Doug and Deanne Walker have 19 children, 10 of whom are adopted. These loving parents have been up and down and all around adoption, and seem to me to be an endless bucket of adoption knowledge and wisdom. On top of that, the Walkers are welcoming, inviting and friendly! This series of articles covers everything from being an organized home executive to failed adoptions to finding the right agency. So as you read, imagine taking a comfortable spot on Deanne’s sofa as she openly shares her insight into each topic.
One of my pet peeves is being misjudged. You know–when someone thinks you did something for a horrible reason; or when they think you didn’t do something because your heart isn’t in the right place. It’s happened to all of us. So, what of those parents who carefully consider their parenting methods, are consistent in implementing them, and are ever-vigilant to care for their children’s growth and progression . . . But their methods are criticized? It feels awful. How do parents continue on their path in confidence? Deanne’s answer follows:
We learned, by child number three (all biological children at this time), that what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another. Although we do have hard and fast rules for everyone, the methods to ensure each child meets their full potential must vary from child to child. We have high expectations of our children from a very young age. Our expectations are doable. We know they do not need to be limited by anything! =Handicapped or not, adopted or biological, introvert or extrovert . . . it doesn’t matter. Each person has greatness, and it’s our job as parents to teach our children to see that greatness within them and to overcome obstacles on the road to their personal success. This means different discipline and different nurturing for each child. This means that we’ve had to ignore what society deems is appropriate (including what friends and family think) and to follow what we know is best for each child.
The Walkers believe in inclusive, love-filled, and sometimes extreme discipline. That is–there is no banishing children to their rooms, no ignoring or withholding love, and certainly no hitting or hurting in any way. They use a form of natural consequence for bad behavior. For example, when a child’s negative behavior is harmful to another individual, they lose the privilege of initiating interaction with others for a time. The logic here is that if this same behavior were exhibited as an adult, it could result in prison . . . which would be much harsher than the discipline received at home.
The aim is to teach the children to be in control of themselves. If they don’t learn proper behavior when they’re young, they will have problems as adults that will not only make their own lives miserable, but will affect the lives of others–their spouses and children. So when this child loses the privilege of interacting with others, they are not sent away. Instead, they sit in a specified location (family is still all around) and may not initiate interaction. If another child wants to play legos with him, that child brings the legos and initiates the interaction. When Mom wants to hug him, she enters his space and hugs. When it’s dinner time, food is brought to him and he eats while the family eats–in the same room, but in his spot.
Other extreme measures of discipline may include removal of any extras in this child’s life for a time. Never eliminating the necessities of life (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), there have been times when a child doesn’t respond appropriately to regular discipline, and so privileges and extravagances are taken away.
There have been times when non-family members have been in the Walker home, have seen this discipline in action, and have not only offered alternative suggestions but have also been highly critical of their methods.
This has happened in other environments as well. Teachers and others who are responsible for children outside of the home have sometimes sabotaged the Walker’s careful parenting. Certainly, their hearts are in the right place–they think they know the better way–but the result can be dramatically stunting.
Here’s an example: The Walkers have a child with Down Syndrome. As mentioned earlier, these parents have high expectations for their children and refuse to let them think they are limited by their challenges. So, contrary to mainstream expectations, Deanne worked hard with their daughter and she was potty-trained by the age of 4. When this child started school, her loving teachers and helpers didn’t think it right that she be expected to take care of herself like those without her disability. So contrary to the mother’s request, they stepped in and started doing for her things that she had struggled with, but was succeeding in doing for herself. The result: now years later, the potty training is undone and they have not been able to get her back to the level she was at before starting school. These people judged her harshly, undid her hard work, and are now out of her child’s life. It’s Deanne and the child who have to live with the consequences.
Deanne has been criticized over and over again for not allowing what would be normal 3-year-old behavior for her Downs Syndrome child. For example, sitting on an adult’s lap is perfectly fine for a 3-year-old, but it would be completely unacceptable for a 10-year-old to do the same. Deanne knows how long it takes for her daughter to learn (or to unlearn) something. If she allowed this behavior at 3, her daughter would be confused and hurt at age 10 to have to unlearn that. And so, these parents are ever-vigilant with each of their children in teaching, training, and disciplining for their individual needs. From Deanne: You need to know your child’s learning abilities. Then you need to know what they will need when they get older. When you understand that, you will realize that you cannot allow some behaviors here, or at this age, because it will affect the child later, or in a different place. Sometimes even special needs teachers don’t understand what is needed for your child. But everyone in this child’s life needs to stay on board with disciplining. I have been judged harshly, but I know what is best for my children and I stick with it. I have to remember that it isn’t about me or how others see me. It’s about what I know is right for each child.