Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth

Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Tough Conversations
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have spoken up about how they discuss complex topics with their children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I wish my Matthew's adoption story went like this:

Love, love, blabbity blah, love, love, meadows of flowers, buckets of candy, handfuls of Johnny Test watches and Hex Bug habitats.  And love.

Instead, it goes like this:

Your mom was poor.
Your dad fled.
I wish I could fix that.
I can't.

We talk about Matthew's adoption very openly, as though it were a normal part of our family history.  Which it is.  His story is doled out in pieces~

You lived in a house with Mama Lisa and seven other babies....

You were born in a city by the sea...

Kuhn-Mae loved you with all her heart, but didn't have enough money for food and a house and clothes...

And if he asks questions, we give as many details as we know.  He has a scrapbook photo album from his first year, which his foster mom made for him.  It has pictures of his first haircut, bubble baths, playing in the sandbox, and eating sand.  We go through the album periodically, talking about what life was like in Thailand, before we arrived to bring him home, and all the people in his life who love him.  How lucky he is to have so many mommas: tummy mommy, foster mommy, and forever mommy.

We try to be positive, frame his first mommy and siblings in love and kindness, and give Matthew as much information about them as we know.  We write letters to his birth family and have discussed visiting at some point.  But mostly?  We avoid the topic of his First Dad.  One day, Matthew said,

When we go to Thailand can I visit Kuhn-Mae and my brother and sister?

Yes, love.

And my Thailand daddy?  Can we visit my Thailand daddy?

The look in his eyes was pure and hopeful and so beautiful.  So open, and full of certainty that his Thailand daddy would welcome him with open arms.  It broke me in two.  See, Matthew's birth father abandoned his family when his mother became pregnant, claiming that Matthew was not his child and cutting off contact and financial support for the whole family as a result.  Matthew is his child.  There is no doubt when you look at photos that his birth mother is telling the truth, and that some deeper sense of anger, selfishness, overwhelmedness, or divided loyalty caused Matthew's birth father to walk away.
He rejects Matthew's existence as his child, and his abandonment is the reason for the family's poverty and ultimately for Matthew's relinquishment for adoption.

No, sweetheart.  I'm sorry, but we can't visit your Thailand daddy.

Why not?

I weighed my words carefully.  I was torn between the need to be honest and the need to protect my little boy's heart.  How do you say, not all parents are responsible?  Not all parents accept their children?  Not all parents put their children before themselves?  Not all parents can handle the responsibility of a new, small, wiggly baby in their lives?  The only dad Matthew has ever known is full of love and playfulness and is one hundred percent present, every day.  Dependable.  Loving.  Kind.  I also needed to talk to Matthew in words he could understand.  All I could come up with was

He... He is... Well, he's not a nice man.

And immediately Matthew replied, with vehemence, Then I don't want to see him.

You don't have to.

And we moved on.
I know this conversation isn't over.  The thing about adoption stories is that they grow as the child grows, and adopted children constantly reprocess their story at every developmental stage, emotionally and intellectually.  So he will have more questions in the future, and he will want more details.  We will have to face his hopeful eyes again and deliver information that will change the look in his eyes, and hurt him, when he asks about his First Dad.  My hope is to balance honesty with generosity.  To frame his birth parents in the best possible terms and find love in as many corners of the story as possible, without glossing over the truth.  Because it is true that Matthew's birth father abandoned him.  Abandoned the entire family.  But it is NOT true that Matthew is unlovable, or unworthy, or responsible for the abandonment.  If he is told the abandonment part of his story too soon, or in the wrong way, he could internalize a sense of responsibility.

I don't have any profound insight into how to bring my child a fullness and a firm sense of being loved, as well as giving him an honest account of his personal history.  I just know it matters.  It matters how we tell it, when we tell it, and how much information we give him every year, based on how mature he is.  We stumble around, and hopefully respond well when it arrives.

