I will always remember the day.
In a moment of overwhelming frustration, my teenage son Michael blurted a totally unexpected yet brutally honest statement.
How can you understand my pain? Your life is perfect.
Since his perception became my reality, I tried to reassure him.
My life’s not perfect. No one’s is. What we see on the outside doesn’t tell the whole story.
He didn’t buy my vague response. In fact, I only made the situation worse
Let’s face it. Being a teenager is hard for every kid – but even harder if you don’t fully understand your past.
As is the case for many children who are adopted,
who experienced early trauma or any form of abuse or
who have cognitive or emotional challenges.
That night before falling asleep, I kept hearing Michael’s words over and over. I then thought about my response. Although it was true and sincere, I had spoken from my perspective – not his. Apples and oranges to say the least.
In other words, my start in life was far more perfect than my son’s on many levels. To think otherwise would show a complete lack of empathy.
Telling kids to “get over it” is easier said than done.
Soon I found myself being extra careful in sharing personal stories from my past – especially ones that reinforce his “fantasy of the perfect parent.” I had little choice. You see, triggering his sense of unworthiness with my words happened easily – which made me seem even more perfect.
To shift his jaded perception, I focused less on things and more on relationships. I also began sharing my imperfections in rich detail, whenever the right opportunities arose.
Like the time I talked in class and spent an hour in the hallway. Of course, the principal walked by – not once but twice.
Like the time I wrecked my parents’ car. Of course, my mom had never allowed me to drive alone until that day.
Like the time I lied about not wanting to go to the school dance. Of course, I was afraid to ask a certain girl to go with me.
As my son laughed with me, we connected. I suddenly appeared less “perfect” through his lens.
Even with being intentional in my comments, I still heard the same words from Michael, as each layer of past trauma was removed – further exposing vulnerability underneath.
Your parents raised you. They still love you and call every week.
Your mother didn’t drink alcohol during pregnancy. Mine did.
You have friends. I never will.
You went to college. I can’t.
You know how to do everything.
What will happen to me when you die?
I can’t undo the past or entirely eliminate my son’s present challenges. But I can listen, acknowledge feelings and relate my experiences. Most importantly, I can identity his successes – with hope of building upon them.
And help him continue to heal.
No doubt, the fantasy of the perfect parent still exists – but with time, the fantasy will no longer be his only reality. DCP
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