Last week’s Forever Family discussed T-man’s reaction to a genetics unit in his science class. Well, not so much the genetics unit itself as his classmates’ response when he asked how to complete a homework assignment if you’re adopted.
Let’s just say the other kids sounded…startled. And expressed that feeling. Loudly.
We let it rest for a while, giving T-man time to settle back into himself before I revisited the issue this week. I wanted the chance to talk with him more about two things: how he felt about the other kids’ reactions, and what their words meant to him.
It was a little rough.
(Check out last Friday’s post if you didn’t have a chance to read it, or this one will feel like walking into a movie halfway through.)
Having the time to distance himself from the experience didn’t make his classmates’ outburst any less striking to T-man. He was still embarrassed and upset, and he struggled with the emotions that “You’re ADOPTED?!” evoked in him. A couple of weeks had definitely not helped this memory fade into the background.
So I asked why he felt so strongly about their response.
T-man said he hadn’t necessarily wanted all of his classmates to know he’s adopted, and that by now the word had probably spread to other fifth grade classes, too. He looked like a kid whose worst secret had been spray painted across the front of the school.
First I told him how brave I thought he was to even ask the question. Adoption is a sensitive area for him, and it took real courage to raise his hand in the middle of class and ask about it in front of everyone. He struggles with it, sometimes he’s uncomfortable with it, but T-man pushed past that and asked anyway. This is pretty amazing progress for him.
Then I asked him to seriously think about his classmates’ response. That maybe their “You’re ADOPTED?!” was genuine surprise because they’d never thought of T-man as being different, or curiosity because they don’t know anyone who’s adopted, or even discomfort because of something they have going on in their own lives that he knows nothing about. That an outburst like that can come from several places, and he was looking at it through his own frame of reference.
Which brought us to our wrecking ball moment. I asked what would it mean if word had spread and other fifth graders found out that he’s adopted. What exactly did that mean to him.
And his response cut right through me.
“Well, I’m like ‘Yeah! Okay! So these aren’t my REAL parents, they’re just some people who adopted me! I don’t even KNOW where my real parents are. Well, I know about one, but still…’ “
It’s moments like these when a door slams in my mind, shutting away my feelings so I can focus on parenting. That would explain how I can hear this kind of thing and go on to calmly discuss emotions and perception and how sometimes we project our own issues onto others. It would also explain the 30 minute delay before tears began trickling down my cheeks. Knowing my lag time is helpful. With luck it means I’ll be by myself before dealing with my own baggage.
So I’m at a bit of a loss. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
- Parenting is painful. Everyone’s kid hurts them sometimes; it’s part of the deal when you take the gig. This happens to be my pain with T-man.
- He needs a safe place to be able to say things like that. Whether it’s true or not, it matters to T-man if he thinks his peers believe he doesn’t have ‘real’ parents. Maybe expressing that helps to chip away at the power the concept holds over him.
- (Deep breath here. I know this might sound awful.) Hearing T-man say that hurts, and I make it a rule not to let people be cruel to me. I would never refer to him as “not my real son, he’s just some kid I adopted a while ago.” Does he have any idea what it would feel like to hear that? Would it even be right to point that out to him?
- Is this simply our present version of “I HATE YOU!!”? Moving from dependence to independence, utter adoration to pure loathing to leveled out hormones…these are normal developmental stages. Adoption brings its own developmental stages. Maybe “you’re not my REAL parents” is one of those and I just have to patiently wait for him to move through it.
- When do you know it’s time for a reality check? I’m working to be present in the moment with my children, to help them process and learn from their emotions. How do you balance the need for a child to come first and foremost with the importance of teaching them compassion for others? That a parent is more than just a parent…we are people with feelings, too.
So many different people read this blog – adults with and without children, professionals who work with children, adoptive parents, those who were adopted themselves – and each of you has a unique perspective (that isn’t influenced by actually living in this house!). I’d love to hear what you think.
What would you do in my shoes?