Friday, 22 May 2015

Is there such a thing as "adoptive parenting"?

We were out at a fair the other day as a family. It was a school fair and we knew most of the people there and so we had a great time catching up with everyone and showing off the newest member of our family, who spent most of his time asleep.

J was having a lovely time too. He is a very social little guy and he enjoys playing and dancing with older children, and so he was up on stage busting some moves with some of my ex-pupils when I was approached by one of their parents.

This dad urged me to go away, go sit down and rest, or get a drink. I told him I was OK, plus I wanted to keep an eye on J. He insisted that J was fine where he was, dancing with the girls and that they would look after him. I explained to him that he was still little and I wanted to be close where he could see me. What followed caught me a little by surprise...

It was a whole tirade on overprotective Greek mothers, on helicopter parenting and many things besides. He was almsot angry at me for not leaving my son to play on his own. I was very taken aback and to be honest would not have had the courage to reply, even if I'd had the opportunity, but at that point J tripped a little while dancing. He fell onto his knees and his reaction surprised the dad and stopped him in his tracks.

Within seconds J had gone from laughing toddler to a wailing mess. Tears streamed down his face and he struggled to catch his breath. The dad was further surprised by my response, and had he been given the chance, I have no doubt that he would have given me another piece of his mind. I scooped my little boy up and cuddled him close. I dabbed his tears as he wailed 'Mama' and clung onto me. I held him and rocked him and held him some more. 

I know my response was over the top, especially as J had not really hurt himself. But with J, who grew up in an orphanage, a lot of my parenting IS over the top. That's because we are still at the stage where he learns what mum and dad are there for. And sometimes it requires explicit teaching.

For example, I am sure the dad lecturing me on being overprotective didn't have to teach his daughter to call for him in the night when she woke up. In fact, my guess is he had to do the opposite. I'm sure he didn't have to teach his kid, like I had to, to look for him when he gets hurt and that comfort can be found in mummy's hugs, not only by sucking your thumb and rocking all by yourself.

J is a fantastically clever boy who has been learning very quickly all these family skills. He now looks for me when he gets hurt and he calls for me or D when he wakes up at night. He asks for his nappy to be changed and he is finally figuring out that it's ok to not want to eat right now - there will be more food later.

Kids who have not grown up in families exhibit a lot of behaviours that need to be left behind once a loving family is there. But these family skills that take their place need to be practised a lot! And so, in a way, we parent them slightly differently. We play more, we hug more, we encourage dependence before we move towards independence. 

With my biological son my job will be to "cut the umbilical cord" bit by bit. For J we first need to create an umbilical cord- he needs to feel safe, connected and to know that we've got his back, no matter what. Once that happens, we can start moving towards independence.

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