Attitude of Gratitude

Seven of my eleven children came to me as teens or tweens. They experienced more of their childhood years WITHOUT their father and I than they did WITH US. Overcoming the history for children adopted in their teen years is VERY difficult for any adoptive parents. 

Our kids didn't choose to fear rejection, their pasts pre-set this. Our kids didn't choose to not trust, the misplaced trust in their pasts pre-set this. Our kids didn't choose to question our motives, and yet here they were, questioning whether our motives were love or control. Our children didn't want to feel unsafe in our home, but no place had ever proven to be safe emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Our children didn't choose their past and this means they didn't choose us as their present or future. EVERYTHING in these kids' lives was done to them or decided for them. Simply put, Jason and I were their best option between homelessness, continued abuse, or being lost in a system. 

I remember a young case worker coming in for a pre-adoption assessment for my 16-year-old son. She said to him how LUCKY he was to have such a wonderful family as she was leaving and the statement, though well intended, grieves me to this day. 

My son was not and is not lucky. Nothing about a life of losing his mother to disease at the age of 4 is lucky. Being abused verbally and physically to the extent he attempted suicide twice by the age of 9 is the evidence of just how unfortunate my son's life had been. He was not lucky in any way. No... he wasn't the lucky one. 

I was the lucky one. I was raised in a healthy home where my mom never made me question her love for me, my safety, or the future I would have. I came into life with big expectations that were met at every turn. I got married to the man of my dreams and was blessed enough to adopt the most incredible (yet complex) children I could have ever dreamed. I was the lucky one. My son was stuck with me, a person that was once a stranger. I was the best of his bad options. 

My son would have been lucky to have been raised by his birth family. He would have been blessed to live in his home country and never had a hand laid on him in anger. He should have had a warm meal three times a day and support to get him through school. He should have never had to learn a new culture or learn how to trust another mother in his life. 

Now, I know her intentions were good. She was trying to say that given his history, his story had taken a turn for the good. He had parents fully in love with him. He had food, education, mental health resources, a bedroom, friends, and church. He had a lot of opportunity that he didn't have before us... but as a child, can you imagine hearing you are lucky as an abused, untrusting, displaced, grieving teen? 

Society has this attitude about our kids and times, we do too! How many times do I hear a mother of a completely rebellious adopted child mirror the things our friends, family, and strangers say? Moms will even say things like "I have spent thousands on getting this child here and helped" or "I bought him a phone, and car, and gave him his own room while my others share a room". These kind of statements are made because we give and we give and we give as mothers and we just want to feel appreciated for all we sacrifice and do for our kids. When we don't feel appreciated, we pull out our lopsided ledger and self-soothe by recounting the ways we have poured into our ungrateful child. Then we feel justified in our hurt and rage. 

But what if we took on a perspective of compassion toward our child and threw the ledger away permanently. You and I both know that you never gave all you have to your child with an expectation of your child giving you something back, conciously. It wasn't until your list got long and your child got ugly that the tally marks started coming out. More than likely, you gave because you just wanted your child to know he was loved. You wanted your child to be given every opportunity in life and help him be like his peers. Has that changed? No. I bet it hasn't. 

Since you have given without expectation of receiving, let's start there. Embrace the idea that your child is likely grateful for a lot of what you have done but subconciously or conciously resents you having to do it for him. It was never supposed to be your shoes to fill, and yet here he is. Part of him loves the luxury of it and yet he wishes he didn't need you. Needing you means he has to let go of the control he strongly needs to hold onto in order to overcome the lack of control he has had over critical elements in his life. (This is explained in detail in our course.) He hates that he needs you so having GRATITUDE for the things you do is counter intuitive. Do you get that? As much as he wants what you give him, he resents it. Are you thankful for the things you resent? 

So how do we teach gratitude to a child that resents needing you? For every child it looks different and the true reasons for the lack of gratitude vary though control and resentment tend to be in most adopted children's reasoning. In general, we need to start with small displays of thankfulness. If our child can find gratitude for small little favors or things friends or teachers do for them, it gives a foundation that can be grown upon. Finding gratitude for things without the need for control or the issue of resentment teaches a concept that can be applied to more complex reasoning which is needed for the adoptive parent to get messages of gratitude later. 

The biggest key for me as a mom, is to keep my expectation realistic. My child is complicated. Adoption is complicated. My child doesn't lack gratitude just because he lacks the ability to express it or truly understand it in this moment. If I can see my child learn the skill of appreciation with other people and with smaller things I do, I know it will translate into a greater display of gratitude as my child grows in understanding, maturing, and heals over his past. That is enough for me. So my ledger is in the trash, and when friends bring it up during seasons of trial, I don't allow myself to internalize it. I give without expectation and my reward is in heaven and in their adult years when they come full circle to understand things from a mature perspective. 

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