I was talking with another adoption professional recently about a home study I’ve been working on. Under discussion was the discipline policy that most, if not all, adoption agencies – both public and private – adhere to. The policy is that adoptive parents may not use corporal punishment to discipline their children. Ordinarily, there is a document that must be signed. The adoption professional told me about a wonderful family that she had worked with years ago. The couple adopted a sibling group from the foster care system. Some time passed, but then the children were taken away from the couple because school officials found marks on the children. When the adoption professional called the couple to talk about what happened, the husband was very embarrassed. He acknowledged that he understood the no-spanking policy and signed it with good intentions. Then he said, “It’s just that what I did was so minimal compared to what was done to me as a child.”
Hmmm. Early conditioning comes back to bite us in the butt again and again.
I thought about my own childhood. I was spanked – infrequently, because that is what a lot of fathers did in the 1960s. My father was ill suited to the task. He paced the room, talking at length about the error of my ways and the necessity of this physical punishment, though his heart was clearly not in it. Spanking wasn’t something I ever thought I wanted to do to my own children. Times had changed and research showed that nothing was gained from corporal punishment. My goal has always been to channel my mother’s sad, disappointed look. That look, directed at me when I misbehaved, broke my heart and did more to deter me from future misconduct than any spanking ever did. To date, I have not mastered “the look.” But I’m still trying!
There are other things besides discipline practices that are imprinted in sometimes unrecognized ways on young people. This is why adoption caseworkers spend so much time examining the histories of persons who want to adopt. What skeletons do you have in your closet that may affect the way you treat your kids? I’ve recently discovered one of my own…
I was a type-A, high achiever in school. I knew how to study for and take tests. I knew how to decipher what was important and what I could skip over. I was a student for many years (through three graduate degrees), and this ability to weed out the important from the unimportant proved very useful to me. But life is not all about taking tests. There are other areas in life where this particular filtering capability is a hindrance.
My biggest problem these days pertains to remembering people. I meet lots of people – people at church, people at each of the five schools that my children attend, people at book signings, people in the adoption community, and so forth. I find that if I don’t have a formulated reason for remembering them, I often don’t. But then they pop up again, and I think to myself, “I’m ashamed that I don’t know you, can’t place you, can’t remember the details of our last conversation — but I didn’t think I’d have to know you for the test.”
Each of our family members remembers some things better than others. Journey absorbs the emotional states of people and remembers those. Skye absorbs a multitude of details if she thinks she can use them to get her way. K.J. absorbs the scary things, the dangers, for future avoidance purposes. John absorbs numbers or statistics, and remembers the people who touch his professional life in some way. I guess it helps to know that my default is: “I don’t need to know that for the test.” Even if I don’t make much headway in remembering the people who I encounter when their future contact with me is not known, at least now I have the opportunity to try to change, and I don’t have to assume I’m just losing my mind.