One major mistake I made when my two sons came home as older children, was treating them the same as I treated my biological child. Since all my children were similar in age, I expected they would have similar interests, and we would connect in ways I already knew how to connect, because, I was already a mom. Most people even considered me to be a “good mom.” [At least that’s what most said to my face.]
Prior to our two sons coming home, this “good mom” spent hours reading to her biological child, and, for the rest of the day, this mom and her biological child hung out and enjoyed each other. Trips to the library, playground, or even a friend’s house required very little (if any) planning.
By week two of mothering three children, I was at a complete loss. Our house was littered with toy fragments. I had hidden our precious library books to preserve them from utter destruction. When we did go to the playground, at least one of my children would climb up to a high place and refuse to leave. No other outings seemed reasonable. Soon, no outings seemed reasonable.
I began to resent my children. In my mind they weren’t playing their parts. I was a “good mom,” so, I began to believe our family’s chaotic state was the fault of my two children.
Never in my life have I ever been more wrong.
It took me months to begin to realize, that while I may have been a good mom to my biological child, I made a lot of assumptions when I began parenting my adopted sons. Loving my adopted children the same way I loved my biological child was not loving them at all.
It was hurting them. It was hurting us.
I was hurting us!
The first step in bonding with an adopted child
In order to begin loving my adopted children, I had to get to know them. Getting to know them was (and is) complicated because their lives have been complicated.
I’ve heard it said, “Our [children from hard places] need a delicate balance of structure and nurture. It’s a dance,” but that was not our experience at all.
For my children, structure WAS nurture. It still is. Once I really started getting to know my children, I could finally see their anxiety in everyday life, and I learned the first step in connecting with my adopted children was to reduce their anxiety.
In the beginning, the only way I could reduce their anxiety was to provide structure. Any nurture beyond providing structure led to their heightened anxiety.
To be a good mom, I had to back off from all the activities.
As I provided the structure my children needed to feel safe, they slowly began to trust me. Their behavior began to communicate how safe they felt. Eventually, I could tell they were ready — we were ready — for more traditional nurture.
And I was the only one who could change to make this happen.
Nicole is a parent through both birth and foster care adoption. She blogs over at Coffee Colored Sofa where she shares her story of how parenting through adoption is changing her.