Monday, November 17, 2008

Thinking about being done

Okay, I know it is about my frustrations with Christmas, but I am pondering the possibility of being done with foster care after Gary. I don't feel done with the day-to-day stuff. I can easily imagine continuing this for as long as I am healthy enough to do it. You know, at least 10 years.

What wears me out is trying to attend to the needs of mulitiple adult children and balance them against the needs of junvenile children. (We should have a word for "adult children" which is clearly a contradiction in terms. Perhaps I should say "adult sons." That would work as long as they are all male.) It is the pressure to be fair.

It is the loss of spontaneity. I miss being able to be generous.

Oh and I know my problem is miniscule compared to the problems of many, including of course the young people in my care. But this is my blog and I can whine if I want to.

Shortly after Carl moved out I was in a store with Andrew and Brian. They both had game boys and were always leaving cords and games lying around. I saw cases that would work and announced that I would buy them each a case. They picked out cases. They were happy. I was happy.

It occured to me that it wouldn't have worked if Carl was there. He didn't have a game boy (didn't want one, really, he had other stuff), and didn't need a case. He would have been jealous if I bought the kids something and he didn't get anything. I would have offered to buy him something in the same price range. Then the younger boys would have protested that they should be able to buy whatever they wanted and there were lots of things that they wanted more than these stupid cases. Actually, all that would have happened in my head. All that would have actually happened is that I would have seen the cases, imagined all this, and then sighed and moved on. Then I would have obsessed for a few days or weeks about whether there was any way I could buy the boys cases and "even it out" with Carl that would work. Was there anything comparable that I could offer to buy Carl that he boys did not need?

Anyway, I thought about all that when I was buying the cases. I thought about how much fun it was to do something spontaneous and generous.

G-d I miss that. I still miss that.

All the joy is just sucked out of the joy of giving if every time you start you have to think, "What will I have to do for the other five in order for this not to seem like an act of great injustice?"

Yeah, it is the Christmas season.

Maybe I will be able to lower the expectations of the adult children sufficiently. Perhaps we can get to a place where it will be acceptable for me to splurge on the kids at home.

Because you know, I could swing something fantastic for Brian and Gary. I could even get them both an iPod Touch. They would be thrilled. I would have fun doing it. But even if I can lower the expectations of the older boys, I can't get them to the place where they will graciously accept a robe and a CD while their younger brothers are dancing around with new iPods.

I really want to skip Christmas this year. Just totally skip it.

No more Christmases until there are grandchildren to spoil.

I think I really do have to put Roland in charge of Christmas shopping this year. In his family people ask for what they want and then get it. He takes pleasure out of doing that. (It feels pointless to me. If you know what is in the present, why wrap it?) He really doesn't have the complicated issues surrounding Christmas that I do. I know, my therapist would tell me that if I am getting this upset about it then there is more going on. I even know what it is, but it isn't helping.

[Updated: I'm feeling better. Blogging is so good for my mental health. Part of the problem was that last night I had to work to convince Roland that lower expectations of the "big boys" was the right thing to do. It was more difficult than I had wanted it to be, and of course our different attitudes towards money had a part in it. You know, I would love to be the irresponsible one married to the person who would clean up the mess afterwards.]


  1. This is a timely subject for me, I've been feeling the same way. Although my situation is different and not nearly as complex.

    Note: I am an only child and my dh constantly reminds me that I cannot possibly fully appreciate the concept of jealousy between sibs. Apparently, I am the Marie Antoinette of sibling rivalry.

    I've felt the same way about older kids vs. younger kids as the staggered line of nieces and nephews in my husbands family is now 15 years long. Back when the small band of present teenagers were younger, we all made a great fuss over them and splurged on their gifts. The new 'little' kids were not around then and they are not entitled to 'back' pay for what they missed. No one is getting ripped off. They just can't all get the same things all at once. I would even argue that, whether they will admit it or not, the older ones got a better deal than the new kids, because by now we are all spread very thin (economically, energetically, geometrically) and DH and I are sick of the thoughtless ritual, which everyone has refused to adapt to suit everyone's changing needs ntm the economy.

