Parents are people, children are people, people are different. And that is perhaps one of my greatest lessons as a person, since entering this lovely journey of motherhood. Whether it is about making goals for your family, or finding a routine that works, at the heart of it, there are unique people in each family, with different backgrounds and different needs and we must listen, really listen in order to hear that voice that tells us whether we need to change something, or think about things differently. Last week that knowledge was tested. There are many ways it is tested each day, but last week, surrounded by people who parent differently to me at an event, I was questioned, my children were felt sorry for (“they don’t play video games and watch tv after school, they are missing out. What do you mean they do arts and crafts and read and play outside. You are a mean mama. Your children are weird”). And at a psychological assessment for my son, I was felt sorry for because you see, he is behind in all the ways professionals care about. He has been for years, though he is certainly catching up since being adopted, he is now blasting through milestones, but is still very very behind emotionally, socially and academically and may always be.
And in truth, for a minute, my heart was a tad uncertain. I felt disconnected perhaps from society, or at least other parents, from medical professionals and for a brief moment, from my son. Who was he now? A diagnosis? What if this can’t be fixed? What if the 7 years he had nothing but disruption, frustration, abandonment and cruelty have left a lasting mark. How will I ensure that my daughter has a childhood that isn’t over-taken by her brother with bigger needs? How will I afford all the professionals they are recommending. And then, I looked at them, I really looked at them, and my heart whispered “hold them close and above all else, connect with them”. And that night and since, I’ve made a real effort to correct the wrongs they experienced. To take the extra time to bike ride together and hold hands, to spend tender moments praying together, to read for longer than we probably should, to hold and rock and hug and be. Tonight, as I could see my daughter struggling (Mondays are so tough for us all) I fed her her mashed potato, spooning it into her mouth and telling her how much I love her and am how happy I am she is home forever. Is that typical for a child in Grade 3? No. But she isn’t typical. She’s suffered more than any adult I know. She is terrified I’ll leave her. She is terrified I’ll be killed. And what helps her is concrete examples I’m here, forever and always. In true form, what works for her, doesn’t work for my son. It isn’t his love language, it isn’t who he is right now. So for him there is humor and hugs good-night and stories and an earlier bedtime because he desperately needs his sleep to process his emotions and self-regulate. And that’s OK. The guilt I used to feel about that is gone, I’m meeting his needs. I’m setting the boundaries he needs until he can set them for himself.
And I look at the people who surrounded me this week. The parents who said their children had $7000 worth of electronics and tv’s in their bedrooms and vans, the professionals who told me stories of other children whose outcomes weren’t so good. And I don’t think my children are weird, I don’t think our family is odd. I’d say, we’ve learned an important lesson because of our circumstances, we’ve all learned (though articulate it differently) that what we most need in this world is connection. As I hear about children who refuse to go out with their parents, or who complain about having to sit at the dinner table “because kids just want to have dinner with their video games and who are we to stop them, that’s kids now-a-days”, and as I hear stories about children with poor outcomes, the same thing comes to my mind: they need to know they are loved, they need to know people and relationships are forever, they need to let their guard down and be open to give and receive love, they need time, they need and deserve visible signs they are the most important things, not because of what you buy them, but because of who you are to them and the time you spend with them. And yet I do also understand that sometimes no matter how much connection we offer, we can’t erase the disconnect that existed in the past. But I also know, in the depths of my soul, we humans, with our different needs and wants, hobbies and interests, opinions and dialects, have a lot in common too. All I mentioned above and the incredible need to feel loved (adopting has brought this to the forefront for me, I need closer connections with people I love).
I think we are most likely to feel loved when time and attention comes from people, the people we most need, rather than screens or professionals. And that’s why, on the rare occasion we make it out for a meal, you’ll find us talking, playing cards, laughing and loving. That is why you won’t find me desiring much of what society tells me I should as someone who is in her very early 30′s. Because above all else, I want to connect with them and the people I love. And they need to connect with me and the world in which they live. And if we get that right, I’m pretty sure the rest will follow.
This parenting gig is hard. I reckon if you had 10 children you’d need to find 10 different ways to be a parent. And I take comfort in that. But I also think, especially on the days the needs are overwhelming, what really matters doesn’t change, whether you are dealing with friends, partners, parents, siblings, neighbours, or your wonderful children, whether they came to you through birth, or adoption, whether they have special needs or not, whether they are 2 or 22. Connect. Let the noise in the background fade and just connect.
I can’t close without saying my mind is continually drifting to Jacintha Saldanha. What her last hours must have been like. The overwhelming sadness and embarassment she must have felt. And while of course no one could have imagined such a turn of events, and whether it was the straw that broke the camel’s back or not, it is such a reminder to me about the power of words and our need to feel safe, supported and connected. I don’t always get it right, I really don’t. But today, when given a choice or frustration or peace, my mind thought of her. She makes me want to reach out, to those around me, to those suffering and as I see it, that is a gift, a legacy she has given us. May her pain be no more.