Saturday, January 10, 2015

Re-Framing Expectations

I would imagine that most parents, at some point, need to re-frame their expectations for their children. You can't choose what you get, and actual, real human beings have an annoying habit of not living up to our imaginations. This can be even more acute for adoptive parents who can't even rely on the relative security of genes.

At adoption prep, they spoke to us about how important it was to lay down the hopes and dreams we may have carried for our future children and to accept the reality of the children we would be getting. My own social worker questioned me about my own educational background and how I would feel if my child struggled academically, for instance.

I don't know whether it's because I never married, or because I never tried to have a biological child, or because I had given up on the idea of having my own children so long ago, but I can truly say that I didn't really have an image or ideal of my future child. I didn't even have a name picked out. Over the years I have had multiple names but, one by one, they have all been used by other friends and dropped off the list until the list was empty. Ironically, some of those children are now so old that I could probably re-appropriate their names, but these days I'm not really bothered.

And yes, despite this, I still find myself re-framing my expectations. Not my expectations of my child, but my expectations of myself as a parent. You see, although I never had a clear picture of what my child would be like - I never even really thought about whether I'd like a girl or a boy - I definitely had a clear picture of what sort of parent I would be.

This image was formed through years of thinking about being a parent, being around parents, teaching the children of various parents. As with most people, it was a pretty idealistic image. I knew I really wanted to be a stay-at-home-mum. I knew I wanted to do cooking and baking with my shadowy future child. I knew I wanted to fill our days with crafts, nature stuff, healthy outdoor life, games, fun, travel.



What was I thinking?!

Let's be realistic here. I'm not outdoorsy and never have been. Yes I played out with my friends as a child - we were blessed with a home on the edge of the countryside and safer times to wander through - but that dwindled as I hit my teens and, really, I think I spent most of my childhood reading. I can't cook. I'm not good at coming up with craft activities. When I have done youth work, the 'devise a craft activity' part was almost my most dreaded planning moment. Although I've spent all my working life around children, I always encountered them in groups. I found one-to-one teaching (piano lessons!) unstimulating in the extreme. I don't know anything about nature. Seriously, I had to have someone teach me which trees the conkers came from so I could take OB to look for some.

The truth is that, despite knowing all these things about myself, I apparently imagined that parenthood would cause a switch in my brain to be flicked and I would instantly become wonder-mum with all kinds of exciting and magical doings at my fingertips.

That didn't happen.

In reality, a couple of spots of rain are enough to put me off any planned outdoor activity, I rely on OB's Playgroup teachers to supply all the craft activities, I could cry with boredom when required by OB to sit on the floor and 'play' and, despite teaching myself to bake so that I could fulfil at least one of my parenting ambitions, it turns out that OB doesn't really like cake. In short, I am not the parent I hoped I would be.

This is the kind of bedroom my son doesn't have.
This is the kind of craft activity that would never occur to me.
This is the kind of thing we don't have in our garden.
Earlier this week I was feeling rather down about it all. I felt bad for OB. I worried that in the lottery that is adoption, he had got a rubbish ticket. He could have been adopted by anybody - he could have had two parents who absolutely love bracing long walks, or who think nothing of knocking together a life-sized rocket ship from toilet rolls and felt, or who don't yell "Just get in the car!" on the driveway every single morning. He could have had parents like those I see on Facebook and Pinterest all the time. I worried that he had got a bad deal. I worried that I wasn't making his childhood magical enough. I actually used that word - magical.

And then I saw this article: I'm Done Making My Kid's Childhood Magical at HuffPost Parents, and while I don't agree entirely with the author's sentiments (I personally don't have a problem with parents who do crafts every day or who do Elf on the Shelf - if you love doing that then absolutely go for it!), I did feel suddenly a ton lighter after I read it. Her point is basically that childhood is inherently magical and we don't need to add anything to it to create the magic. Now I know that this is a problematic thought for those of us whose children have experienced periods in their lives that were anything but magical, and who are still living out the after effects of that, but I think the point still stands.

Because in amongst the tears and the tantrums and the meltdowns and the "Get in the car!!", we do still experience those simple 'magical' moments that have cost nothing and taken little effort to create. The empty cardboard box, the bedtime cuddle routine, the in joke, the fun you can have with a big stick.

