I often use many different adjectives to describe my 2-year-old daughter. After her most recent palate repair surgery a few weeks ago, the top adjectives have been strong, brave, courageous, graceful and pretty darn amazing. I have also called her loving, affectionate, beautiful, smart, clever, happy, funny, silly, spunky and feisty. She is one of the coolest kids I know and I love that I am blessed enough to be her mama. She is also one of the most strong-willed little girls I have ever met, which can make parenting challenging on some days. She has been this way since we brought her home from China in June 2011 and that part of her personality has just always been there. She has a need to control as many situations she can and will fight hard to get her way, even if the situation is inconsequential.
I know many other adoptive parents that have reported similar behavior about their adopted children, so I truly thought this kind of behavior was the status quo. After all that our children have been forced to endure, being strong-willed made sense to me because it helped them cope and survive so many situations that we cannot fathom. So although this behavior made for some interesting parenting days, I “got it” and didn’t think much else about it.
After I returned from a short-term Mission Trip last month, the strong-willed behavior seemed to kick into high gear and has continued through her palate repair surgery. Her reaction to both of these major events makes complete sense in so many ways, but again … the behavior has been difficult to parent and leaves me exhausted on some days.
So I started heavily reflecting about this behavior and pulled out the book, “The Connected Child” by Karyn Purvis. I had read it long before we brought Sunshine home but it just seemed like a good time to give myself a refresher read … I was happy to pick up any tidbit of advice that could help my daughter. What an eye opener to read it a second time around after my daughter has been home for a year! When I read it the first time, of course all of the information made complete sense but it was just theory at the time. Reading it this time was a different experience because I could relate to the behaviors discussed in the book.
It seems that my “strong-willed” and sometimes defiant baby girl is still going through some adjustments. Reading about this hurt my heart. I naively thought that after being home for a year, these adjustments and transitions would have been finished, but I was wrong. She is still adjusting to life and the major changes that we have recently thrown at her certainly don’t make that any easier! Perhaps her strong-willed nature isn’t all “strong-willed” … maybe she’s just trying to tell us that she still doesn’t feel completely safe and that she needs help in coping with all of the adjustments she’s been forced to make. Maybe her need to control situations isn’t defiance, but simply her way of telling us that the situation scares her. I do think that Sunshine will always be “strong-willed” to some degree, I truly do. I think that she’s gotten as far as she has because of it and I am so proud of her.
But I have also begun to see this behavior with more discerning eyes. It’s difficult to pick apart her reaction to a situation, because I don’t always know whether it’s typical 2-year-old behavior versus adoption-related. But I’m learning to see what’s going on her little head instead of just pulling the “strong-willed” card all the time. She’s not a typical 2-year-old and shouldn’t be treated that way. It’s easy to forget because she’s been home for a year. Figuring out the best way for me to handle a situation has proven to be more difficult than I thought, but it’s a challenge that I am committed to getting right, no matter how many mistakes I make along the way. As her mama, it is my job to give her what she needs, even if it’s not always what makes sense in my head.