“Why did my mom give me up?” That is the question all adoptive parents fear. But here it was coming out of my nearly thirteen-year-old daughter’s mouth. We were sitting in the car in the parking lot, getting ready to go buy card making supplies for her upcoming birthday party. She asked question after question. It wasn’t that her adoption was a secret. She was four. She remembers living in an orphanage. She remembers her new Mama and Tata living in the orphanage for a month. She flew on the ten-hour flight to Chicago. We spoke of it openly.
I didn’t fear the question because I didn’t want to tell her what I knew of her story, but, because I didn’t want to hurt her again. When we adopted her, the caregiver told us that she hadn’t spoken a word for six months after she entered the orphanage with her brothers. She suffered from extreme anxiety when she came to our home. Her new home.
I am familiar with that anxiety. It follows me. Taunts me. After my dad left when I was four, it became my bosom frenemy. I didn’t want to hurt my daughter. I didn’t want to trigger something on this happy birthday shopping day. I answered. She listened. After the conversation, she seemed happier, lighter. “Thanks, Mom for adopting me.”
There are many blog posts/articles/books about what adopted children would like their parents to know. Those are good. Read them. Today, I thought I’d turn the tables a bit and share ten things adoptive parents would like their kids to know. Maybe we don’t say these things often enough, I don’t.
1. I love you. Period.
I know you hear things like, “How can you love him, he is not your real child?” Don’t listen. They don’t know what they are talking about. Drop the real. You are my child. The world likes to speak in terms of blood. Parenting doesn’t birth only through blood but through the heart. Through commitment. Through sacrifice. The world views sonship through DNA and genetics. That is not the true definition.
Before I saw your picture, I loved you. I prayed for you. I journaled to you.
2. Don’t discount your value. You are “chosen.”
Some adoptees struggle with the word “chosen'” because they think it means that they were chosen by adoptive parents to leave their birth family. Some think it is as if adoptive parents are searching for you, find you and take you. Let’s look at the word in a different way. You were chosen to live. You are a survivor. You may have come from traumatic circumstances that could have ended your life (war, drugs, famine, etc.) or you may have been born to a mother who was unable to parent you and chose adoption. You were chosen to live because you are valuable, no matter how much your mind tells you the opposite. It is your choice to believe it. You are valuable. You have a purpose. Your story is unique. Write the rest of your story with this new thinking. I am chosen. I am valuable. God put me in a new family. He has a purpose.
3. I want to help you with your story.
Many of us spend years of our lives focusing on a few chapters of our life and don’t seem to make sense of it. It’s like reading the same chapters of a textbook over and over and failing the multiple choice questions at the end. It wasn’t until I started writing my memoir alongside our adoption memoir that things started to really make sense. I had grasped bits and pieces of info over the years and had conversations with parents and siblings that made some sense, but when I asked intentionally for the purpose of accuracy that it came together. I found it wasn’t the actual events being historically correct on paper that helped me. It was the pre-suppositions they created. That event is where that feeling started. Hiding under a desk in my dad’s university office invited claustrophobia into my life. Knowing this helps me discern when claustrophobia will attack and I can be prepared. I put the event in its place.
I see your triggers as well as I see mine. I can help you write your story. You have to trust me. I won’t feel bad if you talk about your birth parents or past events. I can handle it. If I cry, it is not for me. It is for your pain because I love you.
4. My past and your past may tussle sometimes.
It’s normal. Don’t worry. We will make it. Each of us comes into the world in the middle of someone else’s story. Our chapters of origin may be different. There also may be some common denominators. When this occurs, things can get dicey. We may be hanging onto to each and kicking each other at the same time. When you kiddos had been part of our family for about six months, we took a vacation to the beach. We headed down into the Cheasepeake tunnel. I gripped the hands of the two youngest (you were crying) while trying to hold on to my sanity (remember- claustrophobia). Eldest son began a tale of lament, a chapter of his past brought on by the darkness. I tried to listen. Tears trickled down my cheeks. It was a blessing and a curse. I had a bit more of picture puzzle of his story and he had one of mine.
I have spoken with many, many pre-adoptive and foster families through the years. There seems to be a re-occurring theme- one of the parents had a difficult childhood. That difficult childhood gave that parent a heart for hurt children. Therein lies the common denominator. Take two humans who experienced rejection and they may tussle sometimes. It cannot be avoided. No parent can perfectly heal from their past before adopting/fostering. On the other hand, would you want them to? Those who have experienced loss and rejection have something special-empathy. A powerful gift.
