Parenting on a Pedestal?
Fast forward to being matched. You will be given a biography of a child that your SW team consider would be a suitable match for you. They consider that you will have the necessary skills to parent that child and any issues that may arise and you then decide if you agree. There's a very high chance that your child will physically resemble you (that is certainly the case for us) and there is every chance that you will then fall in love: hook; line; and sinker. If, like us, you've never been a parent before you may have a reasonable concept of what it's like to be a full-time parent (although minus the extreme fatigue and relentlessness that accompanies parenting). You will have certainly listened to your friends talking about their children and any difficulties they have experienced throughout the years. At this point you are probably still riding high on getting approved at panel and being told that you are a suitable parent. Your child may already have identified difficulties or special needs but equally they may be too young for any issues to have arisen or none ever may. You go to court and legally adopt your child excited that you can now get on with the job of being family without having to report every bump and scrape to your Social Worker. It is a wonderful time and I promise you that this post isn't going to suddenly be a huge downer but I do want to raise an issue that I've experienced over the years in case this is something that you identify with now or in the future.
It's something that I have termed "Pedestal Parenting" and what I mean by that is that we, as adoptive parents, feel an internal pressure to be more than "good enough" parents. We need to be therapeutic parents. We have been entrusted with little people who have often already experienced more trauma than we want to imagine. We may have children who haven't experienced any identifiable trauma although being adopted in itself is quite a trauma and can lead to all sorts of emotions throughout our children's lives. We will feel a pressure to help our child resolve their issues. All the issues that our children may experience will undoubtedly be expressed in their behaviour. We have certainly experienced a whole gambit of unsavoury behaviour from Katie at times. Her tantrums can be quite epic with hitting and spitting and kicking. She is currently experimenting with being rude and name calling. As an adoptive parent we are often in a heightened parenting state wondering if the behaviour is just normal age-related behaviour or whether there is more to it; something being expressed or some learning difficulty or trauma as yet undiagnosed and what we can do to help them and resolve the behaviour. I've yet to speak to an adoptive parent who doesn't question these issues, except for those whose children haven't shown any difficult behaviour and are generally little angels (but that doesn't actually describe most children and I would question that sort of behaviour myself as well!).
So many of the adoptive parents I know, myself included, try to parent proactively. We are always on the look out for methods of parenting that will help and support and nurture our children. We read up on and attend training courses on techniques such as Theraplay; the Post Institute; we will seek advise from Health Visitors and other friends including other adoptive parents; we will use sticker charts and beads to promote and reward positive behaviour and we will often keep difficult emotions to ourselves; emotions such as feeling a failure or disliking your child at times or feeling intense anger. Sounds exhausting doesn't it? We certainly aren't allowed to shout and holler at our children because that wouldn't be therapeutic parenting and if we do happen to shout and holler we will feel intense guilt for days afterwards at not being able to be a super-parent all the time (or is that just me?). Yes I do shout and holler - far too much at the moment! We can't admit to things like that can we? We can't admit that we aren't feeling like a good enough parent? We can't admit that being approved as a "suitable parent" feels like a bit of an understatement?
I spend a lot of time talking to other adoptive parents and it is really helpful because often other adoptive parents will understand all of this. They get "it" whatever "it" is. They understand that often our children react differently and more extremely than other children. They understand the emotions we all feel about contact and birthdays and Christmas. They can offer solid parenting advice that can really help. However I would caution immersing yourself too much in the world of parenting children with extreme difficulties because you can also start to read too much into your own child's behaviour. You can start to see attachment disorders and different issues where maybe they don't exist in your child. This might just be a normal stage of development for your child with no hidden agenda. There has to be a balance and I would encourage adoptive parents to talk to a range of different parents to gain as much understanding as possible. Some stages of childhood are really difficult. Katie's behaviour is really difficult at the moment. It is pushing me to limits I didn't know I had (and beyond some days). I could easily see some of the issues we are experiencing as being all adoption related. Some of them probably/possibly are, only time will tell. She has been through a tough time lately, we all have. The adoption process is tough so we should expect some fall out in her behaviour. It's only been three months but when you're in the middle of difficult behaviour and feeling completely overwhelmed and inadequate as a parent, it is very easy to beat yourself up and feel that you are not up to being this amazing therapeutic parent. Yes I am talking about myself here. I have spent huge amounts of time worrying about what is happening with Katie. Is this the start of similar issues to her Birth Mother? Or is this just the reaction of a nearly 6 year old who has completed her first year of school; is experiencing difficulties with one of her friends; and has been through the adoption process with us to adopt her brother? A process that has raised all sorts of issues about their shared Birth Mother; and brought about a shift in the attention I am able to give her. We're all still emotionally battered from the process if I'm honest and still finding our feet although that is settling down a bit more now. I'm tired and not as patient as I would like to be. A lot of this is a normal reaction to having a sibling with a topping of Katie and her big reactions to things (and she has always been a bit of a diva). This isn't something new but it is in a bigger body who is able to kick harder than she used to.
|Image from Jean McLeod's Adoption Toolbox|
I think my advice to all adoptive parents would be to listen to both sides of parenting. Listen to adoptive parents but also listen to your friends who are birth parents. Sometimes both can be right. We don't need to jump in with therapeutic parenting all the time. Sometimes things do work themselves out and children can just move from one developmental anti-social behaviour to another and, dare I say it, it can just be "normal".
Of course that is not to be detrimental to all the parents who are parenting some incredibly difficult behaviour due to ASD and attachment disorders but I would like to think that anyone reading this blog who is experiencing those issues would know from my writing that I wouldn't ever dismiss or be unsympathetic to those issues at all. I'm just trying to reassure myself mostly that I don't need to parent on a pedestal and that I need to be more forgiving of myself for not always getting it right.
What do you think? Do you feel you're parenting on a pedestal?