I just read a really cool article by Jeff Haden: 10 Daily Habits of Exceptionally Happy People. http://www.inc.com/ss/jeff-haden/10-daily-habits-exceptionally-happy-people#0
For adoptive families, many of his points will resonate. I borrowed nine. (Used with permission.)
Granted, there are times the descriptors “Exceptionally Stressed” or “Exceptionally Insane” more accurately correspond with our circumstances, but being joyful is a decision and a mindset. (Think of the terminally ill patient who ultimately inspires those who come to encourage her.) Life isn’t a breeze, but we can be Exceptionally Happy. Read on:
1. “I will not interrupt.”
It’s easy to assume that we know what the kid is going to say. (Especially when she uses the same excuse every time…what IS it with ten year olds?) Something to remember, though: interrupting is more than assumption. It’s more than rude. It’s a message. “What you have to say isn’t important.” For an adopted or foster child, this is confirming something deeper, something they think they already know: “YOU aren’t important.” Listen to your kid; prove their worth.
2. “I will not check my phone while I’m talking to someone.”
We, as an aggregate, have phone-ilepsy. Someone else’s phone rings and we all reach for our own. By the time we realize “it’s not my ring,” the phone is already in hand. We check our phone for the time. We check to see if anyone has returned our texts, calls or emails. It’s understandable, when the child is chattering endlessly, that we multitask. The topic seems unimportant, and the kid doesn’t even notice that we’re not paying attention. Or so we assume. “I’m listening, honey. Keep talking.” Give them credit for being perceptive; they’re more cognizant than we think. Put the phone down. (Of course, if you have an endless talker stuck on “loop” setting, it’s absolutely reasonable to tell the child, “You have five minutes of my undivided attention, but after this, I need to work on something.”)
3. “I will not multitask during a meeting.”
See above. We just covered this. Teachers and social workers have feelings, too.
4. “I will not waste time on people who make no difference in my life.”
Newsflash: the Jersey Shore guys and gals don’t give a flyin’ flip whether you’re tuned in to watch them flex and posture. Shockingly, neither does Alex Trebek (even though he’s everybody’s favorite host). Spend less time watching, discussing and thinking about the people who have no idea you were conceived in the back of your parents’ 1957 Fairlane. Focus on the family, friends and supporters who play starring roles in the Not-So-Secret Life of an American Adoptive Family.
5. “I will not wait until I’m convinced I will succeed.”
This one tickles me a little, because it applies so well to who I am in general (a confirmed non-risk-taker). However, adoption is pretty much ALL risk. There has never been a time when I considered adoption “success” a foregone conclusion. It’s a good reminder, nonetheless, to take the step, face the uncertainty, make the commitment. In adoption, there is no assurance of future triumph, but every moment is an opportunity to affect change in the life of a child. Carpe this moment.
6. “I will not whine.”
There is soooooooooooooo much to justifiably whine about. Ghastly social workers. Horrendous former foster families. Appalling biological parents. The “system” (every foster/adoptive family understands this term). Government program inadequacies. Whomever neglected the academic, social, emotional, physical, mental, psychological, EVERYTHING-ical well-being of this child. And, of course, sometimes the kid himself is something to whine about. Think for a moment about the following synonyms: Gripe. Moan. Grouse. Grumble. Complain. Snivel. Do any of these words give you warm fuzzies? Neither does the act these words describe. The more you (grouse, gripe, grumble), the worse you feel. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Just Do It.” In this case, Just Don’t.
7. “I will not be afraid.”
The wisest individual once said, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Often, we’re oblivious of allowing fear to worm it’s way into our lives. Fear is a habit: unbelievably easy to overlook and incredibly difficult to combat. When the fear creeps in, call a friend or contact a fellow adoptive family member. Some of us have already lived through the fire. We might be able to point you in the direction of an extinguisher or emergency exit. Bravery is a daily (and sometimes hourly) decision. Choose to be strong and courageous. You are not alone.
8. “I will not blame other people – for anything.”
Again. Sooooooooooooo many people to blame. And again, legitimately, justifiably so. The above mentioned Ghastlies, Appallings and Horrendouses caused much of the pain as well as many of the issues we’re trying to help these kids unravel. No thanks to these people, our kids have stinky, unpleasant, and in some cases, gruesome baggage to unpack. Things that no child should have in their personal carry-on. All the same, by caving to the habit of blame, we handicap ourselves. Blaming others gives them influence they don’t deserve. We begin to feel inadequate, ineffectual, overwhelmed. Don’t bestow power on those who have no claim to it. Take responsibility for the future. Which brings me to the next point…
9. “I will not let the past control my future.”
The first two years of our lives together, the kids spoke incessantly of prior families, both biological and foster. We allowed–and even encouraged–the verbal deluge, hoping they would “get it out” and then move on. Actually, the opposite became true. The more they reminisced, the angrier they became. Predictions of failure spoken over them (by adults who should have provided support) ripened. Finally, we proclaimed our home a Present-and-Future-Only-Zone. Go ahead. Tell the counselors about every bit of the garbage all those crazies put you through. But in this house, we’re going to focus on the amazing person you are today. We’re setting our sights on the fascinating individual you will be in two, five, ten years. Yep, they dealt you a really nasty hand, but we’re going to help you make it to Uno. And you’re going to win this game.
Working toward Exceptional Happiness takes time, especially if you’re discouraged. (“The good news: I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news: It might be a train.”)
The better news: adoptive families are already Exceptional, so you’re halfway there.