“Mom, J was saying mean things about you and dad yesterday on the bus. He told people you say the F-word and that you don’t feed him for five days. He’s lying. He lied.”

I can always count on my daughter to be honest. But, for the love, we were six blocks from the kids’ school, running late, and my coffee was cold. At that moment, I didn’t have the emotional capacity to process something so significant. 

Immediately, from the back seat, J piped up, “Someone ELSE said that about their parents. Not me.”

I tried to remain calm while also, politely, call BS on my son who frequently takes creative liberties with the truth. A few seconds later, when he realized I wasn’t going to believe his lie, he caved.

“Well…I said it, but it was about my BIRTH parents.”

By this point we were three blocks from the kids’ school and two minutes away from the tardy bell ringing. My frustration level was rising. There was little time to process such a complex issue. I rattled on quickly explaining that when he says ‘parent’, people will think of us. When people hear him say things like this about his parents (because this isn’t the first time we’ve had this experience), someone may take him seriously someday and decide to call the police. I reminded him that we have never used the F-word in front of him and reminded him that there is always food waiting for him at every meal. I briefly mentioned that his story and life with his birth parents is complicated and probably shouldn’t be told to just everyone. I explained that his dad and I don’t tell his story to just anyone. 

“Think about it, bud. Do you really want to tell just anyone about your life with R and D?”

Pause.

“J, how would you feel if your dad or I told random people about details of your life with R and D?”

Silence. I snuck a glance back at J in the rearview mirror. He wasn’t looking at the cars trying to figure out the make and model of each one like he usually does on our way to school. Instead, his brown eyes were locked on mine.

“Embarrassed,” he said flatly.

I should have pulled the car over and said screw it (in my head) to work and school in order to process this stuff with my kids. I shouldn’t have taken this so personally. I should’ve hugged both of my kids and told them that they should NEVER be embarrassed about their stories. I should’ve reminded them that their birth parents made some poor choices; I should’ve reminded them that they did nothing wrong when they were little and living with their biological families. I should’ve explained that they can talk about their stories to people with whom they have a close relationship; I should’ve helped my kids make a list of these safe people. I should’ve reassured both of them of their place in our family. I should’ve turned the car around and pointed it right in the direction of our local donut shop.

But I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, we drove the rest of the way with none of us saying a word. It was the longest half a block.

While I can think of twenty things I should’ve done differently after the fact, sometimes life must go on. Maybe a little distance from the issue will help me process it with my kids even better after school.

Mamas: Whether you are parenting kids from hard places or raising biological children, you will always be able to come up with a list of should-haves after the fact. This is a good skill; it means you have the ability to reflect on what to do better next time. But don’t let that list of should-haves carry you away on a wave of guilt. Dwell for a time, and then choose to move on. Give yourself some grace; nobody expects you to be perfect, not even those lovely and frustrating kids of yours.

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Danielle Helzer

A former high school English teacher, Danielle now splits her time as a stay at home mom and a Writing Coach at a local community college. She is a wife and a new mother of two hilarious and resilient first-graders who she and her husband adopted from foster care. Danielle has a passion for writing and living purposefully. She enjoys listening to NPR, running, reading, music, sipping on coffee, making lists, and diversifying her collection of cat tchotchkes. You can find more of her writing about parenting, faith, teaching, and living at http://daniellehelzer.blogspot.com/. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter (@DMHelzer).

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