Dear Parent of a Newly Adopted Child,
I don’t know you, but I’ve heard you, and my heart goes out to you. I’ve read your emails and I know that you’re feeling in over your head right now.
You’ve spent months (maybe even years!) dreaming of bringing home your child. Somewhere in the midst of the excitement of choosing a name and the fun of decorating a bedroom, you lost sight of the one truth that you so desperately need in order to survive this adoption.
Adoption is born out of extreme loss.
Oh, I know you’ve read the books and taken the classes. You’ve googled the blogs and joined the support groups. Your head knows this truth well.
But unless you have this truth way down deep in your heart, you won’t make it.
That day that you dreamed about for so long? “Gotcha Day”?
It could very well be the worst day of your child’s life.
He lost everything he’s ever known in an instant. He isn’t thankful for a family because he has no clue what a family consists of. And all the toys and candy and electronic devices in the world won’t fill the deep, insatiable void this child is currently experiencing.
Everything about his new world is different. This thing called culture shock? It’s real. And it’s hard enough for well-prepared adults. It’s very near devastating to an unprepared child who doesn’t have the social or emotional skills to communicate fully even if you both spoke the same language.
Your child may pout or sleep excessively. Or he may stop sleeping altogether. He may starve himself or begin hording incredible amounts of food. He may refuse to attempt a single word of English. He may hit, bite, scratch, kick, or rage and cry for hours out of utter frustration. No matter how “bad” his previous life was, it was familiar, and he WILL mourn and grieve for the loss of it.
Your child isn’t developmentally “on target”. He is unlikely to care about any of the things you find so important right now. Things like appropriate table manners, clean hygiene, kindness, or any kind of education. He may be downright mean to your other children, and continually jealous of any perceived injustice.
Logic and reasoning will be futile.
Especially in the early months, your child is NOT attached to you. Oh, I know, he’s smiling at you and hugging you goodnight and you feel happy for now, but because adoption is born out of loss and this child has continually faced loss and trauma….he could walk away from you in a heartbeat. Attachment is a process, a back and forth dance between parent and child that takes YEARS to deepen. What you think is attachment at first is simply survival.
You see, your child is using you to survive this continuation of loss in his life. (That’s why life goes smoothly when he has everything he wants but blows up when you tell him NO.)
And you know what? It’s okay. Because this isn’t about YOU anyway.
Did you hear that? I said This isn’t about you.
This is all about a hurt child who needs you desperately in order to find healing.
There’s no time for you to be mourning the loss of your old life, or to be longing for the old normal. Don’t second guess your decision to adopt or even think about disruption.
It’s time for you to roll up your sleeves and be a connected parent.
No parent of a newborn baby is shocked that their precious, long-awaited baby isn’t verbally thankful they were born. They aren’t angry that their new baby takes and takes and then takes some more. Yes, they may be sleep-deprived and even a bit overwhelmed at the enormous needs a newborn entails, but they know that a newborn only knows his own survival needs in the early months. They know that their baby is crying or screaming because he is hurting and they move heaven and earth to meet those needs. Day after day after day. And somewhere along the way, without either one of them realizing it, the baby crying and the parent meeting the needs over and over again becomes this amazing attachment dance and the bond between them grows deep and solid.
If you can remember that one main truth (Adoption is born out of extreme loss), and you can mentally picture your child as a tiny newborn who has just been recklessly pulled from the warmth and security of his mother’s womb and thrust into this bright, cold, unfamiliar new world (your family), you can begin to choose to love in a healing way.
You must give up your preconceived ideas and just take life one moment at a time.
Don’t panic if you feel unable to love this child, or if you feel like there’s a stranger in your home. This will eventually pass.
Stay calm, smile, serve, and model the behavior you long to see.
And on the super hard days, just do the next good thing.
Eat some chocolate. 🙂
And smile. Always smile at your child.
You see, it isn’t in the earth-shattering, deep eye contact, heart-to-heart communication, reciprocated affection, or genuine appreciation that attachment takes place.
It’s in the give and take of daily meeting their needs. It’s in the gentle, reassuring response to an exhausting rage. It’s in the quietly whispered “I choose to love you” when you feel anything but love.
Commit to giving and loving this precious “newborn” adopted child with absolutely no thought of return.
In the process, you will change. You see, love isn’t love if it only loves the lovable. Its true worth is found in loving the unlovable. This is the ultimate love that God gave us in the form of His son, Jesus.
He loved us “while we were yet sinners”. Right there, smack dab in the midst of our sin and loss, while we were spiritually self-absorbed and hopeless, He loved us first.
And He won us to Himself with that love.
One day, weary parent, you’ll wake up on the other side of that attachment dance. The long, hard, early days of the past will fade as you find the new “normal” and learn to love each other.
In the meantime, keep on loving like Jesus loved. You really can do this!
A fellow adoptive mama