Stop going to the hardware store to buy a loaf of bread! Advice for adoptive parents…

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Adoptive parents benefit from relationships with other adoptive parents,  especially when both  families have children with similar backgrounds.  So what does that have to do with bread and hardware stores?

My sister called an important revelation to my attention this week.  She told me that she and I had to stop going to the hardware store to buy a loaf of bread.   In the context of our conversation she was referring to how we both tend to expect our husbands to magically emote and communicate the way we do with each other.  This of course is as ridiculous as trying to buy a loaf of bread at a hardware store.  It’s even more ridiculous when you think about the fact that we can meet those needs for each other as sisters.  She shares so many of my same life experiences!  It’s more like looking for bread in a bakery if you will.

This led me to think about how often adoptive parents “look for bread in a hardware store.”  Here are just two examples…

  • The mom of a child (adopted at the age of 4 and struggling with attachment)  who joins a typical play group .  Mom asks the group’s advice on how to handle her 4 year old’s temper tantrums.
  • The parents of a 24 month old (who after being home 6 months is now clingy) who asks  the church nursery attendant for advice.  They want to know what they should do when the little girl screams when left.  The attendant smiles and tells them, “No problem.  Just go on.  We can handle her.”

Both of these are examples of looking for bread in a hardware store, or expecting people who have no experience or expertise in your particular situation to give effective advice on that situation.  It just usually doesn’t work.

Let’s look at these two situations again.

Temper tantrumming 4 year old’s Mom is likely to get advice at the playgroup to use techniques like ignoring or time out.  Problem?  The neighborhood moms haven’t experienced raising a child who spent the first 4 years of his life in less than optimal care.  They don’t know that this child’s real or developmental age is probably  more like that of a child who is barely three.  Not only does that make temper tantrums more likely and even “normal”  but it also means time outs and ignoring are not likely to help.   They may even  make the problem worse!  This child most likely doesn’t have the skills necessary to self regulate.

Similarly, the church nursery worker  hasn’t ever worked with or been around toddlers who spent the beginning of their life in orphanages.  She doesn’t know that often babies who come home at 12 – 18 months old start out very indiscriminate (will go to anyone) and then after time, when attachment begins to form, become very clingy.  This is actually a positive sign of movement on the attachment continuum.   While it is trying and difficult for parents, continued strong messages of acceptance and needs meeting parenting usually result in less clingy behavior as they move the rest of the way down the attachment continuum.  This worker doesn’t understand that by counseling the parents to leave the child screaming they are likely only extending the problem as it does not encourage continued movement on the continuum.

I could go on and on here with examples but the real question is WHERE THE HECK IS THAT BAKERY???   Where do you find the people that really get it?  How do you get your own needs met as an adoptive parent?  Well forgive the play on words, but you have to “shop around.”  You have to look for other parents that have parented similar situations and done so in positive and nurturing ways.  You have to look for professionals that don’t just have the right degree but the right experience with children who have similar beginnings in life to your child.  While there is effort involved in seeking these folks out, the reward is great.  The cupcake from the bakery is far tastier than anything you can get at the hardware store!  (Caution—all bakeries are not equal!  Just finding another adoptive parent does not mean you have found a bakery!   You have to seek out fellow learners, other adoptive parents who are eager to stay abreast of information about the adopted child and to discuss that information with you.)

And finally, this doesn’t mean that you don’t join the playgroup in your neighborhood or utilize your church nursery.  It just means that you don’t necessarily seek parenting advice there.

Buy your bread at the bakery and your hardware at the hardware store.

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