Infertility and our loooooonnnggg wait to adopt has resulted in five years of fantasizing of what kind of parents we will be. When you desire the opportunity to parent so deeply and have ample time to prepare, you are at significant risk of turning into a judgmental asshole of all the parents around you whom you decide aren’t up to snuff. I constantly need to remind myself that my vision of what I hope to be as a parent is unlikely to be the reality once a living, dynamic, unique little person is added to the equation. But a girl can aspire to parenting greatness… And sometimes I wish the people around us who are blessed with fertility galore would invest so much more in preparing to be parents and in continuing to hone their skills once their little bundle arrives. Had we become pregnant when we first started trying years ago, I feel certain we would have been much less intentional/successful parents than we will be if we are placed in the near future.
My lens on parenting has been deeply influenced by my work with individuals experiencing significant mental illness and addiction over the last six years. I feel increasingly drawn to research on trauma, attachment (not the same as “Attachment Parenting” often discussed in media), and attunement. I have been gifted with many stories from my clients and it is easy to make connections between extremely traumatic and neglectful childhoods and their subsequent experiences of homelessness and poor health. I view addiction as the strategy (not the symptom) to cope with the immense pain they have experienced. No parent can be perfect, but awareness, support, and intention can have significant implications for prevention of poor health in later life. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) is a pivotal piece of research with very clear outcomes. The more negative events experienced, the more likely a person is to experience poor physical health, mental health, addiction, employability/education, etc. later in life. A male who answers yes to six or more of the 10 categories is 43x more likely to become an IV drug user than a person who answers no to all of the categories.
I have also been swooning over Dr. Gabor Mate recently. In his books and presentations, he takes the position that early childhood experiences are interpreted by children as being a reflection of who they are and what they deserve. Attachment is everything! This feels like immense pressure – no parent can be perfect but we sure as hell can try our best.
My reading, attendance to seminars at our adoption agency, experiences at work, and my own general disposition towards the world draws me towards parenting strategies rooted in developing and feeding attachment – being physically responsive to little people (there is no such thing as too many snuggles!), being emotionally attuned and validating, and facilitating connection to other positive supports will be core principles of our parenting journey. We certainly won’t always get it right, but I hope that we can constantly grow with our child.