When we were waiting to adopt the first time, a wise and experienced adoptive mother said to me, "Don't ask others what they think about your family-building plans. Just tell them."
Seems simple, but this advice was quite profound and life-changing for me.
You see, I'm a typical type-A person. I follow rules, I am passionate and driven, I am a better leader than follower and I have little tolerance for excuses, high-emotions, procrastination or disorganization. I'm the oldest of three children, so I'm a leader by nature. I set the standard my entire childhood and carried the duty of excelling and being an example through my adult years.
Because of my personality, I often cared what others thought and said about me. I wanted praise, compliments, gold stars and high-fives. I wanted an "A" in my classes. I craved receiving trophies and awards. I wanted to (and still do) get things right, to have my proverbial ducks in a row.
When it came to adopting, I quickly learned that adoption and I were going to butt heads. I don't have control over every single detail? What do you mean I have to let a social worker write about me in a home study? Some relatives may resist our decision to adopt? I might have to wait a year or two (or even three) for a placement?
Later, I learned that the questions, the uncertainties and the comments regarding our decision to adopt, how we adopted and how many times we would adopt would increase, not decrease, over time. As we moved from "we are planning to adopt," to taking on the "adoptive family" status, we became visible and interesting to those around us. And with that visibility (and piqued interest) came more judgment, doubts and downright rudeness. But instead of it raining upon just us, it was now on our whole family, including my three innocent children.
Just a few weeks ago, we were putting on our coats and preparing to leave my middle daughter's basketball game. As we stood to exit our row, a lady I had never met blocked us and asked me, "Are your kids from the same family?"
In an attempt to redirect her and make her realize her rudeness, I said, "Yes, we are all in the same family."
She blinked a few times and said, "I meant, are they from the same family?"
I looked down at my daughters on either side of me, their brown eyes imploring. I knew I had to be mom first, not adoption educator. I knew I was in the midst of a teachable moment.
I looked directly into the woman's eyes and said, "That is none of your business."
She was obviously taken aback, expecting that my response be one of full disclosure, not of tit-for-tat bluntness.
Later, I asked my daughters about the interaction. My 6-year-old replied that she didn't know what happened. But my 4-year-old repeated the entire conversation, including, "And then you said, 'That's none of your business,'" with a grin on her face.
We went on to talk about how sometimes adults can act like bullies, using their size, authority and age to demand things from those who are younger and smaller. We also discussed how it's OK to keep some information private, and when any person is speaking rudely, it's OK to shut down the conversation by telling the person they are being inappropriate or by walking away.
Telling, not giving, someone permission to take advantage or cowering to others' expectations, is a powerful thing.
I see a lot of posts on mothering online communities regarding getting permission and approval from others. Posts like, "Anyone have an article I can send my mother-in-law that says nursing a baby past one year is still nutritionally beneficial?" and "My pediatrician says that co-sleeping with my 4-year-old isn't healthy. What should I do?" and "My sister commented the other day that vaccinating my children is dangerous. I'm so upset! What can I tell her that will make her understand?"
What all of these posters want is approval and permission. But they don't need these things. They are the parents. They know their children best. They are most accountable for their children's well-being, not strangers or friends of family members.
Mothers, we know our children best. We are also their first teachers. We can't give what we do not have. Our job is to be the mother our children need: confident, strong, empathetic, educated and empowered. Most of all, we need to be assertive, standing up for our kids when they cannot and making decisions on their behalf that benefit them the most. We need to live these things in our day-to-day interactions if we wish to raise strong children.
Take this from a mother of three kids, a mother whose family stands out everywhere we go: You do not need another person's permission or approval to be you and stay strong in your convictions. If someone cannot let up on riding you for a particular decision you've made, stand up tall, look that person in the eye and tell them that they aren't being appropriate. Or just walk away.
Either way, you win.