K.J. loves rules and knowing what to expect. Becton is on the lookout for ways to safely by-step rules that do not serve his purposes.
Becton’s sense of humor is nuanced and clever. K.J. enjoys good old-fashioned slapstick.
Becton is always late. K.J. shows up on time.
K.J. never wants to be the center of attention in a large group. Becton prefers being “on stage.”
K.J. has a reputation for being “friendly” and fitting in. Becton is an individual who sometimes struggles to fit in.
Becton multi-tasks. K.J. attends to one thing at a time.
Becton makes excuses and tries to avoid doing his chores. K.J. completes his chores when asked.
K.J. protests that he will never dance. Becton identifies as a dancer.
K.J. likes small social groups where he can know everyone and be known by everyone. The size of the group doesn’t matter to Becton as long as he gets his share of attention.
K.J. wants to follow. Becton wants to lead.
K.J. slumps in despair when assignments require creativity. Becton embraces the challenge.
I could go on reciting the differences…
What does any of this have to do with adoptive parenting? Our children by adoption do not share our genes, nor do they share the genes of their siblings (in most cases). Some adoptive parents – myself included – make the mistake of trying to fit our children into the “boxes” we’ve created to understand ourselves.
Take, for example, my naming of Skye. Her birthmother is my height, 5’10”, so I assumed Skye would be tall and want to play basketball like me. Doesn’t “Skye Falco scores!” sound great if you imagine an announcer shouting this at a game? Skye is tall, but she hates basketball. She loves horses, and I know nothing – except what I’ve learned through Skye – about horses and horseback riding.
It makes sense that we adoptive parents would impose our worldview, values, and expectations on our children. It just doesn’t always work out that well.
What I have learned is that, if I can let go of my expectations and instead pay attention to my children, they will teach me about their own “boxes.” Here are a few of the “boxes” I have loosened my grip on over the years:
1. Everyone needs a college education.
I have learned that a technical degree or an apprenticeship may be better suited to my child’s learning style or aptitudes. An internship or job experience before college might aid my child in deciding whether or not to go to college and/or what to study.
2. Every child needs to participate in team sports to learn cooperation, sportsmanship, leadership, and how to overcome adversity.
I have learned that participation in a dramatic production or musical ensemble can teach the same lessons. These skills can also be learned in school or in community groups or through other activities.
(Don’t get me started on how John and I defined “sports.” We were basketball, baseball, football, tennis, and volleyball players. Our children have tried some of these, but they have loved swimming, horseback riding, dance, and Ultimate Frisbee. Go figure!)
3. Everyone needs a creative outlet – be it art, music, theater, or entrepreneurship to achieve contentment.
I have learned that some people are happier with routine. Some people like rules to follow that achieve predictable outcomes. The world needs followers and workers as well as leaders and creators.
4. As and Bs in school are expected and achievable.
I have learned that some students have learning differences that make success in traditional schooling methods much more difficult. There are alternative ways to learn and other types of intelligence. In fact, some school taught knowledge isn’t really necessary in the long term. One size education does not fit all.
I’m sure you can make your own list of “absolutes” that reality has thrown into question.
Which of my boys with their very different traits is more likely to be successful and happy? The rule follower or the free thinker? The socially adaptive one or the individual who stands apart? The one who values consistency or the one who pushes for change? The literalist or the artist?
I hope they both will, but I don’t have the answer.
However, I have discovered that my sense of success or feeling of happiness often requires me to suspend judgment of others. Though I am imperfect in my execution, I am grateful that adoption and my children have pushed me out of my own narrow boxes.