Mommy drops the hammer

Photos first, then if you are still interested you can read on!

Alex is doing incredibly well on his big bike, and he LOVES it!

Last weekend we all went out on the boat together (including our dog Noah)! I took almost no photos because there was too much to manage. Here are the boys emptying a container of salsa with chips.

And Ellie!

By the way, Melkam is going through a phase of not wanting his photo taken; don’t think he’s purposefully under-represented!

Now, a parenting story:

This is going to sound so mundane, but I must share it. We’re struggling with discipline because we want to give the kids leeway as they work on understanding English. At the same time, there are things they do that are either dangerous or impossible to live with that must be curbed, and to the extent that it seems they understand, it’s time to dole out consequences where appropriate or we’ll never regain the reigns of this horse.

Remember, if you are adopting siblings they come with the mixed blessing of each other. On the positive side, they retain some of their culture (both nationally and personally) because they can share a private language and all of their inside jokes and memories. On the negative side, they retain the behavior they’re used to because they have each other. If either of our boys were solo in a new family I doubt they’d cling to some of the things we’re seeing quite as much.

Our kids chatter, bicker and sing in Amharic all day long, and it’s awesome. They are not chatty in the presence of new people, who they meet constantly and who want desperately to engage them. When that happens they clam up, although they are starting to be more open with shaking hands and saying hello with a smile. Sometimes they are so rude, and their charming “just arrived in America” bit will only be an excuse for so long. How long do you think? At what point in their life here will it be acceptable for them to snarl, toss a shoulder and remark “Impe!” at someone who reaches out to shake their hand? These are the tough questions to answer. Especially when we hear them and see them at home reciting “Hello, so nice to meet you!” during play at home.

So today Mommy dropped the hammer (not related to interacting with people, we’ll work on that soon). We’d driven to a place this morning where the kids could safely ride their bikes while I walked the dog with the baby in the Ergo. They had a lovely time, in fact we all did. We’d been working on understanding the difference between ‘loud’ and ‘quiet’ all morning. We had to run some errands earlier, like another trip to the lab at the hospital to drop off more samples (yay, done with poo collection!!!), and before we go in I remind them that when we go into a place of business like this that we are quiet. They repeat ‘quiet’, and put their finger to their lips and say ‘Shhhhh!’ And I say, yes, that’s very good! No problem, they were great on the brief trip in and out.

Well they tend to really get going sometimes, teasing each other, and their volume level is way out of the comfortable range for anyone nearby. For this reason we try to get lots of outside time in places where they can yell and scream. So we’re in the car returning from this little bike ride. I’ve asked the boys to quiet down in the car and I know they understand what I’m saying. Finally it escalates higher and I very clearly tell them that they’re being too loud, that they need to be more quiet in the car. Melkam defiantly starts shreaking. Boy that kid can belt it out!

I turn to him and tell him that’s it, no Sakee (bicycle) at the park today. He gets quiet and I don’t mention it again.

I just calmly remove his bike from the back of the car when we get ready to go meet our friends at the park. Alex asks “no sakee?”

I tell them “Melkamu no sakee” because he didn’t listen to Mommy about being quiet in the car (this is all accompanied by pantomimes of things I know they understand). Well, Melkam unleashed his fury on me when we got to the park. He refused to leave the parking lot. I had to carry him beyond the dangerous car area with him kicking and screaming. As soon as I released him he headed back for the parking lot. I think we did this twice as I explained to him that he had to stay where Mommy could see him. I got LOTS of foreign commentary and Melkam’s worst mean faces! He finally did comply by staying just inside the entrance sign to the park, but do you know although he finally stopped screaming after 30 or 45 minutes, he still refused to play, refused food, anything that had to do with the offending party: me. I had people walking past him at the entrance thinking he was a lost kid crying for his mother. No, he’s fine, just not happy with Mommy right now. I had other children ask me over and over again “what’s wrong with him?” Each time I’d explain that he was frustrated because he was naughty and so didn’t get to have his bike at the park and he was mad. Then I’d ask them if they ever felt like that and every time I got a sober nodding of the head. That was actually pretty cute.