    You are relentlessly thoughtful and caring. You make such effort to be fair and you have great intentions. *And* you are a good communicator. But I'm not sure this is a problem you can solve alone; I think you are only responsible for doing what you think is right. You can't own the kid's negative perceptions. I understand the issue of their perceptions is complicated because of their history and how the family came to be. And that I don't know what I don't know when I dare to comment. I just think you can only own so much. And the rest is crazy making.

    There is a Zen thing that says,

    The right way is easy
    And the easy way is right
    When you are easy
    You know you are right
    When you are right,
    you are easy.

    It's just something I think of when I need to reign in the complexity in my head. Maybe instead of chasing after everyone else trying to fan their perceptions, maybe you need to sit still and let them come to you/catch up to you. ???

    You love them. You love all of your kids differently but equally. No one can ask more of you than that. Well, they can, but it's unreasonable.

    We've been feeling hijacked for years now, ever since we tried to raise concerns about the gifting ritual with my inlaws. We made suggestions about donations ... or spending money on getting together instead (because gifts are not a substitute for a relationship, which is currently lacking). But the feedback was not received effectively. And every year I get the same email from my SIL (DH's brother's wife), a terrible people pleasing good girl, demanding that we exchange shopping lists for our kids. So she can do her chores (don't get me started on the sexist division of labor) timely and so she can control what we send to her kids.

    Every year we think about trying to compose a diplomatic response to put an end to the madness (we donated nearly everything the inlaws insisted on sending us last year ... but it's ashame because toys for tots is over by then) ... but this is such a crazy busy time of year that we always end up going along to get along. So frustrating. Obviously, I don't have the answers. But I keep telling myself it doesn't matter if they don't like it, it matters that we do what makes sense in a respectful way. And that we respect ourselves.

    We are not there yet.

    Good luck to both of us.

    As for the iwhatevers ... :) ... you could give the older ones gift cards to best buy or walmart or wherever the product is sold that gets them halfway there. Or whatever your budgets allows.



  2. Well, let me throw a kink in the works.

    I'm not going to go into the past, my mom's dead and can't defend her reasoning behind it, and my dad was pretty fair- very hands off.

    But we chose to do different traditions with our kids- ones where we emphasize the reasons behind CHristmas, rather than the materialistic side.

    Our kids (and us too) get what we need throughout the year. If someone has a growing spurt, so be it. They get new clothes. We take a lot of pride in finding good bargains online, consignment and in sales. If not everyone gets something, "life isn't always fair and if you're going to measure how much I love you by what I buy you, then maybe I should measure how much you love me by a) what you buy me (nothing, our kdis don't work) b) how many chores you do (varies depending on the child's temperament. That typically gets a good attitude in response- they want me to feel loved becasuse they make their bed, or study hard, or don't smart off. I want them to feel loved because I fix their favorite foods, bring their forgotten key to school for show and tell, and don't give away the whiny puppy LOL.

    Birthdays are a chance to celebrate- they get to pick either a favorite meal to have at home or eat out. They also get their socks/underwear/tshirts/bras for the year.

    Christmas is a little different. We pick a volunteer activity to do- this year we're volunteering at a shelter several days prior to fix food, decorate and wrap donated presents. Thanksgiving we're serving homeless families dinner (well, the younger ones and I are fixing dessert plates, hubby and older are serving). Christmas presents are simple- 1 thing you pick because you really want it (and I give a price cap- normally we go to the mall, I hand each older child $50 or $100 depending on hubby's bonus that year, and they spend until its gone. What they buy is wrapped and given for Christmas. They get the fun of shopping and trying on stuff and I get the joy of knowing I don't have to return anything Whoo-hoo!) and then Hubby and I will each pick out at least 1 small thing each (a book, a CD, an inexpensive piece of jewelry- think Claire's not Neiman Marcus). The kids typically make homemade gifts for us or the other spouse takes them shopping.

    On the few occasions we've heard whines of "unfair unfair" (because the littles outgrow clothes/toys more quickly in the first 3 years compared to teenagers), guess who gets to write an essay on poverty in Africa complete with research photos? Guess who has to make a list of every single thing that's been done for them in the last year versus what they've done for others? Guess who gets reminded of the things they had at the same age? You get my point....

    Our religious beliefs are such that the big gift was Jesus, who came to die to spare us a punishment of eternity. We're supposed to spend our lives looking for ways to help others, to model what he did for us. So now I have kids who actively seek out bargains for their siblings and for us rather than just looking for stuff they want.

