Adoptive parenting can often feel like you are walking an a tightrope.
Adoptive parenting can often feel like you are walking an a tightrope.

Surely I’m not alone up here on the adoptive parenting tightrope. I bet some of you have also been there.  Your child is the only kid in the history of your church to get kicked out of the nursery room for crying (“We think she’s just not ready to be away from Mommy yet” said with a grimace and a prayer that you’ll heed their request.); your toddler is the biter that other parents complain about; your child is the only third grader still afraid to sleep over at a friend’s house; your child is filching change from your purse; your child doesn’t seek out hugs and snuggles from you.  You wonder: Is it me? Is it his/her temperament? Is it just a normal stage? Or, {pause} {heavy sigh}, is it adoption?

Ah, the joys of adoptive parenting!  Most of us, at one time or another, walk the “is it or isn’t it” adoption tightrope.  I’m definitely a been-there-done-that mom.  But, being a mom through both birth and adoption, I have the luxury of comparison.  And since my kids are now teens and beyond, I also have the luxury of hindsight.  For example, all of the above scenarios are out of my life.

Scenario #1 (kicked out of the church nursery): Birth child. Very resistant to all change from birth.  Diagnosis: God-given inbred temperament.

Scenario #2 (the biter): Adopted child.  Frustration build-up caused by language not keeping up with desires. Diagnosis: Developmental stage.

Scenario #3 (fear of sleep overs): Same kid as Scenario #1—not surprising that the child who hated to separate in infancy would hate to separate in elementary school.  Diagnosis: Temperament again.

Scenario #4 (petty thievery): Probably all at one time or another, but the one that stands out is a child by birth.  Diagnosis: Developmental stage, combined with low impulse control and a penchant for getting caught.  Thankfully it passed, but not without much parental prayer, worry and hand wringing, moving my purse out of easy reach, and counting my money frequently so the heavy hand of justice could be swift and fierce.

Scenario #5 (avoidance of snuggles): One birth and one adopted.  Diagnosis: Not sure, and not sure it is a problem to be diagnosed.  I think it is their temperament (not needing lots of physical closeness and strong independent streak) being viewed from my temperament (avowed hug-lover).

As I was trying to think of occasions in parenting that had caused me to walk the tightrope, it surprises me that I had a hard time coming up with a single one, with the power of hindsight, that I now attribute solely to adoption.  I suppose this could in part be my bias to avoid pathologizing adoption, but in truth, I think it because humans aren’t so easily pegged.

The hard part about adoptive parenting is walking the tightrope between being aware of potential adoption related issues and attributing temperament and normal developmental stages to adoption.  If we lean too far one way, we pathologize our kids.  If we lean too far the other way we leave our children unsupported.

I do believe that adoption brings “issues” to our children, and these “issues” can and often are reflected in their behavior.  But I think many things in life bring baggage that we all have to deal with, such as low impulse control, risk-taking temperament, learning disorders, birth order, income level, parental unemployment, etc.  A family is a complex web of several people all dealing with their own issues and interacting and bumping up against each other’s temperament and issues.  Family dynamics don’t lend themselves to A+B=C analysis.

I’ve come to believe that this tightrope is inherent in all types of parenting, not just adoptive parenting.  Plenty of parents of kids with learning disabilities also walk the is it/isn’t it tightrope, as do parents who divorce, work full time, have only one child, have many kids, etc.  As my kids get older, I wouldn’t say that I’ve jumped off the tightrope completely, but the rope appears to be a lot thicker and the balance easier to find.


Image credit: U.S. Army Korea