"I was angry with you."
It made total sense in his seven year old mind. Cutting my face out of all his family pictures seemed like a justifiable action. After all, I had told him that he wasn't going to get his way in something.
This wasn't the first time my son had chosen to be destructive when he was upset. The first full year home, the destruction was more along the lines of extremely violent, demonic style tantrums. Then it turned to completely destroying anything that he and I had made together, along with any pictures of me that he could find. So having my face removed, but not destroyed, is progress for sure. Regardless, it still hurts my heart.
A little insight to my personal journey real quick. I was married to my previous husband for 14 years. Fourteen, that's considered a solid relationship, able to withstand any testing. Sadly, that's not the case here. Our relationship was on the rocks for quite some time, but our desire for a family still held strong. Without answers as to why, we were never able to conceive a biological child. Adoption came to mind, and Haiti grabbed our hearts. Our son came into our lives unexpectedly while on a mission trip, and he wasn't in what's considered an adoptable situation. Three and a half years of a very intense adoption journey, and our son came home. Six months later, my previous husband and I started the process of divorce.
I can't even put words to the confusion in my own mind about all that. Why would God ordain a family unit, and then it crumble? Why could we fight like hell for our son, but not for each other? Why, God, why? It still doesn't fully make sense in my adult brain. It hurts me to see my son cut me out of his pictures. But, let's imagine what this has looked like through his eyes.
- Brought home, to a completely new world and barely knowing the language. These people call themselves my mom and dad, but I barely know them. I've lived in at least 6 different locations in my 5 years of life, this new home makes 7. How do I trust these people to love me enough to keep me?
Six months later....
- Why do I have to have two homes now? Is it my fault that my mom and dad can't get along? What did I do? I'm here a day, there a day. Where will I be tomorrow?
One year later...
- If I don't want someone in my life, if they make me mad, I can get rid of them. Everyone in Haiti gave me up, so I can give up too. My mom and dad got rid of each other, so that's what I'll do. Mom made me mad, I want her to go away.
Sad, right? Mom fail, right? This whole cutting my face from a picture is not about my son being malicious. It's about him expressing pain and having no other way to do so. Having been the one to leave the home we brought our son home to, I had already been carrying the overwhelming feeling of being the rejected one. I felt that failure to keep a marriage in tact, meant I had failed as a mom too. Heck, I still battle that thought from time to time. But truth is, failing in one thing doesn't equal failure in every area of life.
The first time my son destroyed things that were of he and I, I expressed how upset it made me. The next time, I told him how sad it made me feel. The next, how it hurt my heart. The next, told him how no matter what, I'm not going anywhere. Clearly, I was failing in this situation. Failing to see that this isn't about me at all.
The most recent incident, I think I got it right. It was a few days later, when I came across the picture of my face, hidden under his dresser. It still hurt, but this time, it hurt me because I realized he's hurting. He had hidden it. He didn't want to hurt me with his own pain. I had unknowingly given my son a burden, and that is more painful than any of the destructive outbursts. This time, I said nothing about it. I searched for the missing pieces of all the pictures he had cut up, and tucked them back into place in his album.
It's not about expressing our hearts to our children, it's about showing our hearts. It's not about reminding them over and over that they can trust us, it's about earning their trust. It's not really about us at all. Maybe we should cut ourselves out of the equation, shift focus, turn our eyes onto what this is really about. My son doesn't want me to go away, he wants the pain to go away. It's my duty to be consistent in his life, both emotionally and physically.
The next day, I saw that he had retrieved a picture of us that wasn't destroyed, and hung it back up on his wall.
This is what I call a winning moment. And these small victories are speaking volumes into the progress of healing for a child from hard places. By cutting our own feelings out of the situation, we can better see the emotions that our children are begging for us to see. With better understanding, I am able to help my son navigate through this ever changing world with more peace. And with consistent grace, I'm helping him see that he doesn't have to go through anything alone.