Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Levels of Parenting

Parenting is not easy. Even if your child is as easy as they come, there are still countless decisions to be made for them, and things you have to do to care for them that make it more challenging than single or married life without kids.

If you become a parent the traditional way- i.e. you get pregnant and start your family, I would say that is difficulty level one. Plenty of challenges here, even with a calm, obedient child. In this level, there is, of course, a spectrum. On the one side you have those kids, some of whom I have had in my classroom over the years, who are fairly easy to raise. These are the kids who want to please their parents, want to please their teachers, who don't need much discipline, and are practically on autopilot. Let me tell you, you are blessed to have or teach these children.

In the medium of this parenting level one, you have the kids who are not a walk in the park. They have been gifted (and yes, as hard as it is, I believe it is a gift) with a strong independent mind. These kids don't just passively obey, but parents and teachers have to get them on board. They aren't bad kids... they just really have their own ideas on how things should happen, and if their plans and yours don't align, there are problems. I would put Remington in this category.

On the difficult spectrum of level one, and my hearts go out to them, are the kids with behavior problems and the ones with special needs. The ones with behavior problems are worse than just the independent streak because they are the ones who look for trouble, who want to be disobedient, who don't seem to care at all about authority figures. Sadly, I think, many of these kids end up in jail, even with all the best effort of their parents. I pray for parents with these kinds of kids especially, because it must be heartbreaking in addition to challenging.

The parents with special needs (or medical needs) kids born into their family have an uphill battle to get their kids the care they need, and have to face many special problems that most of us will never have to encounter. Depending on the needs their family faces, they might also have to deal with letting go of the things about children that they had anticipated, or hoped for, and come up with a new vision for what they hope they enjoy in their child's future.These parents are in my prayers too, and I am so thankful for all of the aides and special needs teachers who are out there for these kids.

Then there is difficulty level two. Note that I am not saying that everything in this level is more difficult than level one, it is just an added layer of difficulty.  I put adoptive families on level two.

There are challenges that I, and other adoptive parents have to face simply because that is the way I became a parent. There were challenges on the front end, with our house, our parenting, our finances all being scrutinized before we were even allowed to adopt. There was the paperwork and the waiting (so much waiting) and the training we had to go through. The excitement from family members was different, there were questions about our ability to conceive we had to deal with, and so many things about how and when she would come home that we didn't know.

Personally, with our international adoption, there was an element that is completely absent from parents in level one. The time from accepting referral to getting her home, where we knew she was ours, and yet we were not in control of her. We couldn't know if she was getting fed (she wasn't, not enough), if she was learning new skills, if people were loving her, caring for her, picking her up when she cried. Nothing. We had extremely little information about what was happening to her in far away Ghana, and just had to hope and pray that she would be okay until we could bring her home.

When our son was little, we barely let him out of our sight. I never pumped or formula fed him, I was physically there, feeding him, every few hours until he was at the age where he could start eating other food. With our daughter, from ten months old to seventeen months old, we experienced a stress so different than any other stress I've gone through before, and something so hard to describe unless you have been through it. We loved her, passionately and completely. We wanted the best for her, as most parents do, and yet, we could not care for her, or make sure she was cared for.

There is nothing to be done about it now... but when we saw her at just over one year old, she looked fairly healthy. She was crawling, and had some muscles. But when she came home at seventeen months old, she looked malnourished. She was. Her weight at that time, her legs, everything pointed to a little girl who wasn't getting enough to eat. When I think about it, it makes me so sad that I couldn't keep her from those hungry months. There is nothing I could do to make sure she still had food, or I would have done it.

With the time away from parents comes lingering problems, like I posted about recently. Problems worrying about food, and separation from parents that are more and different than the anxiety of a child who has never known otherwise. Your child might get hangry at lunchtime if food is on the slow side... my child starts to cry.

Like the parents in level one, this level is a spectrum of difficulty too. Kids who have been adopted later typically have more problems, and remember, this is on top of the spectrum of level one as well.
Grace has an independent personality as well as the challenges of adoption. Another kid might be adopted, but be a calm obedient child. Another child might be adopted and also be a really challenging kid anyways.

Parents who have adopted kids with special needs are extra special to me, because they usually have knowingly signed on for the challenges that come with special needs. They knew they were going to have a more challenging time with their child, they knew they wouldn't get to do all the typical things, and they picked him or her anyways.

Recently, I have become more aware of level three. Parenting a child of a different race. (This sometimes applies to parents in level one in mixed marriages, and I can't speak for those challenges personally, but I realize they exist).

Parents in level three, like myself, have challenges like level one parents, and level two parents (usually), and then have some special challenges on top of them.

First off, our family story is extremely public. Everywhere we go, everything we do, people know how we built our family. If we had adopted from Russia, it might not be.

With this comes people's questions. As Grace has gotten older, I tend to deflect more of them. I know she is listening, and having strangers ask about her birth mom or why she was abandoned is really not something to discuss in front of her, or with strangers who really don't need to know.

I'll answer the country question, as it is a fact we know and celebrate in our house, but not much past that anymore.

She knows she looks different. I know she wishes she wasn't. She had made a lot of negative comments regarding her skin in the past, which is what sparked us joining an AME church, and even though those comments have subsided, she still will tell us that she wishes she looked like us.