5. Your past is my present.
You may not think so based on our busy schedules that we even think about your past and your pain. We do. It is my constant companion. I want to erase it for you, but I cannot. It is part of you. I may not say it often. I may not say it at all because I do not want to be the trigger.
I used to cry while making dinner-a lot. The thought of all the times you kids had gone hungry made me well up from somewhere deep in my gut. I hid my tears because I wanted you to eat regularly and enjoy it. I wanted your new supposition to be – I eat regular meals that mom prepares.
I read this last bit to my daughter. She has been my cheerleader this past week as I have dug deep and come up with these ten things. When I read about the meals, my crying, her being hungry, we both lost it. Faces red. Blubbering. “I’m trying to go to work, mom!” she laughed. That is why I can’t walk around sharing how much I carry your past. We can’t walk around blubbering all day. Oh, that we could cry one big cry and get it out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
My two eldest daughters shared with me that they had the same “past is our present” experience when each of them gave birth. They had flashbacks for their younger siblings, “Mom, they were alone.” When eldest daughter’s twins had to get some blood work done, she broke down in tears for them and wept for her younger brother who had no one in the hospital with him for the four or five months he fought to live after his premature birth. Your family carries your pain, oh that we could bear it all.
6. Consequences are not rejection- they are parenting.
If I had a dollar for every time a child said I didn’t love him because I gave him a consequence then I would have enough money for a shopping spree. Child, I know you are more sensitive to control. You only like that word if you are wielding it. I know. Me too. I like to be in control, to know what is next. I don’t like schedule changes (my past and your past tussling). What I do like is character change. I have had to work hard on mine. I don’t like giving you consequences, but I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t.
I talked to a Foster Mom the other day at a Thanksgiving gathering for our children. One thing about fostering that shocked her was how much control was given to young foster children. “I understand that they need to feel they are in control, but they are letting them make decisions about their lives that they don’t have the maturity to make.”
I understand. The system is not perfect. In order to make kids feel secure, we give them too much control. It is not good parenting. Kids need boundaries. Staying up all night gaming and not being able to get up for school the next morning is a choice that demands a consequence to lay a better foundation for a stronger character in the future. Which of you adults could tell your boss you cannot make it to work because you stayed up all night gaming and he should be okay with it?
Stealing from siblings cannot be rewarded with ignorance. It must be rewarded with a consequence (working to pay for an item is a great consequence) because I don’t want you to grow up and end up in jail.
7. We are your family, not a fairy tale.
As an older teen, when I got angry at my mom, I used to imagine going to live with my dad and how perfect it would be. I would be able to do anything I wanted. He lived in Washington D.C. at the time. I imagined myself jetting around the capital on the metro, waltzing in and out of museums and shopping. It was a fairy tale. The truth was -he lived in a tiny one-room apartment (nothing like the spacious ones you see on tv) and he had a grueling, time-consuming job.
We all daydream. We all like to think in terms of our life, what could be, what was, what’s next. We glorify our past or our future. You, child, have a little bit more fodder for that. My kids had been told when they were adopted that they were going to live in Chicago because that is where all Polish people lived in the U.S.. While staying in Poland, I was asked multiple times about my maid (don’t have one) and once charged a million dollars for a dozen rolls at a village bakery because I was a rich American.
We would all love to live in a fairy tale, the ones with happy endings. Wait. Don’t those have witches who bake children for dinner? Or children get locked in towers until their hair grows to the ground. Or step-mothers who send daughters poisonous apples? Who wants to live in a fairy tale? I prefer boring family life anytime. How about sitting in front of a fireplace reading aloud, sipping hot chocolate on a snowy day? Or dinner around the table? How about renting a cabin in the mountains and escaping the scorching heat of summer? Or Christmas, toned down on gift-giving, but full of celebration, family, games, puzzles, movies?
8. You may have problems, but you are NOT a problem.
I am not a morning person. I don’t wake up with my hair in place and make-up on like women on tv. I cannot function until I have a cup of coffee in my hands and a few ounces in my belly. Too bad parenting doesn’t wait for morning rituals.
Many mornings when my children woke the sun, I had to make some decisions and say some words before my brain engaged. Not always a good thing. That was my problem. It didn’t make me a problem mom. I could wake up earlier and let my brain engage, or I could repeat the cycle. Burn the pancakes or opt for cold cereal when inside I felt guilty for not arising and preparing. Schedules helped. Menus helped. Alarms helped. I was adult enough to admit I needed to make changes. I know, child, sometimes you are not, but that doesn’t mean I see you as a problem.
