Cathy Gilbert, mom of fifteeen kids, four by birth, eleven by adoption, compares adopting a challenging child with running an Ice Marathon—the preparation and the race may test your limits but, like completing a marathon, the rewards come later.
My son, grandson, and daughter-in-law were here for dinner today. This is the son who was adopted at 12 and whose profile description most people would run a mile from.
Though that son, his dad, and I, are survivors of what certainly was a challenging adoption, the end result is a well connected son who is a really good dad to his child, and a devoted partner to his wife. Just the other day, one of our other kids commented on this son’s parenting skills, when he said, “Mom, he learned that from you.”
Even though we didn’t parent him when he was a toddler, our son watched us parent toddlers and learned what good parenting should look like. I think he’d agree with this because he recently said to someone, “Their parenting is a very good example for me now with my son.”
So, how did we get from disruptive 12-year-old to a well attached, fairly normal, 25-year-old? We did it by hanging in there and always, no matter what was happening, being confident that we could manage. It was also because we looked at his difficult behaviour as a form of communication—because it always is—and by using other supports when we needed them.
Even though our son often tried to tell us he knew how to make his own decisions (having been forced to do so at a very young age), we always managed to stay in charge. We also reminded him that, although bad things had happened to him in the past, they weren’t going to keep happening—we were around to keep him safe.
We also kept going because we were able to have optimism, even when we didn’t really feel optimistic, and we faced the reality that we had to hang in there past the testing stage (which went on for quite a while) because the saddest adoption breakdowns are those where kids have almost reached the point of attaching (and given up on some of the testing) but the parents just can’t take it anymore. Those kids leave the family thinking that life was just as they would have predicted—lousy and unforgiving, and never going to bring them happiness and love.
So, having walked the walk quite a few times now, and having witnessed the transformation of kids who really didn’t believe in us when they first came to our family, I can tell you that the best advice is simply to go the distance.
Recently, there was a woman on CBC speaking about running an Ice Marathon in Antarctica. She said you have to be really aware of your body—you don’t want to get warm enough to sweat but you also have to keep warm, or you’ll get frostbite. Another commentator on the show said that, though it would be slow and difficult and possibly very draining, even with little experience you could do the race as long as you were determined and trained properly. To me, this sounded just like parenting a challenging child.
So, if you have little parenting experience, taking on a marathon child will be okay as long as you are determined and train properly. But be prepared for it to be slow, difficult, and draining. But think of the great feeling when you get to the finishing line. By the way, they also have a 100km Ice Marathon. I think that compares to adopting a sibling group. A bit more draining, but surely a great feeling when you’re done.