Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Myth of Security

I confess that one of the hardest parts of my journey as an adoptive parent is the lack of security involved in it all. Perhaps it's only an illusion, but I think parents who have the opportunity to raise a child from birth may feel more secure in their role. In a normal, relatively healthy family a sense of attachment develops between baby and parents that is so normal and undistinguished it remains unrecognized. In birth families there is a general sense of awareness regarding the child's life ... one or both parents remembers the day of the chid's birth, the child's first footsteps, the acquisition of language. In birth families the child and parents grow together in a relatively seamless fashion as day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute the relationship naturally grows, develops and emerges. This means that by the time of adolescence -- while adolescence is a painful transition for all children and those who love them -- a parent has some sense of security in enduring or encouraging the necessary steps a child takes toward self-differentiation and independence.

Certainly, even in the healthiest of birth families, there is no ultimate security. Bad things happen even in the best of situations. The child may contract a dread disease which becomes fatal and a parent recognizes the fragility of life. Or a child raised by even the most moral, committed parents can choose to throw away his or her future with the cliche parental "dreads" -- chemical use and dependency, a too-early pregnancy, or petty criminal activity. So, I understand, of course, that no family is guaranteed security when it comes to their children.

The challenge for me, though, is that even the most rudimentary expectations concerning security may not exist for adoptive parents, especially adoptive parents of older children. We do not have the power that memories of the "first days" hold ... we do not have pictures of the first step, we do not remember the first words, we cannot hold on to a strong history of healthy attachment. We do not have the benefit of a clear picture of emotional, physical or mental health histories and how these might inform the nature of our child. In the midst of the adolescent and young adult crises common to all children and parents, adoptive parents do not have the luxury of reflecting upon better days -- often there are few or no "better days" to which to go.

It creates a real sense of insecurity and anxiety to never really know how much, if any, difference your work as a parent has made in your child's life. And while I suppose that is a concern common to all parents, I think it is more acutely felt in the life of the adoptive parent.

The truth of the matter is that life is fleeting and that security is tenuous for any of us, whether parent or no parent, whether adoptive parent or birth parent, whether child or senior citizen. Ultimately, we do not have the final say, and we learn to trust in Someone beyond ourselves if we are to survive.

I am struck by the power of these words by Helen Keller (whose history of mal-attachment deserves a serious look by any adoptive parent):

Security is mostly superstitious.
It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either daring adventure, or nothing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wrote about this the other day. I know that when Andrew, my birth child, gets to that point in his life where he is separating and moving out and making me crazy I could "loose it." I could (but hopefully won't) loose my temper and say, "Well just move out now if you don't want to live here!" and no one would take it seriously. He would just yell back, "Well, maybe I will!" Then we would stomp to our separate corners and make up later.

My relationship with him is a hard rubber ball and it will survive hard knocks without much damage.

With Evan though it is different. My relationship with him is finely spung oject of glass. He is a permanent placement foster kid. If I were to say something like that he would think I meant it. He might call his social worker and say she should come get him. And she would. Even if he didn't, even if I apologized and tried to make everything right he would be deeply hurt. He would feel miserable and think, "She would never say that to Andrews."

And he would be wrong about that last part. I would be just as likley to say it to Andrew. It is just that he would not believe me.