Becton and I made our every third Tuesday trip to the doctor’s office for his allergy shot. As we stepped on the elevator to return to our car, a young African-American woman asked me:
“Does he have eczema?”
I thought I knew what she was thinking: White mom probably doesn’t know how to take care of this boy’s skin and I will offer some advice. I’d been here many times before – especially when Becton was an infant or toddler. I’d bought all the products recommended by well-meaning black women. They lined the shelf in Becton’s bathroom. I didn’t need any more products, so I cut her off –
“Well, no. We have lots of products for his skin and hair. But Becton just doesn’t want to use them. Sometimes I force him. It’s a constant battle between us…”
Becton grinned and interrupted: “She’s my adoptive mother.”
The young woman smiled back and responded: “But she’s still your mother. You need to do what she says.”
We parted ways at the end of our elevator ride, sending well wishes.
I kept thinking about Becton’s response: “She’s my adoptive mother.” What did he mean? Was he trying to put distance between us? Was he suggesting I didn’t know what I was doing because I wasn’t his real mother?
When we got to the car, I asked him. Becton replied:
“I was just trying to give you an excuse.”
I said, “But I don’t need an excuse. You do. My being white or adoptive doesn’t have anything to do with your poor skin care. We have all the stuff. You just refuse to use it.”
But even as I spoke these words, I wondered if they were true. Oh, sure, Becton was resistant. But if I was black or if I were his biological parent, would I let him get away with this? I hate battles, and this had been a constant one. I was waiting for the day when he would care. A girl he liked would say something and he’d change his ways. His peer group would whisper and he’d suddenly care about his appearance.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this was one of those battles I had to insist on winning right now. Not for my sake. Not to prove that I’m a good mother, but for Becton’s sake. To prove that he is loved to the rest of the world – even if he already knows that this is true.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have better answers if my children were biological. If I struggled with weight issues or hated reading and math or felt fearful about new experiences or lacked executive functioning (planning) ability, etc. like one or more of my children, would I respond differently to them? I don’t know.
I know families with biological children who seem to sail along, anticipating each other’s mood, needs, and abilities. But I also know families with biological children where parent and child are very different in temperament, interests, and behavior. And they struggle.
Adoptive parent or biological, we are always juggling multiple balls in the air. To name a few, they are: “To show you that I love you” “To show others that I love you” “To protect you from harm right now” “To protect your future opportunities” “To keep you close” “To allow you to grow and differentiate” “To teach you a lesson” “To allow you to learn from your own mistakes”…
Some parents seem to anticipate for some children which ball or balls should come into play in any given situation. Other parents and children have more difficulty. The important thing, it seems to me, is to keep trying. If one ball, one answer, doesn’t work, try another.