I’m a bit of a movie snob, but nothing captures my praise and attention like a well-played twist in the plot. Many of my favorite movies; Sixth Sense, The Village, The Prestige, Planet of the Apes, and The Sting hooked me with one “WHAT IN THE WORLD?!?! I did NOT see that coming!” moment. Even a few recent-ish family films like Frozen and Maleficent featured surprising twists that left me and my kids gasping in delight. The best plot twists make so much sense once they are revealed. You’re left wondering “WHY couldn’t I see it all along?!?” Today I had an adoptive parenting “why didn’t I see it all along” moment.
*SPOILER ALERT* Reading further may reveal plot details about adoption that you cannot un-know.
As adoptive parents we do a lot of dreaming about our child before they come home. We wonder what our child will look like, if we will share common interests and if our personalities will “click”. Most compassionate parents-to-be also put themselves in the shoes of their adoptive child and think about their dreams as well. You may worry that you’re not the hip, playful, or good-looking parents your child has been dreaming of. What if they walk into your house and think it smells funny? What if they hate your cooking? If you’re like me you may, for one fleeting moment, consider buying a jet ski or a miniature horse to help seal the deal that you’re the coolest family on the block. I usually end up reassuring myself that although we may not be “dream family material”, we’re here, we’re loving, we’re safe, and we’re all in this together. Whew! What a relief! Surely this kid will love us. But wait… Here comes the twist…
What if the family your child dreams about being with is the family they lost?
Why. Didn’t. I. See. It.
Like any great twist, you may find yourself reeling. Even though it makes so much sense, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Can I urge you to not let this thought put you on the defensive? Our knee-jerk reaction may be to start comparisons between the life we can offer a child and what might-have-been in other scenarios, but these thoughts are divisive, unproductive and insensitive. Many adoptees are deeply loyal to the parents who brought them into this world. It’s loyalty so strong that, in many cases, even abuse, disappointment, distance, and time cannot diminish it. It may be loyalty to someone they’ve never met or can’t remember… but this doesn’t negate your child’s longing. It doesn’t discount their loss.
Several years ago on Christmas morning one of our foster sons was acting moody and ungrateful. He made it clear that Christmas at his “old house” was way better than anything we had to offer. I let it get under my skin and my husband found me grumbling and growling to myself in the kitchen while putting cookies in the oven. He stood there and allowed me to vent while the kids tore into new puzzles and toys in the other room. My lengthy, hissing monologue ended with me triumphantly declaring “And why WOULDN’T he love it here?!?! Why WOULDN’T he be having a great time today?!?” My sweet husband took my face in his hands and said “Because he didn’t ask for it.”
So, after we’re done quietly weeping, WHERE do we go from here?
Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Now I know better.
I can look back over my parenting and see many times that I said and did ignorant things that hurt my child. My child’s loss and grief exist, whether I acknowledge them or not. But now I have the opportunity to walk alongside my child in a place that my ignorance once sent them alone. I have a truth that can silence those old feelings of rejection or resentment I felt regarding my child’s connection to his birth family. Maybe my painful self-realization can save some of you prospective, waiting, or new adoptive parents from making the same mistakes I’ve made. I hope this post is shared with and read by many of the people who surround and support foster and adoptive parents as well. The more people who understand where our children are coming from the better. I hope it makes us all pause when faced with children’s tears, fond memories, harsh words, or difficult behaviors and remember the losses they’re grieving.
I’m doing better now and, although I may not be “dream family material”, I’m here, I’m listening, and we’re all in this together.