Monthly Archives: August 2012
It can happen with all children. Something goes wrong and the response is to blame another – that other often times is Mom or Dad. For children who have experienced trauma, the intensity and nature of the arrows let loose during such an exchange can sting acutely and sometimes come flying at a very young age. It can feel like they are expert sharpshooters and the bulls eye is dead in the center of the parent’s heart.
In reality what is usually happening is that their harsh words are triggering something in us– a past hurt, a feeling of deficiency, a buried fear. The goal – and may I say loudly and clearly, a very difficult goal indeed – is to not take these angry expressions personally. I, for one, can testify that this is extremely challenging and way easier said than done. Receiving the emotions of frustration, sadness and happiness is a lot easier than receiving anger. It just is. Most parents would literally lay down their lives for their child, so sharp words and searing accusations can feel ludicrous and hurt deeply.
There is another way to view this. We as parents are the safe haven – a kind of sanctuary where all emotions are allowed and the child is still beloved. Children from hard places often feel the need to control –in response to the fact that a significant part of their lives have been completely out of their control. They can feel shame and sometimes see themselves as worthless. Rather than let those very deep feelings into their consciousness, they need a safe place to target them. That secure place is often right at home in the midst of those who love them most. Deep down they may be testing to see if we are really, really going to love them and stick by them through “come what may”. Can we tolerate all parts of them – the good and the bad? Anger often covers up a deeper feeling of fear, shame or sadness. They, like all of us, have a desire to be truly known and yet unconditionally loved.
King David is one of my very favorite guys. He was passionate, raw and a master of extreme emotional expression. He got into big messes, called out to God in such authentic ways and fully asserted a great range of emotion. He was chased and often running for his life– he was an unjust target. He also made others unjust targets of his own desires; think Bathsheba and Uriah. But he always knew God as a safe haven. “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” He flat out voiced all kinds of things to his refuge/shelter/ always there God. And God received it all. David was known in a way that I wish to be known -as a person after God’s heart.
With time and patience, we can begin to discipline and teach our children how to express angry and fearful feelings in healthier ways. It is a moment by moment, day by day, looking toward the long term goal kind of training. To get there often requires a lot of target practice.
It happens every year. The week before school starts, slight depression and bluesy feelings set in. I thought about calling this post “back to school blues”, but that wouldn’t be terribly authentic – I love routine and as a mom who has not worked for pay in a long, long time, I enjoy the quiet and flexible time during school days to pursue a variety of responsibilities and interests. Going to the grocery store alone is my preference. A more orderly house feels good and even folding laundry in silence is often a treat. So, what am I actually feeling?
It seems that summer is a time to relax and more thoroughly enjoy my children. This particular summer started off with some very challenging days, but it quickly moved into a great mix of day camps, chilling and chatting at the neighborhood pool, periodic breaks leaving the girls with a trusted babysitter and some really fun family and vacation time. When we addressed and pursued a rhythm of activity and downtime that works best for our family, it turned into a wonderful oasis between more hectic and stressful school days.
Truthfully, one of the biggest mental hurdles when thinking of school starting up is making lunches. What is so terribly distasteful about having to think up, shop for and pack up those little containers?? This disdain has led to an inner dialogue – “is it time to have the girls start making their own lunches?”, “how truly awful and unhealthy are those school lunches anyway?”, and how can we be creative in handling this little thing that so often turns into a big thing around our house. Our oldest son swears that I made him pack his own lunch starting in around the 2nd grade….
So, on these last few days of summer as we pack up all those fresh new supplies into the backpack, I look forward to a little more order around the house, accomplishing a few projects that have been on the to-do list for years, and basking in the solitude of an empty house. But I will miss serving breakfast at 9 or 10, showering at noon, putting the “hurry up, we are going to be late” phrase to rest, afternoons and evenings that involve no homework and most of all, eating lunch all together around the table.
PS Writing this led to a very fruitful conversation with my girls. We reached a compromise. Based on our schedules, Monday and Wednesday, I will pack the lunches. Tuesday and Thursday, it is their turn. On Friday, we’ll spring for the unhealthy school lunch. After this negotiation, our older daughter said to me, “why are you all about lunches, Mom?”. I shared with her that it was funny to say, but it was one of my bigger stresses about school starting. She looked at me with great sincerity and said, “Really? I thought it would be about our education or something like that”. Good point.
It started as a fairly innocuous dinner conversation about my hair – coloring my hair that is. I do that about every 10 weeks and this was that day. Our older daughter was checking it out up close and noted that she couldn’t see the gray any longer. This moved into a discussion on how long I would color my hair. I said something about wanting to keep it up while young children are in our family. Our younger daughter requested that I do it at least until they were teenagers. We chatted a bit about wrinkles and the options for addressing those and then the conversation took a turn.
Around the corner of talking about parents aging, in the hearts and minds of these daughters, is the often present theme of death. Deeply imprinted on our girls’ hearts is a fear of losing a parent. We have had countless conversations of “what if” – Mommy dies and Daddy doesn’t, Daddy dies and Mommy doesn’t, both die and….you get the point. They want to know specifics about what will happen to them, who will care for them, how in the world would we manage this thing? It is a consistent fear in their young, impressionable hearts and minds and often a topic of conversation.
This was certainly not a focus or repeated conversation that we had with our sons. There are probably several reasons for that. One may be that we did not encourage the same depth of emotional expression that we do now. But a professional once told me that “typical” children do not allow themselves to go there. I don’t think our boys spent a lot of mental or emotional energy in this sphere. Yet for any adopted child, the scenario of losing a parent – to death or some other force – is not theoretical or “could happen” stuff. It is a part of their story.
