I became a first time Mom at 50 years old… not to an infant or toddler, but a pre-teen girl. It wasn’t something I was striving for; I had a hysterectomy twenty years earlier and was quite content with life, work and travel. However, when I was introduced to the situation and subsequently met my now daughter, there was not a doubt that I would do whatever I could to provide a stable, secure and loving environment for this child.
Parenting is no joke. Parenting a child who is already 11 years old and has had a variety of parental figures, varying rules, restrictions and responsibilities brings another spectrum of challenges. Don’t get me wrong, my little (not so little) girl is amazing and has elevated my life in an indescribable manner but this experience has certainly taught me not only about parenting but about myself.
Those close to me would likely use the word “controlled” to describe me – not in a bad context, but I’ve tended to be one who likes things in order, typically act as the designated driver and disciplined in work practices like promptly responding to calls, emails and keeping tasks lists. Many of these characteristics came from my own childhood. In contrast, my child was up a 3am chasing Pokemon Go characters in a cemetery on a school night, served her parent wine at eight years old and pulled her lunch from the throw away items other kids at school didn’t want to eat. She has a survival instinct I will never have, she is artistic and creative, she’s a thinker, a researcher and likes to understand how things work and she has a great sense a humor but throw away words like assertive, controlled or disciplined.
I was brought up in a family where a “C” grade represented average and my parent’s children were not average. My daughter is very intelligent and can read at 3x my speed, she absorbs information well, as long as it is a subject of interest to her. However, discipline, time management and organization are not her strengths so homework and assignments get lost, she procrastinates completing projects right up to the deadline and forgets about upcoming tests until the last minute. These attributes are not developed nor can they be modified overnight. We work together to help her stay organized and not get behind so that she can achieve her future college goals, but I’ve had to let go of expectations or hopes for the straight “A” student that her aptitude is certainly capable of.
The first time I caught my daughter in a lie I cried. We are very close and I’d like to think she can share anything with me and we would work through it together. When she first came to live with me, she would lie about the most random inconsequential things and it absolutely baffled me. I have since determined at that time lying was instinctual for her. The lies that come out these days are typically for one of two reasons: first, she doesn’t want to disappoint me so in her mind she tells me what I want to hear and hopes to get the right thing done before I find out anything to the contrary, and second, she lies because there is fun or entertainment to be had and the item undone is prohibiting or delaying that satisfaction. I have learned that a time out for Mom is the best course of action. When the lie has been revealed, it is immediately called out. This is usually followed by a stream of defensiveness and/or justifications. Rather than falling into the web of conflict and lectures, it is far more effective to remove myself from the situation entirely for a spell. I don’t propose this works for all kids, but when I return we have a good healthy chat, agree on a course of reparation and move on with life.
One challenges of adopting a pre-teen was allowing her to preserve her identity. With all the changes and moves she had made in her young life, her name was important and at 12 years old she had no desire to change her last name. Further, she maintained varying connections to her bio Mom, bio Dad, her ex-step Mom, step sister and grandparents and a newborn half sister. One of the very early commitments I made to her was that I would always respect her needs, desires and boundaries with respect to those relationships. At times, it has been somewhat of a tight rope walk allowing her to define how she wishes to navigate her involvement with them when they reach out asking me why her level of interaction has changed. Most important is her health and well-being so I try to inquire without prodding what is driving her level of communications with them to simply make sure she’s not struggling. Recently she came home from school sharing a family tree project and was concerned how incredibly complicated her tree would be to create much less understand. We agreed to work together to develop one that would feel authentic to her.
My life looks completely different than it did five years ago and I love it. I still like a very clean and organized home, am a dedicated employee, I make time to go to the gym most days and even use grocery shopping as a form of me time. It is a beautiful thing to learn about yourself through another human, it has caused me to be more self-aware. It was always my desire to leave an impact on those around me, but wanting that for someone else feels even more purposeful. I am blessed and forever grateful this child that was placed in my care.