I’ve always identified with Maria. Not because I’ve ever been a nun, or fallen in love with a Navy captain, or whipped up some jumpers out of hippie-colored curtains, but because she was a bit of a flake. Known for being “always late for everything, except for every meal,” her absent-minded whimsy was her way of shielding a superabundant and vulnerable heart from people who didn’t understand her.
Maria’s lack of authoritarian presence led the von Trapp kids to see her as an easy target at first, and while no one has ever left a frog in my burlap sack, I know the feeling. She was inclined to seek more creative ways of soliciting love and cooperation from her children. No one will ever have the perfect success that Ms. von Trapp did, but her lessons continue to encourage and strengthen me as a new mom.
1 | Music is a great healer
I’m not talking about fetching your guitar while your children gather around you and vocalize about native flowers, but there are times when music does indeed soothe the soul. That time of day my mother always called the “witching hour,” the few hours between snack and dinner when the last thing kids want to do is pick up another pencil and follow directions, can be mollified almost immediately with music. Upbeat, acoustic songs with lots of major chords playing in the next room has an instant effect on my kids. They will start saying funny or considerate things and take steps towards participation. It also distracts them from arguing with one another. I love Taylor Swift or One Direction songs because they’re familiar, full of good hooks, and automatically put everyone in a jaunty mood.
2 | Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to empathize
The von Trapp kids relished Maria’s pain when they put a frog in her luggage, their smiles revealing no hint of remorse. It’s so easy to write our kids off when they don’t seem to care that they’re hurting us. However, appealing to your child’s humanity is sometimes the best way to reach a kid who have been punished excessively by controlling or cruel caregivers, and have learned to shut down when he is reprimanded. Simple statements like, “That really hurts my feelings,” allow children to see that you’re not trying to dominate them, but to help them relate better to others. It also lets them know you trust them to be compassionate.
3 | Give them freedom within limits
The most important thing about adoptive parenting is that children know you are on their side. So, yes, sit on a hillside and munch on an apple in your frock while the kids toss a football before launching into a number about solfeggio syllables. Allowing kids to create their own competitions and adventures should be strongly encouraged (and it gets them away from drooly screen time). Let them turn the closet into a craft room, chalk up the driveway, and create pretend packages that get delivered to the house. Show great enthusiasm for the diversions and hearten them to keep it up.
4 | Let them know their dreams can come true
One of my favorite scenes from “The Sound of Music” is when Maria is comforting her new daughter after her first broken heart. She told her to “cry a little, and wait for the sun to come out. It always does.”
Minimizing your child’s hopes in order to save them from a crushing blow will only serve to make them discouraged and resentful. Let them know that, while this bus didn’t stop for them, there is one coming along that will be even better. After all, someone brought you together with the perfect child after many years of hoping, praying, and, somewhere deep inside, knowing that child was out there.