Thursday, March 04, 2010

They're Ours to Ruin

I was struck by a thought today, one that might seem odd to most of you but rings with truth for me and is one I need to hold to the forefront of my mind.

As I have observed the girls over the past couple of weeks as we settle in to real life, the one thought that keeps returning to me over and over again is that they have come to us as such resilient, remarkable children that much doesn't need to be improved upon, they are ours to ruin if we follow the wrong path.

Let me explain. In short, they are generous, good hearted, loving, hard working, team oriented, unspoiled, grateful spirited, humorous, bright, polite, respectful and kind children. Oh sure, the table manners need improvement...a lot. Undeniably there are emotional issues beneath the surface that will have to be tackled. They leave their shoes and socks out by the trampoline to get snowed on, the drag themselves unwillingly out of bed in the morning and they even try to talk me into an extra snack now and then. They aren't perfect, but they are good, good kids.

How can we "ruin" them? Well, let's see, I'll bet I can make a list here:

1) Do everything for them and not insist they participate in family life by helping clean and care for our home just as the rest of us do.

2) Buy them everything so they come to expect that every time we go to the store they will be the recipients of some new toy or gadget. Create that sense of entitlement from the very beginning!

3) Feel sorry for them because their life prior to joining our family...and more so prior to entering the orphanage...was basically a nightmare. Pity will serve them well to help them create a crutch and built in excuse for the rest of their lives for not succeeding. Acknowledgement and sorrow over what they experienced? Yes. Compassion? Yes. Pity? No way.

4) Remind them over and over again about how lucky they are that they were adopted. Create an expectation that they should show undying gratitude to you for "saving" them. That's it...let them live the rest of their lives feeling unworthy of the Grand Gesture you offered.

5) Let them get away with poor behavior or bad attitudes because it is all so new and they can't be expected to follow the rules. Don't get me wrong here, I am not saying to harp them about every little thing they didn't do right or have not yet learned. That would be counter productive and serve only to create in them an angry heart that is resentful and feels they can do nothing right. I am saying pick your battles one at a time, don't expect to break habits overnight, give it time...BUT don't make it a free-for-all either. Be firm, be consistent, understand what you are personally willing to tolerate as you work on one area so you don't demoralize by jumping on them for every misdemeanor. But take a stand and don't back down, present the limits in a compassionate yet firm way.

6) Totally ignore the existence of their old lives, act as if their life virtually started the moment you adopted them, disregard any of the positive experiences they may have had before you arrived, push them to forget old friends who were like siblings to them for years and years. Create animosity and resentment by not caring about what they cared about and by dismissing the events, people and places which made them who they are that you are growing to love.

7) Go overboard and shove their old culture down their throats to the point that even THEY get sick of it.

8) Try to change everything about them that you think needs changed during their first month home. Strip them of their autonomy by taking over their lives and being disrespectful of their personhood. Let them think you wanted them only to change them into the ideal you have in mind rather than accepting the very real child just as they are. Take them and lop off their long hair that they have spent years trying to grow out, all because you would prefer a different style or bangs that didn't hang down half the front of their face. Quickly change the style of clothing they have become comfortable with over the years. "Fix" them in all the ways they need "Fixing" as soon as you possibly can, all so you can love them better yourself because they feel more "familiar" or more as you had imagined them to be...rather than looking into their eyes and loving whoever is standing in front of you simply because of who they are, not because they come close on the outside to mathcing what you thought they should be.

9) Correct every word they say so they won't embarass you in public with their attempts at practicing their new language. That's certainly a good self-esteem builder (she says with tongue firnly planted in cheek).

10) Be jealous of supportive relationships they are slowly establishing with others as they seek to be comforted in a new and often uninviting world. Remain insecure yourself so you can keep a watchful eye on every single interaction and can then throw it back in your child's face about how YOU are the one they ought to love the most. Be sure to do this right away, as it is a real relationship enhancer (Tongue so far buried in my cheek it may never come out).

