When it Doesn’t Take a Village

From my perch along the bank of the creek, I observed our son in the water, interacting with another family’s dog. I could sense my irritation rising slowly. Why? I internally sifted through the various potential causes of my escalating frustration.

Earlier in the afternoon, after wandering along the overgrown bank of the creek for some time, we had finally found this small clearing in the weeds. There was a bit of sand, some smooth stones, and a lovely view of the swimming hole I had enjoyed so many times as a child. Additionally, we had managed to move upstream far enough from the fishermen that we felt comfortable letting the kids throw stones and speak in their generally loud, excited voices. Stumbling into this secluded little clearing seemed too good to be true.

It was too good to be true. Within 20 minutes, several groups, tubing down the creek, had pulled out right where we were sitting. Some moved to the road, looking for their waiting vehicles. Others settled in, and we shuffled to the side to make room. Our kids, who had been interacting quite nicely, were suddenly distracted, watching all the commotion. Refocusing on their sand and rock creations took effort, but eventually they were back into their imaginary play.

Suddenly, a vaguely familiar voice called to us; a distant family acquaintance happenstanced upon our location and began chatting. And along with the family came a dog. I generally have mixed feelings about these canine creatures, however, this dog seemed to do quite well with the kids.

Soon the dog was swimming out into the creek and back again. Our eldest, with his lack of inhibition, followed it right into the cold water. In our son’s hand was a sand bucket, which he filled with cold creek water and dumped on the dog’s upper body, laughing, amused by how the dog tried to shake the water away while continuing to swim. The adults in the group laughed. This was where my irritation had started creeping in…that’s it! Permission. He forgot to ask permission. This was a key part of teaching him inhibition. That was the first and foremost problem with this situation. Secondly, it didn’t appear like the animal was enjoying the game.

As he dumped another bucket of water on the dog, I called to our son, quietly at first, then a bit louder, until I finally caught his eyes. “Does the dog like that?” Without a response, he grinned goofily and turned back to the water. He didn’t want to be bothered. I called out, a bit sternly this time, letting him know my inquiry needed a response. “Do you think the dog likes that?” Our son shrugged, grinned, but gave no verbal response. “You should probably ask the owners before you dump water on their dog.” The family acquaintance laughed, “Oh, it’s fine. Look, he’s having such fun. Our dog can handle it.” I glanced at her, then back at our son, who, ignoring my suggestion, was preparing to dump yet another bucket on the dog’s head. Adding to my irritation was the emotional immaturity of his nonverbal behavior. Though nearly ten years old, he was really more like six in many ways, but wouldn’t even be nearly that if it had not been for our consistent training in times such as this. “Please ask the owners for permission before you -” “Really, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it! He’s just playing.” She laughed again.

My training efforts were being sabotaged. Internally my temper flared, but to my credit I sat calmly and trailed off quietly, “I just like him to practice asking permission….” I didn’t bother finishing out loud. Leaning back, I sighed within, thinking of another recent situation in which I had not backed off in a parenting moment, and had left the other adult thinking what a strict, rude mother I was. I didn’t care what other people thought I was; they had no idea the challenges our kids and family faced – the underlying trauma triggers, the attachment problems. They didn’t know that our son had ADHD, no inhibition, and needed my regulation to help him learn socially appropriate behavior, but I decided not to risk it on an acquaintance. I left it go, and watched our son gallivant around the creek, doing whatever he pleased, with neither my permission nor the owners’. Shortly thereafter, we decided it was time for us to leave. Our peaceful afternoon was rapidly devolving into chaos. When you won’t (or can’t, due to social restrictions) toe the line on what behavior is and is not acceptable, there’s much less fun to be had. Other siblings soon join in on the chaos and all sanity begins to fade.

Lots of people try to be helpful in our childrearing efforts; and some of these people are. Most, however, are not. All are well-meaning. At the risk of sounding egotistic, I would like to say one thing. Though there are many subjects I am not well versed in, there are six that I certainly know better than you: My six children. I know them inside and out. I can read their behavior from across the room. I intuitively know when my two year old is pooping in his pants, when the seven year old is conniving against her sister, and when the ten year old is lying to my face. Do I get it wrong? Sure, sometimes, but much less often than you will.

I think all parents, adoptive or otherwise, understand this Catch 22: We are charged with raising socially aware, ethically minded, productive citizens. But the very society that wants us to do so also intervenes, sometimes our children’s detriment. Let’s all do each other a favor and ask permission from children’s adult(s) before offering them anything, or approving their behavior. It’s likely their adult will know more about the underlying motives than we will. If you want to help me raise my kids, please ask me first.

Sometimes it takes a village, and sometimes it doesn’t.