If You Aren’t Against Me, Aren’t You Automatically With Me?

Earlier in the week there was a thought provoking letter in the NY Times. Professor Dena Davis insists that in countries with less than full democracies, the mindset is that President Obama could not only have stopped the Koran burning in Florida, but could have arrested the minister who did it. The “could” really is seen as “should.” Since he did neither, he is viewed as sanctioning the behavior.

“Sanctioning the behavior” was certainly one of the most difficult parental balancing acts that I experienced.  While I imagine that that is probably so of all parents, it is all the more difficult when one adopts into one’s family a person – child though (s)he may be – who already has years of history outside the family with different values, different beliefs, and different behaviors; too often, many different values, many different beliefs, and many different behaviors, from their many different homes. Our family positions seem like only one more imposition in a long line of such.

It seems there is a continuum with “minding one’s own business” at one end – Obama and the burning e.g. – and “sanctioning the behavior” [“enabling” being the farthest extreme of that] on the other. I suppose toleration is along the continuum somewhere.

But we are taught over and over that every single decision or non-decision; speaking or not speaking; acting or not acting has meaning and communicates our beliefs to others. And I agree with that. But it brings parents back to their fear of sanctioning behavior that they do not agree with.

Simple: When I was a young adult, I was sometimes given a much appreciated carton of cigarettes as a gift. I never interpreted that to mean that the gift giver agreed with my smoking.  Yet today, I wouldn’t even consider picking up a pack of cigarettes for my kids on my way to their house – even though I might well be picking up a gallon of milk for them at the same store.

Difficult: For those against abortion, how does one drive one’s young adult daughter to the abortion clinic when she gets pregnant?  Yet how does a parent support a daughter’s right to make her own decisions by refusing to drive her?  If she has the abortion, can she continue to live with you? Or is that enabling her because your cheap room and board allowed her the money to go to the clinic?

Where is the line?  I have just recently finished MAPP training – the local standard of training for foster and adoptive parents – and this issue of the line was not once addressed.  It’s further interesting to me that in all my years of working in the field I never once saw a training to address this very real and very painful parental dilemma. I have had to fly by the seat of my pants every single time I came up against it and I know now that I too often blew it.

For adoptive parents of older children – especially if there are birth children in the house – the dilemma is seriously multiplied.  Allowing the children the freedom to do what they do because one is committed to unconditionally loving them does not cut it.  There must be standards of family behavior that must be followed, or one turns into a group home, no?

At the risk of sounding like Carrie Bradshaw, the “Sex and The City” columnist character, who today would probably be a blogger: If you are not with me, aren’t you against me?  And if you are not against me, aren’t you automatically with me?

Thank you, Professor Davis, for giving us your insightful and, for me, personally relevant perspective.



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1 Response to If You Aren’t Against Me, Aren’t You Automatically With Me?

  1. Parent says:

    Speaking from my experience as a step parent, an adoptive parent of older kids and the parent of birth kids, I read this post with interest as I often find myself agonizing over where the “line” is. I lose sleep over it. The challenges are exasperatingly difficult as the various worlds my kids come from often collide among them (not all live at home) and no matter what I do, what I say or where I stand, I usually appear to be “wrong” on some level, in someway, to someone. My backup though, is my unconditional love.

    When the times come when what you call “the standards of family behavior” have not been followed in my family for whatever reasons which always have to do with the parents, (temporary insanity, need for coma time, not knowing what to do, etc) I know in no uncertain terms, that my kids know, I love each of them unconditionally.

    Obviously there is a need for all families to have a “standard of family behavior” and I recognize that it is far more difficult to set a standard for families like mine. However, I also recognize that unconditional love places my family and families like mine above the level of a group home despite the slacking of or maybe even the lacking, at times, of the “the standards.” Unconditional love does cut it at those crazy times for my family.

    But… I don’t think unconditional love really exists in a family where the parent(s) are committed but not, at the very least, continually, striving to take responsibility for some kind of “standard of family behavior.” Being committed is not the same as taking responsibility, and to love a child unconditionally, I believe you must have both.

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