Shame

We feel shame when we violate the social norms we believe in. At such moments we feel humiliated, exposed and small and are unable to look another person straight in the eye. We want to sink into the ground and disappear. Shame makes us direct our focus inward and view our entire self in a negative light.

I came upon the powerful graphic above yesterday and felt there was more that I could personally say about it. On my Facebook profile page yesterday, I shared – I have owned up to this before. I had an abortion at the age of 23 or so – mid 1970s. I am glad it was safe and legal. I was not being reckless. I was driving an 18-wheeler with a partner. Our dispatcher didn’t get us home to where my pharmacy was in time and I ended up pregnant. Neither he nor his family were the kind of people I would be glad to have been tied to through a child today. At the time, I had breakthrough bleeding. My ex-SIL and ex-BIL had a child with serious birth defects. I just felt the pregnancy was not progressing normally. Also, to be honest – I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support. I’ve never regretted it but pro-Life propaganda has definitely haunted me. In writing this, I searched my memory for all of the reasons why I chose that course of action.

The mothers and women in my family, and to whom I am genetically related, chose other courses of action. Back in the 1930s, the mothers of both of my own parents, chose to carry their pregnancies, spent the first few precious months with their babies, and one way or another lost that first child to adoption. I wrote, and it was true, “I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support.” In some people’s minds I was simply being selfish and I will accept that judgment, though in truth I have no regrets about doing what I did and for the reasons I did it at the time.

Yet, I felt enough shame for having chosen a different path (both of my sisters carried unplanned pregnancies to term but also gave their babies up for adoption) that it was a long time before I admitted to anyone what I did earlier in life. It was my private decision which no one but the circumstances influenced. Maybe influenced in no small measure by the legality and safety of the choice at the time. Only as Roe v Wade has come under increasing opposition have I started sharing my own story of what it was like to have made that choice and my gratitude that I had it available to my own self when I felt I needed that.

The father of my own conception made it clear he would not stand by me if I chose otherwise but I don’t think that was my major motivation. In reflecting on my statement that I would have had to “go it alone” above, I also know my parents supported one of my sisters throughout the pregnancy and then, remarkable to me now that I know more about adoption in general, my own adoptee mom coerced my sister into giving up the baby she wanted to keep and then, encouraged a lie to me that the baby had died. Intuitively, I knew it had not and concocted fantastical stories about what had actually happened to the baby believing it had been stolen and taken into Mexico (my sister had delivered at a hospital in El Paso TX very near the national border). Because of this, my mom finally admitted her truth regarding the whole situation to me.

Many women bear a cross – maybe they suffer their whole lives knowing their child is out there somewhere out of their own reach. Many of these original mothers suffer a secondary infertility and never have another child. Many struggle as single mothers to keep and raise their child. Our society does nothing to help them. My sister actually sought financial support during her pregnancy but was denied it based upon our parents financial condition. It was not my parents seeking financial support but my sister and not in increase my parents financial condition either.

After I divorced the father of my first child, I had to go to work and that meant child care. When one “family style” child care that she loved at first became a tearful battle, I left work to check on her and discovered through the window of a half door, an older child bullying her and no adults in sight. I pulled her out that day. I often had to go to my mother to beg $20 to make it through to payday. She never denied me but financially it was always difficult. At the time I divorced her father, he told me he would never pay me one cent of child support because I would just party with the money. Such a horrible perception he had of my own integrity and ethics. I didn’t want to spend my life in court fighting him for it even though the judge insisted in awarding me $25/mo “in case” I changed my mind and wanted to seek an increase. I never did. Instead, I left my daughter with her paternal grandmother while I tried to build a financial nest egg for the two of us by seeing if I was capable of driving an 18 wheel truck cross-country.

I always intended to return for her and would have never given her to her father to raise but his mother did that. He remarried a woman with a child and then they had a child together. Unintended consequences of financial desperation. And now, in a sense my story has come full circle, my shame – not even listed above – is that I gave up raising my child for financial reasons. Back when she was in day care, I couldn’t hardly answer the pediatrician’s questions, because she was away from me all day. After her father and step-mother raised her, I struggled to find birthday cards for her that reflected the lack of a daily, physical relationship I had with her. There were no role models for an absentee mother back in the mid-1970s, even though the absentee father was a standard reality.