I have been thinking ever since about what I actually remember from my own pre-school childhood with my stay-at-home mum. I can't remember any of my games or toys (sorry Mum!) except for three dolls, one of which had yukky matted hair on one side for some reason. But I do remember that my Mum had a spin dryer with a rubber mat that went in to hold the clothes down, and I had the special job of taking that little mat out at the end of the spin. I remember that near our house was a huge (to me) raised footbridge over a busy road and every time we walked anywhere near it I would be desperate to actually go over it and would be so excited if we actually did. At the new house, I remember having a jam butty and a cup of milk on a little table in front of the TV when the children's programmes came on in the afternoon. I remember that my Granddad used to make me a bacon butty in the morning if I stayed there over night (with warm water to drink as apparently drinking cold water with it would be injurious to health!). I remember that Nanna used to bake the most wonderful scones and give them to me with 'best butter' on them. And I remember that my Mum used to bake a lot, and I would be able to help and then, best of all, lick the spoon and bowl afterwards. Maybe that's why I was so determined to learn to bake.

I need to re-frame my expectations for my own parenting. I need to remember that in years to come, it will probably be the little things - the routines, traditions, tender moments - that OB will remember rather than the activities, trips, crafts and toys. I need to stop comparing myself to other parents who have different skills (and different children!), and to walk away from guilt and pressure. I need to remind myself that, in the long term, what will matter more will be who I was with OB, and not necessarily what I did. In the meantime I'm going to stop worrying about creating magic moments. We'll take them where we find them.


12 comments:

  1. You sound so like me! We waited a long time for our daughter who is also adopt & I sometimes wonder did she get a raw deal. I had been working full time for 20 years before she came to live with us. Why did I not think I would struggle with that. I went back to work part time although that wasn't meant to happen. I'm now a stay at home mum after working part time for six years & am now happy to do so. I get bore playing too. I love how honest you are.

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    1. I expect we're not alone in finding motherhood both more wonderful and more terrible than we ever imagined it could be! :-)

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  2. Firstly you are an amazing mum just as you are. I came to this realisation a little while ago and it is quite frankly liberating! OB got an amazing deal when he got you and more importantly so did his future wife! Now, instead of having to live up to her Pinterest-perfect mother in law she gets a real, flawed mother in law who understands about the pressures of motherhood and can give her a little perspective. You go girlfriend!!! Xx

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    1. My lazy approach to housework is helping my future daughter-in-law? Now there's an excellent way to look at it! :-)

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  3. I love this post but I would like to twist it round a bit so that people see what goes on from the perspective of the adopted or fostered child rather than the parent. I would have loved to have been adopted, but nobody wanted me. I would have been OK enough with a foster parent who didn't hand me back when things got tough. Clearly I never was able to meet their expectations - how very empowering for me (not!).

    In the Children's Home my expectations of grown-up interest in me were nil so I was never disappointed. :(

    http://livingworldsedge.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/how-i-survived-in-and-out-of-care.html

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    1. You are right in that the viewpoint of adopted and fostered children needs to be heard. However, as I have been told many times by adult adoptees and care leavers, adoptive parents are not the ones who are in the position to do this - people must tell their own stories, and I'm glad you are using your blog to tell yours.

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    2. Have you considered linking your blog up to #WASO? The Adoption Social welcomes contributions from all sides of the triangle, and blogs by adult adoptees and care leavers, and from birth parents have been linked up before.

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  4. I love that illustration at the end, made me really chuckle. Sometimes we really are our own worst enemy and I think unfortunately adoption does that to you as a parent. Makes you feel bad. You are surrounded by so much toxicity that it seeps into your bones. So listen loud. You are an incredible mother and I know, from having met you that one thing that OB's life will be full of is laughter and what is more magical in the whole world than sharing a funny moment with your child. xx
    Thanks for sharing on #WASO

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    1. Ah, bless you for your kind words and thank you for that encouragement xx :-)

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  5. Your opening comment about adopted children often not meeting our expectations really hit home with me as while I think this is true of any relationship, it especially rings true when you get to really know your children once they have moved in with you.

    I too had a clear idea in my head about what kind of parent I would be & it was better than the one I feel I am! I guess when I think about it becoming a parent is a test/challenge for me - a way that I can grow as a person & I am trying to embrace this time of my life.

    Your comments about not being a craft, arty, playful kind of mom made me smile - I am exactly the same!!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject - it has comforted me and brought a smile to my face!

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    1. It is vital for us to know that we're not alone in these things. I have a friend who I consider to be absolutely wonder mum - embodies all the things I wish I had. To learn that she sometimes loses it and yells at her kids too brought me no end of relief!

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  6. Oh my goodness. You've just described me! I have constantly worried that my son has got a raw deal and that if the timing had have been different he would have been with parents better able to meet his emotional needs, who shouts a little less, has more energy etc.

    But.....when I had some counselling the best thing she told me is that being a perfect parent would set my son up for failure. If I was perfect, he would expect perfection from himself. As it is, he sees me get things wrong sometimes and sees that it doesn't make me any less of a Mum. By seeing me accept my flaws he will learn to accept his own.

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