If you don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might not know that God has blessed us with a new son. It’s been a whirlwind two months, and there have been moments where I longed to write out all the behind-the-scenes details of this miracle–how God added our ninth child to our family–but the few spare minutes I’ve had to actually pull out my computer were eaten up by other more pressing duties.
Please know that this comes from the heart of an adoptive mama: We are rarely truly offended by the things well-meaning strangers say, because, well, we know they have good intentions. For the most part anyway. 🙂 I have held my daughters close as they have cried and hurt over people’s words, though. They aren’t objects to be discussed in a flippant way–they are precious treasures. The real pain every adopted child faces is difficult enough without having it thrown in their faces thoughtlessly everywhere they go. Here are 10 Things You Should Never Say to an Adoptive Parent:
- Why didn’t you adopt from America? There’s so many children right here that need families. Questioning our preferred path to building a family is a private matter, and one that makes our children feel like they weren’t worthy of being adopted. Families adopt for a variety of reasons and from a variety of sources and the very simple answer is this: We adopted from XYZ because that’s where our child was.
- Which ones are YOURS? Um, all of our children are OURS. Some may be biological and some may be adopted, but we prefer not to constantly distinguish betweeen which children actually BELONG to us, and which ones don’t. Cause they ALL do.
- Do they know their REAL mom? Well, I feel pretty real today, thank you. 🙂 And discussing adopted children’s birth situations is another very private matter. If you really must know the answer to this one, never ask in front of the children. Which leads to the next thing you shouldn’t say:
- Are they sisters? (or brothers?) We know what you’re trying to say, which is–Are they biologically related? But our children stand out enough without strangers constantly asking if they are siblings. Because they ARE now (even if not biologically).
- Children’s character is formed before the age of five, so I would never adopt an older child. This implies my older child’s success is hopeless, something I refuse to accept. God is still in the miracle business. Aren’t you glad even adults have opportunity to change?
- My child does that, too. Families get this often, in response to their admission of the immense struggles regarding food, sleep, attachment, and emotional concerns that trauma children face. NO, your healthy, loved-from-the-moment-of-conception, well-attached tantrum-throwing 3 year old is NOT the same as a trauma kiddo with meltdowns. (And I can say this because I’ve parented both sides and it is positively different all around.)
- Do they have special needs? Again, this one is too private to be openly discussed, especially in earshot of the child. If you wouldn’t ask it of a biological child, you shouldn’t ask it of an adopted one, either. Yes, many adopted children face enormous needs, but they are private unless willingly shared.
- Are you done with all that bonding stuff? I was asked this the first time when our new daughter had only been home 4 weeks. Five years later, we’re still working on bonding and attachment. It’s never a quick process and I doubt we’ll ever be “done”. Questioning the lengths new families go through to cocoon and connect with their new children is never helpful.
- How much did they cost? No, no, no, on so many levels. This one is off limits. We’ve even heard, “Wow, I bet you had to rob a bank to afford that child.” The truth is, our children are priceless. They didn’t cost a single cent–their adoption did, though! Discussing the cost of adoption in front of an adopted child makes them feel as if they “owe” the family something. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you’re truly considering adoption and want to learn the details of the process, ask those questions out of earshot of the children.
- They’re SO lucky! People mean well with this one, but adopted children aren’t lucky. They were robbed of a secure upbringing with their biological parents, then spent time in foster placements or orphanages before they left all they had ever known and, without any say in the decision, joined a new family. They DESERVE to be adored, protected, loved, nurtured, and even a bit spoiled :), and that doesn’t make them one bit LUCKY. It just makes them human.
I recently set my old blog to private. I know many of my readers here followed me from the Bergey Bunch, so I wanted to offer a bit of explanation.
I blogged pretty openly over there about some of the adoption challenges we faced, and while my goal was always to help other families by sharing my heart, as my girls have gotten older, I’ve been reconsidering their need for privacy. I have always sought my older children’s permission to post things pertaining to them, and they all read my posts before and after I post them.
At the same time, Johanna in particular has overcome incredible odds, and I feel like it’s time to let her past stay in the past. I want to give her a fresh slate from which to grow. My relationship with my older girls is precious to me and I want to be as honest–yet protecting–as I can. I will still be blogging about older child adoption, and Johanna and I both would love to be an encouragement to other struggling families. You can always reach me via email or Facebook.
We spent the day at the Grand Canyon today, and
after I got over my fear that one of my children was going to fall into the abyss we had a BLAST. 🙂 (Ever since a life-altering car accident on the top of a bridge when I was 9, I don’t do heights well.)
Talk to you all soon.
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
She was the second born of three little girls, a blonde haired, green eyed sweetheart with a spontaneous personality. Her family enjoyed all things outdoors and celebrated elaborately decorated Christmases with her Navy dad and fun-loving mom during her early years. The idyllic childhood ended with her dad leaving her mom when she was 11 years old , and that’s when the excessive drinking and never-ending stream of live-in boyfriends began. She met Debbie during high school and they were soon best friends, and as her mom lost herself in alcohol more and more, she found solace in her new friend.