My family knows I still struggle with being alert in the morning. It is still my problem. It is not me. It is something I deal with. I could blame it on genetics, disease or a busy schedule. Blaming doesn’t help though, does it? It just passes the buck. Instead of blaming, I accept it. I plan around it as much as possible. I used to pick all my kids’ clothes out the night before (or let them) down to the socks. That was being proactive on my part.
You, child, may have problems that you beat yourself up about. Not understanding math, thanks to the result of FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). You may have a difficult time reading social cues or maintaining self-control. These are problems or a better word-challenges. You may always have them, but you are NOT them. Instead of thinking- I have a problem, think – I have a challenge. How can I overcome it?
I am here to help. My youngest son likes to know certain foods are in the house. It makes him feel more secure. His problem. He often eats all of the security bounty the day it comes home from the store, then he has a week of, “There is nothing for me to eat!” meltdowns. I took steps to help him. First, I took some of the food up in my room and hid it in my closet. I shouldn’t say hid, he knows it is there, but won’t touch it. The second step, measuring the orange juice. He often drank his share of juice in two days. So, I made him divide the ounces in the carton by seven for the days of the week. He got nine ounces of juice a day and I got an extra measuring cup to wash, but it was worth it! Now, he knows, he can make the juice last a week. Problem tackled. No meltdowns about juice. Control is in his corner.
9. I am not perfect.
Biggest understatement of this whole article. I am not, nor will I ever be PERFECT, not on this earth. Please don’t expect me to be. I won’t always react with grace. I will sometimes be selfish. Don’t worry, I get consequences too. I had one this week. Husband Jerry was home and offered to take youngest son and me to see Mocking Jay. I opted to stay home because I wanted to be alone and get away from certain people. Yes, sometimes I will want to get away from you, just like you want to be away from me for a while. As one of my kids says, “I just need to be alone for a while. It’s how I recharge.” I’m thankful she has the wisdom to know that about herself.
Just know this -my isms, my imperfections were there before you were born and although you may act in ways that trigger them and vice-versa, I don’t need to be perfect to love you perfectly. Perfect love casts out fear. The lack of love brings thoughts of fear, torment, and punishment. If you keep in mind that I love you unconditionally while I am being imperfect, then we can build together on that foundation that every human must. This is the foundation of perfect love in an imperfect world. If I yell at you for leaving all of your dirty clothes on the floor and demand you pick it up before company comes, that is my imperfection shining through, my need to be loved and accepted through a clean-ish perfect-ish home. It is not you. It is me. (Please still pick your clothes up for YOU, it is a great life long habit).
A few weeks ago, my two eldest daughters and families came over. One apologized for being late, to which her hubby added, “She can’t leave the house unless it is perfect, every dish put away, laundry put away, everything perfect! I don’t understand it!” To which other daughter and son-in-law replied in unison, “Me too,” “Her too”. “We got it from Mom!” both girls shared and laughed. Yep, sometimes, I pass down my imperfections. Not on purpose. It just happens. It’s the way families work.
10. You are going to make it. We are going to make it.
Stop right now. Look back. What do you see? Days? Years? Months? Birthdays? Christmases? Vacations? Look for the good moments. Forget the meltdown you or your sibling had before the trip to the state park. Look at that photo of you repelling. You did it. You loved it. When we have negative events in our past, we tend to hyper-focus on them and forget to celebrate victories.
Remember your fear of the outdoors? Now, look at you, the photographer with an eye for detail that most don’t see. You spend hours in the woods. Alone. I am not holding your hand anymore. You are doing it. You are amazing. I stand in awe of you.
Remember the day you caught a jar of bees? One stung you. You vowed never to catch a bee again. Remember the time you tried to leap from branch to branch, high in the tree. You missed and landed on your ribs, knocking the air out of you in a crackling whoosh. Now, look at you-winter camping at Dolly Sods, kayaking in on the Cheat, saving lives every day on the Squad.
Remember how you struggled to learn a new language? Kids made fun of you because they couldn’t understand you? You had to start the phonics book at the beginning with your younger siblings. You triumphed. Speaking is the main part of your job. You didn’t give up.
Most importantly, go back to number one. I love you. No matter what some activist speaking against adoption may say. No matter what a scientist may say about genetics and DNA. They don’t know the truth. Love is a thicker bond than the color of eyes or skin. Connection through adoption is real. You are loved. You are chosen. You are part of the family. You have other chapters in your life, I accept that. Let’s live these chapters right here, right now, together.