- long and emotional read today. Ugly vulnerability from me that I rarely admit to. If you are ready to change your view of adoptive families with troubled children, please read. If you are only here to criticize, please move along. I post this in the hopes of reminding other adoptive families that they are not alone in their worries and emotional pain; and I post this in the hopes of helping non-adoptive families learn a few things about how hard us adoptive families work to help our children with abusive histories.
I had an interesting confrontation yesterday morning. This confrontation was at first offensive which, of course, caused me to be defensive. I did my best to hide this...I took a deep breath, attempted to respond, but it was clear this individual had no desire to converse with me. Rather he needed to "put me in my place" and move on. This caused me to spend an entire day contemplating, at first trying to understand his perspective and ultimately leading to my conclusion that outsiders to our family are going to see what they want to see and they are going to judge me negatively for parenting issues I had no part in creating. This only adds to the difficulty of the work my husband and I do. This is not the first time this has happened to me. In fact, holding my head up despite rumors and ill will from those in my community is something I have been doing for the last 10 years as I adopt and love children from troubled backgrounds with difficult behaviors. There are members of our own family that have ostracized us, we have lost "friends" over the years because they couldn't handle the situation and we have struggled to find community activities (including our old church) that we could safely participate in with our children. I am a mother to these children. I worry about their behaviors, I strive to parent and discipline in an effective and loving manner. And I worry that I am failing...every day. I have come to rely on myself to pick up the pieces of a bad day and start over on the next day. I am down to a handful of friends that I can count on to love me and encourage me no matter how bad things get. They continue to give my children love...even when my children are out of line and out of control. And I can count those friends on exactly one hand. The rest of society...not so much. They judge, they whisper, they approach and comment on something they know nothing about and they bring up every worry I have and serve it to my stressed out, anxiety ridden stomach like a sucker punch to the gut. Society doesn't help me...society makes me want to run and hide. I suspect the Florida mother that put her Russian adoptive child on a plane and sent him back felt much the same way. Society screams "how could she" and yet that same society has done nothing but judge mothers like her and me for the behaviors of our children. That same society has confronted us, blamed us, ostracized us and made it clear we are not welcome.
My children stand out in a crowd. Some are black, some are asian, some are hispanic and some are white. We are transracial and we are watched. We face racism, we face questions, we face ignorance and we face animosity and confusion. Mostly, we face society's fears. My children do not always behave they way I want them to. Often, they have poor social skills, non-existant boundaries and a total lack of manners. They spent their earliest years learning to survive. They hit, scream, push and cut in line. I did not teach them to behave this way and in fact, I do my best to teach them they are safe, they are loved and they do not need to hit, scream, push and cut in line to get their fair share in life. They come from backgrounds with multiple care-givers, different homes, different rules and different parenting styles. The issues they bring into my home come from all these experiences...and usually a result of years of these experiences. Again, I did not teach them these behaviors. Their desire to survive taught them these behaviors. These are behaviors that I cannot snap my fingers to change. I cannot simply state to my children that a behavior is unacceptable and the behavior will miraculously go away. I cannot spank them or dump them in time out and expect their behaviors to instantly be angelic. And yet...society thinks I should. Society thinks I can. Society thinks that these kids are now adopted so the behaviors that took years to develop should now be extinguished before the ink is even dry on the adoption papers.
The man that confronted me yesterday morning simply looked at my child and informed me that I needed to "coach" him to behave better. His parenting of a single child for about 4 years leads him to believe that he knows more than I do about raising my child. In fact, his 4 years of experience leads him to believe he knows more than the social workers and therapists with whom I have worked. He believes that I have done nothing to change the behaviors. He doesn't understand that I have spent hours working with social workers, therapists, behavior modification specialists, teachers, and doctors evaluating numerous medical and developmental tests trying to put the puzzle pieces of my child's behavior together. He doesn't understand the diagnosis my children carry or the hours I have spent working with the school to understand special needs students. He has no idea how many 100's, maybe 1000's, of articles and books I have read on the subject. He doesn't see how hard I am trying. He has no idea how much pain my child endured or how long or what it takes for somebody to recover from trauma. He knows nothing of any of this, but he is going to judge me and tell me how to parent better.
This confrontation was interesting to me on many levels. The first being society's view of ill-mannered children in public areas. Judgement is easy...knowledge and understanding takes work. And most people have no desire to put the effort in. It was also interesting to me because what I really saw in this man's face was fear. Fear that his child was somehow being harmed. Let me be clear...there was no danger for any child at any point. We are talking about a group of about 10 preschoolers in a rough and tumble play environment with a few mild mannered kids that grew up in sheltered protected households and understand the basic concepts of society - waiting patiently in line. Sitting quietly. No hitting. And a few rambunctious children that are so excited they cut in line, struggle to sit still, and resort to pushing or hitting as part of rough play. And yet, this man was clearly afraid for his child despite the staff of the facility as well as the parents sitting on the sidelines watching. This parent was so afraid that he was compelled to confront me and make me understand that I need to "coach" my child and therefore protect his. I wonder how many years this man was bullied as a child that has caused him to feel so over-protective of his own child. I wonder when he will learn that he can not raise a healthy individual if he wraps his child in bubble wrap and jumps in to solve every problem that his child will face. Clearly this father is young and clearly he loves his son. But, in this moment, he was out of line and was responding to his own fears...not an actual problem with his child. As I glanced at the children, his child was playing with mine. Smiling and playing rough - as boys do. Our children were not in distress and were content playing together. The anxiety was all the father's.
But what bothers me the most was the fact that there were at least 10 children playing...many were playing rough and cutting in line. Many were struggling to follow directions - as most preschoolers do. And yet, he was so full of anxiety he had to verbally address me but nobody else. What made my son more of a threat to his son than any other child out there? After 24 hours of deeply contemplating the situation, I am shocked and sad to say that this man was afraid of my son. Not because his was playing any different than the other kids in the group. At this point, I believe it was because my son is black and he is bigger than this man's son. I know this is a strong statement and I am one of the first people to be offending when people start throwing down the race card so it is not an accusation I make lightly and yet...the only difference between my child and the other children playing was my son's race. I am saddened because this man probably has no idea why he felt the way he did towards my son. I am certain he believes that he is not racist. I am also certain that he is not the only person that holds subtle views that continue to perpetrate racism. Think back yourself to times when you too had a moment of fear in a situation - not because anything was actually wrong, but because somebody approached you and they happened to black. This is at its core, fear of race. His son did not see a threatening black boy. His son was chasing my son. His son reached out to poke my son in a game and my son laughed, gave a gentle push and turned to run away - fully expecting his new friend to chase him, which he did. This man's son saw a new friend. The father saw only a threat.
This image is copied from http://guardianlv.com/2013/07/racism-in-the-modern-arab-world/
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So, in conclusion, to those adoptive families that are out there. You are awesome. You are strong and I applaud you for what you have achieved. And although there is likely still a long road ahead of you, hold your head up and know that there are some of us out here that have truly been there and understand. I embrace you and your effort and I encourage you to never give up. You can do this. And to those that have sat back in judgement, I say be careful of judging things that you know nothing about. And instead, get to know us, hear our stories and offer us some encouragement. Remind us that our hard work will one day pay off. Play with our kids for a little bit and give us a short break. Know that most days, we are barely holding our emotions together and just send some love and prayers our way.