Saturday, July 19, 2008

Life, as an imperfect human being

A quote that I read in college, two years after I was legally emancipated from foster care, still resonates with me today. I return to it, as an adult, when I find myself battling with inner demons.

Here is the quote:“When I was young, I thought that I had to be perfect for people to love me. I thought that if I ever did something wrong, their love would be withdrawn…

We need to give ourselves permission to be human, to try and to stumble, to be momentarily weak and to feel shame but to overcome that shame with moments of strength, courage and generosity.” -H. S. Kushner, You Don’t Have to Be Perfect To Be Loved

What does it mean to me?
For those of you who have not experienced foster care, remember back to what it was like to be a teenager.

Did you ever say things and haste, and regret them later? Did you indulge in risk-taking behavior? Did you act a certain way to fit in with your peers, which sometimes included behavior that alienated adults?

When this happened, did your parents pack your things and send you someplace else? Did they forever reject you for that behavior, and perhaps never choose to see you or spend time with you again?

For a young person living in a foster or group home, your every mistake can lead to larger-than-life repercussions. Chances are that you will be removed from the place that you are staying and placed somewhere else. Even if the mistake was not yours, even if that mistake was actually perpetrated by the son of the man who owned that group home, you will be blamed.

What does this do to you inside?
It makes you feel that you are unlovely and unloveable. It instills the desire to you to become love-worthy at all costs. You might try to be prettier - in order to be loved. Smarter - in order to be loved. Thinner - in order to be loved.

Do you see how emaciated I look in this picture?
That was how I looked as a 19-year-old college student when I first read this quote. I was trying all those things... to be loved.

I had recently experienced two forms of rejection; one from my father whom I had tried to reconcile with, and another from my best friend-big brother-evolved into boyfriend, who wasn't my boyfriend anymore.

I reacted to their rejection by blaming myself. I couldn't see that there might be something lacking in my father - like courage or emotional strength. I couldn't see that my boyfriend was just a bad match for me. I was chasing after perfection and beating my hands against the wind.

Chasing after perfection
I still do that sometimes. I push myself hard, and I keep my energy level going for a long time. By the end of this year, I will have presented at four national and four statewide conferences in the hopes of improving outcomes for young people in and from foster care.

But trying to be a perfect person can be exhausting.

Some of my goals for the next year are:
- To delegate more and not take everything on myself
- To partner with others and share the workload
- To design workshops that can be shared on a national level... but not always by me
- To train youth and alumni to present at conferences

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This strikes such a chord with me. I just love hearing your perspective -- it helps me to parent my son more effectively.

My son gets very stressed and anxious if someone gives him a compliment like "you're a really great kid." It's too generic and he doesn't know how to replicate that. Specific compliments, however, he loves. If I tell him "You did a really good job with X" he's thrilled, because he knows how to keep doing X. To him, that's what love it. Do X, X, and X and I'll be loved.

I try to make a habit out of telling him I love him during ugly moments as well. I constantly tell him that I love him no matter what. I so badly want him to understand what unconditional love is. He's starting to repeat it -- telling me I love him even when things are rough. But I can tell he doesn't understand or believe it yet. But we'll keep trying.

Thank you so much for reassuring your adopted son of your love.

It takes a while to sink in... but consistency and reliable, trustworthy people definitely help.
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