Sometimes you stumble upon something that grips your heart and your life. And without seeking it, it becomes you. Other times, your passions in life are because of the things that you pursue, and you work hard to get them. Ironically, adoption is a huge piece of my life both because we stumbled upon it and because we fought hard in seeking it.
This is a broad statement that I believe needs to be spoken at any adoption training, because adoption isn’t all rainbows and glitter. All adoption starts with unspeakably difficult losses for many involved. There isn’t an adoption that doesn’t start in this way, even though there are many happy, redeeming qualities to adoption. To ignore the loss is unwise and unfair. The visual of seeing an orphanage is life altering and not at all glossy coated and or manipulative in the way organizations that seek money portray these places. It is gritty. Every child without parents in any location anywhere in the world carries that loss in their eyes.
Many people will say that infant adoption is an exception to this because the child is so young that they don’t remember the loss. Of course they don’t remember, just like many toddlers won’t remember things that have occurred to them as they grow older. That doesn’t make it less traumatic for them, however. They’ve experienced a loss that should be acknowledged. And at different stages of life, they’ll need to process the loss differently, and they’ll most likely need their adoptive parents to help them flesh all of that out with them. They do not have the genetic makeup of their adoptive parents, and it is healthy for them to express sadness over that.
There are two types of memories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic memories are the kind we usually talk about: we all have memories we talk about from childhood or know someone who has an amazing memory and can tell lots of stories from the past. Intrinsic memories, however, are memories that are locked into the body of a person, into their minds and emotions. For example, as infants begin to learn trust (versus mistrust), they figure out that the world is a safe place and that their parents will take care of them. If an infant hasn’t received that kind of basic love and nurture or has had inconsistency in caregivers, they get stuck in that stage and don’t learn trust as readily. Their bodies and emotions remember, even though their minds won’t recall the details. THAT is intrinsic memory.
I want to share a little bit about how parenting can look a little bit different when keeping attachment in mind. This can cause a little bit of loneliness in parenting unless you seek out other like-minded parents. Having other adoptive parents as friends has been life giving for us.
In everything we do as parents, we keep attachment in the back of our minds. Sometimes it’s in the forefront of our minds. There will never be a day that we say, “Okay, we are done with attachment work.” For us, it doesn’t work like that. Instead, we will forever be teaching our children that we are consistent, we are unconditional, we are forever, and we are an authority in their lives for their good. Depending on the child’s response to various situations they’ve faced, many times the ability to self soothe is less with a child who was adopted (especially with older child adoptions). We will give our kids the time and space to cool down, and we will give them the power and control to get a compromise sometimes when other parents wouldn’t do that.
We might let our kids do regressive things, like keeping a pacifier or a bottle later or rocking them to sleep for way longer than what is typical. We’ve missed those critical moments in their first years of life, you see, so we have to let them regress emotionally to those stages so that they can learn to trust. It looks different sometimes, but it is so much more than worth it, because we know the strength of the bonds we’ve forged by now in this family.
We won’t use physical punishment, and even our time outs will be different, because we won’t physically remove them from our presence. We will instead draw them near to us when they misbehave (using a time in), because we want them to know that even in their worst moments, we aren’t going anywhere. They have nothing to fear; we are forever, and our love doesn’t come and go with bad behavior (although they still will certainly have a consequence for any crime). Sometimes kids who have been through hard times as babies may have some sensory processing issues to work through or anxiety issues, maybe even night terrors.
Much like with anyone, we will give our kids grace as much as we possibly can (especially during vulnerable moments like meltdowns). We will be slow to judge others and just want others to do the same for us as parents. If your kids had the backgrounds our kids had, you’d want to probably do things this way for their benefit as well. I heard a presenter one time talk about how although we are not the biological parents, in so many ways, we do change our children’s biology. They’ve experienced trauma. We change their brains by teaching them to self soothe, by giving them love and receiving it, by teaching them to deal with anxiety, and by parenting with connection in mind in general. Our kids trust us and we trust them because we squat down low and speak in quiet voices (usually), and we make connection priority. We connect before we correct (when we are in our right minds and doing it well.)
Our world is wonderful because of them; I know their grandparents would whole-heartedly agree. They laugh, and we experience joy like never before. Their unconditional love toward Mommy and Daddy is the best thing in the world. That love was fought for. Their sibling relationship blossoming has astounded me. We are completely smitten and taken with them, and we believe we were all meant for one another. Somehow on our marriage journey together, adoption both fell into our laps and we had to work hard for it all at the same time. Without our losses (ours being infertility and a miscarriage), we wouldn’t have this magical, blessed thing. We wouldn’t have been motivated to get through the mountains of paperwork and occasionally invasive home study. We can relate to the losses our kids experienced because we experienced a little bit of that ourselves on our journey to them. And we all four know that nothing in the whole world could separate us now. We are a team, and when one of us has a battle, we all fight it together. It is more than I could have ever asked for or imagined. I love my family. Love covers up so much that is wrong or broken in this world.
Adoption can sometimes be seen as second rate. For us, it was the glorious, miraculous story that unfolded despite our plans and after a season of heartbreak. It is not second rate, and we are so thankful that our first plans were thwarted. We are not hanging on to hope that we will now have ‘our own’ children (and what an offensive thing to say to us, so please don’t). These children are our own, don’t you see? This is our family, and we get to live this adventure! We cannot even believe how blessed we are.
Written by Amber Robinson for HappyMindHappyHome.com