Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Adoption”

Too Strict? Or Not Enough?

My parents divorced when I was three years old.  I saw my father in my early childhood, basically every other weekend.  In my teens, my relationship with my father was strained.  Meanwhile, my mother who had primary custody, lived with her mother and an aunt.  My mother worked second shift, which meant, when I came home from school, I dealt with my grandmother and aunt who were often quite busy.  As my mother married again, in my mid-teens, I would still find myself lacking supervision and direction as I did at my grandmother’s home.  I came and went as I wanted.  I did pretty much what I wanted.

Examples of what a family could be considered would come from friends’ families.  I spent a lot of time in the homes of three different friends.  I was always included and treated as one of their own.  During these times, I would notice the roles of the “father” and the “mother” in a lot more detail than what I had grown up witnessing.

So when I became a Dad, I had a pretty good idea of what I expected from my role as a father.  I needed to make sure that my children not only received a good education, but were encouraged and praised for their efforts.

Needless to say, when it came to being punished, I do not recall facing any kind of punishment, not for lack of discipline, as much as not getting caught.  I never saw any of my friends being punished either, other than “grounding,” the act of being restricted to the home, and telephone usage (we had no computers or smart phones, so this was pretty much a very effective method of punishment.  But at no time, had I ever been spanked or hit as a form of punishment, nor had I witnessed any of my friends being punished in this manner.  That is not to say that I have not seen a parent unload on a child in a public place.  I have seen this all too often.  And also too often, the impact being too extreme that it was clearly abuse.  I have been known to approach a parent who abuses a child that harshly.

It was during my psychology studies that I came to learn, and believe, violence begets violence.  And when a child is punished by the slap of a hand (or worse), then what we are enforcing in the child, is that violence is the only way to correct a bad behavior.  And I do not accept that tenet.

And so, when I became a Dad, I had a clear plan in my mind, if the time came, that either of my children would have to be corrected.  Not even up for consideration, any kind of physical punishment.  I was never hit, my children would never be hit.

One thing was certain, that if I made a “threat” of punishment, I had to follow through.  Whether it was removing a toy, issuing a “time out”, “grounding”, or even cancelling a trip, my daughters knew I meant what I was going to do.  There was no line in the sand to cross.  I am fortunate, my daughters never tested this theory.  Because one of the most important needs of discipline, is consistency.  And I gave that to my daughters from bed times, to school preparations, to even just a phone call.  My daughters know that I will always be cosistent.

So, the other night, the conversation came up, if my daughters felt I was a strict parent, which I always believed I have been.  I am not flexible with our roles – they are the children, I am the parent.  If they have  grade that can be better, I push them to improve it.  When my daughters are with me, they know there are “expectations”.  I purposely do not use the word “rules” in this post, because to me, that implies that there are problems with behavior.  But 99.9% of the time, if either of my daughters were asked to do something, it was done and without even an eye roll.

But the answer that I got from both of my daughters was actually quite surprising.

I am not strict.

I was confused.  I was firm.  I made sure things were done.  I made sure that behaviors were not imposed on other people.  Sure, we played and such, but I made sure that my responsibilities as a father in raising my daughters were met.

So I asked my daughters why they felt I was not strict.  Sadly, they both believed that being strict was related to some sort of physical discipline such as spankings.  And because I have never laid a hand on my daughters, they felt that I was not strict.  But just as I witnessed when I was a child, my examples of a “strict” family through those of my friends’ families, this is what my daughters were witnessing.

I was kind of disappointed that my daughters felt I was not strict.  But to them, the way that I raised them, is not because of being strict, but because I care as a parent (their words, not mine).  I was saddened that they equated strictness to some form of physical punishment.  Having never been exposed to that, either being spanked myself, and certainly not spanking either of my daughters, I had a hard time understanding why they felt this way.  I know I get uncomfortable when I witness a parent spanking, even if lightly enough just to get the point across, because I really do believe that act of spanking, to make a child “good”, actually does build the idea in the child, an act of violence does result in the desired behavior.  And if that is not guided as the child grows up, this can lead to problems.

I tried to convince my daughters that I was strict.  But just as other things that I want them to learn from me, it is the end result that will count.  I want them to learn most importantly, that to care, to be respectful, and to be consistent, are all important qualities when it comes to raising their children some day.


