Connecting with Your Kids When They are Adulting

One Friday evening, many years ago, hubby Jerry was home, which was unusual for him. He asked where all the kids were. I gave him the rundown. Some were working, some at friends, others at practices. It rocked his world. I had many, many Fridays to get used to the idea that the kids were adulting-ish. It had slipped under his radar. He assumed the kids would always be home waiting for him.

Jerry and I have had many conversations over the years which led to us recording a podcast on the subject of kids adulting. We can’t be the only parents who have experienced the complex road of learning how to navigate this season. If you’d like to listen to the podcast, click here or just keep reading.

The Benefit of Teens Making Mistakes

When your kids are young adults, you must be patient enough to let them make mistakes and let them experience the consequences.

You have to let them fail. It’s better to let them fail under your roof where it is safe. Let them fall on their faces while you’re there rather than go out into the world and fall on their faces repeatedly. The truth is, we learn best from our mistakes. If your teen wants a part-time job and you know it’s not right for him and he insists. Let him. Let him experience failing while you’re there beside him.

Go to them.

It takes energy and time to invest in your children even when they are adulting.  You continue to invest but it is well worth it. We don’t have value in this world without our relationship with God and our relationship with others. If we are spending all of our time investing in something else then we’re going to have an empty bank account at the end of our lives. No one says on their deathbed he wishes he had spent more time at work. It’s important that you don’t sit on your couch and wait for adult children to come back home. You’re going to have to be super proactive, especially if your kids get married and they start having kids. Say, “Hey let’s go get coffee.” Meet and buy their snacks and coffee and just sit there and talk. Go to them and remember, there’s a learning curve for them when they begin adulting.

It’s a learning curve for them and it’s a learning curve for us but since we are the older and more mature adults, we should have more wisdom. We need to be proactive about our parenting and offer time to them. We should never be finished with our relationships with our children. We parents should always be pursuing better relationships with our kiddos no matter what their age.

Find their interests.

When children are younger you have them in activities – whether it’s a musical instrument,  a sporting type of activity, theatre, or something along that line, but you also need activities that are things that you do together. If you don’t have things you do together, your relationship won’t be as strong.   Few kids get a college scholarship in one of their sporting activities. Ask yourself, is this activity going to do him any real good when they get older? The connections that they develop will not be around you and your family – it’ll be around the team and with the team did and unless you’re coaching it.  Sporting connections will minimize the impact of the influence you can have on your children. Replacing some sporting or other activities with family connections will have an impact on what you are able to do with them as they get older. When you choose to find the things your kids are interested in and you participate in those,  your ability to influence is greater. If you don’t, your ability to connect and spend time is going to diminish. 

When They begin adulting-ish

When your kids are little, it takes more physical energy, when kids are adulting, it takes more emotional energy and your patience has to increase.

When our kiddos become adults we’re so used to parenting. We tell them to put their shoes away, put their dishes in the dishwasher, when to go to bed and when to get up. These parenting practices must change a bit when kiddos hit their older teens. Teens need to make some decisions on their own. This is the time to develop some coping mechanisms and learn how to manage their emotions. We sometimes have to take the parental hat off and come alongside them. We move into a new sphere of parenting that is more like a counselor, advocate, and sounding board. We’ve moved from telling them what to do all the time and to be their guide.

When the teens move on to adulthood, parents are someone they can come to for advice. Our adult kids can take it or they can not take it. I see so many parental relationships ruined or sidelined because parents will not give an inch if their adult children do not take their advice. This is not the place that you want to be your relationship with your children whether your children are teens or adults your relationship doesn’t need to be based on “my way or the highway.” It just does not work.

Sometimes you’re adulting child is not looking for your opinion or advice. Sometimes they just want someone to really listen to their heart or their struggle. Many times our kids just want to tell us what’s going on in their life. Simply listening and saying “Yeah, that’s great good job” or saying “That’s a really tough situation. I understand why you’re struggling.” Adult kiddos are not always coming to you because they want to know what you would do. They may just need a sounding board. If they ask that great question at the end -“What would you do?” – then that’s your opportunity. If you’re always cutting them off, you shut the conversation down. Jerry had this happen with our oldest. He decided to shut up and wouldn’t say anything for a season because Jerry was always trying to Dad him.

When your kids are adulting you’re trying to connect and you have to drop off the correction. It’s not your job to keep correcting. If we are Christians it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin. It is not our job.