Shame. Oh yes, I am well acquainted with it. As my daughter knows, I have struggled to find peace with not having “stuck it out,” as my own mother said to me that she would have done, to do the right thing by my daughter. It is a work in process. Recently, I reflected on all the things I did right by her in the brief early years she was physically under my care. I told her, I realize that when I was mother to you, I was a good one. And the abortion ? I atoned for it, by giving up my own genetic connection to have two egg donor conceived sons (same donor both times), that my husband might be able to have the children he desired, even as we both realized I had gotten too old to conceive naturally. Even so, they are now almost 18 and 21 years old. They have proven to me that I can “mother” children 24/7 throughout their own childhoods. At least I have no shame in that. I even breastfed both until they were just over 1 year old. I also have the knowledge that I didn’t put adoption trauma onto the fetus I aborted early in that pregnancy.

Maternal Abandonment

I haven’t read the book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, but now I want to. A movie based on the book is coming to theaters this summer. In looking into the book, I find that the mother abandoned her children. In 1952, six-year-old Catherine Danielle Clark (nicknamed “Kya”) watches her mother abandon her and her family. While Kya waits in vain for her mother’s return, she witnesses her older siblings, Missy, Murph, Mandy, and eventually Jodie, all leave as well, due to their father’s drinking and physical abuse.

The story follows two timelines that slowly intertwine. The first timeline describes the life and adventures of a young girl named Kya as she grows up isolated in the marsh of North Carolina from 1952 to 1969. The second timeline follows an investigation into the apparent murder of Chase Andrews, a local celebrity of Barkley Cove, a fictional coastal town of North Carolina. Stories of children raising themselves with wildlife for companions have always fascinated me.

This story touches a sensitive place in me. While it was never my intention to abandon my daughter, could it be perceived that way ? Could she have experienced my “disappearance” as abandonment ? She was only 3 years old at the time and the realities were not something I could easily explain to her. Her dad and I had divorced. He had informed me that he would never pay child support because I would just party with the money (as though child care and pediatrician bills and all the normal daily expenses didn’t add up, leaving nothing leftover to even think of doing something like that). Therefore, I didn’t ask the court for any child support during the divorce hearing (which my husband did not attend) but the judge awarded me $25 in case I wanted to come back and ask for more. I never did but I did look for “better” (ie male dominated) employment that would pay enough to support the two of us.

It was always my intention to come back for my daughter with a bit of money saved, earned from driving an 18-wheel truck with my romantic partner of that time. A financial foundation for our mutual support. I left her with my former mother-in-law, who eventually gave her back to her dad. He remarried a woman with a child and eventually they had a child together. Since I could not give her a stable family life as a single impoverished woman, I let it be. I stayed in contact with my daughter and had short visits with her during her summers out of school. Still, it has always troubled me . . .

I feel fortunate that she doesn’t hate me for it and that we do have a good relationship as mature women raising children (she gave me a grandson, then I had a son, then she gave me a granddaughter, and then I had another son). I’ll never fully get over my own shame at not having done “better” by her.

Bottom Line – It Is About The Child

Foster care and adoption is not about YOU as a foster/adoptive parent. It’s about the child, always was, always will be. That said, defining “wellbeing” gets very tricky.

“Neglect” is the official reason given when children are removed from their parents. Defining that turns out to be biased and difficult. First the question, then some of the answers.

1) What type of neglect gets children removed from parents?

Cleanliness, Lack of Nourishment, Irresponsibility

Depression, Addiction, Domestic Violence, Illness, Lack of Basic Child Care

Perceived neglect, whether the behavior is truly neglectful or appearances just don’t meet the ‘standard’.

Concerns regarding a parent’s mental health.

2) Why do you think that neglect occurs?

Poverty

Lack of resources, predominantly. Occasionally, lack of concern, and sometimes, inability (due to substance abuse, mental health, mental capacity- all tied into lack of resources).

Poor mental health may contribute to poor housekeeping. One woman admitted reaching a point where she questioned – “why am I keeping my house as neat as a pin, always on top of the kids, stressing them out to be clean, when the only people in the house are us?”

3) Is there anything that could help avoid neglect happening?

Financial Resource Support, Increasing the Parental Skill Set

Young women with kids need options for jobs that are compatible with being parents.

Family needs to go back to being family, actually bothering and being there for each other. If you have friends with kids, visit them and offer to help them out, if they are struggling – you can either help tidy or you could play with their children, so that they are occupied allowing the parent time to clean.

When poverty is not the source of neglect, children are rarely taken out of the home. One woman shared – my parents were negligent hoarders who didn’t meet a lot of my fundamental needs. But they had good jobs and to be honest, I turned out fine. I would NOT have fared better by being taken away from them. That is true for most kids who are placed in foster care.

Every so often you hear of cases where a small child was left home alone, or wandered off while a parent was sleeping. I think sometimes these instances of neglect happen in desperation for parents who have no options for childcare or can’t afford it. I remember a case of a toddler who was missing 3 days. He decided to try to go through the forest to his grandma’s house. He had been playing outside and his mother had fallen asleep. They did NOT take that child away from his parents.

