Several years ago I taught a Confirmation class for 9th grade girls at a rather large parrish. The 100+ or so prospective Confirmants were divided up into relatively modest class sizes - less than 10 students - and each small group would meet individually on a weekly basis. There were several occasions however when everyone - all of the students, all of the small group leaders and parrish staff - would convene for special training sessions, Mass or other events relevant to their preparation for the impending sacrament.
There was one young woman in the cohort who was a trans-racial adoptee. I suspected as such when I first saw her and her parents at church, and later a friend who knew the family confirmed by prediction. To be fair, I had no prolonged, direct contact with either her or her family as she was not a part of our small group class, but I can speak to what I observed both at weekly mass and during our large group Confirmation meetings.
Simply put, this young woman exhibited all of the characteristics of a spoiled, over-indulged, disrespectful and thankless adolescent. The things she said to her parents, most notably directed at her mom, and the tone in which she said them warranted a steady stream of reactionary head tilts and furrowed brows from me as if to say "Did she just say what I think she said. . .and to her MOM?!" I don't know what kind of family you might have been raised in, but believe me, telling my mom to "shut up", and "to mind your own business" and to demand transportation and money to further advance my social life would NOT have been well received. And if I would have this said in public - in our church no less? I shudder even now to think of what my mom would have done.
And therein lay the problem - at least from my perception. Never once did I see or hear this mom do anything. Not once. She seemed like a lovely person and I'm sure she was. I have no doubt she loved her daughter very much and that she wanted her daughter to lack for nothing. On the surface, this young woman appeared to have it all - and then some. (I'm pretty sure some of the purses and shoes this girl owned exceed our combined household car payments. Seriously.) In my estimation, the more I observed this girl and her family, the more it became painfully obvious that what this girl needed was a mom and dad who were not afraid to step-up and parent.
I'm not a parenting expert - I've only occupied the actual role of parent for 9 years - but I have worked with kids in varying capacities for over 25 years. I also lay no claim to holding the one and only way to parent a child who is adopted (nor would I ever assert that only one way exists) but I am adopted myself and I am currently parenting a child who is also adopted. Based on my own personal conversations and observations that I've had with many trans-racial adoptive families throughout the years as well as my own family experiences, this is my armchair analysis of what I think was going on with this particular trans-racial adoptive family and what I believe many other TRA families might be experiencing as well.
The notion that "My child is too hurt/scarred/sensitive/feeble/damaged/overly emotional/distraught/etc. from the losses surrounding her adoption that I cannot risk being one more person to disappoint her or have her be mad at me. She needs me to be the one to fulfill all of her wants and needs.
Lord knows that I am not shy about informing anyone who will listen that adoption can be both punctuated and permeated by deep, profound loss. Losing ones parents can alter the trajectory of a person's life in ways that cannot be overstated. That being said, I don't think we as parents do our kids any favors by holding the bar so low by suggesting that our kids are incapable of being more than the sum of their losses. My 6 year-old son doesn't need to be pitied and treated as a helpless infant because his Korean mom could not parent him. My son doesn't benefit one bit if his dad is too scared to draw and enforce the necessary boundaries out of fear of further "injuring" our son.
I think we can all agree that we want our kids - and especially our adopted kids to feel safe and secure. I believe that it is the consistent application of healthy boundaries and the consistent implementation of appropriate consequences when said boundaries are crossed that fosters an environment where a child can feel the most safe, the most secure in his surroundings. The goal I think for most parents is to establish and promote a secure attachment between them and their child. A child who has incurred such unpredictable and sudden changes such as the loss of ones parents is going to need, want and require consistency and accountability for any trust to have an opportunity to take root and to continue to grow.
Think of it this way: If your partner came home from work today and told you that he'd (or she'd) been having an affair, aside from the feelings of anger and betrayal you'd undoubtedly have you'd most likely wonder if you could ever fully trust him again. If you chose to remain in the relationship you can imagine how long it might take - and hard he would need to work - to establish some modicum of trust ever again. Let's say shortly after he's revealed his indiscretion, he tells you that he's going out for the evening with a couple of college buddies. You may wonder if he's really telling the truth and you may even become anxious and upset. He tells you that he'll be home by 10 o'clock, yet 10:30 comes along and there is no sign of him. You call his phone and it goes right to voice mail. What are the thoughts going through your mind? Based on your prior knowledge and his past history, it wouldn't be irrational to think that he might be with his mistress.
Many, many children who are adopted have already been left (or cheated on, if you want to think of it that way) at least one time in their short lives. Why would we expect any child to readily or instinctively trust us after being lied to (in a child's mind) by so many people he thought he could count on? I honestly believe that a child needs to feel safe in every sense of the word before he can start to trust the people around him. And how can a child feel truly safe if there are no boundaries, no consistency and no accountability for his actions? I have witnessed many toddlers, preschoolers and school aged children - all of whom are adopted - who seem to call the shots in the family. Some people may think this is empowering the child by allowing his voice to be heard and his wishes to be granted. Some may think it's best to give the adopted child whatever he wants because he's already lost so much. Others may believe that by overcompensating with an overly permissive parenting style the parent can somehow make-up lost ground or fill the void they think their child has from his/her earlier life's losses.
The young woman I spoke about at the beginning of this post exhibited behaviors that were practically crying out "Mom! Dad! Grow a pair already and stand up to me, for crying out loud!!" It can be an incredibly scary and anxiety-inducing state to be in when you feel that the person who is supposed to be in control isn't. If on the first day of your new job you went to the HR Dpt and the person in charge said "Well, I'm not exactly sure what paperwork you need to fill out, but you can choose whatever forms look intriguing and maybe you'll end up getting paid or maybe not - it's totally up to you, dear." Really - how much respect, confidence and trust are you going to have in this new company?
We are the ones who made the decision to parent. No one accidentally slips and falls into becoming an AP. Of course our kids need our love, our nurturing, our compassion, our empathy and our willingness to hear and see them for who they are. But they also need and want us to take the reins and to step-up as the role of the parent. To do any less is not only exceptionally unfair and dare I say incredibly unhealthy to them, their well-being and sense of identity, but it's completely abdicating our responsibilities as the adult. We are the ones who signed up for this awesome privilege of being able to parent, not them. And it is not their job to teach us how to be the very best parent that we can be.
More on this topic to come soon. . .