Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thoughts on NFL

What is NFL? NFL is the acronym for Natural Family Living which has become synonymous with many crunchy/granola stereotypes. Unfortunately NFL is becoming a battleground for those who see no flexibility in the ways that people practice it and accompanying philosophies like Attachment Parenting and the Green movement. Our family practices both NFL and attachment parenting in various ways but we certainly are not inflexible in those practices because we realize that everyone's situation is different. A friend of mine posted an article on her blog by Peggy O'Mara, editor of Mothering Magazine, whose words have a lot of wisdom regarding not only NFL but parenting in general.

[...]There are plenty of other things that break our hearts as parents. One mother lets her first son be circumcised because she doesn't know she has a choice. By the time her other sons are born, "she knows better" but how does she live with her regret at having had her first son circumcised? Another mother vaccinates at first, only to later find information that makes her change her mind. She doesn't know whether "to continue vaccinating or to just quit" but if she quits, she then must face regrets about the vaccinations her children did receive.

But as parents, we often change our minds. When we stop spanking, do we berate ourselves about the hitting we did in the past, "before we knew better" or do we forgive ourselves and move on? It is precisely this type of ongoing moral dilemma that one must face if one is to have any parenting standards at all. Even as we hold to these standards, they are always in the process of being refined, changing in response to new knowledge about and fresh understandings of our children and ourselves.

Recognizing that our ideas, beliefs, and attitudes about our children and ourselves as parents are always in process keeps us from turning our good ideas into dogma. Natural family living is full of good ideas. There's plenty of evidence that responsive parenting works well. And yet ideas, no matter how good they are, must be forged by real-life experiences. We have to learn how to mediate them with the inevitably uncontrollable nature of family life.

Certainly we will feel regret when things turn out different from what we'd hoped. And we all ask the proverbial "Why?" when bad things happen. Too much time spent trying to answer this question, however, can distract us from finding out something even more important: What can I learn from this experience?

[...] The ideas of natural family living or of any worthwhile philosophy can be intoxicating. If we cling to them, they can make life with children"something inherently out of control" seem controllable. Our ideas can even seem capable of protecting us from suffering. Good ideas protect us most of the time, but not always. Some things are simply out of our control.


While these suggestions may help us surrender to things as they are, it is important not to set impossible standards in the first place. As natural approaches have become more popular, many people have forgotten that their roots are in the idea of "doing your own thing." The natural way coincides nicely with research and tradition, but it is also common sense; it is what we all would do most of the time if we had the confidence to follow our instincts and our hearts.

Following our instincts and our hearts does not mean that we will never have regrets. When we regret things and can't stop thinking about them, however, this means we have unfinished business. While we often blame others and ourselves for these regrets, there is usually no one at fault. It certainly doesn't make sense that we would knowingly be the cause of our own suffering. Taking the responsibility for understanding what has happened to us without placing blame on others or ourselves is a powerful exercise.

It is in taking responsibility that we mature in our authenticity and authority as parents. Parents are always faced with a paradox. We must keep high parenting standards even at the risk of unexpected failures and disappointments. It makes sense then to cultivate the safety net of self-forgiveness and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.

As parents, we are willing to factor in the unexpected only reluctantly because, even in the face of obstacles, we unwaveringly believe in our capacity to work miracles for the sake of our children.
Excerpts from Mothering Magazine, issue 133. You can read the whole article here.

Practicing NFL is a great thing for our family. It helps us to save money, be less wasteful, eat healthier and make more informed choices about our health and the way that we live in general. However, it often requires a great deal of work because it is not the mainstream way of living. Often when you do a great deal of work and see positive results, there is an accompanying feeling of pride, BUT we must not fall into the trap of believing that doing everything NFL will work for everyone. I do think it is important that NFL'ers be open about sharing their successes with others, and on the opposite side of the spectrum that people be willing to listen and even try. You never know, you might be surprised what you find.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Loving an Adopted Child

For a long time Andrew and I have seriously considered adopting a child. We have been met with concerns from our friends and family, many centered around the idea that they could not imagine loving an adoptive child as much as they love their biological children. I posed this question to a friend of mine, Lisa, who has adopted two children and invited her to write a guest post about her experiences. Thank you, Lisa, for being willing to share! Here it is:

I think people worry about being able to love an adopted child because they see children around them that they are not related to, such as neighbor children, and obviously they aren't bonded to that child, so they assume it would be the same with adoption. But its not the same at all! First of all, the adoption process, especially if preceded by the longing of infertility, primes you to bond. You have waited and searched and longed for that child, just as the nine months of pregnancy gives you time to anticipate and prepare emotionally for a child, so does the adoption process. Physical pregnancy has two purposes. One is to grow the baby in the womb. But the other is to give the couple time to emotionally "expect" and prepare for a new family member. Adoptive parents go through a similar process. This has actually been documented by psychologists. Adoptive parents go through their own kind of "pregnancy" as they make the transition from thinking about having a new child come, to doing paperwork and physically preparing for that child to arrive, to opening their hearts to both the idea of a new child and a real, actual child. I have heard many stories of parents literally falling in love with a grainy photo of a baby halfway around the world when they received their official referral in an international adoption. In domestic adoptions, adoptive parents usually bond deeply with the prospective birth mother, and that too aids them in preparing to love their new child.

