Forever Family: the life not lived

A beautiful young girl, one with boundless kindness and a sweet demeanor, found herself cruelly thrown into a life of servitude by her stepmother.

A long-awaited child is taken from her parents’ home and raised by a witch.  She grows to become the most beautiful child in the world, and in her twelfth year she is locked away in a tower in the woods.

The Good Queen gives birth to a precious daughter before passing away.  Eventually the king takes a beautiful second wife who is both wicked and vain.  When the daughter becomes more beautiful than the angry Queen she sends her into the woods to be slaughtered.

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I gotta say, fairy tales haven’t exactly done women many favors.  First mothers are idealized, adored, memorialized as beautiful and kind.  Second mothers are cruel, indifferent, abusive…sometimes even criminal.

It makes you wonder what kind of mommy issues the Brothers Grimm had.

I joke but boy, this stuff brings all those biological parent issues screaming to the forefront.  I don’t know many adoptive families that are living through what I’d consider a wide open adoption – one where the biological family and adoptive family are in frequent contact, meeting regularly, sometimes even sharing holidays together.

Most are either navigating closed adoptions where there might be a bio provided about the birth parents, or they’re working to make open adoptions successful through visitation and communication.  These are the families I’m talking about today.

Biological parents, fantasy versus reality…there’s nothing easy about this coin.

There are endless layers to a child’s birth parent fantasy.  Maybe she likes music and can draw, just like me.  Maybe he’s got brown eyes, too.  She’s probably beautiful, and funny, and has freckles on her nose.  I wonder if he played basketball or soccer…I bet he’s fast, like me.  I wonder…I wish…if only…

A million different ways a child imagines the life not lived, the path not taken.  What that other parent’s face looks like in the mirror.  What it would be like to have breakfast together each morning and dinner each night.  What Christmas morning would bring, which songs they like on the radio, if they eat cold pizza for breakfast and have candy all day long.

And, like children everywhere, their imaginations take them to extraordinary, Willy Wonka-like places.  Alternate lives where they have a TV in their bedroom, there’s no such thing as bedtime or eating your vegetables, and chores are something for someone else to handle.  A Disney experience filled with thrilling roller coaster rides, sugary treats, and enough love to light up the world.

Who wants to burst that bubble?

Children rarely imagine the alternate reality.  The struggles adults face all too often.  Working two jobs to pay the bills, too many people under one roof with not enough to go around.  Not that there isn’t money for iPhones or gaming systems, but that there are days when the pantry is empty.  When school is a kid’s best chance of eating a meal even close to balanced.  That owning three shirts is plenty and the laundromat is a luxury afforded on payday.

Birth parents who are trapped by drugs or have abandoned taking the medications they need to succeed.  Struggles with alcoholism, addiction, abuse, poverty…how a parent who loves their child can lose their way, withhold their adoration, and crush a child’s spirit.

It’s the life not lived.  Yes, it may be utterly fantastic, or it might be devastatingly brutal.  Either way, it’s the life our kids are not living.

So we struggle.  We struggle with how much truth they’re ready to hear.  When an honest answer will ring true for them instead of seeming like an attack on their fantasies.

I’m hoping when my kids are older they’ll understand the delicate balance of holding space with them and bringing them truth.

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