Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Emily Post, Meet Monster Mama

The past couple of days I've been pretty mean.  I'm not sure why I've lost patience, and I realize it's pretty juvenile.  Perhaps Christmas break did me in.  Though I think we're in a very good place for just two months on, we are far from a completely comfortable family.

Because a parent must reason why, and not just do or die, here's my best shot at one possible reason for my recent venom:

Sometimes I don't want to blog about difficult aspects of this adoption, because I can't shake the feeling that there are those--albeit a small minority--who are somehow looking for us to struggle.  I think this is on a very subtle level and I hate to even say it out loud:  one of my dad's virtues has always been to see the best in people, assume the best of intentions despite flawed behavior, and take their apologies at face value.  Especially as an adult, I have tried really hard to do the same.

So, then, why might a few people be looking for the difficulties in our situation?  Rather, why might I feel that they are?  I don't believe any person actually wishes us ill.  Instead I've decided that, for some, our choice to adopt, and to adopt older children, and to adopt interracially, is absolutely unfathomable.  They can't imagine ever wanting to do it themselves, and therefore can't understand our wanting to do it.  Because it's not something they would ever naturally want or enjoy, they can't get their minds around how we could be enjoying life, or even coping, in such a situation.  They look for the difficulty in it, because that's the only angle from which they can approach it.

As I said, I think this is rare, and not even conscious, and certainly doesn't pertain to any of our family or close friends.  In fact, they have all wildly exceeded our expectations of support.  I think the only reason I am bothered by these interactions is because they are so rare.  The vast majority of people I meet, though they might not choose this themselves, are thrilled for us.  If I get too down, they are talking ME back up about it.

But once in a while I find myself in a conversation going all wrong.  Each time I pause, my counterpart fills in the blank with something much more negative than I was thinking.  My words, and my concerns, are clearly being read all wrong.  I find myself inadvertently assenting to false assertions.  I try to clarify, and things get worse.  I feel that, rather than defend my family, I have slipped in the mud and thrown them under the bus.  It makes me doubt myself.  It makes me feel utterly miserable.

This feeling of an awkward conversation gone wrong is not new to me.  When I was pregnant with Charles, and after he died, people said all sorts of odd things to me.  Again, the vast majority of people have the best of intentions despite their awkwardness, and you feel that from them.  You hear what they mean, and don't care at all what they actually say.  But every so often something really stings.  What's hardest is not the comment itself, but others' defense of it.  If you can't get over the hurt by yourself, and so mention that stinging comment to anyone, they always have the same response.  "Oh, but you know they meant well.  People just don't know what to say in these situations."  And there it is--you're shut down.  You're the devastated one, but you're told you are also the one who has to take the high road and let it go.  And of course people are right; you should.  Eventually.  And you will.

What people don't realize is those comments that sting sting for a reason.  They hit on some point of vulnerability that undoes a lot of hard work on your part.  It's some aspect of the story you've already struggled with, a hole which you've already dug till your fingernails bled just to get out of.  And their comment makes you doubt yourself again, doubt your emotional progress, and you feel yourself sliding back into that hole.  I wish people would realize that they really don't need to jump to the commenter's defense.  You're not really mad at that person, anyway.  You're afraid of the hole.  You just need someone to let you get it out:  let you say why that comment, in particular, hurt your ears.  You need someone to listen, and nod, and then remind you how you already felt your way out of that hole.  You need someone to throw you a rope.  You don't need them to point out that the person probably meant well.  If you're the one receiving sympathetic words all day, chances are pretty darn good you've had practice, and are already well aware of that fact.

I hardly ever express this to people, because their inevitable response is, "that's why I usually just don't say anything at all.  I don't want to risk saying the wrong thing."  Please, risk it.  I beg you.  I ask every person I can who has been through something publicly difficult, and I've never met one who said they would rather people say nothing than say the wrong thing.  Say something.  Ask something.

. . . . Well.  Alright.  Pardon Me.  Apparently I have confused my journal with my blog.  I guess that's been waiting in the margins for a couple of years.  But how does Emily Post's Guide to Comforting the Stricken pertain to adoption?  It's a stretch.  It was a few of those awkward interactions that got me down recently, made me doubt myself, and contributed to my becoming Monster Mama.  We always take it out on the wrong people.


Emily said...

Em, you have a way of expressing this so clearly. I never really thought about the defense of other's careless comments in that way before. Now I understand why I've gotten so hurt in similar circumstances and wonder how many times I have been insensitive in that way myself. You have always been so good to understand others' perspective and point of view without judgement. I know I could take a lesson out of your book. (Just not while in the bathroom.)

Melissa said...

Well said Emily.
Your thoughts help me as well.
I hope I can work on both sides, my comments and my reactions and my awareness of my emotions.

it's just lisa said...

I feel like you've opened my eyes to a new aspect of friendship I had not yet seen. I'm not sure what to say because my mind is so busy thinking of past conversations. Thanks for your insight.

Lisa said...

You know what, Emily....something happened to me a few weeks ago...I was walking in one of the tunnels on the way to the conference center from the tabernacle with two friends...something had been bothering me, and the one friend, whom I dearly love had asked me to walk along with her and tell her about it. As we walked, another little sister joined us and completely took over the conversation, and before I knew it, they were walking so fast I couldn't keep up because my knees wouldn't allow. They didn't even know I was there. I was very emotional that day, and near tears, so when another sister asked me what was wrong, against my better judgment, I relayed the incident to her. She said to me..."oh, I'm sure they just didn't realize...."...So, there I was...dismissed again. I know exactly what you mean!

Brooke said...

I'm very glad you post the good, bad, and the ugly. It makes us all know what life is really like. We know that everyone would like to believe that it all was "peaches and cream", but we know that isn't true and would be a big fat lie and we wouldn't be interested in reading about that either. I for one am a fan of your "Frankness". I love you whatever you have to say, but I love you because you are bold and tell it how it is. Even if it isn't the cute little package that everyone wants to see.

Corinne said...

Why I appreciate posts like this is because it cuts to the quick of what makes us human - what makes us HURT? How can we help ourselves and others work through that hurt? How are we vulnerable and how can we be sensitive to others vulnerabilities? I think especially once we women become mothers this is SUCH a constant issue, whether we choose to voice it or not.

JenSav said...

Amazing. I'm keeping a copy of this one in MY journal! As one who has a life-long habit of saying the wrong thing, I am sorry and yet appreciate your honesty because I have felt the other side too.