Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Fine Line

I am having a night of insomnia and have yet to fall asleep, so I figured "Must be time to blog!". After all, no one else is awake to talk to, so I might as well talk to myself...hahahaha!

I have added a new poll to the side of the blog, as I find it interesting to learn what kind of birth parent information adoptive parents have obtained for their kids. There is a growing number of international adoptive families who are trying to locate birth parents, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. We don't have enough to go on for any of the kids, so we feel it would be wasted effort, but I know there are many who have far more information than we have.

I have also added a couple more links as well.

My comments about the book "Choices" drove a lot of people to email me privately, and I had a lot of dialogues about my own feelings...and misperceptions of others about my attitudes concerning our children's birth mothers. Somehow, in the writing of the two blog posts, it was not quite made clear that the majority of my comments were directed at American birth moms who have far more choices than women in other countries, and about the general tone of the stories selected to represent those women. But the comment made on the blog that I was most intrigued by is shown below:

"Your last comment here hit upon the one thing that I kept thinking about as I read your posts... What do we need to do to teach our boys (as well as our girls) to be respectful of sex and its consequences? The one thing you said that I hadn't considered is: "Telling my kids that I wouldn't want them placed in the awful position of having a child they were not ready to parent may come across as a judgment on their birth moms..." What a fine line we have to walk in providing a nonjudgmental moral compass. As always, thanks for your insight and thoughtful writing!!!!"

This comment really leads us all down a very different path, doesn't it? On the one hand, if we present things as viewed through a more black and white lens, we fear that we are somehow going to tarnish the image of our children's birth moms for our kids...that it comes across as passing judgment if we say loud and clear what we expect in terms of sexual behavior from our kids. If we point out that a child could be produced...just like them...who would create chaos in the lives of our sons/daughters and force them to make decisions they might not want to make...just like their own birth moms...we walk a slippery slope.

And then there is the statement about "providing a nonjudgmental moral compass" for our children....hmmmm...I admit that this one I struggle with constantly. How can one present things in a non-judgmental way to our kids, and then expect them to make judgments about their own paths?? Aren't we all constantly in the position of making judgments on a daily basis...judgments about whom to let in our inner circle of friends, judgments about who we will emulate and who we will not, judgments about the character of others which informs and directs us? And yet we don't want our children to grow up to be vocal, judgmental adults in the way that we all know they can become. You know the type, the ones who hold themselves on a pedestal while looking down upon others who are not worthy.

We had a judgmental moment come up just the other night when we were reading a book about adoption at Kenny's request, who is just beginning to process all of this and how adoption can be different in different families (i.e. foster-to-adopt, kinship adoption, domestic, etc.). I read a little, and stopped to talk with the boys bringing each of their own unique circumstances into the dialogue. Joshie asked me point blank "Why did my first mommy do that to me? Why did she leave me?" and Kenny popped off quickly with "Maybe she not love you!"...not at all in a mean spirited way, but in the typical Kenny-frankness way. Josh didn't appear to be hurt by that, but I quickly brought up the many reasons why she might have had to leave Josh, all of which had nothing to do with love. Joshua then asked "But if she loved me, she wouldn't have left me. I know you love me and you tell me you'll never ever leave me.".

And there it is, out there for before God and everyone. Judgment of a 5 year old and a 9 year old. Neither Kenny nor Josh is capable of understanding the subtleties of all of this, they don't yet have the maturity to see the "gray".

Then again, maybe it is in viewing things through the eyes of a child that we see the logic of allowing "harnessed" judgment.

I think the word "judgment" has gotten a bad rap. I mean, how can we teach our kids about moral concepts without expressing a judgment? I will teach my kids that sex outside of marriage is NOT acceptable, I will teach my kids that abortion is NOT a good alternative, I will teach my kids that using drugs or alcohol is NOT a path that leads to a happy life. And by teaching them these things, I guess that automatically places me in the "judgmental" category...and yet I don't know to get certain values across firmly without using real-life examples, without expressing dismay at the sorrow that is wrought in the lives of some who have made poor choices. I want them to avoid that at all costs.

Balancing all of that "judmentalism" can be hard, but I think...or at least it is my fervent hope...that it can be done. For our family it comes from recognizing God's role in all of our lives, that it is He who is to do the judging and not us. Using the experiences of others, both good and bad, allows us to develop good judgment, but treating others differently because of the choices they have made is unacceptable...we are all human, and the good Lord knows that there but for His Grace go I.

Compassion is the balance to judgmentalism. Being judgmental...using good exactly what I think we are all called to teach our kids to do. Sometimes though, it is easy for the compassion to get lost in that teaching. We work hard at making certain our children know all of the "don'ts", but do we work as hard at making sure they understand all of the "do's" in life? DO treat all people with respect regardless of their station in life, their race, their religion, their, mistakes. DO understand that you are imperfect too. DO what you can to help others and to contribute to society in positive ways. DO show active compassion at all times by caring for those who are hurting and not turning your back. DO recognize that regardless of your age, you can make a difference in someones life. DO look for ways daily to show God's love to someone.

For me, if our sons all practice and internalize the "Do's", then in time they will have the compassion to balance the judgment directed at their birth families about their abandonments. If they practice all the "Don'ts" then they will have developed solid judgment skills to help them lead a productive and happy life.

That fine line we walk is often more about keeping it all real. It can be very easy to help our children create a fantasy that revolves around their birth moms, and often we don't realize we are feeding that fantasy with our own innocent comments about "how much she loved you", about how "She never wanted to leave you", etc. We hide the hard parts that might help explain to our children some of their inner feelings while building up an illusion that we don't even know is real. And we tend to place our own undying love for our children in the lap of the birth mom, because we can't imagine ourselves parting with this little person whom we know far better than she ever did or will sadly ever have the chance to. We expect that she would feel the same as we do, and yet there was never the opportunity for her to develop the kind of relationship we have with our adopted children...hers is an unrequited love and it would be easy to build that into our children for an unknown mom as well. Presenting the facts is one thing, presenting fantasy as fact is another.

So we walk that fine line as we parent, a line between fact and fiction, a line between judgment and compassion. In many ways this isn't an adoption issue per se, it is a parenting issue. It is just that as adoptive families we have another ingredient to throw into the mix which gives us reason to pause and think a little more deeply about how certain judgments might be interpreted by our children.

We all do the best we can. Sometimes we fail miserably and other times we are surprised at our successes. That non-judgmental moral compass is a hard one to build!

1 comment:

pam b said...

Well put and tons of food for thought, as always. In looking towards the future with our little girl and her questions, this really helps me to try to get a foundation of awareness of the black/gray/white and that fine line we all walk so often. So much to contemplate and I appreciate you taking the time to write this down for all of us!!!!