, new approaches to challenges. There are long weeks where my job is far more stable role model than beloved mother. And that’s okay. I think the second flows from the first. And in showing up day after day after day and doing that, I believe we’re winning them over.
Thanks for the great question, Emily!
Have a question about foster care or adoption (even if it’s not your thing but you’re just curious?) drop me a line & I’ll answer in a future post.