As good as we are.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI should think it’s pretty obvious to say that our parenting dictates our child/children’s behaviour.

We all know that if you are a ‘bad’ parent it will most probably translate into our child/children being badly behaved, but what if you are a good parent, what if you have read the books, been on the courses and you put your heart and soul into raising your family? What if you feel that you do everything that you can and that you are exhausted with the effort? What if everybody around you is telling you what a great job you are doing… yet still your child is displaying truly troubling behaviour?

How easy is it then for us to look at our parenting and to see how we are often responsible for the difficulties that we are facing.

Are we able – or indeed willing – to spot the small mistakes, the subtle errors that we make as we go about our day to day parenting – which regardless of being minor can have a huge affect on the behaviour of our children.

Do we notice how we fail to maintain the sense of order and security that is so vital for most adopted children, children who almost always come to us with a degree of trauma and attachment related issues that can result in behaviour that they have NO control over… but that WE do.

A simple and what seems like unavoidable change in their routine (as innocent as something like organising a play date, or having family around or going out for the day) can result in a major (and what seems like totally illogical) tantrum. A tantrum brought about by choices that WE have made and that they have no understanding as to why it has unsettled them and consequently no ability to make sense of their instinctive reaction to it.

From their past experiences our children have often learnt to be hyper vigilant and consequently they pick up on the slightest emotional change we present, which can result in situations such as when something as simple as a justifiably angry ‘look’ can be read as a sign that we don’t love them anymore, or worse still – that we want to get rid of them, just as their birth parents did.

Or when a relatively mild reprimand can make the child feel that they have totally failed us and that they are not worthy of us and that we are about to send their entire life into turmoil again (immediately unravelling all that has been achieved in their attachment to us) resulting in panic and desperation which displays itself in totally unreadable and possibly uncontrollable behaviour?

Justifiably telling them off!? Shooting a angry glance at them!? Surely we all do that daily and no doubt with just cause, but can we then in the midst of our anger and frustration see that WE have made the situation worse? How easy is it for us the parents to be self aware enough in these situations and to step back or take control of something that we are often unaware that we have created?

I am sure many out there want to shout ‘well obviously it’s impossible’, but – put simply – it can’t be impossible. Impossible would mean that we would be failing our children even further, that we would inappropriately be putting blame where it doesn’t belong – on them! Blame for something that is impossible for them to deal with because from lack of nurture as an infant their brain has literally not formed to understand it or to recognise it.

It’s not about beating ourselves up over our ‘failings’, it isn’t about blame. It is about recognition and acknowledgement, it is about accepting the fact that no matter how good a parent we are we are still fallible, that we will always be getting things wrong, that we will make mistakes and that we can’t be perfect regardless of how hard we try, we can only ever be ‘good enough’ parents and that is just fine.

We HAVE to allow ourselves to see where WE are failing and to see that it’s perfectly OK.

However it is essential that we recognise that in being imperfect WE are the ones who often create the situations that results in our child misbehaving and consequently we must NOT look to make THEM responsible – not reprimand them (which of course usually just makes things worse anyway), not shame them and most importantly not consider the situation beyond our ability to deal with. We can deal with it and we must deal it and by rightfully taking the blame away from the child we will deal with it appropriately, we will deal with it therapeutically and we will deal with it with empathy, with love and with understanding – and consequently we will get results.

I can feel so sure of this because I see it just about every day with our youngest son. It has taken my partner and I over four years to develop the relationship and understanding that we now have with him, we have made countless mistakes along the way and we can now see how we continuously made the situation worse – worse for us and sadly so much worse for him. Our inability – or indeed willingness – to recognise how we were mishandling him is a tough thing to admit, but acknowledging it has been essential for us to be able to move forward.

As a result the improvement in his behaviour is amazing. Not only at home, but maybe even more importantly at school too where he was becoming impossible to handle and we were being told that he would need to be moved to a ‘more specialised’ environment. By sharing our experience and understanding with the school they have become better equipped to understand his needs, thankfully we had teachers and staff who were willing to listen and were able to acknowledge that they too were handing him inappropriately and were ‘getting it wrong’.

I apologise if this is sounding self righteous because I certainly have no right to be so, trust me reaching this understanding (which took us an awfully long time) is one thing – living by it is something completely different and my partner and I are still failing daily – but at least now we fail with an understanding of the consequences that brings. It has been a long – and at times very painful – learning curve, but I can now see how misguided and indeed foolish we could be in the past and how our child – and indeed our family – suffered as a consequence. Now that we are willing to look inwards and to recognise our part in our sons behaviour, it feels like we are becoming better parents and consequently a much better family.

There is an assumption in this blog that ALL behaviour is manageable and that is deliberate. I am not remotely qualified to state whether or not that is so, but personally I feel that it is crucial that parents always start with that assumption and that they parent accordingly and maybe – just maybe – we can prove it to be true.

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One thought on “As good as we are.

  1. I like your post. I think as any parent and especially an adoptive parent we are on a steep learning curve, not only about little ‘us but indeed about ourselves and our own ‘hooks’ and vulnerabilities, as well as strengths, and our ability to manage ourselves. I like the mantra that ‘i CAN manage the behaviour’. I will admit to sometimes feeling that I couldn’t and then it goes downhill.
    May I ask what helped you the most to make the change in your self realisation/learning that enabled you to change your parenting? did someone help you? did you read something powerful? I think that is what is quite critical. I am perfectly willing to self reflect and acknowledge that adoption is a relationship, and there’s always more than one person in a relationship! but even with this willingness I feel lost sometimes and cannot pull together events/approaches for myself.

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