Valentine's Day is coming, so right now, it's all about THE LOVE! Who do you put in your love basket for Valentine's Day? For me, it's my daughter, her birth mother, my stepson, my husband, my parents and brother and my close friends.
"Huh?" you say? Yep, her birth mother. I love her. I've never met or communicated with her, but I love her anyway.
She is a part of our family, as much as my daughter is. In adoption, the child, the birth mother/family and the adoptive family are each an integral component of what some people refer to as the adoption triad, which is often represented by a triangle shape. Everyone involved in adoption sees this triangle differently — some even refuse to acknowledge its existence, and that's ok — but I like to see this complex relationship in a little different shape than a triangle.
My adoption triad doesn't have any sides that are greater than the others, no sides ending and no sides smaller or less important. Oh sure, if you examine each part of the adoption triad under a specific topic, then often one side or even two, will have greater meaning under the context of that topic.
Take loss, for example. I would never dare to compare my losses — loss of fertility, loss of genetic links to my child, loss of the pregnancy, birth experience and first eighteen months of my child's life — to the losses that my daughter and her birth mother have experienced. Their losses are immeasurable, so there is no comparison.
However, we don't always focus on our losses. Sometimes there is also joy. Anger. Sadness. Curiosity. All of our emotions in the adoption triad are fluid, flexible, constantly changing. I liken my triad to that of a sort of round table. There is no head of the table, no leader, no sides, no lines to cross. So is my love for my daughter and her birth mother — we are all in this together, in our triad. Each of us doing our parts in creating a child, birthing a child, being a child, mothering a child, loving a child and having her love those around her as well as her absent birth family.
My daughter loves her birth mother. I know a time will come where she feels so many more complex layers of emotions towards the woman who gave birth to her, but I hope that through all of them, she will continue to anchor herself in the love her birth mother had for her, and the love she feels towards her birth mother now.
So, for Valentine's Day, and all days, I will take our adoption triad and create my own shape to incorporate all of the people involved:
My kids love the board game Trouble, and every time I hear the name, the jingle from the TV commercial of my childhood pops into my head—"You've got trouble? Wait, don't run! THIS kind of Trouble is LOTS of fun!"
I like to look at parenting problems with that attitude. Kids are fun, but they sure do cause a whole lotta stress sometimes for us parents, don't they? Let's face it, we all want to be the best parents we can be, but kids sometimes get in the way of our best parenting plans. Or do they? Are we putting too much stress on ourselves? Is our biggest parenting problem really about us and not about them at all?
I think it's a possibility.
On an hourly basis, we are inundated with blogs, articles, memes, jokes, websites, books, magazines—you name it—that instruct us how to be the best at everything we do with, or for, our children. I'm all for reaching for the stars, if you're keepin' it real, but I worry that all of these "suggestions" of perfection are causing us parents to think that we have more parenting problems than we really do. Parenting problems shift and change as a child grows older, but the constant problem of worrying, "Am I completely messing this up?" remains, no matter what your child's age is, or what their specific problems are.
If your kid has tantrums, won't eat or sleep from time to time (or all the time), talks back, has a mind of his or her own, makes you want to pull your hair out, makes you want to weep with frustration, or makes you want to consume copious amounts of alcoholic beverages with a side of chips or chocolate, chances are you are NOT messing it up. You are normal and so is your kid. All of these things aren't really "problems," in my opinion. They are simply what parenting is all about. If our kids didn't do any of these things, parenting them wouldn't be required. We'd lose our jobs to automation.
Even worse, do we unknowingly cause some of these so-called problems with our children? Do our own fears, hopes, wishes, childhood issues, competitive natures, or high expectations all jump into our parenting styles and project on how our child behaves? Could we possibly be our own worst enemies by simply over-thinking what comes naturally?
I try not to judge myself too harshly—a task that is often easier said than done, because believe me, my children present as many challenges as the rest of the kids out there. I'm not a perfect parent, and if you were to ask me right now what my biggest parenting problem is, I'd have a hard time narrowing it down to just one, but the point I'm trying to make here is that perhaps my biggest problem isn't really about their behavior, but my reaction to, and interpretation of, their behaviors. Perhaps I've classified some of their behaviors as "problems," because society has told me that those behaviours are problematic, when really those behaviors are part of my job and a part of my children growing up. Don't get me wrong, obviously certain behaviors are unacceptable and it's my job to teach my children more appropriate ones if I want them to grow into emotionally successful adults. Perhaps I simply need to accept that children do all of these annoying and frustrating things, but that's exactly what I signed up for when I decided to become a parent. If parenting is a job, then like any job, maybe I just need to accept that there are some great aspects of my job—hugs, kisses, I-love-yous—and then there are the parts that balance out the fun parts and make it feel more like work than fun some days.
