Our final episode in this series is about parental expectations. When you decided to adopt, you probably had someone from the agency advise you to meet the children where they are. And to have little expectations from the children. No matter how much you tried, you probably found it impossible. I know I did. The week after we were matched with our children, my husband and I went on a holiday. As we hiked, I said, “Next year, we’ll bring the kids to hike other trails here.” Oh, how clueless I was! 15 months later, we travelled just a few hours away on our very first trip, and the kids hated it. They didn’t like the new city, the weather, the hotel room. You name it, and they hated it. Whenever any expectations creep up in our conversations, my husband and I remind ourselves of the trip—to stop our thoughts running ahead of us.
Whether they have biological or adopted children, parents wonder if the kids will share the same interests, enjoy the same activities, or study like them. And in a society like ours, where there is so much pressure to map out the career path very early, having to wait and see how our adopted children will fare is tough. So what should we do?
My friend reminded me that I knew what to do as a special education teacher—Focus on the developmental age, not chronological age. That principle has helped us all the most.
That means we wait patiently while the kids learn a new language, social skills, organizational skills, and self-help skills. The progress is not a straight line. There are lots of moments when you are all stuck in one place until something changes, either your routine or some extra help in tutoring, medication, or a breakthrough in therapy.
But what is essential is that parents keep their expectations realistic. That means not focusing on the engineering degree or the medical seat. Even if your child has been with you from a very young age and you have given them every advantage, other factors may make your expectations out of reach for them. All this is not to say that your children won’t catch up and do well in academics. It just means they need time to figure out so many other things and meet educational goals.
In education, every skill builds on the previous one. Allow your children to catch up on their learning, even if it seems fundamental to you. As children acquire more skills, their plans for themselves change. They may not find academic goals attractive, but you still need to guide them through their school years. So, what do you do? Instead of setting career expectations, talk to your children about developing independence, including financial freedom.
One of my girls, Y, wanted to be an astrophysicist a couple of years ago. During our discussions, she said she wanted to go to college. Since she was catching up very well, it did seem like she would go to college for that. Her younger sister thought we were kicking Didi out of our house. When their father explained that it is what other kids do—they leave home to study and come back for the holidays, Y immediately piped in, “Oh, yes! I’m going to college, just like my friends.” Then came the difficult period, and around the same time, Y discovered Instagram! Now she wants to be an influencer. I am ambivalent about it, but my husband reminds me of her needs. Two months after she came to live with us, I found Y crying in her room. She was so worried that her clothes felt tight, and what would she do for clothes now? When I said that she must have grown and I’d take her shopping for new clothes, she was shocked. “You mean you’ll buy me clothes every time I grow?” For her, wearing pretty clothes is a big deal. It fulfills an emotional need. Of course, she too loves shopping for clothes and has an eye for design and fashion. She had seen the older girls in the hostel using the phone extensively to follow movie stars and other celebrities. Like most teenagers, she likes the idea of glamour and fame but has no idea of the level of hard work needed or how to handle trolls. I still hope that Y will put her talents to good use to make a career for herself, but this interests her now. So we tell her that even to be an influencer, she needs a basic education—to understand legal contracts, manage money, cultural concepts, and more.
It is possible that other family members may not be as supportive of your child’s educational needs and add to the pressure by insisting on unrealistic expectations. You may not have the space or freedom to live as you please in a nuclear family. As complex as all this may be, it is your responsibility to protect your child from all these other external pressures.
We adults must remember that along with these needs, our children also bring many positive, resilient qualities that will help them reach their goals. Child Y remembers her birth mother very well. She was excited about a particular project in school, and what did she say? “You know, my mom always told me, “I didn’t go to school, but you three must. I will make sure you get a good education.” She’ll be so happy to know that I am doing well!” It is not that school is always easy for her. Even if her birth mother couldn’t provide her with certain skills, she placed the thought in her child that education is important. When things get difficult at school, the seed her mother planted sustains Y, and she works hard to complete the assignment.
As for gratitude or thankfulness, we must tune in to recognize it, for children don’t always express it in the way we expect. During a challenging period for her, one of our daughters B sat discussing things with us. Amid all that angst, she perked up and said, “You know, whenever I heard people speak English in films or when visitors came to our hostel, I used to think how wonderful it must be to know the language. Look at me; here I am speaking to you guys in English! I never thought I would have that in MY life!” Understanding that she has certain skills because of the opportunities she has now is an expression of thankfulness, even if it is not a direct ‘thank you!’ It is our job to listen and recognize our children’s appreciation.
This is the end of our series on education and the adopted child. We hope that this series gave you some insight into how to advocate for your child.