Yesterday I took my son to an outdoor event sponsored by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The party was held in a nearby park and was a celebration for kids in foster care and for their families (both actively foster and adoptive). It was totally fun for my kiddo because it had everything this 5 year old little boy loves: a bouncy house, lots of kids his age to play with and fun arts and crafts. It was also fun for me because the people there were all like us: foster/adoptive kids with trauma histories and the families that support them. I felt like I had found my tribe!
Another reason I could relax was in case Christopher acted out I wouldn't be dealing with it all on my own for once. I knew if anything happened, that there were licensed social workers on hand who were trained to deal with kids with trauma histories. And lastly, for one day I also felt like no one was judging my parenting without really knowing what was going on. If Christopher acted out yesterday, it would have been better understood and dealt with as opposed to someone just coming at me to tell me what I'm doing wrong as a parent.
It's surprising how often people just judge my parenting without understanding what we're dealing with on a daily basis. From the family members who've raised kids and are therefore parenting experts to complete strangers at the playground, everyone has an opinion and feels way too comfortable sharing it with me. It can be so exhausting for me to deal with Christopher's behaviors and then have to battle with people who feel compelled to inject themselves into the situation.
I remember when I took Christopher to the 4th of July Parade. I thought that he would really enjoy the festivities but wow, was I wrong! I put him in a stroller and stood at the end of the parade route, ready to cheer on the floats, clowns and military personnel as they walked by. Unfortunately he hated it and started to act out instead. The parade was too loud and too overwhelming for my sensitive little guy and instead of loving the event, he started screaming and crying. Not knowing what to do (I'd only been parenting a few months at this point) I took him a few feet away and tried to calm him down. That didn't work and he continued to cry and scream.
In the midst of all this, a know-it-all woman comes over and starts yelling at ME. What are you doing??? You're traumatizing that kid! Why don't you LEAVE?? Apparently because she's a grandmother (or so she yells) of course she knows all and felt like she had the right to force her extremely strong parenting opinions upon me all while I'm actively trying to calm down my kid.
I'm so frazzled with the screaming kid and with the screaming woman that I don't know what to do. What I should have done is tell the woman to shut up and mind her own business and to leave us alone but instead I just skulked away, embarrassed and upset. An entire year later, this experience still haunts me.
I can name episode after episode where someone has made me feel bad because my kid wasn't acting "right" in their opinion. And I can name countless times I've been forced to listen to advice that I know is not right for my situation. But being a single mom with no one to back me up, I've often felt overwhelmed by my child's actions and just couldn't deal with fighting another person as well. So I end up sitting there and getting reprimanded, like I'm a petulant child myself. I'm angry and upset and feeling so very much alone as this all goes on. These scenarios really suck.
When I was at the event yesterday, someone gave me some great advice on how to deal with situations like this. Literally, just shut the person down and don't allow them to engage. "Thank you but this is none of your business," would have been the appropriate response to the rude woman yelling at me at the parade. Other situations call for, a simple thank you for your advice. As a first time foster mother, I'm learning as I go along. If you have any experience with children with trauma history, I'd love to hear that.". And then stop them there. Do not let them go on and on with their supposed expert advice that only makes things worse. Because in the end, they really don't understand kids with trauma histories and their opinions don't help.
But that's why yesterday was so nice. Everyone there could relate to what I was going through and so for once I didn't feel all alone. No one was judging me and telling me what I'm doing wrong. Instead they were thanking me for all my hard work and actually appreciating all my efforts. And for once I could let my guard down and just have a good time. And so I did and you know what? It was a pretty awesome day.