I became a parent through adoption at the age of 44. We worked long and hard to be able to complete that process and then were blessed to attend the birth of our child, and become his parents immediately. Before that point, we spent our time surrounded by nieces and nephews, the children in our family were our priority. Supporting all of the kids in our lives has always been our top priority.
Adults can provide needed support systems for all kids, it is even more important when these children have ACEs happening, (which we may not be aware of). ACE’s are Adverse Childhood Experiences, negative events that impact children. They fall into 3 categories: 1) Abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual); 2) Neglect (physical or emotional); and 3) Household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, divorce, incarcerated relative, substance abuse). ACEs can be prevented or mitigated when adults and children have strong support systems through individuals or organizations. My childhood wasn’t easy, and through this work I have been able to identify three people who provided extra support for me while I was growing into adulthood. I will be forever grateful for their support and help, even if they didn’t realize the importance of what they were providing for me, a positive childhood experience.
I have wonderful memories of my parents friend, Bernie, who lived on our street in the Bronx. Bernie would always invite me along when he took his son on walks through Van Cortlandt Park, which was just a few blocks from our house. I may be 61, but I will never forget those walks through the park, past streams, through woods, etc. I felt nurtured and supported, just having an adult care enough to spend time with me, and include me in this activity, while they were parenting their own child, helped support my self=esteem.
We moved out of the Bronx when I was 10, and my parents remained friends with this family and many others, even to this day. Another one of their friends also looked out for me when I was older and had little access to transportation. Occasionally we would end up on the same commuter bus home from NYC, he would insist on driving me home to my parents house (he knew otherwise I would be walking two miles). My parents had great life long friends, and as an adult, I have tried to learn from all of them to become a support to the young people in my family, and in my neighborhood. I live in a neighborhood in NYC where all of us parents know each other’s kids and we look out for them.
The below picture is from the 2019 Gay Pride festivities in a park in NYC. Two of my mom friends, that I have known for almost 17 years, ran into my son and his friend in a park in downtown NYC. My son has always known all of my adult friends, and is comfortable with them, wherever it is, and he happily posed with them and sent this photo home to dad! Sometimes my support group can be his support group, that is a blessing.
We moved out of the Bronx to Rockland County, and lived in a semi attached house. Our neighbors were the Berger’s. The mom, Shelley, was an adult that I have tried to emulate. She made a special effort to be supportive of me growing up, from hiring me as her babysitter, to giving me my first job when she started Meals on Wheels of Rockland County. She treated me as a person, she treated me with respect, at times when not a lot of other adults behaved that way. That helped me with my self confidence at a time when I needed it.
The third, and most important “helper” in my life was my maternal grandmother. She had conversations with me that my parents would have never had. I could feel her unconditional love and support even though she didn’t know I was struggling with my sexual identity and going through personal turmoil. Something I did not feel that I was getting from my parents. This is why the additional support of other adults is so important to for kids, we can all make a difference, which at the minimum, starts with just giving your time.
I am forever grateful for the folks put in my path who supported me throughout my childhood, at times when I didn’t know I needed the extra help. I am equally grateful that these folks taught me to be present and make the effort to be supportive of the children in my life, from my nieces and nephews, to to the kids in the neighborhood, to my son’s classmates through the years, and finally to my own son! My teen is 17 and asks me for dating advice, and other for suggestions regarding his relationships with friends. I always made a point to let my child know that when he needed help, I was a judgement free zone. He knows my adult friends would always be happy to support him as well. Even a few of his teachers, since middle school, have made a special effort to let him know that they are there to provide extra support, support outside of their teaching job. I have a ton of gratitude that my child has people to go to for help and advice if he chooses, that is how I wanted to set him up from the day he was born. It is a nice to know I accomplished something!
For more information for parents going through tough times, there are many articles to support you, here is one for the tougher situations in life.
We all have the ability to help to provide safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments in someone’s childhood: this is essential to lifelong health and success as well as the prevention of ACEs. Make that effort!
Who were your three sources of support to help you through tough times?
Disclosure: This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.