Anything but Typical
As an adoptive dad, I’ve come to the place that I can readily acknowledge that all of my kids are little different in some way or another. Different than what, you ask? I’m not entirely sure, but I know that they are different.
Most of the time I don’t really think about my kids being different. It’s just who they are, and a part of who we are. And as I listen to dads who don’t share the adoption or foster experience, I realize how normal being an adoptive dad is. I can relate to almost everything they talk about because I’ve experienced it myself. But, I know that there are things about my experience as an adoptive dad that these other dads can’t relate to. I am generally okay with that. But, every once in a while, I notice it, and it can leave me feeling a bit misunderstood, even isolated (except among other adoptive dads).
“Typical” seems to have replaced the word “normal” in the world of adoption and foster care. This is probably for good reason. Children who have backgrounds involving trauma, abuse, abandonment, and institutionalization aren’t abnormal, but they often don’t develop in the same way and at the same pace as a “typically developing” child. And as many adoptive and foster parents have discovered, they generally don’t respond to the “typical” parenting strategies either. But, that’s an entirely different conversation.
In many ways, my son Carter is a typical six-year-old boy. He loves to play sports, ride his scooter, fight with his brother, bother his sister, act silly, give a good hug, and eat as much candy as he can. But, in other ways, he is anything but typical, at least if your reference point is other “typical” kids, whoever they are. Because of his history, Carter faces many challenges that most typical kids don’t. Many of those challenges he has already overcome. Others, he and we are still working on. But, I can tell you that this atypical little boy has already learned a lot of valuable life lessons. He’s taught me a few as well.
Carter is not typical for other reasons too. It’s all too easy to look at him and some of his lingering challenges as a glass that is half empty. But, on those days when I slow down enough to take a step back and look at the entirety of the picture that is my son, I realize that his life is already, at the young age of six, a glass that is full and overflowing.
Typical kids don’t experience the series of hurdles that life’s circumstances have thrown his way. Most typical kids wouldn’t survive his start in life. Typical kids don’t endure the years of illnesses and surgeries and bounce back in record time, every time. Typical kids don’t go to countless therapies, refrain from eating most of the foods that kids love, take all kinds of medications and supplements, and on most days without so much as even a whimper. Many typical kids don’t have the same spunk and love for life.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that some children face far greater and graver challenges than my son, and I hope it doesn’t come across as bragging when I say that he is one amazing and resilient kid. I just know this kind of proud dad talk doesn’t seem to fit when I’m at the water cooler talking with dads who have typical kids. Their kids are soccer stars or geniuses, or so they are convinced. Imagine if I chimed in “Oh yeh? Well Carter scored a goal in his soccer game and his therapists say he is rock star at speech AND occupational therapy.” See what I mean? I suspect I would be left standing there with my coffee as everyone suddenly looks at their blackberries, realizing they’re all late for a meeting.
Loving this atypical son of mine can be very challenging and extremely humbling. More often than not, however, it reveals far more about my shortcomings and flaws than it does about his. For me to love him well I must learn to be anything but typical myself. No, I don’t need to be some sort of super-dad or become a child-rearing expert. But neither can I put things into default mode or on cruise control. I need to constantly meet him where he is, even as he takes two steps forward on some days and one step back on others. I need to remember and celebrate how far he has come. I must always be willing to kindly and firmly take him by the hand and walk with him side-by-side in the direction we need to go.
I am realizing that I cannot have Carter and have a “typical” son. Far from being any sort of sacrifice, this reality is a blessing from God, for which I am forever thankful. As this atypical son of mine continues making me, day-by-day, into a rather atypical father, I am learning how much I still have to learn. And yet, I clearly see all that he has already taught me.
So. maybe next time I hear dads start to brag about their kids I should weigh in about my atypical son. Or maybe not. I’m not sure they will understand why a six-year-old boy from Guatemala is, in many ways, a hero to me. After all, heroes are supposed to be strong and courageous; they are supposed to inspire you and be larger than life. My point exactly.
Michael and his wife Amy are the proud parents of four children, each welcomed into their family through adoption. Together they lead Tapestry, the adoption and foster care ministry at Irving Bible Church in Irving, TX. In addition, they lead the DFW Alliance of Adoption and Orphan Care Ministries, a network of over 25 churches in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, as well as Empowered To Connect, an online educational resource for adoptive and foster parents and church ministries. As part of this effort, Michael and Amy coauthored, together with Dr. Purvis, Created to Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child. This blog post was originally published on the Adoptive Dads blog on January 14th, 2011.