I remember when we are going through ETC training, we were supposed to ask for kids what parts of our parenting were great and which weren’t. I asked the question with fear and trepidation. I felt like I did everything wrong. One of them said you didn’t do anything wrong and another one said she pointed out a couple of things. I survived. It’s okay to ask even if those answers are devastating. Maybe you’ll get – you were always correcting me. Guess what? When they are parenting, they can think about those things and say mom did it this way and I love that part of what she did but that part of what she did, I’m not going to do. If you can’t let that go then your pride is being the boss of you. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is emotional. I will cry about those things but in the long run, it’s a good thing.

If you didn’t have a great family

If your family has all kinds of dysfunction – maybe they’re struggling with addictions or alcoholism or you grew up in an abusive situation. Maybe your family of origin is not the safest place for you to connect. Find another family to connect with. Find somebody else that you can be in relationship with and connect with. They’re out there. Other people are in the same situation that you are in. You’re not alone.

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Jerry and Kathleen share on: 

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Jerry and Kathleen share on:

Giftaway of Faith, Hope & Connection

Are you a foster or adoptive parent needing hope for this complex and sometimes lonely journey?
Do you love your kids but feel discouraged?
Are you misunderstood by people around you?

In Faith, Hope, & Connection: A 30-Day Devotional for Adoptive and Foster Parents, you’ll find:

  • Real, often raw, stories from adoptive and foster parents in the trenches;
  • Scripture and faith-filled hope, pointing you to Jesus;
  • Honest reflections speaking courage to your soul and reminding you that you are not alone.

This devotional is a gift to you from 30 authors, all foster and adoptive parents, who offer a window into their own lives and families. You’ll recognize yourself time and time again in their words. Faith, Hope, & Connection: A 30-Day Devotional for Adoptive and Foster Parents is a treasure-trove of wisdom and grace for foster and adoptive families.

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In December 2018, I submitted an entry for this devotional and it was accepted! I’m so excited to be part of this devotional! The Whole House is gifting a copy! How do you enter? It’s simple. Click here and follow the instructions! 

 

Connecting While Correcting

Do you feel as if you are always yelling at your children and they just don’t listen?

Do you feel distant from your children? As if you are wounding their spirit every time you correct?

Are you wondering how to navigate this road of parenting without anger? Without that feeling of distance? 

Do you want to connect and correct at the same time?

If so, this is for you…..

“There is no such thing as adoption or foster care without loss.”

“As a result, our children have some unique histories and unique needs, and because of this they will need parents who have a unique approach in order to help them connect in a relationship and begin to heal.”

Your child needs a high degree of structure and a high degree of nurture.

The authoritarian parent offers a high degree of structure with a low degree of nurture.

The permissive parent offers a high degree of nurture with a low degree of structure.

The best is a balance of both.

How do you know which way you lean? Here’s a short check list from The Connected Child to help you determine.

You’re Too Permissive and Lenient if…

  • You make rules and promises and don’t enforce them
  • You nag, nag, nag but don’t enforce.
  • You wait too long to enforce and then explode in anger.
  • You beg your child to cooperate.
  • Your child is the one who decides if and when things get done.
  • You ask your child “What do you want?” more often than you tell him what has to happen.
  • You allow your child to physically harm you or others.
  • You often pretend you don’t notice misbehavior or disrespect.
  • Your child encounters no negative consequences for cursing or bad-mouthing you.
  • Your child doesn’t take your word seriously.
  • Your child talks disrespectfully to you.

You’re Too Strict and Controlling if…

  • You tell your child “No” more frequently than you praise him.
  • You tell your child “No” more frequently than you show him affection.
  • You constantly tell your child what to do and don’t give him the opportunity to make choices or compromise.
  • You shut down your child’s expressions of sadness or disappointment .
  • You ignore or belittle your child’s point of view.
  • You use punishments, shaming and insults to gain your child’s compliance.
  • An hour doesn’t go by without you finding fault with your child.

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Obviously, your child needs correcting. We can be too permissive and let our child run all over us. A parent out of control is a child in control. Kids need adults who are in control. It makes them feel more secure. If we connect and correct at the same time, it’s possible to attach securely. What does this look like? First and foremost, there should not be any anger in correction and save your yelling for when your child runs toward the road or a swimming pool with no floats on. Your child will take it more seriously then. Plus anger and yelling wounds an already wounded spirit. Or for those street smart kid, stuck in survival mode, it gives him the upper hand. He knows he can control Mom or Dad. Then it becomes a battle of the wills. Or a battle of his past with your’s.

