adoption, family

Swimming Upstream

I wonder how a salmon can continue to swim upstream fighting the flow of water every inch. It seems counter-intuitive but their instinct tells them to keep going. Just thinking about it makes me exhausted.

Recently, Marcus broke up with the girlfriend who had the baby. He and his friends were all over social media saying horrible things about her. The threads ranged in topic from disparaging comments about her vagina to the fact that she had a baby. The language used was awful.

I explained that these words were not OK. This is a form of abuse and harassment. I offered an alternative as to how to handle the situation. At 21, Marcus makes his own decisions and I’m not even sure I got through to him. The social media backlash did stop so maybe our conversation worked.

As a woman and a mother I want to raise strong men. I want my sons to internalize the same values I do. It is so important to me that they respect women in their words and actions. I don’t believe that a man should ever use physical strength to coerce or intimidate a woman under any circumstances.  I also believe that a woman’s sexuality is just as natural and sacred as a man’s. Words like, “c*nt, whore, slut, b*tch” etc. do not have any place in my value system.

In fact, the more shame that surrounds a woman’s sexual identity, the more vulnerable she is. Sexuality is a natural thing. If the taboos surrounding it disappeared so too would the silence. I believe it is easier for perpetrators to commit sexual crimes if they know victims will be too afraid to speak out. If we teach our girls to be ashamed of sexuality then we teach oppression. A strong man doesn’t wield this as a weapon. He doesn’t have to.

So how can I pass this on to my sons? The truth is that I can’t. At least, not entirely. Carl and Marcus grew up in a very different environment. An early model of domestic violence colors their views. Foul language disparaging a woman for her sexuality was simply common vernacular in their childhood home. The value that physical dominance makes a “man” permeated their early years.

Over time Carl has mostly shed these misconceptions. It’s Marcus I worry about. He doesn’t understand what is appropriate here and what is not. When he was 16, I found out that he was bullying a girl online by calling her a “slut” and other sex-shaming phrases. I tried to make him see how this was wrong no matter the circumstances. Utterly baffled, he defended his actions because, “she really is a slut!”

When discussing Chris Brown’s infamous 2009 attack on then-girlfriend Rihanna, Marcus took his side. “She deserved that!” The idea that no one should be physically punished was foreign to him. It’s taken a lot of years to get him to a place where he believes that physical violence between partners is not OK.

He’s got a new girlfriend now. Girlfriend L attends his Job Corps program. She seems nice, but like anyone getting emotionally close to Marcus she probably won’t last. He posted about her the other day. It went something along the lines of being lucky to have her in his life. I found it to be incredibly sweet. If he is able to verbally express his emotions then he’s maturing. This is new for him.

Unfortunately, his oldest biological sister and Sean weighed in. Both of them encouraged him to take down the post because it made him sound like a “little b*tch.” I have no idea why but this seems to be a persistent family value from long ago. Be a man. Don’t be “soft,” whatever that means.

I hope that Luke and I have influenced the way Marcus treats women. I’d like to think he’ll continue to grow to be more like Luke. Every step we take it seems that history is there to fight us. Marcus is caught between the values of our home and those he grew up with. Parenting Marcus is a lot like un-parenting his past. I am still fighting my way upstream.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.



20 thoughts on “Swimming Upstream

  1. C says:

    That’s a shame his siblings are trying to influence him that way. I’d imagine they van be a very powerful voice. Marcus will have to learn to reconcile his two homes. He clearly knows how to make his own choices and be independent of insight from others. I wonder if he needs a good lesson in individuality and making choices that are good for the soul if you will. Sorry don’t know how to word that better. Does he understand that he doesn’t have to live the same life as his parents and siblings and that it is ok to pull away from people who bring him down? He may not be able to right now just wondering if he knows that it’s an option.he seems to be making progress though and that’s always awesome.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. skinnyhobbit says:

    I think it’s great that you took a stand when he and his friends started saying such cruel things about his ex girlfriend. I admit I got slightly triggered myself because I survived a job with “friends” who verbally sexually harassed me in awful ways. So slurs denigrating women for their body or sexuality are triggering. The worrying thing about such degrading and dehumanising language is that it can turn into physical maltreatment or sexual violence (in my opinion). It’s a slippery slope from verbal dehumanising to physical and sexual degradation.

    It’s sad that Sean and Marcus’s older sister have such toxic values ingrained into them. It doesn’t bode well for them. Not all abused children become abusers, of course, but to me, a key criteria for abused children turning into abusing adults is identifying with their abusers and degrading others.

