I Was Thinking…
I have a big extended family and as a child I loved getting together with all of them. There was always laughter, music and good food. Family reunions were easily 500 people. I felt at home with them; it felt good to know we were all connected. I loved it! As I gave birth to my sons, my family all shared in the joy of the addition to our family. Likewise, after we adopted our girls, my family shared in the joy of three more additions to the family.
In a real short amount of time, it became clear that as Mom I was going to have make some very difficult choices. It was NOT really FUN for my daughters to be at these family events. Small or large numbers were difficult. Don’t get me wrong, on the outside they looked like they were having fun. They are survivors; they “understand” that a smile will get you a long way in a room full of adults. When I learned to recognize that the smile was “painted on", when I learned to look at their eyes and listen to the octave and speed of their voice, when I started realizing that, unlike my boys, they never came to me during these events… I began to watch and they were “working the crowd” so to speak. It really became painfully clear to me that I no longer existed as “Mom.” And while that was painful for ME, the absolute worst of it all was that it meant they had no mom again - they were “IN SURVIVAL” again. It was a crazy realization…the very “place” I felt the safest was a “place” that made them feel very unsafe.
I want to stop here and say that it wasn’t any fault of my family members. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want anyone to change. They are very loving and accepting people and they were simply being themselves. This “stuff” is hard to grasp, especially when you are not doing it day in and day out!
Okay, back to the story. It goes on from there to after the event—the “fall out” was terrible. My girls were now in survival mode again, which means you don’t really need a Mom! You don’t need to eat what she cooks, wear the clothes she has provided or follow her directions, even if they were to keep you safe. You become sneaky because as a survivor you don’t believe you will be provided for. And on and on!
It was decision time. Our girls did not ask to be adopted. They were thrown into a very difficult situation with very limited tools to use. It was our job to protect them and to help them heal…No Matter What! So we tried a variety of things so that we could keep attending family gatherings. We tried asking family to do it differently, we tried telling our girls they needed to do it differently, we became much more vigilant and kept boundaries much smaller, we went late and left early in an attempt to make it more doable and many times we made the choice to create our own family event.
It has been hard and I have had to grieve the expectations I had around it all. In later years, the hard work paid off though. Much to my surprise, the girls began to talk about how hard it was at those events and they had very specific memories and stories of uncomfortable moments, but also of how they felt so much better when I “made” them stay by me or when we stayed home. Today, they would tell you that they also love our big family. They would tell you that they enjoy spending time with them, but would always choose it to be in smaller doses. They know the stories, they miss their Grandma, and they feel like they belong to this family as my daughters - not as survivors that feel the need to “work the crowd.” This is ultimately what they deserve…a “place” where they feel safe and connected, a family!