Root Cause

My sons (now 19 and 21 years) and I, took a road trip from Texas to New Jersey this summer. It was our first trip as a family, just us three. It was a great bonding experience. I loved having my two sons with me and seeing them connect as brothers. I learned so much about them, especially my youngest. It was amazing how easy it felt for me. I felt balanced. It was also an opportunity to see how adoption has impacted my family.

Both sons helped me drive. My youngest, during a bathroom stop, asked me if he was a better driver than my oldest when just he and I were walking back to the car.

This was not the first time my youngest asked me a question like this and I found myself wondering about the root cause.

I remember our first reunion, six years after his birth. It seemed like there was this need for competition, which is not uncommon for siblings, especially brothers. But my sons (then 6 and 8 years) had not lived as brothers under the same roof. It all started with the bike riding. My youngest had more skill and practice at the time. They were trying to out-race each other which ended badly. Thank goodness no one was physically hurt. But some egos and feelings did get hurt.

Then, the day before we left to return home, my youngest got close to the video camera, lowered his voice and asked if his older brother had worst behavior than him. I was caught off-guard at first. My oldest overheard  him and they joked back and forth which one was worse behaved. I remember having petty arguments with my siblings about who was better. This usually started as a chatted debate with the other sibling. Then, if it could not be resolved, we would enlist our other siblings or a parent to help decide. Since my youngest asked nonchalantly and jokingly, I didn’t think much of it.

Over the years, when our families were visiting each other, them driving down to visit us or us driving up to visit them, my youngest would present a question of comparison. He did so quietly and secretly to me alone. It was always a comparison between him and his older biological brother. However, it was no longer as a light-hearted joke between siblings, but rather a sincere inquiry and a need to know. It concerned me. I would respond as tactfully as I could, trying to deflect while reassuring my youngest that neither was better.

It seemed like others were often comparing my sons. Some wanted to focus on their differences; their hair, their skin tone, their height. For me, none of it was important. I saw too beautiful babies, boys, and now men.

My youngest would sometimes say his brother was darker than him. I found that strange. Technically, my youngest has darker features than my oldest. My oldest has lighter hair, eyes, and skin tone.

I wondered what prompted my youngest to say this. Did he hear someone say his brother looked “more black” than him and in his young, innocent mind, he interpreted it as his brother was darker than him?

My oldest son has never initiated a question like this or compared his younger brother with himself verbally to me. He has yet to ask for my validation between him and his younger brother. That’s not to say that he has never wondered. Naturally, as humans, we all have wondered at some point or another, but we may not always communicate it. Since my youngest communicated it almost every time we visited each other throughout his childhood and now young adulthood, it is a real concern for me. I wonder what has prompted this and why he needs to ask or know if he is better than his brother in my eyes.

Was there a need to be better than by his parents, his family, his friends, or his community than his birth family because he was adopted? Did he grow up with comparison within his family? Is it related to relinquishment and adoption? Did he hear comments? Did he believe that I chose to parent my first born but not him because one was better than the other. Or is it something else completely or possibly all of it combined?

My sons both have unique personalities, skills, and talents that make them special. One is athletic and loves sports; one is creative and loves the arts. They are both really funny and make me laugh. They both have a heart of gold and a quality that is uniquely their own and I love them both!

Measuring or weighing our children is impossible. We can’t measure or weigh skills and talents or our love for them.

 

The Implications of Forgiveness

(Please note: the original version appears to have been lost.  The title was still here but the rest of the blog post was blank.  I’m not sure how or why it happened.  My apologies to anyone who visited this site or this blog post.)

I’ve been thinking about the word “forgiveness” and the act thereof.  We hear it, see it and feel someone’s desire to implore forgiveness over others quite frequently it seems.  Friends, family, coworkers, our church or place of worship, teachers, and the media are all filled with conversations about forgiveness.

Personally, I think some of us try to simplify the act of forgiveness.  There are so many layers of forgiveness, so many various acts and consequences.  It seems we get the whole forgiveness premise mixed-up.   It can be quite complicated.

I used to work with someone whose mother died when she was five years old.  Her name is Micah.  Micah said the one thing that bothered her over the years is how people would tell her they ‘were sorry’ after she told them her mother died when she was five.  She said she got tired of hearing it and would often avoid telling others.  Micah said she couldn’t understand why people were sorry.

