Tag Archives: Connected parenting

Thoughts on Control

When I was growing up, my friends and family thought my parents were strict. Honestly, they weren’t. If my sisters and I wanted to do something, they mostly said yes. Certainly, there were some general things around the house like no phone calls after 10pm (which I still believe is a nice rule of thumb), early to bed, early to rise, minimal access to sugary stuff, go outside to play after homework was done…just what seemed normal to me. I had friends and family members whose parents were permissive, but honestly, I didn’t ask to do a lot of things because I didn’t have the interest to.

I wanted to do very well in school as a set up to college. I played some sports—not well, but I played. I was engaged in clubs and activities. As I got deep into high school, I had multiple jobs and internships. I was busy. I went to football and basketball games with friends, hung out a little late and enjoyed hitting the McDonalds on Parham Road or Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House on Rt. 1 until the wee hours –you know midnight!

Honestly, I didn’t feel deprived, and I didn’t feel like I was ever locked in a control battle with my parents. When I did something egregious, I was grounded. I knew it was coming, and frankly, calculated whether it was worth the inevitable punishment before doing it.

When I became a parent, I found myself expecting to roll into things much like my parents did. Boy was I shocked. Hope pushed all my buttons all the time. My reaction was to establish a bunch of arbitrary rules to try to create the structure that I had.

It took me a long time to understand that what I had growing up was structure, security, permanence, attachment, all basic needs consistently met, and relatively no threats to any of those things.

Hope had not had that, and back then, she didn’t trust me to provide it. The result was a huge mismatch of expectations resulting in awful behaviors that we both struggled with.

It took me months to realize that I couldn’t control my and Hope’s relationship or her reactions to being in what is now our home. That was hard because I am a control freak. I take pride in orchestrating a lot of my life, and Hope was having none of that.

The mistakes I made were countless.

Forcing her to say grace. Saying no to all her favorite (sugary, fatty, salty) foods. Extraordinary limits on screen time. Book reading time. Closed kitchen after 8pm. Eat this or nothing!

I have a number of regrets, though honestly, I am not sure I could’ve known better back then. I’d heard stuff, gone to the training, blah, blah, blah, but until I was in it and it wasn’t working? I wasn’t really trying to hear that swinging to the other end of the continuum was really the better option.

A few weeks into our journey together, Hope hit the skids and everything went topsy turvy. And while my girl was hella resilient, I was really the only one of us who had the capacity to really turn things around.

So, I had to stop trying to artificially create structure, security, permanence, attachment and meeting her needs through controlling behaviors. That’s when I started learning about connected parenting. Now, I still loathe all these crazy parenting theories and parenting books and coaching and all that stuff, but connected parenting helped me to understand that I needed to focus on Hope’s needs to help her feel safe and secure in our home.

I bought ramen, Fruit Loops, and bags of chips to go with the broccoli, clementines and orange juice. I let her listen to music all night long, even after her phone locked down at 9:30pm. I said the prayers at dinner. I gave her 24 hour access to certain foods to ease her fears about going hungry. I read bedtime stories to her like she was 5, followed by breathing exercises and tucking her in every night. I wrote out affirmations for her every day.

She still snuck food and left wrappers everywhere. Her room still looked like it had been ransacked. She still pushed boundaries, sneaking the laptop after I had fallen asleep so she could stay up all night watching videos. She still did inappropriate things on her phone that scared me to death.

And then one day, I noticed that she was far less likely to do any of those things. I realized that she didn’t need me to tuck her in because she came to me to say goodnight, get a kiss and retire on her own. She would go in the pantry and happily make herself some ramen and drink a tumbler of orange juice on the side. She might still break a rule or two, but she would remark how rude other kids were to their parents or how they were breaking rules and how she thought it was terrible.

Sure, I’ve had to mete out consequences, but had I kept on my control freak pathway, we would never have evolved to where we are now.

Hope and I talk about these moments these days, and we tease each other. I’m grateful that she practices grace with me and gets that I was figuring things out in the beginning.

My advice to newbies who are parenting older kids—give them what they need, which may be different than what you need or think is initially best. Our kids need lots of love, and they need to feel like they are seen, valued and worthy of being safe. Meet them exactly in that place. Get those favorite foods, be ok when they gain a little weight, make sure they know that they will not go hungry with you, avoid emotional tugs of war, side step controlling behavior. Recognize their agency and work on being persuasive instead of controlling. Build trust and watch it flourish. It all takes time and patience—something I am not full of—but it’s worth it.

I haven’t broken myself of being a control freak; I just know to limit it in my parenting now. Trust though, I continue to fail from time to time.