After about an hour one of his friends rode over on a scooter that Melkam loves and offered it to him. For over an hour he remained in his own misery although I told him he could play, could swing (his other favorite thing), and invited him to eat lunch with the group. Any activity that I was involved with, he wanted no part of.

The good news is, we were there for over two (long, arduous) hours, and in the end he caved and ate what I offered him and even asked me to push him on the swing. He was relatively happy the rest of the day. I just hope this has a positive impact on whether or not he listens to anything I say in the future.

Both boys are showing a serious lack of respect for what Mommy says vs. what Daddy says. This is partly cultural and we expected it, but Daddy is also physically a lot more capable of backing up his requests (it’s easy for him to physically carry Alex to his room, for example for a time out). I do it, but dude, I am SORE from three weeks of parenting three very physical kids!

So I know that was risky, sharing a parenting story like that. Not everyone will agree with my decisions, I get that. But if you can relate, I can use all the encouragement I can get! Also, it might be helpful for someone else out there to know about the wailing that our kids do as part of their rage and grieving process. It’s not easy to get used to, but I was so grateful to learn that other Ethiopian kids home at their age have the same habit. It’s just part of the package.

10 responses to “Mommy drops the hammer

  • Dakota Corey

    Kimberly, I think you are totally on the right track. We saw this exact same behavior when we decided to lay down the law (or drop the hammer) with our two at first – especially our little man from Sidama. I think the key is to stick to your decision (like no bike) even if you rethink it later. They need to know you mean what you say. It is also very important to give them every opportunity to fix it when they are ready. I am sure you do this, but warmly welcome them back into the group and make it very clear that there are no hard feelings and that the punishment was specific to the crime and that you still love them and want them around. If they can (might be hard this early in the game with communication) help them express some sort of sorry or fixing behavior to help them know they can make things better and move on. I think the kids oscillate a lot between trying to remain in control of their lives (hence the difficulty accepting Mom’s authority, or any authority for that matter) and needing so desperately to feel safe and loved and to let Mom and Dad be in control.

    Your story about Melkem and the bike reminded me of the majority of A’s baseball practices. While he loved baseball games, where he got to wear his uniform, he usually refused to participate in practice and basically acted just like Melkem. We persisted and went to EVERY SINGLE practice, staying the entire time, and participating fully ourselves. By the end, he came around and loved all aspects of baseball – even practice.

    Oh and the volume. Let me know if you get a handle on that one. Our kids are SO loud. They understand when its appropriate to be loud and when its not now, but I think they have existed in a state of loudness to get their piece of any attention that might be out there for so long that they really aren’t even conscious about when they are being loud and when they aren’t.

    Hang in there momma. It sounds like you’re doing great and let Charles haul Alex off to his room. (I can’t really haul A around anymore either; he’s gained over 11 pounds since coming home.) It’s good to show them that the two of you are a unified front.

  • summer

    Ah! Thanks so much for sharing that story! I have been through similar with my bio son (4) but I can imagine them having to learn those boundaries older is TOUGH! In addition to what they are already going through! You are amazing! Stick it out. Deborah Gray says that stricter adoptive parents kids tend to fare better because kids feel safe with boundaries. I have TWO kids even older coming and so this is so good to help me brace myself for what is coming…. boy am I about to be turned upside down, and find out how little I really know. PLEASE keep your stories and wisdom coming because I’m going to need it even more when they are home!

  • Kristin

    “I do it, but dude, I am SORE from three weeks of parenting three very physical kids!”

    Sigh…I can totally hear you saying that and it makes me miss you terribly. I would give anything to be there for you.

    Do not let the enemy undermine your God-given authority in these precious children’s lives. If you ask daily for it, God will give you EVERYTHING you need to parent them with grace and wisdom. I’m going to warn you – what He gives you may fly in the face of what Christians have swallowed as as appropriate. But you and Charles don’t answer to them. You answer to Him.

