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!