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Thoughts on our Attachment Journey

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about attachment. I’ve read a lot. I’ve listened to a lot of experts—including adoptees, the ultimate experts. I’ve talked to our family therapist, AbsurdlyHotTherapist, and my personal therapist about attachment too.

There have been big questions and little questions. I’ve fretted about those moments when our conflict was especially hard whether I had damaged us, whether I had fractured the glue I was working so hard to make us stick together. More recently, I’ve worried about my and Hope’s attachment status and journey as she is away at school. I find myself wondering if I did the right thing by her with the school thing even though I left the decision to go away to her; every evening I come home to just Yappy, I wonder if she’s ok and if we’re ok. After 4 years together, is this distance thing ok?

I’ve felt times of distinct struggle in parenting Hope. Single parenting is hard. Single parenting a teen is hard. Single parenting a teen from a hard place is hard. This isn’t a complaint; it’s just my truth. I’ve shed a lot of tears. I’ve worried a lot about the present and the future. I’ve worked hard to be a good advocate for Hope, but I also know that I’ve worked hard to push her, and probably not always in the best or most healthy ways. Parenting in general is hard, and “knowing what you’re doing” is a myth even in the best of circumstances.

And yet, I have sat in on adoptive parenting support groups and heard my peers also shed tears for the kids they love going through far more challenging events than I have experienced with Hope. I’ve left some of those group meetings feeling like even though these people are my people and we have some shared experiences, that my experience in parenting Hope is less challenging than I may have thought. I don’t take credit for that; I think we’re lucky and Hope has a well of resilience that I still don’t quite fully appreciate the way I should.

The last few years, I’ve really tried to give Hope the quality time, love, care, and security she’s needed. She did go to band camp for a week or so for a couple of years. I saw that she loved that experience, maybe because she loves band more than anything. In pushing her to go to an academic program this summer, I wanted her to have a different kind of experience. I wanted her to have a different opportunity. I didn’t think it would turn into anything because surely, she needed to be home. We still needed to work on attachment. She still needed my security close by.

The changes we have experienced these last 5 months or so have been dramatic. I didn’t expect that we would be here, or rather that she would be there, much less that she would choose to be there. I also would not have anticipated how it affected our relationship. It has really given me a lot of peacefulness around how I think about our attachment journey.

During a recent visit home, I noticed how relaxed Hope seemed. I asked her how she was doing, she said she was good. I asked about the depression and anxiety that riddled her academic experience. Sure, she said, school was stressful, but she didn’t feel bad about it or about herself, she felt better than before. I asked her if she felt like she made the right decision going to this school. She looked at me like I’d grown goat horns; yeah, she said yeah, shrugged, put in her headphones signaling that this was the endpoint in this discussion.

Um, ok, so, yeah.

Here’s what our relationship looks like now. We text…a lot. We send pictures, jokes. She sends me funny videos; she sends me political videos, which I especially enjoy. Sometimes we just text to say we love each other. Her goodnight texts warm my heart almost as much as when she would come into my room to say good night at home when we would invariably chat about silly things and maybe watch some silly animal videos on YouTube. When things get rough, Hope calls me—which as any parent of an adolescent kid knows is huge. Hope went through some roommate challenges recently, she texted me first and then called me. My heart both broke and soared because she was sad, and because she called me. She didn’t want me to fix anything, she just wanted mom’s comfort. She just wanted me to comfort her, that’s it. Of course, I did make some moves to lessen her pain points, but she just wanted mom’s comfort. There was a time when she would not have sought that out, much less my intervention.

I’ve learned that Hope trusts me, and that feels…amazing. I’m learning to trust Hope more on this part of our journey too.

We also delight in the time we get to spend together. The moment we see one another it’s just joy (and a huge stack of laundry). She indulges me as I take dozens of pictures of her in her ROTC uniforms and then texts them to our extended family. She can’t wait to tell me about what she’s reading or how drama club is going. We have these great conversations, and we bicker about the college applications that need to be done. Before you know it, the visits are over, and we hug it out, and she skips off back to her dorm. I don’t know what happens for her after that. I wish I could be a fly on the wall. As for me, I leave campus, pull over and cry every time. I cry because I miss her. I cry because I’m grateful for the time we’ve had together during the visit. I’m grateful that I gave her a choice on the school thing and that she seems to be doing well there. I’m grateful that we seem rock solid as a family. I’m grateful that I have a date on the calendar for the next visit.

