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. 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.
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.