Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holidays are Tough for a Lot of Families Struggling with Strained Relationships

For everyone going through the holiday season without the “normal” family, this one’s for you! This time of year is filled with possible joy and emotional pitfalls.

Many television shows, commercials and many movies celebrate the sentiment of being surrounded by a warm and loving family. We all feel things differently, and for me, the greeting card commercials with all of the images of family and love wound me. I miss our son.

I’ll watch Modern Family or some other show with people and their quirks and love, but intentionally sappy family stuff isn’t what I want to see right now. I want to protect my own emotions.

These shows and commercials shape our view of the way things are or should be, and if our own families aren’t like that, there’s something wrong with us.

I know many people with happy families that are functional, at least for the most part. Then there are all the other people I know: single, widowed or divorced, people with unhappy and strained relationships with family members, and people like me, estranged from their children. There are a lot of people who are alone, hurt, angry, afraid and worried.

Each time I read or hear about some teen or young adult who is in trouble, I think: maybe there is a heartbroken parent at home. I’m not na├»ve – some families have a history of violence and many repeat those patterns, but I believe that most parents want their kids to be okay in this world. We want them to be educated, have good jobs, form good relationships and make good choices. We want them to be happy and successful.

If you’re fortunate to have an intact family with good relationships, I’m very happy for you! I hope you can extend understanding and sympathy to those who don’t have this. Extend a hand, a shoulder, a tissue to someone who feels emptiness and loss, and withhold your judgment. You rarely know what’s really happening in another person’s home.

For those of us who are just getting through the holidays: hang in there, try to do things you enjoy, visit kind people, volunteer somewhere, get out of your own way and start walking toward accepting the situation and developing hope for the future.

Many people wrote to say that my book has helped them, and there are several ways you can purchase it. You can read more at www.tellmeaboutyourself.info.

If you need personal help, please review the resource page . For personal help, the United Way site links to organizations around the country. If you go to www.211.org, you just insert your zip code and find an agency near you.

Best wishes for a better future for all.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Barbara Blomquist: 24 Years of Estrangement and a Repaired Relationship, Part 2

Barbara Taylor Blomquist is the author of “Insight Into Adoption” and “Randy’s Ride.” In the second of a two-part series, she relays the story of her relationship with her son and their 24 years of being estranged. If you missed Part 1, please click here.

"Back in contact

One day when our son was 40 years old, he emailed me and asked how everyone in the family was. I emailed back saying that it was hard to cover 24 years in one email, but I gave him a brief update and mentioned I’d just had a book published. He emailed back that he wanted to get a copy and I mailed one to him. I didn’t hear back for several weeks, but then I received the message I’d prayed for, but at times thought I’d never receive.

He said he realized in reading “Insight Into Adoption” that he had been loved all along, but his anger was so strong at being given up at birth that he couldn’t see or feel any love. He realized he was normal and all the feelings he had were shared by many adopted youth. He was no longer alone. It was difficult for him to read “Insight Into Adoption” because it brought up so many emotions, but he later said it was instrumental in cementing him back into the family.

A visit home

Shortly after reading the book, he said he wanted to fly home for Mother’s Day. We were apprehensive, of course, but said we’d been waiting years to hear those words. He’d left as a boy and was returning as a man. The three days we spent together were like a Walt Disney movie, no deep conversations, but just a reconnecting of love, and an appreciation for each other as human beings who had all suffered. I felt no blame toward him. He felt no blame toward us. It was what it was, over and done with.

During the next year, he flew home five times. He still flies home several times each year and is in regular, wonderful contact by phone and email. He openly shares his joys and his challenges.

Aftermath and a strong beginning

It’s been eight years since he came home that Mother’s Day. There have been times when his anger has shown itself. We’ve been calm and tried to help him deal with it. Each and every time after a few days, he’s said he overreacted. Perhaps old habits die hard. We always say we understand, and we do. We tell him it’s no big deal. These episodes are getting very rare now.

He has many regrets which we tell him are understandable, but not important now. In taking this journey he became the outstanding, understanding, loving soul that he is now. He reconnected with the innate qualities he had as a little boy when he was sensitive and compassionate.

He has an appreciation for life which many people would envy. They wouldn’t envy his method of achieving it, however. He is similar to people who have come back from a life threatening experience. They never look at life the same way again. Their priorities change and their appreciation and gratitude are enhanced for things they used to take for granted.

Our son has said he would be dead now if it weren’t for us. Somewhere deep down he must have known that we would not only eagerly take him back into the family, but would do so with no questions asked. All we care about is now. He’s mentioned that some of his friends can’t believe we’ve been so loving and accepting after what he put us through. I couldn’t imagine being any other way.

How we’ve all grown

We all are different people after going through this. I think when we “know” we are right about something, we have a tendency to judge others, silently or openly. I no longer do that. When I see a behavior on someone’s part that is distasteful or even abhorrent to me, I immediately think “He’s doing the best he can.” A feeling of sympathy overwhelms me and I want only the best for that person who is obviously suffering. They are being motivated by fear or frustration or a feeling of being lost. I no longer take the position that I am better than that person. Instead, I feel gratitude that our son has taught us not to judge or label people. I’m sure people judged him for his negative behavior. That’s human nature.

