John Rosemond Recent Columns
Copyright 2020, John K. Rosemond
Adoption Is About Compassion
Nearly every time I talk to an adoptive parent, I become saddened, disgusted, angry or each in turn. It recently happened again.
The parent in question is the mother of a pre-teen boy who was adopted in early toddlerhood – at least a year before the ability to remember past events develops. Research has established that no matter the intensity of an event occurring before thirty-six months on average and very rarely before twenty-four months, a child will not have recall of it. When “memories” of infancy and early toddlerhood are subjected to verification, they seldom pass the test.
The parents of this young fellow have been told by their assigned adoption specialists that adopted children retain subconscious memory of their “real” parents, separation from whom induced trauma, even if the separation occurred early on. Mind you, those claims cannot be proven. According to said specialists, the trauma in question requires that adoptive parents never say or do certain things lest a subconscious traumatic memory surface and begin wreaking havoc on the child’s psyche. Examples of said “memory outbreaks” include just about any dumb, antisocial, self-destructive thing human children are prone to doing whether adopted or not.
A tantrum, for example, is not simply an expression of a child’s natural self-centeredness, requiring a firm disciplinary response. It is an expression of the adopted child’s ongoing grieving, requiring that his parents cuddle and rock him to help him fill in the emotional gaps in his earlier childhood. I did not make that up. It is precisely what adoption specialists told the above mother. Another specialist told a mother that her five-month-old adoptee knew, from Mom’s heartbeat, that Mom wasn’t really Mom. That borders on criminal. Sadly, it is not a one-off.
I have long concluded that adoption specialists primarily specialize in infecting adoptive parents with “adoption bogeymen.” They claim, for example, that nearly every adopted child has “reactive attachment disorder,” one of the most ill-defined of all ill-defined psychiatric diagnoses. The diagnosis, as bogus as it may be from a scientific perspective, allows adoption specialists to point to just about anything and say, “See! Reactive attachment disorder!” In that fashion, they infect adoptive parents with anxiety and self-doubt, and a self-fulfilling prophecy is invoked.
It is a fact that the more anxious a parent, the more the child will begin acting in ways that affirm the parent’s anxiety. Around and around this dynamic begins to spin, the result being a parent who is increasingly beset by worry and sinking ever-further into self-doubt and a child who is increasingly the subject of much anxiety and confusion.
When I said to the mother in question, “The adoptive bogeymen that you have let into your head are paralyzing your ability to discipline effectively,” she responded with, “That is precisely correct!”
Adoption is compassion. There is nothing inherently risky about it. The risk seems to be the consequence of getting involved with certain adoption specialists.
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Grandparents, Parents and Discipline Discord
Q: We sent our daughter a recent article of yours hoping it might cause her to rethink her approach to raising our grandson. It was not well-received and she is no longer speaking to us. The child, age four, is quite ill-behaved. Our daughter makes one excuse after another for him: he was premature, he was hospitalized as a toddler and now has PTSD, he might have a biochemical imbalance, and so on. We feel that his real and only problem is lack of discipline. For example, when he’s with us, he’s perfectly well behaved. We love our grandson, but don’t like being around him when his parents are running the show. What should we do now?
A: I hear this same tale of woe from lots of grandparents these days. Unfortunately, I don't have a fail-safe formula for healing these generational divides. It grieves me to know that my advice is often the catalyst for such rifts. On the other hand, on a scale of divisiveness, parenting now ranks with religion and politics. Thus, as you have inadvertently discovered, nearly everything I say stirs up controversy.
“Works-Based Parenting” is epidemic among today’s young parents. The parents in question believe good parenting is all about quasi-fanatical overfocus on one’s children. They overthink nearly everything and are never still. They’ve got work to do! And boy oh boy are they defensive! In their minds, parenting exhaustion is affirmation of parenting excellence.
The reality, however, is that your daughter would take no umbrage at your or anyone else's opinion of her parenting if she was truly secure and confident in what she was doing. Rather, her umbrage is unassailable evidence of nagging self-doubt, which is the state of all too many American moms these days.
Instead of occupying their natural adult authority, said moms strive to "bond" with their children, which is a polite way of saying they enter mutually harmful codependent relationships with them. They hold themselves responsible for eradicating emotional pain of any sort from their children’s lives; thus, their children are deprived of learning how to endure emotional pain and solve their own problems.