Would nurses classify having sick patients as a "problem" in their job? Would teachers say that a child who needs extra help learning math is a "problem" of their job? Why, as parents, do we feel our children's normal developmental behavior needs to be classified as "parenting problems" then?
Solving parenting problems might require more than a simple change of terminology. We're all used to calling them "parenting problems," but it may also take a monumental shift in attitude—from thinking our children cause us parenting problems to accepting that those things our kids say and do that drive us bonkers are simply the realities of parenting. Most of us parent well. We need to trust ourselves more and not get so caught up in worrying that we are failing to address our "problems" properly. I'm not talking about letting your kids do whatever they want—I'm a fairly strict parent—I'm talking about modifying our perception and interpretation of what they do, as well as our worries and insecurities about what we do. If you need to try a new approach to teaching your child, try one. If you need a fresh idea on how to parent, by all means, seek one from the many resources available. Just don't internalize that as a failure on your part, or as a "problem" with your child's behavior. Part of being a child is learning, experimenting, testing boundaries, trying on independence, etc. Dealing with kids doing what kids do isn't a problem, it's simply part of the job description.
Ahhh, coffee. How do I love thee?
It often amazes me that just a couple of short years ago, I was not a coffee drinker. Oh, I'd have a cappuccino or latte occasionally, if I was at a nice restaurant without two kids pulling on my arm saying "C'mon! Let's GO mommy! I'm BORRRDD!" but I didn't drink it daily, I never made a pot of coffee unless I was hosting a party and I was quite content to sip my English Breakfast tea for my teeny-tiny hit of morning caffeine.
Then I decided to try a "fad" diet. *Warning: Everything they say about fad diets is true.* The diet suggested black coffee as a breakfast beverage, because the caffeine can often kick-start your metabolism, and mine needed a serious hoofus in the doofus.
So, I dove in with a black coffee plus one fake sweetener each morning, and I'm not gonna lie — it was awful. I hated it and grimaced with every sip. Each day I forced myself to drink that brew until suddenly, after two weeks, it hit me — I was no longer making puke-faces when I drank the coffee. I was actually beginning to enjoy it, especially when I switched to a different diet that allowed me to add cream! Apparently the "Two-weeks-to-develop-a-habit" rule is also true, because I've never looked back.
Learning of my mid-life venture into legalized addiction, my brother gave me a single-cup coffee maker he had that was not getting used. In retrospect, I liken that moment to a pothead installing heat lamps and a hydroponic greenhouse in their home. I could have coffee — any flavour or style I wanted — at ANY time!
I was hooked.
We are now on our second Tassimo, and quite frankly, we could run out of milk at home and I'd happily give our kids juice for one meal, but run out of T-disks? Not gonna happen around here. I even went to the grocery store in my pajamas once to avoid that catastrophe.
I have a friend who only drinks decaf. To this I say — why bother? Yes, I do enjoy the taste of coffee, but what I enjoy most is the lovely buzz it gives me. The way that it takes me from resembling a three-toed sloth schlumpfing into the kitchen every morning, while giving my family the barely-open evil eye if they dare to look at, speak to or breathe on me — to a reasonably sane woman who actually manages to get my daughter to school on time four mornings out of five while answering 382 of her 497 questions in a non-shouty voice. I love how it makes my eyelids feel perky enough to stay open without physical assistance. I love how ten minutes after I suck the last drop from my cup, I can conquer the world!
Don't get me wrong, I drink only three cups a day, and I'm sure all of you hard-core coffee addicts think that calling my intake level an "addiction" is cute, but I'm addicted in the sense that I feel awful without coffee. I crave it constantly and would happily drink double what I do, if my love of sleep didn't consume me more than my love of coffee.
Now, it gets better, because in addition to the wake-up energy boost coffee gives me — it has also given me a community.
That's right. In a social media world where tweets, comments and statuses go unheeded as a sport, I've come to the realization that anything I post about coffee elicits far more responses than any of my other tweet topics. We are a band of brothers, us coffee drinkers.
So cheers to you, coffee, for waking me up every day, for keeping me motivated throughout the day, for extending my day when I need it, for connecting me to other members of your fan club and for occasionally nursing me through the realization that I can't stay awake past midnight and drink two glasses of wine anymore. I'm not sure what I'd do without you, but nor am I interested in finding out.