Our children were babies when we adopted them. Three were newborns, and two were 3 months old. They grew up in our arms. They were our children. No getting around it, they were legally and spiritually ours for keeps. We knew it, and they knew it.
However, like all children, they are going to push the limits at times. Ours certainly did. Just like the bow hunter who reaches back into his quiver for another arrow, children have their favorite arrows to shoot at their parents when things aren’t going their way:
“You can’t make me!”
“I’m going to run away!”
“I’m going to call the cops on you!”
“I hate you!”
Just like most kids, adopted children use these arrows in their efforts to manipulate their parents, but they also have another one that is more powerful than all. They know this zinger will hurt their parents more than any other. With that look of disrespectful defiance, they shoot the ultimate arrow:
“You’re not my mother!” Or “You’re not my dad!”
When some adopted children are being reprimanded or disciplined they know this statement will hurt their parents to the core. They know that because they know you love them. If they weren’t assured of that, they are smart enough to know that this arrow would have no effect. It only hurts if they are loved. And at that moment their whole goal is to hurt their parents with stinging words.
Our Personal Arrow Sting
We had a situation when our eldest son, Michael, was 16 years old. He was to attend an important event at the church honoring his younger cousin, who looked up to him. In fact, his cousin had specifically requested that he be there and participate in the presentation. It was a dressy affair. Michael needed to look his best. His hair had grown long and bushy. He looked like a renegade. We told him he needed to get a haircut so he would look his best. Reluctantly, he consented. The problem came when the barber cut it too short.
Michael was furious. He came home and put his well-worn ball cap on and would not take it off. He said, “I can’t let anyone see me like this.” As far as we were concerned, he hadn’t looked that good for quite some time, but no matter. He would not take the cap off. He was in the bathroom at the time, looking in the mirror when my husband came in. Gary said, “Son, you can’t wear that cap, now take it off.”
“No! And you can’t make me! And I’m not going!” He was adamant.
When a parent’s honor is at stake we react, and not always in the best way. Let’s face it, when our children misbehave we think it reflects on us, and we sometimes behave less than honorably ourselves. But, hey, we’re human, too. Not a valid excuse. But, let me continue.
There they were, in the bathroom, with voices getting louder by the minute. I poke my head in to see the fallout. Michael is yelling at his dad saying, “I’m not going looking like this. I’m not going and you can’t make me!”
To which his father rather loudly responds with, “You promised your cousin you would be there and he’s counting on it. You can’t let him down. Now take that stupid hat off and let’s go!”
With that Michael reached into his I-hate-my parents quiver and shot the arrow. He pushed his dad (big mistake) and screamed, “You’re not my dad!”
With that his father pushed him backwards against the wall, bending the towel rack behind him in the process, and rather loudly proclaimed, “I am your dad! I will always be your dad! I’m the dad who keeps a roof over your head, who provides you with food and clothes, who wiped your bottom when you were a baby, who . . .” It went on. Then, more calmly, he said, “And I’m the dad who loves you. Now let’s go. We don’t want to be late.”
There was no comeback on Michael’s part. He hung his hatless head and went to the car, sitting in silence. The feeling in the car was more fit for a funeral. Solemn. Very solemn. No one spoke. When we walked into the church and the family greeted us, paying special attention to Michael, the bad feelings seem to disappear. Michael was immediately caught up in the richness of the experience.
It ended well, and no one brought up the fiasco again. The bent towel rack stayed. It’s a reminder that calmer ways might have worked a little better, but in the end, good triumphed. Our son never uttered those fateful words again. We were his parents and he was stuck with us. Like it or not. Many years later we know how very much he likes it. He has expressed gratitude many times.
Three Things to Remember
Parents need to keep in mind these three things when their children strike out at them:
- Kids will say whatever they think will hurt their parents the most. They will use their ultimate weapon to inflict the deepest wound in order to get their own needs met.
- When your child says “You’re not my dad!” (or mother), keep your calm and just know it’s only words. Temporary words. Ignore it or affirm that indeed you are his father or mother and always will be.
- When your child says she hates you, don’t believe it. In fact, a good response would be, “Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I love you and always will.” And move on without making a big deal out of it. And for goodness’ sake, don’t get caught up by whining, “I can’t believe you said that after all I’ve done for you.” It will fall on deaf ears.
Even though the sting of these arrows may hurt, and sometimes deeply, we need to remember the sting will heal and things will get better. With forgiveness and an open-arms kind of love, our children will know how much they mean to us. But they will only fully understand when they are parents and one of their own kids shoots such an arrow at them. We don’t wish it to happen, but we know if it does, they will recover, and all will be well if they keep on loving their kids through it all. Just like we did.