    I got the joy back in my Christmas. My kids are excited about who we're going to "sponsor" each Christmas- this year we bought and sent a 1/2 pallet of groceries to our missionary family in Guinea (Afrika)because they live in the jungle (you should see the pictures, its like Nat'l Geo- buying fish off the roof of the car, meat out of the trunk ugghhhh) and I think we're adopting an Empty Stockings family too. My kids love shopping for strangers, whether its a family or to send the shoeboxes to soldiers.

    I think it takes time to retrain their brains away from selfishness, but its so worth it. I'm not saying we never struggle with feelings of jealousy because others have more junk than we do, but I know we lay down at sleep peacefully at night knowing we helped someone. ANd I know when my kids get older, they know how to find satisfaction in something other than materail possessions, and they don't equate gifts with love.

    FYI, when we transitioned from "BIG COMMERCIAL CHRISTMAS" to what we do now, we called it "going old-fashioned for CHristas". We handmade some ornaments, strung popcorn and worked puzzles, sang carols, etc. We really worked hard to make it fun and to "build memories" rather than collecting junk we'd use for a few months and be tired of.

    I know I haven't stressed about Christmas since we switched over- I actually look forward to it!

  3. I'm so glad that I checked back here ... I was interested to see what everyone would say, since I am struggling with this in my own way, too. Mrs. BB ... your comments were awesome ... I especially enjoyed this part:

    life isn't always fair and if you're going to measure how much I love you by what I buy you, then maybe I should measure how much you love me by a) what you buy me (nothing, our kdis don't work) b) how many chores you do (varies depending on the child's temperament. That typically gets a good attitude in response- they want me to feel loved becasuse they make their bed, or study hard, or don't smart off. I want them to feel loved because I fix their favorite foods, bring their forgotten key to school for show and tell, and don't give away the whiny puppy LOL.

    Thanks for sharing and helping me with my perspective and with tactics. You are where we want to be.


  4. Mrs. Butter B,

    I think you have great ideas, and I wouldn't know how to begin to make such a switch in my family -- partly because I don't think I could get Roland on board easily, if at all. But they are great ideas. I don't know if it would make it easier or more difficult to do given that some of the kids are young adults and difficult to buy for.

    One issue of course is that we don't all share a religion. We have never made conversion to our beliefs an expectation of the household. So the "true meaning of Christmas" thing would be different.

    I don't know. My head hurts.

  5. LOL Yondalla, you know I'm good for at least throwing a kink in the works, so to speak.

    My kids are aged 11 mos to 18 and out of the house. It does make it more awkward, but they're used to it. Since some of ours are fostered, they go to church along with us, and just accept that these are our beliefs, so therefore, that's part of the "house habits" (Belief in God/Christ are not house rules, like not hitting or stealing are, simply that the things we practice are- For instance, when you bring a foster child in, you make sure they are familiar with house rules- in our case, that your bed gets made at least 5 our of 7 days a week, no trash talk, no name calling, respect other people's beliefs, etc. Part of our house habits are the way we celebrate holidays, including a worship time, church attendance, etc.)

    You know, when we broached this with our older kids, it was after a particularly hectic shopping season where we all felt very stressed out- from the actual shopping and mall/traffic navigation to actual disappointment because we either didn't get what we wanted or because what we wanted turned out to be not as exciting when we actually had it.

    Remember, we made some major changes in the last 5 years- all to reach a point of "simplicity" in our lives, where we were less encumbered by material possessions, careers, and keeping up with the Joneses, leaving us more free to pursue the basic joys of life- friendship, family, love and living those things out.

    To be honest, I think my kids were actually relieved when we simplified things. We simply explained the changes, asked for responses, discussed those, and went about with it.

    Part of the simple way of living is doing what you know or believe is right, and not worrying about everyone else's response to it. Half the time you're worried about something that never happens, and you can even create problems where they might never have existed. (Like asking my daughter if she was VERY sure she didn't want to go skiing with her sister, and she was sure she wouldn't feel left out. Suddenly she decided maybe she would feel left out, then admitted later after the trip that she didn't have a good time, didn't really want to go, doesn't like snow, didn't like skiing, didn't know many of the other (older) kids that were her sister's friends, and pretty much just went because I made her feel like she SHOULD be feeling left out...ahhhhh kids)

    And somewhat off topic- we haven't made conversaion an expectation either. We simply went about our daily lives just as we did before the new kids joined the group, including our prayer/devotional time, church attendance, etc. New kids joined us just like they did in the other non-religious activities, like eating at our favorite BBQ restaraunt, shopping at certain shops, swimming in the lake, etc. When someone protested, they were welcome to stay at home, but it didn't cause me to stay at home or change my beliefs. That's part of the mutual respect we believe in.