It does seem strange how we can so easily tell someone that we’re sorry for something that was no fought of our own.  We say we are sorry to show or convey our compassion for someone.  For Micah, I think since she was so young when her mother died, hearing the same response repeatedly over the years probably seemed more like an automatic response rather than a sincere condolence.  For her, someone saying I am sorry was the same as someone apologizing for a wrongful act.

When Jaren was around five years old, we were having dinner at an Outback Steakhouse near Austin, Texas.  We had been traveling all day, from Dallas, and were on our way back home when we stopped there for dinner.  Towards the end of our meal, Jaren began to vomit.  Then he began to projectile vomit.  With a packed house of customers, I quickly gathered Jaren and scurried to the bathroom.  One of the staff members came in the bathroom to ask me if everything was okay.  I told her my son was sick and apologized for the disruption.  She could see that Jaren’s clothes were wet.  She showed great compassion to me and my son.  She said they would clean up our table.

Jaren was overcome with emotion.  Although I had remained calm with deep concern for my son and never scolded him, he began saying, “I’m sorry, Momma.  I’m sorry, Momma.”  He was almost in tears.  I repeatedly told him that it was not his fault.  I told him he could not help it that he was sick.

I was concerned about Jaren not having spare clothes to wear home.  A few minutes later, the staff member returns with an Outback Steakhouse T-shirt for Jaren and an Outback bag for Jaren’s wet clothes.  She apologizes to me because she says they only have a large.  I graciously thank her and Outback for their kindness.  I put the t-shirt on Jaren, which covers him completely.  Then we gingerly walk to our table looking around wearily.  I am prepared for an evil eye or a remark from someone.  I pay the check and gather our belongings.  As we walked out, trying to make as little eye contact as possible, I sense compassion from patrons.

To this day, I still wonder why Jaren felt he needed to apologize.   I think he felt compassion for the others eating and he felt bad about what happened.  At that moment, I felt like it was a pivotal moment in his childhood.  One that could have an impact on his emotional well-being.  I needed to convey to  him so that he understood that he had no control over what happened and that it was in no way his fought.

 

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In Christianity, we have several stories that are used to provide an example of forgiveness.  One parable has a traumatic story.  The other appears to be an average familial story.  Both stories involve jealousy, greed, and ego.

Let’s take a look at the Prodigal Son story.

We have one son who lavishly wastes his father’s inheritance.  When he has nothing left, he returns home.  Ashamed of himself and his actions, he asks his father if he can return to the family as a servant.  To his surprise, his father welcomes him back home, not as a servant but as his son.  He even celebrates his son’s return.  The older son is upset with his father for welcoming back his younger brother and celebrating his return.  The father explains to his older son that he will in fact inherit everything almost as if he needs to insure his older son that the return of the younger brother will not financially impact his inheritance.

In this parable, we have three parts to forgiveness.

First, we must realize that neither the father nor the older brother searched for the younger brother who left home with his inheritance.  Forgiveness is not seeking out and searching for someone so you can forgive them, especially someone who does not want nor seek someone’s forgiveness.

Second, when the younger son returns, he is not cocky or proud.  He does not shout or complain to the family that they should forget about what happened, get over it, or move on.  No, he is actually the exact opposite.  He has been humbled by his experience.  He comes home submissively.  He knows his choices have consequences.  And he has prepared himself for those consequences.

Third, we have a father willing to forgive because he sees his son’s heart has been humbled.  His father believes his son is truly sorry and has learned from his experience.  And… he is his son.  It is easy for a parent to forgive their child.  But the older brother on the other hand doesn’t really care that his younger brother is truly sorry or humbled.  His jealousy prevents him from forgiving his younger brother initially.

In the other story, Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, jealousy again appears to be a factor between the brothers.  The brothers decide to take drastic matters.  First, they planned to kill Joseph.  Then, they put him in a well but had planned to rescue him later.  Then they decided to sell him.

Joseph goes from being a slave to second in command and a ruler over the land of Egypt.

Twenty some years later, Joseph’s ten older brothers come to buy food in his land.  They don’t recognize Joseph, who is now dressed as a prince and seated on a throne.  Joseph recognizes them.  However, Joseph is not ready to make amends just yet and decides to not disclose who he is to his brothers.

