Extreme parenting: No apologies


Claire Iver
Focus on Adoption magazine

Meet Claire, an adoptive mom of two boys, who shares the “fast and furious learning” that she and her family experiences when they adopt an older child. Claire's 10-year-old son was adopted from a Russian orphanage when he was 19 months old. Her other son, Ethan, joined their family just over a year ago, when he was 7. Ethan was born in Canada and entered government care at age two. Read on for Claire’s lessons in extreme parenting.

We’ve learned to surrender illusions that we have any control over what the neighbours, or the teachers, or the parents of classmates, or our extended family think. We had to completely let go of the fear that we would be judged for the way we dealt with -- or, quite frankly, chose not to deal with -- some of the “outstanding” behavior people would witness.

One day, my husband came home from work and announced, “If one more person tells me that there’s a special place for me in heaven, I’m going to yak.” I knew what he meant. On one hand, it’s lovely to think of yourself as a person who, like Jesus, loves the little children. On the other hand, it sounds to me like we’re on our own in this. The statement’s got a certain “good luck with that” kind of quality to it.

Here’s an example. People gasp when they hear how this child talks to us. For too long, I was horrified by it, myself. His favourite line for me for the first 6 months was “I don’t care, you f’ing s-head.”

Love is a decision. Love is a decision.

I loved a story psychologist Andrea Chatwin of A Child's Song shared with me. For many years, Andrea’s mother was a foster parent. In order to teach the kids about responsibility, Andrea’s mom had a paper route that she would do with them. At one point, a 10-year old boy lived with them. He used few words, but was quite expressive with his hands. He regularly flipped the bird to whoever tried to engage him. Andrea’s mother was horrified. This child would drop a newspaper at the door and give the finger to the person who lived there. What would they think of him? And of her, the adult who walked the route with him every day? Andrea eventually said to her mom, “Oh, who cares? In the grand scheme, what does this matter?”

Andrea moved me from horror to a place where I could recognize the absurdity of it all. My husband and I learned to take all the power out of those words by stripping the emotion and excitement from our reaction to their use.

As the laws of attachment become entrenched in our parenting style, it is getting easier and easier to influence behavior changes. We respond with a simple “I don’t like that. It’s not respectful.” And we walk away. That’s it, that’s all.

Truthfully, it still shocks the people around us, and we have to do lots of coaching with the kids’ grandmothers and with our siblings who have younger children. What we’ve learned is that we really can’t control what others think. They don’t know what we’re dealing with. They don’t know that we’re choosing battles, and this one might be at the bottom of the heap.

My father in law died at the end of last year, and I almost made a big mistake. I almost didn’t go myself or bring the boys to the funeral. We were to stay with my mother-in-law, who was in the depths of her grief. I thought our “active” family wouldn’t provide the respectful quiet required of the occasion.

And then I thought: what says attachment more than comforting a parent through the loss of their own parent? Than being together in a time of sadness? Than participating in the rituals we have around death, which is a natural part of life? I realized I had to stop apologizing for who we are as a family, regardless of what others think. This is who we are right now. We’re a full-fledged, fear-nothing family.

Read more in the Extreme Parenting series.

Want to read more? Subscribe to Focus on Adoption magazine!