Just some thought as I give thanks this evening for the laughter and joy over a game of States and Capitals Sequence tonight. Or for the privilege of seeing Angela pet a cat and have her fingers licked for the first time and squealing and giggling in delight over it. For watching in awe as we traveled to and fro today as Matthew read the entire novel "Red Badge of Courage" as he was deeply entranced with reading today. I am filled with enormous gratitude for hearing the breathing of Joshie on the floor beside us as he remains close and struggles with feelings that are hard and yet he WINS every time. As I saw Olesya dance around the house tonight in glee for no reason at all. Or as Kenny showed such love and compassion for me as he said to me in the middle of the night after throwing up in bed "I didn't want to wake you up because I know how tired you are right now.".

It is not an easy life right now, it is not the hardest one either. Just ask anyone living in the projects fearful of gangs and being unable to pay the rent that month. But it often is difficult at the moment, and being purposeful about seeing the wonder in it all is the only way the burden lifts. It makes the intensity of homeschooling much easier, it makes the lack of a shared language more tolerable, it makes our hearts open to more.

May God give us the wisdom we need, when we need it, so that we DON'T ruin them!


Bill and Cathe: said...

Dear LaJoy Family;

Today's posting really parallels our experiences!

Our two have been home just a little over two years now. Unless specifically mentioned, you would not know they had not been with us from the beginning.

Why? For exactly the reasons you mentioned. At times, they think we're the meanest parents in the world because we do have expectations and they do have chores, and we work together as a family.

Keep up the good work and stick to your principles!

Warmest regards,

Anonymous said...

Cindy, I read you posts and think, "Wow, she is so much further along in this than I ever was or still am!" But then near the end I'm reminded that you do still struggle, as is expected. But you are doing so well at reminded yourself, and the rest of us, to show God's grace and compassion...while still expecting all the good things that are important for a child to be held accountable for. Thanks for your honesty and reminders. And thanks for continuing to post, though it might be as much for you to keep and read later. I love reading about your family and reading what you are learning.

You did make me feel a little guilt over the hair issue, though. I am so not a hair person, and our last daughter came home with hair down to her lower back. It involved me helping with cream rinse and detangling. She's got super thick hair. I cut it off in stages, leaving it long past her shoulders at first. That still wasn't working, so a little later, off came more. Now I do layers, which makes it less thick on the ends to deal with, plus gives her a little more grown up style. She still wants her ponytail. Our older daughter showed her how to make a twist of her long bangs and then incorportate that into the pony. She loves to do that, and it gives her a "hairdo" of sorts. I can't French braid, but when older daughter is around (seldom, since she's in college), she braids a braid in her bangs and around to over her ear to add to the pony. Our 15yr old likes to straighten her hair, which looks great on her, not so much on last daughter. If you're truly looking for some things to try with their hair without cutting it, these might be things they'd like. The twist I sometimes help her with, as the pony needs to lay smooth when the twist is added. I stand behind her and start over the forehead with a hunk of hair, twisting it back towards the head and adding hair along the way. It's about as thick as a chunky crayon is all, but looks like a "do" and not just hair pulled back. The braid is about chunky crayon size, too.

Anonymous said...

While I have been awed at the wisdom you have parenting, I have wondered at the key (besides your intelligence, love, and thoughtfulness). I think it is because you are parenting consciously. When I was actively parenting, I was muddling along, coping, reacting to the moment. For reasons unique to me, there were many times I parented semi-consciously without having given thought to "behind the scenes", what I wanted to put in and why. I have, for a long time, believed that those who are most in tune with God and their spirituality are those who make living a very conscious experience. It is impossible for any of us to live consciously all the time. We go on auto-pilot much of the time because we need to relax, rest in what we can do without much thought. But you seem to be putting your conscious effort into those areas where it is most productive. Here's a glass of cheer raised for the lady who lives alive.


Anonymous said...

I always cringe when someone tells me my son is "lucky" we adopted him. I usually kindly refute this notion. But I find myself thinking how lucky these girls are to have you. How differently this story might be unfolding with less mindful parents!

Bob; Carrie DeLille said...

You know what you're doing, my friend. You absolutely know. Don't ever doubt it. You're on top of exactly the right things :o)