The story then tells us that Joseph wished to be sharp and stern with them to test them.  He wanted to see if they were still selfish and cruel.  The story unfolds much slower than the Prodigal Son story.  Joseph is not easy to forgive.  And who can blame him.  His story is much more traumatic than that of the prodigal son.    Still, Joseph has a desire to forgive his brothers.  So he continues to test them until he realizes that his brothers are truly sorry and no longer cruel and selfish.

Again, as in the Prodigal Son story, Joseph never search for his family who wronged him.  Surely he could have.  He was pretty powerful and had lots of resources.  He could have gone home and told his brothers that he forgave them without them offering an apology to him.  He could have gloated about his position and his wealth.  He could have used his power and demanded they show remorse.  Or he could have punished them.  But he didn’t.  Joseph didn’t allow what his brothers did to him make him hard, resentful, hateful and cruel.  Joseph remained humble and true to his heart and to his God.  He continued moving forward with his life.  Joseph knew his worth as a human being.  Not as a powerful ruler over Egypt but as a messenger of God.  It seemed that God was working through Joseph and had big plans for him.

Another thing to point out is that Joseph didn’t forgive his brothers at the first sight of them.  Before Joseph could forgive his brothers, he needed to be sure they were truly sorry and not the same as before.  Forgiveness did not come forth as easily for Joseph’s brothers as it did for the prodigal son.  Only after Joseph was sure his brothers were not selfish and cruel was he able to forgive them.  His brothers were sincere in their humility.  They were submissive in his presence and sincerely remorseful for their actions.

For me, when I hear Jesus speak about forgiveness, these are the elements I think about.

I believe that if someone is truly repentant of their actions that caused us harm and apologizes, then we have an obligation to forgive them.  Truly forgive.  However, if it becomes a repetitive cycle, as in abuse, that’s a very different story.  When a person is truly sorry and remorseful for their actions, they don’t retreat back to cruel or selfish acts over and over again.

On the other hand, we may or may not ever hear an apology or an admission of guilt or remorse from a person who directly or indirectly harmed us.  However, we cannot allow what happen to freeze or burden us with anger and hatred.  Whether or not we ever get an apology or are given an opportunity to forgive, we cannot allow the actions of someone else who meant us harm to keep us from our good.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. – Genesis 50:20 (NIV)

 

 

Her name was Kathy

When we think of domestic violence, we often think of a romantic relationship between two people which has become toxic in some form.  The level of abuse can vary from verbal or emotional to physical.  The impact leaves one person feeling powerless and the other feeling powerful.

Statistics show that 1 in 4 women in the United States have been the victim of physical violence.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

That’s alarming.

But, we often do not think of the extension of domestic violence and its abuse on those around; the children and the extended families.

I posted on Facebook recently:

If you have been impacted by domestic violence, please message me.

Melissa shared, “I grew up in with sexual abuse and violence in my home. The sexual abuse caused rage in my sister who was three years older. My mother also ragged at us but she did not hit us, she screamed, and threw things like all the dishes in the house, or every piece of clothes out of our closets and then would not speak to us for days. My mom and sister would have physical altercations started by my sister and my sister got physically and verbally abusive with me regularly. When I hear domestic violence I think father beating up mother but I came to realize I grew up in a violent home that was not safe and it shaped much of my beliefs about life. Therapy and Unity have helped immensely.”

A new friend I met this summer said, “My first husband was abusive. I was married for five long years. It’s still hard to admit that to people but feels safer here on personal message.”

An old friend of mine, who was in an extremely toxic abusive marriage and is now divorced admitted that her current boyfriend has become abusive.

So for me, I can easily see how these alarming statistics are very substantial.

I remember my own mother getting threatened and hit by her boyfriend George, whom my mother dated for three years, was a live-in boyfriend and an acting father figure to her three young kids, me being the youngest.  That relationship ended when I was five.  Her next live-in boyfriend, who eventually became our step father bullied and threatened my mother and even shoved her up against the wall on a few occasions while her children watched.  As a small child, to witness the rage and anger that was shown on the faces of these men (that sometimes was directed towards us children) while our mother’s face tried to elude her fears and tears unsuccessfully left us with a feeling of helplessness.  We were powerless to make any changes.  We had been placed in a situation beyond our control or our choosing.  We had to learn at an early age how to mentally and emotionally survive on a daily basis to manage and cope in our sometimes unstable surroundings.

