Why did they not want me?

It's all very well to stand up to questions random strangers ask me.

But what, when my children do the asking and I don't have the answers ready? As happened to a mother whose 4 year old adopted son asked her: Why did  they(the birth parents) not want me? What she said was that his birth parents decided he needed a better future and that otherwise she would not have him... and then she panicked and rushed off to the book store to find literature on the subject.

I know the feeling:  The way I fumbled around for an answer when my 3 year old asked me: Mummy am I black?  was - well -  revealing to say the least. It felt a bit like walking down a familiar flight of stairs and suddenly instead of firm ground there is one more step than I remember and even though the brain knows it's just another step, the body reacts like its falling off a cliff. Even though I knew she was not in any way alarmed or even sad - only curious - there was this sinking feeling in my stomach and frantic activity in my head:  ohmygod, she is only three and already confronted with racism, what do I tell her to reassure her, who told her she is black, did somebody say horrible things to her, how can I change the world so that she will never be exposed to racism or hurtful comments in her life?
Of course I can not. It's simply not within my limited powers as a human being...

This is what happens sometimes: When faced with questions that are not as easy to answer as why does the beetle not move - (because it's dead)  when our own fears and feelings of not fitting in or not being loved enough get in the way, we panic, we feel inadequate, and often we feel the need to compensate our children for something that we think is missing from their life. We explain too much too soon in order to make them feel better about something that they might not even feel bad about - yet. I don't think a four year old understands the concept of a better future -or a three year old the meaning of racism. They do however pick up on the emotions that these questions provoke. And therein lies the real answer that we give them without meaning to.

As I tried to calm my breathing and searched my brain for an adequate answer to Leah's simple question she saved me yet again by babbling on about black and blond and pink and brown so that I just followed her lead. Together we pointed out black (and green and pink and red and blue and brown) items in her room as we compared them to the color of our skin; we decided eventually that that hers was a beautiful soft cuddly teddy bear brown and me - I was more of a bed frame beige with shades of piggy pink. Which had us both giggling - (and me inwardly sighing a huge sigh of relief about being let off the hook - this time)

But what about next time?
And what about the four year old who wants to know why they did not want him?

What I learned from this experience: Look at YOUR child before you answer. They rarely need or want too much detail at this age.

Be honest.

When they ask you why they were not wanted - tell them they are. Wanted. It is the simple truth.

When they ask why did they give me away? Tell them they were not given AWAY they were given to you, their mummy and daddy. (And you are the most beautiful gift we ever got)

Why did they not want to keep me?
If you know this, like I do, you can tell them They did want to keep you. But they knew you belonged with your mummy (and daddy). So they gave you to us....
and so on and so forth.

And yes, maybe sometimes you are allowed to spare them a sad detail or add something of your own.
When your child was abandoned somewhere and nobody knows the circumstances - or when there is neglect and abuse -  my feeling is : make up a story for your child.  A story that will grow from your love. A story that one day your child will understand for what it is: a metaphor for his life's journey that brought him to his family.

Today, if I am not sure , I don't answer immediately. I say: interesting question let me think about it. And  sometimes that is already enough as 3 and 4 year olds really shift focus within milli-seconds.  I know my child best  and if I manage to step beyond the fear and the judgement I might just be able to see the question for what it is:  a little exercise for a developing mind  in Solving The Big Mystery That Is Life.

So far this strategy has paid off. Leah - who just turned five - proudly states to all her friends that she has not only one but three mummies, that if she does not like black hair anymore, she can be blond (clip ons are the secret here) and that - being allowed the right wardrobe - she is Really Really beautiful today.

The other day she said to me: Mummy you know what? I am a gift from the heaven and before I came to you I was a star...

(now please excuse me whilst I dissolve into tears ... :-)

(aehm and also: picture graceful courtesy of best neighbouring friend in whole world: Brooke Auchincloss (as I forgot to mention first time round and have been reproachfully reminded.....))


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