I took a class this weekend to learn about native plants for the garden in my new house. The most basic rule the instructor stated was to choose the right plant for the given location. Consider the weeping willow and the cactus. While each plant is lovely, they could not be more different. One requires a very wet soil; the other thrives in extremely dry conditions. Each is beautiful in its own right. But neither could do well in the other’s preferred habitat.
Yet, most of us have heard the expression, “Bloom where you are planted.” It intends to convey a willingness to live in the now and appreciate what we have at the moment instead of pining for what we don’t have. Of course, we benefit from living through a spirit of gratitude and grace but we can also dig deeper to discover a presupposition which lurks behind the expression: that we can bloom anywhere regardless of circumstances. While it makes sense to appreciate what we’ve got and to live with contentment instead of dissatisfaction, sometimes we must admit that we need a new set of circumstances in which we can truly bloom.
Consider our precious and beloved children, on some level, we could describe adoption as having transplanted them from their family to ours. (Although it is certainly far more complicated.) Like plants in a garden, they have unique needs which must be met. It is folly to ask a willow to thrive in a desert or the cactus to thrive in a lily pond.
In our earnestness to meld our children into our families, we can unwittingly pressure them to fit our family mold.
We may have unconsciously asked them to be like us so that they can belong to us, fit the family pattern. and reflect our expectations and dreams. How might we determine this?
Consider these questions.
Have we scrupulously considered who their biology prepared them to be? Have we provided the appropriate environment and resources so that they can bloom into their best selves?
We want to embrace and nurture and value their differences as much as we treasure the ways in which they are like us. We also want to help them to be proud of their uniqueness and to find value in these differences instead of failure and a sense of not measuring up. We must provide them with the freedom to be their true selves. This is a powerful and loving gift which allows our children to be happy and healthy.
Yes, we want to honor and respect our family traditions and patterns, AND we want to expand the family template to include our children’s natural inclinations so they’re equally valued by us and by our extended families.
Children notice what we value, what triggers our enthusiastic appreciation and what fails to generate much of our attention. If they sense that we need them to fit the family mold, they will twist themselves into knots trying to be who they think we want them to be. They’ll also absorb the negative judgment of their differences. Often, their inner voice will repeat these internalized messages. This can cause them great distress and crush them between their genuine identity and an idealized version of their parents’ fantasy child.
So, how do we accomplish this message that our children are loved and accepted for who they are so they have the freedom to pursue their dreams?
*Notice the things that naturally interest your children, especially if it differs from traditional family patterns. Provide opportunities to nurture their talent or interest.
*Stay aware of your emotional response. Keep your encouragement genuine. Remember too, that kids notice family patterns. They’re aware if they “fit” or “measure up.” They may add their own sense of failure and fault to any hints of their being a “disappointment” which they sense from their adoptive parents and extended family. Make intentional efforts to reassure that you love and accept them just as they are.
*Choose to engage in the activities to which they are drawn–even if it isn’t quite your cup of tea. Your response models mutuality and shows that you’re willing to engage in their “world.”
* Verbalize your support of their differences. When they engage in their pursuit of “off-family-pattern” activities, give them genuine, enthusiastic attention. Because you value them, be interested in what interests them. This gives them tangible “proof” of your acceptance of them. Children crave that recognition. Being seen in this way is a powerful channel to connection and validation.
*Keep an attitude of enthusiasm and humor. Your shared participation is an important thread in weaving a bond of love and mutual respect. On the other hand, coming across as bored or annoyed undermines your relationship and conveys a message that says their place in the family depends on doing it the traditional way.
Imagine how your family might benefit from this commitment to one another. How will you begin this practice today?