I don’t know when my mother started dating abusive men, but I know it didn’t start with George.  While I was too young to remember, her relationship with my own father was also a toxic one.  My father was good at loving his children; he was not good at caring and providing for them; or being a daily constant, reliable father in his children’s lives.  But despite his toxic behaviors towards his lovers, girlfriends or wives, I never feared my father.  Even after I learned of his crime, where his jury spared him the death penalty but sentenced him to hard labor at Florida State Prison for the rest of his natural life.

I found out about my father’s imprisonment and crime when I was a young teen.  But I did not know the particulars, who, what, why or how it happened until years later.  I grew up hearing about my abusive father from my mother, saying he left her so bruised and battered one time that when her mother came over to visit, she had to put on a long sleeve turtle neck shirt to hide her injuries.

My parents parted ways when I was a toddler so I have no memories of that time.  But my oldest brother (from my mother’s first marriage) says he remembers.  He remembers seeing my father abusing our mother.  Once when we were talking about George and our step-father and their tumultuous and sometimes toxic relationship, he reminded me that my father “wasn’t all that great either.”  I find it ironic because it is sometimes said as if I had control for my father’s behavior.  Just because I am his daughter (I am my mother’s daughter, too), should I feel guilty for what he did to our mother?  Even so, does that mean because my father was abusive that I don’t have the right to speak about the other abusive men that I encountered during my childhood?  It’s invaliding the real issue.

Somehow, as I began to date over the years, I seemed to avoid these abusive men.  Did I have an inner knowing subconsciously of what to look for without conscionously trying to decipher those characteristics?  Heeding any early warning signs?  Lord knows, my life has not always been in a good place which could have easily led me into these types of relationships.  Or was it just plain luck?

I did have one relationship that was on the verge though.  His name was Kevin.  Kevin was a tall and handsome young man.  He was a couple years older than me.  His family was well known in our small town and their kids were very active in school and athletics.  I was working at a local bar as a bartender.  I was nineteen years old.  While Kevin and I knew each other in high school, we never hung out.  Kevin was a regular at the bar.  He was popular and very charismatic.  Shortly after we began dating each other, I heard rumors that he was sometimes abusive towards his previous girlfriend.  I assumed they were telling me this to scare me so I would break up with Kevin and then his old girlfriend could get him back.  Our relationship seemed strong and we truly did have deep love for each other.  Within a few months though, I noticed Kevin would become jealous of friends and accused me a few times of wanting to sleep with his friends.  He would become antagonistic, trying to create turmoil and doubt.  I would assure him that I didn’t.  And I truly didn’t.  I had no interest in any of his friends.  I thought Kevin was way better looking, had a better personality, was very talented in sports, was smart, was from a good family, and was a tender lover.  He had everything I needed and wanted in a man.

Then one day, we got in an argument at his parents house.  We were alone in the house and in his bedroom.  All of a sudden, he threw me on his bed, straddled on top of me, pulled his arm back with his hand in a fist and was ready to cold cock me in the face when I said, “Go ahead.  Hit me if it makes you feel like a man.”  Don’t ask me what possessed me to say that.  That could have very easily been an invitation or an instigation for him to follow through with his intention.  But he didn’t.  He stopped.  It wasn’t too long after that our relationship ended.  And in many ways I am thankful.

A couple years later, Kevin began dating a good friend of mine.  Although I had moved away, I heard about their sometimes toxic relationship.  This was not surprising news to me.  I came to realize the warnings I had heard about his previous girlfriend were probably true.  Part of the issue with Kevin was his drinking.  He could not control it.  Once he had one drink, he usually drank until he was drunk.  I recall my grandfather, who was a recovering alcoholic, asked me to ask Kevin if he wanted to go to AA with him sometime.  I asked Kevin but he never took up the offer.  And to be honest, I don’t think I took it that seriously either.  But my grandfather knew the signs.  He could tell that Kevin was an alcoholic before anyone else could.  I remember my grandfather telling me that an alcoholic is not someone who drinks every day.  Some alcoholics can go weeks without having a drink.  But when they do drink, they cannot control their drinking and will usually drink until they are drunk.

So one night, Kevin and his girlfriend had been out drinking.  On the way home, they got in an argument.  My friend was driving and Kevin was in the passenger seat.   Suddenly, Kevin grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it.  The car crashed.  They both were seriously injured but my friend, a single mother, was left as a paraplegic, and her life was changed forever in an instant.  It was devastating news for the whole town.

