I’ve been thinking about the royal pain in the neck teenagers can be, especially teenage boys. They can be so defiant, stubborn, disrespectful, disobedient, and my personal favorite, unpleasant. Then it occurred to me: a sixteen-year-old boy still living with mom and dad is a relatively recent phenomenon. From antiquity to as recently as the 1800s, boys became men much earlier. Sixteen-year-olds, if not married, at least shouldered heavy responsibilities in the family, on the farm, etc. Their brains weren’t any more “cooked” in the old days than they are today, but the roles they were allowed to fulfill were so much more straightforward and structured, it probably didn’t matter. They didn’t have to make judgments about drinking and driving a motorized vehicle, drugs and pornography weren’t rampant, there was no great soul-searching for one’s purpose. Just about everyone worked at whatever the family needed them to do, got married, and had a family of their own.
We humans have the longest dependency period (at least twelve to thirteen years) of any animal, but in modern times, we’ve stretched it out to eighteen or nineteen. Maybe that’s an artifact of contemporary civilization that goes against Nature’s grain. Maybe sixteen-year-old boys aren’t meant to chafe under someone else’s authority with no clear sense of their own responsibility to the family. If physically and biochemically sixteen-year-old boys are capable of much greater contributions to society than we currently allow, to prevent them from unleashing that drive can backfire.
It had to have worked better when young males were engaged in strenuous physical labor that absorbed some of their raging testosterone. Now what do we have? Physical education classes that aren’t even a daily occurrence and the exercise of holding video game remote controllers. That leaves a lot of energy with nowhere to go but into fighting against The Man (AKA mom and dad). In the case of biological sons raised in loving homes, it might be easier to navigate the later teen years. In the case of an adopted son who was adopted at, say, age eight, it can be a bleak wasteland of conflict and defiance. The bond that would induce him to maintain some degree of harmony with mom and dad just isn’t there. And that’s true on the part of mom and dad as well. The bond that would curb frustration or temper isn’t there for them either. It’s a little bit like a prison break where the inmate never leaves but the warden never regains control. No dominant authority, no submission to authority, no integration of forces. Just circling warily, lashing out, retreating.
I go back to my standard soapbox that I *hate* it when people say, “Oh, my son does that, too” or “Biological sons defy their parents, too.” It is not, not, not the same. No matter the quality of relationship between parents and their biological offspring, no one has anywhere else to go, either in reality or in their imagination. With adopted kids, however, there is always the specter of the “other” parents, the ones the kids look like (since they don’t look like you). The kids are busy (unconsciously) trying to push adoptive parents away so that no one can hurt them again like their birth parents did. And the adoptive parents hold back a little, knowing (fearing) that someday the kids will go back to the other parents and break the adoptive parents’ hearts.
I cling to the idea that if we get through these next few years, and I know that we will, it will make our bond stronger for having weathered these seas together. Life is rarely what we dream it will be. Every child wishes their birth parents could keep the family together so they didn’t have to be adopted. Every parent (if they tell the truth) wishes they could have the much simpler experience of biological children. But for many of us, those dreams don’t come true. We find ourselves adopted or adopting, and we have to make the best of it. What’s the alternative? That a child would never have a family to call his or her own? That a willing mom and dad would never have a child to love? I also hold to the hope that adoptive families, like mine, are divinely created and guided. That in our broken dreams, our deepest parts are exposed to one another, and if we can be gentle with each other (at least more gentle today than we were yesterday), we stand to grow the strongest bond of all.