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.
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?
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.
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.
Visit 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 inbetween — Mrs 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 Pressure — Lactating 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.
- Openness — sustainablemum 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.