Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Have Their Own Ways of Loving and Helping Our Children

As Father’s Day approaches each year, I generally find myself debating whether to take my husband out for brunch or buy him another electronic device to add to his gadget inventory – or both! This Father’s Day, however, I found myself contemplating how differently mothers and fathers parent their children, and how I see those different parenting styles play out among the adoptive families I know through FRUA.

My husband and I became parents with the birth of our older son. Like many husbands, mine struggled to carve out his parenting role with an infant who was almost completely dependent on me. As our son grew and weaned from nursing, he and my husband slowly began developing his relationship. In short order, my husband and son developed a wonderful relationship - they adored each other!

When we adopted our son Connor, both my husband and I had reevaluate our parenting styles to connect with our new baby. In the early days, it was all about affection and food, so we could both interact with Connor in these arenas. Having seen few if any men, however, Connor was initially afraid of my husband and routinely covered his eyes when my husband entered the room. I can’t imagine how emotionally difficult this initial rejection must have been for my husband. But he and Connor worked through it and eventually they developed a loving relationship.

Over the years, Connor struggled with childhood apraxia of speech – leaving him largely unable to speak until around age 6 – and was eventually diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified. A child with these diagnoses is necessarily more challenging to parent that a neuro-typical child. More importantly, they demanded that my husband and I develop new and different parenting skills.

Like many adoptive mothers I know, I’d spent years reading everything I could get my hands on about raising internationally adopted, post-institutionalized children. So when presented with Connor’s challenges, I immediately began reading all kinds of books and studies on apraxia, FASD, and PDD-NOS. I spoke with doctors, professionals, and practitioners. I attended conferences and seminars. Most importantly, I consulted with mothers, lots of mothers.

My husband, on the other hand, did none of those things. Lacking a community of adoptive fathers to tap into, my husband’s ability to parent Connor’s many challenges did not develop apace and, in fact, fell behind as my competence and confidence grew. Over time, I became expert in understanding and dealing with my son’s challenges while my husband struggled. Over time, I became increasingly angry at my husband, feeling that he’d punted his responsibility to raise a neurologically atypical child.

Recently, I had an epiphany. I realized that my husband hadn’t punted his responsibility as a parent to Connor. No, he didn’t read all the stuff I read. And no, he didn’t spend hours on line with other fathers dissecting his son’s behaviors and therapies. But, as different from mine as they were, I couldn’t overlook his contributions to our son. My husband takes our son on subway rides to the airport on weekend mornings to watch planes take off and land. Much to my utter horror, he takes Connor on the roof to help hang holiday lights. He pushes Connor to test his limits in situations where I would jump in to “rescue” him. In many ways, my husband teaches Connor self-confidence by not treating him as if he were impaired.

I suspect other over-achieving mothers harbor secret (or not so secret) resentment toward their husbands, who may parent very differently than they, themselves, do. So this Father’s Day, I realize it’s long overdue that I acknowledge the gifts of love and time my husband gives to both our sons. My gift to my husband, this and every future Father’s Day, is to appreciate that he’s a wonderful father.

Sue Gainor
National Board of Directors
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption
Hope, Help and Community for Adoptive Families

Monday, June 6, 2011

Approaching Summer, Keeping the IEP in Mind.

FRUA National Education Chair, Pat Gerke has a Masters in Counseling and has worked in the field of Developmental Disabilities for over 25 years in a wide range of specialty areas including adult services (vocational and residential), healthcare, advocacy and spirituality/inclusion. She teaches two courses each spring related to Disabilities, at Rutgers University and she and her husband Jay adopted their two children, Matthew and Iryna, in Ukraine. This is her summer message to FRUA members:

Summer is upon us. While we all prepare for a much-deserved break, this is a good time, when the pressure is off, to consider the IEP. Have you, like so many of us, had to prepare for your child's IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting or is it still ahead? How DO you prepare? Do you go into it loaded with ammunition like you are armed and dangerous? Do you look forward to discussing your child's present level of performance -  or do you dread it?!

if you are like many FRUA members, the end of the school year and the spring IEP meeting can be filled with anxiety and worry. Self-doubt about what to expect or ask for can cloud judgment about what a child needs or is capable of achieving. Its is not too late to think through how things went and to plan for how you and your child will approach the fall semester. Summer is the time to ask questions, talk with other FRUA parent members and consult with experts to learn more. And it can also mean more time for you to be with and observe your child away from formal learning environments.

Remember, YOU are an equal member of an IEP team. Without you there really isn't a team! Get to know your child's PLEP, rights, strengths AND needs! Be ready to collaborate and compromise. But know what is non-negotiable as well! Always remember, YOU ARE the expert on your child, no one else!

Pat Gerke
FRUA National Education Chair