Did you ever have a dream for your life that felt unreachable? I did.
The idea of having a family did not cross my mind until I was in my mid-thirties. In fact, my husband and I were not sure we wanted to have children. But as we both grew older the idea of having a family became more and more prevalent in our life. We were not able to have biological children and looked at other options for creating a family. We chose adoption through the foster care system. We wanted to adopt two children. We were blessed with four.
I can still remember the day the kids came to our home. I stood in the airport with butterflies in my stomach and a lump in my throat. We had met our children and their foster family two weeks before they came home to live with us. At the airport, we watched as people trickled through the gate. As more people came off the flight, my heart beat faster. All of a sudden we saw all four of the kids coming to greet us, calling out “Mom and Dad.”
In our minds we had expectations about what our family life would be like: Days filled with joy and happiness; rainbows and tripping through snowdrifts (it was January in Minnesota). Oh, we knew there would be times of struggle and fighting. I had read many parenting books about adopting children from hard places. I was prepared! Yeh right! I am glad my husband and I didn’t realize how little we knew at that time. Our expectations of parenting did not match our reality. Not even close! There have been times of tremendous joy and happiness, countered with times of overwhelm, worry and struggle. It’s not easy going from 2 to 6 people in a house, literally overnight.
As the time went on with the kids at home, I recognized that I needed to change my expectations about parenting. The change had to start with me and the way I related with my children. Like the time when my son came to me to ask if I was tired because he was afraid that I was going to get angry with him, or when I would found myself yelling at my kids and flipping out over little things. I felt sad and knew I didn’t want my children to be afraid of me. I needed a change in my parenting style and that change needed to start with me.
Change can be a big uncomfortable step because it forces one to take a look at the situation and recognize the problems. It’s so easy to blame the problems on another person or the situation, when in reality, it’s the person in the mirror that is part of the problem. It wasn’t comfortable or easy for me to become aware that my kids were potentially afraid of me. I didn’t want them to be afraid, I wanted them to know that they were loved. The first step of self-awareness is a shock to the ego.
Courage is needed for change. Only a brave person can stand up and say, “I need to change! There’s something in our family that’s not right.” Courage is a huge factor in the ability to see the benefit of change. At that point in my life I had to have the courage to say I needed to change the way that I approached my children when they were misbehaving.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. The behavior I needed to change was how I reacted to my children when I felt frustrated and angry. It took me time to adapt healthy habits for myself. I needed to recognize my triggers and find healthy ways to cope with my stress. We all know that starting out changing a habit is hard and the habit doesn’t transform itself in one repetition of a new behavior. It takes many small actions and repetitions to make that change. We may fail and succeed in our actions, taking two steps forward and one step back. However, with persistence, we are ultimately going to change for the better. I made small changes in my behavior through taking care of myself. I try to get plenty of rest and get up before the kids to have some personal time. In addition, I take the initiative to learn new skills for myself. I find support in friends, online groups and resources.
I recognized that another change I needed to make was letting go of my expectations of a “perfect” family. I had an expectation of what family life was going to be like, how our children were going to act, and how I was going to act as a parent. But the biggest and most revealing change was asking questions about expectations for myself. What did I expect of myself? Of my husband? Of my children? Who set those high standards? I did! But were those high standards realistic? Letting go of those high expectations of myself, my husband and of our kids was hard. I still struggle with setting realistic expectations of myself, knowing what I can do and what I can control in my life. I have finally realized that I need to let many of those expectations go. Our expectations as parents need to be about our actions, about how we are handling situations, or about our strong beliefs behind something that is not based in reality.
It’s been tough to change and I’m still on a journey of developing skills and attitudes of how to be a more compassionate and connected parent. Relationships with my husband and children are constantly changing as we all travel on our own journeys. The steps of positive change happening in my relationships has taken self-awareness, the courage to take small actions, and letting go of my expectations.
As parents, grandparents, or members of the community, what do you see that needs to change in your relationship with teens? I want you to join me in exploring the benefits of change and let me know what you notice that could change to make you a more compassionate and connected parent, grandparent or community member. With a little courage, together we can make those changes a part of an improved life for ourselves and for those we care most about.
Wildewood Learning is opening up a summer program for 2 clients only to support parents and their children ages 12 to 20 in creating a plan for learning options. If you would like to know more about Wildewood Learning programs contact Kathy for a complimentary 30 minute session to “Explore the Kickstart Summer Program”.
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