Self * Friends & Family * ADOPTED CHILD * Birth Family * Outside Factors
You are in the middle of reading a series based on a number of interviews I did with adoptive families. The first piece was what you’ll need to know for yourself. You can find this piece here. The second piece found here is focused on your existing support network of friends and family and how they will help and hurt you simultaneously. This piece is all about your sweet adopted child. Whether you are still waiting to meet them, or you’ve lived with them for years, there is something for you in this piece.
What I’ve learned is each and every adoption story starts from a place of loss. I had never thought about this before, but of course, it does. Loss of a parent and family, loss of relatives that look like you, loss of family history… and if it’s an international adoption, the loss of language, culture, and tradition as well. But don’t fret, God is amazing at redemption! Below you’ll find some sage pieces of wisdom from those who have gone before you. Of course, each child is different, and each family should make their own decisions about what they think is best for those involved.
1. Redefine trauma
When most people think of trauma, scenes from their favorite hospital TV show come to mind. But trauma comes in all shapes and sizes and the worst thing to do to trauma is to ignore it or reclassify it so you can pretend it doesn’t exist. There is some research that suggests there is a “primal wound” of children who are not raised by their biological mother simply because the voice and heartbeat they listened to while being formed in the womb is no longer part of their life. I don’t bring this up to say it is true or not as there is a lot of discussion as to the validity of this claim; however, it does redefine trauma and when or where it can start. As we allow for trauma to take on a new definition, more and more experiences are allowed to be processed as they should. One teenager I spoke with said she didn’t realize what it would be like to get reconnected with her biological mom. She described walking into a family reunion and seeing so many people that she looked like. “It wasn’t traumatic at all, but it was something I kept thinking about. I finally told my [adopted] mom that even though I looked just like these people, I didn’t feel close to them. It was weird.” Similarly, those who have created bi-racial families through adoption said they’ve learned that society expects families to “match”. Even though biracial marriages have been legal in all 50 states for more than 50 years now, there is still a reaction when people see your family looks different than they expect. This is something your child will experience their whole life as they show pictures of themselves growing up and introduce friends to you, their family. This might not sound “traumatic”, but to those who are living it, it certainly can be. Talking about it and/or giving your child a safe person to talk with, like a counselor, is helpful.
2. Adopting older children can mean they’ve experienced more trauma
This should not be a deterrent to adopting an older child, but it should be something to be aware of as you start and grow your family. As you’ve prayed for this child, chances are you’ll love them almost immediately. This may not be the same for the child and this will have nothing to do with you. They want to love you and probably do, but they’ve had people in their life who have left and they could be fearful it will be the same with you. Allow bonding to happen on their terms and in their timeline. This can be frustrating, but it builds health and trust between the two of you. As they are part of your family longer they will feel more secure - but as their brain understands more complex things, they will test you to make sure what they know about you and your love is still true. One parent of a fost-adopt child explained how her son would lash out and verbally attack her only to apologize and give her a hug a few days later because he wanted to see if she would still be there for him. She knew she would be, but he felt the need to test this again. This had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with his past trying to fit into his future.
3. Puberty can restart insecurities in your child
This is true for all children, but I felt it warranted being said since insecurities can be different for adopted kids. You might feel like a certain topic is behind you, but Satan will whisper lies and their hormones will take control. A parent shared with me that their daughter had lived with them for almost 10 years, but one afternoon she was feeling sad their neighbor took the dog they were trying out back to the shelter. After trying to process with their daughter why she was so upset by this, their daughter blurted out with tears streaming down her face that she didn’t know you could return a dog and what if they ever wanted to return her? This parent was shocked and rather mortified their daughter would even consider this, so quickly and earnestly she told her child this was never a possibility and she was her mom forever. Grace and love and patience are key.
4. Holidays can be odd
This was shared by multiple families who have open adoptions. They explained there are specific times their child sees their birth family, but the holidays are not typically one of them. This can be because the holidays are already so busy, but mostly because they found this to be a healthy boundary as they built their own family traditions. Since the holidays are usually a time most Americans see the family they don’t normally get to see, adoptive parents learned it can be odd for the child since they can’t comprehend family or social dynamics. The child knows there is a family out there they aren’t seeing. This doesn’t need to change, but it does need to be addressed when the child notices. It’s easy to rush about during this time of year, but take the time to notice your child’s mood and emotions and give them the opportunity to talk and ask questions.
5. Figure out what decisions you can let your child control
As with any child, giving them choices is a great way to give them a sense of security. Your adoptive child is no different. One family told me they used to have a couple of pictures of their child with their birth family up at their house and their child finally told them they didn’t like them up. They liked thinking about their adoption on their own terms, and having pictures up in their home forced them to think about it all the time. So they took the pictures down and put them in an album that could be looked through at their child’s discretion. Another child learned about his country of origin at a school fair and asked if the family wanted to try some food from this country. These are great ways to let your child contribute to the family being safe and healthy for all. If your child feels the opposite of these examples, that is fine too. The point is to talk with them and allow them to decide.
Each family is different and gets to decide what is best for their child and their home. And each child is unique and will come with their own set of baggage. Adoption is something God has ordained and blessed. Be confident that when God laid adoption on your heart, not only did he choose you, but he chose your child as well. You are living out his redemption story, and it is beautiful! Our next piece will dive into the hidden world of the birth family.