Forever Family: yep, that still hurts

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?

8 thoughts on “Forever Family: yep, that still hurts

  1. I don’t see anything wrong with saying something like:
    “Ouch! Actually, I consider myself your REAL parent, and you are definitely my REAL kid. I hope someday, you will be able to see it this way too. ”
    The space you are creating needs to be safe for both of you, not just the kid!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point, Laura…sometimes I feel like I’m walking on eggshells so I don’t make it harder for him, but hearing that one is definitely hard on me. Thanks for the advice!


  2. First, I think you are a WONDERFUL REAL MOM.

    re·al ˈrē(ə)l/ adjective
    1. actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.

    You seem pretty real to me Laura. You also seem pretty amazing.

    As a mother and also once as a 5th grader, think about how we once processed and vocalized things at that age. He is learning just like you are. And just like you, there are days that are going to hurt him and confuse him. I am sure when he said: “So these aren’t my REAL parents, they’re just some people who adopted me!” — he simply meant genetically or birthed BUT he knows you are MOM. When he is excited and hurt and scared, he comes to YOU, right? Just like all kids … we run to our MOM.

    You asked: “What would you do in my shoes?” … tighten the laces when needed but don’t forget to go barefoot either, its how we build “calluses” and strengthen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts (and such kind words, too — sometimes we can be hard on ourselves as moms).

      You’re right, I’m as real as it gets, & I know I know that. I think he’ll eventually get that, too, so I get frustrated with myself for feeling hurt when he says it. Once time passes & I’ve cooled off I remember that even though he seems so grown he really is just beginning to come into himself…plus these are heavy concepts at 11 yrs old.

      I really do appreciate your advice. It looks like T’s teaching me strength this week. 😏

      Liked by 1 person

  3. At his age, and with this exercise, maybe it was just a question of vocabulary for an 11 year old ? What he might say at a later age is the more appropriate word “biological” parent. Of course, you will always be his real parents, and that understanding may already be there. But his choice of words….sigh. I can feel the pain in your post. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • Also true…this may just be a case of semantics. Way (way!) back, when this first came up, we asked him to tell us what a “real” parent is and he said it was someone who got pregnant & had a baby so he was completely focused on the biology of the matter. He’ll eventually get it. (Maybe not until he’s a parent himself, but eventually….)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with Laura’s comment above that it’s OK for mom to react respectfully in that moment too! I think kids grow leaps and bounds emotionally both when they’re given a safe place to express emotions and when they have a parent modelling safe expression of emotions as well. Specifically to T, it might have felt good to him to hear you point out just how real the dynamic is! I’m not adopted but I do know what it’s like to have mom discount my feelings, and I think you did a wonderful job letting little T have space for his feelings. Kudos, mama.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks. I think a lot of parents — especially when I was growing up — had that tendency to discount kids’ feelings, to brush aside things, so I try hard not to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

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