No Support

I was reading an article this morning about a social networking site known as Urban Baby.

Urban Baby was part of the first wave of confessional Internet women’s writing about parenting, one that occurred in tandem with our society’s withdrawal of support for parents and children, and the simultaneous ratcheting up of expectations of what makes for good mothering. Blogs like Dooce — that’s Heather Armstrong, also known as the “queen of the mommy bloggers” — wrote openly about struggles with postnatal depression, while others took on the challenges of raising a special-needs child.

This new world of parenting was challenging and liberating, but, most importantly, optimistic. There was the almost-always unspoken assumption that the Internet was going to change the world of mothering for the better.

But that did not happen. For all the delights of the mom blogosphere, its members fell into a trap all too common to our time: We might kvetch about our problems jointly, but we struggle, for the most part, alone.

Despite, say, all the online chatter about the struggle to get a child into a “TT” — that’s Urban Baby lingo for top-tier — private or public school, very few connected their struggles to the greater society and economy causing their woes. Rare was the moment on Urban Baby when someone asked why there were so few TT schools — it was simply yet another problem to surmount. That remained true as the mothering blogosphere and forums lost ground to social media, to Instagram posts by neighbors and celebrity influencers alike about the wonderfulness of their parenting lives.

For my part, I belong to a mom’s group that started out connecting only by email and eventually ended up on Facebook.  All of our children are turning 16 years old this year.  We all conceived within that brave new world of reproductive technology.  We have been together since before we knew we were successful.  We met once when the children were two years old at Elmo’s World.  I’m so glad we did.  One of our more outspoken moms died from breast cancer some time ago and it was heart-wrenching.  She was our second loss to cancer.  More than one of our mom’s lost their spouse in one way or another during our time together.  Only the current politics has divided us and that is bittersweet indeed but all of us are trying – to hold onto what unites us and not pick at the wounds of the country that affect us as well.

Yet that ambitious appetite for change was desperately needed, as our current covid-19 world is making all too clear. We are — even in a life-altering pandemic — the only developed country not to offer paid family leave or sick days to all. Nearly a fifth of families with children under the age of 12 are reporting they do not have enough food.

Children have been out of school since March, and for many, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight, except for more in the way of subpar online classes that need parental supervision. And forget complaining about the high cost of child care: Our decision to leave it almost fully to the free market may well result, according to the Center for American Progress, in the loss of millions of child-care slots. This combination might well turn out to be cataclysmic — not just for children, but for their mothers, who, minus the child care offered by school, might well find themselves permanently exiting the workplace.

On Urban Baby this week there were final goodbyes, one last show of virtual hands for Zip codes, and final reasons they were here before everyone scattered. As one poster pointed out, “UB has been a release valve for all of the pent-up frustration and all of the challenges of modern motherhood.” No doubt. But, ultimately, emotional release is a thin gruel.

Mothers, fathers and their children need more — more help, more support, more resources. This was true before the current crisis, and it’s even more true now. When it comes to the online world of parenting, the biggest failure is not one of organization. It’s that for all their complaints, all too many of the people doing the talking on sites like Urban Baby still believe that they can individually surmount the ever-increasing challenges of American life rather than changing the system that underlies them. Until that mind-set changes, nothing else will.

My thanks to Helaine Olen’s op-ed in The Washington Post (for all of this except my personal comments).

 

Attacked Once Again

This always feels personal to me because my sons have ALWAYS been educated at home.  Mostly we have tried to fly under the radar so that we can continue to do what we believe is best for our own family.  It came to pass that my daughter became frustrated with the school options for my granddaughter in Florida and chose to avail herself of their virtual school offer.  She has since acknowledged that she understands the appeal of control and flexibility that homeschooling offers.  I would be the first to acknowledge that it is not for everyone.  If the parents have to go to work outside their home (we have a home-based business), then it is going to be a real challenge to implement.

One of the more disturbing aspects of educating my children at home has been when a case of child abuse becomes linked to the fact that the parents hid behind homeschooling in order to hide their abuse.  This often brings calls from those who’s attachment is to public schooling for more oversight and regulation of those of us who have made a personal choice.  I am fortunate that the state of Missouri has good supports for homeschooling choice due to a large population of conservative Christians.  I am grateful to them though we are not homeschooling for the same reasons they do.

So today, I read yet again an allegation that everyone dislikes homeschooling because it is a front for abuse as the Coronavirus has forced schools to close and children to stay at home.

