The Whole Story
When we talk about our children and the work we have done, and continue to do, with them, we often describe our role as having to help our son and daughter not only understand their pasts but also re-interpret and reframe their lives before coming to live with us.
I wrote a post about being truthful with our children about their pasts last week.
Truthfulness is essential to the process. But so is being kind. Appropriate. Reframing that past in a way that helps them understand. Understand most of all that their role was always a passive one.
I have mentioned before that our initial instinct was to try and sanitise the past. To tell our son, when he came to live with us first, that he was here with a new family because, despite loving him and doing their best, they were simply unable to look after him.
Our son's recollection of his time living with his birth parents belied that statement. He remembered the pain they caused him. The pain they caused one another. The chaotic disintegration of his already imperfect family.
Seeking assistance from professionals we were advised to follow the truthful path.
Finding our way along that path was however a struggle. We have always found ourselves treading gingerly. Walking a tightrope between being completely truthful and not raising spectres from the past that would add to the demons our son already has to face.
We often awaited his questions. Prompted by him to talk frankly about his recollections. Telling him what we knew. Trying to explain the pain and confusion.
Of course, there can be no explanation for acts of harm, that caused pain, that were conducted out of sheer spitefulness.
We have always tried not to label our son's birth parents as 'bad'.
We fear to do so risks suggesting that there is a genetic imperative involved. Instead they are people who did bad things. Misguided. Sad. Desperate people. People unable to control their emotions and their actions.
It's different for our daughter. Her memories are so much less. Now, already having spent over half her life with us whilst still not having reached her fourth birthday, her recollection of the past is almost non existent.
'Almost' because there are memories that remain. Echoes of shocking events that she will, occasionally, still refer.
She refers to her birth parents as 'the bad guys.' A name she chose herself as her verbal skills developed. We haven't as yet changed that name. But for the same reasons as our son we will do so.
As our children age, and whatever direct memories they have fade, we have found our work in helping them understand the past has changed.
No longer do we deal with the memories of individual events.
Our focus is on answering the questions about a past that is different to their peers. Explaining how they came to be adopted. How they came to have two Dads. Why their lives feel different to their friends'.
With our son too, it is now also about beginning to help him recognise the risks that may present themselves as a consequence of his genetics. A predisposition to addiction. Why anger management will be important. How we together can ensure he avoids repeating the mistakes his parents made. The outcomes to which they were condemned as a result of the choices they made.
Each adopted child is different. Re-framing their past experiences for them. Helping them understand is an activity unique to each. But essential to their understanding and, we believe, essential to ensuring they can move on to a future very different to their heritage.