Monday, May 20, 2013

Parenting Older boys- a note of encouragement

I saw a post on facebook today that has prompted this post tonight.
A friend was asking for advice from other parents who have adopted teens because one of their dear friends is in China right now adopting two older girls.  They are feeling nervous and somewhat out of sorts, so I thought I would offer some encouragement.
Now, before you check out on me and say, "What does SHE know about older girls?" 
Allow me to say...
But, I do know what its like to be out of my element.  I know what its like to wonder if that still small voice was really what I heard all those months before or if, maybe, it was bad burritos? 
I know that feeling walking into a foreign civil affairs office only to look "up" (literally) to my new child.
So, to that family that is there right now, wondering what they should do at any given moment, please breathe.  Trust that God has not steered you in the wrong direction.
Know that He is equipping you, even now, to parent and love these new girls that are becoming your daughters.
Give yourself, and them, a lot of grace.
You will make mistakes.  You will not ruin them.
This trip and the process you are in right now are very stressful, so don't expect that you or the girls will be "yourselves" for awhile.
Remember, you cannot expect from them that which you have not modeled and taught.  Make no assumptions that even the simplest lessons have been learned.  Some may have. Many will not have.
My focus in country was to teach everything that I could that was "easy" while the window of wanting to impress was still open.
I'm referring to things like:
 Ask for what you need
Say please and thank you
Tell Mom or Dad where you are going, don't just disappear (ie. going to the bathroom in public place)
Look at those who are speaking to you
Place your napkin in your lap at meals
Push your chair in when finished
Mom enters/exits the elevator first
(remember, I have all boys, so chivalry was high on my list)
Now, did each of my older boys jump right into the plan I had? Colin did. Cameron was not all about the asking thing. He preferred to take what he wanted. (Very normal, by the way). Cooper, well Cooper was a pleaser, so yes. Connor, on the other hand, well, he jumped right into
"find my boundries" ville!
But, was it still valuable?  Absolutely.
Now, as I read over the many responses that others posted in response to this fb post, it also occurred to me that some of the most common "mistakes" that parents make when adopting an older child, especially for the first time, are things that are easily avoided if they only know different.
So, I am going to step out and share a few of the routines and expectations in our home that specifically apply to our older adopted kids.
Please know that much of this was "adopted" through trial and error, after many misfires and mistakes.  We did not have all of this in place when Colin came home.  We learned as we went, as most parents do.
But, Tom and I have found that many of these things have helped keep order and harmony in an otherwise loud and crazy household full of 5 active boys!
The first thing I want to tackle is the dreaded Technology question.

Our sons are greatly limited on the technology they may have. And, they must always ask permission to use anything. And use of the family computer is limited to school related work only on school nights.
We even require that they ask to watch TV.  
(Yes, I think that is important)
Our sons only use the internet in our living room. PERIOD.
 The only technology they are allowed to use in their rooms are hand held games
 (PSP, DS) 
that are pre-approved
 (and even then, very limited time usage.)  
None of our games are stored in their bedrooms.
 (Not only does this cut down on sneaking in a game when they shouldn't be, but it also keeps them from thinking of these devices as "their own". We have one DS and one PSP that are shared among 5 boys)
When it comes to computer usage, each child has a separate log-on that is filtered for their age level/ appropriate content.  Anytime one of them attempts to click on something or go to a website that is not approved,(almost always accidental) it blocks that attempt and sends me an email notification.  All my boys know that I keep tabs on their usage.  Their log-ons are also timed, so they will only work on certain days, at specified times and for a certain length of time.
I STRONGLY recommend keeping your new teens involved with the family, limiting technology and not allowing them to turn their bedroom into their only sanctuary.  
Yes, with all the change and the mental stress of learning a new language through immersion, there are times that they need to "clock out" and rest.  But, this can be a slippery slope.  I get the shivers when I hear of families adopting teens and handing then an Ipad and allowing them free reign in their bedrooms, not joining the family for events, or even meals.  This is not healthy for them in the long run.
If there is one thing I "wish I had known" when we adopted our first teen, it would be that we should NOT have been so timid in our parenting. We felt a little out of place and we were slower to require things of him for fear that he would be upset with us.  Once we got our "adoptive parent" sea legs, things have gone much smoother at home with our other children that have come home.  
What these teens need are PARENTS.
If you think for one minute that they don't need you hovering, you are wrong.  They need parents.  Every bit as much as your toddler needed your guidance, your teen does as well.
  That means keeping them close to you, not sending them away to their room every time they have a "mood" or get upset with you.  For us, when one of our new teens gets upset, his "go to" reaction is to head to his bed and sulk.  If I didn't know better, I'd say he could have inherited that from me!
Seriously, though.  It is important that they find their comfort in you, not in hiding.  When one of ours has a tantrum or a bad reaction to a parenting decision that they don't like, we require them to come stay with the family.  Sometimes, this requires going to their room, pulling back the covers and kindly asking them to come back downstairs to rejoin the family.
If they come, I see that as a win. 
(Smile not required)
This isn't about flexing your "I'm in charge muscles" so much as it's about helping them jump hurdles that they don't know how to navigate. 
(How many times as a teen did your
 "I'll show them" mentality
 end up depriving you out of something good in the end?)  I am simply suggesting that you help get them past themselves so that they can enjoy the benefits of family life.  They are not going to find those joys in the privacy of their bedroom glued to an I-pod, or I-pad, or I-anything!
 Help them learn to connect with their parents, and their siblings.  Find ways to redirect their energies to something positive. 
I can teach that later...
  Lastly, your kids are never going to be as open to learning as they are when they first enter your family.  While they may not like all the change, they do expect it and they are paying attention. Use that wonderful window when they want to do a good job to your family's (and their) advantage.  Model new behaviors and look for EVERY POSSIBLE opportunity to praise successes and to say yes.  If they have a need, say yes!!  If they have a want, (and it is possible, safe and healthy) say yes!!   They need to know that they can trust you to meet their needs.  As hard as it is to look at your teen as a deprived infant, in many adoptive scenarios, they were ARE.
It is highly likely that your child, especially if adopted as a teen, has spent most if not all of their formative years, fending for themselves.  They may not have had their needs met.  They may not have been kept safe.  They may only know "trust by manipulation", so use this time to establish an environment where you can give them lots of yeses!  Now, given all the "don't dos" that I just listed above, you may not see this as a complementary suggestion, but it really is.  Every roadblock that you can remove between you and your new child brings you closer together so that they can see you as their source of comfort, their provider, the one who cares, and loves and protects them. 
Pray for them often and lastly, don't wait to ask for help if you are unsure.  So often, it is hard to know if a certain behavior or reaction is adoption related, or normal, teen behavior.  Don't assume that things will get better all on their own.  Sure, they might.  But, if you are having trouble, don't walk through that alone.  Call your social worker.  In fact, keep calling until someone listens and offers help.  And, if your agency can't or won't help you in your post-placement transition, call Lifeline.  Their post-placement team is wonderful and each and every one of those men and women wants to be used of God to help families thrive! If you do not have resources in your community that are well trained in adoption attachment issues, please find someone who is!  Your family's success is important.  Your needs, along with the needs of your new children, matter!  Let someone pray along side your family and offer support services to get you through the tough spots.
They are so very worth it!
God Bless,


