As a parent, we are always drawing upon our past when we’re raising our children in our care. I was raised in my biological family with two loving parents. In many respects my parents were like June and Ward Cleaver. Mom was loving and nurturing and always had the house filled with a home cooked meal along with baked treats. Dad was loving and was good at instructing the kids in his home on how to live and learn basic life skills. He is the reason I have my love of art, and to this day, I believe that I have gained what natural artistic ability I have from his side of the family.
Were my parents perfect?! Heck no! Just like any other parent their fuse ran short and frustrations ran high from time to time. They yelled and screamed instead of performing constructive discipline or starting constructive conversation. However, these times were infrequent, and I grew up seeing a picture of love in action.
Now I’m a foster/adoptive father who is striving to teach that love to kids who see and interpret love as a foreign language. There are three mantras from my childhood that helped to shape the unconditional love that I received, and I’m now passing these mantras down to the children that come into my care.
“Three mantras to hand down to your foster/adoptive family: at home we’re always proud of you and love you, think for yourself, and work hard, play hard.”
- At Home We’re ALWAYS Proud of You and Love You
As a child I came under the attack from a lot of teasing from other kids – this went on all the way through high school. In elementary and middle school I was quite overweight – it’s not fun when the girls say that your chest is bigger than theirs. In junior high and the beginning of high school, I was seen as a nerd and a dork. There were times I begged my dad to let me stay home from school because I didn’t feel like I could endure the taunting and the teasing.“You don’t have to go to school tomorrow, but eventually you will,” my dad would tell me. “No matter what, know that you can go out into the world and come home. At home we’re ALWAYS proud of you and love you.” I think this slowly built my self esteem up enough to know later on in life that I could be different from others and that’s okay. I don’t need mom, dad, or the school system to “get” the bully because I’m built up enough on the inside to weather a storm. Kids from hard places NEED this like clothes, food and shelter. They need you the parent, the friend, the neighbor, to look past their history and behaviors and love them. My kids need to know that they can break a window during a meltdown and I’ll still love them – we’re still in this together.
- Think for Yourself
My dad told me often about a teacher that had a HUGE impact on him. The teacher told dad’s class that by the end of the year that all of them would be able to think for themselves. Learning the basic subjects was secondary but still significant. For this reason dad made sure that I understood WHY I was doing things. This has been a big theme with my kids from hard places as they often find themselves in survival mode thinking. Kids from hard places might clean their room to keep adults happy and keep caseworkers from moving them to a new home. As our relationship begins to solidify from mantra #1, I want to move my kids into higher reasoning. I’m cleaning my room to stay healthy. I’m studying because I want a certain job after graduation. I need to stay close to my family in a busy mall to stay safe. As the foster/adoptive parent, I am there to guide and coach. However, through love and felt safety, I dream that I’m coaching a child who thinks for themselves.
- Work Hard, Play Hard
My poor father thinks he traumatized me with work as a child. It was a gift in my opinion. He taught me how to clean and care for a house. He showed me how to change my oil, care for a car, and mow a lawn. He gave me the essential building blocks for being an independent adult. I’m not afraid of work and accomplishing goals.
We also played a lot when I was a kid. My dad would chase me around the house at bedtime, catch me, and tickle me. We had our TV shows that we watched together. We played pitch and catch outside. Our family even went on family vacations when we could afford to do so in the summer. As a family, we knew how to have fun and to laugh together.
In my family, I think it’s important to show my kids from hard places that they CAN work hard and be proud of a job well done. No matter their issues or cognitive state they can be a positive and contributing member of society. However, they need to see that work isn’t everything.
Sometimes you need to turn off the laptop and chase your kids around the house in a game of tag. A dance party might have to happen in the living room even if mom and dad can’t dance.
What do you think?
- What are mantras that you have or live by that help to shape your family?