Tuesday, August 7, 2018

5 Important Lessons We've Learned About Parenting Adoptees

I can hardly believe that ten years ago, we completed our first homestudy and started waiting for our first child!  

We thought we knew adoption. After all, we'd met with other families-by-adoption.  We'd read books, articles, and blog posts.  We weren't just hearing.  We were listening, learning, and applying.  

But with time comes experience, and wow, have we had some experiences over the past twelve years (the period of time from when we decided to adopt until now).  Four children placed with us, twenty "rejections," two interim care infants.   

1:  Love isn't enough.  

This is a BIG one.  

Because we're programmed as a society to believe love is all we need.  That love conquers all.  "Live, laugh, love."  You get the point.  

Many adoptees come into their forever families having experienced trauma.  Trauma, as we know, changes the brain.  That's why so many families like mine swear by the book The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family, follow attachment parenting techniques, and swear by all the things Empowered Can Connect can offer us.  

Love is a critical foundation, but it isn't enough.  Because adoptees have needs beyond love.  We can't love our children's trauma out of them, nor should we try.  Instead, everything we do is based on love, but we know that we don't start and stop with love.  

The earlier families who choose to adopt understand this, the better off they are, and the more likely their adoptee is to flourish in life vs. suffer in silence, confusion, and frustration.

2:  Initiate adoption conversations.

This was some of the first adoption advice I ever received, and interestingly, I was reminded of it when I read this fabulous young adult, adoption-themed novel.

My friend, mama to a transracial, international adoptee, told me that she used stories that came up in the media to check in with her child about adoption.   

The truth is, your child, at some point (and likely many points) is thinking about his or her adoption.  

When you, as the adult, initiate the adoption conversation, you send your child one very powerful message:  that you are a safe person to approach about adoption.   

I read online ALL the time that adoptees want to search for their biological families, but they are too scared to broach the subject with their parents.  The last thing they want to do is hurt their parents' feelings.  

But what if adoption conversations were normalized from very early on?  What if children knew they were adopted from the get-go?  What if parents reminded their kids, over and over, that adoption-talk is OK?  

3:  Empathy:  always.  

I run a large adoption triad support group, and a few years ago an experienced attachment therapist spoke to our group.  I had the opportunity to speak with her one-on-one, and I asked her about a personal situation we'd encountered with one of our children whom was struggling greatly with an absent birth parent.   And she told me something I'll never forget, that our response, as adoptive parents, should always be empathy.  

Not correction.  Not explanation.  Not a lecture.  Not ignoring or sugar-coating or sweeping under the proverbial rug.   

Take the emotions for exactly what they are, and in return, offer empathy.  

4:  Listen to what your child needs. 

There is a lot of "noise" in the adoption community.  Some of it is so incredibly important, so incredibly crucial, and very helpful.  But some of it isn't.  

There are times, several years ago, that I felt like I could never "measure up" to be the mommy my children needed.  My children were doomed. I was doomed.  We were all doomed.  I felt this way after spending WAY too much time online.

If you notice, those who comment online tend to be one of two extremes on ANY subject.  There is very rarely balance.  Because the people who are in-the-middle usually aren't online passionately arguing.  Why?  Because they are living life!  

My friend Madeleine Melcher, who is both an adoptee and mom-by-adoption, wrote a wonderful book encouraging and educating adoptive parents.  In the book, she stresses over and over the importance of listening to YOUR child.  

Because she knows, and I know, there is no such thing as adoption gospel.  Of course, there are things that are clearly wrong and unethical.  But there are many things, as Madeleine shares, that are in-the-gray.  

Who matters most in any adoption?  It's your child.  So listen to him or her, above all, because as Madeleine says, that is the voice that matters the most.  

(PLEASE buy and read her book!  I promise you will be blessed by it!)  

5:  Tell the truth.  

This is something I say to my kids ALL the time.  That telling the truth is SO much better than lying, concealing, hiding.  Telling the truth, even when it's hard, is always the right thing to do.

This means that your children need to know THEIR truth, and you, as their parent, have the privilege and honor and responsibility of doing so.  

You are always telling your child his or her adoption story, adding details as the child matures and as new information is made known to you.  (This book is incredibly helpful in assisting parents talk to their adoptees and foster children.) 

I know that some of these details aren't pretty.  I know that as a parent, you are scared to tell your child because as a mom, you want to PROTECT your child.  But guess what?  Not telling the truth creates distrust, and it teaches your child that there is something shameful about their story.   

The Bible is right. The truth = freedom.  Freedom allows a child to know the full picture (as full as possible) and to process that picture.  And remember, if you are responding with empathy (point #3), initiating adoption conversations (point #2), parenting with love and then some (point #1), and listening to your child (point #4), you are more likely to be the parent your child needs you to be than if you aren't.  

Friends, I truly believe that adoptees can be raised by woke, loving, empathetic parents.  That's exactly why I wrote The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption.  To give you the book I didn't have twelve years ago.   And I want to thank my readers for all the beautiful e-mails I've received as a result of them reading the book.  

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