Ok Parents: Gear up. It happened again.
As parents of adopted children, we are aware that eventually questions will arise with our children regarding where they came from and why. I guess I am lucky that the detailed questions haven’t happened for 10 years. But it’s happening now. And no matter how prepared we are for it, it’s still a challenge. And it is painful.
This week my 10 year old, Meg, (our first adoption) has been very introverted, quiet, and emotional. One night as we lay snuggling in my bed, (admit it—it’s the favorite thing for any parent!) she just started sobbing. Not the “I-want-something-you’re-not-giving-me” or the “I-didn’t-get-my-way” or “I’m-so-tired-I-can’t-function” cry, but the “My-heart-hurts-and-I-can’t-articulate-why” cry. So I asked her: “Please tell me what’s bothering you so I can help you.” And she answered.
“Why didn’t T. [her birth mom] want me? Why did she give me away?”
Ouch. Again. Oh my heart hurt. Almost as much as hers, I’m sure.
No matter how loving a placement is, the thing that has to occur before the loving placement is rejection by the most important person in any child’s life: their birth mother. And no matter how much they are loved in their adoptive family, no matter how much we use the adoption-friendly vocabulary, they still have those questions that their little brains ask but aren’t mature enough to process the answers. So we have to try to answer those questions the best way possible.
As Meg and I talked, she kept wanting to know where T. is. I told her truthfully that I have no idea. In the past, we have encouraged Meg to journal as best she can, her feelings. Sometimes they are phonetically spelled entries, sometimes they are pictures she draws. But at this point, journaling doesn’t seem to be enough. After a lengthy and tearful discussion, I suggested we write letters to T. and make a special “mailbox” to put them in until we “find” her. Will we find her? Probably not. But until then, Meg can write letters to her anytime she wants and place them in this special box. We had a great time Mod Podge-ing an empty graham cracker box and cutting a slit in the top to place her letters to T. (The good news is that making this box was far less pressure filled than the Valentine Day boxes we all hate so much!)
Meg’s first letter was this:
I Miss you sooo Much. Wiy DiD you Give Me away Wiy Did you not want Me I Loved You so Much. Did I have a DaD/ and DiD i have sisters and berthrs to? DiD you Smok or Drec? I am 10 Naw.
I love you sooo Much. Please com Find Me.
And we put it in the box. Meg asked if I wanted to write to T. too. Uh…ok. So I did. My letter – which I let Meg read before it went in our special box – was mostly letting T. know how much we love Meg. I told her how amazing and smart and wonderful Meg is. And how grateful we are that she is ours.
We will work this through. We have to. And we will. We are letting Meg process this as she is able and “allowing” her to have whatever feelings she has.
As all adoptive families will share, the decision to adopt brings with it countless issues and challenges as well as amazing pleasure and joy. Adopting a child of another race or culture adds additional elements to prepare for and consider. Not only is it an examination of personal beliefs regarding race and ethnicity before adopting a child of another race or culture necessary, but parents really need to explore their ability to tolerate being considered “different”. And the child’s struggles to be considered “different”. Many families comfortably embrace being atypical. Their friends and countless others will support their choice, them, and the adopted child. Others need to be honest and realistic; they, their friends and family members, may be uncomfortable with standing out from the norm and not provide much support for the family or adopted child.
As we say frequently at Heart to Heart: “IT IS WHAT IT IS.” Adopting transracially is difficult as the child grows up. As they grow and mature, their questions grow as well. And often, their little brains and hearts cannot process the questions they have. So again, we do the very best we can to keep our children loved, secure, and safe in knowing they are treasured.
Adoption authorities foresee the number and need for transracial adoptions will continue to increase over the coming years. As in marriage, true love is not enough to make any adoptive placement successful. However, with unconditional commitment, dedication, and LOTS of love, the likelihood success dramatically increases. Whether of differing cultures or ethnic backgrounds, one of the best things adoptive parents can do for their adoptive child and themselves is simply to enjoy them, to treasure and celebrate likenesses and difference,s and to let the child know they are a special and wanted child. In the meantime, there are many letters going in Meg’s special box. She seems happy and content. Just getting those feelings out sometimes is enough. And through it all, Meg knows she is adored by her family.