A couple of things have happened this week that have got me thinking about acceptance: how important it is that we instil it in our children from a young age and how hard it can be achieve as adults.
Big Bear has been having some issues with a boy we know. It seems a few people have been on the receiving end of this boy’s unkind words, including him saying that a 4 year old boy we also know is “gay” because he likes to dress up as Elsa. The 8 year old in question lives close by so, one assumes, has a similar upbringing to my Bears. However, I would be mortified if I thought that they were going around using a term describing somebody’s sexuality in such a derogatory way. Big Bear knows that some men like ladies and some like men and that some ladies like men and others like ladies. We talk about that in a matter of fact, every day kind of way because that’s how I think sexuality should be viewed. I want my Bears to grow up knowing that everybody likes something/ somebody different and that that is what they accept as “normal”.
When Little Bear made a friend who has 2 daddies, neither Bear batted an eyelid or in fact asked me anything about it.
I worry about what this boy we know has been taught about accepting homosexuality. Not only that, but what has he been taught about accepting other differences in people’s preferences? So what if a boy wants to dress up as Elsa? Is that really something that requires comment, let alone negative comment?
Admittedly, I have never been one for following the crowd. Even as a child I did my own thing:- I wore what I wanted to wear, not necessarily what was in fashion; I listened to the music I liked, not necessarily what was in the charts. As I got older I didn’t feel the need to try drugs or drink too much just because everyone else was. It did mark me out as being different. There were then and there are certainly now, pressures to conform, even from an early age and life can be hard for those who do not. However, rather than my conclusion being that we should all just conform to make our lives easier, I am now even more of the opinion that what we actually need to do is work harder at having a more diverse and accepting society.
After all, if I had compromised myself and tried to follow the crowd, I wouldn’t now be the happy, teetotal, vegetarian adult that I am. I wouldn’t have chosen to adopt, I wouldn’t have shaved off half my hair and I wouldn’t have a bright green fridge. Those things make me different but they also make me who I am.
So yes, I am coming at this from a standpoint of thinking that difference is good. I suspect that, intentionally or not, I have now influenced Big Bear into a similar mind-set. Big Bear has different hair to all the other boys in his class – it’s longer – and he frequently gets called “a girl”. Whilst I think it suits him I don’t want to force my alternative ways onto him and worry about any negative attention, so I keep offering to cut it for him. He won’t let me (or a hairdresser) and is steadfastly developing his own style in spite of the negative comments. This week he went to football training with his hair tied back because that’s how some of his favourite footballers wear it. I think there were some negative comments but he didn’t let it bother him. I’m very proud that he too is carving out his own path and I hope that he is strong enough to stick to his guns as he gets older.
I am also very proud that he just accepts difference in others. Once, we were in a coffee shop with one of his friends and a lady with pink hair walked in. Big Bear’s friend started pointing and laughing. You can imagine the lecture she then received from me. Big Bear couldn’t understand what the fuss was about, saying the lady looked lovely.
Last weekend, Big Bear and I met an elderly lady with very obvious Dementia. We were in a café and she came over and started speaking to us and stroking Big Bear’s hair. She was thoroughly confused and couldn’t follow any conversational overtures that we tried to make. Big Bear did really well at just taking it in his stride. It could have been a frightening experience for a child and some would certainly have laughed or shrugged her off but he intrinsically understood that she was poorly and couldn’t help it. He accepted her for who she was and tried his best to engage with her kindly.
Quite apart from any shaping we have done through our parenting, Big Bear has a very sensitive and empathetic personality. Little Bear is already a kind and generous little soul and I hope that over time he too would be able to react in a similar way if he met a similar lady, though at the moment I fear he would probably have told her to “get off”.
Little Bear doesn’t care whether his friend wears dresses though and in fact, he is probably more of his own man than any of us. If anything, he takes it a bit too far, thinking that none of the rules apply to him! Whilst I’m keen on him doing what he’s told, I hope he continues to be so sure of himself and is not too easily influenced by others.
At the moment, Little Bear is intrigued by differences but accepting of them. On holiday we saw a lady on the beach who had prosthetic legs. She had evidently taken off her prostheses in order to get around more easily on the sand. Before I could intervene, Little Bear strode right over and asked her about her legs. He didn’t point or laugh, he was just genuinely curious. I think his brand of direct curiosity can be a good one, as long as you are accepting of the explanations.
Little Bear’s Elsa loving friend came to play the other evening. After a while both boys got tired so I put the TV on for them. Little bear asked for his dummy and blanket. I don’t know whether he hasn’t yet reached the stage where he is aware of how others might judge him or whether he just doesn’t care. Either way, he sat there, all 4 and more than a half years of him, sucking away, stroking his face with the label of his blanket and his friend sat beside him without passing comment. A lovely moment of true acceptance.
This week I have run one of my Speech, Language and Communication Workshops for adopters and I had a conversation that got me thinking about a different type of acceptance. The Dad in question was talking about his daughter’s needs and the struggle he has in not comparing her achievements with those of her similar-aged peers. As a parent you know that you should accept your child, just the way they are, without comparing them. However, in reality, I suspect that acceptance doesn’t just come over night and is not always that easy to achieve.
In my professional life, especially in my work with children with complex medical/ physical/ social needs, I have met many parents who have not yet achieved acceptance of their child/ their child’s needs. Nobody ever sets out thinking their child will have difficulties or struggles or be in any way different to other people’s children. When it turns out that they do and they are parents quite naturally have to grieve the loss of their ‘perfect’ imagined child. True acceptance can take many years. I think sometimes parents can feel that by accepting their child’s difficulties they are in some way giving up on them because they are no longer seeking ways of “making them better”.
From my own experiences as a mum to Little Bear and his developmental delay, things can take you by surprise. You can think that you are fully accepting of your child’s needs then something crops up that throws them under the spotlight and you are hit by the sickening realisation that maybe you are quite worried about how far behind they are and how such and such is leaps ahead and the unwelcome spectre of your fears about the future starts looming large.
I definitely think that achieving true acceptance of your child exactly as they are is something to strive for but maybe we need to acknowledge that it isn’t always quite as easy as it’s made to sound.
True acceptance in the adoption world can mean more than accepting your child’s developmental needs. It is also about accepting your child’s life experiences, especially those that went before you came into their lives. It can be hard to accept what your child has been through. I find it hard to accept that Little Bear didn’t get the support and nurturing in his foster placement. Whilst I’m generally accepting of the actions of his birth family, I have to admit that sometimes it is hard just to accept that they actually do exist: that there are 2 other parents in our parenting equation.
I may be a vegetarian teetotal adopter with a green fridge but I’m still working on acceptance.
In these Trump influenced times I hope I’m not the only one. Come on World, its 2016, can we please get with the programme and accept that diversity is actually a good thing?