Friday, January 25, 2013

Mama Bean projects herself into her parenting (surprise, surprise)

I think I would rather have my child get hit or scratched or pushed than have them told, "You can't be in our group" which is the same as "I don't accept you" which is the same as "You are not loved." (And vice versa, I'd rather my kid hit someone than say something like that.)

Part of this is due to my parenting aptitude. I know, more or less, how to deal with physical hurts. I have a script to follow, and it's a pretty black and white no-tolerance issue. "We don't use our hands that way. That is not okay" etc. etc. I feel like this is the first script of parenting I learned. And it's usually pretty easy to solve the instigating problem - figure out what toy needs to be shared, what distraction will be sufficient, whether a nap or a snack is the solution to all problems (as it so often is.) (See? This is where we learn that food solves problems. Oi.)

I don't have a script for emotional hurts - it's so much greyer. On the one hand, there is the fact that words hurt. On the other hand, it isn't realistic that all children will be friends with all others, and I don't want to force friendship. That would be invalidating their feelings. But how to explain tact and diplomacy and respectful words to a three year old?

I suppose it comes down to separating emotions, which happen and can't be denied, from behaviours, which are choices, and some should most certainly be denied. Physical wrongs are motivated by feelings, too - anger, frustration, envy. The script is not "We don't get angry or upset when someone takes out toy." The script is about not turning that anger into a violent action. So I suppose it can likewise be taught that, though we may not like someone or may not wish to play with them, we don't turn those feelings into mean words or cruel behaviour.

Part of it is my children's developmental status, also. A physical hurt produces a well-identified area of pain, sometimes even a visible mark. They know the word(s) for that pain, they know how to point/show it to me, and they know a kiss and a hug (and maybe a Spiderman band-aid) will make it go away. Certainly time fades all such wounds. But, emotional hurt is still so confusing and nebulous - they don't have the words, it's hurts somewhere strange inside, and a band-aid will not help. Sometimes not even a hug, if it's not from the person who produced the hurt, y'know?

And here I feel my own emotional immaturity is my own worst enemy. I get tripped up in my explanations because I can't even explain these hurts to myself. To me, not being accepted is the greatest hurt. Has been so since childhood. Thus, when my children are hurt in this way, I lose all perspective.

[A lengthy aside: the adopted child is always aware of feeling Other and Outside, and they are terrified of being excluded or rejected. It is the nature of starting in one family and ending up in another; the sense that all relationships are transitory and fragile. I believe this feeling is permanent, that is, it cannot be loved away, and if it is ignored, all the worse. If you know or love an adopted person, the way you love them should acknowledge this fear in them - even if they don't have the words to name their fear.]

Part of it is, naturally, that my children are beloved to me, and I want them to be beloved by everyone. I was thinking the other day that, in this very shallow way, I want for my children socially what I never had - to be part of the In Crowd, part of the Popular Kids. I don't want them to be social outcasts, geeky pariahs, nerdy loners - because that hurts. But let's be honest, I want it all for them, just as we all do - the academic success of nerdiness, the social success of popularity. (And I do know these things are not mutually exclusive, I experienced a strange such mixture in my high school years.)

But life being what it is, the truth is they will be disliked and/or discluded, often. And my parenting strategy (and I'm using that word loosely...) feels like this nebulous mixture of a) hiding them away b) helping them accept and adapt and rise above these hard truths of life c) teaching them to love themselves as much as I love them (or because I love them?)

Hiding them in/with/behind my love is not a complete solution. That is, I feel with certainty it is not enough to respond to social hurts with, "Don't worry, baby, mommy loves you." Because I do want my love to be their place of safety, their place to hide, but I don't want running away and hiding to be their default solution to trouble (of any sort.) I am so prone to running and hiding, and it is maladaptive. How to teach them to stand on their own and fight on their own, when I cannot do these things myself? (And, deeper down, this is not a complete solution because I am human, I will make mistakes, and I will disappoint them; and an imperfect love is small comfort in the face of a cruel world. But here I may simply be projecting. Ha! Of course I'm projecting.)

Accepting an imperfect world is also not a complete solution. Taken too far, it normalizes bad behaviour - what starts as "Oh that's just how kids are" too easily becomes teaching them it's okay to turn a blind eye to injustice, it's okay to ignore (or worse deny) the rights of the oppressed, because "Hey, we live in a crappy world. Get over it!" What a strange dance it is to learn where it's a waste of time to try and where it's a wise investment of one's unique ability to change the world.

And frankly, this notion of self-esteem has been so diluted and distorted, if it offers any solution, I personally cannot parse it out. I know that my love is a foundation for developing their self love. I would never want my love to encourage arrogance. I don't want to deny the reality of The Bell Curve - that we are all simultaneously special stars and also all pretty average. Special average stars of normalcy. But each with, yes, this opportunity to change their own little world. More of this tricky balance! Finding that just-right-amount of confidence, not too little, not too much.

Sheesh, what a lot of words, and I've gone off track. All this to say, life is socially complicated, my childhood was marred by hurts from this, I thought it'd be easier in adulthood but it's not, so I project my social insecurities onto my children, and feel helpless in the face of their social hurts, but I've got to get it together for their sake, if not my own.


  1. I am thankful that our adoption into the Kingdom is complete! And hopefully, this can help us be the parents our children need. And also that we will allow grace and mercy to lead and cover our reactions and responses.

    We are broken and we cause some of the brokenness others feel, but God is the much better parent!

    Keep your eyes on the prize! Then your children will know where to get their confidence and healing from!

  2. How are you doing? You've been quiet for so long.... I hope all is well.