I could not help but think, “Wow.  That could have been me.”

My dear-longtime friend Lee was in an abusive relationship during our senior year in high school.  Lee remembers, “That was a dark time in my life.”  Most times, the incidents of her abuse didn’t happen when others were around.  That’s the thing about domestic violence.  And why it goes unnoticed and unreported all too often.  Or the victim is ashamed to come forward believing that he or she has caused the abusive behavior or that it is warranted somehow.

Lee’s boyfriend, Pat, had jealous tendencies among other issues.  One night, Lee, Pat, and I were walking down the city street of our small town.  Something happened and Pat pulled Lee aside into a dark alley way.  I think it was something that Lee and I were talking about that made him suspicious.  I stayed on the street sidewalk and gave them their privacy for a few moments.  But then I saw Pat starting to get upset and domineering.  He began pointing at Lee with his finger close to her face and then shoving her.  I began to get worried about what may be coming next.  So I shouted at them and told Pat to leave her alone and let’s go.  And he did.

Sometimes we only have a split second to decide or choose something.  We quickly follow our gut instincts or heart.  So many things can happen in an instant.  Pat could have taken his anger out on me.  That’s the scary part about dealing with toxic people; you just don’t know what they are capable of doing.

Which brings me to Kathy, my father’s girlfriend back in 1967.

At fifty-three years of age , after reading my father’s book about all his lovers, girlfriends and wives, and the string of children he left behind, I have finally come to know Kathy.  All these years, I knew nothing about the woman my father murdered.  Later, I would find out that Kathy was an eighteen year old high school teenager who fell in love with my then thirty eight year old father.  She was a waitress at the local Howard Johnson.  She got pregnant by my father.  She considered having an abortion.  She wanted and needed out of their toxic relationship. But sadly… her life was taken away with five shots fired to her head because, if my father could not have her, no one would.  That’s toxic, the domestic violence abuse.

Kathy’s story has deeply touched me.  Her short-lived life and tragic death has been hard for me to overcome this past week.  She was a young impressionable teen in love with an older man who she thought would love her and protect her.  When I think of Kathy, I sometimes get emotional and cry.  And while I was reading her story through my father’s eyes, I still have come to know a piece of her.  And oddly, knowing more about her and the circumstance that lead to her death has helped me to heal.  I was four years old when Kathy’s life ended.  I had no idea at the time.  That moment not only changed Kathy’s life, her families, and my father’s, it also impacted and changed everything for his children too.

The truth is, anyone can be impacted by domestic violence, a man, a woman or a child.  And it impacts more than just two people in a relationship.  It’s a ripple effect that can have lasting consequences.

I think for many reasons, that is why I chose to remain single and not go from relationship to relationship and drag my son, Jaren (who’s now eighteen years old, the same age as Kathy was) along with all those “possibly the one” relationships that had a 50/50 chance of succeeding or failing.  The risk of him being abused verbally, emotionally, sexually or physically greatly increased anytime I dated or brought another man into our home.  That wasn’t a chance I was willing to gamble on.  I had a responsibility to protect me and my son.

Children at higher risk in nontraditional homes

This post is in honor of Kathy, and dedicated to her family, my siblings and to all the victims of domestic violence.

If you think you are in an abusive, toxic relationship please call this hotline for help.

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

The Final Bow

Tonight was the Final Bow performance for my son’s high school choir.  This is the highlight of the year.  It is where the seniors get solo’s and get to show off their seasoned talent.  This is our sports event, our playoffs, our final round.  Harmony is the name of the game here and on our team, everyone can participate.  And just like sports, we have some that are naturally more talented than others, some that have worked really hard to gain access to their talent and others who have the attitude of commitment and continue to rise to the challenge, knowing that they may never be as good as some of their teammates but still they show up, they sing, and they support their team.

Did you know that one of the top fears that people have is getting up and speaking (or singing) in front of people?  Some list put this fear as the number one fear.  But most will have this fear listed in the top five.  That is major.  It takes guts to get up and speak or sing in front of people.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and subject to praise or criticism, it could go either way, is a very courageous act to do.  Add the fact that these kids are teenagers, which places another layer of apprehension.