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this well thought out post. I will heading soon to pick up our newest boys who are 6 and 9.


Christina said...

great post! Thank you for sharing!

Jennifer P said...

Angie, this is an outstanding post. Can you share what software you use as an internet filter and how you keep them timed on the computer? You are spot on here!

Lisa said...

Excellent post, Ang. I'm glad to hear Lifeline has great post-placement services. Not all agencies do; sadly, some leave their families high and dry once they set foot back in America. It makes for a very lonely place. I am totally with you on the electronics end of parenting as well. Many parents have no idea what their children have access to with all those devices!

Pam said...

Thank you Angie. Our girls were 12 and 9 and non walkers. This is a great post and we did some of the same things. We limit computer usage also. There is no retreat to any room because of the sheer fact there are 9 of us at home, which should be an encouragement to big families to adopt. :) Big families have many resources at your disposal, like experience, experience..... :) I would also be interested in the type of internet filter you use for time, etc. I hope you are linking up with Adeye's post also.

Rylands family said...

Thanks for the encouragement ladies! Some of you asked about our internet filter. It is nothing fancy, but it has been effective. We are using the Norton Family. On our actual computer, we created log in accounts for each child with a password (that we must know). HP gives us the option of setting acceptable use parameters for them such as which specific games they may play and also what types, so if you don't want any violence, for example, it will filter that out. It also shows all the games that are loaded on your machine and allows you to set permissions by child for each game.

Then, we log on to Norton Family and set up each child on that machine. It allows me to decide when they get onto the machine (for example, if they try to log on at midnight, it won't work), whether or not they are allowed to visit sites that sell things, or are networking sites like facebook etc. Everytime someone clicks something that tries to take them outside of their permissions, I get an email letting me know that there was an attempt to visit a blocked site. (9 times out of 10, it was an accidental click on a side advertisement or something like that, but better safe than sorry).

I am glad that this info was helpful to some.


Randi said...

Well said, my friend!

Rylands family said...

Thanks Randi!

Kirsten said...

As a mom to a 10 year old boy adopted from China 3 weeks ago, I appreciate your "in the trenches" blog. You're blessing the body of Christ! Keep on keeping on!

Sherri said...

Wonderful, Angie!! Thank you for sharing. I really, really loved your encouragement to TAKE opportunities to teach. These children are like babies in one way...soaking up EVERYTHING the first months. It won't always be this way...we parents need to take advantage of this time God has given us. So soon they will spread their wings and little time to learn so much!

Wright Family said...

Every family bringing home older children should read this!

It's a Wonderful Life said...

Angie, I know you wrote this a while ago but I had no need for the info. Well, now I do! My husband is bringing home our newest son who just turned 14. I appreciate your view. I agree with all that you said and it gives me more strength to go against the norm. I will be following all that you recommend. Thank you!!

Rylands family said...

I am so glad that this post has encouraged you! Each child has different hurdles to overcome when coming home, as I've learned with our 4 adopted children, but there have been some consistencies that have helped with each, so I hope that is helpful to others! Angie