From my observation, at a very young age, this knowledge is present at a cellular level. They KNOW that the loss of parents is well within the “could happens” of life. It has in fact happened. And as they grow cognitively, they know this truth of their own story on an even deeper and often more confusing level. We have friends who have indeed lost a parent, and I’ll never forget the day that the reality that a child can also die entered their realm of possibilities. Despite a desire to shelter them from these pains, that isn’t possible or healthy. Walking a line of being trustworthy and truthful and meeting their great need to feel safe is a tricky one.
So, my response on that day was that it is unlikely that I die soon, but if that did happen, Daddy and I have plans and provisions in place to take care of them. We have family and friends who would step up and in to help us through. At the end of the dinner, our youngest said, “Mom, keep coloring your hair, and everything will be just fine”. If it was only so simple.
My deep desire is to imprint something new onto their hearts – “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. “ We are on our way, but it is a long, slow journey.
I got my very first “blog request”. I feel so honored – this must be how a band feels when their song gets requested on the radio – do they even do that anymore? I may be showing my age….
The request was to blog a response to the most recent outlandish thing that Pat Robertson said. Now I must confess that I typically throw Mr. Robertson in the same pile as Rush Limbaugh – someone to shake my head at, get riled up over for a few minutes and then decide this really isn’t worth the energy.
But this time Pat Robertson spoke in “mama bear territory”. In case you missed it, here are some highlights of what he said: he was responding to a woman’s question about why men, when they found out she was the adoptive mom of 3 children from 3 different countries, were no longer interested in dating her. Mr. Robertson said things like, “a man doesn’t want to take on the United Nations”, it is a “blended family – what is it?”, you never know what you are going to get and referred to one particular child as “a brain damaged child who grew up to be weird.” I really can’t do this 1 minute 44 second piece justice – best if you see it for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhyJpLIpRVA – it is pretty freaking atrocious.
So, here is a quick and off the top of my head and bottom of my heart response:
Dear Mr. Robertson,
I do not watch your show, yet in recent days, I see segments popping up on my facebook page, hear little snippets on the radio and this time I can’t ignore what you have said. Your words were prejudicial and hurtful to a group of people that I dearly love and highly insensitive and harmful to two that I intimately know and love – international adoptees.
Now, I’d be a big fat hypocrite if I said that adopted children don’t sometimes come with special needs and require a strong commitment to figure out new and best ways to parent – I write about that all the time! But the Jesus that I know and love did not call us to a comfortable, easy life but said that to see him we must look to “the least of these”. That could include those with brain damage, as you called it, those without a family, those living as a foreigner in a new land – anyone that society has marginalized. I could go on and on quoting the Bible that you also claim to honor. God reigns in an upside down kind of kingdom. May I respectfully remind you that each and every one of these children that you very callously referred to are souls created by God, and they hold a very special place in his heart and life order – and God expects them to be elevated in the view of those who claim to be Christian. That topic is addressed over and over again in the scriptures.
God is in the adoption business. Romans says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” I certainly am thankful that God didn’t look at me as brain damaged and weird and discount my worth as an adopted child.
Adopting my daughters was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was headed for a much more self consumed, comfort seeking lifestyle, but God intervened. He privileged me with being mom to two beautiful girls who have truly led to that “abundant life” that I heard so much about and now am beginning to understand. This abundant life has nothing to do with possessions and living comfortably – it has much to do with seeing people and life from God’s perspective and joining in to share life together with all kinds of people in all kinds of places.
I hope that the reason for your harmful and un-thoughtful words on more than one occasion in recent days has to do with an aging mental state rather than a hardened and spiteful heart. An apology to those that you greatly offended is in order. Please consider that it may be time to retire.
Tricia, aka Mama bear
I am sure that I have many friends and blog readers who can add to this incomplete letter. Please feel free to do so in the comment area and I will add it to the letter before I stamp it and send it on to Mr. Robertson.
Today, at approximately 5 AM, I turn 50 years old. I’ve had the privilege to walk this planet for half a century. One of my daughters made a card that said, “you are ½ way to 100”. My age would indicate that I might be living in that space between active parenting and delightful grand parenting. When my mom was this age, she already had 3 grandchildren and a number of empty nest years under her belt. There don’t appear to be grand children on my immediate horizon and at this age, I am still very much actively parenting. The pace is somewhat slower, but the job description still fits. It is an interesting space and time in life. My body is slowing and a bit heavier, but my spirit is lighter and freer.
To celebrate this milestone, I’ve spent some time reflecting on a few of the things I have learned in 25 years of parenting. The lessons are numerous and still being learned, almost daily. But it is always good to speak my learning out loud and in front of witnesses. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Each individual child is a unique soul from God. Having the privilege to teach, guide and watch them unfold is one of life’s greatest.
- Children need lots of fresh air and exercise – parents too.
- Some of the biggest crisis times are actually, in hindsight, some of the most intensely important and necessary times of growth for both parent and child.
- When things get too tense or crazy, dance – it breaks the tension and is good for a few eye rolls and laughs.
- No moment (problem, issue, mess up), no matter how overwhelming, lasts forever. Mercies are new every morning.
- The days can be long, but the years fly right by. Savor the moments.
- A slower than average paced life is quite satisfying and leaves lots of time for great conversation.
- Teenagers do grow up and often turn into delightfully wonderful adults.
- I very rarely pray about specifics for my children – I now figuratively place them in my hands, hold them up to God and trust them to his care. I often don’t have a clue what is best for someone else, even if they are my child.
- Hearing “I love you” from a child never gets old, no matter how old they get.
These are just a few of my favorite lessons from the school of motherhood. I hope for many more years of parenting, and someday, grandparenting. I’d love to hear some of the lessons others have learned as a parent or as a child– lessons big and small. Please indulge the birthday girl.