Can it really be true that abusers have to wait for an official sanction of homeschooling to cover their abuse of their children ? Or that many people homeschool simply so that they can abuse their children ?

More than once, I have encountered arguments for the advantages of school as required for the socialization of children.  It is not the blind leading the blind (children of a single age group influencing their peers to bad behavior) for my sons.  They have been socialized to the entire spectrum of humanity – from babies to the elderly.  We have often been complimented about how well behaved they are in places where some parents’ children are running around like wild heathens.

In this time of Coronavirus, maybe it isn’t so much about socializing as it is that parents are stressed from being home all day cooped up with their children.  We have always valued every single minute of time that we spend with our sons.

One could ask whether schools in the US just “holding cells” for the dependents of people who have to work or so that they can have their days off free to do as they please, until their children are released to come home from school ?

As long as society is so “intertwined” with our government that people become upset that those who chose to do so can school their own children or judge those that do as doing so to hide abuse or that well intentioned people must protect other people’s children from being schooled at home, nothing will ever change for the better in a society of free people.

Adding Insult To Injury

We are living through uncertain times.  Many people feel un-moored from their usual sources of confidence that all will be well.  Children who have been adopted or are in foster care find their worlds upended.  Lacking consistency, routine, and an overall feeling of stability and security as their personal worlds are being shaken up again by the Coronavirus and the efforts to contain the spread of that infection.

Schools have closed and public community events through which diverse people usually bond are cancelled.  Instead of joining together in common experience we are forced to isolate ourselves from one another.  At least we have modern technology to keep us connected while maintaining a safe distance from one another but life is not routine or what we would conventionally expect as we wake up each day.

For those parents who still have jobs to go to while their children are alone at home, the struggle can be significant.

One of the responsibilities that foster parents face is transporting the children in their home to visitations with their birth parents and biological family members. Often times, visitations take place at child welfare offices, while other times, visitations may occur at public places, such as parks, restaurants, churches, and other public venues. Visitations are important as they help to maintain the relationship between both child and adult. Along with this, many foster parents have very strong relationships with the birth parents and during visitations, trust is built and children can grow and develop in a healthy fashion, as a result.

Yet, those public spaces are now closed to most of us in most locations throughout the United States.  And coming out of the usual wintertime season of colds and flu can complicate things because many of us have all had one thing or another since Thanksgiving and our immunity is generally low.  Essential services such as therapy sessions, drug counseling, and even court appearances have also been affected by Covid 19.

All families face difficulty at this time in our collective history and families with the additional challenges of trauma and regulations face an additional burden on top of the difficulties they face every day.  All families are concerned, and confused, looking for answers and receiving little guidance.  There is no school, foster care related visits are being cancelled, church services are cancelled, and generally all children are now isolated from the friends they depend upon in their everyday lives.  The challenge in an era of social distancing is physical, and tangible, but can’t be solved by throwing dollars at it.

Stay safe, be well.  Come together – though at a distance.  Keep the efforts to slow the spread of this virus going until the assurance that it is once again safe to have greater contact with our fellow human beings becomes more certain.  Patience is necessary and flexibility too.

Young and Foolish

There is a raging debate in an adoption group I belong to over what it is like to be young and foolish causing one not to be a good mother.  Part of the debate has to do with how much time it could take for a 21 yr old, unsupported and drug addicted, partying mother to get her act together.  Fortunately, the baby in question that was taken by Child Protective Services is currently in place with a relative who has worked hard to keep the child in contact with the mother and wants to maintain family care for the infant so that the child can know the child’s grandmother, great-grandmother and other extended family.

I wasn’t a good mother when I was in my early twenties.  I gave birth at 19 and was divorced by age 23.  My marriage had involved drug use.  My perspective was still wild and free and partying.  I did manage to hold down a job and pay rent but I struggled financially, often going to my mom for inadequate $20 handouts and had an ex-husband who refused to pay child support because he believed I would just party on that money.  He never seemed to give any consideration to the cost of child care, pediatricians, much less food and clothing.

So, in desperation I took my child to her paternal grandmother (not expecting my parents to approve of my plan to head out on an 18-wheel truck in order to make some real money).  Eventually, her father remarried a woman with a child and they conceived another child together.  This ended my plan to come back and continue to raise my daughter because I could not give her the family he could and I was still struggling financially.

I am totally in favor of maintaining family ties when a young mother isn’t mature enough or financially sound enough to support her child.  Adoption by strangers should ALWAYS be the absolute last resort.  Eventually, I matured.  I married a man when I was 33 and we went on to have two sons together.  I truly had felt like a failure at parenting.  I was simply too young and too unsupported to have done better.  I know now that was the truth of it.