When you need to correct, take a breath. A long deep one and think, is this a mountain or a molehill? Do I need a gnat gun or an elephant gun? Does this need a “try that again with respect ” or “are you asking for a compromise?” Think about your goal, do you want your child to succeed and make progress or do you want him to feel punished? If it is punished, then expect the opposite of connection on his part (and your’s too). There are days when we cycle through separation and connection. I understand that. We can’t control our children’s reactions to our parenting, but we can control how we parent.When we have to correct with a command, we can follow it up with praise. We don’t have to withhold our love or frown when correcting. Not every command requires a mean face.

The best way to look at it is through the lens of our relationship with God. Ever since sin entered the world and separated us from Him, he has tried to reconnect. He offered the life of His Son so we could be in relationship with Him. That has always been His goal. He connects and corrects, always offering a path back to His loving arms. Back to relationship. He says, I am here for you, no matter what. That should be the message we send to our kids. We are here. Yes, you needed some correction, but the connection is not lost because of that. It is possible to connect and correct.

 

 

 

 

Investment Parenting with Co-Regulation

Susie, a friend of mine (plus foster and adoptive Mom), shared a conundrum she had recently while teaching four year-olds during Sunday school class. A new little one melted down and hid under the table. She had no special instructions for the little one and wasn’t sure how to handle it. You see, there is a big difference between disobedience and a reaction based on past trauma. Turns out the little one was a foster child who was placed in the home just the night before. Susie would have been better equipped to help him if she had only known. I could do a whole post on taking a fresh foster or adoptive placement to church, but I’ll save that for another day. I’d like to focus on trauma and it’s effect on self-regulation.

As I talked about in my last post, trauma produces children from hard places. Children from had places have altered brain development. The main outwards sign of past trauma is what we often refer to as “bad behavior” or the inability to self regulate (if you want it to sound more science-y and less critical).  The truth is, when it comes to behavior, we must remember that every behavior expresses a need.Can't

When it comes to a child from hard places ability to self-regulate, it’s CAN’T not WON’T. In simple plain language that means, he cannot calm himself. He can’t help but be overwhelmed to the point that he is either hiding under the table (flight), not responding to what you are asking of him (freeze) or running away from the situation (flight). He CAN’T. Not physically able. Not emotionally able. In this scenario, the adult must take the reins and help the child by co-regulating. Co-regulation helps a child develop a new pattern for stress regulation.

“The early developing right brain, where attachments develop, is largely dominant during the first three years of life (Schore, 2003). It contains the initial and lasting template for stress regulation. Revisions to this template will require intentional efforts.”-Deborah Gray, Nurturing Adoption

What does co-regulation look like? Think of a two year old being tired and falling on the floor having a meltdown because she doesn’t want to take a nap. Clearly, she needs one, so Mom takes control of the situation. Mom takes the little one to her room and reads her a story and rocks her to sleep. She takes a nap. Mom is co-regulating because unless you have a rare toddler, she is not going to recognize her need for a nap and put herself down for one.

With a child from a hard place, no matter what their age and size, we must co-regulate when they cannot. A twelve year old who cannot recognize his body’s signals to eat or drink, must be provided with a snack and water every two hours or he will enter the flight, fight or freeze zone. A nine year old who has sensory processing issues may lose the ability to voice his need to escape the noise and over stimulation of a loud birthday party. Mom and Dad must be watching for cues and either leave the party or take the child to a quieter place. It’s important to remember that a child from a hard place is emotionally at least half his physical age, sometimes more. His regulation skills may be that of a two year old while he is teen size.

The good news is, as we connect and co-regulate, we change the brain chemistry, wiring and development. Scientists tell us that relationships and experience shape the brain. Think of a developing brain like a multi-storied house under construction. At birth the downstairs brain is developed. This is the part that tells the child when to breath and keeps the functions of the body on track. This is also where survival mode resides, the fight, flight or freeze mechanisms. The upstairs brain is the higher functions of the brain. It is more sophisticated and houses reasoning, speech, regulation of emotions, the ability to be flexible and adaptable. Trauma skews the wiring of the brain. Trauma triggers the amygdala, the watchdog of the body. If the brain stays in this state too long, it rewires to stay stuck in fight, flight or freeze. Chronic stress takes a heavy toll on the prefrontal cortex. It is involved in impulses, aggression, anxiety, decisions, changing gears and self-regulation.