Instead of growing steadily toward emotional adulthood, said kids are prone to becoming perpetual drama factories. The dramas include the "I'm depressed" drama, the "I'm anxious about things" drama, the "I'm stupid" drama, the "I have no friends" drama, the "No one understands me" drama...you get the picture. As the child’s emotional dramas increase, parenting becomes a drama for the mother.
Upon seeing your daughter creating problems that are making her life (as well as her child’s) difficult, you want to help. Unfortunately, the help you offered was interpreted as an insult to the integrity of her motherhood. That is not your fault; neither is it your responsibility to fix it.
I do not know how to solve such problems other than for one party to simply not participate in emotion-driven exchanges. Your obligation is to simply love your daughter and your grandson, something you really don’t need to be told.
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On Picky Eaters
It’s funny, sort of, the things some parents want to believe. An example concerns children who’ve developed full-blown “eating disorders” by age three.
“My child was exhibiting food intolerances as an infant!” a mother insisted to me after I had told an audience that picky eating was learned as opposed to some anomaly of the nerve endings in a child’s tongue or the tongue-to-brain connection, the bogus explanation for the equally bogus (as in, lacking scientific credibility) diagnosis of “sensory integration disorder.”
“And?” I queried, anticipating what came next.
“She can’t help it! It’s something she was born with!”
The reasoning seems to be as follows:
a) Infants sometimes display food “intolerances.”
b) An infant is not smart enough to know when his parents are dancing to his tune.
c) Therefore, an infant’s food intolerances have nothing to do with anything his parents have or have not done; they must be inborn.
The more correct conclusion is that many parents do not appreciate how smart their kids are, even as infants. How could a five-month-old figure out how to make his parents dance to his tune? C’mon!
My daughter was “intolerant” of certain foods as an infant. When my wife introduced purees, Amy would sometimes, upon experiencing a certain taste for the first time, screw up her face and push whatever it was out of her mouth with her tongue. Mushed squash? Yuk!
Willie would simply scoop up the mush and push it back in, even if she had to gently pry Amy’s gums apart. Sometimes, one spoonful of mush would require five or six attempts before it was all down Amy’s gullet. The message: You will eat what I give you.
By age nine, Amy was eating raw sushi and loving it.
I am convinced that most picky eating gets started before the child in question is one year old. As with the above mother, parents of pickers often tell me their kids were “intolerant” of certain foods from the very beginning. Yeah, well, so are most kids, probably. Parents either persist in accustoming the child’s palate to what is initially repulsive or they switch to another mush and then another and another in a hunt for what the child will “tolerate.” In no time at all, one has a food tyrant on their hands.
The more general problem involves parents who, from day one, making pleasing their children a priority. That attempt turns the family upside down, inside out, and backward. The all-but-guaranteed outcome is miserable parents and a petulant, disrespectful, child, generically referred to as a “brat.”
I have witnessed, on numerous occasions, parents turn that perverse state of affairs around, putting the brat in his rightful place. Inevitably, the former and now repentant brat’s sense of well-being visibly improves. Now under authority instead of in a position of pseudo-authority, he is more carefree, more resilient, less dramatic, and just a lot more pleasant to be around. Everyone wins!
Families are great places when everyone knows their place and eats what is served.
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Moodiness Is Merely a Bad Emotional Habit
Living with an emotionally dramatic child is no fun. They throw wet blankets over nearly every family gathering or outing. Little is right in their lives and attempts to cheer them up generally fail and often result in things getting worse for all concerned. The parents of mini-malcontents don’t really want them around but feel guilty at not wanting them around. They can’t win for losing.
Mental health professionals are wont to explain misanthropic kids as suffering biochemical imbalances; or, they describe them as “manipulative.” No one has verified the existence of the former, thus leaving the latter.
The child’s moodiness certainly looks manipulative. He slides into an inexplicable funk and his parents begin trying to pull him out. The more they pull, however, the more he funks. And around and around they go.
“This is your child’s way of attracting attention. Actually, it’s a sign of something amiss in his life that he doesn’t know how to explain. He feels perhaps that his younger sibling has usurped his position in the family and is receiving preferential treatment. Can you think of why your son might feel that way?”