I talk from experience.  I too was a choir student.  I joined my concert choir freshman year and perfected my choir voice for four years.  I was at ease while standing on stage with my comrades as we sang our choir songs; but singing alone gave me great stage fright.  During my senior year I sang a duet with a friend to help ease my fears.  We sang Snow Bird.  Even with her by my side, I still got nervous.  It started off good but by mid song my throat slowly closed up which made it almost impossible to release a solid note.

And like me, I saw tonight those students who reminded me of myself, singing duets to help ease their fears.  Some who were nervous but faced their fear and sang a solo on stage as their fellow choir members cheered them on from the crowd.  Some who are learning to trust themselves and their talent so they held back a little.  Then, there were the others, like my son, who appear confident, the ones who command the stage with a gracefulness, some bold and dazzling like they were born on the stage, some humble and secure with a pureness that flows effortlessly.  And then there are the special needs students who add the special touch to this high school choir.

I’ve seen many special needs kids on stage over the years, some with Down syndrome, some in wheelchairs, and some with physical or learning disabilities-even some with hearing impediments.  I love that our high school is not only diverse in ethnicity and culture but also in abilities.  I especially love how our district and the choir teacher, Ms. Wright embraces all these differences.  And as much as I love watching my son on stage, I never tire of seeing these kids perform.

This year, there was one choir student that stood out among them all.  And the rest of the choir kids didn’t seem to mind sharing the spotlight.  They all love to see him shine.  His name is Zuri.

I remember Zuri from middle school.  He went to a different middle school then my son but once a year the middle school choirs would join with the high school choir kids for a combined concert.  It was a treat to see the high school students performing.  What a difference a few more years makes.  Seeing how the students had matured into their own style and expressing their unique talents gave us parents a sneak peak of what our kids might be doing in their near future.  What parent doesn’t want to see their child performing?  On a stage, on a field, academically, athletically, or creatively, we hope that our child will find his niche and show off his or her unique skill and talent.  I am sure Zuri’s mom felt the same.

I met Zuri’s mom and his younger brother by chance at our local CiCi’s Buffet one evening.  I recognized Zuri from the concert and had this urge to tell her how Zuri stood out to me from that concert.  Not because he is special needs but because he allows his spirit to shine.  His bright smile, his infectious presence and his child-like ways makes one feel as if they are staring into the face of God.  He appears to have no stage freight, nor is he fearful to sing, in fact, he seems to not fear anything.

Tonight I was overcome with emotion as I watched Zuri sing Say Something on stage among his choir classmates, including my son Jaren.  Zuri is front and center.  He claps his hands and has memorized the song.  I know this because I am pretty good at reading lips and I could see his lips were moving to match the words.  I can’t help but think how blessed his family is and how special his mother is.  She looks at him with possibilities and supports his achievements and she has done an amazing job.  She makes parenting look easy.

Zuri smiles and brings this song to life with his hand gestures; I think some of it was sign language.

At the end of the evening, Ms. Wright begins to call each senior’s name.  She skips over Zuri’s name purposefully.  She leaves him for last.  As she calls his name, the choir cheers.  Zuri steps down from the choir stands, walks over to Ms. Wright and they hug.  Then as Zuri walks back, he pauses mid-stage and turns to look out into the audience.  We stand applauding.  Zuri raises both arms, cheering, and beaming from ear to ear.  As he steps back onto the bleachers and returns to his spot, he is overcome with emotions.  His head drops and he begins to cry.  His comrades all gather close to him.

Tears of joy begin to flow.

I can’t help but think how proud his mother must be.

Courage

As parents, we have so many decisions, choices and responsibilities that not only affect our own life but every person we are raising.  Whether we play full-time parent or part-time parent, we become the Corporate CEO of our family; see what has worked in the past and what can be improved upon, what new methods have been invented, throw out the old procedures, introduce some new technology blended with proven techniques and you have the makings of a well-intended, optimistic parent pursuing a positive and colorful future for their family.

I’ve shared some difficult experiences that I had while growing up, on this blog.  And while those experiences impacted me greatly, my parents also provided a good family structure, like chores and a bedtime curfew, having dinner at the kitchen table almost every weeknight, and sitting around the living room watching All in the Family or Good Times.

