If my voice does not matter, I don’t matter. It doesn’t just feel uncomfortable; it is a primal wound, and if not being heard hurts me deeply, how much more must a foster or adopted child hurt when we don’t hear them?
I recently attended the Empowered to Connect Simulcast and was reminded about the importance of giving voice. You can learn more about Empowered to Connect (ETC) here. Conference presenters, including scholars, therapists, and parents, emphasized the importance of giving voice to our children. All children need a voice, but it is vital to give voice to adopted and foster children. All children need to a voice with their teachers, coaches, pastors and others in the community, but it is vital that children have a voice in their home.
I first learned the importance of giving voice during ETC parent training several years ago, and here’s what drove the point home for me. We have the biggest voice of all when we are born! An infant cries, and we feed them. An infant cries, and we hold them. An infant cries, and we rock them. An infant cries, and we bundle them up. An infant has a discomfort, and we come to them no matter what time it is or how many times they call out to us. The only way an infant learns to trust others is to cry when they have a need and learn that someone will come. It is this foundation of trust that allows them to begin to grow and develop not only physically but also relationally.
At what point were we told to be quiet, keep to ourselves, and certainly do not ask questions. It is never too late to give a voice back to our children or in the case of neglect, give it to them for the first time. If you do, you will begin to see that it not only improves their behavior but also deepens your relationship with them. Also, giving voice is a lesson that will be with them much longer than any present behavior that may need to change. It is worth the time, effort, and sometimes uncomfortable moments, to give and teach appropriate voice and negotiating skills now. At some point, you cannot be their only voice, and they will need this skill to navigate the world and relate to others.
When I began giving my son’s voice, he began teaching me to listen –
As an adoptive mother I’ve learned that when I listen to my son, I sometimes learn a great deal about him, me, or the world around us. Also, I sometimes hear about things I would rather not know. I can’t decide what I will learn before I earnestly listen to him. I can’t expect my perspective to be the only one, and I can’t become aware of his perspective unless I listen to him.
My son gave me voice –
In most relationships, we have the option to leave if we find that relationship unhealthy. We can walk away from an unhealthy marriage, friendship, or work environment to take care of ourselves. At a certain age, we can even move on, forgive, and love our parents from a place that is healthy for us. One relationship that we cannot leave is our relationship with our children who are dependent on us. To give my son voice, I first, had to have a voice. He taught me to speak with authority while maintaining a balance of nurture and structure. He taught me to advocate for his needs beyond our household and that required learning to be in fierce conversation* others.
You can learn more about the book, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott here. Though released a little over ten years ago, about the time our son was adopted, I still find its message invaluable. I’m at my blog length limit today, but don’t be surprised to read about Susan Scott’s use of a beach ball to explain different perspectives. This image remains in my mind at all times, especially when trying to understand my son’s “voice.”