We have all found a deeper meaning to life through this. First of all, not ever to judge people, but also to genuinely love people for who they are, warts and all. I know in my heart that our love for our son was a factor in bringing him out of his lifestyle. It took way too many years, but if people knew him years ago, they would know he’d die an early death. He proved them wrong. He dropped out of high school and never could stay in college, but he’s worked hard in his field and is greatly respected for the knowledge he has which he’s learned on his own. He is sought after for his knowledge and paid handsomely for it. He dedicated himself to getting himself out of his messy life. His very bad credit has improved to the point where he is now a homeowner.

His life now is calmer and he takes justified pride and joy in how far he’s come from his previous years. I think we as parents feel even more happiness in this. We know the outcome could very well have been different. I had prepared myself for one day hearing that he had died. At least I thought I had. Now what we are witnessing is a second birth of a beautiful human being who accepts love and gives love.

Bitterness versus understanding

We have several friends who have had problems with troubled sons who have devastated their lives. I’ve heard them say they would never take their sons back after what their sons did to them. My heart goes out to these families because they will never know the ongoing joy of knowing the power of parental love. They express anger and resentment and are living daily with that. I did for some time until I realized that stance was hurting all of us.

Even if reconciliation never occurs, an attitude of forgiving and understanding love enhances your own life and allows bitterness to be non-existent.

We couldn’t be more grateful and prouder of the person our son has discovered he is – and was all along."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Barbara Blomquist: 24 Years of Estrangement and a Repaired Relationship, Part 1

Barbara Taylor Blomquist is the author of “Insight Into Adoption” and “Randy’s Ride.” In the first of a two-part series, she relays the story of her relationship with her son and their 24 years of being estranged.

"Background of a failed/revived relationship

Our strained relations with our son erupted 32 years ago when he left home at age 16. We were devastated. We felt helpless. He had been into drugs for over a year and that put him on a downward path which only got steeper and steeper. He was doing all of the typical things drug addicts do at that age: lie, steal, cut school and more.

I won’t go into details of his life for the next 24 years (he came back to us after that time) because I don’t know a lot of the details. He called us every 6 or 8 months and gave us a phone number where he could be reached, but when we called it, it was always out of service. From the time he was age 33 to 40 we didn’t know if he was dead or alive. We had no contact at all.

Process of emotions

During this estranged period – a good many years – I had a lot of time to go through every emotion imaginable. First fear for his life, he was only 16. Then anger that he betrayed all we’d done for him. Then frustration that we couldn’t contact him to try to work things out. Then feeling heart sick at the thought he was throwing his life away. My thoughts were of him constantly. I remember vividly one Sunday afternoon when I was involved in a project for a community cause. I realized at 5:00 o’clock that I had gone 4 hours without thinking of him. This was a first in years. The worst times were waking up in the middle of the night wondering where he was, was he scared, was he in jail, was he cold or hungry, penniless, homeless. I found out later after we reconnected that at some point during all those years, he was indeed, all of those things.

We went on a journey through these years as did our son. Eventually, we ended up in the same place, together again.

Pervasiveness of unhappy years

I found that when my thoughts were of anger and resentment I felt very bitter. I resented my friends’ happy existence with their children. I’d see boys on the street that resembled our son and my heart would sink. I could never be completely happy. The thought of the trouble he might be in was always there to take away any joy that would come into my life. This went on for years and years. There’s a saying that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child. That was true for me.

I knew our son felt he didn’t belong to our family because he was adopted. Even though he was deeply loved, he didn’t love himself so couldn’t believe that we could love him. In his mind, his birth mother had given him away and he internalized this to the degree that he thought no one else could or would love him. He set about to prove to the world that he was indeed, a worthless throw-away person.

Survival tactics

After a time, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t help him because we didn’t know where he was, but I had to help myself. We had other children who were being short changed by my attitude. My husband understood, but he could go off to work and get his mind on other things. After all, we had other happy, successful children.

In order to help myself survive, I came to the position that I had to think only positive thoughts about him. He had been a delightful little boy and I kept thinking of those years where his good qualities showed. I made myself believe that the goodness was still there, it was only temporarily covered up by bad behavior. All the loving qualities we had instilled in him must still be there. After a time that became easy to believe. I would send positive messages and affirmations out into space believing that somehow they would help him. They helped me.

I also in time came to see that his leaving our family was not done to hurt us, even though it hurt us to an extent I didn’t ever believe possible. He was the one who was hurting. He left, hoping to find a place in the world where his hurt would go away. Of course, it didn’t.

My last position was that he was doing the best he knew how to do. It was a terrible way for him to handle his life, but I came to see that he was hurting so much that he did a desperate thing in leaving and going out on his own at age 16. A feeling of sympathy took over my being. I could look at him in a loving way knowing that if he were ever to return I would welcome him wholeheartedly because I knew he’d been on a journey of self-realization. He, and only he, could do this. We couldn’t help him.

Survival therapy

During these years I started leading support groups for adoptive parents who were dealing with troubled children. I saw clearly that the core issue for our son and for all these troubled families was that the child didn’t know who he was. He felt he didn’t belong to his adoptive family, but he didn’t know where he did belong. He felt alone and lost.

The parents in the groups encouraged me to write about adoptive parenting issues because we discussed principles none of us knew about years ago when we adopted our babies. The book, “Insight Into Adoption”, was the result. I incorporated our own experience as well as the experiences of many families, and the invaluable experiences of adoptees who are now adults. They shed so much light on how they felt as children. Out of this came solid advice and insight for adoptive families. I wrote it hoping and praying I could save some families from going through what we were going through."

To be continued...