by Catherine Granger
Glover North Carolina, USA
In 1984, I legally adopted my three stepsons. My husband had obtained custody of them just before we married in 1982. We were not well off financially, so the counseling I found to help me deal with becoming an “instant mom” was provided by social services.
It was a wonderful relief to have someone to talk to about the stresses and rewards involved — without worrying about emotional repercussions. One day the topic of the boys’ mother came up, because the boys had asked repeatedly why I was now their ‘new mom’. I’d heard that their mother had been involved with drugs, and had not taken care of them, but didn’t want to tell them that.
I told my counselor that I just told the boys that she was just not able to take care of them, and we were, so they came to live with us. But I wasn’t really happy with that answer, and neither were the boys.
She asked me if I knew the full story of why they were no longer with their biological mother. I told her that I did not, only what I’d been told, and I didn’t know how much of that was fact. Then she asked me a question that changed my life and my attitude about many situations. “Have you ever thought of just answering with ‘I don’t know’?”
Wow! I was an adult; I was supposed to have all the answers. How could I tell a child, “I don’t know”? I was skeptical, to say the least. Is it OK to tell a child that you don’t have all the answers, when you are an adult — the source of knowledge in their life?
Then my counselor again asked whether I knew the full reason the boys had been available for adoption, and I answered “I don’t know”. She sat back while I absorbed the fact that I didn’t know, and that I could say so.
What freedom I felt! I didn’t have to figure out another person’s motivations or choices. I was free to end that conversation and go on to other topics. All I had to do was to tell the truth — I didn’t know. Then I addressed the underlying fear the boys had (that I would disappear, too) and reassured them that I would not become so preoccupied with other things that they would have to leave their new home.
I often remind myself of my counselor’s suggestion and use her advice when appropriate. It’s such a simple and obvious statement, but one I never considered until she suggested it. Thanks to that social worker, I remember that I can give my own honest answers — even if the answer is that I don’t know.