Because all I want for him is love.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon March 12 with all the carnival links.)
  • A Difficult Conversation — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is keeping her mouth shut about a difficult topic.
  • Discussing Sexuality and Objectification With Your Child — At Authentic Parenting, Laura is puzzled at how to discuss sexuality and objectification with her 4-year-old.
  • Tough Conversations — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn knows there are difficult topics to work through with her children in the future, but right now, every conversation is a challenge with a nonverbal child.
  • Real Talk — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama explains why there are no conversation topics that are off limits with her daughter, and how she ensures that tough conversations are approached in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  • From blow jobs to boob jobs and lots of sex inbetweenMrs Green talks candidly about boob jobs and blow jobs…
  • When Together Doesn't Work — Ashley at Domestic Chaos discusses the various conversations her family has had in the early stages of separation.
  • Talking To Children About Death — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is currently dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. In this post she shares how she's explained it to her toddler, and some of the things she's learned along the way.
  • Teaching 9-1-1 To Kids — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling talks about the importance of using practical, age-appropriate emergency scenarios as a springboard for 9-1-1 conversations.
  • Preschool Peer PressureLactating Girl struggles to explain to her preschooler why friends sometimes aren't so friendly.
  • Frank Talk — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis unpacks a few conversations about sexuality that she's had with her 2-year-old daughter, and her motivation for having so many frank discussions.
  • When simple becomes tough — A natural mum manages oppositional defiance in a toddler at Ursula Ciller's Blog.
  • How Babies are Born: a conversation with my daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger tries to expand her daughter's horizons while treading lightly through the waters of pre-K social order.
  • Difficult Questions & Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell The Truth — Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection shares the potential impact that telling lies instead of taking the time to answer difficult questions can have on the parent-child relationship.
  • Parenting Challenges--when someone dies — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about talking to her child about death and the cultural challenges involved in living in a predominantly Catholic nation.
  • Daddy Died — Breaking the news to your children that their father passed away is tough. Erica at ChildOrganics shares her story.
  • Opennesssustainablemum prepares herself for the day when she has to tell her children that a close relative has died.
  • Embracing Individuality — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy addressed a difficult question in public with directness and honesty.
  • Making the scary or different okay — Although she tries to listen more than she talks about tough topics, Jessica Claire of Crunchy-Chewy Mama also values discussing them with her children to soften the blow they might cause when they hit closer to home.
  • Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama concluded that her family would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, she came up with a plan to persuade her gluten-loving son to find peace with the change. This is how they turned the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle into an adventure rather than a hardship.
  • How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity? — How do you and your family approach diversity? Gretchen of That Mama Gretchen shares her thoughts at Natural Parents Network and would like to hear from readers.
  • Discussing Difficult Topics with Kids: What’s Worked for Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares parenting practices that enabled discussions of difficult topics with her (now-adult) children to be positive experiences.
  • Tough Conversations — Get some pointers from Jorje of Momma Jorje on important factors to keep in mind when broaching tough topics with kids.
  • Protect your kids from sneaky people — Lauren at Hobo Mama has cautioned her son against trusting people who'd want to hurt him — and hopes the lessons have sunk in.
  • Mommy, What Does the Bible Say? — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work works through how to answer a question from her 4-year-old that doesn't have a simple answer.
  • When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth — Melissa at White Noise talks about balancing truth and love when telling her son his adoption story.


mamapoekie said...

That is hard...
Could you tell your child that his biodad chose to have a life without him and that you don't know all the reasons why.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

There will never be an easy way to have that conversation :( I would imagine that counselors of children who are adopted or who have parents that split up might have insight. Ultimately, I hope that what matters is that Matthew's forever family is one that will nurture and nourish his spirit. He will know that he is worthy and loved, regardless of bio-dad's failures as a person.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Ah, Melissa. I love it when you share your honesty about adoption, because what a big, beautiful, complex, terrifying reality it all is.

We've watched several children's movies lately that have focused on orphans — you know how they're so prevalent in children's fiction? And we've had our own awkward, halting discussions about the fact that, no, not all parents and caregivers are good, and that, yes, sometimes parents die or leave. It's awful to break that news to our own child as a distant generality, so I can only imagine how it is to speak that truth to your son about his actual First Dad. I'm glad that he has you to help pilot him through these tough waters.

Momma Jorje said...

It sounds like you are doing a GREAT job! You are such a good mother! :)

Much <3

Emilie D said...

This is so hard, I can't imagine going through that. I believe that although his story is so hard to talk about without hurting him, Matthew will grow as a balanced and strong adult, thank to all the love and kindness that his family surrounds him with. His birth dad's story will probably remain painful but he'll know he's worth more than that, thank to you. I hope this does not come out wrong, it is hard to put in words, not to mention in English.

Deb Chitwood said...

I love your term "forever mommy." That's such a beautiful way to introduce adoption to your child. Those are difficult conversations for you have with your son, but it sounds like you're doing a wonderful job with the issue. Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

Bianca @ The Pierogie Mama said...

I struggle with a similar thought regarding Thailand dad. My brother and his now ex girlfriend got pregnant at 19 and now the little boy is 18 months. My brother likes the idea and respect of being recognized as a parent, but puts zero effort into being one. In the custody arrangement, my parents have accepted all of his responsibilities and have been granted at least 1 weekend a month with their grandson. And my brother? He barely ever shows up to see his son when he is there for the weekend.

I struggle because my family isn't like that. I struggle because I know this little boy deserves so much more than my brother.

I struggle because I don't know if I'll get to be in his life at a time when he will have those questions, about his daddy, and how will I respond to his absentee-ness.

But like you say, all we can do is teach them love.