Manners were important to my parents (mom and step father).  They implanted a strong sense of responsibility in their kids to show respect for oneself and for others.  They had rules and lessons that helped instill good values in me from which I have added many of the same lessons to my own parenting practices.  However, there was one rule that I felt didn’t produced positive results and I needed re-evaluate it; fighting.

Fighting was not tolerated by our dad.  To him, it didn’t matter whether we started the fight or not.  No fighting.  Period!

This was not a difficult rule for me because I feared fist fighting greatly.  I did not once during my twelve years of high school, tell someone who was bullying or criticizing me how I felt, no matter how mad or hurt I was.  I felt insecure and lacked courage.  I would allow my family, friends, love interest and acquaintances mistreat me.   My self-doubting personality led me to feel victimized, as if I had no control over my circumstance or outcome.  Maybe I didn’t feel worthy enough to defend my position or maybe I felt those who were supposed to protect me failed to do so which left me feeling somewhat undeserving.

My son, on the other hand, was born with an assertive personality and wasn’t shy about expressing his thoughts.  He had strong convictions and had enough bravery to back them up.  I wanted to be sure I cultivated these qualities in Jaren that were lacking in me.

Naturally, parents want to protect their children.  But we can’t provide protection 24/7 from the outside world.  We have no control over what others may say to our kids, or what happens when we are not there.  I felt like Jaren may be faced with different obstacles than I had growing up.  For one, I was somewhat concerned that he may come face to face with racial issues.  I wanted to make sure that I appropriately prepared him and assured him that he has every right to stand up for what he believes to be right and ethical.  I explained to Jaren that there will always be someone who won’t like you for “some” reason.  You’re too tall, too short; too thin, too round; too dark, too light; too smart, too slow; too rich, or too poor.  I told him to not get hung up on that “one thing” someone might say or criticize you about.  If they didn’t like you for that one thing, then they would find something else about you they didn’t like.

Jaren got in his first scuffle during pre-school on the playground one day.  One of the boys was pestering one of the girls in their class.  The girl told the boy to stop repeatedly but he kept doing whatever he was doing.  Jaren went over to see what was going on and then asked the boy to leave the girl alone.  The boy pushed Jaren.  Jaren in turn pushed him on the floor and then began to punch him.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  -John 15:13

I was happy that Jaren protected his classmate and happier when Jaren’s teacher said that he didn’t get in trouble because Jaren didn’t start the fight.  But at the same time, I knew I needed to have a talk with him.  We needed to lay down some ground rules.

I told him how proud I was that he wanted to protect the little girl.  I told him that he should always try to use his words first.  I said, “If someone says something to you that you don’t like, you have every right to tell that person how you feel and you may ask them to stop.  If they don’t stop, tell them that you will go to the teacher.  Always try to handle it yourself first.  If you can walk away from a fight, then do that.”  Lastly, I enforced, “I better never EVER hear of you starting a fight but if someone hits you first, you have EVERY right to defend yourself.”

Jaren came to the defense of a classmate once again, when he was in middle school.  A boy (that Jaren didn’t know) was being teased by several other schoolboys for being overweight.  Jaren walked by and overheard them.  The boy was nearly in tears.  Jaren knew some of the schoolboys and asked them to stop.  They walked away and as a result, no fight occurred.

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

But the first time I witnessed Jaren stand up for his self is one that will forever be ingrained in my heart.  Jaren was only three years old.  I was still in the mourning stages from relinquishing my parental rights to my second son, Noah, who was placed for adoption.  My emotions were weak and my tolerance level was rather low towards my young energetic baby boy and at times I would spout off at him for every little annoyance.

Standing in my bedroom, I chastised Jaren for several minor things.  My son looked up at me with his heart full of sadness and said, “Mommy, you’re not being very nice to me.”  My heart dropped.  I felt awful.  My child was speaking the truth.  I sat on my bed as tears quickly filled my eyes and called my son over to me.  I hugged him and apologized.  I wanted to assure him that his thoughts, feelings and opinions mattered.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” -Winston Churchill Image

Choice vs. Coercion

Coercion

  • the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats
  • the practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary manner.
  • a set of various different similar types of forceful actions that violate the free will of an individual
  • to induce a desired response.
  • the intimidation of a victim to compel the individual to do some act against his or her will by the use of psychological pressure

When I was younger, I would ride just about any ride in the theme park.  However in my later years, I’ve become more fearful and there are a few rides that I won’t get on.  The Titan at Six Flags Over Texas is one of them.  The Titan has been a big topic in our home.  My son, Jaren talked about the Titan frequently which was one of the only extreme rides that he had not conquered yet.  He studied and researched every aspect of it on the computer and would promise with optimism that the next time we went to Six Flags, he was going to ride the Titan and he wanted me to go on it with him.

