It's not about you - warning, hot button topic ahead, read at your own risk

As you all know I am a big advocate of adoption.  But I have been seeing things in the adoption community that disturb me a little.  This isn't directed at any single situation, but to a general sense of what is going on.  You know it's great that people want to adopt and give a child, especially an older child, a home.  But too often I hear stories of people disrupting an adoption for reasons that bother me.  (Hear me correctly.  Not all disruptions are wrong... sometimes it is necessary.)  I don't mean to make light of how these families are feeling or the difficulties they are going through, but I wonder what prompted them to adopt in the first place.  You see, if you choose to adopt because it is a good thing to do; because you are rescuing a child; because you feel guilty over the plight of orphans and you would like to appease that guilt, because it is your duty; I'm not sure you have a strong enough basis to keep going.

Let me tell you the honest truth.  Adoption can be hard.  Adopting a child who has been repeatedly hurt is hard. There is hope for these children, but it is not instantaneous.  You can't bring a child who has experienced trauma into your home and expect after a few months that this child will be grateful and love you as your biological children do.  We are talking years here.  Years of learning to trust and to love.  Years of learning to parent a child whose brain has been significantly altered by the deficits of the past.  Years of three steps forward, two steps back progress.  Years of slowly working to erase bad habits and replace them with good ones.... habits that make you think a nail through the head would be pleasant in comparison.

Can you tell it's been a difficult set of days around here?  We still battle occasional rages.  We still battle behavior which can send us over the edge.  We still have a child who was so hurt that he is afraid of letting himself love again.  Did you know you can smell fear?  It is not just a turn of phrase.  I can tell you exactly what it smells like.  It is sour and unpleasant.  (It is the smell that K. had about him for the first year of his life.  I now know, looking back, he was terrified that first year even though he didn't show it.)  It is not pleasant to be around.  I know we are all about to plummet over the edge of the abyss because I can smell the fear emitting from my child.  He has been home nearly 6 years.  Healing doesn't happen in an instant.  Sometimes we are so discouraged the only thing we can do is cling to Jesus.  Other times we rejoice because we see something positive that we've never seen before.  It is slow going and and the going can be difficult.  Parenting this child is the most terrifying, difficult, faith building, frustrating, and satisfying thing I have ever done... all at the same time.

So forgive me if I can't drum up a lot of sympathy for people looking to 're-home' their children with comments of "I didn't think it would be this way" or "I just never bonded with him"  or "It's been a whole year and he just doesn't fit in our family".  Cue violins.

Here is what every person who thinks they wants to adopt should know.

  1. It is not easy.  It might be, but don't expect it to be.  These children have been hurt by the very people that were supposed to take care of them.  They have learned to survive in ways that are not compatible with pleasant family life.  They have lost so much that we can't even imagine the extent.  Some of these things can be made up, others can never be replaced and ways have to be found to cope.  Do not assume that this child will be just like your biological children.  That might not be possible.
  2. Be the grown-up.  This child did not ask for you to rescue them.  This is something you are doing to (and for) the child.  You brought them here; you turned their life upside-down.  They didn't even have a choice in choosing you as their new parents.  Do not expect them to agree to fit into all your plans and dreams.  That was an imaginary child that existed in your own head, not a flesh-and-blood real child with a distinct personality.  You will need to learn to love this child, this real child, long before this child can see something in you to love.
  3. Have a long view.  Healing takes a long time.  Years.  You cannot come home with a child and after a few months expect things to go back to normal.  That normal you had before can never be again.  Get over it.  Go ahead and grieve for the life you were expecting to live, but then work on embracing the life you have.  It might well turn out to be better than the original dream... but only if you let it.
  4. It's not about you.  It's not about your dreams or what you thought it would be like or how you thought the child would be.  It is about showing love to a child and making them your own.  WHETHER OR NOT THE CHILD IS ON BOARD WITH THIS.  You love the child because that is what you are called to do.  (I say this because sometimes Christians are some of the worst offenders of the "it's not what I expected" syndrome.)  You love the child because you agreed to be their parent.  You love the child even if they are not loving you back.  I'll tell you, you can't do this on your own.  Only God can give you that kind of love, but you have to be open to allowing Him to work through you.  And because it's not about you, don't fall into the trap of thinking the child is doing things just to make your life miserable or make you angry.  Most children want to please the adults around them.  But children who are hurt, don't function like most children.  They function on the level of instinct and survival.  It's not about you, but about how this child has learned to function to survive. It's not about you.
I do not parent my child perfectly.  It is still difficult sometimes.  God is gracious and we see progress.  I study and learn to continue to help my child heal.  I have discovered God's love in palpable ways.  No, it is not easy.  No, it is not what I thought it would be.  No, I do not always feel able.  But God knows and God is able.  