Blah, blah, blah. Moodiness is a bad habit some people fall into and then, after the fact, invent reasons to justify it, as in, “You never punish him for that!” More often than not, parents then attempt to persuade the child that his perception of events is mistaken. They engage on his terms, as opposed to saying, “Well, that’s not true at all and we have no intention of wasting our time with your foolishness” and walking away.
Horrors! Is the reader to conclude that I am insensitive to moody children? Yes, the reader is to so conclude. The overwhelming number – 99 percent, by my experienced estimate – of moody children are living what any objective witness would affirm are good lives. They have simply, inexplicably, developed bad emotional habits. These bad habits are indeed psychological states, but they do not merit pseudo-scientific psychiatric diagnoses. The simplest explanation (usually, in nearly all circumstances, the best) is that children, being naturally inclined toward soap opera, are quick to seize upon the opportunity. The opportunities in question, including parents who unwitting cooperate in their dramas by trying to understand and talk their children out of them, are like crack cocaine – both quickly addicting and quickly debilitating.
The parents of a nine-year-old perpetual pessimist asked my advice. “Tell him you’ve consulted with an expert on moody children and learned that moodiness is caused by sleep deprivation,” I said. “On any given day, when he’s being moody, simply point it out to him and ask if he needs a nap. He will, of course, say no. If the warning doesn’t suffice and his moodiness continues, send him to bed as soon after dinner as possible. Mind you, early bedtime is not a punishment. It is to help him catch up on his sleep and be in a better mood.”
The parents followed my instructions. Within a week, “Do you think you might need a nap?” was sufficient to snap Master Moody out of his doldrums. Within a month, he was a happy-go-lucky kid again, delighted at having overcome his sleep deficiency.
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Parents Can Recover From Not Getting Over the 'Hump of Parenting'
Q: In a recent column, you identified toddlerhood as “the hump of parenting.” As a grandmother who managed to raise five kids who were out of the house in their early twenties and are responsible citizens, I could not agree more. Two of them, however, did not get over the hump with their kids and now have spoiled, difficult children whom I sadly do not enjoy being around. Do you have advice for how parents can recover from this condition with school-age and teenage children?
A: The column in question prompted a slew of responses that echoed yours, so I’ve posted a link to it on the homepage of my website at johnrosemond.com. Click on “the hump.”
As a grandfather to seven, all of whom are a pleasure to be around (most of the time, which is to say, they are normal human beings), I can only imagine the heartache experienced by a grandparent whose experience is not what he or she anticipated. That is, however, the number one problem grandparents express to me. More than a few have told me they no longer visit their grandkids’ homes because they are so painfully undisciplined.
The good news is that parents can recover from not getting over the so-called “hump of parenting” on time. My wife and I are testaments of exactly that. With our first child, we (and he) suffered the aftereffects of my graduate-school education in psychology, an education that did anything but prepare me for the realities of a strong-willed child.
We were ten years into this academia-induced parenting coma before realizing that despite everything my professors had drilled into my head, children were not holy beings sent from heaven to grace the world with their immaculate presence. They were human beings, with the slew of the imperfections appertaining thereto.
Both my personal and professional experience causes me to believe that the two most common reasons parents fail to get over the hump on time and successfully are (a) wanting to be liked by one’s kids and (b) thinking children can be talked into behaving properly.
As for (a), a parent’s leadership (authority) must be firmly established before a genuinely wonderful relationship is possible. Prioritizing relationship leads, paradoxically, to disrespect. As for (b), children come into the world wanting their own way and determined to get it by any means necessary. It would be lovely if the little sociopath could be gently persuaded to love his neighbor, but separating a child from his selfish, pragmatic nature usually requires a crowbar.
The contemporary parenting myth is that love will suffice to raise a responsible, charitable human being. An enchanting notion, for sure, and very seductive. The unfortunate fact, however, is that parents must counteract a child’s natural inclinations with resolute, but calm and gentle force. To his own benefit, their child needs to discover that “no” means no and that he must obey them for no reason other than “because we say so.”
Newer technologies are almost always superior to older technologies, but the same is not true of ideas.
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