The hardest thing for me about being a parent is accepting the truth that a good parent models the behavior they want to see in their children. I remember when a close friend of mine said that, years ago, and I sensed that I was going to struggle with that idea, because our story is so much more complex than most.
I believe she was right, though. If you want your children to be sober, responsible, caring people, then show them what that looks like. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it.
However, modeling is a lot harder when you adopt older children whose lives were very chaotic before you met them.
I have a network of friends and those of us who have adopted older children see, over and over, our modeling efforts fail. Some of our kids easily transition to adulthood and do well. Not all.
All of us have watched some of our kids succumb to the lure of drugs and drinking and "partying" particularly when they hit the magic age of 18 where we no longer control them. The transition to adulthood is often fraught with temptation for our kids. We can be sober, responsible, kind, frugal, etc. and model that for YEARS, and still watch our children make huge mistakes as teens and/or young adults.
It's not their fault.
When a child's earliest exposure is to folks whose main way of coping is through substance abuse then that's what they learn. That's how they learn to cope -- feeling bad? Take a drink. Take a drug. Want to celebrate? Take a bunch of drinks/drugs. Bored? Drink. Do drugs. Life seem depressing? PARTY!
Many of our kids will struggle for the rest of their lives to turn away from their earliest life experiences and forge meaningful lives without copying the behavior of their addicted birthmoms.
I have done one thing, to stand in solidarity with them. Like another adoptive mom I greatly admire, I've given up sugar. No desserts, no candy, no ice cream, no processed sugar. No sugary fruit juice. I eat fruit instead, when I crave sugar. It may seem trivial but addiction to sweets is something I've struggled with for my entire life, and it's not easy. I know a little something about addiction, though, and how hard it is to cope without one's preferred crutch. I want to be healthy. I want to be available to those I love. I want to show my kids how to lead a life free from addiction, a life that's never simple but is ultimately meaningful.
(Years ago I had to quit smoking and it wasn't easy, but I was able to do it. Just knowing that makes this struggle a tiny bit easier.)
I read a quote years ago that resonated for me then, and even more now. I can't remember who said it or the exact words, but in essence it said It's not important that you fail. It's important that when life knocks you down you don't stay down. You get back up and keep fighting.
Modelling that fighting spirit is so important.
What prompted this was a friend of mine on Facebook who went through a horrific divorce a few years ago when she found out her husband was an alcoholic and he was cheating on her. She had been a stay at home mom for years, living in a big beautiful house. The house was sold and she moved with her girls to a small apartment and went back to work, full time - and fought her husband in a long and terrible divorce, physically scared for her life. She had to shut down her blog. (I loved reading her blog. She is a good writer and very funny.)
This mom is not an adoptive mom, but bear with me as I explain why I admire her.
She posted on Facebook today about taking her daughters to see her ex at the hospital where he is dying from alcoholism. He had put his wife and daughters through hell, and dragged his wife through a divorce and custody battle that was so awful she never spoke of it publicly, for fear of his retaliation. She knew her daughters needed closure, though, needed to say goodbye, even though they hadn't seen him in four years. They went in, one by one, and spoke to him, expressing what needed to be said. He was hooked up to machines, unconscious, but it didn't matter. It was an emotionally draining but ultimately healing experience for them all. How brave of her to go there, I thought when I read her account of it. Not physical bravery so much as emotional bravery -- just watching her kids confront a person who had hurt them had to have been terrible.
It was part of their healing, though.
What she modeled for her daughters was that even when life knocks you down, even when it's horribly unfair, you don't give up. You keep fighting. She modeled how to cope and more - how to triumph. She is my hero.