This is from Care and Feeding, Slate’s advice column for parenting-type advice. The advice-giver is Nicole Cliffe, who co-created The Toast with Danny Lavery (formerly Ortberg).
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m 15, and three years ago I was adopted by my Uncle “John” and his husband “Greg.” My parents lost custody of me because my dad put me in a coma (and went to jail for it), and my mom defended him because I’d been “provocative.” There’d been a lot of abuse over the years, but that was when police got involved and I went to stay with my uncles.
I was so happy when they adopted me—and then I kind of lost my mind. I behaved terribly: stole their money, deliberately broke things, skipped school, wrote homophobic things about Greg on Facebook (he found out, which was awful), and just generally acted like a nightmare brat. I genuinely can’t wrap my head around why they put up with me and didn’t throw me out of their home, but I’m so grateful to them for how kind and forgiving they’ve been to me.
A few months ago, I suddenly got some perspective on how I’d been behaving, and it felt like waking up from a trance. I apologized a lot and have just been trying very hard to be better and nicer to them since. I’ve started actually being honest with the therapist they get me to see, which is helping a lot.
My issue is that now that I’ve started behaving like an OK person again, Greg’s adult kids have started inviting me to family events that I previously would definitely have ruined or refused to go to. (I used to do a thing of complaining that Greg had “nothing to do with me,” which makes me want to curl up and die thinking about now.) There’s an event upcoming in November, and they’ve asked if I want to join them for a meal with Greg and John, and if I want to go in on a present.
I absolutely do, but I hate the thought of intruding on his family time. He hasn’t had any time with his real kids in months. I think he won’t really want me there, considering how I’ve treated him in the past. I know that he and my uncle would definitely tell me I was welcome if I asked them, but that’s because they’re too nice to say anything else. But if I skip it, they might think I’m lashing out at Greg again. What should I do? Do I go and risk intruding on his family time, or not go and risk him thinking I’m being awful again? Is there another option?
—I’m Not a Monster Anymore
I think that you will be surprised at the amount of love and forgiveness people are prepared to show a 12-year-old who has been placed in a literal coma by their “parents” and weathered years of prior abuse. Your uncles are, as you know, wonderful people, and although I’m sure your actions were deeply painful for them, they did not boot you out because they understood why your trauma and anger might spill over onto a “safe” target. Kudos to them.
I would write a letter to your uncles. I know you have apologized, and are trying to make amends, but there is much to be said for getting everything out in a medium where no one will cut you off and say “it’s OK, it’s OK.” It’s not OK, you behaved badly, and you will feel better if you can truly get it all out on “paper.” (I assume you’ll email them, I know it’s not the 1800s.)
Once you have covered your gratitude, your behavior, your sorrow at it, and your wish to make amends, I would ask Greg if he is comfortable with you attending events with his kids, and ask him if he needs more time. Emphasize you do not want him to just say yes to make you happy, that you genuinely want to take your time proving that you are now a safe and better person.
Then trust him when he answers you. You’ll be in my thoughts.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am writing to update you on the letter “I’m Not a Monster Anymore.” The writer, “Owen,” is my adopted son, and he referred to me as “Greg” in his letter. I think Owen must have forgotten that I am the person in our household who reads Slate advice columns and originally showed him this page! I came across his letter last week and ended up crying on public transport.
I thought you would appreciate knowing that he took your advice and wrote us a letter (with pen and paper, 1800s-style!) in which he apologized for the anger he’s expressed toward me specifically over the years. It meant the world to me. He didn’t end up asking about coming to the meal because I beat him to it and asked if he would like to come when we were having a big conversation about his letter to us—I’d honestly thought he would say no and was thrilled that he seemed keen to come for a change.
We’ve talked a lot and, after discovering his letter here, my husband and I have had a long talk with him about using kinder language to describe himself and about his place as being very much one of our “real kids.” He was not a monster, for the record—just a handful, and we understood why. Thank you so much for the thoughtful response you wrote to him!
This piece was originally published in The Whippet #137 – subscribe to get the next issue in your inbox!
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