    Your decision today was filled with grace and wisdom. I will continue to pray that over you and Charles.

    You are loved.

  • Jennifer

    Kimberly, Dakota introduced me to your blog after I returned home from a volunteer trip to Layla in November. I have loved reading about your journey!

    I want to echo what Dakota said and offer you the encouragement (though I guess that’s maybe not the right word) that, as the mother of two strong-willed boys (now 10 and 14), I have been there and done that! Socializing human beings just seems to take a REALLY long time and can be so hard (and boring!) whether you’ve been working on ’em from the beginning or not.

    Give yourself an extra cookie (or 1 more minute in a yoga pose or one more trashy magazine) and take good care!

  • Tonya Flashey

    Kimberly, you are completely on target – adoption or not, different languages or not, new parents or not, it’s a stage that all kids go through, and it’s difficult to have to put the hammer down, I struggle with it every time I do it and I don’t have any of the challenges you are facing with language, new environment, etc. I admire you, and your strength. Keep doing what you are doing.

    Hope to see you at the reunion, it would be wonderful, although I know you have your hands full!


  • Amanda Swinghamer Henderson

    Kimberly –

    You’re definitely doing the right thing. I wish it just took one instance like that for the lessons to hit home; unfortunately though, they have to learn some of them over and over (but I guess we as adults do too). This last weekend Preston had to sit and watch his sister and mommy go on the ferris wheel in OC because he wouldn’t listen and stay with us on the boardwalk. I’d warned him several times. He cried and cried the whole time we were on it and afterward for awhile. I told him that we’d be back in two days and that if he was a good listener and didn’t use any ugly talk until then that he could go on it then. It wasn’t 24 hours before I had to tell him he wouldn’t be riding on it the next time either. Following through is hard because it can ruin your good time too, but i’m waiting for the payoff!


  • Kendra aka The Meanest Momma


    It sounds like you are doing great! ALL kids push limits — you guys are just working through it at an older age with the added challenges of new language/culture/parents thrown on top.

    I remember how exhausting life was when S was 3 — I felt like EVERYTHING was a battle and I was resigned to our interactions being miserable FOREVER. Well guess what, he’s still strong willed and we still have our battles, but it has gotten much better.

    Yours will too. Stay strong, keep loving them, and praying for them and you.

    I love reading your updates!

  • Sara belote

    Wow! My first thought is “well done” – a beautiful example loving discipline. – keep on persevering… The reward for everyone will be worth it – as much as the “out of control” is hard for you – it’s hard for him as well. Self control will be a skill that will bring him many years of joy 🙂 you are all in my thoughts and prayers everyday as you grow and learn … Xoxo

  • Kristin

    Sounds like what you did made an impression–it will be so interesting to see what happens next time he starts being too loud in the car! I bet when you remind him what happened, he’ll be able to make a different choice.
    I’ve certainly had to carry an out-of-control child through a public space before–its stinks, and it’s hard work, especially when you get comments from others. That adds a whole new layer of stuff to deal with.
    My third is LOUD too. It is challenging and puts our whole family on edge sometimes. Hang in there!
    I love the phrase “GOYB” Parenting, meaning “Get Off Your Butt”…As in, sometimes the only way to make it clear that you mean what you say is to physically do something (like carrying screaming child someplace) as opposed to continuing to talk about it or giving too many warnings. I think this is one thing that many parents lack–a willingness to physically get involved. It makes a huge difference. It might require, say, a parent sitting outside a restaurant with a child instead of being inside eating with everyone else, but the kid figures out pretty quickly that the unacceptable behavior (like being too loud) means that they miss out on the fun.
    It sounds like you are doing great. Parenting takes a lot of energy and is hard work…you guys will find your groove.

  • Jennifer

    You are doing exactly the right things…. way to go Kimberley!!!! See you soon!

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