Jaren did finally go on the Titan and actually on a day that I was not with him.  Sometimes our kids become braver when we parents aren’t around.  He was so proud of himself and actually, I was proud of him too for conquering one of his fears that seemed to haunt him on a regular basis.  Now that Jaren had the Titan under his big Texas belt and big bragging rights, he loved to gloat about his new found fearless attitude and began pestering me about going on the Titan.  He offered me every solution for my argument and tried to persuade and convince me that the Titan was not the bad.

I don’t like the coercion tactics, but I will admit that one time I did coerce Jaren into going on a ride.  As parents, we justify this behavior as trying to help our kids become more self-assured.  Six Flags had a 4D SpongeBob movie ride, where the seat rocked side to side or back and forth but didn’t leave the floor.  It’s mostly for special effects.  Jaren loved SpongeBob.  But for some reason, he was so afraid to try this ride.  I kept explaining to him that it wasn’t like the other scary rides.  Jaren did go on the ride reluctantly but to be honest, afterwards he still wasn’t crazy about it and was a little mad at me.  The experience was distressing for Jaren and I felt really bad.  After that, I never tried to talk him into going on a ride again.  I asked once or twice without any pressure and if he wasn’t ready to go any particular ride, we didn’t ride it.  Even if we brought some of his friends who wanted to ride something that Jaren wasn’t willing to ride yet, he would sit and wait and I sat with him.

One afternoon, while driving home, I was listening to Jaren pester me about riding the Titan.  As parents, we all have witnessed our kids from time to time beg or plead for something whether it is a toy in a store or a happy meal at McDonald’s.  It’s a side effect of being a parent.  But this time, my son was not pleading about something HE desired but rather about something he wanted ME to do.  He kept sharing his opinion while enforcing his views.  He had it in his mind that I would feel so much better if I faced my fears and went on the Titan.  He went on and on, trying to weaken me and hoping to convince me to go on the Titan until I became somewhat agitated by his attempts.  I finally told him that no amount of convincing from him was going to get me to do something I don’t want to do.  My life flashed quickly before me and I realized how many times, in my younger years, I had caved into someone else’s desires or wants and I suddenly saw a teaching opportunity for my son about coercion.

I explained to Jaren that there is a difference between motivating someone and coercing someone.  I said it is okay to motivate someone but he should never try to coerce someone to do something they don’t want to do.  I further explained that if someone does agree to do something solely because he convinced them, they may end up regretting it later and then hating him.  You see, at that moment, I thought about my son being on a possible date sometime in his near future.  And instead of him trying to convince me, his mother to ride an extreme roller coaster, he could be trying to convince some girl into having sex.  I needed him to understand that that is not okay.  I told him that you may ask someone once or maybe twice but if they refuse your offer, never try to convince or coerce them into agreeing otherwise.  No, means no.

This is what “regret” feels like; when we make a choice that we really didn’t want to make but allowed our self to be influenced or psychologically pressured into choosing an alternative outcome.

Sometimes our family or friends may need our encouragement or motivation to make a choice.  We may need to help boost someone’s confidence that may be damaged or lacking.  When we motivate someone, we tell that person that we believe in them and we know that they are wise enough and strong enough to make a decision.  In the end, we support their choice, no matter what choice they have chosen.

Coercion is the opposite.  Coercion is convincing someone to do what you think is right to do, not what they think is right.  Coercers are more concerned with their own desires.  Coercers don’t believe that others are capable of making sound judgments or good decisions and therefore feel the need to sway the outcome.  They will attempt to tear down the mental abilities of a person by reminding the person of their lack.  Coercers will play both protagonist and antagonist, focusing on the negative outcomes of a choice they don’t desire while promoting their own agenda with a more optimistic outlook.  Coercers only support one choice and that is their choice.

I have a favorite bible verse that I discovered a couple years ago.  It resonates with me and has helped me understand why we need to be true to ourselves, our decisions and our choices.

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.  (James 5:12)Image