Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Empathy vs. Condemnation

I used to be one of those people who judged those who had kids that misbehaved a lot. I thought if you parent right, do the right things, have a good balance of love and structure, kids will respond and turn out well. Now I wasn't expecting complete perfection, I figured kids will misbehave sometimes, and some kids with obvious mental or physical disabilities couldn't be held to the same standards. But for the most part if the parents did their job, the kids would be obedient, respectful, fun to be around, and grow up to be productive adults. It worked for my four bio children, didn't it? I judged the parents of kids who acted horribly.

Until I got my youngest two.

I learned that I can't reverse the damage done to the brains of my kids because their birth mom drank and abused drugs. I can't completely erase the past trauma and neglect they had to endure when they were young and their brains were forming neural pathways. Now there are things I can do do lessen the behaviors and help them heal, but I can't grow new brain cells, I can't erase memories, especially emotional and preverbal memories. I am now the mom who can see looks in people's eyes when my children act odd, or dress inappropriately, or have a meltdown, or swear, or make wrong choices, or inappropriately touch someone. I know there are some that judge me. While some in one of my circles are discussing dating vs. courting, I'm getting the HPV immunization for my daughter because it wouldn't surprise me if she makes some bad decisions. While other parents are talking about their kids getting straight A's, I have to teach some things multiple times with kindness and without guilt because they have spotty memories.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm proud of my kids. They have worked so hard and have healed so much. They are actually doing really well for the hand they were dealt. But for the average bystander, they don't see the progress, they don't see the FASD, they don't see the things hidden.

So now, when I see articles like this, Ellie Gertz, Adopted Then Relinquished, Tore Families Apart, I understand. Not that my kids are as wounded and troubled as this girl, but I parent children with FASD and have had past trauma. So now, if I see a child who acts strangely or misbehaves, my first thought isn't about the parenting style, but I think to myself, "Is there something else going on here, autism, FASD, bipolar?" I know there are parents who raise their kids poorly, have no boundaries, or just don't care, but I don't assume that until I really know them.

One of the things we were encouraged to do last night at the Help One Child meeting, I can't remember if it was on the video, talked about in our discussion, or both, was to find other parents who are parenting kids from hard places. Like one woman said, "We really need each other because we can understand what we're going through. All children have tantrums, but not all children have them a thousand times a day like ours." Of course she was exaggerating, but it's so good get together with others who have fostered or adopted. We don't have to explain. We know what it's like because we're walking on the same path. We need each other. We give each other advice, a hug, a knowing look. We empathize, not condemn.

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