The other thing to remember is the fact that the child you adopt really is YOUR child just as the child you birth is your child. I think this is especially brought home being LDS and believing in premortal life. This child's existence did not begin with his or her conception in the womb of his biological mother. The child existed as a spirit in the premortal world, and you as the parent probably knew him or her. That's how I view it, anyway. I believe my kids were meant for us and sent to us just as other people's kids are...they just had to come another way. I had specific promptings telling me when my son would be conceived (though I didn't know the promptings were referring to his conception until well after the fact). So obviously, before he was even conceived, even a thought in his birthmother's mind, Heavenly Father knew he was coming to me to be my child. With my daughter, there were many miracles in the timing of her birth. We had been helping to care for my elderly mother-in-law for several years, and I had this feeling that we would not get another baby while she was still alive. She died, and literally five days later we got the call about our daughter. My daughter was born during my mother-in-law's viewing. I think that was no coincidence! I think mother-in-law had a hand in it. My daughter's birthmom didn't want to choose the family herself, so the agency workers fasted and prayed, and when they met to make the decision, all of those who were present overwhelmingly knew that we were supposed to be this baby's family. So, I have never felt like I was raising someone else's child (even though we do share them in some ways with their birth families). I am raising the children Heavenly Father meant me to have, just as other people are raising the children He meant them to have.

I think there can sometimes be differences in how the bonding and attachment happens early on, though I can't say how many of these differences are due to adoption or how many are due to individual, unique factors in the process, just as the timing of bonding can be affected by factors in the birth process. I have many, many friends who have fallen instantly, madly in love with their adopted babies. With both of my children, it has taken a bit of time, and they felt like strangers when I first met them...but I attribute this more to the unique circumstances of each of their placements. (I'm speaking of newborns here, adopting a toddler or older child is a whole different ballgame!) With my son, the first thing was that he was a boy and he was supposed to be a girl, so I had to get used to that idea. The mental picture I'd had in my mind of this person I was expecting had to be altered a bit. Then, he had a long, drawn-out, very emotional placement, so by the time we got him home to our hotel, it was 1:00 in the morning and we were too exhausted to sit and gaze into his eyes like I had anticipated. I was worried about his birthmom, and my thoughts were on her a lot, and for the first day or two I felt bonded to him more through her than just for him being himself. But bonding proceeded very quickly and smoothly, and I would say it was only a couple of weeks. When he was three weeks old, he looked me right in the face and gave me a huge, REAL grin. I also had one really profound moment of experiencing true spirit-to-spirit communication with him when he was several months old that cemented my belief that mother-child connections are primarily spiritual. Obviously God has some biological tools that he uses to help mothers who give birth, there are hormones that are released during the birth and breastfeeding processes that contribute to the feelings of happiness and joy that a mother has for her baby. But all of those same things can be felt spiritually too!

Bonding with my daughter took longer, but I think that was because she was such a surprise, arriving at such a stressful time and on such short notice. I had never allowed myself to "expect" a baby after waiting so long for our first, and while I wanted a baby, I hadn't let myself prepare emotionally as much as I should have. So I had to play some emotional catch-up. It probably took several months before I felt truly bonded to her, but again, it proceeded smoothly and now there is literally no difference. I look at me and my kids and my siblings and friends and their (biological) children, and there is absolutely no difference in the quality of the relationships. There simply is not. I am their mother, and they are my children.

The last thing I want to say is that we bond with our children because we serve them and sacrifice for them! I firmly believe that. I believe that is true for biological mothers and adoptive mothers alike. There is a poem by Carol Lynn Pearson that talks about a mother getting up in the wee hours of the morning to change her baby's diaper. She talks about these invisible threads that form every time we do something for our baby, and how those threads form this huge, tight web of connection between us and that child. I really saw that dramatically with my first child. I had never experienced it before, and so it was just amazing to see how the attachment process works, especially starting with a child who did feel like a little stranger to me the first moment I met him. Every diaper change, every nursing or bottle feeding session, every interaction, every time you hold that child, that bond increases. It's easy for babies to bond to parents, because they respond to touch and to having their needs met, a la attachment parenting. But it works for parents too. You can't help but form a deep and profound connection to someone you are serving so selflessly! And I'm willing to bet that for most people, they have never had to give themselves over so devotedly to a person as they do when they have a new child.