I’ve learned that we’re ok during this chapter of our journey. I’ve learned that I’ll always wonder if we’re solid, if our attachment is strong enough or sustainable. I’ll always wonder if I’ll screw it up. I’ll always wonder about it all. But I do know that it feels like we’re ok right now. I’m holding on to that and to Hope.


Connected and Ish…

We’re a little over a week into the year, and I already feel like I have hell in a hand-basket in my home. Trying to get routines back in place is hella hard when there was a two week break, followed by two days of school, followed by three snow/cold days. The bull-ish has set in for real around here, and Hope has fallen back into her typical routine of whatever it is that she does.

I understand. I get it. There’s the trauma stuff. There’s the anxiety and depression stuff. There’s the ADHD stuff. There’s so much stuff. Tons of stuff, binders of stuff, lots of stuff.

And then there’s me on repeat about rules, expectations and routine. All of that ish is busted. It just seems to go into the ether and float away, and I’m peeved as hell.

I mean, if you live an illogical life, and there’s someone there to simply tell you what to do to carry on, then well, just follow the dang directions. It ain’t hard.

But alas, that would be logical and our greatest attribute is being illogical, so it’s not just hard, it’s like mythologically hard. Like Sisyphus hard.

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Via Giphy

And I’m supposed to practice “connected parenting.”

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Via Giphy

This parenting style requires that I move beyond and over the illogical parts to reframe and try again to connect to my daughter, building new healthier neuropathways…blah, blah, blah.Yeah, ok. I am all in on the connecting and moving forward, but errrr…uh….I find that what they don’t address in those books, on those videos and in those workshops is that parents have feelings too. We’re people, living and breathing imperfect creatures who also do dumb ish. They don’t mention that our hearts hurt from also feeling rejected and stepped on by our kids and isolated by families and friends who don’t have a clue what we’re going through. That even as we *know* intellectually what’s going on with our kids and develop/have the skill set to deal with it, this trauma parenting mess is some epic, next level bull-ish, and it makes ERRBODY feel some kind of way almost all the damn time. #webothmiserable #alot

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Via Giphy

In all that soft spoken, “the child’s reptilian brain, blah, blah, blah” there is a failure to acknowledge we have our own primitive brains too, no matter how well adjusted or how much work we’ve done on ourselves. (I know that there are many folks out there who think that adoptive parents should go through more intense screenings and training, but trust: We are still emotional creatures, you can’t screen/train that out of us unless we are just going to have Sheldon Cooper as the archetype AP).

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Via Google

There is never a discussion about how there are parenting moments—some trauma, some SPED, some just regular old run of the mill day-to-day stuff—that is just real bull-ish. Yeah, parenting is effing hard.

This week I have been on slow burn. Hope did some dumb stuff; some of it emotionally driven and some executive function influenced. Oh, I get how it happened. I get how the levers and buttons of her brain got us here. I get it. But I’m still simmering because it’s so ridiculously stupid. It just shouldn’t happen.

I’ve fought the desire to be confrontational. I’ve fought the desire to drop hammers. I’ve wrestled with natural consequences vs what I really want to do (rage if that wasn’t clear). I’ve just sat with it. I’ve emailed and texted my daughter when I knew that physically allowing audible words to come out of my mouth anywhere near her would be a really, really, bad idea. I have resisted doing everything that is in my naturally occurring combative nature to do this week. #winning

This week has been about restraint.

I am a wild Chincoteague pony pawing to get out and trample everything in my path. There is a bit in my mouth, and a saddle and reigns on me to just try to keep control of myself. Inside I’m an effing hot mess.

Yeah, they don’t tell you this ish in PRIDE, or those other parenting classes or any of those stupid parenting books for any kind of kid. Well, I’m here to tell you parenting ish ain’t academic.

I’m just trying to get through each day with some kind of peace of mind that I will not throttle my kid because she did some dumb ish that sometimes she literally can’t help doing. I exercise, eat right, have a cocktail, and try to get in bed early to just get some rest. I sing spirituals…because yeah, just because.

Most of all I try to keep my pie hole closed.

I’m not not speaking to my daughter. I just can’t handle but so much interaction right now; it just ain’t safe. Breakfasts are made, dinners are had and some workouts are done together. But I’m chasing solitude and peace to calm my frazzled emotions.

Someone asked me just today if I ever imagine what my life would be like if Hope hadn’t become my daughter. I can’t even imagine that; I have no idea. It was such a fit. I adore her, more than I ever thought I was capable of loving anything, I love her. It’s an expansive thing. Life has taught me that the thing that brings you that kind of love will try you to extreme.

Yeah, we’re there. Right now. Right here. We are so there, and I’m trying my best to parent the hell outta Hope.

All connected and ish.


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