At this point, you may be thinking, I thought you said there was hope. There is! Remember the Hebbian Principle, what fires together, wires together. That is the more you experience something, the more your wires go that direction. So, how do we rewire a child’s brain that is stuck downstairs in the survival (fight, flight, freeze)? With co-regulation and fresh new experiences that show him he can trust us. We call this felt safety. When a child feels safe, his adrenals calm, he produces less cortisol and he is able to function in his upstairs brain.

I know, I feel like this is all over the place, so let me end with three reminders.

If you are parenting a child from a hard place:

  1. Expect to co-regulate a lot more than your peers with bio children (who aren’t from hard places, because some are). Don’t base your expectation of whether you need to help them regulate on their physical age and size. “Many children who do not have early experiences of proper care also lack proper physiological and emotional regulation. This is because both of these regulation systems are developed through an attachment relationship.” (Nurturing Adoptions)
  2. Make sure your children feel safe. It’s not about really being safe. It’s about feeling safe. If they feel safer with a light on, not going to the noisy party, staying near you at a function, comply, don’t complain.
  3. Keep the positive, connecting experiences coming. “The brain is also “experience-expectant.” We come hard wired for connection. For eye contact, touch, playful interactions and co-regulation.These fill up the kid’s emotional tank and help their brains rewire. Blow bubbles. Ride bikes together. Make cookies and eat them. Read a favorite book fifty times. Swim with them, don’t just watch them swim. Hike with them. Take the time to invest positive experiences. This is investment parenting.

If you see your children struggling with regulation, what parts of this article resonated with you? Are you willing to try to do a few things differently? If you do, please share your stories! I’d love to hear from you!

Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You (Introduction)

I’m standing in line while reading a magazine.  It’s swimsuit fitting day for my son’s local swim team.  He is standing behind me. I am admiring some beautiful turquoise hardwood floors when I hear a deer snort behind me. It startles me and blows my bobbed hair up. I turn quickly to see the deer who has joined the swim team. No deer. Just my son. He snorts a few more time until we snake our way up to the front of the line.

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I was confused. “This wasn’t his first rodeo,” as he likes to say. He has been on the same summer swim team for years. He has done the swimsuit try on for years. Don’t these things get less intimidating and more comfortable the more you do them?

 

Later that evening at Positive Adoption, the support group, I tell my friend and psychologist what happened. She said he was in sensory overload. Too many stimuli.

 

I thought about some of the stimuli and how all added together it was overload for him. We were under a concrete porch. Check. Little kids making noise and wrestling all over the place. Check. Strange adults talking. Check. The swimsuit vendor who can tell your size just by glancing at you. Check. Being handed a spandex suit and asked to put it on right there over your old suit. Check. (He refused to do this and hightailed it for the bathroom.)

 

I probably would have said things like, “I don’t like trying on suits in front of people!” but he said nothing.  He just snorted on my neck.

 

This got me thinking, how often do we misinterpret communication whether it is verbal or not? I do all the time. Imagine not knowing how to communicate. Imagine feeling overloaded and not knowing how to say, “I hate this, it stinks!” or that you should communicate your anxiety. Many adopted children live in a maze with no exit. In a society that speaks, yet they have no words to express their phobias. What would our adopted children tell us if they could communicate?

 

Birthed out of that line of thinking, I’m writing a short series on five things your adopted child would like to tell you. I’m starting the series today with an intro and list of the five things. I will delve more deeply into each one  in subsequent posts.

 

  1. I am in sensory overload. I’m overwhelmed and I am about to blow a gasket.
  2. I’m not always misbehaving to make you mad. Most of the time it is because I do not have the skill to self-regulate and I maintain my control by keeping you out of control.
  3. You are not responsible for the trauma that happened to me before I came into your family, but I will act like it. If you let guilt rule the home, we will both be miserable and neither of us will experience any healing.
  4. If you feel what I feel all the time, we will become codependent and I will rule your emotions like an out-of-control terrorist.
  5. I do want to be loved and accepted. It is my deepest desire, just like anyone else on the planet, but I don’t know how to get there. Will you help me?

Join me for the series and if any of these speak to you, leave a comment, I love to hear people’s stories!   If you are struggling with one of these and you have gotten sucked into a codependent relationship with your child or you are wearing a burden of guilt, you are not alone. This is a journey we can make together, hand in hand, side by side. Two are better than one!

P.S. My son now has a Tangle. tangle_catalogue_Page_11-980x346 He can fiddle with it when he is out in public! I will let you know if it helps relieve some of his stress. You can find more info here.