One of our children hid under the table the other morning and threw her shoes and socks at us. No words, just grunts and whines.
“I’m guessing you’re a little frustrated,” I said, as my husband, Jay, pulled her out, kicking and flailing. Connected parenting, connected parenting, connected parenting my mind shouted at me. I attempted. I asked for eye contact, cradled her like a baby, talked about the “big feelings” and how to handle them next time.
But later on, I lamented to Jay that I had probably handled it all wrong. It’s hard work to change one’s parenting style from more traditional to this connected style necessary for kids from hard places. Maybe demanding eye contact wasn’t all that connected. Maybe I should’ve just gone to her, under the table even.
“Hey, we are learning at least,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess,” I muttered, “and at this rate, maybe we’ll at least be helpful grandparents.”
Because, as it turns out, parenting is tough.
See, I thought we were A-OK when we had one child. But, never trust a one-child parent. Don’t read books or blogs by them either – or their husbands.
Our first-born is one of our biological children as well. And, we thought we understood a few things on parenting. Not so. Then we adopted internationally and dove into topics of attachment and bonding, semi-survived, and figured we then understood a fair amount about having both biological and adoptive children. Not so – for they grow and start talking (back).
Then, we started to foster. We were blind-sided by trauma and its effects on children. Words like “triggers” and “flashbacks” and “regression” have become everyday words.
Parenting now is a give-it-all-you-got-and-pray-this-thing-works kind of endeavor.
That perfect, color-coded family picture to hang on a clean mantel? We’re not going for that anymore. We’re in a messy work where standards have changed.
Namely, we’re learning to think less about changing our kids (and their behavior) and more about changing ourselves. Because, at the end of the day, parenting changes us. We’re learning that it’s less about their discipline and more about our own self-control. Less about maintaining order and more about maintaining our composure. Less about teaching them and more about ourselves becoming trustworthy. Less about who they should be and more about meeting them as they are.
Less about being authoritative and more about being their advocate.
Less about the behavior and more about the big feelings behind it.
Less about their correction and more about our connection.
So, my little girl under the table wasn’t being defiant, contrary to my former parenting style. She didn’t need to be disciplined for disobeying my direction to get her shoes on. She didn’t need to be reprimanded for throwing things in the house, or shamed for making us late, or emotionally manipulated for “making Mommy sad.”
I am the parent. Change happens with me first.
Truth is, I saw my other child pat her on the back – harder than necessary, although unintentionally so – before leaving the room. And, I could’ve chosen to address it rather than brush it off as something to just “get over.” This little girl was scared and mad that anyone would even venture close to hitting her in this family, this place she has been told is safe.
This morning, she needed to know from a calm, composed parent that she can trust us. That she doesn’t need to “just get over it” and be thus pushed into denial or silence about the effects of her past; no, she needs encouragement to raise her voice and enforce boundaries for her body that make her comfortable and safe. And, she needs to know her parents will be right there, alongside her, helping battle the forces from her past – the ones that make her want to crawl under the table when pats on the back are too heavy, too scary.
But, it’s not just for kids from hard places. Each of us and every child longs for connection before correction and to know that parents are not just “laying down the law,” but that they are listening carefully to hear the needs behind the behaviors.
So, I’m thankful for this catalyst called foster care that is requiring us to adjust our parenting style. It’s changing us.
We might be helpful grandparents after all.