    It's really hard to explain, at least in typing, but since I'm the one buying/shopping/incharge of all preparations, then I have to go by what governs me. Certainly if others have different beliefs, they will be governed by them.

    For instance, I am governed by my clearly Judeo-Christian beliefs. However, some very dear friends celebrate Kwanzaa. Others celebrate Hanukah, others celebrate the traditional American non-religious way.

    So for me, I try to be careful in what I spend, choosing to make gifts rather than buy them if possible, to minimize the materialistic side of things. So for my friends who celebrate Kwanzaa, it works well, because they emphasize creativity and the gift having value for education or learning, preferably being homemade. We will exchange something very similar- although our beliefs may differ, our values are similar.

    For my Jewish friends, my values hold true again. For the 8 days of Hanukah, I keep it simple- the gold covered chocolate, some small trinkets to show their value to me. Maybe 7 small inexpensive charms for each girl, follwed by the bracelet on day 8. For the boys, perhaps 7 small cars and a racetrack on day 8. For older kids, it can be cheap earrings (Claire's has them 5 for $10 often on sale), you get the point. They will probably reciprocate with similiar gifts or one inexpensive present for my kid's CHristmas- each of us respecting the other's beliefs, and making it fun.

    For my family members that still do it in the Grandslam spend a ton sort of way, they simply have to respect our beliefs. If they want to spend $150 on a mostly plastic import that breaks 6 weeks later, that is their choice. I teach my kids to accept it gratefully and with appropriate appreciation, but not to show more thankfulness for it than for the homemade stuff from Aunt Bertha. I stick to my guns and give them something that MEANS something. I made John Deere pj's for my tractor loving brother one year- even handmaking a "Tag" to go in the back (he said he wouldn't wear anymore handmade stuff- he wanted something with a tag LOL). Turned out he wore them until they were coming apart- to the grocery store, 4 wheeler riding, you name it. His friends all asked for their own pairs- 1 of a kind, can't buy it inthe stores.

    Do you know what I've found? 90% of the materialistic ones get ticked off that we're not buying them stuff anymore, and stop giving gifts altogether, even often ignoring us at get togethers (some Christmas spirit, huh). So I guess that's their "core value" system- give if you're gonna get something good back.

    It feels like to me that we're teaching/encouraging our kids/siblings/friends to be beggars- how to hit somebody up with a guilt trip, whether over fairness or just greed.

    THe problem is, what happens when they're married, and the spouse doesn't buy them whatever they want? What expectations are we creating about love that other people won't fulfill? And what simple pleasures are we cheating ourselves and them out of having in the meantime?

    I could go on and on...this is such a "thing" with me, for so many reasons. With foster/adopt kids especially, its easy to want to "make up for" all they've missed. Doing so in moderation is fine, but the whole point of having in them in foster homes instead of institutions is to teach them the value and workings of a healthy, emotionally fulfilling family, not how to use a credit card.

    Can't buy love, not even on ebay!

  6. PaleMother...thanks! for Roland...try talking to him about it. You never know, he may be as anxious to get out from under the burden of shopping as much as anyone.

    Have you thought about using THanksgiving as a prelude into change? We did, to a point, but not intentionally at the time. We took turns writing and reading letters to the family telling what we were thankful for, and it couldn't include anything bought. It had to be the emotional stuff, the things we did for each other, etc that mattered.

    Perhaps Roland is filling his heart's well with the satisfaction/gratitude he sees on people's faces when he buys them stuff, instead of something else? Maybe its just a bad habit of not knowing when to say no. Maybe he feels like that's his only value, perhaps because he feels undervalued at work. Working with the group he works with can easily do that to you.

    Good luck. I promise you, we don't regret the changes at all! Debt free, living in suburbia, happily adding to our family and not stressing!


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.