Go into adoption with eyes wide open.  Talk to other adoptive parents and ask for the unfiltered version of life.  Make no assumptions.  And remember it's not about you.


Alana Whiter said…
I agree it can be difficult to remind yourself that the child you adopt did not ask for you to rescue them. After adopting my daughter from China, I kept thinking I was the hero, butI've learned from that children worldwide are removed from their parents for reasons of abuse and neglect. I sometimes forget this and realize I adopted my daughter to start a family.
Erica said…
So good to read this. I have a huge desire to adopt someday, but I definitely want to make sure that I am being realistic and not living in a dream world about how things will be.
Anonymous said…
This is a great post. Although our adoption was pretty painless, as far as adjustment to the new home, goes, we have still faced challenges. We chose to adopt a special needs child. There have been situations and issues along the way that have made this journey different from the journey we have with our biological children. That being said, it is still a joy to parent this child and we are so glad he is part of our family. May the Lord encourage all adoptive families to press on.
Ann said…
Excellent post! I couldn't agree more-and I think when parents go in eyes wide open, knowing there is an unknown (instead of the perceived imaginary dream) it is easier to love the child where he/she is at, instead of continually trying to mold the child into their dream. Yes, it is about the child!!! Instead of molding the child, adoptive parents have to learn to mold themselves into people that are EASY to love (and this is not always easy to do).
I love your open honestly. We are getting so close to travel!!! See you in China! (I hope!).
PS I'm going to link to your powerful article :-)
established1981 said…
Thank you for posting this, I wanted to add this video link from Karyn Purvis,
Anonymous said…
I agree that it is hard, 3.5 years into this, after adopting a 5 year old and I can't believe how hard it is. I wish more people were truthful before we adopted. Because somedays I don't remember it's not about me or the life we all lost including the child we adopted. Somedays I look at it as a sentence for having believed we could do this well and love this child like our other. He still seems to prefer strangers to us no matter what we do. Being easy and molded to the child just is not always possible depending on the issues. We have not disrupted but decided to keep on doing our best, because that is what we need to do, for our child and for us.

So think long and hard how much you like/love your current life and if you want what you have to end, because it will end and it may be better or it may be worse, a lot worse.
LawMommy said…
I didn't comment on this the first time I read it because I was in a bad place with my daughter that day, and even though I needed to hear what you were saying, I didn't want to talk about it.

(There are days when I really feel like you are one of the very, very few people who can really understand what is happening in my relationship with my child...and I don't think I can fully express my gratitude for the fact that I am glad to know you. My daughter is always interested when you post photos on your blog, and every now and then, when she is having a particularly bad day, and she is crying because she says no one has ever been through what she has been through, she will tell me that TM is the only person who had this happen as well. She does not believe me when I say it has happened to other kids, but she has met your son and knows he is a real person. I think it is comforting to her to have met him, even only twice.)

At any rate, this is an important post, and I'm glad you wrote it. I wish I could write a companion piece to it, but I don't have it in me right now. L and I had a really, really bad two weeks, but things have turned around in the past few days and I was ready to tell you I was glad you wrote this.
thecurryseven said…
Law Mommy -- I was so touched by your comment. I can't tell you how helpful it has been to me to read about how Lana is doing at any given time. I use her emotional insight to help me figure out what must be going on inside my very unemotionally intuitive son. I'm so glad that we have been able to have them meet. It's just that much more motivation to try to get them together more often and then we would have an excuse to visit as well!


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