If you've read this blog for more than about three posts, you know that Mr. B and I adopted a beautiful, feisty teenager a couple years back. Daisy Mae had been in and out of several homes and had lived through some not so great experiences in the lives before she came to us. Those stories aren't mine to share here; suffice it to say, however, that our life experiences during the first fourteen years she'd walked this Earth were vastly different.
Things didn't get
much better after she arrived; five months after she moved in, the day
after Thanksgiving, she watched in horror as the new sister she had just
started to bond with died on a crowded skating rink, her mother vainly
performing CPR. I remember looking over my shoulder at her and seeing
her face change from shock to alarm to emotionless vacancy, tears
pooling on the ice at her feet. I remember getting in the car to follow
the ambulance to the hospital, and turning to her. "This isn't going
to have a happy ending, Baby."
She stared ahead, "It never does."
That's where we started.
there is a silver lining in losing the Bug when we did, it is this: We
had to learn to parent all over again, from scratch. If that sounds
like a sort of crappy silver lining, I suppose that's because it totally
sucked while we were going through it. Looking back, however, it was a
set of life experiences together that helped make us a strong family,
and in a weird way, I'm grateful for it.
about this today, because Mr. and I are working with another family who
have also taken on a teen. This child has an equally difficult and
heartbreaking past, and this family is utterly unprepared to deal with
the challenges posed by the situation. They don't have the benefit of
having suffered a family-shattering tragedy that forces them to
completely re-assess their value system and what's truly important.
(yes, I've just called losing Kes a benefit twice on the same page; bear
with me). The outcome of this is that their household has become an
active war zone and the child is now occupying an extra bedroom at my
In the process of trying to help them through
this crisis, and maybe come back together as a family, Mr. and I are
having to deconstruct all the important and painful lessons we have
learned in the last four years and try to communicate them as teaching
moments. So I figure, if I have to untangle all this, I might as well
write it down somewhere.
So here goes, over some period of days and weeks to come:
Part I: Stitch was right
"Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind. Or Forgotten.
My family is small, and broken. But it is...good."
Stitch, Lilo and Stitch, 2002. Walt Disney Company
Photo credit here:
I stop to think about it, my greatest fear is abandonment. When I was
little, there was always that nagging fear that some day I was going to
do something really terrible and my parents would stop loving me (they
never did, by the way, even when I tried to "tool" my father's leather
chair). I bet most of us have the same fear at some level. It never goes
away, really. We want to be loved, cherished, needed. We want to
belong. It is because we have this fear of abandonment that many of us
try to break down relationships. We are afraid of being cast out and so
we try to make our greatest fears happen on our own terms. We pick
fights with our spouses. We sabotage our jobs. We disengage from our
teens. And when the rejection comes, we can say "I told you so!" and add
another layer to our emotional scars.
especially those who have been left behind before, need to know that you
will love them in spite of themselves. Troubled teens are so hurt from
their past rejections, and so afraid of the next rejection that they
will try to make you reject them. They will lie, cheat, steal,
strike out, scream, break things, just so you will throw them out and
they can get it over with. Because in their minds they know it's coming.
It's up to us as parents to break that fear cycle. In fact, it's just
at the time that you MOST want to throw their ungrateful, lazy,
disrespectful, smelly carcasses out the door that you have to re-affirm
to them that you will keep them NO MATTER WHAT. Man, it's hard. It's
hard to love someone who is trying really hard to be unlovable.
tension, that knowledge that the next argument is out there, can be
unnerving. So much so that we sometimes set these relationships with
our teens up to fail. We become arbitrary about rules. We escalate
arguments. We threaten them with the very thing they fear. "If you
don't like the rules here, you're welcome to get out there in the world
and see how you do on your own!"
I became a happier
parent the day I learned to say, "Do your worst. I refuse to throw you
out. I refuse to reject you. I refuse to hit back. I refuse to fight
you. Scream. Yell. Slam doors. Break dishes. Call me a "bitch" under
your breath every day. I will love you NO MATTER WHAT."
message diffuses tension. It disarms fear. And over time (not very
much, either), it removes the barrier to their opening up to grow and
love you back. In refusing to reject, we help avoid being rejected. And
here's the best part. It costs nothing. You risk not a thing by offering
unconditional love. And what you gain is a stronger family, more love
back, and a lot fewer headaches.
In other words, a lot more Ohana.
Next: Part 2 -- I know you are, but what am I?