Speaking ill of birth/first parents is a controversial topic in the adoption world, as Faith pointed out this morning in a wonderful post. Being one who was raised to be quiet if you can’t muster up something nice to say, speaking ill of someone, especially when they are not around to defend themselves is admittedly hard for me. I did not care for my son’s biological mother, I did not agree with her choices, I did not agree with most of her actions, nor did I agree with the manner that she treated my adopted stepson, yet I was terrified that if I were to say something negative about her, my adopted stepson would come to resent me later on in life for somehow pushing my views of her onto him.
I did not want him to feel as though he would automatically be destined to be a horrible person if his mother were to be labeled as such, yet at the same time I did not want him to feel as though he somehow deserved to be treated in the manner in which he was being treated in, and thus began the long journey of tight rope walking when it came to discussing his biological mother.
While I wanted him to be able to recognize the things that were not healthy, and that had been done to him which were not deserved, nor his fault, I also wanted him to grow up with compassion and understanding, and not just write someone off because they had made mistakes in the past, yet how could I possibly convey all of that to an angry, hurting little boy?
When he would make a blanket statement such as, ’she is an evil woman,’ the first thing that I would do, would be to ask him what she has done that would make her evil. The usual answer that I got was ‘everything!’ So I would ask him something along the lines of, okay so when she bought you______ that was evil? He would pause and think about whatever toy we were speaking of and then say no, she wasn’t evil for getting him the toy that he wanted, but he knew that she had done it out of guilt for whatever she had done to him before buying him the toy (which was absolutely true.) So we would then talk about the fact that he was hurt over how he was treated initially, and then about feeling as though he could be bought off instead of being afforded a heartfelt apology. It was a rather unspoken rule with her that she would buy him something expensive to make up for what she had done, as long as he never brought up the incident with her again. So we would finally come to the conclusion that she wasn’t evil, but had made poor choices, and when she realized that she had messed up, instead of facing that, she would then try to ignore it by buying him something, so she had some ‘evil’ intentions behind doing something nice.
When she would do something that would upset him, such as refuse to give him a bedroom, or even a bed for that matter, at her new house, because he didn’t want to live with her full time, we would let him know that that wasn’t the right thing to do, and we were sure that it had hurt his feelings, and do our best to explain that she wasn’t doing it because she was a bad person, she was feeling hurt because he didn’t want to live there, and was lashing out at him. We explained that it was okay for him to be happy where he was living, and when it came down to it, it wasn’t his decision on where he would reside, and if she was upset about it, Dad and I were the ones that she should be upset with not him. “But she isn’t upset because I am NOT living there,” he moaned, “she is mad because I told her I don’t WANT to live there.” “It’s an adult situation, and I am afraid that she isn’t handling it in a very adult manner, and I am sorry about that” is the answer that I gave him with a hug, and told him that she was his mother and that she loved him, but just didn’t know how to show him that appropriately, and just because she was his mother did not give her the right to treat him poorly or to hurt his feelings on purpose. Nobody is afforded the right to hurt anyone’s feelings on purpose.
One night while we were having our ‘talk time’ when he would lay in bed and I would sit on the floor and talk about whatever he wanted to he asked me flat out, do you hate her like I do? And I was caught completely off guard. We had been talking about his mother at first, and then switched to another topic altogether, when he just blurted it out about a good fifteen minutes into the new subject. I didn’t know what to say so I told him the truth which was that I didn’t hate her as a person, I honestly didn’t know her well enough to make that kind of a judgement, but I did hate how she made him feel, and I did not agree with many of the decisions that she had made since I had known her. Although it was not the jump on the bandwagon, yes I hate her too, let’s go burn her at the stake, that he was looking for, it satisfied him. He understood that he was not alone in his dislike for how he was being treated, he understood that there had been better choices that she could have made, yet he also understood that there was more to judging a person as a whole than how they treat one person, which is as sad as it is true. She was not nice at all to my adopted stepson, yet when she had other children she was much more loving to them, as well as to her stepchildren. She just for whatever reason could not get it together in regards to my adopted stepson.
There were some things that she did do either with my adopted stepson, or for him, that were kind and loving things to do, or if nothing else made good memories that he has of her. He can recall playing cards with her when he was about five, and she had let him stay up late and they played cards on the porch, or the time that she took him out of school early and they just drove together in the car with the windows down and the radio up, and those are the times that we talk about when we remind him that it wasn’t all bad, yes most of it was, yes she hurt him when she shouldn’t have, and she did a lot of really messed up stuff, but every once and a while she got it right and made him smile.
Throughout the years we have done our best to validate his feelings, while not trashing her, as well as letting him know when he got older some general facts about her childhood, how she was treated, and why she thought it was okay for her to treat him the same way. We did not excuse her behavior, but instead tried to give him an insight as to why she thought that her behavior was acceptable. It wasn’t that there was something wrong with him, she was treated wrong, but was never told it was wrong, so once she had her first child she assumed that the way that she was treating him was the right way. And once she finally allowed herself to see that what she was doing to him was wrong, she could not face it, turned tail and ran. That was not the right thing to do either, but we discussed the times that he had done something wrong at school, and was so afraid to fess up to it and meet whatever consequences there would be, he did his best to hide from it. He knew that it was the wrong thing to do, but was too afraid to do anything else. It was a real eye opener for him when I clued him in to the fact even adults, like his mom, make big mistakes, and in the same fashion, even adults, just like his mom, can be too scared to face them. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it human.
There have been plenty of times that I have wanted to scream out “your mom is a &@^!% lunatic!” But I never did. I would dole out my opinion, when asked, when she made crappy choices, but let him decide exactly how many crappy choices she got to make before he lumped them together as not so much a string of bad choices, but a string of choices made by a bad person.