Thursday, August 09, 2007

Moving Beyond Preoccupation

The blogosphere has created a very interesting world. If you read an individual's blog on a regular basis, there is the tendency to think that what you see in print online comprises that person's life in a complete sense, and while it is true that some bloggers seem to hold to the philosophy that no thought is unbloggable, most of us blog about only a slice of our lives. Our lives are really much more complex and full than a blog might indicate.

I realize, myself, as I review my blog postings over the past few weeks that it might appear I am preoccupied with only one of my children, and that I spend no time or thought with or about the others. While this is patently untrue, it reminds me that blogs typically communicate on a portion of a person's life. In my case, I also have a vocational life that is deeply satisfying, a life partner who is significant to me, and ten children whom God has gifted me. I have hobbies and interests beyond my parenting life, although I confess that many of my activities include my children. This blog, however, is intended to focus upon the life and times of an adoptive parent, so most of my posts reflect that (significant) part of my life.

One of the things I have learned over the years as an adoptive parent is that I need to move beyond preoccupation with a particular child and his/her needs or prevailing issues. I grew up in a family with consistent unresolved conflict, which has prepared me for this task. I learned early that there are some situations in life that cannot be "fixed," so I am not a fixer who needs to see his children changed immediately (or I suppose ever). There are times in a family's life when a particular person requires more attention and care than others. Right now, for example, it has been Mike who has required a great deal of our energy. I have learned over the years that if I am not careful with my boundaries, Mike could take all of the time, energy and money I have available. So I have to be clear in my own mind as to what I am able to do, what Mike needs to be able to do, and then stick to that commitment. It is unfair to my other family members to become so preoccupied with Mike's issues and current circumstances that I have nothing left for them. It is also unfair to Mike, to deprive him of the opportunity to be an adult, flawed as his abilities might be.

Adoptive parents are an interesting lot in many ways. One of the things we all seem to share in common is that we adopt because we want to improve the life of a child or children. We want them to be able to achieve something with their lives; we want them to have the best chance they can have. These ideals are noble, but without caution on our parts they can enslave us. If our son or daughter never quite reaches the goal we have set for them, we have a natural tendency to blame -- ourselves or them. We mentally say things to ourselves like, "I didn't adopt you so that you could choose to not finish high school," or "You should stop complaining about how awful we are as parents. If you were with birth parents you would be living in a car." Adoptive parents on their best days do not verbalize such thoughts to their children, but there is often that nagging sense that we or they have not really done the best they could do.

The more we linger on those thoughts, the more preoccupied we become, and depending upon our personality tpyes, we might escape or deny or become overly attentive or act too assertively in our efforts at human reclamation. I have, regretably, spent more than my fair share of time wandering in this place of self-doubt and self-blame as I witness choices my children have made. I find liberation from those moments only by reminding myself that a parent can only do so much and only go so far in shaping the lives of children. Those boundaries are permeable and changeable (depending on the child in question, the circumstance and the like), and the key to healthy parenting is to learn the art and science of such resiliency.

I speak not as a exemplar, but as a practitioner who sometimes gets it right and sometimes does not. But I do not give up, I do not let go, I will never be "done" being a father. And so, rather than becoming preoccupied with intractable situations, I release myself to be present with my son or daughter, offer guidance as I can and seek to find solace in something deeper than even my parental love, the Creator who every day breathes life into all of creation.

And most days, that is enough.

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