Look, Daddy! See Me. Celebrate Me.

June 19, 2013

Father enjoying beach with disabled sonJune is associated with celebrations: Fathers Day, graduations and weddings. We undertake each of these benchmark events with expansive visions of success. What does it take to move beyond wishing to achieve the fulfillment of our dreams?

The obvious answer is commitment, dedication, and lots of “failing forward.” How might success be defined in the context of fathering—this month’s blog theme? According to the dictionary, it means, “the achievement of something planned or attempted.” In adopted families, it is essential to notice and celebrate success in the different ways it might look. We must move beyond the typical societal concept of success: college, wealth and fame and instead embrace a concept of success based on the capabilities and talents of each of our children, regardless of how different it may look from the norm or from the patterns of our own extended families.

Adopted families encourage children to achieve their best, to stretch and struggle, to learn from mistakes and become their best selves, within the constraints of what is possible for them. It is essential that our expectations be reality-based. Avoid sending the subtle message that there is only one acceptable path to success. Recognize all of the types of intelligence, not just academic, but also emotional, artistic, mathematic, athletic, mechanical, linguistic, etc. Adopted parents enjoy highlighting the commonalities between themselves and their adopted children. This is a frequent pattern of “claiming” behavior. It is equally important to value our children’s differences and to note how these also enhance and expand our families’ resources.

Our families and communities need all of these talents. As parents, we have the opportunity to nurture our kids’ various skills, to provide resources that encourage persistence without breaking their spirits. Each child’s success will look different. For one, it may be college, for another, it may be dance or theatre, carpentry, computers, caring for the elderly. Most importantly, each child’s best will be equally valued and honored. When the mold of cookie-cutter expectations is discarded, we have the joy of seeing our kids as they truly are. We release them from the constraints of societal-defined achievement or the perfection of the fantasy child of our dreams. This frees them to be appreciated with unconditional love for themselves, and opens us to honor their successes with genuine joy. As they squeal with delight. “Daddy, watch me,” we respond with a soul-deep appreciation of the real child before us.

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