Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Think of the Adults

One of the things that I learned fairly quickly when dealing with the adults who meandered in and out of the lives of the children that I worked with is that the value of children, and their entitlement to things like love, protection or even our modern understanding of what childhood should be, are not self-evident concepts, regardless of how ubiquitous they may have been in own lives.

There are a myriad of reasons for this. Sometimes, the only answer that I could come up with was effectively "Whatever happened to crazy?" Mental illness, it turns out, can do a fairly bang-up job of making people into absolutely nightmarish caregivers. Drug addiction also rates up there. Although, I suppose that you could make the point that past a certain degree, they're effectively one in the same.

There are also those people for whom things like love and value just look a lot different than they do to the rest of us. It can be difficult to empathize with such people, but managing to inhabit their shoes for a while can offer some interesting insights into a world that, despite being outwardly the same as the one that everyone else lives in, looks and operates very differently. And when the logic of it can be worked out, it's possible to understand how something that seems so broken, can be an expression of love and caring.

But then there are those people for whom children just aren't valuable or worthwhile in the way that society commonly says that they are. These are the people who are the most difficult to understand, and, accordingly, the most difficult to explain. Dealing with a foster parent who's upset that their foster child isn't a key to extra cash every month, or a birth parent for whom their child's highest use is as leverage over their partner is frustrating and draining for the simple fact that they can seem willfully perverse - deliberately mistreating their children for no other reason than it's the wrong thing to do. Of course, there is a logic behind their actions, and a basis for it that goes far, far, back. Likely to when they were children themselves.

And that's often the worst part about it. The understanding that the dysfunction that the parents display is likely to be passed along to the children, who will one day pass it along to their children. And the cycle will continue. It's a weight that can be difficult to shake, when one deals with it day after day after day, and in my case, I found that it threatened to become a part of me. It seemed to infect a lot of people. One thing that I always noticed when I went to conferences and the like was that if you put a bunch of people in a room and left them to their own devices, it became a matter of when the topic of making people have a license to become parents would come up, rather than if.

And that lack of compassion for the adults in the world is a common legacy of the things that the world often does to children. It's hard to see the heartbreaking things that people do as a result of anything other than sheer meanness, and eventually, the desire to make the world a better place manifests itself as an impulse to control those who don't behave as we would like them to. And in that, it occurred to me, many of use became these funhouse reflections of the very people we were so amped up about; distorted, but still recognizable.Once I understood that, I think that I understood the adults I dealt with better. Because I could then see the same impulses in them that I saw in myself and everyone else around me, simply distorted and made maladaptive.

It was a valuable realization, but in the end, it was not a comforting one, because it didn't chart a path forward to the world that I wanted. But learning to accept the world as it was, rather than as we wanted it to be, was one of the most valuable lessons that we could teach to the children in our care. It was only fitting that we learned it ourselves.

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