Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Adoption and Control

Here's another little thing no one ever told me about adoption.  It will change the way you parent.

Wait. Strike that. It may change the way your parent. At least, it did for me.

I wouldn't say I am a Type A person. I wouldn't say I am particularly laid back either. I think that, for the most part, I fall somewhere in between, ebbing and flowing, depending upon the day or the topic at issue. I never used to think of myself as a controlling person. 

I know parents that won't let their children out of the house unless they are spit-shined and perfectly dressed (matching of course).  That's not a hot-button issue for me. Have any of you seen Ally? She never matches. :) 

But just because a combo of stripes and plaid doesn't get me all worked up, doesn't mean I don't want to control other things.

Was it always like this? Our pre-adoption days seem so long ago, but I don't think so. Especially not for my husband, who is in fact, a very laid back guy. 

Sometime, very shortly after returning from Ethiopia the first time, our parenting style began to change. It had to. It was survival.

[Mark and the kids mid-2008]

You see, Abi and Hana went from a life of very limited choice to one, by comparison, that was full of the unknown and new in almost every waking moment. New foods, new clothes, animals, people, weather, language. It was extraordinarily overwhelming and overstimulating. So the control started, in large, part, to minimize the stress for them. 

We would lay out two outfits for them to chose from, rather than give them full reign to dig through their closets. They could have this or that for lunch, a banana or an orange for snack. Sometimes, even limited choices were too much.  Slowly, this changed, but it took time.

But the control went beyond food and clothing; it had to. Both kids had just spent significant time in an orphanage and there were consequences that needed to be addressed. We had to limit the amount of people in their lives who were permitted to give them physical affection. For example, we withdrew Abi from preschool (for several reasons, but) in part because his teachers were constantly hugging and holding him. Then, Mark would come to pick him up at lunch time and Abi would hide from him. It was not good for our attachment.

Then we adopted an older child. The first few months we were just trying to awkwardly get to know each other, with out limited language skills. We knew we had "broken all the rules" on older child adoption by going so far out of birth order, so we were careful. We were observant and tried to keep an eye on everyone - to keep everyone safe and happy.

Do you know what constant vigilance does to you after two years?

It changes you. It changes how you parent. It changes your norm, your status quo.

But life continues to change. Kids continue to develop and grow and thrive. But control has not completely left us.

Control - something that started out as a benefit to my children, a safety mechanism - has turned into something ugly and unhelpful.

I never wanted to be a helicopter mom. I didn't think I even had it in me. I don't double-check every answer on my kid's homework and then fix the ones that are wrong. I don't demand that teacher's change their grades. If they forget their lunches or library books, I don't run them up to the school. They deal with their own consequences.

However, lately it has become clear to me that I am struggling with other control issues. It tends to crop up in different ways, catching me off guard. I'm doing my best to (1) be aware of it, and (2) address it. This appears to involve some soul-searching and introspection on my part. Blech. But it is a much-needed exercise, for the benefit of my kids and myself. It's hard enough to control my own life, I certainly don't need the extra obligation of micro-managing theirs. :)

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