Expectations: How I Messed Up Everything

At my home this holiday season, we are lucky to be enjoying an extended visit by my daughter and two-year-old granddaughter. It’s great and messy and fun…and exhausting. Parenthood isn’t wasted on the young.

As we put up Christmas decorations, everything changed. We normally do not have an inquisitive two-year-old explorer wandering around our house, and on more than one occasion in recent weeks we have learned new methods for child-proofing. Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention.

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“We’ve discovered that our new ‘normal’ involves her pretending to be a cat and covering our long-suffering dog with dish towels.”

So, we bought too many of those inexpensive shatterproof plastic ornaments. We hung lights up high, and we chose an out-of-reach wreath rather than a traditional tree. Many of our nostalgic, and breakable, items remain in storage. We’ll see them next year. This year, we’d rather enjoy our granddaughter than stress about things getting broken.

We’re not perfect. We often express frustration. We are a work in progress.

Here’s the point. Our expectations are where they need to be. We expect her to learn by touching. We expect her to lack self-control.  We expect to do a lot of cleaning up and still have a messy house. Hopefully, the frustration is kept to a minimum. Memories and laughter win out.

As a grandfather, I get this. As a dad, I fear that I messed it all up. I wish I could go back in time and sit my younger self down for a long talk about expectations as a prospective adoptive parent. Here’s what I would say:

  • Let go of your fantasies about parenting. Forget the game-winning touchdowns, and set aside the wedding aisle. Those ideas are about you, not them. Be open to what your child’s individual passions bring. You’ll all be happier, and healthier.
  • Understand that children with trauma backgrounds develop at a different pace, behind in one area and drastically advanced in others. Say it aloud with me, “this is o.k.” Study your child, and learn their behaviors. Then, you should be the one to adjust accordingly.
  • Never, at any point, should you ever compare your family to others in word, thought or deed. Just be. Enjoy each other. Celebrate your unique identity as a family. Celebrate the diverse cultures that may be represented among your family members. Acknowledge and accept that success may be defined differently in your family than in another.
  • Be ready to acknowledge your loss, as well as your child’s, of the biological connection between parent and child. This is subtle, and powerful. I ‘get’ my biological daughter in a way that isn’t possible with my adopted children. She is wired very similar to me, for obvious reasons. I can’t ignore this. I can’t be frustrated by it. I should respect it and embrace the mystery of it, reveling in the opportunity to discover what inspires each of my children, and how their biology is shaping them.
  • Seek out the voices of other members of the adoption triad. Find adult adoptees and listen intently. As primary experts on the subject, there is so much to learn from their stories and perspectives.
  • Stop trying to fix everything. This, I confess, has been the hardest for me. We can’t fix their loss, we can’t erase their pain. All we can do is be present and offer comfort and acceptance. Sometimes, our efforts to ‘fix’ everything does nothing more than communicate to our children that they are broken (sigh).

Like I said, I wish I could go back. I can’t. But I can go forward, and that is something I am willing to do. I find a great deal of comfort in this quote by the late Dr. Maya Angelou, wherein she said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better. You should not be judged for the person that you were, but for the person you are trying to be.”

Here’s to 2017!


WACAP CEO at orphanage in Africa, children gather smilingAbout WACAP’s CEO, Greg Eubanks: Greg joined WACAP as CEO in December 2014. Serving children and families has been the focus and passion of his 20-year career in nonprofit executive leadership and business administration. With an extensive background in international adoption and foster care, Greg is committed to bringing hope to the children living without a family … and helping them home.

About WACAP

WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents) is one of the largest and most experienced international nonprofit adoption and child assistance agencies in the United States. Since 1976, we’ve placed over 10,000 children with loving adoptive parents and provided food, medical care and education to more than 200,000 children around the world.
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