As I sit to write, I’m frustrated. My nerves, as a parent, are worn to a fray and my eyes sting with tears. Parenting is unbelievably more difficult than I could ever have imagined. Children come packaged with both known and unknown stages and challenges. The knowns include struggles like the terrible twos, potty training, teenagers, and built-in stubbornness. Unknown challenges that may appear before or after birth and into childhood can include autism, medical and mental health difficulties, developmental delays, learning delays, and more. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Parenting with the added dash of adoption is even more complex, especially without resources.
Tonight, I’m frustrated because my daughter cannot seem to gain and maintain weight, especially after having a common illness, like bronchitis. Luckily, the resources to help my daughter’s medical difficulties are simple and easily accessible to find and attain. Something as straightforward as a visit to local medical office to visit a physician and/or a specialists and as easy as picking up my phone, dialing a known phone number, and calling my daughter’s family to ask about their medical histories. Our open adoptive relationship provides a peace of mind that we simply do not have in our son’s closed adoption. So, last year, when my son began having very complex, difficult, heart breaking, and concerning behaviors, as well as openly verbalizing struggles about feeling unloved and thinking his birth mother didn’t love him, we didn’t quite know where to look to find resources. We’d previously attended a foster training course and adoption education that made us aware that we MIGHT see our children encounter these feelings. Unfortunately, those courses didn’t really teach us parenting techniques for those situations, nor where to find the resources to help our child . . . or us. And when parenting gets rough, especially with tough, potentially adoption-related challenges, like feelings of loss, abandonment, grief, or trauma, parents need to have access to these valuable resources. So, how and where do you find the right resources?
1, Seek professional assistance. Just as we sought the right medical and healthcare professionals for my daughter’s illness, we needed to find the right professional for my son’s adoption-related challenges. Many therapists and counselors might be able to help him process grief and loss, however, we felt strongly that the person helping our son needed to also have experience with adoption. If that experience was both as a therapist treating these issues and as an adoptive parent, birth parent, or as an adoptee, even better! Often, these professionals can also suggest additional resources in your area also.
2. Attend parenting classes and conferences. Last month, we were able to attend an adoption conference in Salt Lake City. We were excited to learn more about adoption, hear other perspectives, and thought we’d make some new friends. However, we were pleasantly surprised when one of the classes offered, Positive Parenting, was taught by an incredibly skilled teacher who just happened to be adopted when he was a teenager. Much of what he taught, we’d learned over a complete year of intense research, reading books, trial and error parenting, and through other parents with more experience sharing their thoughts. However, we also learned some new techniques and ideas on how to approach stressful encounters with our son. We also gained a healthy dose of compassion as we listened to the teacher’s experiences, which we can easily use to help us better understand our son.
3. Ask for help. At an incredibly desperate, low moment, I took a massive risk posting a very real and vulnerable blog post about some of the challenges and behaviors we were seeing with our son. I also expressed how my husband and I were at a loss of how to help him. I hated feeling vulnerable and having to admit I needed help, but it was probably the smartest parenting choice we’ve ever made. A fellow adoptive mother sent me a message that offered support, suggested books that specifically addressed some of the topics and behaviors we needed to address, directed us to other parents that had similar struggles, sent links to Youtube videos about therapeutic parenting techniques by an amazing parenting coach (with adoption experience). From her suggestions, I knew where to look for even more resources.
4. Find or create a support group. Something miraculous happens when a person is able to hear, “I can relate to what you’ve felt. I’ve been there also!” Any overwhelming feeling of hopelessness or solidarity in times of trials immediately begins to disappear. It is almost like the human mind says, “That person has been there too and look! They are thriving, able to stay calm when their child is screaming and hitting, and they are wonderful parents. I can become that kind of person if they can!” So, find your people. Perhaps they haven’t traveled the exact same paths that you have, but can still show love, compassion, and give encouragement.
5. Be proactive, patient, and creative. Finding the right resources for your family doesn’t magically happen overnight. Sometimes, it takes days and weeks of patiently reading books, talking to people or finding the therapist or healthcare provider that fits personalities with your child and family. It takes creative thinking to distract or focus your child’s unhealthy coping mechanisms into healthy and productive coping mechanisms Then, implementing what you’ve learned takes practicing the parenting techniques over and over and over, creating consistency and re-training both your parental brain and your child’s brain. That takes lots of work, loads of patience, and practice.
Parenting might be rough, challenging, and produce more grey hair, ulcers, worry wrinkles, and raw nerves than I can count at this exact moment, but knowing where to find the right resources to be the best parent possible provides an immeasurable amount of relief and peace. And seeing my daughter’s peanut buttery smile and hearing the song my son composed when he was feeling sad is the ultimate pay-load of parenting. Seeing my children thrive and excel is most definitely worth every effort and struggle I may feel as a parent.