I understand her more than she knows. It is hard to walk around as a poster family for adopting. It is hard that she doesn't have the kind of hair I grew up with learning how to do. It is hard that I walk around in fear of being judged as a bad mother of a dark skinned child. Honestly, it would be easier if she looked like us. Would I trade her for the world? No. But does it take the whole parenting thing to another level? Yes.

This is on my heart because since the day we saw her picture I wanted to be able to do right by her as it came to her hair. One friend figured out we were going to be adopting a girl based off the pins of hair stuff I was finding. I have worked hard to read and learn and do her hair in a way that I hope other people in her community approve of.

Most of the time I thought I was doing okay. Till our church picnic. We ended up sitting with a hairdresser, and after talking about me needing some help with her hair, we have an appointment booked with her. It stung, but I hope her heart was in the right place, and honestly, I had been wanting someone to braid her hair for ease of the school year anyways, and parting has never been easy for me. Fine.

But then as I set up the classroom on Sunday, another church member came to me and talked about how it looked like I could use help with her hair, and she could teach me.

On the one hand, I am glad we are accepted enough at church for them to tell me, and honestly if that is what they see, then it is probably good I am accepting help. But it stung. A lot.

As strange as it sounds, I want to be worthy of our daughter. I want the black community to see our family, and not think that they could be doing better with her.

No parent wants to be judged for their way of raising or caring for their child, nor should they be (in most cases). For adoptive parents, the stakes are higher, and I think for transracial parents it is even more difficult.

We have to deal with all of the problems and challenges of the other two levels, but also try to make sure our child feels accepted both in our culture and theirs. That they look good to both groups, that they can relate to both groups. That somehow, when they are off on their own, they feel comfortable in their own skin, as well as in the family they were given.

Let it be said that I'm not mad or offended at what the two nice church ladies said. They are offering to help, and if the tables were turned, I might as well. It only hurts that I thought I was doing good... and wasn't doing as well as I thought.

My bottom line of this post is that first off, parenting is hard. The difficulty level of your child is also on a spectrum of difficulty. But for some parents, like me (and many others), we face additional challenges that are hard to put into words. Be kind to your fellow parents, we are all trying to raise our kids the best we can.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Summer 2016

I have always loved watching the Olympics, as far as I can remember. There is something really special about rooting for your country instead of a team, and there are so many sports that you typically only see on TV during this time.

Last Olympics, Remington didn't exist yet. It is interesting looking back at this time in our lives as far as Grace is concerned. The day before the Olympics started was the day we got the "waiting child" e-mail that first described little Grace to us. This was the same day that we said we were interested in her, despite her health problems. Then we had to wait (and wait, and wait) to get our official referral.

Officially we weren't referred to Grace until a few weeks after the Olympics were over, but we sure were thinking about her a lot at that time.

Now, four years later, Grace is not only ours, but at home with us, living life, thriving and having fun!
We also had the surprise blessing of Remington who will be turning three next month. Life is so much different, and better, than last time the Olympics time came around.

Next Olympics, my two littles won't be so little. Grace will be turning nine, and Remington 7. Those numbers sounds so big!

I've heard it often said that the days are long, but the years are short, and I can honestly say I totally understand it now. I have days that I can't wait until they end because the kids tantrums and whinings and need for attention have completely drained my patience. Then I think about them turning 3 and 5... and I can't believe it! I read posts by myself back when I was pregnant and it seems so much more recent than 3 years ago!

This summer has been filled with two main things- gymnastics and the beach. The weeks are filled with gymnastics for Grace (and Remington to an extent too). She is doing some gymnastics camps, but she is also taking a class at two different places, and since one of the two locations allows for unlimited classes in summer, I am taking advantage of that. What it works out to is that almost every day my kids are doing some gymnastics.

Remington thinks it is fun, loves the trampoline, and jumping in the pit blocks, but has decided he is done with it in September to start baseball (not even T-ball, a step below that).

Grace thrives on it! The best thing for me is that both locations see her talent and potential. She recently got invited (after waiting forever for it) to the advanced preschool class at one location, and has been doing level 2 for her age group at the other one. Plus, coaches at both locations tell me that she is doing things that they have seven year olds who can't do what she is doing yet.

She has gotten to ring the bell three times so far (they get to ring the bell when they accomplish a new skill)- for a cartwheel, climbing the rope, and for completing the monkey bars without help.

She can do a handstand, and genuinely has to be stopped from just doing gymnastics all day at home too.

When she turns five, we will have to figure out the new plan with her gymnastics, because she will be bumped up to a completely different level- though her being advanced at this age might let her start in advanced at five as well. For now, she loves it, it is good exercise, and seems to come relatively easy for her, so we will allow her to keep following her passion there. 

We have had three beach weekends in a row, and are so thankful for Grace's new medicine that seems to be allowing her to have beach fun without a crisis! Both kids love the beach, and are excited to go.

Remington prefers smashing castles to building them, and Blake freaked Grace out from the water for a bit when he showed her the sand crabs, but they both typically like splashing in the waves, as long as you are close to rescue them if one knocks them down.

Here is a blast of pictures with no captions, since I bet my kids will be up soon.