As my oldest daughter rapidly approaches the tweens, her behavior has grown more complex. Sometimes she is the very model of cooperation and compliance, but there are other times when my sweet little girl transforms into a moody grouch who bristles with hostility.
Last month, after an incident that required us to lay down a more serious consequence than the usual time-outs, we elevated to taking away two weeks of all screen time – TV, movies, video games, and computer. K was furious. Predictably, as is her defense mechanism, she lashed out at us. There were the usual accusations of unfairness and mistreatment.
Then K tossed in the added bullet: “You don’t love me. I want to go live with my birthmother. She is the only grown-up who cares about me!”
I responded with, “Even when you try to test us, we will never stop loving you. And I know that you know that we love you, no matter what.”
“Yeah, right!” she shot back, rolling her eyes at me and hissing. I stayed calm, consciously working not to display any sign of upset or anger, and merely repeated that we loved her.
It is when our kids are acting the most unlovable that they need our love the most. Of this I have no doubt. But I did have doubts about how I was responding to K, because she seemed so unreachable. I could see that we were not getting anywhere. She was not in a place to have a rational discussion, and I decided to let her have her space.
I left K in her room, listening to the music of Taylor Swift, hoping that time and distance would be the balm that soothed her.
Looking for insight from other parents, I posted a question on the Portrait Facebook page, and asked how other moms and dads respond when their kids ask to go live with their birthparents.
I quickly discovered that K’s angry comment about wanting to go live with another parent was certainly not unique to adopted children.
Divorced parents wrote sympathetic comments about how their children basically say the same thing, professing a desire to go live with the other (noncustodial) parent whenever they were angry. “I want to go live with mom” or “I want to go live with dad” were statements tossed out in anger and frustration by their kids too.
One woman shared a comment that seemed to cover it all: “My children say stuff like that all the time, and they are born and raised by me. So completely typical. If she didn't have a birthmom to throw out there, she would use grandma, or auntie or any other adult other than YOU! Heck, I wished I had the birthmom option when I was a kid. I would have packed my bags and hit the road. My advice is take it with a grain of salt, just like every mother has to do. (PS - I am a birthmother and I fully expect to get that call some day from my daughter. And I expect that my response will be the same as what I tell my boys when they call me from their dad's house telling me how horrible it is and I need to come get them. I tell them I love them and I am sure they are mad, but sometimes parents make us mad. Then I tell them to put dad on the phone. That usually ends it right there.)”
I took a lot of heart from the many stories that people shared with me that day, knowing that kids will tell us they hate us at regular intervals! Ahh, the rewards of parenthood!
What was really interesting to me was the texting conversation I had that same day with K’s birthmom, M. She is a member of the Facebook community that follows Portrait, and so she saw that I posted about K wanting to go live with her.
M wanted to know if I was okay and also she was sorry K had said that. Very sweet, and exactly what I would expect from her. She asked me what had happened that led to K’s disciplinary consequences. When I told her, M responded that she was very upset and “disappointed”.
I found myself in the amusing position of then reassuring K’s birthmom that all kids act out and that K was no different. Truthfully, K had tested the boundaries, and we responded, but this was normal behavior for a kid.
M, ever the perceptive, insightful woman that I love, was able to identify why she felt so dismayed to learn that K had misbehaved. She texted to me that “I just have this mental image that she’s perfect, u know? Kind of like her image of me.”
And that nails it. K and M have each other on a pedestal. When K is mad at me, she hollers that she wants to go live with M, because in her mind, M is the ideal. Meanwhile, M holds an image of K as the perfect little girl, and she was startled to find that K is just like every other kid that misbehaves.
And although I have no problem letting M know that K is not perfect, I have absolutely no intentions of telling K negative things about her birthmother. There is a small immature part of me that wants to respond, “Your life would not be nearly as full!” when K tries to wound me with her comments about preferring M. I bite my tongue and tell her that I’m sorry she feels that way. A much better response, according to the many psychology books I have read about adoption.
As M and I texted about the situation, she sent me a message that said “I feel a blog topic coming on! Lol!” Well, she was right about that, but I purposefully wanted to wait a few weeks to see if I could add an “epilogue” to this event. And I can!
Later that day after K shouted that she wanted to go live with M, my little girl came up to me an offered an unsolicited, simple apology. She also stated that she knows how much I love her. I thought maybe we were past the episode, but during the first few days of her no-screen-time, she remained angry at losing her privileges. She acted out so much that I tacked a third week of no-screen-time onto her punishment.
And then, amazingly, K stopped fighting with me about it. She accepted her punishment – dare I say it? graciously – and she even told me that she enjoyed having more time to read and play with her toys. We saw an explosion in her reading over the past month, and she has settled into much better behavior overall.
K has actually been the easiest of my three girls for several weeks now! She does her homework, practices her piano, cleans her room, and gets ready for school on time. She has been unusually affectionate, and I have been blessed with many spontaneous hugs and kisses. It makes my heart sing.
K likes to pick me up and call me “tiny mommy” (my third grader is almost my size – M makes ‘em big, and we make ‘em small). When I want to snuggle her, I climb onto the couch and pull my girl onto my lap. She is the baby that made me a mommy again. I wouldn’t trade her for the world.
My daughter may say that she wants to go live somewhere else, but as her mommy, I will always be waiting to welcome her back. She can throw down sharp obstacles and I will carefully climb over them. She can hide behind curtains of anger, and I will part them until I find her. She can build walls of isolation around her, and I will chip away at the fortress until it crumbles.
Love always finds a way. It seeks the tiniest crack in the facade and pushes its way through, filling the empty space and expanding beyond what you can see. And adoption is love times a thousand. It is love that knows no obligation. K is not flesh of my flesh. She is spirit in my soul.
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