Monday, August 5, 2013

advocating for your child

I've went back and forth as to whether or not I should post about some recent encounters we've experienced as an adoptive family, but after much thought, here I go...

Before becoming a "real" mom, I surrounded myself with moms in every season of motherhood to watch them and learn from them - this was quite easy to do, considering most women in my circle of friends are moms, most of my coworkers are moms, most of the people I go to church with are moms. So if you're a mom and we spend any amount of time together, you may now know that I've been studying you...not in a weird, stalkerish way. I was just trying to learn everything I could to prepare myself in my expectant stage of motherhood. You read plenty of books before you have a baby, right? But nothing in those books compares exactly to real life experiences -- although, I must admit, almost every page of "The Strong-Willed Child" (the toddler chapters anyway) is played out in our home nearly daily. If you're a mom (new or empty nest), you know what I mean, that learning from real life experience is more fundamental than what is read on a page. So from that thinking, I watched, I asked questions, I listened, I took mental notes (and sometimes handwritten ones!) on how to and how not to handle certain situations. During my "pre-children education" one valuable thing that I heard on several occasions from several trusted and wonderfully role model-esque moms was that once you know your child, there will be times that you need to be an advocate for them.

Children are so vulnerable and can be so easily hurt unless someone stands up for them to protect their hearts. Being an advocate for your child does not mean covering up something they're guilty of, or brushing off something they did to hurt someone else, but it does mean knowing and understanding your child (biological or adopted), and stepping in to speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves (either developmentally or for fear of embarrassment) in certain situations. 

Several weeks ago, we were at a party and a family member asked to hold one of our boys. We let her, as we want our boys to feel secure enough to visit with others, knowing that mommy and daddy aren't going to leave them. He was with her for several minutes then turned to see where JT and I were (an excellent sign of attachment). As he began reaching for us to hold him, she said jokingly, "Your mommy doesn't want you."

Now, 1st of  all, I'm going to give this person the benefit of the doubt that she was saying those words but really meant "I'd like to hold you longer because you're so cute"...but 2nd of all, I don't think those words should EVER be spoken to ANY child, biological or adopted. Regardless of age, would you want to hear the words '- "your mommy doesn't want you?" No, you wouldn't. Period.

Like I said, I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt that she didn't literally mean what she said, but as soon as the ill-thought words escaped her lips, the hairs on this momma's neck rose, I'm sure my face flushed bright red as I responded loudly and affirmatively "This mommy ALWAYS wants her son." and took him from her arms without a second's delay. I had to go on to explain to this person that she needed to consider both of our sons' histories and I did not ever want her to say those words to either of them again. Sadly, she became upset that I advocated for his heart in this situation and responded with "he's so young, he doesn't know what I said."

 Funny thing about kids, they pick up on everything. He knows the word "mommy." He knows the word "doesn't." He knows the word "want," and he knows the word "you." He may not be able to speak all of those words yet...I mean, cut him a little slack, he did just start hearing English for the 1st time 3 months ago...but in our day to day routine, I'm confident that he audibly understands almost everything that is spoken to him.

I needed to protect his heart, even if that meant temporarily hurting a grown adult's feelings.

I know some of you are going to read this and think, "Erin, you are way too sensitive. You've got to let comments like that just roll off your back." Honestly, I don't believe that I am too sensitive in this particular circumstance. My children each had a year and a half of wondering if their mommy wanted them, I'm not going to let them continue to wonder any longer. If you see me smothering my children in hugs, kisses, and "I love yous" please don't roll your eyes at me. I'm making up for lost time, folks, I'm trying to reconstruct broken hearts to their wholeness.

Another more frequent avenue we've had to cross has been on the family relationship of our boys. Because of their relative closeness in size, you would not believe how many times we've been asked "Are they twins?"

Now, before you say -- whoa, Erin, please don't tell me you're offended by this question -- no, I most certainly am not. I certainly understand the question, given their similar sizes and developmental stages. Because of the difference in skin color, it's pretty obvious that they're not our biological children, and I think adoption lends itself to some fascination with most people, leading them to ask questions because they're genuinely interested.

So, no, the "Are they twins?" question does not bother me...what does bother me is the questions that follow. For some reason, telling people that they are not twins makes them more nosey interested nosey about our little family situation.

The conversation usually goes something like this:
Passerby: "Oh your little boys are so cute! Are they twins?"
Us: "No, they're not. They're very close in age, but not twins." (Smiling)
Passerby: "Well are they brothers?"
Us: "Yes, they're brothers." (Smiling)
Passerby: "No, I mean, are they REAL brothers?"
Us: "Yes, they're real brothers." (A little less smiling)
Passerby: "No, no, I mean, are they BIRTH brothers?"
Us: "They are brothers. Thank you for stopping to say hi to us." (Smile and walk away)

Like I said, I think most people, are innocently asking the questions because they are interested in adoption, but some questions are a little too personal for strangers to know the answers. Besides, in what world does it matter if my children are "real" brothers or not, is that going to change your perspective of my family? Are you going to like us any less? I would hope not. I'm sure this type of conversation will linger with us for the rest of the boys' childhood (if not longer), while we'll try to graciously answer the probing questions about their past, please understand that certain details are their story -- their very own story-- the only thing that belongs to just them in this life. So for that reason, we will choose to speak up for our children to avoid possible embarrassment when certain questions are asked. One day, when they feel comfortable to share their stories, they can do that. But for now, certain facts are not really "ours" to share.

All that being said, please don't read this and think, "Oh my gosh, I can't ever talk to Erin about her kids again. I'll probably say or ask the wrong thing." --- I would never, ever want to shy away anyone from questions about adoption or our family. Please, let's have conversations, but I just need to be respectful of my children's past, so a few questions may not get direct answers until the boys are old enough to answer them if they choose to do so.

Childhood should be the most loving, enriching, joyous, character-building times of life...but the wrong words spoken at the wrong time, within the hearing range of little ears can change the heart of a child. If the idea of advocating for your child is new to you, I encourage you to join me - I know, I know, I've only been a mom for like 2 seconds compared to most of you, but since this idea is certainly not my own, I feel comfortable sharing it by using our family's real life examples. I'm so thankful for the wisdom of seasoned mommas all around me--you know who you are and you are so valuable to this new mom. Thank you for teaching me to "fill up their love tanks" and "always protect their hearts." I'll admit, I don't successfully do these things everyday, but I'm trying.

And for those of you still wondering if our boys are brothers: Yes they are brothers. Their birthdays are 3 months apart, you do the math.

hugs to you,