A Day To Be Recognized, Not Celebrated

Publisher’s note – this particular post is a general post, not reflective of any particular situation that I may or may not be dealing with personally.  Furthermore, this post is being written gender neutral, as it is a topic that affects both genders.

Just as I am an advocate for cancer survivors and patients, universal health care, and adoption, I am also an advocate against something called “Parental Alienation.”  Today is the annual recognition of Parental Alienation.

To be clear, this is an issue that affects both mothers and fathers, but also extended family members such as grandparents.  But what exactly is Parental Alienation?  First, it should not be confused with the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome” which is completely different, though it is considered the next level from Parental Alienation.  According to Psychology Today, Parental Alienation is the “psychological manipulation of the children against a targeted parent.”  This is not necessarily a custodial parent vs. non-custodial either.  The action of Parental Alienation is “psychological manipulation” which simply means causing the child to think differently about either parent, usually in a negative sense.  Simply put, talking mean about the other parent so that the child wants nothing to do with the targeted parent.  This type of emotional abuse actually can occur with extended family members as targets as well, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings.  The individual actually manipulating the child will have one or more targets.

Parental Alienation Syndrome is actually when the manipulation has been completed, and the child, who under normal circumstances would unconditionally love both parents, now tries at all costs, to avoid the targeted parent, even to a level of hatred themselves comparable to the offending parent.

What would cause one parent to go after another parent, and use the child in this manner?  Clearly it is to serve as some sort of revenge, either for a system that the antagonist perceives did not give the desired result, or even if the desired result was reached, the decision was not enough.  The hatred of the target by the other parent, is more than the love the parent has for the child.  That does not mean that the offending parent does not love their child, the offending parent just hates the targeted parent more.

No one gets married with the ultimate goal of getting divorced, well unless you get involved with a pre-nuptial agreement, then I believe you pretty much do not have confidence in your marriage lasting.  I do not have the secret formula to what makes a marriage last “til death” parts the spouses, or when the marriage simply falls apart.  And the reasons that marriages do fall apart are numerous, from issues such as money problems, to even getting married under false pretenses.  But at no point, should this EVER affect the children.

And that is exactly how Parental Alienation works, by drawing the children into the failed marriage.  Only the two spouses are the ones married and divorced, not the children.  The children will keep the same parents as they had when they were married.  However, when one parent is driven to cause as much hurt as possible, children do get used as a weapon to hurt the targeted parent.  Make no mistake, this is emotional abuse, child abuse.  No child, under normal circumstances will hate their parents, unless they are convinced to, and this is Parental Alienation.  When the targeted parent is no longer able to be involved with the child, now by the child’s choice, this is Parental Alienation Syndrome.  In the short run, what this means to the offending parent, “good, I got what  I wanted, my child hates (the other parent) and I know that parent is hurting now because of that.  I have now hurt the targeted parent as much as they have hurt me.”    Think about it, the parent seeks revenge, uses the child to do so, and succeeds.  Sure, the targeted parent has now “paid” for their transgression and nerve for filing for divorce.  But now you have a child, or children, who will have not only parental issues, trust issues, and relationship issues in their future lives.

The offending parent does not take the harm to the child into consideration.  All that matters is what occurs to the targeted parent at all costs.  But just as any traumatic event in a child’s life, whether it be abuse, loss (death) of a parent, auto accident or fire, the child who grows up resenting their targeted parent faces a couple of major issues.  There are all kinds of shocking statistics that point to risky behaviors of children of alienated parents, but one thing is certain, it is not something the child will ever forget.  And just as the offending parent will feel victorious, vindicated, eventually the child will discover the manipulation, and the role that they themselves played, or were played.  And then a whole new set of issues will develop.

So how does a child get manipulated against their other parent?  Involving the child in discussions pertaining to the divorce process from court orders to the issues of the divorce.  Lies.  Talking negatively about the targeted parent.  Wrangling support from outsiders (family and friends) to “verify” the things said about the targeted parent.  Really, anything that causes the unnatural act of turning a child against their parent.  That is manipulation.

