A stranger at the grocery store told me how cute my son is, and I said, “Thank you.”
My son is so adorable. Sometimes I just stare at him for minutes at a time. I wish I could write down everything he says because it is cute and witty and insightful. He is extremely bright. He picks up on things quickly, and he remembers everything. (Which can be good and bad). He is a natural athlete. He loves to dance. He has great rhythm for a 5-year-old. He is a good little singer, too. He sang his prayer the other night, which was precious (and surprisingly on-pitch). He really is the greatest kid.
There are so many reasons why I love being a parent. But do you want to know my favorite thing about being an adoptive parent? The freedom to brag about my kid. Let me explain. I get to talk about how cute and smart and wonderful my child is and people don’t think I am the world’s most self-centered person because I did nothing to contribute to his looks or his athletic ability or his smile. I didn’t take excellent care of him in the womb, playing Mozart and eating organic foods. I didn’t have a natural childbirth in a birthing center or find the best doctor and the most reputable hospital for him to make his entrance. I didn’t sleep train him to teach him to self-soothe and be more independent. I didn’t co-sleep with him to increase his sense of belonging and create the most nurturing, safe environment possible. I didn’t start teaching him to read at age 2 or put a football in his hand as a toddler. I didn’t do any of those things. And because of that, I seemed to have gotten a “pass”. And I take full advantage of it.
After a year and a half of being a parent, I realized that something changed. The comfort I used to feel in not taking responsibility for the first 4 years of my son’s life seemed like a distant memory, and I found my own identity too often wrapped up in my son’s behavior, relationships and overall success. Any feedback that was not warm and fluffy felt like a personal attack on my parenting and Josh’s character. I have been quick to assume that people “just can’t relate” or that our situation is unlike any other so that I could maintain my position and keep my ego intact. All of that healthy distance I thought I had identified as an adoptive parent went out the window and I began taking complete responsibility for every action, word, thought and feeling that my son had. Of course, the irony is that I have been counseling parents for years on maintaining a healthy identity apart from their children and not letting egos interfere with good parenting.
After much reflection, I have realized that my initial tendency not to take responsibility for my son’s early years and my more recent over-identification of everything he does are both wrapped up in my ego. Eek. As painful as this realization has been, I am grateful for it. I tell my clients often that the annoying thing about raising your awareness is that you can’t keep pretending like you don’t see something. Okay, it’s blinding me a little now.
As a parent, I need to acknowledge that sometimes I get defensive because my ego is being bruised. But other times, I get protective of my child because it is my job. Sometimes, the line between the two is hard to distinguish, so I will keep working on it. I will stand next to all the other parents who fight this battle of ego, biological and adoptive alike.
And in the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my “pass” and talk about how cute and intuitive and precious my son is. Not because of anything I have done (or even anything HE has done for that matter), but because of the miraculous and awe-inspiring gift that children are. I want to grant all parents a “pass” to talk about how amazing your child is every now and then. You also have my permission to stare at your children for minutes at a time. Parents of teenagers, you may get some heat for this. That’s okay. I still see my mom look at me that way sometimes- like I fell from heaven and landed on her lap and she can’t even believe it. That’s not pride or ego. It’s gratitude. And it makes me feel extremely valued.
A stranger at the grocery store told me how cute my son is, and I said, “Thank you.” I don’t know why. It just came out. What I wanted to say was, “Yes, he is. And he’s loving and insightful and funny and full of life. And I am so honored to be his mom.”