Debbie’s uncle Norm owned a printing business, and both girls were soon working for him. At night they whispered of their big dreams for the future, and during the day, they learned how to bind, print, and collate. A hard worker and fast learner, she excelled at everything she did, and Norm began trusting her with more and more of the aspects of the business.
Norm’s younger brother Ron also worked at the print shop, and it wasn’t long before she caught his eye. Maybe it was his height (6’1″), maybe it was his blonde hair, or maybe it was the fact that she was longing for acceptance and attention and he was 22 and seemed so mature. Whatever the reason, they began dating and at just 16 years old, she was moving to his little rental house across from the print shop.
For a while, she enjoyed playing house with him. They worked together and came home together and for once in what seemed like a long time, things were right in her world.
Until the day she missed her monthly cycle.
In those days, there weren’t pregnancy tests readily available at the corner drug store, so she slipped out of work and went down to the local health department to take a test.
She was completely alone when she learned the news: She was pregnant.
Later that night, when they were alone, she told Ron the news. His reaction rocked her world.
“Pregnant? I told you to prevent that from ever happening! You’re going to get an abortion of course. I don’t want any children and I never want to be a father.”
Ron’s father Jonny had three children during his first marriage, but when he married Patty, she begged for a child. He didn’t want another child, but eventually gave in to his wife’s pleading. Ron was the only child born to Jonny and Patty, and while his mother adored him, his father clearly never wanted him. Jonny was harsh and abusive, especially over Ron’s bed-wetting struggles. Ron would curl up in bed, with a close pin clamped on himself, to try to avoid wetting the bed and facing his father’s rage. He decided at a young age that he never wanted a child of his own.
“But I don’t want an abortion.” she whispered. “This is my baby.”
It was then that he shared the fact that there had been three pregnant girlfriends before her, and each one of them had gotten an abortion, so she WOULD be getting one if she wanted to stay with him.
“I don’t want an abortion.” she whispered again. He pushed her across the room and into the living room wall. “You WILL be getting an abortion!” he shouted.
She moved in with Debbie that very night.
With no money, no support system, and very little to call her own, she was thankful that Norm kept her on at the shop during the pregnancy. When she went to social services to get medical services, they asked the name of the baby’s father. “I can’t tell you.” she answered. “I mean, I know who he is, but he told me to lie to you. He said if I ever try to get child support from him, he would kidnap my baby and I would never see her again.”
The baby’s father was listed as unknown.
When she was several months pregnant, Norm hired a new girl for the print shop. This girl caught Ron’s eye and they were soon dating. She also became pregnant. He told her to get an abortion.
And that baby became number four.
She was barely 18 when her water finally broke and she went into labor. She drove herself to the hospital, about to give birth to her first child.
She was completely alone when she gave birth: “It’s a girl!” the doctor exclaimed.
She took the little eight pound, blonde haired baby girl home and raised her alone. They moved often, and she worked hard to keep a roof over her baby’s head. She earned her real estate license and about a year later, she was at the office when the local Baptist pastor began stopping by. For six months, he invited her to visit his church, and finally, one Wednesday evening, she decided to give it a try.
The first time she entered a church was with her toddler girl on her hip. She soaked in the message of forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ alone, and accepted HIM that very night. Six months later, she was singing in the choir when a visiting young Navy sailor spotted her from the congregation. It was literally love at first sight, and they were engaged thirteen days later, and married within four months.
They asked Ron’s permission to have the baby girl legally adopted by the new husband.
He signed the paperwork and was never heard from again.
The baby girl grew up. She loved babies and Jesus from the time she was very young, and today, she is happily married adult with eight children of her very own, five the old-fashioned way, and three through adoption.
Yes, I was the baby girl in this true story.
And I was almost number four.
Somewhere in heaven, I have
at least four sweet siblings whose lives ended before they could even begin. I hope to meet them someday, and whisper how sorry I am that our grandfather’s abuse passed such an aversion to children on to our father that he convinced their mothers to abort them. With tears streaming down my face, I hope to tell them that I love them, that I’m so thankful they were numbers one, two, three, and four. Because that means that I AM ALIVE for a reason beyond my comprehension.
If I seem excessive about gentleness with little ones, it is because I was almost murdered because of an abusive hand.
If I seem redundant in encouraging fathers to love their children, it is because I was unloved by mine and I know how it shaped me, as a child, and even now, as an adult.
If I seem passionate about mothers taking the time to connect with their children, it is because I was raised by a mother who loved me unconditionally from the moment of my conception. She gave me life, and choose life and love for me every single day of my childhood. And it matters.
And if I seem heartbroken over the literal millions of orphaned children around the world who don’t know the love of a parent and don’t know my Jesus….and even more heartbroken over the millions of babies whose bodies are torn apart before they ever view their mother’s face, it’s because I AM.
I was almost number four, but by the grace of God, and a young woman’s selfless decision, I’m alive today.
And I will never take that for granted.