Heartache. There’s a lot of that in adoption—the recognition of hard things that can overwhelm us. The images of families receiving their children for the first time often capture it as deep emotions rise to the surface responding to the juxtaposition of loss and gain, of broken relationships and the birth of new ones. Oh, how the picture of a new mother leaning in and gently drawing a new son or daughter in moves me. It’s compelling. In those two-dimensional images, I can nearly tangibly feel the outpouring of compassion from the heartache of a mother towards her new child.
New sons and daughters need that nurture. In it’s most fundamentally basic form, that nurture includes provision — food, water, clothing, a blanket on a cold night, a tissue when a nose is running. But, ideally, nurture includes more than that. Ideally, it includes that leaning in, the gentle touch on the head when they’re close, eyes locked to theirs when they are communicating in one way or another with you, placing a bandaid on little booboo, and a myriad of other small acts of care. All those small demonstrations communicate big messages — you matter. you are valuable. I am yours, and you are mine. We board planes to China with those messages in our hearts, ready and willing to make every effort to transfer them into the hearts of our new little ones. We don’t go nearly as prepared to meet their other big need.
New sons and daughters need structure. They need firm guidance. They need someone to respond to them directly with the word “no.” They need someone to enforce a bedtime, someone to tell them not to eat the food that just dropped on the dirty ground, someone to tell them they must hold a hand when crossing the ever-busy street, someone to tell them that it is okay to be mad but that it is not okay to hit. They need all that just as much as they need the gentle touch and nurture. And, yet, so many of us retreat from structure when we are just starting out in parenting a new son or daughter.
— Won’t saying no hurt the attachment we’re building?
— When I try to make him do something, he escalates. Shouldn’t I just follow his lead and give in for a while?
— I know every child needs discipline and structure. But, I’ll get into that later. Right now, I just want her to know that I love her.
Friends, our intentional structure is just as much an outpouring of our compassion and our commitment as parents as nurture is. Every small demonstration of wise structure communicates the same big messages as our small demonstrations of nurture — you matter. you are valuable. I am yours, and you are mine. I am willing to do whatever I need to do to not only keep you alive but help you become the person you are meant to be.
Do not let fear of “messing things up” or what behavior you may face from your child next drive your demonstration of your deep heart for him or her. You are what your child needs — your warm nurture and your “because I know what’s best for you”s. It’s a package deal and what makes us good moms and dads. Our children need both from nurture and structure.
And, when we give them both with intentionality and wisdom, whether or not they are always willing to receive it, we can rest assured that we are doing all that we can to be the best moms and dads that we can be, taking every opportunity to communicate what we know is true and what we want them to know is true.
They matter. They are valuable. They are yours. You are theirs. You are willing to do whatever you need to do — the fun stuff and the not as fun stuff — to communicate that to them and help them become the person they are meant to be.