By April Dinwoodie
The reflective and celebratory time of year is the perfect opportunity to explore elevating how we extend love through grace.
Parenting in today’s modern world is complicated. Parenting through foster care and adoption adds complexity to the experience that can lead to a unique set of challenges and opportunities.
Excitement, hope and love are often the starting places for many parents who opt to foster or adopt and under all that is the recognition of loss, identity struggles and even trauma for many connected to the experience.
Navigating this path successfully requires parents to give grace to their children and to themselves in order to build strong, expansive family bonds. Here are three initial steps you can take to make sure your home is built with grace.
The bedrock of giving grace is unconditional love. When we love unconditionally it does not mean that boundaries are not set, inappropriate behaviors ignored or accountability is not required.
Rather, it means accepting we all have flaws, can forgive mistakes and engage in compassionate accountability to help mitigate the impact of trauma and inspire positive behaviors. Children who come to families following separation from their family of origin often experience insecurity about their role in the family and whether it is truly permanent.
Often, behaviors are simply reflective of these anxieties and losses experienced before arriving at this place in their young lives.
Unconditional love goes a long way in creating the solid foundation children and youth need to feel safe and comfortable and allow them to grow into strong and healthy individuals.
Remember, love for others starts with loving yourself and being able to reflect on and forgive your own mistakes.
Parenting is the most rewarding yet most difficult role you will ever hold in your life. Give grace to your kids but don’t forget to be gentle with yourself as well.
A lot of times frustrations between parents and children arise from unrealistic expectations. An important part of giving grace is being realistic in our expectations of others. Developmental progress is a continuum and impacted not just by age but other factors, particularly the experiences that may have occurred before a child became a part of a new family system. At the same time, all children are unique individuals. Even children with the same exact background and early life experiences will not learn, behave and grow in exactly the same way.
Understanding the fluidity of development is key. So too is having empathy for the difficulties inherent in child development adjacent to early life adverse experiences.
We forget sometimes just how much is going on in the minds and bodies of children and youth as they learn, grow and develop their identities. It’s not easy! Adding fundamental losses that come with family separation to the experience can lead to some added challenges.
Recognizing and having empathy for this reality will go a long way in giving a child the space and strength to grow into a strong and confident adult.
Remember also to be realistic with yourself as a parent. So often society sets an unrealistic expectation for foster and adoptive parents. Expecting perfection from yourself can also lead to frustration and possibly resentment. If unconditional love is the strong foundation of your home, realistic expectations and empathy are the framework all members of the family can lean on for strength and success.
Guidance Versus Control
Our love for our children makes us want to fiercely protect them from all possible calamities in their lives.
Although this isn’t possible, sometimes our earnest caregiving may lead to parenting with control instead of working to guide children.
Giving grace asks us to not foist our will on our children or hover over every aspect of their lives.
Rather it requires us to lead by example and create conditions where healthy choices and behaviors can be made.
What’s especially important is responding patiently when mistakes are made and being able to have open communication about different and more effective choices that could be made the next time.
There are a lot of different paths children can take in their lives. If we want our kids to reach their full potential, we must allow them the space to practice.
Creating rooms in your home where kids can think critically, practice problem solving, and be met with empathy and compassionate accountability for any mistakes can help them on their path to personal growth and identity.
Giving grace is an essential tool for building a home in which every member can truly thrive.
Through unconditional love, setting realistic expectations, and providing thoughtful guidance, children and their parents can create powerful bonds that lead to healthy personal identity and expansive relationships that honor extended family connections.
April Dinwoodie is a transracially adopted person and nationally recognized thought leader on adoption and foster care. Dinwoodie shares her experiences at workshops, conferences, schools and via her podcast “Born in June, Raised in April: What Adoption Can Teach the World”.