Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Relationship not Behavior

In retrospect, I have one major regret in my earlier parenting. For the first two placements of older children, I focused on behavior -- attempting to modify it, change it, fix it -- instead of attachment. And the results have been less than satisfactory.

When these particular boys moved into my home my immediate reaction was, "Oh My Goodness!!!! i have so much work to do to prepare them for adulthood." I needed to get busy and fast because their behaviors were completely unacceptable.

Imagine if this was the approach of someone who had begun to get to know a person they thought they wanted to marry. What if on the first date, a woman said, "Welcome to my life. I can see right now that your table manners aren't appropriate, so let's begin working on that right now. Let me show you how to hold a fork." How long would the relationship last? It would die before it began.

Since my first placements I have learned that my first task should be to be the kind of person my child can fall in love with. I need to do and say things that will make them feel good about me. When they do make a mistake, or break a rule, I need to remind them lovingly that this is not how we do things, but that I am still committed to them and love them unconditionally.

This is one of the most important things I have learned as a parent who adopted older children: No child is going to attempt to please or obey an adult to whom they are not attached. When I was growing up, I didn't want to disappoint my mom and dad. I wanted to please them. This was because of our relationship which was healthy, attached, and foundational.

Demanding that children obey us while they are basically still strangers simply because someone has told them that they have a new parent is downright ridiculous. And yet I did it and many parents do. The focus is all on behavior and the child or teen moves in thinking "wow, did I end up with a witch for a mom."

A couple things about behaviors: First, some of them never go away. Mental illness or organic brain damage due to prenatal exposure to alcohol will not go away just because a child is placed in a loving home. And secondly, they'll be around later and you can deal with them then.

When I was a college administrator responsible for discipline I learned the concept, "Get them to respect you first, and later worry about them liking you." I took this principal into adoption and parenting and it ABSOLUTELY DID NOT WORK. Some of the kids never really came to love me as their mom and respect never came either.

Focus that first year on getting the kid to fall in love with you. If you do, you can worry about behavior. I'm not saying to ignore rule violations, but under-react. Keep the focus on the child, on attachment, on learning to understand your child and years down the road you'll be much farther ahead than those who started tackling behavior the day the kids moved it.

The voice of wistful experience, combined with regret, has spoken.


Angela :-) said...

I'm interested in more on this topic. I might need some examples, as well. This is probably a mistake I've made/am making.

Angela :-)

Anonymous said...

thx u very much, i learn a lot

祐祥 said...


淑芬 said...


Regina said...

So true but not easy - my 14y daughter has been with me almost a year now. We are finaliizing April 5 and I all too often focus on the skipping classes, lack of effort, handing out with friends of questionable character... wanting her to be the wonderful, so talented person I see under all all the defenses-- forgeting for a while to let her know/show her that she is loved first and foremost and that I'll always be the forever Mom who is here for her no matter what she does.