I regularly find myself wading through conversations I don’t want to be a part of. It starts out well, but then soon enough I’m scanning the horizon for rescue boats, life rafts, even those little life rings people keep by their pools. But ultimately, I decide I’d rather tread water to the sound of my own labored breathing than take someone’s advice for another 45 minutes, and I jump ship.
It doesn’t start out that way, though. It usually starts with me voicing how I feel about something going on in my life… a fight with a sibling, feeling undervalued at work, or trying to articulate why I feel so exhausted all the time (vitamin deficiency? lack of sleep? a toddler? turns out it’s all 3). Then it morphs into second hand stories, advice I didn’t ask for, and what regrettably feels like a ‘lesson’. Most days, I just want to be heard and nothing more. Anyone else?
Before I ruffle too many feathers or have you questioning if I’m talking about you, let me just say that I am very guilty of this myself. Why I feel the need to act like everyone’s mother is beyond me. I dole out a lot of sage advice and I’m much closer to the plant than the enlightened ones. It’s something I need to remind myself of if I’m going to expect the same, active-listening ear from others.
I had a nightmare last night. I don’t have nightmares too often, but when I do, they usually involve my daughter. As I’m sure many of you reading know, I fostered my daughter from birth and it was a very emotional journey for me (as to be expected, right?). Even though she is my legally adopted child, I still wake up sweating some nights, from a bad dream. She’s either been taken from me by the court, a caseworker…or there’s been a mistake in our paperwork. I wonder if I’ll ever be free of worries like these.
What do my nighttime anxieties have to do with people giving me advice? A lot, actually. When I first shared with the world that I was becoming a foster parent, I was hit with an onslaught of stories about people’s second cousins who had a bad experience, thoughts on if an adopted child can have a connection with you similar to a biological child, and what signs to look for on their little faces that might signify a genetic disorder or exposure to alcohol in utero. While I understand people may have been worried about me diving head first into the chaotically run foster care system, and wanted to protect me, what they likely didn’t see was their own fear. Their fear was not mine. Not at first, anyways. As they would tell another story of a foster child stabbing a dog in a neighbor’s backyard (they think), I would wonder…what is the desired outcome here? That I change my mind? That I look down on children exposed to a trauma or ten? I still can’t think of another desired outcome from stories like these.
I ended up googling if it’s possible to love an adopted child as much as a biological child. I was curious if I was missing some big study or something. Or maybe all the advice, the stories…were getting to me. The first link to pop up at the time (and I will not link it here, because honestly…fuck that lady), was a personal blog of a woman sharing that in her opinion, no, you cannot. This was based off of her personal experience, her religious beliefs, and a deep wound of infertility ( and in my opinion, expecting perfection, a life ring of her own, to fix unrelated things in her life that were already broken). Yet here I sit, with my daughter that I would do anything for. I can sense what she wants before she wants it. I know just when her tantrum is about to end and when she’s going to want to rush into open arms. I open my arms. I kiss her boo-boos even when they’re made up. I put love into every meal she eats, every book I read to her, and I will do everything I can to let her grow just the way she wants to…to become the person she wants to be. She is perfect to me.
And I love her as deep and wide as a human possibly can.
What I’m trying to say is… just listen when people are sharing pieces of themselves. They aren’t asking for advice until they’re asking for advice. Again, I need to be better at this, too.
So, the next time a friend calls to tell me about their day, their relationship, their worries…I’m going to listen to understand and not to respond. Why? Because I know all too well that second hand stories, opinions, and articles you read somewhere will ultimately seep into someone else’s subconscious, their dreams…their nightmares.
Your quiz results are in, Cassie. You’re neither a sage nor a shaman, so you can chill on the advice. You’re a great mom, though. Keep going.