Do I Parent Differently?

 It’s a little ranty and long, and I just want to note I don’t think that parenting any child is easy, no matter your relationship or how they came into your life.

 I struggle with this a lot – do I parent differently from other parents because Jonathan is adopted? Do I parent my stepson, Anthony, differently because he’s my stepson and he has his mom in his life? Although I’d like the answer to be no, I think it is yes. Yes I think I do.

 I believe they both have different needs, and I respond to those needs and parent them each as individuals based on what they need, their personalities, their history, our relationship and so many other factors. And because of my unique relationship with each of them, that separates me from other parents who do not have the same unique relationships…ie who don’t have a step son and an adoptive son.

 I should acknowledge that this seems to be the opposite of a recent post I wrote about there being an ‘us vs. them’ mentality among adoptive and biological moms/parents, and I hope that I’m not contradicting myself too much here, or at the least, that I expressed myself, and can do so again today, as accurately as the thoughts are in my head. I do believe there are differences in raising or parenting biological children vs. adoptive children, just as raising a child with a disability is different than a ‘typical’ child. It’s just simply different. Fundamentally I think it’s all the same – love, consistency, boundaries, laughter, honesty…but the day to day activities, or sometimes the purpose behind an activity may be different because of your relationship with any given child. I’m not commenting here on right or wrong, I’m simply just expressing my views and how I choose to parent my two kids.                                                         IMG_20130104_134632 When I first met Anthony I was very cautious and reserved in my role with him. And it wasn’t my place to jump in a parent him; I was just some stranger who was hanging around. A lot. And we did stuff together sometimes. I jumped into a mothering type role right away – I making food, cleaning up etc., helped him with different things, drove him to school sometimes etc. But I was very aware that I was not his mom, he had (has) a mom and that was not me. And in the beginning, he was very clear with me that talking about being in trouble at school (which he refused to do), talking about deeper feelings (which he would not do) as well as discipline (which I would not do) was not where we were at. I accepted this and over time, once we had a strong foundation, our relationship shifted and grew and deepened. This took a looong time, I would guess about 4 or so years for us to get the point where I felt comfortable talking to him about tougher things and he felt he could trust me with bigger things. Now, although he still has his mom very much in his life, it feels like I am his mom, his step mom, which is kinda awesome I might add. And I think he would say that he sees me as a mom, but he is quick to point out I’m his step mom, because it is different than being his mom who still exists in his life. But, we are both good with that and acknowledge that it is a unique relationship. I think because I took the time to go slow and build a strong foundation and relationship, it greatly benefited how he acts and responds to my parenting now. Which I should point out is very positive, and still evolving.

IMG_20130203_122830 With Jonathan, it’s different again. He’s had too much insecurity and too much shuffle in his short life to beat around the bush and take it slow. And, he doesn’t have another mom in his life making the situation different from Anthony. What we know about attachment is that kids who struggle with it need to know first off who is in charge and who will keep him safe. That’s me; Mama numero uno. So, I am strict with him. And I have a lot of expectations around his behaviour (I say ‘I’ but Gord and I are both in this boat). At the same time, I make sure we have lots of fun each day so we can build that ever so important relationship, as we are still in the early stages of getting to know each other. Also, I am more understanding and tolerant of (some) misbehaviour (but by the end of the day man alive does it get hard to keep this all in mind) from a boy who, although to others seems to be not listening, is struggling to regulate himself because he was never soothed as a baby and is now acting like a crazy man in the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong – tolerant does not mean that misbehaviour is ignored or accepted. Oh no no no – simply a lack of self regulation skills will not get you a free ride around these parts, it will however, get you a simple talking to, a big hug, and a lesson in calming down, hopefully with some kind of body contact or rocking or back rubbing thrown in. See, different: What parent of a biological kid thinks of making physical contact with their child while giving them ‘a lesson’? I’ll tell you who – adoptive parents. Me. I do. A hyper vigilant wanna-make-it better and get on the attachment train mama. It looks like simple parenting (explaining to a child their behaviour is unacceptable) but the purpose behind it is different.

It’s hard. It’s tiring. It takes a lot of conscience effort and some days I suck at it. But I can see the positive effects of my (our) efforts. When the hair dresser brings Anthony back to the front of the joint and says to me ‘he’s an awesome kid’, I know I’m doing okay. When people who have known Jonathan over several placements (we are lucky to still have contact with a couple of these amazing consistent people in his life) see him and exclaim how happy he is and how well he’s doing; I know I am on the right path and choosing to parent differently, even though it isolates me and separates me from other parents, is the right way to parent my kids.


10 thoughts on “Do I Parent Differently?

  1. Yep, I definitely parent mine differently. I adopted first, then gave birth, so in one sense I haven’t got used to a ‘typical’ parenting style, then had to change to a more therapeutic style – I parent both with an adopters hat on. But my children have different needs, they are different ages, different genders, have different talents/skills, different strengths and weaknesses and so the way I respond to them is different, but equal and fair (I hope!).

    The isolation is hard, but like you, I know doing it differently is right for my children and that’s all that matters.

    Thanks for linking up with the Weekly Adoption Shout Out x

    • Thanks Vicki. A wise friend, who has three kids with different disabilities, told me the best thing I could do to combat the feeling separated from others was to find people/friends who ‘get it’. I am slowly doing that; mostly with people who get the disability part of my kids. And I’m finding that this community of bloggers and your link up is really surrounding me with the adoption part of people who ‘get it’. So thank YOU!!!

    • It is definitely a never ending, evolving, constant questioning and just keep learning isn’t it?! Sometimes these kids feel like a big science experiment and I’m the mad scientist!

  2. When I started reading your post I was thinking to myself “you parent all children differently because every child has different needs be they birth children or adopted” but you’re right that parenting an adopted child is more pronounced. There’s less winging it and more thinking about it (well on the good days there is anyway). It will be interesting to see when we adopt again how much my parenting or our second child differs from my first. I’m sure ill be writing about it…..often lol

  3. Hello. First let me say I´m loving your blog and your thoughs about everything. Well, I have one son so far (biologicall, 5 yo) and we are waiting our other son (adopted) arrive. So far I can´t tell much about parenting more than one, but I do believe that we are all different people, and different people react different for the same situations, so, of course we´ll be parenting in different ways, but mainly not because one is adopted and the other is biological, but because they are two different kids!

  4. I parent mine differently and they are both adopted but they have very different needs and that is why. It took me a while to get my head around this because I thought to be fair I would always treat them exactly the same. Now I know it’s the best way although sometimes I can see how the children may see the inconsistency as unfair.
    Thank you for linking up with the Weekly Adoption Shout Out

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