Aug 12, 2009

Adoption Adjustment: Love and Boundaries

All you parents know what I'm talking about when I mention boundaries. When your biological child gets to be about one and a half, maybe, they start testing them. What am I allowed to do? What will mom do if I disobey her? What about Dad, will he agree with mom or take my side?

The boundaries phase (the other term is "terrible twos", or terrific twos if you look at it that way) is heartbreaking in a way. Your sweet little baby is starting to throw fits in public and in private, seems sometimes to be frustrated for no reason that you can fathom or work out, seems to be always looking to do what you don't want them to do. They seem to be looking for buttons to push, and are testing all the scope of your reactions.

I'm sure that any of you who have been sunday school teachers (and elementary or high school teachers) will recognize this in older kids as well. Anytime there is a new authority figure it begins again. What will Mrs. Jones do if I do this? Do I really have to? What if I don't?

If you're going to be any kind of authority figure you need to get those boundaries set early, and define them well and consistently. Kids will claim to love a teacher who is "easy" but do they really respect him/her? The teacher that allowed you to ditch or sluff; do you remember him as the one who changed your life through his teaching? The one who didn't follow through on making you turn in your homework; do you remember her with fondness and respect?

Adoptive children can sometimes seem like they've regressed to their 3 year old selves. ( I maintain that 3, not 2, is the naughtiest age). They test and test, wail for an endless amount of time when you give them a consequence, act like they don't like you when you don't give them what they want, run off in public places, cry angry, wracking sobs when you enforce a boundary that they have a particular problem with. Sometimes, they'll look at daddy (or, if they're in a public place, they'll gaze appealingly over the airplane seat at the strangers behind you, or hang out of the shopping cart wailing at the shopping clerk) looking for someone who will take their side.

It can be tough.

For us, naptime and bedtime has been the biggie. But we're getting there. Today they went down almost without any fuss. And they even got all their bathroom chores in BEFORE they went up (I had to allow them to suffer a bit a couple of naptime sessions to prove my point... naptime is naptime and you can't keep coming down for pee pee and then poo poo and then water and then to show me your little scrape and then to complain about not having a stuffed animal you want etc because when naptime is over mom will not be SANE enough to parent you!!!)

Anyway, you can see this has been what we're doing lately. And it feels so good to get through those tough moments. Today Bella ran away from us at the library. When I finally caught up with her (btw Ethiopian kids can RUN)I spoke to her forcefully and took her back to the car. And then I made her stay in the car with Daddy while all the rest of us went in without her. That was what made her sad... my little chewing out made not a dent. It was when she watched all her siblings walk into the library without her that she realized she had done something unwise.

After the library run I got in the car and, while I waited there with the kids while Skywalker took his turn in the library, I pulled her onto my lap and read a book with her. She sat with me and cuddled. We got home and she sat with me and cuddled some more, and I bandaged her sore toe, and we did our bedtime ritual which I can see is becoming comforting and familiar to our new kids the way it is with the old. By the time it was time to send them to bed, Bella was happy, smiling, loving on Skywalker and Me and bouncing around the living room as per usual.

I write about this experience because, while Bella was upset, I felt like the world was falling apart, I was a bad mom for speaking forcibly to her and inhumane for keeping her out of the library, after all she's an ORPHAN who never had libraries before...

and she bounced back fine and i realize it was the right thing to do.

So take heart, adoptive (and standard variety) parents. Setting boundaries IS loving. It is giving them the secure knowledge that you are not just the cookie and banana and new-clothes fairy, you are their Mom. You are willing to be what they need--the one who gives sweets but sometimes says no, the one who hugs and kisses but also gives time-outs and sometimes chewing-outs. The one who will love them unconditionally and, for that reason, will have high expectations of them-- that they are capable of following rules and understanding boundaries, and that they are capable of respecting you enough to obey you as well.


David L said...

"Standard variety parents..."

If I were a coffee drinker, I'd be wiping the coffee off my monitor about now.

That has to be one of the most unusual things you've said in a very long time. Thanks for the laugh.

Dave--a standard variety parent

NoSurfGirl said...


Humor is a good way to get around offending people, I think. I could have said, "normal" parents but then adoptive parents would have found that offensive.. or I could have said, "non adoptive parents" but then people who parent only biological children could feel slighted...

standard variety :)

sugarbunny119 said...

Holy cow, you just reminded me I have an appointment with our social worker tomorrow! We're hoping to be foster parents by the end of the year!

the nice one said...

if 3 is the naughty year what is 4??

NoSurfGirl said...

OK... clarify. I think 3 is the "hump" naughty year... the naughtiest, and it starts slowing down after (or at least becoming somewhat less high-maintenance?)

But of course every kid is different.

Denice, just you wait 'till about 5 1/2-6. Heeeeaven. Not perfect, of course, but... no more screaming fits in the grocery store and usual obedience, at least. :)

Lucy Stern said...

Before long you are a grandparent and you start all over again.....