And while “parent” is in the term, the act is actually involving the child, there are things done to add to the hurt caused to the targeted parent which is meant to reduce any fight the targeted parent may put up.  Keeping the targeted parent from communicating or seeing the child, not sharing simple things like photos and report cards, not informing the targeted parents of medical issues that arise are all acts of parental alienation, because the purpose is there, to alienate the child from the targeted parent, to erase the parent from the child’s life.

And those outsiders that actively participate or encourage the unnatural act of turning a child against their parent, may actually be considered worse because they are not as emotionally involved as the offending parent, then presumably should have a clearer head, to see the hurt being caused to the child.  Again, do you hate the targeted parent more than you love the child?  Then you are guilty of Parental Alienation.

I am an adult child of divorce.  I grew up hearing awful things about my parent by outsiders.  My parent chose to not deal with all the hatred and manipulation by the others.  And so, as much as I loved that parent, I grew to hate that parent.  And as visits diminished, the hatred grew because clearly, everyone else was right.  And the absence of my parent proved it.  But a tragedy early in my adulthood would open a door that had been slammed shut by me.  Now, I am not the kind of person to hold a grudge, even in this extreme case.  I never did ask either of my parents why they got divorced, and with my father no longer living, I do not want to know, being able to hear only one side at this point.  I have forgiven, moved on, but have not forgotten.

I love my daughters.  I did divorce from their mother, but I did not divorce their mother.  I divorced from my wife.  And that is why it has been so important to me to not allow to happen to my daughters what happened with me, because I know how it feels.  Because our daughters will outlive both of their parents, and most likely have a family of their own, their mother and I will need  to co-exist as mother and father.  There are children that are not as fortunate.  Those children will never get the chance to stop the hurt, never get the chance to forgive.  And that is what today is all about.

What March 14th Means To Me

March 14th, jokingly referred to as “pi day” making reference to an alternative way the date can be written is similar to the way Pi is written, 3/14 or 3.14.

March 14th, my late grandfather’s birthday, which born in 1893, would make him 125 years old today.  Though I only knew him less than a year, I have been told what he meant to me.  And clearly, his legacy in my town where I grew up, had a major effect on me and many of the decisions (and how they are made).

March 14th, the birth date of one of my nieces.

March 14th, the day I became a dad.

Both of my daughters are adopted from China, a blessing that was not possible biologically or domestically.

The experience of travelling internationally to adopt was not only informative, but humbling.  Because I strongly believe in providing my daughters with as much information and history of their adoptions, the fact that I was able to experience and witness the regions that they came from, enables me to genuinely describe their origins.  But it also important to me that both of my daughters embrace their Chinese heritage and I do all that I can to provide them with such.  Of course, what they do as adults is entirely up to them, but as a parent, it is my responsibility to make sure they learn now.

What my daughters have been told so far has been on an age-appropriate basis as time goes by.  Neither has really had the term “abandoned” explained to them, a legal term in China to declare  a child eligible to be adopted.  There will be legal issues that they will need to prepare for as adults.  But one constant that has been done to the best of my ability, is to keep both of my daughters in touch with their “sisters”, other children that they were adopted with at the same time.

This group photo was the last photo of all ten daughters together, shortly before we left mainland China in 2014.  Inspired by the movie,  “The Joy Luck Club”, I felt it was important, that while each of our daughters would have parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, their fellow “sisters” were their only true connection to where they came from.

Over the prior days before this photo had been taken, we spent a lot of time with the girls, in many mini or group play dates.  The 1st anniversary of the adoption, we were able to get 9 out of the 10 families back together for a reunion, and though numbers have dwindled over the years (all kids have lives as they grow older, not just adopted ones), this date has always remained important to at least say “hi” to everyone, and wish everyone, “Happy Forever Day.”

Though these group reunions have dwindled, most of the families do still keep in touch with each other.  Better yet, our daughters are all now older, and this connection to each other becomes more important to them.  And by keeping in contact, it has made it easier for them to reach out to each other.

It is quickly approaching, but in just 3 and 4 years, they all will graduate from High School, most likely venture away from their parents, and then it will fall upon them, to continue the bond that we all have worked so hard to keep together, just like in “The Joy Luck Club.”


Post Navigation