    I hope that the influence of Luke and yourself is enough. I really do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting. Your insight means a lot. This comment got cut off. It ends after, “I hope that the influence of Luke and…” can you please post the rest? Your opinion is so helpful. I’m sorry this triggered you. I agree that this can lead to physical abuse which was rampant in the bio-home. Why on earth the sister supports this kind of thing is beyond me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • skinnyhobbit says:

        I wrote “I hope the influence of Luke and yourself is enough. I really do.” ❤

        I know you and Luke try so very hard, and that this isn’t easy especially as Marcus has a group of friends influencing him as well.

        As for why the sister supports it, I have a niggling feeling that it’s something to do with a “patriarchal bargain”: basically as a woman, she has internalised women as inferior and therefore accepts toxic gender roles in exchange for whatever influence she can get. I’ve seen it in my own abusive mother. In her household, the boys were literally valued twice as much and my mother and all her sisters had to give up schooling to start working full time as young teenagers. While their sole brother went to university. She replicated it in my family in exactly the same ways, including dishing out physical abuse till I was 25 for the “thoughtcrime” of “you’re a liar and I know you’ll abandon this family!” When I honestly believed my fate in life would be to never find love, never leave the family house, and that I would be their caretaker till they died…just like two of my mother’s sisters.

        (you might have to google the term “patriarchal bargain” for better examples because I’m not always good at explaining things)


      • Thank you. I will look into the patriarchal bargain. Oh my goodness. I can’t imagine what you’ve suffered. Beating someone into staying with a family?!??!!! What in the actual heck??? How did you turn out to be such a sweet and caring person? I’m trying so hard with Marcus. I appreciate you’re acknowledging that. I hope it’s enough. I want him to grow to be empathetic like you are.

        Liked by 1 person

      • skinnyhobbit says:

        *hugs* I don’t really know exactly how did I become how I am today, but up till I turned 23, I believed in a lot of bigotry and hatred. Not all forms of religion are bad if course, but my parents joined a rigidly authoritian denomination and most of my abuse was religiously motivated. (so progressive Christians like you and my UU group show me a different path than my parents’ road! :)) It was the kindness of people who had every right to walk away from my hateful ass but didn’t. People I was mean and cruel to (eg a lesbian couple I met online on IRC comforted me after an instance of abuse…even though I would tell them they’re as bad as pedophiles and that they would burn in hell) who treated me with kindness I definitely did not deserve.

        You are planting seeds and you never know how they’ll sprout. 🙂


      • Wow. Someday you should write your story. Religion should be love and acceptance for ALL people. I’m sorry you had those experiences but I’m happy you overcame them. This gives me hope that even when Marcus is in his “push away” cycle we are still making a difference. I hope so.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Silveryew says:

    Well done for persevering with this. It’s so important that young men are not only taught to respect women, but that it’s ok to be ‘soft’ and to have feelings that some parts of society deem not to be masculine. And to talk about feelings, too.

    Here in the UK we have the CALM project, Campaign Against Living Miserably. It’s a project targeted at young men and mental health issues, they try to encourage men to talk about feelings and mental health, and not to internalise it if they are struggling.

    It’s ok and healthy to be ‘soft’. Suicide is the number one preventable cause of death in the UK in males under the age of 45. I think if men were encouraged and appreciated for talking about their feelings, this could change.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. DV says:

    Hi, I haven’t commented on your blog before but I’ve read through it all, so I get the context of this post. You’ve given lots of examples – even if they seem small to you – of you and Luke having influenced Marcus’s attitudes and behaviours in positive ways, especially in how he treats women. The fact that Marcus seeks your love and care and presence and values your opinons (even if he doesn’t always understand or share them) says to me that there is hope he will continue to change, although I guess realistically that change is going to be slow and in tiny increments and probably the work of a lifetime. I admire you so much for being able to just be there for your children despite how hard it’s been for all of you – if there’s one thing I’ve learned in therapy it’s that having someone “be there” for you is the most valuable thing they can offer.

    Liked by 1 person

      • DV says:

        re reading the whole blog – I’ve found from reading other blogs that are about fairly complicated life experiences, and having people comment on mine, that without having read at least a fair chunk of the back story it’s very easy to jump in on a single post with a comment that is either too glib and suggests something that’s already been carefully considered or tried (and maybe ruled out because it wasn’t the right fit), or to say something unintentionally hurtful.

        I’ve gotten a lot from reading about your family. I’m coming at it from the perspective of someone recognising only now, as the parent with an adult child, about my own attachment problems and how that impacted my parenting – which was badly, for the most part, I think my daughter only turned out as well as she did because I recognised at some level that there were things I couldn’t do well and tried to make up for that by involving other caregivers and role models in her life. Even now I watch other parents interacting with their children and wonder how they know how to do what they’re doing. What strikes me most about reading your blog is the “intentionality” of everything you’re having to do in parenting your children and how much difference that makes compared with just winging it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Swimming Upstream — Herding Chickens and Other Adventures in Foster and Adoptive Care – SEO

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