Last weekend I had the privilege of running a program called “Family Stories” at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City. It was a wonderful workshop. It included parts of our TIP TOP program for families who are built with the assistance of donor sperm or donor eggs or who were created through adoption. The parents and the children were engaged and courageous in raising issues that were important and sensitive. Everyone left feeling they opened topics that were never before broached with their children and some discovered their children had feelings they didn’t know they had. The parents left with information about ways to continue the dialogues at home. We also had fun and a great lunch sponsored by the Center. Thank you Center!
What does this have to do with you? Everything. Even if you have not built a family through adoption or with the assistance of donor gametes. Even if you are not a parent yet, it is helpful to remember that the way we build our families affects us and the way we manage our communication to our children about issues like difference and sameness, their connection to us and the way we help our children communicate to the outside world are all important issues to ponder and the foundation of the TIP TOP program.
It is never too early or too late to think about these issues and to remember that you and your child, or future child do not need to learn about complex issues in isolation. Children learn in school and in enrichment classes and parents learn through others and books but it is ideal when children and parents can learn together. The TIP TOP program teaches children and parents and then joins them so the children can understand their parents are their allies, and that is a good thing. Many parents of teens may dismiss this idea but teaching children we are their allies in self-discovery requires planting seeds. You never know which seed will take root so you keep planting them over and over.
If you are a parent you can start and if you are a parent to be you can talk to your partner or loved one about the ways in which you would like your children to lean on you. What are the values you want to impart? What are the issues that you think will be the hardest to grapple with as your children grow? You may be wrong, when we adopted our children we thought their lives would be easier because they look like us. Unexpectedly, one of my girls was jealous of her friend who was adopted from China. She thought her friend had an easier adoption story to tell because people never doubted she was adopted. None of my daughters friends believed her when she said she was adopted. So you never know. However, the efforts you make thinking about these issues and planning on how you may want to discuss difficult subjects with your children will pay off. Whether the problem is what you think it will be or not your children will know you are there for them, to guide them and support them.
Getting on the same page with your partner is not always easy. Often if you can agree on your value system and the messages you want to convey to your children you will have a good start. When you disagree, focusing on the issues you agree upon can bring you back to feelings of mutuality and remind you that you are on the same page. If you need help communicating effectively with each other or need an objective perspective feel free to contact us at www.familybuilding.net.
Parents are the primary educators of their children. That is a good thing. Learning in school or even in therapy is invaluable and can be life changing but our children’s view of the world and of themselves can be molded by the lessons we teach directly and indirectly. We can tell a child not to lie but the day we ask them to lie about their age to the ticket lady at the movie theater so we can get a cheaper ticket is the moment they will remember. If you are a parent or parent to be, its worthwile to think about the lessons you want to teach your child and to plan ways to drop the seeds of those lessons. Life gets busy and sometimes we forget the things that are most important so put a reminder on your phone, a post-it on your bathroom mirror or email yourself (that always works for me) and take time to talk think about the values that will be most important to impart and how you will drop the seeds of those values.